Friday, April 12, 2013

Star of Davida Interviews Jennifer Lee

Don't forget to submit an entry to the Second Annual Star of Davida Essay Contest!
Modern-day feminists owe a large debt to the activists of the Second Wave, those women and men of the 1960s and 70s who fought for equal rights. They changed our culture, whether they were fighting against sex-segregated help wanted ads or organizing consciousness raising groups. Unfortunately, the women’s liberation movement has been largely forgotten by our society, even by self-identifying feminists. As a women’s history geek, this fact always really upset me. Independent filmmaker Jennifer Lee decided to reverse this ignorance and resurrect the stories of the Second Wave in her new documentary Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation.

Lee was inspired to make Feminist when a female coworker asked her, in a whisper, “Are you a feminist?” “I thought that was shocking, because we were both editors in the film industry and wouldn’t have had those jobs if not for the feminist revolution,” Lee said. “I tried to think of something to tell her, to prove why feminism is so great, but I had no stories at my fingertips.” To discover these stories, she took it upon herself to find the feminists of the Second Wave and film them discussing their memories.

Feminist explores the main events of the women’s liberation movement from 1963-1970, as told by numerous activists of the era. Lee was actually the last person to interview Betty Friedan, who is widely considered the mother of Second Wave Feminism, before Friedan’s death in 2006. When looking for activists to interview, Lee first found Sonia Pressman Fuentes, my mentor, who worked at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and was a cofounder of the National Organization for Women (NOW). “From there it snowballed, one woman’s story led to another,” Lee said.

Stories are the integral part of the film. I have really appreciated the art of storytelling ever since this summer, when I went to Genesis at Brandeis University, an academic summer program for Jewish high school students. Within Genesis, I took a mini-course called Tell Me a Story, where we explored the significance of storytelling and how to preserve stories, especially those from women and other silenced minorities. Filming Feminist taught Lee these same lessons about stories. “It’s important for women to pass down these stories. If you have a memory of looking at female help wanted ads [in the 1960s] and only seeing jobs like babysitter, manicurist, and clerk, but you had a degree as a CPA that you couldn’t use because you couldn’t look at the male column, that feeling of limitation is significant and needs to be remembered….as girls grow up, they need to know that this existed,” Lee explained.

I totally agree that it’s so important to preserve their stories for the sake of the next generation. “This is part of American history,” Lee said. While taking AP European History, it frustrated me that women’s history was treated as a completely separate entity, developing in a vacuum away from mainstream history. We cannot treat women’s history like this. “Feminist history is…woven into our country now and we need to talk about it and remember it and feel proud of it,” Lee said. The fact that there is now a documentary available about this epoch in history is such an important step in the right direction. The significance of such a film is painfully clear when we consider the backlash to feminism ever since the Second Wave began.

I have to admit that I was actually surprised when I first heard that this film’s name is Feminist. I was surprised because feminist has become such a reviled term in today’s society, and my first thought was that it’s pretty brave to brand a film with the word. “We should be proud of the word feminist. Our lives would be completely different if it wasn’t for what the women’s movement accomplished, by a lot of these women in the film,” Lee said about it. “To be proud of that movement and the word feminist will help us get to where we need to be, to understand the foundation you’re standing on because we stand on it every single day.”

Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation is a truly inspiring, joyful film, and I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the history of the women’s rights movement. Screenings of Feminist will be listed on the website (, from film festivals to local screenings in schools, colleges, and for organizations. You can also email Lee at if you want to schedule a screening near you! It will be available for download and DVD in the fall, and educators can receive a supplemental educational DVD.

We must preserve the stories that are resurrected in this film. For our daughters. For our sons.

1 comment:

  1. As as Second-Wave feminist and committed Jew, I persuaded some of my sister congregants to begin wearing tallitot. I’m still at it.