Movie Musings: Moxie (Netflix)

Moxie: force of character, determination, nerve.

If you’re up for a feel-good teen movie that packs humor, heartache, and insight, go watch Amy Poehler’s new Netflix movie, Moxie.

An early scene takes place in the high school principal’s office. Lucy, a transfer student new to the school in her junior year, has a complaint: the captain of the football team, Mitchell, has been harassing her.

Students who have known Mitchell since second grade recognize that he’s a jerk. His female peers have learned to keep their heads down until he tires of picking on them and moves on to someone else. Lucy, however, possesses an internal strength others have squashed. Abdicated. Not one to keep her head down, Lucy speaks up in class when the book list for junior English prioritizes the classics over diversity. Lucy speaks back when Mitchell talks over her, physically shoves her, and spits in her soda. Lucy speaks out when she’s already taken too much.

Principal Shelly, played by Marcia Gay Harden, dismisses Lucy’s complaint without actually hearing her. She retorts, “He’s not harassing you. It sounds to me like he’s bothering you.” If Mitchell actually had been harassing Lucy, then she would be required to do “all sorts of stuff,” circling her hands over her paperwork-covered desk. Unlike Lucy, Principal Shelly can’t be bothered. Instead she nonsensically recommends that Lucy join the marching band, an effort to distract Lucy and perhaps get her out of Mitchell’s way.

Obviously that’s not how the story ends, but no spoilers.

Let’s take a closer look at the words. In this scene, bother has two meanings. Principal Shelly asserts that Mitchell has been bothering Lucy – worrying, disturbing, upsetting her. Also, Shelly cannot be bothered to take steps to address and prevent such behavior – she won’t take the trouble to do something. Given these two nuanced definitions of the word bother, her own admission that Mitchell has been acting in such a way that Lucy, another student under her supervision, has been upset should motivate her to do something about it. Instead, she pushes Lucy away and turns a blind eye to her own bias.

The audience, however, has watched this bothersome behavior take place. We know Lucy isn’t exaggerating the facts when she uses the more technically correct word harass: aggressive pressure or intimidation. As is tragically common in such situations, the injured party has been silenced, causing further injury.

Of course, there wouldn’t have been much of a movie if Principal Shelly had immediately jumped into action on Lucy’s behalf. In real life, that’s what a good principal should do. But the movie needed to establish a hurdle over which the characters would trip, skin their knees, train, and try, try again in order to eventually sail over it.

Sadly, this movie works because it tells the story so many women have lived – and are currently living. Society rewards good girls who do what we’re told, no questions asked. We’ve learned to put our heads down or to walk far out of our own way in order to avoid the bullies. We’ve been silenced, and we’ve silenced ourselves. We don’t need to be told that the captain of the football team will win in every situation, every competition, time and again, even if he is a total scum ball.

It’s no accident that a woman was cast in the principal’s role. If Lucy had complained to a male principal and he hadn’t listened, well, that’s no surprise, that’s just another Tuesday at the office. Yet to watch a woman dismiss another woman… That’s insight. Patriarchy has been so well established for so long that even women have internalized a bias toward men’s privilege to their own detriment. We’re too often blind to our own place as another cog in the wheel running over women who dare to stand up for themselves.

Take-aways:
Women, find your voice. Speak up, speak back, speak out. Tap deep into your inner well of strength. Don’t put your head down and wait for the bullies to move on. Ask hard questions. Ask them again. Use the proper words for the situation and repeat them ad nauseam until others hear what you mean. Don’t take no for an answer when it’s clearly the wrong answer, even if it comes from another woman. Surround yourself with like-minded women.

Men, many of you have already become allies and advocates – thank you. We have more work yet ahead of us, so keep listening. We’re not making this stuff up, rather, we’re speaking our truth. It’s important to us, and it should be to you as well. The questions women ask may make you uncomfortable; learn to sit silently in your discomfort. Be willing to be led instead of insisting on your own leadership, and let women lead you to new approaches to old situations. Find ways to encourage, support, and promote women. Women are working hard to shine our moxie; you may need to step aside and cheer us on.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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