2022’s Top Feminist Moments in Pop Culture

It’s that time of year to reflect on highlights of 2022 and the ways that feminism showed up and showed out in our popular culture. Here are our top 10 favorite moments.

10. Wednesday Addams Breaks the Internet With Her One-of-a-Kind Dance

Tim Burton’s reimagining of everyone’s favorite “goth girl,” Wednesday Addams—played to brilliant deadpan effect by Jenna Ortega—premiered on Netflix just before Thanksgiving and is currently one of the most watched series from the streaming platform.

Originally played by Lisa Loring from the 1960s television series, The Addams Family, before Christina Ricci embodied the character for the ’90s movie spinoff, the sarcastically kooky Wednesday is now a teenager not blending in among a cast of outcast adolescents at the Nevermore Boarding School.

It is here that Wednesday demonstrates just how much she truly dances to the beat of a different drummer, showing off her dance skills to The Cramps’ “Goo Goo Muck” and literally dancing circles around her bemused dance partner. In our era of social media, her dance broke the internet and became an instant meme and TikTok dance craze.

What makes it a “feminist” moment? Wednesday’s cool confidence, her refusal to conform (a black vintage dress at a white-themed party of course), her willfulness in taking up space on the dance floor, her unpredictable moves and her entire attitude—not of dancing as if no one is watching, but dancing with all eyes on you and not needing anyone’s approval.

One word for Jenna Ortega’s creative choreography for a favorite character that is now iconic: fearless.

9. Lizzo Twerks While Playing James Madison’s Crystal Flute

Pop artist Lizzo excited many of her Washington, D.C., fans while on her Special tour by playing a 200-year-old crystal flute once gifted to fourth president and founding father James Madison. She also twerked while playing—a signature move of hers—which added to the overall lighthearted fun of the night.

But not to the conservative and right-wing critics who chastised the pop star for “disrespecting” an American legacy due to her sexy moves.

What should have been a fun moment turned instead into a politically polarizing event. But perhaps unspoken in the uproar are the ways in which Black women have risen to the highest ranks of national power, from Vice President Kamala Harris to newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, to Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden—the latter who invited Lizzo to view and play a series of antique flutes in the collection of the Library of Congress.

That Lizzo made “history cool” by bridging an instrument of antiquity with our own present-day musicality and subverting a much longer history of enslavement (after all, Madison also owned slaves, one of whom he may have even impregnated) speaks to Black women reclaiming national treasures and making them their own.

In the end, most people celebrated the event, and the James Madison Estate extended an invitation for Lizzo’s visit.

8. Calling Out, Calling In and Doing Better

Lizzo’s flute-and-twerk performance was not her only headlining moment in 2022. She took the lead among pop singers when she was criticized for using ableist language on her song “Grrrl.”

Lizzo immediately changed her track and vowed to “do better” as a thick Black woman who understands all too well the harms of fatphobia, racism and misogynoir. This was a moment of what Loretta Ross has called “calling in” (a loving call to dialogue and change) rather than “calling out” (which often shuts down any chance for conversation and accountability).

Other pop stars followed suit when they too were challenged: from Beyoncé, who changed the same ableist slur in her “Heated” track from this year’s Renaissance album; to Taylor Swift, who deleted a scene from her music video “Anti-Hero”—which premiered with the release of her album Midnights—that depicts her thin body standing on a scale labeling her “fat.”

Far from simply capitulating to what some have called political correctness, these mega stars instead demonstrated to their fans and audiences that they are indeed listening and willing to discontinue hurtful language. Such actions are a move in the right direction for social change and feminist consciousness.

7. Beyoncé, Chief Inspirer

Cover art for Beyonce’s Renaissance, released July 29, 2022, from label Parkwood Entertainment.

This was truly a year for Beyoncé championing powerful women and other marginalized people.

First, she performed her Oscar-nominated “Be Alive” (featured in the movie King Richard) on the same tennis court in Compton where the celebrated Williams sisters got their start.

She then released a summer anthem, “Break My Soul,” for the body-and-soul-weary world as we ventured outside on the other side of COVID, and ushered in a return to the dance-club sounds of yesteryear with her seventh solo album Renaissance, dedicated to the LGBTQ community, including her late “Uncle Johnny.”

Beyoncé also led a lovely farewell tribute to Serena Williams, courtesy of Gatorade, on the occasion of the G.O.A.T.’s “evolution” from tennis.

Even her encouraging text message to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, as captured in the Netflix docuseries, Harry and Meghan, illustrates how the Queen Bey is indeed the “queen of inspiration.” 

6. The Launch of Archetypes

Archetypes with Meghan, a Spotify original podcast.

Speaking of mutual appreciation, Serena Williams helped to launch Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’s new podcast, Archetypes, as her first guest back in September. Featured on Spotify, Archetypes focuses on the various tropes and stereotypes (or what Meghan calls “archetypes”) that have confined gender roles. An eclectic collection of famous guests—from pop star Mariah Carey, to Hollywood heiress Paris Hilton, to comedian showrunner Mindy Kaling—joined the duchess in meaningful and at times lighthearted conversations, and kept the focus on feminism and women’s empowerment. What better way to show that “feminism is for everybody” than to end with men like comedian Trevor Noah?

Ranked highly among Spotify’s podcast series this year, Archetypes also won the People’s Choice Award for Best Podcast earlier this month.

5. Megan Thee Stallion Shines a Spotlight on Mental Health

Megan Thee Stallion at the 2022 iHeartRadio Music Festival at T-Mobile Arena on Sept. 24, 2022, in Las Vegas. (Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images for iHeartRadio)

Another “Meg” made waves in 2022. Celebrated rapper Megan Thee Stallion (née Pete) launched an important website, Bad Bitches Have Bad Days Too, featuring a list of resources for Black women struggling with mental health. The site launched around the time that she released her second solo album Traumazine, in which her vulnerability is front and center, especially in the single “Anxiety.” And it is no wonder, as she has continued to face the fallout over being shot by rapper Tory Lanez (and not being believed about her experience), whom she recently testified against in court. Megan Thee Stallion is nonetheless speaking up and speaking out, still surviving and thriving. She recently became the first Black woman to land the cover of Forbes’s “30 Under 30.

4. The Art of the Baby Bump Reveal

Who would reveal one’s bare baby bump on one of the coldest winter days in New York City? Pop star Rihanna, that’s who! Standing next to her partner, rapper A$AP, Rihanna stood in the brisk winter wind with her prominent belly promptly announcing the happy news that she was expecting.

From that moment on, the pop singer redefined the concept of “maternity clothes” and committed to wearing what was “comfortable,” which often revealed her baby bump in ways that would have been scandalous a generation ago (and still is in some circles).

Rihanna, who gave birth to a baby boy in May, was not to be outdone, as actor Keke Palmer—who had a breakthrough year co-starring in Jordan Peele’s latest horror movie, Nope—hosted SNL earlier this month and dramatically combined the bare baby bump reveal of Rihanna with the more modest belly-rubbing pose of Beyoncé back when she was pregnant with firstborn Blue Ivy during MTV’s VMA performance in 2011.

That both Rihanna and Keke Palmer announced their pregnancy on their own terms and outside any marital heteronormative expectations just shows that, as a culture, when it comes to women commanding and taking up space through their reproductive bodies, they’ve come a long way, baby!

3. Telling Abortion Stories

P-Valley, a drama from Starz set in the fictional strip club The Pynk in the Mississippi Delta, depicts the humanity behind the recent Supreme Court decision of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade. (Starz)

Such pregnancy reveals (and the choices that come with these) also highlight the other big story for 2022, which was the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade that ended federal protections for people seeking legal and safe abortions.

Now more than ever, our abortion stories need to be told, and those making such choices need humanizing. Fortunately, our entertainment has obliged with some poignant stories centering abortion: from the French film Happening by Audrey Diwan, which explores the difficulty of a young woman seeking an abortion in 1963; to the American film Call Jane by Phyllis Nagy, which highlights the historical work of the Jane Collective, an underground network of abortion providers in the years pre-Roe.

These historical films are, unfortunately, a warning of what awaits many pregnant people whose choices have suddenly become more restrictive, and a television series like Starz’s P-Valley, created by Katori Hall, illuminated this struggle by focusing on the actual abortion clinic at the center of the Supreme Court decision: Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Mississippi. These effective dramatizations are a reminder that we still need to tell these stories through our popular culture, especially in spotlighting the meaning of reproductive choice and reproductive justice.

2. #MeToo at the Movies

Carey Mulligan, left, and Zoe Kazan as reporters trying to persuade women to talk about sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein. (JoJo Whilden / Universal Pictures)

Ever since the #MeToo hashtag ignited a movement back in 2017, stories of sexual assault have not let up, and 2022 featured some key critically acclaimed movies.

There is She Said, directed by Maria Schrader, which dramatized the scandal surrounding Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and Women Talking, directed by Sarah Polley, which is worlds away from Hollywood and set in an isolated religious community.

Curiously, it is the film, Tár, directed by Todd Field and starring Cate Blanchett in a sure-to-be-nominated role, that flips the gender script when it comes to predatory behavior among the powerful.

Then there is Chinonye Chikwu’s Till, which reminds us that some women do lie about sexual assault—thus leading to the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till—while women like Till’s mother (played heartbreakingly by Danielle Deadwyler, who is Blanchett’s stiffest competition for best lead actress this year) must grapple with respectability politics while advocating for her son’s innocence. These top movies of 2022 are searing in their honesty and relentless in their truth-telling.

1.Women of Color Take the Lead (and Take No Prisoners)

Viola Davis as Nanisca, a Dahomey leader, in The Woman King. (Sony Pictures)

The year 2022 has been full of box-office surprises, namely showcasing how women of color (and even of a certain age) are quite capable of taking the lead and taking no prisoners in stories that have attracted a wide range of audiences.

First up was Michelle Yeoh in her celebrated role in Everything Everywhere All At Once as an older Asian American woman who is being audited by the IRS alongside her husband over their dry-cleaning business. The film is so trippy and fantastical with its genre-bending storytelling, it is to Yeoh’s credit that she is a sympathetic hero whom we’re willing to join on this hilarious and maddening ride.

Then there is Keke Palmer’s co-starring role in Jordan Peele’s Nope as she becomes the unlikely hero in a dark and bewildering horror.

The fall season kicked off with Viola Davis’s starring role as The Woman King, which was a first in featuring an all-Black female cast of women warriors set on the African continent.

These historical figures were the basis for the fictionalized Dora Milaje in The Black Panther, and this group of women—along with key players like Angela Bassett’s Queen Mother Ramonda, Lupita Nyong’o’s war dog Nakia and Letitia Wright’s tech genius and heir apparent Shuri—all took center stage in November’s blockbuster sequel Wakanda Forever.

These strong and powerful women are fast redefining what our warrior heroes look like, and we can only hope that this is just the beginning in a revolution of feminist representations at the movies.

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Janell Hobson is professor of women's, gender and sexuality studies at the University at Albany. She is the author of When God Lost Her Tongue: Historical Consciousness and the Black Feminist Imagination. She is also the editor of Tubman 200: The Harriet Tubman Bicentennial Project.