Updated: Sep 24, 2022
Films and television are incredible instruments of reality. The ability to watch a movie or show and feel seen is a visceral feeling like no other. It’s a hand that reaches out to the audience and allows for a moment of understanding. For many women, this has been a hole in their lives that hadn’t been filled until recently.
The rise of relatable women has never been so rampant in media. “Fleabag” is one of the most prominent woman-led media to come out in recent years. Written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, “Fleabag” feels like a new, refreshing form of womanhood. One of the first scenes depicts Fleabag and her sister, Claire, at a feminist lecture. The lecturer asks if anyone in the audience would give up five years of their life for the “perfect body”. Claire and Fleabag’s hands immediately shoot up and then bashfully lower when they realize they are the only ones with raised hands. This scene is hilarious, yes, but also excruciatingly relatable.
Feminism is so deeply ingrained into the culture of women now that it has translated into a “girl boss” lifestyle. It’s been rammed down women’s throats that we can fix anything with a little lipstick and a low-fat latte. On a surface level, this is empowering, but on a deeper examination, it’s an exhausting burden. The idea that women should be empowered by being perfect is shallow, and that’s exactly what “Fleabag” hopes to prove. It’s not feminist to be willing to give up years of life for a perfect body, but women’s feminism shouldn’t have to be perfect. Even though many wouldn’t want to admit it, five years for the perfect body, in a world where beautiful bodies have such a high currency, is a steal. It’s not a pleasant pill to swallow, but it’s a true one.
“Fleabag” is not attempting to depict an empowering woman who has her whole life together. It’s simply allowing Fleabag to exist in her dismal, messy life, and this is somehow more radical than all those girl bosses put together. “Fleabag” allows women to just exist, and exist imperfectly.
Women in media are so often restricted from being flawed, chaotic, complex humans, but so many women are flawed, chaotic and complex. This is an idea that is only recently being conveyed through film and TV, and being conveyed because there are women behind the camera. Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” is another example of this. Both Lady Bird and Fleabag are fundamentally unlikeable women with deep insecurities and flaws, but this doesn’t prevent them from being empowering in their own way.
Women are not always fashion CEOs or sword-wielding samurais. Sometimes they are just people trying to figure out what the hell to do with their lives. Having women like Lady Bird and Fleabag on screen is a reflection of those women.
It must be noted, however, that this relatability has thus far only been afforded to white women. “Frances Ha”, “Lady Bird”, “Girls” and “Fleabag” are dominated by white actors and writers. It’s encouraging to have more female faces in film, but these faces are almost exclusively white. Can we truly claim that these pieces of media are feminist staples if this feminism refuses to include all women? When analyzing 1,300 films from 2007 to 2019, women only comprised 3.9 percent of all directors in Hollywood, but WOC only comprised less than 1 percent. Shows like “Fleabag” are important steps in finally representing relatable women, but there must also be a conscious effort to represent all women, not just the white suburban ones.