Intersectional Feminism in Prime Time (Originally published by Ms. Magazine September 26, 2017).

View the original here.

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Issa Rae’s HBO series Insecure centers on an almost-30-year-old black woman, Issa (played by Rae herself) hasn’t quite gotten adulthood figured out yet. And apparently, I am not the only person who thinks this show is timely and witty—in 2017 alone, Insecure has been nominated 18 times for various awards, including a Golden Globe.

As Issa struggles with many growing pains post-college, audiences get a glimpse of a hilarious, flirty, unavoidably awkward and complex black woman’s life in Los Angeles. Issa works at a non-profit, serving mostly kids of color, that is almost entirely staffed by white people. She has one-night stands and suffers through heart-wrenching breakups. Whether she’s shown surviving the drudgery of work or creating on the spot motivation rhymes in the shower, what is feminist about Insecure is Issa. What’s feminist about Insecure is that it’s a show that authentically portrays some of the experiences women too often left out of the limelight can relate to, and it’s a show that portrays some of the very kinds of people too often left out of the limelight.

A USC study found that 17 percent of broadcast television directors were female and only 19 percent of programs were ethnically balanced—thus, even outside of the quality of the show itself, Insecure reminds us that representation makes a difference. Unlike the HBO series Girls, which faced harsh critique for its all-white leading cast, the characters on Insecure come from a diverse array of backgrounds. Rae said in an interview with Trevor Noah that the lead character, is “tackling life as it comes […] as authentically real as possible.” The commonality of this struggle does nothing to limit the shows ability to stay fresh and come off as relatable.

Insecure is made by women of color, written by women of color and created for women of color. It easily passes the Bechdel test, and from the first episode, it addresses modern feminist issues. But this show is not designed to be a generalization—it’s about a specific person. And in a twist of fate, that distinction makes the show succeed at being uncomfortable, awkward and funny—and resonating with a larger audience. It offers not just diversity, but intersectionality, to its viewers.

From hanging out with friends to “trying to fuck” to dealing with racist coworkers to having to handle rent hikes—all while trying to get all her laundry done—Issa represents a character who has come of age in a period of economic struggle and racism. (An entire hour is spent on Issa’s best friend Molly discovering she makes less than her (vaguely incompetent) white male coworker.) And while the show offers specifically young, black women a sense of validation and affirmation through the portrayal of Issa and other characters on the show, it also does as much for most millennial women looking for a perfectly imperfect female lead who struggles with money, relationships and staying focused at work.

Insecure is a much-needed show that succeeds in authentically bringing to life young black women’s experiences—making it as complex, awkward, sexy, hilarious, radical and, at times, serious as we’d expect.

 

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