Sharing childhood films with my daughter has definitely been a parenting highlight. But, at the same time, it's a struggle. As a feminist, I know some of my favorite '90s flicks don’t always present great examples of equality between the sexes. That being said, there are a few '90s kids' movies that pass the Bechdel test with flying colors.
I believe films are such a great way to introduce ideas about equality to your children. It’s the cinematic equivalent of hiding vegetables in spaghetti sauce. My daughter thinks she is getting a serving of great entertainment, but I am secretly teaching her how to crush the patriarchy. This presents something of a dilemma. Sure I want to share my childhood favorites, but I’m also keen that I only show my child ‘90s films that teach empowerment and equality which is where the Bechdel test comes in so handy.
Devised by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, the Bechdel Test asks that a movie feature at least two female characters in the film, that those characters speak with each other at some point, and that the conversation is not about a male character.
This hardly seems like a huge ask, but its surprising how few films meet the Bechdel standards. What’s interesting is that the Bechdel scale is nothing to do with the quality of a film. It’s simply a framework to assess how much on screen time women get, without bringing men into the equation. Determined to find some films that kick against this silver screen sexism, I’ve revisited my trusty DVD collection, and have identified nine feminist-friendly ‘90s movies for kids. Slick on some juicy tube lip gloss and let’s go.
Pretending to be boy and niftily challenging gender roles in the process, Mulan joins the army, to spare her father from conscription. Not only does she succeed in a macho military environment, she has enough self belief to walk away from glory to rejoin her family. Mulan is the Beyoncé of Disney princesses and my absolute favorite.
2'A Bugs Life'
This is a classic story about misfits finding their place in the world. When the world calls you a freak, start up your own circus troupe and take to the stage. It’s like RuPaul's Drag Race for creepy crawlies. Although the lead character Flik is a boy, there are plenty of strong female characters, including, of course, the Queen.
Not only is Pocahontas independent and sassy, but she also goes against the grain by saving the handsome hero, rather than being the damsel in distress. Pocahontas goes on to pursue her individual destiny and it doesn’t involve a boy.
4'Beauty And The Beast'
Admittedly I do have some issues with how Belle falls for the controlling beast. (Yes he is having a bad time of it, but it’s still kidnapping oh hairy one). But Belle is book obsessed, strong, and refuses to accept the misogyny of the slimy Gaston. This film is also a great conversation starter about how obsessed society can be by appearances.
Don’t let the fashion and make up blind you to the empowering message of Clueless. This cute little flick turns stereotypes on their head without getting a hair out of place. Pretty girls aren’t bitches, sexually adventurous chicks aren’t slut shamed, and female friendship groups don’t have to be toxic. Bravo!
This film ticks about every one of my feminist parenting boxes. Matilda is the ultimate kids feminist movie. A feisty book-loving girl refuses to let her spirit be crushed by the evil adults in her life. Strong friendships are formed, injustices are challenged, and most importantly a library card is shown as being the key to change. Knowledge is power ladies.
Edward Scissorhands perfectly sums up the angsty pain of being a teenage outsider. In a society that values physical perfection, looking different is never going to be an easy ride. Johnny Depp is wonderfully innocent, and misunderstood as the films namesake, whilst totally winning at Cure-inspired chic.
The '90s offered some great spooky film offerings, and Hocus Pocus is particularly fun. As well as featuring a pre-Sex and The City Sarah Jessica Parker, it also supplies a nice helping of empowerment along with witchcraft. Family is put above romance and the film's trio of witches make no attempt to blend into society, choosing instead to embrace the way they are.
9'Adams Family Values'
I have long felt that the Adams Family films show one of the healthiest family units in cinema. A loving mother and father, who treat each other as equals, have respect for their elders and are eternally open, minded. Wednesday Adams is also the poster child for uncompromising little girls. She kicks against racism, the objectification of women and the pressure to conform. Strip away the Gothic, and it’s a master class in equality.