She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (By Guest Blogger, Wendy Moscow)

she's beautiful

As someone who came of age at the tail-end of the second wave of feminism, the documentary film “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” has a special resonance for me. Featuring interviews with women who were involved in the movement and stirring archival footage, often featuring those same women, the film takes us back to a time (not that long ago) when equal rights for women was a radical idea.

The antiwar, civil rights, and free speech movements were at their peak in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, but while the male activists formulated policy and held press conferences, the women found themselves relegated to sealing envelopes and making coffee. With an evolving understanding that female disempowerment is systemic and institutional, women within those movements began rising up to claim their rightful place alongside the men. For many of the men, though, this new liberation movement hit too close to home. In one scene, shocking by today’s more enlightened standards, Marilyn Webb bravely advocates for women’s equality before a gathering of hundreds of “New Left” men, only to be ridiculed, cat-called, shouted down, and even threatened with rape.

The film traces the proliferation of consciousness-raising groups that arose out of this new awareness. Women could, for the first time, compare notes about the sexism they faced in their daily lives, and share those “aha” moments that embodied their contention that “the personal is political.” It was a heady and thrilling time, when women were changing the dominant paradigm governing gender relationships. As Alice Wolfson says, “We didn’t want a bigger piece of the pie, we wanted to change the pie!”

Director Mary Dore brilliantly interweaves memorable, funny and often outrageous protests of the era with dramatic readings of groundbreaking feminist literature, and the reminiscences of those who were there, conveying to a new generation just how revolutionary these ideas were.

To her credit, she does not shy away from controversies within the movement. One of the early inspirations for second wave (especially white, middle-class) feminists was Betty Friedan’s book “The Feminine Mystique,” an indictment of women’s restricted role within the traditional family as helpmeet and baby-maker whose only identity was in relation to her husband. While her book put a name to the inchoate longing felt by many women for something better, Friedan had a blind-spot when it came to lesbians. Feeling that the newly blossoming lesbian liberation movement somehow sullied feminism and militated against mainstream acceptance, she derisively called lesbians the “Lavender Menace.”

Another bone of contention was some white feminists’ assumptions that issues faced by women of color were identical to those faced by white women. Racism within the white feminist movement was the impetus for women of color to organize groups that specifically addressed the intersection of sexism and racism.

Of course, reproductive rights plays an extremely important role in this film. We are reminded that almost every state has enacted legislation to limit women’s access to reproductive choice, more than forty years after the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion – so hard won by the second wave.

The struggle is brought up to date with contemporary video of women protesting draconian anti-choice legislation proposed (and eventually passed) in Texas. And as we see a crowd of millennials marching down the street at yet another demonstration, the camera cuts to a woman in a hijab and two young men chanting, “This is what a feminist looks like!” The work begun by the second wave is not yet finished, and, in a time when 19 white men in a room have the power to decide whether all women have access to basic health care, we may need another revolution.

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” is available on Netflix, and readily available on DVD. Check your local library.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on July 19, 2017, in Documentary, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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