The surprising feminism of Degrassi: Next Class

Degrassi has always “gone there,” but with the latest iteration, for the Netflix audience, the season spent a great deal of time focusing on feminism. From Maya’s (Olivia Scriven) anthem and online trolls to an active feminist club, the subject was not merely a theme floated through one hectic episode, but a focus throughout the season.

It begins in the third episode – #YesMeansYes – when the series brilliantly tackles the important topic of consent, as it applies to one of the show’s main couples, Maya and Zig (Ricardo Hoyos). The two have had sex once before, so Zig sees no problem in pushing Maya into a physical relationship once again, as he fears the romance is fading.

Complaining about the situation, Zig and pal Tiny (Richard Walters) display a familiar, shocked reaction to rape, though they had just basically been discussing the idea of coercion and force when it comes to sex.

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The boys were shocked to hear the suggestion of rape, even after talking about being “assertive” in their sex lives (image via Netflix)

Their friend Grace (Nikki Gould) swoops in with the female perspective – and cold, hard truth of the matter -expertly pointing out that consent is an important part of a sexual experience, one that is required every time, no matter your relationship status.

Next, in episode three – #NotOkay – Maya experiences sexism at a gig as men scoff at her, expecting her to be unable to handle her own musical equipment and calling her ‘blondie,’ before an audience member drops the B word when frustrated that she – not surprisingly – doesn’t want him screaming into his cell phone during her set.

Furious over the unfair treatment – and damned if she was going to let sexists stop her from following her dreams – Maya writes a new song: “Not Okay.” The pop-y, dance song shares her thoughts on sexist micro-aggressions such as catcalls.

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Grace set them straight on the importance of consent (image via Netflix)

“Don’t call me babe when you know my name/ You’re not the hunter I’m not your game. This is it. You gotta know when to quit/  And you’d better get used to it,’ Maya sings.

The chorus says: “Hey, this is not okay/ Hey, hey, I said no way./ You say I gotta chill. That’s not cool/ Just take care of yourself. I’m no fool./ Hey, this is not okay/ Hey, hey, I said no way./ You say I gotta chill. Well, guess what?/ Just take care of yourself.  ‘Cause you’re messed up.”

Her song becomes somewhat of an anthem throughout the rest of the season, even helping her to understand what a feminist is, and that she is one herself. At first, Maya found herself confused by the word, mistaking the strive for equality with a hate for the opposite sex.

However, head of the feminist club, Goldi (Soma Bhatia), explains that it simply means Maya is in support of such things as equal pay for men and women and equal access to education – an issue which happened to fit well with a current campaign of the club.

See, Degrassi has five bathrooms for each sex, but one of the boys’ five restrooms is never used, whereas the girls at the school are left waiting in a long line whenever they need the facilities, causing some to be late for class, missing their equal share at education.

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Maya and the feminist club worked to get another bathroom for the girls of Degrassi (image via Netflix)

Soraya Chemaly wrote a thoughtful piece on this very topic for Time last January, and Goldi does a wonderful job of explaining the issue, lobbying Maya to her side despite her boyfriend Zig’s close-minded view.

Later, after a video game club is shut down for its sexist treatment and portrayal of women, Maya is targeted as the scapegoat (not unlike the vitriolic response Chemaly discussed having to the aforementioned Time article, mentioned here).

Degrassi: Next Class shows the harrowing issue of internet brutality, which sees women facing threats of rape and death whenever they say something with which online trolls disagree.

As I’ve said before, as a fan of the show, I know that Degrassi has always ‘gone there,’ but in watching this new season on Netflix I was really pleasantly surprised by how thoroughly and effectively it tackled serious, feminist issues.

Not only is it a quirky, fun teen comedy, but hopefully for those who watch, it can be a tool in making a difference in the way we look at important issues relating to feminism and rape culture. God knows we need all the help we can get.

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