5 things the “Degrassi” reboot gets so right about feminism
Degrassi: Next Class recently premiered on Netflix — and let me tell you, I wasted no time getting down with the modernized reboot of my early 2000s teen-hood. Wiped out from the flu, the discovery of a Degrassi redux was exactly what I needed, and I knew I had found the right series to ease my tired mind when, within the first three minutes of the show, they dropped the Drake mention — boom! Although I love this new series for nostalgia’s sake, I was also very impressed that this version is all about the girls. While other characters exist in the foreground, the plot lines that had me the most captivated were those that followed the trials and joys of feminine friendship and female empowerment. Here are five of my favorite girl-power takeaways:
1. Dreams always come before boys.
Right as the show starts, we’re pulled into the world of Maya and her rockstar dreams. Maya is fixated on getting her jams just right — but focusing on her creative career threatens the ego of her jockish-boyfriend, Zig. When Maya lands an important audition at the beginning of the school year, she needs to assemble a band to back up her solo gig. And fast. Zig quickly rushes to be her hero, offering his guitar hobby as the answer to her lack of instrumentals. There’s only one problem: Zig isn’t so great at guitar. Maya refuses to compromise the quality of her music project in order to appease Zig’s “fragile male ego,” (direct quote from the show). I’ve seen the trope sold to young women again and again and again — relationships with men come first. I was beyond stoked to see that Degrassi’s modern version was able to put Maya and her dreams in greyscale — she was ruthless and focused on her goals, but still found a way to work it out with Zig.
2. “You can’t live a lie for other people.”
Zoe, the show’s almost-perfect good girl seems to have it all figured out — she’s always there to provide thoughtful advice, and she maintains an aura of organized poise despite the frantic tizzy of high school drama that seems to surround her. She’s a giver whose there for her friends and goes the extra mile. But there’s one thing that even Zoe can’t solve: her problematic inner-conflict with her own sexuality. Zoe is gay, she’s starting to admit. Her mom lectures her in the car at school drop off about keeping herself away from the wrong people — in this case, what her mom really means is away from gay people. In the meantime, her friendship with a female classmate only confuses her more. Is this romantic, or what? Zoe worries no one will ever accept her, but she receives some great advice: “You can’t live a lie for other people…you can only ever make yourself happy.” This is important advice for young women of any sexual orientation — often as women, and especially high school girls, we are preoccupied with our acceptance into the greater scheme of things. Are we pretty enough? Smart enough? Straight enough? Zoe’s struggle reminds women that we are perfect just the way we are. We don’t have to prove anything to anybody.
3. It’s actually okay to masturbate if you’re a girl.
What? Hold the phone. A teen show talking about masturbating? Yes ladies: Degrassi: Next Class went there. It all started when Degrassi High’s resident pink-haired fashionista, Lola, was innocently showing off a new keychain. Pink and sequined, it had a funny vibrating function, which she showed off in front of her crush (Tiny). What could that possibly be for? She was incredibly lucky to have her friend Frankie, a heartbroken brunette who haunts the high school’s hallways with copies of Camus in hand, explain to her that her prized keychain was actually a vibrator. What?! Lola was mortified. “Ew that’s gross!” she said. Throughout this episode, Lola had several panic-stricken conversations with her girl squad — how can she ever bounce back from letting her crush know she is the possessor of a vibrator?
In the end and with the power of authentic feminine friendship, Frankie helps Lola take steps towards understanding her own sexuality by talking frankly about her own relationship to masturbation. Posted up against a locker, Lola’s world begins to open up. I can’t emphasize enough how great it is to see media talking directly to young women about owning their sexuality. In the high school I went to, our health teacher got squeamish just talking about menstruation — I can’t imagine how different my life would have been had I had access to honest discussions about female desire at a young age.
4. It’s also totally okay to say no to sex.
As mentioned before, Zig freaking out about his rockstar girlfriend’s rockstar lifestyle is a theme throughout this first season. Caught up in the growing success in her band during her tender high school years, Maya — the rockstar in question — is understandably consumed. Heck, I’m a grown woman not in high-school, and I’m pleased with myself on the days I can heat up a microwave meal, let alone juggle tough classes with chasing competitive dreams. Zig feels left in the dust (sigh). He and Maya have done it one time, but he wonders why it isn’t happening more. During an afternoon study session, he gets just a little bit too aggressive with her. Thankfully, Grace, a super-wise feminist with blue hair and facial piercings, just happens to be sitting next to him and his bro as they dish before chemistry class. “What do you call forcing someone to have sex?” she asks. “But Grace, she’s my girlfriend,” Zig protests. “That doesn’t make it rape,” Grace says, with all the necessary sternness that the topic of sexual violence demands. Rape is rape. Thanks Degrassi, for letting that be known to girls who are conditioned to always say yes.
5. Your best gals always have your back.
When Frankie, the sad girl that we all carry inside of us, is mopey for a prolonged period of time after a break-up, she does something totally legitimate: dyes her hair. Okay, come on — don’t we all feel the need to change our hair when the wrath of human sadness strikes? In a shameless heave of teen angst, Frankie storms away from her friends, who laugh at her new ‘do. Frankie retaliates by icing her gal pals, and takes this as a cue to fully isolate herself in her bedroom. That’s when someone starts direct-messaging her on hastygram, telling her her hair looks cute and sending her videos of cats riding robotic vacuums. Sure seems like that rando knew how to cheer her up. I was hooked on the promise of friendship with an anonymous stranger on the internet, until it was revealed that it was actually her group of friends who were sending the messages, because that’s what friends do. Frankie’s friends reached out to her even when she wasn’t ready for it, even when she pushed away their love and care, they worked together to find a way to support her — and that’s the true magic of female friendship.
Holiday Black is a writer, poet, and artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Holiday likes overpriced beauty products, stockpiling zany snacks, and can be frequently found engaged in extended conversations with her one-eyed cat. You can learn more about Holiday’s work at her website, or explore her effusive Twitter feed.