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The women who changed the world

by | Nov 10, 2020 | Life, Feature

Brazen: (adjective). Marked by shameless or disrespectful boldness;

Hussies: (noun, plural). Lewd or brazen women.

Brazen hussies: Bold, courageous and crusading women of the 1960s and 1970s who chose not to accept sexism and discrimination and to challenge the notion that men should determine who they were and who they could be and who organised themselves into street marching, banner waving, bra-burning, legislation changing champions of change. Aka, second wave feminists; women’s liberationists. Embodied the phrase ‘the personal is political’.

Australian women of note: Anne Summers, Eva Cox, Merle Thornton, Rosalie Bogne, Margot Nash, Kate Jennings Martha Ansara, Jeni Thornley, Germaine Greer (of course) and many many more.

Brazen Hussies is also a new documentary by director Catherine Dwyer. She wanted to capture the time and history before new generations, including hers, forgot.

Having worked on a US documentary on the American women’s liberation movement, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, in 2014, Dwyer returned to Australia full of passion and curiosity to tell the Australian version.

“Just before I moved to the US, a friend said to me she wanted to have babies and stay home and look after them but that feminists were against that,” Dwyer says. “That was a catalyst that launched me straight into the American film about women’s liberation. And that’s where I learnt how to make an archival history.”

And while she was doing it, she kept wondering what had taken place in Australia. With two exceptions she had never heard of any of the key players. She knew of Merle Thornton because of her childhood obsession watch Sigrid Thornton on SeaChange (Merle and Rosalie Bogne chained themselves to the bar at Brisbane’s Regatta Hotel – women were still banned from public bars and had to drink in women’s lounges or, if they were lucky, their husband might bring them a schooner of XXXX to the car. During the making of the film, Dwyer unearthed ASIO footage of a 12-year-old Sigrid Thornton waving a women’s liberation flag.

It was one of the greatest social and political movements of the 20th century.

It also turned out she knew Barbara Creed, a professor of cinema studies at the University of Melbourne, who had taught Dwyer during her undergraduate years. Creed used feminist theory and psychoanalysis in her examination of horror files.

Dwyer says she found it strange that no one had fully documented these vibrant and chaotic times. “After all, it was one of the greatest social and political movements of the 20th century. There was sense it might become a lost history of social organising, grass-roots activism, and personal and political change,” Dwyer says.

And while there is a sense of stasis – of nothing changing very much – Dwyer points to the enormous gains that were made through that period – anti-discrimination laws were introduced; language – both visual and spoken – became less overtly sexist; and women were, ultimately, liberated from some of the shackles that had bound them.

“It wasn’t easy. Changing the world rarely is,” she says.

The world has changed. But Dwyer says there still exists the double bind of womanhood.

“A lot of young women today think they are equal until they have children. And then they find themselves trapped; they do most of the care and are the unpaid labour force for both their children and their ageing parents,” she says.

“I’m hopeful that the film demonstrates that big social changes can come about due to the efforts of everyday people. It’s important to know and to be empowered by that knowledge – that individuals can do something about injustice just by getting together with other people and organising. I hope it encourages people to see by example of just how much change can be made – because the lessons of second wave feminism can be applied to all areas of social justice, including climate change.”

Brazen Hussies is currently being screened in cinemas around Australia.

 

 

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