Tuesday, 23 March 2010

BBC4's Women Documentary - bad

I was really looking forward to BBC4's series Women and so was really upset by how disappointed I was.

I really enjoyed the first episode despite the shocking omission of BME women and context. However it was inspirational for me to hear the voices of women I admire such as Marilyn French and Susan Brownmiller. But why no mention of Gloria Steinem? Or, ffs, Betty Friedan? I know she had her faults but she invented NOW! She was incredibly influential.

I missed the Mothers episode so caught up with the series last night for the Activist episode and was horrifically disappointed and frankly very angry.
I cannot understand or believe that Engles did not talk about the feminist movement across the country and only focused on LFN. This is not a criticism of LFN, but to just focus on one group was completely absurd.
For starters, by only focusing on LFN the impression was given that the modern feminist movement is a small group of white, middle class women living in London. This is simply not true. The feminist movement is all over the UK and from all different backgrounds. Although I don't expect Engles to go to every town in the UK and talk to every feminist, to not even mention activism in other cities was so odd. At the time she was filming this doc I was writing in the Guardian about the rise of feminist networks in the UK. I live in Bristol and am a member of BFN - I could easily have just interviewed women from Bristol, but I didn't! I interviewed women from all over the UK because, just as feminists don't just live in Bristol, they don't just live in London.

The other problem of just focusing on LFN is that it makes it look as if all feminists in the UK agree with or are 'governed' by LFN. No disrespect to Finn McKay who I admire as an activist and passionate advocate of women's rights, but to describe her as 'the political brain behind the feminist movement' was ridiculous. She may be the political brain behind LFN, but that is LFN, not the feminists all over the UK! Nor did she 'start Reclaim the Night'. Again, please don't take this as a criticism of Finn or LFN as I'm sure they didn't and wouldn't describe themselves in those terms. It just made me and I'm sure other feminists all over the UK feel invisible.

There were moments that were really good, one woman talking about how her daughter's friend was gang raped and that this galvanized her to become involved in feminism was incredibly moving. And the work and co-operation between young and old women was heartening.

As I say, although I admire the work of LFN I strongly disagree with some of their stand points, such as excluding men. I felt that by representing feminism as LFN was doing the wide range of view points and debates within feminism a massive disservice. Also, the blatant transphobia on display was hideous and again, did not honestly reflect the other opinions and view points of feminists around the UK.

I also felt Engles' attitude and questions was appalling. Asking women about why they painted their fingernails, surely we're not still on this issue! She repeatedly asked the women whether they're angry people - as if there is something wrong with women and that they're not justifiably angry about the gross inequalities women face. And why did she keep talking to their parents - as if these women were angry children and not autonomous, independent women? I cannot imagine this happening with any other documentary about any other movement.
So, all in all, i was grossly disappointed. I wish Engles had spoken to a wider range of women and actually given the young women the respect she gave to the second wave women. It was a real shame that what could have been a real inspiration and a real chance to show the world what feminism is doing so patently failed to do that.

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