If Taylor Swift’s $100 million stage setup, Beyoncé’s bedazzled audiences and the global shortage of pink paint caused by “Barbie” made one thing clear, it’s that summer 2023 was for the girls.
‘Pro-girl Summer’: A Renaissance for Women in Media
Women carried the economy during the year’s hottest months, ushering in a new era in modern pop culture — one that caters to women in a non-exploitative way.
Third-year Natalie Braga referred to the phenomenon as “pro-girl summer.”
“We’re driving the economy,” Braga said. “It’s exciting.”
“Barbie” broke records with $1.36 billion at the global box office, becoming the highest-grossing film both this year and in Warner Bros.’ history. Likewise, Swift’s The Eras Tour is expected to bring in upwards of $2.2 billion and presales for her recently-announced concert film have already hit $10 million.
Braga, a lifelong Taylor Swift fan, attended The Eras Tour and was struck by the immediate sense of community amongst the concert’s many female attendees.
“There’s friendship bracelets, and everyone wants to talk to each other, and everyone’s excited to be there,” said Braga, 20.
She mentioned the shared struggle of the Ticketmaster meltdown that left many fans scrambling while emphasizing the commitment and enthusiasm of those fortunate enough to get tickets.
Braga said tens of thousands of women passionately screamed the lyrics to Swift’s songs, many of which focus on the highs and lows of womanhood.
“I felt like the whole crowd was connecting with a lot of her lyrics,” Braga said. “It made it feel like we’re not all having such different lives.”
Second-year Najiya Shahzad saw “Barbie” over the summer and was similarly captivated by the honest and unapologetic way women’s experiences were portrayed onscreen.
“Seeing all the women there having their own moment and being able to relate to something that was made just for them, it was really nice,” said Shahzad, 19.
Shahzad stressed the importance of acknowledging and validating women’s experiences across all types of media.
“It was just like, ‘Here’s a reminder of everything you’re going through, and it is real, and this is for you,’” Shahzad said.
Women’s and gender studies professor Héctor García-Chávez stressed the impact female representation across the entertainment industry has in conveying authentic depictions of womanhood onscreen.
“It matters who makes the film, the music video, even the song lyrics,” García-Chávez said. “Lived experience is key.”
In 2022, women accounted for only 26% of writers, directors, executive producers, producers, editors and cinematographers, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television at San Diego State University. The study also found that a film with a female director is more likely to have female writers and feature a female protagonist.
Third-year Elora Bolthouse was particularly struck by America Ferrera’s “Barbie” monologue, which speaks on the contradictory nature of womanhood.
“It was nice to see this sort of thought that’s been plaguing women on a big screen,” Bolthouse said. “I felt very seen and heard.”
Director Greta Gerwig and Ferrera, who plays main character Gloria, worked closely to shape a monologue that could accurately depict the double standards women experience on a daily basis, according to Variety.
“It is literally impossible to be a woman,” the monologue begins. “You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin.”
García-Chávez said this honest and authentic representation of women’s experiences can allow the media to become a safe space for women to process the experiences that come with being a woman. When a movie like “Barbie” fosters a shame-free environment, moviegoing is a relaxing experience, García-Chávez said.
“It’s almost like a pajama party,” García-Chávez said. “You can just let go and enjoy your time, not worry about what other people are thinking.”
And yet, despite the recent focus on women’s narratives, their stories are still underrepresented in the media. In 2021, only 31% of movie protagonists were women, according to the SDSU study.
“Entertainment is still such a male-dominated industry, even though women have historically been some of the biggest icons,” Braga said, pointing to figures like Beyoncé and Madonna.
Although “Barbie” received rave reviews and broke box office records, third-year Alejandra Rodriguez acknowledged it wasn’t able to touch on the experiences of all women — but it was a start.
“It was very baseline feminism,” Rodriguez said. “But it’s something that we needed to see, for everyone to kind of connect over.”
Critics have said that although the movie featured a diverse cast and appealed to modern “girlboss” feminism, intersectional feminism was left unaccounted for.
Shahzad echoed this sentiment, stressing the need for more extensive representation going forward.
“We’ve come a long way,” Shahzad said. “But that doesn’t mean there isn’t work still to be done.”
Featured image by Hanna Houser / The Phoenix