Saturday, December 11, 2010

‘the shock of the feminist’

The omission of women from the cultural record meant the search for a women’s tradition

I came across this article a few months back: "Wonders Taken for Signs: The Cultural Activism of the Australian Women’s Movement as Avant-Garde Reformation" by Margaret Henderson ( Lilith 17: 2008). It's a very thoughtful discussion of feminism and cultural production and what we can learn from that intense period of the "1970s and 1980s, in Australia and throughout the West, (when) relations of cultural production, reception, and texts (and films) all worked together to create the ‘shock of the feminist’". In her essay Henderson also discusses the "collective, as (the) defining structure of the women’s movement, signifier par excellence of its cultural politics"; here she also refers to various women's collectives including the Sydney Women's Film Group - which I became a member of in 1969:
Collectivism, as a strategy to demystify artistic production, to challenge the bourgeois artist figure and ideology of individualism, and to overcome women’s isolation, is the creative ethos powering feminist culture, whether in textual production or distribution. In the case of film, the auteur theory was rejected in favour of a non-hierarchical collective structure of film making, ‘one in which all the creative and technical roles were shared among the group’.

There's a longer essay to be written which explores the rise and fall (and rise) of 'the collective' in women's film-making; food for thought as a group of younger feminists contacted the For Love or Money (A history of women and work in Australia, feature documentary and Penguin Book 1983) team recently as they produce a short film on the history of International Women's Day. Younger women are discovering that the 'post-feminist' era is not necessarily a place of liberation! We did, after all call our movement Women's Liberation! Another group of young feminists saw For Love or Money at an IWD screening at their uni last year: "Last night, I watched the feminist documentary ‘For Love or Money’ at my university...As I sat there, waiting for the sense of relief and liberation to wash over me, I suddenly realized that every injustice suffered by our foremothers still exists today – it’s just dressed differently." ( Zoya Patel, 'Get Outraged!' in lip magazine, March 2010).

It's worth thinking and acting on this too: that our early film works of the 1970s and 1980s were all produced prior to Web 2.0. We have much to do to give these historically significant films presence in the 21st century.