'Feminists: What We're They Thinking?' A Netflix Documentary

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It was a Sunday afternoon. My bubble bath was running, my face-mask on; just your average millenial woman practicing her self-care routine. I scrolled through Netflix on my laptop to find something to watch whilst I took a soak. It was then that I happened upon the Netflix Original Documentary: ‘Feminists?: What Were They Thinking?’. My initial response was to assume it was an anti-feminist documentary, said sarcastically ‘what were they thinking?!’. Yet, despite myself, I slid into the water and clicked ‘play’.

Thankfully I can tell you now that it was not anti-feminist. At all. Here’s a quick idea of what it’s about:

In 1977, a book of photographs captured an awakening — women shedding the cultural restrictions of their childhoods and embracing their full humanity. Feminists — What Were They Thinking? revisits those photos, those women and those times — and takes aim at our current culture revealing all too vividly the urgent need for continued change.’

With film-maker Johanna Demetrakas directing and Lisa Remington & Gretchen Landau producing, Feminists: What Were They Thinking? Became an intricate depiction of the ways in which photographer, Cynthia MacAdams, saw a change in the way women looked once they embraced feminism. Whilst MacAdams’ exhibition took place throughout the Second-Wave Movement, she brought back some of the women who were photographed to reminisce & explore the ways in which feminism changed and influenced them, and how to bring that spark back to the present day.

I was overjoyed when my two favourite characters from the T.V show Grace & Frankie (Jane Fonda & Lily Tomlin) appeared. With them both having been activists at some of the most pivotal moments in the 20th Century, they talk to us as if you were having a cuppa with them over the kitchen table; like an older family member telling you stories of ‘how things used to be’. Most of us realise how much we can learn from the women who came before us, but also forget that some of these women are alive and ready to arm us with the armour they used to wear.

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As MacAdams conveyed to us how feminism can make women look intrinsically different, alongside the backdrop of influential women discussing their own stories, I felt as though I’d had some sort of awakening. Yes, I was relaxed. Yes, I was feeling myself. But as I saw a change in the way I viewed the photographs of these women, I started to see myself differently too. Physically different, not in some obscure and abstract way, but in a very real and fundamental way. What would I look like if it weren’t for my own feminism? Because for most of us, more often than not, feminism boils in our blood as its attached to our very biological nature. I would see the entire world differently if I didn’t have my feminist instincts, so is it that ridiculous to assume I thus look different as well?

Documentaries like this are paramount in keeping the fire blazing. I know I’m not the only one who finds herself crushed under the patriarchal foot, exhausted by the constant battle I fight as a woman, and devastated by the current political state. Hence why women often find themselves dedicating days to ‘self-care’ in order to preserve what energy they have to fight for those who have none left. So, on this day I had set aside for myself, I found myself igniting a particular fire that hadn’t been attended to for a while. The thoughts like -‘why do I bother?’, ‘will it ever change?’, ‘what good can I do anyway?’- vanished. Suddenly I was privately thanking the women who came before me, and promising them that I won’t stop fighting. Whilst the world may be vast & full of suffering, and it may feel as though whatever we do ultimately won’t change a thing, this documentary proves that ripples can be made each and every day.

I’ll finish this off with how the documentary finished; with these words:

‘I try not to focus too much on how feminism has only moved the world a little way, because I see it in the next generation already. The men I know who were raised by single mothers are different men. The younger people who don’t care what race someone is, are different people. And we contributed to that.’

Keep fighting the good fight, warriors.

Article by VERVE Operative & blogger Helena Burton-Jones

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