March 4, 2013

Makers: Women Who Make America

First Lady Betty Ford sports a button expressi...
First Lady Betty Ford sports a button expressing her support for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment while taking some personal time as President Ford plays in the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic Celebrities Golf Tournament, Hollywood, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I caught the new documentary Makers: Women Who Make America on PBS a few days ago. It was very well done, and I do not hesitate to recommend it. Makers provided an informative look at the women's movement in the U.S. I suspect those of you interested in feminism, social change movements, and/or U.S. history would really enjoy it. If you missed it, it looks like the entire documentary is available for viewing on the website.

One of the things that struck me while watching it and which I often forget was what a short a time frame we are talking about. The first edition of The Feminine Mystique was published before I was born, but most of the women's movement occurred within my lifetime. And their successes during the 1960s and 1970s were truly astounding. One of the great things about Makers was that it reminds us of all the obstacles women faced at the beginning of the movement and highlights what the movement was able to accomplish.

I was old enough by the time the campaign to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was in full swing that I remember it reasonably well. My mother was active in trying to get it passed in the state where we lived at the time. It was bittersweet to be reminded of how close they were to accomplishing that goal before the tables begin to turn.

It had to be heartbreaking for those involved in the movement from the early days to watch how quickly they lost public support as the pendulum swung the other direction under Reagan. Technically, Roe v. Wade is still with us, but Christian extremists have managed to drive most of the doctors who are willing to perform abortions underground. Abortion is still legal but rapidly becoming impractical for many women. Even contraception is under attack. The odds that something like the ERA would come up for a vote in Congress today are minimal.

One of the things I found surprising was that they seemed to suggest that the beginning of the end for the women's movement happened when movement leaders decided to include lesbians. I'd always thought that Roe was the turning point and that the conservatives rose to power primarily as a backlash to Roe. They seemed to suggest that it was less about abortion and more about public bigotry toward lesbians. Maybe I am remembering this part incorrectly, so if you've seen Makers, I'd love to hear whether you picked up on this too.

In closing, I'd like to point out that Makers is a great example of why we need to keep PBS around. While the History Channel has been hyping their upcoming series that appears to be a re-enactment of the Christian bible, it is nice to see some actual history available on television.