2023 was the year of “girly” trends and female empowerment pop culture moments, but what does it really mean?
2023 was the year of “girly” trends and female empowerment pop culture moments, but what does it really mean?
Xavier Peng

The year of the girls…right?

It seems like women dominated pop culture in 2023, but is that the truth or just a myth in favor of the well-disguised patriarchy?

As we’ve stepped foot into the new year of 2024, this is the perfect time to reflect on the past year, especially considering how big of a year it was for pop culture. 2023 produced many iconic pop culture moments, from Prince Harry’s memoir and the “Don’t Worry Darling” drama at the first half of the year, to the Hollywood Strikes and the NFL stars gossip closer to the end. Although it was quite a chaotic year, reflecting on  2023, we can easily find an interesting theme: female domination of pop culture.

Think about it. The events included in our short list of pop culture moments at the beginning were certainly hot topics of the year, but what are the real big ones? The result of the school-wise pop culture survey sent out to the PIHS student body gives us the answer. When asked their choices of the pop culture moments that defined 2023, 74% of the 58 respondents chose the box office battle of Barbenheimer, with Taylor Swift & Beyoncé’s world tour coming in second place, recognized by 57% of students. Many other females who also created cultural fuzzes were mentioned in the free-response part of the survey, among them Britney Spears and Gypsy Rose. “I definitely feel like 2023 was a feminine year,” Marion Young ’26 said, “It’s great to see that women’s works are being recognized more.” This isn’t just the biased opinion of some public school kids in rural Maine; students’ favorites in the survey also appear in almost all major media’s year-end pop culture wrap-up articles. 

Although there were all kinds of combinations due to the number of options, “Barbenheimer” and “Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour & Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour” took the lead of most choices in the survey.

And yes, those magazines as well as our students are both right, because 2023 truly was an incredible year for women. Film industry wise, in February, Michelle Yeoh kicked off the year by becoming the first Asian woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress at the age of 60. French director Justine Triet was awarded the highest honor of Palme d’Or at the 76th Cannes Film Festival in May—the third woman ever to achieve that.  And of course we’ve got the groundbreaking feminist adaptation of Barbie, which was so big and impactful that PIHS made an entire dress-up day just for it! We were impressed by female musicians as well: Rihanna’s pregnant Super Bowl half-time show, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé’s record-breaking tours and the female domination of the year’s Grammy nominations. Besides these, there were also viral TikTok trends like girl dinner, and outstanding female athletes like Simone Biles and Mikaela Shiffrin, the list goes on. Those are all amazing examples of how 2023 saw a long-anticipated embrace of female empowerment, girlhood or just femininity in general.

But was 2023 really “the year of the girls”? Many pop culture critics have criticized certain feminine trends last year for their binary and consumeristic essence. The writer of Dazed Magazine Jess Bacon wrote in her commentary piece: “So many ‘girly’ trends [of 2023] are fundamentally capitalistic and are just encouraging us girlies to buy more products.” At the same time, research done by the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism shows that only 14 of the 116 directors of the highest-grossing films of 2023 were women. Even the female directors who succeeded couldn’t escape the risk of their works not being taken seriously—during Jo Koy’s Golden Globes opening speech just recently, he made an inappropriate comparison of “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie”, describing the former as something “based on a Pulitzer-winning book” and the latter as “on a plastic dolls with big boobies.” 


Jo Koy’s Golden Globes opening stirred up a Twitter/ X meme trend.

With this information, it’s hard for one to resist questioning: was the seemingly feminine year of 2023 a lie? Was the massive publication of the “girly” trends just a distraction of the prominent problems that women in pop culture and the entertainment industry still face every day? “I think that feminine trends have their place and importance,” Kai Levesque ‘25 commented, “Gender issues need to be opposed by these trends; torn down and stomped out.”

There is always room for interpretation, but undoubtedly, the celebrations of feminine pop culture in 2023 served as an affirmation of people’s inner femininity. The same night that “Barbie” was made fun of, the lead actress of “Killers of the Flower Moon” Lily Gladstone became the first native and two-spirit person to win a major category at the Golden Globes.

We still have a long way to go when it comes to improving the visibility and giving credits to women-made works, the hyper-feminine representation in 2023’s pop culture was an important and necessary step. We want to believe that 2024 would only be better than last year.

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