In spite of the atrocious title, this is the documentary we have all been waiting for—for decades: a restoration through rediscovered news footage and interviews of that great time in the late sixties and early seventies when the contemporary women’s movement stormed the two coasts and took possession of our imaginations…
I was living in Manhattan at the time, deeply burrowed into domesticity—my two younger sons were born in 1967 and 1970—but not so deeply burrowed that I didn’t feel the quivers and then the volcanic eruptions of one of the great radical movements of our times, somewhat similar to the Vietnam protests and the Civil Rights movement but the only movement that was completely, and distinctively, female.
This documentary catches fire: the marching women, the young, eager, impassioned faces, the slogans and shouting, the quiet intensity of the consciousness-raising groups which were, for me, my first experience of women talking honestly with each other out of earshot of men.
Raw, radical, even frightening, these scenes and these young women remind me of how much we have gained because of this movement, and how far removed we are now from going out into the streets. The political discourse, all over the world, is still securely in the hands and the voices of men; I noticed that the only woman involved in last week’s attack in Paris is described as a girlfriend of one of the murderers, and has disappeared; and also that the two brothers, after assassinating a woman in the magazine’s office, repeated over and over, “We don’t kill women…”
We pay a price for our immunity, which is as fragile and temporary as all forms of immunity.
As we move along through this compelling documentary, we begin to hear the voices and see the faces of all of us who came through those fighting years and lived to tell the story: women in their seventies and eighties, now, who remember, vividly, what it was like, who can still express some of the fire and some of the belief so many of us had then in the possibility of radical social change.
For it would have been radical: the dismantling of the patriarchy.
Of course that didn’t happen. Can’t happen. But the inroads we made on male power did happen, and have consequences today, even though many younger women avoid or deny both the causes and the achievements of the movement.
A vivid moment shows a young woman in a mass of men outside Wall Street offices, making the kind of comments we used to endure whenever we went out, but making them about these men: how cute their legs are, how she would like to pat their behinds, sucking and whistling noises—we ran that gauntlet over and over and yet hardly noticed when the ogling more or less stopped.
One of my granddaughters can’t believe that the black and white Life magazine photo of a young woman being harassed on a street in Italy wasn’t staged.
I was there. I remember it all, and how my timidity, as a young woman, was reinforced by fear of what I would be exposed to whenever I went out the front door.
The temerity of that nameless young woman ogling and jeering at the Wall Street executives astonishes me now, as does the shouting of a crowd of young leftist men when a woman mounted the stage to speak—shouts of “Take her off and fuck her”…
Progressive moments, liberal movements have never had much space for women; the famous quote from the civil rights days was, “The only position for a woman in the movement is prone.”
But we do continue, if in quieter tones; the burst of protests, across the county, about the way universities and colleges handle, or mishandle, sexual abuse (my birth family’s citadel, Harvard, is among the most backward) shows that young women are still willing to stand near the barricades, if no longer to mount them.
Look for She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. If your neighborhood arts theatre is not showing it, call and ask why. A lot of women want to see it. It is a money maker for small theatres. And they owe it to their audiences.