University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson launched into the public eye after he published a controversial video series entitled Professor Against Political Correctness in 2016. Within 2 years, he sells over 3 million copies of his self-help book, appears on numerous television shows, and fills theatres with his lectures. At the same time, he endures a swell of backlash, including that from a former colleague that now labels him as a dangerous threat. After mobilising some on the right for his criticisms of the left, Peterson fends-off being labelled a right-wing figurehead while moving through the media spectacle, arguing his shifting philosophical views. Filmed during this period of Peterson’s rise to fame, and told through family, friends, and foes, The Rise of Jordan Peterson presents a complex kaleidoscopic narrative and personal portrait, enabling the viewer to examine Peterson in several different ways, while considering his wide and often conflicting range of perspectives and social commentary.
The ‘MeToo’ movement has brought the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and harassment in this culture to the mainstream, creating an unprecedented demand for sexual violence prevention models that actually work. The Bystander Moment tells the story of one of the most prominent and proven of these models developed by activist and writer Jackson Katz and his colleagues. Illustrated through archival footage and clips from news, sports, and entertainment media, Katz explores the role of bystanders—especially friends, teammates, classmates, and co-workers—in perpetuating sexual harassment and sexual assault. Katz also gives attention to peer culture dynamics—in particular the male peer culture dynamics across race and ethnicity—that help normalise sexism and misogyny while silencing other men in the face of abuse. The Bystander Moment qualifies the crucial importance of appealing to people not as potential perpetrators or passive spectators, but as active bystanders and allies who have a positive role to play in challenging and changing sexist cultural norms, to stopping abuse and violence.
In 2013, seventeen-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons took her own life. She had been gang-raped a year and a half earlier by her classmates and labeled a “slut” as a result. Despite transferring schools many times, she could not escape constant online harassment and in-person bullying. But Rehtaeh’s story is horribly not the only one like this to make headlines in recent years. Why is the sexual shaming of girls and women, especially sexual assault victims, still so prevalent throughout this culture? UnSlut tackles this question through a series of conversations with those who have experienced sexual shaming and how it manifests, while also offering immediate and long-term goals for personal and institutional change.
The Empathy Gap investigates how dominant culture bombards young men with sexist and misogynistic messages and argues that these messages not only devalue women but also undercut men’s innate capacity for caring and empathy. The film looks closely at the ways these messages short-circuit men’s ability to empathize with women, respect them as equals, and take feminism seriously, drawing parallels between sexism and racism, spelling out how each is rooted in cultural norms that discourage empathy, and shows how men who break with these norms live happier and healthier lives.
Growing Up Trans explores how queer theory, now in the mainstream, has come to children—some younger than six years old. For just a generation ago, it was considered only adults who wished to perform opposite gender stereotypes, physically changing their bodies or appearance with drugs, hormones and invasive surgery; but today, many young children are seeking serious and new medical or chemical interventions, at younger and younger ages, in a culture of rampant individualism and post-modernism. Told from the perspective of parents, doctors, but perhaps most revealing of all, the kids themselves, Growing Up Trans reveals a sharp narrative that speaks to the choices and struggles of a new generation of young people, while also illustrating the dynamics of the larger post-modern culture and how its profoundly influenced their lives, bodies, and indeed the existential self.
The Mask You Live In unpacks how this culture’s narrow and harmful definition of masculinity effects boys, young men; girls and women; and society in general in myriad ways, as our children struggle to stay true to themselves when confronted by this culture. Pressured by their peer group, heavily influenced by a barrage of media messages, and even their very own parents and other adults in their lives, our protagonists confront messages encouraging them to disconnect from and suppress their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence, control and manipulation. These traits and stereotypes closely interconnect with problems of race, class, and circumstance, creating a maze of identity issues boys and young men must navigate to become “real” men as the culture expects and perpetuates. Experts in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, sports, education, and media also weigh in, offering empirical evidence of how these issues intersect, and what we can do about it.
Based on interviews conducted with hundreds of young women, Flirting With Danger examines how the wider culture’s frequently contradictory messages about pleasure, danger, agency, and victimisation enter into women’s most intimate relationships. The result is a candid and nuanced look at how women are forced to grapple with deeply ambivalent cultural attitudes about sexuality and relationships. These interviews are essential viewing for tackling the problematic issues surrounding consent, coercion and sexual violence throughout the culture.
The Purity Myth takes a look at the resurgence of a movement of abstinence, brought about by a powerful alliance of religious ideologues, right-wing politicians, conservative media pundits and policy intellectuals who have been exploiting irrational fears about women’s sexuality. From daddy-daughter “purity balls,” taxpayer-funded abstinence-only curricula, and political attacks on ‘Planned Parenthood,’ to recent attempts by legislators to de-fund women’s reproductive healthcare and narrow the legal definition of rape, The Purity Myth identifies the single false assumption underlying this huge push: that the worth of a woman depends on what she does—or does not do—sexually. This film also argues that the health and well-being of women is too important to be left to figureheads bent on vilifying feminism and undermining women’s autonomy.
It is said that young people are apparently doing away with the old ways of romance and dating, and going straight for sex, and that it’s this rise of hookup culture on college campuses especially, that is highlighted as the process of changing some of our most basic assumptions about heterosexual sex and gender. But for all the speculation, there’s been little beyond anecdotal proof to back any of these claims up. Understanding Hookup Culture is a presentation by Paula England, a researcher in the sociology of gender, that aims to clarify what’s actually going on. England traverses a wealth of data to begin to chart whether the phenomenon of hook-up culture represents some kind of fundamental change, or whether we’re simply seeing age-old gender patterns dressed up in new social forms.
The Bro Code unpacks and takes aim at the forces of masculinity that condition boys and men to fundamentally dehumanise and disrespect women. The film breaks down a range of contemporary media forms that are saturated with sexism—movies and music videos that glamorise misogyny, pornography that trades in the brutalisation and commodification of women, comedy routines that make light of sexual assault, and a slate of men’s magazines and TV shows that propagate myths of what it means to be a man in this culture: that it’s not only normal, but “cool” for boys and men to control and humiliate women. There’s nothing natural or inevitable about this mentality. And it’s extremely harmful in the real world. By setting the myths against reality, The Bro Code challenges young people to step up and fight back against this culture, to reject the fundamental idea that being a ‘real man’ means disrespecting women.
With economic collapse besieging the United States, domestic violence statistics show a sharp increase in violence against women. States are closing shelters and cutting support programs, and the culture ignores domestic violence, except when celebrities are involved on TV. In the meantime, more spouses have been killed by their partners in the past several years than soldiers have been killed in Iraq. Power and Control addresses this life and death issue during a time of urgent crisis, a timely and comprehensive exploration of physical and emotional abuse in dominant culture, as refracted through the story of Kim Mosher, a mother of three who has recently left her abusive husband. As Kim and her fragile daughters take up residence in a domestic violence shelter, the film follows the harrowing struggles in a single-parenting survivor’s quest to find work, housing and peace of mind. We also meet Kim’s husband, Josh, himself a survivor of abuse. His attempts to explain his behaviour are troubling—shocking in the context of the story’s final twist. The multi-level narrative also examines the root causes of domestic violence and the solutions that have evolved to stop it, celebrating the battered women’s movement activists who demanded revolutionary change in the 1980s, and examining alternative approaches now being advocated.
How do our families influence our relationship with our own bodies? How does popular culture’s standards of beauty get inside our hearts and heads? In what ways can sport and the drive for fitness actually make us sick rather than healthy? In Beauty Mark, former champion triathlete Diane Israel examines this culture’s unhealthy fixation on thinness, beauty, and physical perfection. She talks candidly about her own struggle with eating disorders and obsessive exercising, confronting her own past to come to terms with this culture’s unhealthy fixation on self-destructive ideals of beauty and competitiveness.
Filmmaker Denice Ann Evans draws heavily on the voices of students in this powerful exploration of hookup culture on college campuses. Supplementing the stories of students with analysis from health professionals and social commentary, the film’s main concern is whether hookup culture is offering young people a new and potentially liberating set of sexual rules, or whether it’s simply reinforcing traditional gender roles and blurring the line between consent and coercion. The result is a timely film that asks tough questions about the relationship between hookup culture, gender politics, and the alarming levels of sexual assault and binge drinking that continue to plague college campuses.
Arguing that advertising not only sells things, but also ideas about the world, The Codes of Gender examines the commercial culture’s inability to let go of reactionary gender representations. Presenter Sut Jhally’s starting point is the breakthrough work of the late sociologist Erving Goffman, whose 1959 book The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life prefigured the growing field of performance studies. Jhally applies Goffman’s analysis of the body in print advertising to hundreds of print ads today, uncovering an astonishing pattern of regressive and destructive gender codes. By looking beyond advertising as a medium that simply sells products, and beyond analyses of gender that tend to focus on either biology or objectification, The Codes of Gender offers important insights into the social construction of masculinity and femininity, the relationship between gender and power, and the everyday performance of cultural norms.
Generation M looks at misogyny and sexism in mainstream media, exploring how negative definitions of femininity and hateful attitudes toward women get constructed and perpetuated throughout popular culture. The film tracks this across a broad and disturbing range of media phenomena: from the hyper-sexualization of commercial products aimed at girls, to the explosion of violence against women in video games aimed at boys; from the hysterical sexist rants of popular hip-hop artists and talk-radio shock-jocks, to the continually harsh, patronizing caricature of women found in virtually every area of media. Generation M posits the consequences of misogyny in all of its forms, showing that when we devalue more than half the population based on gender, we harm everyone—boys and men, women and girls alike.
Moving Beyond Myth focuses on the sexual dilemmas and difficult life choices young girls face as they come of age in contemporary American culture. Challenging long-held myths about girlhood, the film draws on the insights of girls themselves to explore and shed light on their actual lived experience as they navigate an increasingly hyper-sexualized society. The voices of a diverse range of girls are supplemented with accessible analysis from leading experts on sexuality and society.
Spin the Bottle critiques the role that popular culture plays in glamorising excessive drinking and high-risk behaviour, in contrast to the ways alcohol affects the lives of real young men and women in reality. This film decodes the power and influence of seductive media images to show how they shape personal identity when linked to the use of alcohol. Nowhere is this link more apparent than on America’s college campuses. By exploring the party scene, Spin the Bottle also shows the difficulties young people have in navigating a cultural environment saturated with messages about gender and alcohol. Interviews with health professionals provide a clear picture of how drinking impacts student health and academic performance, but it is the students’ own experiences and reflections that tell the real story behind alcohol’s alluring public and cultural image.
The Disney Company’s massive success in the 20th century is based on creating an image of innocence, magic and fun for kids. Its animated films in particular are almost universally lauded as wholesome family entertainment, enjoying massive popularity among children and endorsement from parents and teachers around the world. This film takes a close look at Disney, to analyse the world these films create for kids and the stories they tell and propagate; contextualised by the cultural pedagogy of Disney’s conglomerate mass-media control and vast corporate power. Including interviews with social commentators, media scholars, child psychologists, kindergarten teachers, multicultural educators, college students and children, Mickey Mouse Monopoly provokes audiences to confront assumptions about an institution that is virtually synonymous with childhood pleasure.
Everybody who has survived adolescence knows what a scary, tumultuous, exciting time it is. But if we use memories of our experiences to guide our understanding of what today’s girls are living through, we make a serious mistake. Girls are living in a new world. Reviving Ophelia is a call from Dr. Mary Pipher, a psychologist who has worked with teenagers for more than a decade. She finds that in spite of the women’s movement, which has empowered adult women in some ways, teenage girls today are having a harder time than ever before because of higher levels of violence and sexism in the culture. The current crises of adolescence—frequent suicide attempts, dropping out of school and running away from home, teenage pregnancies in unprecedented numbers, and an epidemic of eating disorders—are caused not so much by “dysfunctional families” or incorrect messages from parents as by our media-saturated, image-obsessed culture.
As the first film to emerge from the women’s movement in the early 1970s in the United States, Growing Up Female focuses on the socialisation of women at the time, traversing cultural themes through the personal stories of six women and girls. By capturing the way women were viewed by society, men, and themselves, Growing Up Female documents the female experience from a female perspective.