Miff 2015: She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry

6 Aug

By Jenni Kauppi

The documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry opens in the present day on a demonstration in Texas for women’s healthcare and the right to choose; while women won the right to safe and legal abortion 40 years ago, contraception and abortion is still restricted in most states in America.

It then proceeds to tell the very rousing story of exactly how hard won these freedoms were, outlining the birth of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 60s and early 70s that made it happen. It’s expansive terrain: from the restrictive definitions of success for women in the 1950s – husband, children, waistline, spotless home etc. – to the right to control their own bodies, via abortion rights and contraception, to equal pay and childcare. Early feminists in the Women’s Lib movement were the first to put these topics into public discussion, and they were at the coalface for the ensuing backlash from men and women alike.

What could have settled for being a neat little 101 primer of second wave feminist history instead confronts and teases out the complexities that the movement faced, even within itself, revealing a host of growing pains in its attempt to encompass the myriad female experience. It unpacks the misogyny faced by women who were active in the Peace Movement during the Vietnam War, and the unique problems faced by women of colour. And it doesn’t shy away from the complications within the movement for queer women and radical lesbian feminists who agitated over the inherent patriarchy of heterosexual relationships.

Importantly, the documentary is told by the women who were there – the driving forces of the movement – and hearing from the women themselves in present day, spliced seamlessly with mint condition footage and stills of them in action, is a powerful conceit that vividly captures the explosive, hopeful and momentous feeling of the time. We hear from Muriel Fox, in charge of the movement’s public relations, (asked to take the role by Feminine Mystique author, Betty Friedan); Alta, renowned feminist beat poet and founder of feminist press, Shameless Hussey (at a time when only 6% of published writers in America were women) and co-founder of the women’s liberation newspaper, It Ain’t Me Babe; Mary Collins-Robson, who was the President of the Chicago chapter of the National Organisation of Women (NOW), and many other ordinary women who have made it their life’s work to advocate and fight for basic rights that women – even today – can never take for granted.

And while it’s endlessly informative about the broader historical and political context of women’s rights, it manages an intimacy too; ultimately it’s as much a tribute to the activism of that generation, as it is an education to the preceding ones. And by positioning itself structurally in the context of present day ongoing fight for reproductive rights in the USA, it may also be read as a call to arms. But even for those not moved to action, this is a documentary that shouldn’t be missed.

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