About the Author
Ellie Konfrst is a junior in high school from Des Moines, Iowa. She is passionate about politics and public speaking, serving as the chair of the High School Democrats of Iowa and captain of her school’s speech & debate team. Aside from that, she plays on the tennis team, serves on student government, and loves to read and write whenever she can.

How Strong Female Relationships In Pop Culture Make Real Positive Differences For Young Women

I met my best friend when I was fourteen.

Of course, she wasn’t my first best friend.

She’s not even my only one now.

Since I was little, I’ve surrounded myself with girls that push me in every possible way.

However, it wasn’t until recently that I really started to appreciate those relationships.

The lack of strong female relationships in pop culture is sort of like your heartbeat.

You spend years not noticing it.

But when you do, you can’t stop noticing it.

Even as I started to write this piece, I was shocked by how many of my favorite female characters don’t have a single strong relationship with another girl – at least not one the audience gets to see.

The moment I started to notice my heartbeat, I was still really young.

When I was 8, my favorite TV show was Wizards of Waverly Place.

For any of you who’ve ever watched it, you know that the relationship between Harper and Alex is incredibly strong and incredibly complex.

That was a friendship that changed my life.

I could see me and my friends, finally represented on screen, and it felt amazing.

Not only that, but I wanted to work to improve the friendships I had with other girls.

Nowadays, I hardly ever consume any pop culture that doesn’t have a strong female relationship at its forefront.

The best part is, they’re all different.

My favorite show is New Girl, where the relationship between Jess and Cece is both one of the show’s most subtle, while also being its very bedrock.

My favorite artist is Taylor Swift, someone who became widely known for the strong female relationships she developed.

Teen Wolf is unabashedly one of my favorite shows on TV, and its highlight of female friendships changed the way I think about them.

Photo Credit: Flickr (CC By 2.0)

This is a show that finds a way to put female relationships at its forefront, despite being centered around males.

The friendships between Allison, Lydia, Malia, and Kira, in all their different combinations, display an incredibly wide variety of relationships.

Some of them have dated the same boy, some of them have tried to kill each other, and some of them have every petty reason to hate each other, but they don’t.

This show has decided that its female friendships are more important than any love triangle, even though those do exist.

The show doesn’t pretend those obstacles don’t exist, they just demonstrate that the relationships formed among girls are way stronger than anything they could face.

They have found a way to put complex, varied, and oftentimes confusing female relationships on display, something I see in very few corners of the pop culture world.

I’m not the only one who’s felt the effects of seeing strong female relationships on TV.

I asked a few of my own strong female friends to talk to me about when they’ve seen their life changed by viewing those types of friendships in pop culture, and here’s what they said:

“Ann and Leslie [of Parks and Recreation] taught me that women should strive to build each other up, and that nothing is stronger than a female friendship built on pure love, loyalty, and trust. Female friendships don’t have to be filled with drama, and the best ones consider a five hour phone call about anything and everything equally as important as huge celebrations and milestones.” – Maggie

“Cristina Yang and Meredith Gray from Gray’s Anatomy depict what not only is a wonderful friendship, but a support system for one another. The fictional characters from the show have inspired me to not only be in my friends’ lives during the good times but to be there for support during the hard times.” – Sreelekha

More and more female friendships being represented is crucial, but the way they’re portrayed is also really important.

And while we like to think all female relationships in pop culture are great examples of representation, some miss the mark.

Here’s the biggest issue with the way pop culture sometimes displays female relationships – they exist only in a two-dimensional world.

An example of this comes from an often-raved about female friendship that just premiered this winter – Betty and Veronica on The CW’s Riverdale.

Now, I watch and love Riverdale, and I think there’s a lot of potential for the relationships to develop in new and interesting ways, but the way Betty and Veronica’s relationship exists now is very two-dimensional.

Disregarding the discussion of queerbaiting, and any sexual tension fans have picked up on, Betty and Veronica have the quintessential Strong Female Relationship.

Sure, they’ve both had feelings for the same guy, but that doesn’t matter!

They’re Strong Female Friends, and all they do is lift each other up.

The reason this comes across as a little unrealistic is because it is.

Look, I love my best friend with my everything I have.

I really would die for her, but sometimes I want to be the one doing the killing.

We’ve fought – a lot – and we have fought about boys!

The reason I consider our friendship one of the strongest in my life isn’t the fact that we’ve had jealous, petty moments – it’s the fact that we were able to move on.

Female relationships are just like any other relationship in life – they’re complicated.

The right way to portray a strong female relationship isn’t by following the rule book about what you think that should be.

It’s about embracing the different ways girls interact, the different ways they form bonds, and the different types of relationships that rise from those bonds.

One show that’s done this perfectly is HBO’s Big Little Lies.

Much of the miniseries is based on petty fighting between these women, but the end result (no spoilers here) is all the more satisfying because of that.

The show portrays female relationships exactly as they are – complex, frustrating, petty, and most of all, different.

All five of the main characters have extraordinarily different personalities, and the show doesn’t pretend those don’t exist.

In fact, every episode up until the finale points in a certain direction that is the destruction of those bonds.

However, the final episode clearly puts on display the way relationships between women are stronger than anything else in this life, even if their personalities don’t exactly mesh.

Despite all of this, all strong female friendships are good, just like all strong female characters are good.

The reality is, when a girl sees two other girls being friends, whether on TV, in a movie, in a book, or in real life, she’s inspired to develop those same sorts of ties with her friends.

And the effects of that are really, really good – like, scientifically proven good.

A UCLA study from 2002 suggests that women respond to stress with a cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women.

Hanging out with our friends can actually counteract the kind of stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a daily basis.

Relationships among women aren’t only good for the women themselves, they’re a necessary foundation to our entire society.

When women build each other up, instead of tear each other down, everyone wins.

And as women work to unlearn the decades of media that taught them girls should always fight over boys, the representation of female friendships in pop culture will be more important than ever.

My list of strong female relationships in pop culture to check out, not already mentioned:
Rachel, Phoebe, and Monica: FRIENDS
Blair and Serena: Gossip Girl
Cher & friends: Clueless
Hailee Steinfeld’s music
The Clone Club: Orphan Black
Ginny and Luna: Harry Potter series
Sansa Stark and Margaery Tyrell: Game of Thrones
Selena Gomez’s “Me & My Girls”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Why Do We See Pop Culture As A Barometer For How The Country Is Doing?

Watching the Academy Awards a few weeks ago was a bit of a stressful experience.

I was obviously stressed about whether or not Emma Stone would finally win an Oscar, but the stakes were bigger than that.

From the very beginning of this awards season, the conversation was clouded by last year’s Oscar’s So White controversy, where the show’s 88th run was criticized for a lack of diversity among its nominees.

This year’s ceremony was definitely a test of the relevance and awareness of the Academy, but it represented something more.

The entire country watched this year’s Academy Awards with bated breath, with a sense the results of the ceremony said more about themselves than the actors.

Collectively, we tend to use pop culture as a barometer for how we’re doing as a country; is that really fair to either?

For the few (brief) moments La La Land was 2016’s Best Picture, I could almost see the furious typing of Buzzfeed opinion columnists, writing the think piece of the year about what La La Land’s defeat of Moonlight meant about race in America.

They appeared within minutes when Adele’s 25 beat Beyonce’s Lemonade for Album of the Year a few weeks earlier at another high-profile awards show.

It’s not an unfair criticism to make, it might even be a necessary one.

Commentary and discourse about the results of the biggest acknowledgement of excellence within the entertainment industry is what keeps it moving forward.

The problem occurs when we take it a step too far.

An interesting phenomenon has popped up in the discourse about Hollywood’s diversity: the application of that discussion for a wider purpose in the political sphere.

There looms a need to connect entertainment stories to more “important” stories, such as ones related to the political climate.

Everything that happens in the world of entertainment is played off to represent something bigger.

A perfect example of this was the inaccurate announcing of La La Land as Best Picture.

The unfortunate mistake saw Moonlight literally taking the most coveted award in the movie industry from La La Land’s hands.

The conflict between those two movies lasted all throughout awards season, and many saw it as a direct reflection of the political polarization taking place in America.

The trend of the underdog win has not gone unnoticed in the last several months, either.

From Donald Trump unexpectedly winning on election night to the Patriots’ fourth quarter comeback in the Super Bowl, many saw Moonlight as a reiteration of that same trend.

It provides an easy answer, and, in Moonlight’s case, it’s exactly the answer we want.

In a time of unprecedented political polarization, it feels good to think we can all be as accepting as Moonlight.

The reality is not that easy.

Pop culture isn’t really a direct reflection of our political climate.

In fact, it’s often the opposite.

One of the biggest reasons La La Land was so dominant this awards season was because of its sense of escapism – it was refreshing to see something so not important.

It wasn’t trying to reflect our current political climate, it wasn’t trying to teach the audience a lesson.

It was simply telling a story, which is what all pop culture really goes back to.

The age of Trump has turned everything on its head, however.

La La Land didn’t win Best Picture.

Moonlight did, and that’s whatever the opposite of what escapism is.

That detail may be indicative that people are looking for a more relevant pop culture.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s nothing more than wishful thinking.

Here’s what it comes down to: both entertainment and politics are a reflection of who we are.

Both take the struggles of real people and harness those emotions on a national stage.

There’s a fundamental difference between the two, however.

Politics is a direct reflection of who we are; politicians are elected by the people, after all.

On the other hand, entertainment is often a reflection of who we want to be.

The stories that are told, from Moonlight to La La Land and Lemonade to 25 represent where we want to be going, not necessarily where we are.

Using pop culture as a barometer is only somewhat effective.

Moonlight’s win at the Academy Awards does not mean racism in America is over, in fact it doesn’t even mean racism in Hollywood is over.

The Pop Culture Barometer as a construct is an oversimplification.

Hollywood’s failures are not America’s failures, their successes are not our successes, and vice versa.

Pop culture is a representation of everything we want to be, and it’s often a reflection of the very best of ourselves.

Using it to try to explain things like political polarization is where the comparison fails.

At the end of the day, understanding where we want to go is crucial to understanding ourselves, but it doesn’t do anything to describe where we are now.

So while it’s great to know we all want to be Emma Stone, it’s important to realize we’re not quite there yet.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

This is an opinion piece. It is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of RISE NEWS. 

Cover Photo Credit: La La Land/ Facebook


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