Libbers 8

I’m not quite sure what to make of tonight’s Libbers episode of the BBC Four programme Women.

I’m trying to figure out who the target audience is intended to be. For women familiar with the women’s liberation movement, there is potentially some interesting history and archive footage, but I can’t imagine what women unfamiliar with the politics and history of the movement might make of it.

As a history of the origins of the movement, it didn’t quite hit the mark, as it focussed on a few (famous, white, middle class) (mostly) writers: Robin Morgan, Kate Millett, Marilyn French, Germaine Greer, Sheila Rowbotham, Ann Oakley, Susan Brownmiller, and Lynn Alderson.

As an exploration of early influential feminist writings, it also didn’t quite work. For example, the programme gave varying amounts of background to Brownmiller’s Against Our Will, Greer’s The Female Eunuch and French’s The Women’s Room, but didn’t mention any of Rowbotham’s writings and gave short shrift to Millett’s Sexual Politics.

The writer/director Vanessa Engle seemed to have a checklist of things to question her subjects about, regardless of whether it arose naturally within the context of the interview — most bizarrely asking each of them if they had vaginal or clitoral orgasms. WTF?

8 thoughts on “Libbers

  • Strange Loop Post author

    Well, judging by a comment I did not approve, I think it’s safe to say that the target audience was NOT anti-feminists who are outraged by heterosexual women who don’t realise that they are tainted and disgusting if they have sex with more than one man.

    Oh, and Jamie, every goddamn day is “national mens day”.

  • IrrationalPoint

    I was a bit troubled by the remark about the “collective women’s experience”. As you pointed out, the program presented a very White middle class view of feminism, but this made it sound like there was no consideration, by anyone, at the time, of race and class and other intersectionality issues.


  • Strange Loop Post author

    Quite so, IrrationalPoint. Because it wasn’t a history of the WLM and instead chose to focus on these few women, it skipped right over the contributions of all the other women involved in the movement. This isn’t the interviewees’ fault (most of whom I found quite interesting), but is a product of the format/narrative chosen by the director.

    I’m hoping the next two programmes will provide wider perspectives, especially considering it’s a series called “Women”.

  • IrrationalPoint

    Well, it’s certainly more indicative of a bias on the part of the interviewer, director, producers, etc. But the “collective women’s experience” was a direct quote from one of the interviewees (French? I forget). As long as we think that there *are* experiences that are somehow definitive or constitutive of womanhood, then we privilege some women (the ones who have had those experiences) over others; and it’s not at all clear that there are is in fact anything (role, experience, psychology, etc) that all women have in common.

    So talk of “the collective women’s experience” looks like essentialism, but dressed up in consciousness-raising terminology, and that seems a shame. If there’s one thing that CR has done for me, it’s emphasize the diversity of experiences. Not that there’s only one effect of CR, of course, but it seems a shame to present CR as something that’s inherently for White middle class women, or that CR reinforces WMC-centricity, or something.

    But you’re right that this wasn’t just down to the interviewees.

    “I’m hoping the next two programmes will provide wider perspectives, especially considering it’s a series called “Women”.”

    Yes indeed.


  • Strange Loop Post author

    There may not be a set of experiences that all women share, but I do believe that there is a set of potential experiences and events that women could and sometimes do go through that creates a commonality of sorts.

    There’s a reason I am a “women’s libber”, and not a “human rights activist” or a “social justice advocate”, and that is because of those commonalities.

  • IrrationalPoint

    Ok, I think we just have a basic religious difference. I guess I would say that I can be both a radical feminist and a social justice advocate, and I don’t need commonality for that to happen.


  • Strange Loop Post author

    IP, I totally get what you’re saying, and to some extent I agree. It’s not that I don’t consider my self a social justice advocate, it’s just that my focus is on violence against women, and the social justice activism I am most involved in is based on that.

    I do believe that women experience the world differently than men do in a lot of ways, that there is some commonality of experience. This isn’t down to some essential difference between the sexes, but in how we are conditioned to expect life and other people to treat us.

    Girls are raised with the awareness of male violence — real, potential or threatened — and that makes a huge difference in how we interact with the world around us.

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