New documentary examines figures behind rise of
modern women's movement
By Lou Fancher
A typical 1960s want ad in what used to be men's and women's segregated job columns leaps out like a virtual slap in the face in director Mary Dore's absorbing documentary, "She's Beautiful When She's Angry." It announces "Wanted: World's Best Looking Exec Secy to assist World's Most Charming Boss!"
Resurrecting a period from 1966 to 1971, when a growing movement in the United States forever altered the course of women's lives, the 92-minute film opens Feb. 6 for one week only at the Landmark Shattuck Cinema, 2230 Shattuck Ave., and select theaters in the Bay Area.
A brilliant mosaic of interviews, archival footage, scrupulously directed re-enactments and a terrific sound score describe the founding of NOW (National Organization for Women), W.I.T.C.H. (Women's International Conspiracy from Hell!) and the effect on society of pivotal books like Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" and "Our Bodies Ourselves," the female health "bible" by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective.
Incendiary and sexual, unafraid to address race and civil rights divisions that alternately splintered and sealed the intellectual, outspoken, angry and often hilariously revolutionary figures leading the charge, Dore's film is perhaps the best way to understand how great -- or how limited -- women's progress has been since 1971.
In a director's statement, Dore says she was compelled to make the film because the women's movement, which she calls "arguably the biggest revolution of the 20th century," had not received feature documentary attention.
Dore started production of "She's Beautiful" in 2010 and visited Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and other cities to find the game-changers behind the movement's biggest names.
In the East Bay alone, the bounty was rich: Historian/journalist Ruth Rosen, editor/activist Fran Beal, author Susan Griffin, writer/activist Linda Burnham, and Alta, founder of Shameless Hussy Press, the first feminist publisher, which launched when only 6 percent of books published in America were written by women and operated for 20 years.
It comes as no surprise that the outspoken women in the film -- burning college graduation certificates, teaching self-defense courses, ushering 11,000 women along "the Jane Collective" (an underground service offered when abortion was illegal), marching 50,000 strong "on strike" in New York City in 1970 to demand government-supported child care for working women -- remain forceful proponents in 2015.
"Unless there's child care, women will always be second in the professional world," Rosen says in an interview.
The goals of 1970: child care, legal abortion ("It's legal, but so chipped away that it's difficult for women to find a provider," Rosen says), and equal pay, are demands she says remain unmet.
"We earned 69 cents to a man's dollar then; we earn 81 cents now. We've made 12 pennies in 40 years," Rosen says.
Even so, she says, women today are far better informed about their bodies, which one woman in the film refers to as "living labs" because so little was known.
Rosen says that as a historian she's aware that change around family organization creeps slowly. The colossal changes of the 1970s, mostly retained but hardly expanded during the '80s and '90s, will only achieve new growth when the next generation discovers what has not been finished, she says. Minus the atmosphere she recalls as "intoxicating," she hopes the Internet's connectivity will enable women to bring worldwide energy to their demands.
Beal shares her hopefulness. Strides in sexual harassment awareness -- the standard way some men used to talk to women that is now recognized as a violation of civil rights -- is one marker of change.
"Just as people have faith in a god they cannot see, I have faith the masses of women will become a powerful political and economic force once again. The truth will prevail over backward ideas of some groups today," she says.
As a woman of color, Beal says gender oppression cannot be examined without consideration of class and racial discrimination. "Social justice feminism" is a term she repeats, emphasizing key elements like protection of reproductive rights, the need for comprehensive child care, anti-war activism and unity transcending race.
"White women who align themselves with a social justice agenda, they are my sisters," Beal says. "Others are not."
Instead of dying or fighting for the revolution, Beal suggests that men and women must live for fundamental change, defend the front line against "forces nipping away at our rights" and seek unity.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Dore's film and interviews with Rosen and Beal are the double punch they deliver. Marveling at the freedoms and rights we nearly take for granted in 2015, there's no denying that the three goals of 1971 -- access to universal child care, complete control of reproductive rights and equal pay -- remain on the horizon.