This Sunday I went to see a new independent documentary film by Jennifer Lee that has been eight years in the making entitled, Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation. I have met Jennifer twice before in my Women’s Studies classes at Santa Monica College in the midst of her film’s completion and was incredibly excited to finally see it in its entirety, screened on the last day of the Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival in which it won “Best in the Festival for Documentary.”
The documentary chronicles the story of the women’s liberation movement from 1963-1970 (this time of the movement is also known as the second-wave of feminism). Beginning in 2005, Jennifer Lee traveled the country interviewing the feminists who were the ice-breakers for this movement. Lee explores the details of the feminist revolution and connects the controversy surrounding the word ‘feminism’ with what really happened during this incredible and heart breaking social movement. Feminists interviewed were Betty Friedan (Lee holds the rights to her last video interview before she passed), Aileen Hernandez, Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan, Eleanor Smeal, and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, just to name a few.
What I particularly liked about Jennifer’s film was that she chose to focus just on the second wave of feminism from years 1963, beginning with the report of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women which found discrimination against women in every aspect of American life outlined plans to achieve equality as well as the publishing of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique the same year, and covered the following years up to 1970 with the Ladies Home Journal sit-in and the Women’s Strike for Equality organized by Betty Friedan. Unlike PBS Documentary Makers which I think gave far too broad an overview of such a deep and complex movement, Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation did such a great job of accurately covering and representing many issues within the movement as well the history itself, for instance, racism, homophobia, and classism among feminists and within women’s liberation which was expressed when Betty Friedan urged the members of NOW to vote that all lesbians be expelled from the organization. These issues can also be seen in the hostility towards Gloria Steinem who, for a time by other feminists, was not seen as one who fairly earned her stripes because she so easily gained publicity and spotlight because of how well connected she was socially and politically. Jennifer Lee gave an accurate and full representation of the diverse issues of and within the second-wave of feminism, making for a wonderful documentary that would be perfect for high schools to use as material in their (future) curriculum for teaching women’s history classes– which I feel the complete absence of reveals a serious issue in our education system.