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4 Feminist Must See Holiday Movies

Holiday Movies for Women Who Kick Ass

Christmas is here and what could go better with the holiday season than a Christmas Movie? Not sure what to watch? No worries, we’ve got just the thing for you. Gather your kick-ass female friends and family members, grab a hot toddy or one make one of these cocktails and put these feminist holiday movies in the queue.

Surprisingly Feminist Holiday Movies

It might surprise you, but you don’t have to watch contemporary flicks to find a holiday movie with feminist grit, some of the Holiday classics were ahead of their time. Suspicious? Let me walk you through the choices and why they made this awfully short list.

Miracle on 34th Street

A holiday classic. I watched this movie with my family almost every year during my childhood and most years since. Like It’s a Wonderful Life, this is one of those movies that define the holiday season for me. Some may think of it as just another Santa story, but in my opinion, it is a distinctly feminist holiday movie Santa story.

In the 1940s, divorce was almost unheard of. Certainly, it happened, but it was something shameful, not to be talked about. It could stigmatize a woman in society. But, here is Doris Walker, the protagonist of Miracle on 34th Street, happily living in NYC, working as a successful executive at Macy’s. She is a single mom who has no interest in ‘finding a man’. She is efficient, practical, and honest, and she’s teaching her daughter, Susan, to be the same.

Opposite Doris, we have Fred Gailey, an attorney who is also Doris and Susan’s neighbor. Fred is an intelligent, kind man who of course is interested in Doris. But, even though it is the 1940s, he doesn’t ever appear bothered by her independence, her success, or her single motherhood. Fred is helpful and thoughtful, spending time with Susan and even donning a frilly apron to cook dinner for them.

There is of course a romantic plotline, with a Christmas twist. I’m sure most of you have seen the movie, but in case you haven’t, here is a short summary. A man claiming to be the real Santa is arrested and put on trial just before Christmas. Fred, not really a believer but at least open-minded, agrees to represent him. Doris, a skeptic, can’t understand why he would do such a thing. Susan, also a skeptic but still a kid, starts to believe, as does Fred, and in the end…well, I’ll let you see for yourself.

My mom always loved Miracle on 34th Street. I thought it was just because she loved Christmas (really, really loved it). Now, though, I think there might have been something more there. Maybe she didn’t think about it, but I think she may have seen something of herself in Doris Walker. Like Doris, my mom was a divorced, single mom during a time when it was still pretty taboo. And, like Doris, she was an educated career woman. It must have been good to see a woman like herself portrayed as happy and successful.

There was a difference between her and Doris, though. My mom was no skeptic. She believed in Santa.

The Grinch

I should specify that this is the 2018 Illumination version, as opposed to the 1966 TV special or the 2000 live-action film. I have always been a Grinch fan, starting in childhood when my grandmother read us the classic Dr. Seuss book. It’s a wonderful, uplifting story, and never fails to make me tear up when his heart grows three sizes. All the screen adaptations of the book have done a good job with the story, but I think this most recent one is my favorite.

There are lots of cool things to talk about with this holiday movie, and I don’t want to waste time describing a story I’m sure you all have read, or heard, or seen before. So, please forgive me if you don’t know the story – I’m not going to describe it. I will start with the assumption that you all know the basic plot because what I want to talk about are the differences in this one. And, primarily, the differences with the female characters.

You all remember Cindy Lou Who, the cute little Who girl who catches the Grinch in the act of stealing Christmas. She had a pretty minor role in the book and the original TV cartoon. And, I’m not even sure her mom was mentioned. In the 2000 film, Cindy is the co-star, befriending the Grinch and teaching him the meaning of Christmas.

In the 2018 version, we are introduced to Cindy Lou’s mom, Donna. A single parent of three, struggling to keep it together. While all the other Whos are getting fired up about Christmas, you can tell that Donna is just worried about keeping up with all her responsibilities. She tries to get into the spirit, but it is an effort.

Then we meet Cindy Lou, the oldest of Donna’s three kids. She is basically a badass for being left to her own devices so much of the time. She whizzes around town on her skate-sled, and is obviously super independent, smart, and precocious. She sees how hard her mom works, and decides she wants Santa to help her mom out, instead of giving her (Cindy Lou) gifts.

Cindy Lou enlists her friends’ help to capture Santa during his rounds, so she can explain the situation. Which, of course, leads to her encountering the Grinch and ultimately teaching him about the spirit of Christmas. So, the story is brought back around, but not before delving a bit deeper into the Grinch’s past, and what makes him resent Christmas so much. This movie is deeper than the others and more heartfelt. I loved the bit of realism Cindy Lou and her mom brought to the story. And, Benedict Cumberbatch is a terrific Grinch!

It’s a Wonderful Life

This flick ranks high among classic holiday movies. It’s quite possible that I am the only woman on earth who managed to make it to 45 years of age without seeing this awesome movie from beginning to end. I have always been curious about it, but for some reason, I never took the time to watch it and only caught segments of it when it was on TV at someone’s house. Perhaps that’s why it never struck me as being a feminist holiday movie at all.

I have to admit, it’s hard to imagine that anything released in 1946 could be remotely feminist. And perhaps it is by accident that this tale’s true hero is a heroine. Nonetheless, I was in love with It’s a Wonderful Life by the end.

Quick synopsis: George Bailey (James Stewart) is a man who has always had dreams about escaping his small hometown of Bedford and traveling the world and doing big things. But, due to a series of events he has instead remained in town, married a woman named Mary (Donna Reed), and taken over his father’s bank business—Bailey Building and Loan. Life has been a struggle, but it has moved along and he has a lovely home and beautiful children when he finds out he is $8000 short in his books and may end up in prison. This sends George into a fit of panic and depression that results in him becoming suicidal. That’s when an angel named Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers)  steps in to save him (in an effort to earn his wings) and the background story of his life unfolds.

This is when we find out that the true angel in George’s life is his wife. Here are some examples of why.

  1. First of all, George is pretty much a real dick to Mary before they are married, and while she doesn’t put up with it, she’s ultimately understanding and gives him multiple second chances until he realizes what a catch she is.
  2. Right after their wedding, as they are on their way out of town on their honeymoon, there’s a run on Bailey Building and Loan. The business is about to go under when instead of being angry or upset, Mary offers up their savings (which were supposed to be used for the honeymoon) to save the business. Her quick and selfless decision saves the day and her husband’s ass.
  3. Mary manages to turn a mansion that is absolute ruins (and that George turns his nose up to) into a romantic honeymoon spot, and eventually a beautiful home.
  4. During World War II, Mary volunteers to do her part and is pictured running a local branch of the USO.
  5. While George is raging at both her and her children, she holds it together, soothes her children, and instead of falling into despair goes about finding a solution once again.
  6. In the end, I suppose we should all be pleased that somehow George has seen the light and decided his life is worth living, but the real treat is what Mary has done. While George is out feeling sorry for himself, Mary goes around town and rallies the community to put together enough money to save Bank.

That’s right folks, Mary saves the bank. She saves her family. She saves the community. Mary is the shit…and she doesn’t even complain about being a mostly unsung hero.

Atta girl Mary! You go and show them how a real hero does it.

The Sound of Music

Ok, so The Sound of Music isn’t specifically Holiday-ee, but it feels like was meant to be among the holiday movies to me. And that is exactly why I found myself re-watching it this past weekend after too many years to count. Here is what shocked me most: though I’ve seen it before, I could hardly tear myself away. Even to go to the restroom.

This movie stands the test of time. Ok, some of the kids’ acting could have used some work…but still. I was also shocked to realize how incredibly, truly feminist this tale is. Every woman/girl in it turns out to be awesome in the end (you cannot say the same for the men/boys).

Two sentence synopsis: Maria is a woman who is to become a nun but is very un-nun-like, so she is sent off to nanny for the Von Trapp family. Captain Von Trapp is a single father of seven children (my vagina hurts just writing that) who has lost his joy since his wife died and the movie follows Maria’s relationship with both him and his children as they all evolve and WWII comes to a head.

Right off the bat, I found myself moved not only by the Reverend Mother’s compassion for Maria but also by the fact that she realized how important it was for a woman to find her true calling. She sends Maria out into the world as an act of compassion and support for the true woman she knew Maria to be.

As Maria heads to the Von Trapp family’s home, she sings a song about believing and having confidence in herself, which is rad and something I definitely want my girls to see on the big screen. And then, when she meets Captain Von Trapp, instead of being intimidated by him and putting up with his ridiculous whistle-blowing (this is how he calls his children), she takes the whistle and blows it at him! How bold is that ladies? That might be one of my favorite moments in the whole movie.

But let’s move on. Maria bravely defies everything the Captain orders for the children and instead uses her skills and her innovative spirit to bring joy and love back into their lives. She is smart, fearless— and perhaps most importantly—forgiving. Well, if she wasn’t forgiving the Captain wouldn’t have had a shot with her.

Some additional moments in this holiday movie that made my feminist heart light up include:

  1. When Liesl Von Trapp sneaks off to meet the boy she’s in love with (Rotten Cowardly shit), she duetted the “I am Sixteen Going on Seventeen song. And the way she so obviously mocks it and shows everyone who is in control is brilliant! Also, I love that instead of shaming her when she sneaks in, Maria supports her.
  2. Let’s talk about how the nuns pull it together to help Maria and the Von Trapps escape the Nazis. Can we say,“Girl Power!”?
  3. Ok, so Baroness Elsa Schrader, does Maria wrong. But you gotta love that she’s cool with not being the mommy type. She fully embraces her own preference in lifestyle, and she believes in herself enough to want someone who really wants her…kinda. And in the end, she graciously steps out of the situation when she realized that Maria and the Captain are in love.
  4. Maria doesn’t blink at the idea of walking over mountains to escape the Nazis with her new family. I mean, she’s probably already in pretty great shape from running through the hills singing and spinning…but still…imagine having to manage a trek on foot like that with seven kids. (I had a small panic attack just writing that last sentence).

Bottom line. Sound of music is a super feminist holiday movie you should watch right now. Oh! It’s loooong. But don’t worry, it comes with an intermission that lasts a perfect amount of time for a potty stop or to top off that hot toddy.

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Annette Benedetti
Annette Benedetti
Annette is a writer, editor and photographer from Portland, OR. Her work appears in a variety of publications including Bust, Red Tricycle, Motherly and Domino. When she’s away from her desk she can be found teaching women yoga at wilderness retreats, exploring new cities across the states and hiking the trails at Mt. Rainier—one of her favorite places on earth.