When the Boy Meets World spin-off Girl Meets World premiered in 2014, I can’t say that I was expecting a show with a whole lot of feminist nuance. A light, clean Disney Channel show that edges on the side of cheese? Yes. Yet another example of our generation’s preoccupation with nostalgia and the inability of anyone to come up with an original idea? Absolutely. Of course, Girl Meets World is both of those things. It’s a clean but sassy take on the tween experience with a bunch of Boy Meets World throwback moments. There are some fallbacks to it–the cheese and its tendency to push the family agenda, to name a few–but the show’s strengths tend to overshadow its weaknesses. Among those strengths is a feminist backbone that has stayed fairly consistent through the first two seasons. With its concentration on Riley and Maya’s friendship, its maintenance of Topanga’s ambitious character, and its direct address of common issues like sexism, Girl Meets World consistently proves that it’s here for the girls.
Hands down, the strongest and most important aspect of Girl Meets World is the friendship between Riley and Maya. From the beginning, this duo displayed an emotional maturity and understanding not seen in Cory and Shawn’s friendship until the later seasons of Boy Meets World, if at all. Sorry 90s kids, but Cory’s self-centeredness causes him to lack empathy in many situations. His daughter takes more time to listen and observe. The girls are always there for one another and work hard to overcome their differences. The best example of this comes in the form of the love triangle between Riley, Maya and Lucas. Rather than tear the girls apart in fits of jealousy and bitter feelings, this situation has proven how strong their friendship truly is. Both girls have backed off and hidden their own feelings for the sake of the other, jeopardizing their own happiness in favor of their best friend’s. The emphasis placed on female friendship rather than a romantic relationship fosters healthier relationships for girls everywhere, as well as more complex emotional moments for the show. Ladies supporting ladies: I’m here for it.
Speaking of ladies supporting ladies, I can’t imagine that Riley and Maya would be where they are now without Topanga’s influence. Throughout all of Boy Meets World, Topanga was known as the smart one of the trio. She’s ambitious when it comes to the world of academia, so it’s no surprise that our favorite overachiever juggles several jobs at once. Topanga simultaneously works as a high-powered lawyer, a cafe owner and a full-time mother to Riley and Auggie. Topanga has it all, but she is never made to feel guilty about any of it. The writers even address the fact that Topanga makes more money than Cory in “Girl Meets Money.” Rather than make it a huge joke that strokes Cory’s fragile ego, we see a supportive Cory explain that the difference doesn’t matter to him; what matters is that they’re partners who are both making an important contribution to society. Topanga shouldn’t hold herself back to make Cory feel better, and Girl Meets World never insinuates that this shouldn’t be the case.
This brief but important discourse on gender and salary isn’t the last time that Girl Meets World addresses some sensitive topics in regard to gender. These topics are handled with a subtlety and grace I had not expected from a Disney Channel show. For example, “Girl Meets I Am Farkle,” an episode ostensibly about Asperger’s Syndrome, touched on the topic of consent when Farkle asked if he could hug Smackle before doing so during a sweet moment. Another example comes during “Girl Meets STEM,” which took issues of feminism and sexism head on when an assignment causes the girls to notice the sexist assumptions of the boys in their science classroom. When Farkle automatically presumes that Riley will take a passive role in the experiment, Riley slams some impressive feminist rhetoric on him several times within the episode. Rowan Blanchard’s delivery of this speech is pitch-perfect. Being a vocal activist herself, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that she had some input on these topics. During a bay window discussion, Topanga drops some knowledge of her own, exploring the idea that girls shift away from STEM topics in school around their age due to societal standards and pressure. They’re direct in their approach and address these topics in eloquent and relatable ways, which is important in a show with such a varied audience.
For a show that could have ridden a wave of slapstick comedy, lessons-of-the-week and a pile of nostalgia, Girl Meets World has shown a surprising willingness to showcase and address issues facing girls and women today. Riley and Maya’s relationship fosters a healthy view of female support, while Topanga’s character proves that girls can and should do whatever they want with their lives. I hope to see even more examples crop up as the girls start high school in season three.
The third season of Girl Meets World premieres on Friday, June 3. The first and second seasons are available to stream on Netflix.