Well, it’s finally time to talk about that other “b word” that’s had an effect on millions of women around the world: Betty.
And no, we aren’t talking about the girl who broke your heart last month, or the love interest of Taylor Swift’s potentially gayest song to date. We are talking about each and every girl and woman who has ever stepped foot inside a male-dominated sphere and has inevitably felt like an object or other.
Historically, ‘Betty’ is a term used in surf and skateboard culture to patronize women, objectify women, and/or invalidate the skills of women. ‘Betty’ may commonly refer to a “girl who hangs around the skatepark.” However, the word takes on a new meaning in 2020 with Crystal Moselle’s refreshingly bold six-episode series, Betty.
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Betty has been one of the better shows I’ve watched this year – and not because of any outstanding acting or cinematography, but rather because of its immersive narrative and underlying message. The series, which is based on Skate Kitchen, an all-female skate collective in New York City, resonates because its story and characters are real; members of Skate Kitchen play fictionalized versions of themselves. The all-female group (in the show and in real life) works to create a safe space for women to skate and make a name for themselves in the skate scene, all while navigating NYC, finding themselves, and reclaiming the very word that has once hindered them from doing the aforementioned.
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Thanks to this series, I have not only realized just how freaking good it feels to reclaim certain words (like Betty) that have once pathologized my identity and womanhood — but have encountered four other lessons the show teaches, and trust me, these lessons are as real as life lessons get!
Friendship is key
“Betty” centers around the fictionalized lives of five different, real-life young women. Through the show, we follow the skating endeavors and real-life friendship of Kirt (in real life, Nina Moran), Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), Indigo (Ajani Russell), Janay (Dede Lovelace), and Honeybear (Kabrina “Moonbear” Adams).
And to say these friends couldn’t live without one other is an understatement. They have a support system that goes far beyond the walls of the skatepark. From everyone helping Camille find her phone in the streets of New York, to the friends coming to Janay’s defense in a bar fight, to Indigo bailing everyone out of jail (from said bar fight), all the way to Camille giving Indigo a place to stay, there is not one problem the friends solve without the help of another. They are all there for one other to the end, extraordinarily proving their commitment to helping one another survive and thrive.
The matriarchy comes first
After a whole season of not getting into Winter Bowl (an all-male skating event), and getting into nothing but altercations with men, Kirt expresses to Camille in the final episode how she’s finally seen the truth and says “We can’t just be fighting people’s dads like that.” In this scene, she proclaims that her and her friends start helping the matriarchy instead of fighting the patriarchy. And yes, while it is always super important to recognize and name the oppressor in any situation, I have to agree with Kirt in that it is also important to criticize the oppressed as well and see where, in this case, women could be using their energy to help other women.
After all, just like men, women can hurt women (which we’ve seen Camille do to her newly found friends at the beginning of the series), and with this one suggestion, Kirt has reminded me (and I’m sure plenty of other women) that when it comes to sexism and white supremacy, women must do a better job at being introspective and seeing how they may, too, be a part of the problem before outwardly attacking men for the ultimate oppression of women.
So yes, like friendship, the intersectionality and solidarity of women is just as much of a key when it comes to navigating womanhood and the real world!
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Hold loved ones accountable
Going back to that bar fight I mentioned earlier… the friends encounter some tension in and after Episode 3. While Janay, Camille, Honeybear, and Kirt were all involved in the fight, Kirt was the only one to physically cause damage by pushing a girl and crashing a window with her skateboard, BUT also the only one to escape the cops by fleeing the scene.
At first, Kirt doesn’t understand her white privilege and why her friends are so mad that she was capable of running away from arrest, but soon enough, after some time of being held accountable by her friends, she comes to terms with what it means to have white privilege and what it means to be a loyal friend. She then acknowledges her faults, apologizes to her friends, and concludes, “I need to be better.”
And well, if there’s any lesson to learn right now, it is definitely this one.
The characters in this one-of-a-kind show are as real as the actors who play them. Each and every one of the skaters has their own unique style and personality. One memento from the show gay girls everywhere probably picked up first was Kirt’s garishly iconic hat with its big rainbow and glorious bejeweling. And, of course, it’s an item that the street skater holds near and dear to her heart (and head).
Believe it or not, Nina Moran is almost always wearing this signature hat (including during her TED talk , in which she explains the very founding of her tight-knit skating sisterhood) IRL. And while Nina and Kirt (and the rest of the girl gang, for that matter) may not have the most conventional sense of fashion, absolutely nothing stops them all from shining at the skatepark and living their colorful lives out loud and proud.
The friends find themselves being the freest and having the most fun when they can be who they want, and do what they want, when they want, together. And so, by the end of the series, Kirt, Camille, Indigo, Janay, and Honeybear are still holding their own, but also standing united, as they host their closing “girls only skate sesh,” with absolutely no presence of toxic heteronormativity or masculinity, but with every presence of fortified confidence and badass-ness.