I produced a film about the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s called “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation.” I started making the film in 2004 after a co-worker whispered this question to me, “Are you a feminist?” I wondered why she whispered. Was feminism still as controversial and edgy as it was during the women’s liberation movement? I think it is.
It’s hard to comprehend how different we are since the women’s liberation movement took place. This movement created a sea change in attitudes, beliefs, laws, and music. It gave women the opportunities to stake our claim in society, to live independently, and to expect to be listened to when we spoke. But feminism existed at the edge of society. Feminism gave me the strength to be a filmmaker in the heavily male field of movie making.
During the process of making my film I made a decision to use the music of the 1970s all female rock band called Fanny. Now that the film is finished I see that the choice was completely appropriate. The colors of the archival footage are now faded and soft, but the songs of Fanny are as clear and strong as the feminist voices that rocked the world more than thirty years ago.
To get the full feel of Fanny I have to go back and tell you what it was like to be a teenager in the 1970s. I was about 17 when I volunteered at the local feminist lesbian bookstore. (Doesn’t every neighborhood have one?) In that store, Charis: Books and More, I was immersed in the books, buttons, posters and pamphlets of the women’s movement. Every item there reflected the ideas of the women’s liberation movement. Words like “power,” “respect,” and “equality,” jumped off the bookshelves and joyfully shouted from the posters on the walls. And there was music – women’s music. I cannot express strongly enough how important it was for a teenage girl to be surrounded by the ideas and words in that store. I knew feminism was good. But feminism goes beyond words. For me feminism became a feeling.
I was a punk rocker in the 1970s and I listened to The Clash, Elvis Costello, Plastic Bertrand, and Ian Drury. They were all-male rock bands. Patti Smith stood out, but her records didn’t come along until 1975. During the early seventies Fanny was new. They were women who played kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll. When I heard their music I responded instinctively. It was like living in a silent forest and then you hear a sound. My ears perked and I listened. Fanny was powerful, loud and good. But as soon as they were there, they were gone.
The years went on and changes took place in the 1980s and 1990s. Women were entering the workforce in droves. Family life changed as women started buying their own houses (without having to be married to a man). Women, even those who never would have called themselves “feminist” were reaping the rewards of the feminist fight. The abortion issue grew (When will it ever end?) and women played and sang rock ‘n’ roll. I forgot about Fanny.
Until one day I was reading an alumni newsletter from Hampshire College and I read that a sister alum had moved to western Massachusetts with her partner “June Millington of Fanny” and they had a rock ‘n’ roll camp for girls! The name “Fanny” rang a bell. Suddenly, a hazy memory became clear.
I searched for and found my Fanny music. I listened and remembered. This was the feeling I wanted to convey in my film because the women’s liberation movement rocked, both literally and figuratively.
Its earliest stirrings included women like Betty Friedan (I shot her last interview) who said about “women’s lib”, “[T]he problem was the definition of the role of women.” Later there were radical actions by groups like the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (the anagram was W.I.T.C.H.) and 1969 Miss America Pageant women’s lib protest that punched holes through old notions of women’s “place” in society. We felt the power and the joy of the women’s movement and we changed. The women’s movement said to us that women were worth listening to.
Last week, I traveled to western Massachusetts where members of Fanny reunited to record songs for my film. It was quietly snowing in the mountains of the Berkshires, but inside the recording studio the music of Fanny was loud and good. June Millington, Jean Millington and Alice De Buhr stirred an old feeling in my heart. June said to me later:
“What Fanny created, and what we re-created for your film, is a place we feel through flinging ourselves out there with electrons and rock ‘n’ roll and the truth ~ when you get there you know it. It’s bigger than you.”
The Fanny recording session reminded me that feminism, like rock ‘n’ roll, is about being on the edge. It’s a place you get to, it’s the sweet spot from which you stand and look out at the world and feel powerful.
Watch a clip of Jennifer’s movie:
Guest contributor Jennifer Lee is a Los Angeles based visual effects producer, independent filmmaker and a mom! Her film “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation” will premier at the Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival on March 24, 2013. Fanny’s official website is here http://fannyrocks.com/
Images courtesy Jennifer Lee