She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry: A Film Review

 

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International Film Circuit, Inc.

By Christine Riddiough

The year 2014 witnessed an upsurge in activities related to violence against women. From Elliott Rodgers to #YesAllWomen to sexual assault on college campuses, there was a heightened awareness of the ways in which women are still denied a full place in society. On December 31, "Morning Edition" host David Greene talked with author Roxanne Gay about how Americans have dealt with race and gender issues in the past year. Toward the end of the interview Greene asked Gay, "Does that suggest that some of the movements from the '60s and '70s on these very issues, I mean, did they fail in some way?" Gay’s response was, "No, they did not fail. There was just work still to be done, and we're continuing that work now."

This exchange highlights how important understanding our history is to informing our current activism. One movie released in 2014 and now coming to theaters around the country does this. She's Beautiful When She's Angry is a fascinating documentary detailing the beginning of the women's liberation movement in the United States.

Filmmaker Mary Dore moves with agility between interviews with activists from the 1960s and early 1970s to archival footage showing demonstrations and concerts and consciousness-raising groups. She traverses a range of issues—from reproductive justice and childcare to the role of African American and Latino women in the movement and equal pay for equal work. Starting with the publication of The Feminine Mystique in 1963, Dore illustrates the status of women then and describes just how much the women's movement changed things.

For many younger women, involvement in the civil rights and anti-war movements spurred a commitment to social justice, but within those movements women were often denigrated. Heather Booth, a founder of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, describes a meeting in the 1960s in which she tried to raise issues and was told to "sit down and shut up." She goes on to say that one of the most important lessons of women’s liberation was the idea that "the personal is political": if something is happening to many women, it’s a social problem that needs to be addressed collectively and politically.

Ruth Rosen, author of The World Split Open, describes her situation and that of many women students thus: "We had degrees but we knew nothing about women." The authors of Our Bodies, Ourselves talk about how they did research to find out more about women’s bodies. In the 1950s and 1960s women were simply told what to do by doctors; most women knew nothing about reproduction or sexuality. Karla Jay, author of Out of the Closets, talks about how she didn’t tell anyone in college that she was a lesbian because she was afraid of being expelled. These are a few of the anecdotes that illustrate the situation of women in the early 1960s. Fran Beal of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) says, "You’re talking about liberation and freedom half the night on the racial side, and then all of a sudden men are going to turn around and start talking about putting you in your place. So in 1968 we founded the SNCC Black Women’s Liberation Committee to take up some of these issues."

These few highlights from the film can only hint at the boldness and exuberance of the women’s liberation movement. The film itself does an excellent job of transmitting that heady feeling of the time. It also shows us that no matter how bleak things may look given the challenges we face now, we can move forward.

And the important lessons in this are that first, in order to move forward we need to know where we’ve been, and second, that change doesn’t just happen, we make it happen. Carol Giardina points out that "To take away the history of how change is made cuts down on activism, because people don’t think that I, an everyday person, can make a big change.” And Mary Jean Collins states, "I want people to know that if they take action, they can make really profound change. You can’t convince me you can’t change the world, because I saw it happen."

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is being screened this winter and spring at locations around the country. You can find a screening at http://www.shesbeautifulwhenshesangry.com/findascreening/ and at many of them women in the film will be present to talk about the movie and their activism. If there isn’t a screening near you, contact Wendy Lidell at wlidell@internationalfilmcircuit.com to book the film.

ChristineRiddioughAID.png Christine R. Riddiough serves as a vice chair of DSA and was a member of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, which is featured in the film.

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