by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
March 6, 2008
OUT OF STRUGGLE, ART
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Here we are again at the crossroads of art and social change, having the opportunity to watch good and great films about the lives of women in support of the Women's Crisis Center.
Every time the Women's Film Festival comes around, I ask why we need a separate category for "women's" films?
Isn't this a magical era? We have a woman as a viable candidate for president of the United States. We've come a long way, baby, so isn't it fish on a bicycle time now? Can't we just agree that all films are stories and all stories are "human" (Except when they're about animals - like that rat chef in "Rattatouile" - and even then, humans define the narrative.)
I'm not talking here about the difference between romantic "chick flicks" and "men's" films about blondes with big bazookas and blowing things up.
When I was young and fervently feminist, I was dumb enough to think that once domestic and sexual abuse was recognized for what it was - anger, violence, control, power, hate - once it was brought out into the light of day and named, it would disappear like a vestigial part of the body politic.
Instead, the once-radical idea of safe houses for women has become an accepted and necessary resource for most cities and towns. And physical and mental abuse has become ever more prevalent - the murder rates alone are astounding.
When I came to Brattleboro, I volunteered for the crisis center. No amount of training prepared me for the shock of encountering a woman on a gurney with a huge red gash in her wide forehead. Raped and beaten, her eyes were full of fury. My only acts of comfort, I'm afraid, were to get the hospital attendants to wheel her outside so she could smoke a cigarette, and to stand and tightly hold her hand while the doctors did a rape kit. I wept for days after that.
My second rape call was a young woman who had been brought in from one of the ski resort towns. The doctor questioned whether she had been raped at all, and it looked like he was copping a feel during the exam,
I quit volunteering soon after that. It made me feel too angry and too helpless.
"Women have endured sex/race/ethnic/religious hatred, rape and battery, invasion of spirit and flesh, forced pregnancy," writes author and feminist Robin Morgan in a magnificent piece supporting Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy. "Being the majority of the poor, the illiterate, the disabled, of refugees, caregivers, the HIV/AIDS afflicted, the powerless. We have survived invisibility, ridicule, religious fundamentalism, polygamy, tear gas, forced feedings, jail, asylums, sati, purdah, female genital mutilation, witch burnings, stonings and attempted gynocides. We have tried reason, persuasion, reassurances and being extra-qualified, only to learn it was never about qualifications after all."
And yet... .
"We are the women who brought this country equal credit, better pay, affirmative action, the concept of a family-focused workplace," Morgan writes. "The women who established rape-crisis centers and battery shelters, marital-rape and date-rape laws; the women who defended lesbian custody rights, who fought for prison reform, founded the peace and environmental movements; who insisted that medical research include female anatomy; who inspired men to become more nurturing parents; who created women's studies and Title IX so we could all cheer the WNBA stars and Mia Hamm... We are the proud successors of women who, though it took more than 50 years, won us the vote."
With such a rich history, how can our magnificent stories not be told?
It's an honor, for example to meet someone like policewoman Laurel Hester, dying from cancer and fighting her New Jersey town government - the elected officials are called "chosen freeholders" - for the right to pass on her pension to her female partner.
It's humbling to watch as her bosses and partners and supporters - and, ultimately, the governor - work to win her rights. "Freeheld," by Cynthia Wade, the 2007 Academy Award winner for Best Short Documentary is a beautiful and powerful film, and you don't need a vagina to be deeply touched by it.
You don't need one for the 2006 "Campaneras," either, by Elizabeth Massie and Matthew Buzzelli, which tells the story of the world's first female Mariachi band. Was it hard for the young musicians to break through traditional Mexican macho stereotypes? Of course. One girl was even told that playing the large bass guitar might hinder her from having children later on. But the girls loved the music and persevered,
The girls are beautiful, the music is passionate, and even those of us who don't know anything about the world of Mariachi will be delighted with the film.
How can our culture come so far and yet not come far at all? How can we have a female presidential candidate and an ever-increasing worldwide cycle of violence against women - one in which rape is often considered a tactic of war?
Out of art comes struggle and out of struggle, art. The Women's Film Festival has the art and the struggle (and more than a few belly laughs). It should be a wild and bumpy ride.
Resources: The Women's Film Festival opens Friday with a special fundraising showing of "Persepolis" at the Latchis Theater, 50 Main St., Brattleboro, Vt., and then screens films at various venues from March 14-23. Full information at www.womensfilmfestival.org. I'll be blogging during the run. You can find me at Reformer.com and also at www.womensfilmfestival.blogspot.com.
A collection of AR Correspondent Joyce Marcel's columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com. And write her at email@example.com.