Why PBS’ women’s rights documentary is so relevant now

2013-03-01T11:45:00Z Why PBS’ women’s rights documentary is so relevant nowKATIE DEAN | The Capital Times | kdean@madison.com | @77kd madison.com

Women's struggle for equality is beautifully captured in a new PBS documentary, "MAKERS," yet a quick glance at some of the more talked-about news events this week show that fight is far from over.

Many saw the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act on Thursday as a morale boost after the unabashed sexism of Seth McFarlane’s Oscar hosting gig and the family-unfriendly decision by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to order all employees who work from home back to the office. And that came on the heels of the closure of several Planned Parenthood offices in Wisconsin, making it more difficult for low-income women to get reproductive health care.

The roots of these modern day battles — against domestic violence and sexism, negotiating work/life balance and access to women's health services — are chronicled in the excellent documentary on the women’s movement that aired on PBS earlier this week: “MAKERS: Women Who Make America.”

Using interviews and archival footage, the three-part documentary recalls women’s struggles to gain equal footing in the workplace and control over their own bodies, and wraps up with the still-vexing puzzle of how to pursue a career without sacrificing family life.

It chronicles the early days of the movement sparked by Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” — which revealed the frustration of many college-educated homemakers — to the launch of Gloria Steinem’s Ms. Magazine, which broke the silence about previously taboo subjects like domestic violence, abortion and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are interviewed about the hurdles they faced pursuing law careers. Equally moving are those stories of people like Barbara Burns, who faced blatant sexual harassment as one of the first female coal miners.

The series prompted responses from local women on Twitter like: "Hillary Clinton has changed so much for women in politics. I can't thank her enough."

"I was in high school during the Clarence Thomas hearing. Only now do I realize how brave Anita Hill was to go through that," tweeted another.

The conservative backlash, led by Phyllis Schlafly, that erupted in response to the women's movement, is also well-documented in MAKERS, though feminists in the film point out how the movement made it possible for Schlafly to be an activist in the first place.

Some of the more exhilarating moments are the footage of Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon (surreptitiously registering under her first initial) and Billie Jean King’s triumphant “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match against Bobby Riggs.

Still, the documentary drew criticism for focusing too much on white women of privilege and ignoring the activism of young feminists today.

As Jill Filipovic writes about "MAKERS" in the Guardian:

"Many of the top blogs — Buzzfeed, Mashable, Jezebel, Gawker, Boing Boing — regularly include feminist content and employ feminist writers. Hundreds of thousands of smaller ones also feature feminist thought ...

"Computer screens and typing fingers don't make the most compelling documentary imagery. But as it turns out, they do change a lot of minds. Women online are beating the feminist drum, and loudly. And it's helping to carry feminism forward. "

All three episodes aired back-to-back on Tuesday on Wisconsin Public Television. It will be broadcast again on several upcoming dates and is available to watch for free online.

The website features more than 100 video profiles of women from all fields sharing their stories, including Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Sandra Cisneros, Sheryl Sandberg, Maya Lin (and Yahoo's Mayer, who, notably, doesn’t consider herself a feminist).

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(4) Comments

  1. happydays
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    happydays - March 03, 2013 10:46 am
    burn your bras - demand women's study classes at your University, demand that more women get slots in law school, med school, show the world that women are being kept down, abused on a regular basis at work, have hit the glass ceiling, have no say, are not representative in politics - are - are - ah - ah - been there , done that - get a clue - we are not stupid little girls who have no voice - we have already arrived - quit trying to make us look like victims - the sad thing is - it is women who are still trying to make us look helpless - Hillary Clinton is wrong - we already have equal rights
  2. Yyf926
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    Yyf926 - March 01, 2013 6:58 pm
    Sorry, I don't think Yahoo's decision is wrong. The company is in trouble. It needs people to interact, to get up and talk, not send emails or swap voicemails. The goal is to reclaim the company's culture; Yahoo used to own the future and punted it to Google. If a Yahooer takes exception, I'm sorry. Companies that are sinking ships must ask for all hands on deck. They have a fiduciary duty to do so. Those who wish to strike out on their own are welcome to do so, but don't blame Yahoo for taking action to put the company and its investors first.
  3. dennisg1325
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    dennisg1325 - March 01, 2013 4:18 pm
    You bet. And high time, too.
  4. MadCityYokal
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    MadCityYokal - March 01, 2013 3:15 pm
    It is a phenomenal documentary. Well worth watching. Hillary Clinton is right -- this needs to be the century of equal rights for women. ERA? Anyone?
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