Sisterhood Blog

The Feminist Story MAKERS Missed

By Sarah Seltzer

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
President and CEO, PBS Paula A. Kerger attends the red carpet premiere of MAKERS: Women Who Make America.

Like almost anyone who is involved with women’s issues, I spent my Tuesday night watching PBS’s MAKERS documentary, a three-hour look at the women’s movement with nods to its detractors both from within (lesbians, women of color, working-class women) and without (Phyllis Schlafly). The film has started a rich discussion about the lens with which we view the “women’s libbers” of yesterday and today.

Overall, the footage and interviews and almost cheesy but not quite soundtrack made for a particularly satisfying night of television. I had planned to tune in and out while I ate dinner, but found myself riveted for much of the evening, even as I at times felt the documentary’s perspective or focus was lacking.

And yet, like many other viewers, when it came to the section on feminism today I was sorely disappointed.

Instead of what MAKERS offered up — interviews with contemporary not-really-feminists like Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer and the reactionary Michelle Rhee — I’d like to have seen some of the writers and activists a few years more experienced in the thriving movement in which I am involved. These are the writers who lured me into feminist writing when I sat and pored over their blogs in my Bronx classroom as a frustrated young teacher just out of college. Once upstart bloggers, they have now influenced the media conversation permanently, as one of them, Jill Filipovic, pointed out:

Feminism has so infiltrated the women’s internet that I’m hard-pressed to think of a women’s website – the kind of online properties that have largely replaced traditional women’s print magazines – that doesn’t have both a strong undercurrent of feminism and at least one explicitly feminist writer on staff. Many of the top blogs – Buzzfeed, Mashable, Jezebel, Gawker, Boing Boing – regularly include feminist content and employ feminist writers. Hundreds of thousands of smaller ones also feature feminist thought.

Not only did MAKERS eschew mentioning this community online it also didn’t mention the grassroots, on-the-ground organizing that’s taken place in the last decade, from spontaneous “Slutwalks” to big marches on Washington to smaller offshoots: Feminist General Assemblies in the Occupy movement; New York’s annual, heartbreaking “brides’ march” to raise awareness of domestic violence in the Dominican community; abortion funds and bowl-a-thons and campus women’s centers. These are just a few examples. So many “brands” of feminism proliferate today — online feminism, intersectional third-wave feminism, queer feminism, Christian feminism, Jewish feminism (ahem!), women-of-color centered reproductive justice, womanism, issue-specific advocacy, Vagina-monologues-slash-Sex-in-the City feminism and more. None of them were included in the final segments of the documentary.

I found the omission personally ironic. MAKERS inspired me precisely because of my own involvement with contemporary feminism. I began my viewing experience feeling disheartened and exhausted by the sometimes-acrimonious debate over Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” book in my activist and writerly circles.

In many ways this contemporary back and forth reflects the same battles that our forebears fought within their ranks; should we prioritize the personal (most applicable for privileged, white women) obstacles or the structural ones? Are working women getting the shaft while overachieving career-minded women decide whether “find themselves” and “lean in”? And yet for all of MAKERS’ flaws, the honesty, reflection and even joy of the interviewees on the program who had lived through that trailblazing second “wave” of feminism and emerged scarred but proud of their accomplishments reminded me that infighting and the struggling are endemic to any movement.

While we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past, feeling gratitude for trailblazers is a great way to get revved up for the next segment of this arc towards justice, which I’m convinced (along with many of the women interviewed) will be about economic parity and work-life balance.

I may be only a small part of this newest wave, powerful yet widely-diffused, but I am proud to be part of it at all. I hope the next documentary about the now far-more-than-women’s movement includes those of us who move fluidly from the streets to our keyboards and back, arguing and being frustrated and trying to make the world a fairer place.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: pbs, makers, jewish women, feminism, sisterhood

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.