Girl Meets World: STEM and young Feminists | TV

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by Claire

Disney Channel Original Movies and TV Shows have always had great feminist moments. The importance of friendship, self-acceptance and growth all being reoccurring themes.

While I don’t keep up with Disney Channel as much as I used to (RIP 00s Disney), and I assume you don’t either, I have stumbled across Girl Meets World, which has become my current obsession, and for good reason.

Girl Meets World is a title that may sound familiar to you (mostly in northern America, but it depends on how hip you are with 90s television). This is because Girl Meets World is a spin-off of ABC’s 90s hit Boy Meets World. If you’ve ever heard of the legendary TV couple of Cory and Topanga, Boy Meets World is where they are from. Fourteen years after the final episode in 2000, Disney has released a spin-off series, based on Cory and Topanga's family, but mainly on their 13 year old daughter Riley.

As the daughter of the fierce Topanga Lawrence, it is no surprise Riley has picked up her mother’s feminist spirit in the most recent episode (now in Season 2), titled Girl Meets STEM. For those who don’t know, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, all subjects that have little female representation. 

In this episode, Riley’s class (along with her friends Maya*, Farkle**, Lucas and Zay) are divided into boy-girl pairs to conduct a science experiment. The instructions are simple: One student must return at the end of the day to drop a marble into a beaker, and the other student is to return the next day and figure out what the mysterious substance created by the marble is. 

In a move that is unsurprising, but nonetheless shocking, all the boy students automatically delegate their girl partner to drop the marble, while the guys “do the science.” This act is unquestioned, nor argued against, except by one person: Riley Matthews.

(From left) Lucas, Maya, Riley and Farkle hear about their science midterm. 

This episode looks deeper into what is on the surface (girls losing interest in science), questions why this is, and challenges it. Riley’s anger is used to awaken her fellow female students and fight back.

Riley refuses to drop her marble.

It is revealed that the science teacher has conducted this experiment every year for the past 35 years, as Middle School is the age where he notices girls start to lose interest in science—because the boy’s aren’t letting them.

Girls in STEM subjects is an issue Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls has discussed a lot in the past year, and is an important issue everywhere. STEM are male-dominated fields, for no reason other than girls feeling like they can’t, as demonstrated in this GMW episode.

While the episode was full of great lines, such as Riley listing the history of feminism after Farkle faints, one of the most memorable would be this: 

“By relegating me to a second class marble dropper, you are stopping me from realising my full potential.” 

Not only is this language very self-aware and sophisticated for an 8th grader, it reveals the problem with the system, and why there are few girls in STEM in one line. Boys take charge and girls are too often stopped form realising their potential. Girls don’t hear about other girls in STEM and thus do not know that they can.

Riley's mother Topanga and Riley help educate her fellow classmates on being feminists.

This episode is full of many joys, which had me cheering to myself on the couch more often than not. However, one of the most ground-breaking (in my opinion) things about this episode is the use of the F word. 

That’s right, on this Disney Channel show about 8th graders (currently), Riley and her best friend Maya ACTUALLY say “We’re feminists now.” Because guess what? ‘FEMINIST’ ISN’T A DIRTY WORD.

I love this show, and I loved this episode. Girls in STEM is hardly a topic covered in mainstream media (as far as I know) so it was really special to see it done so wonderfully here.

Rowan Blanchard, who plays Riley, is a feminist trailblazer herself, who will be featured in an upcoming post.


Girl Meets World airs on Disney Channel, Foxtel, weekends at 7.50am 

For all you Boy Meets World fans:
* Maya is the Shawn to Riley’s Corey
** Farkle's last name, Minkus aka Stuart Minkus’ son, but he is actually a core character and not a punchline, so yay team
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