I’ve been ranting and raving away as much as one can within 140 characters about the current PBS documentary Makers: The Women Who Made America. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m completely happy to have any feminism and women’s history brought to the public. However the idea that the story of the women’s movement and the evolution of feminism could or should be told through “first-person, intimate accounts of women who experienced this time of change” is wrong. It runs counter to the massive, grassroots aspect of the movement, to the spirit of much of that movement, which was explicitly leaderless, and most importantly, acts as if one woman’s experience is more valuable or important than another’s, in massive defiance of the valuing of all women that was so emblematic of much of the movement.
I am of course completely biased in the above as I have spent most of the past two decades documenting the contributions of less-well known women to the movement that changed American society in meaningful and massive ways. That did not happen because of Gloria Steinem, or Betty Friedan, or any single woman. It happened in the small and large choices made by individuals, all over the United States, not just in new York, Los Angeles, or D.C., and it most emphatically should not be represented as some sort of Whiggish narrative of progress or its converse a revolutionary movement fronted by a vanguard.
I don’t even know what to say about how the “movement” was represented by these individuals, all of whom are doubtlessly fine accomplished women, but most represent exceptional women, the very thing much of the movement railed against. Focusing on “the most remarkable women in our nation’s modern history” is not the way to “tell the comprehensive story of how women have advanced in our country during the last half century.” Apparently the makers of MAKERS recognized that as they also tell “the surprising and unknown stories of women who broke barriers in their own chosen fields — from the coal mines of West Virginia to the boardrooms of Madison Avenue.” Too bad those parts aren’t longer and highlighted in the massive ad campaign.
To be fair, the documentary attempted to spur similar documentation at the local level through a Local Makers campaign, which can be seen on youtube. While these videos appears to all focus on a single individual at least they represent a far broader swath of the hundreds of thousands of women who participated in various aspects of the movement.
While I love the picture below it would have been awesome to have something from a women’s movement event, not the 1963 march on Washington.
Sadly the image selected for the discussion page, which again encourages an individual focus by asking “Who are your favorite MAKERS? Do you have a MAKER in your life? Share your stories below and follow the conversation on Twitter using #MAKERSchat” uses the picture below
If there was any doubt what kind of history made it into Makers, all doubts have been revealed. Women’s movement reduced to freedom from undergarments. SIGH
I’d love to know what the historians listed as consultants think of the finally product
Advisors to MAKERS project
Mary Ting Yi Lui
Hon. Barbara Smith