Normally, I'd be jumping up and down when I get word of a new documentary wants to convey the importance of the feminist movement, but if The F Word: Who Wants To Be A Feminist? is any indication of how the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day is going to be honoured, feminism is in deep trouble.
The film begins with clips from interviews with women refuse to call themselves feminists while espousing pro-feminist ideas - a nice strategy but one that's been used many times before.
Then it tracks the second wave of feminism as it began in the late 60s and gives a little coverage to the third wave, all the time bemoaning the fact that women aren't getting anywhere even after all this time. "Anywhere," in this case means, "into the board room."
Everything you need to know about why feminism failed comes across - inadvertently, of course - in this movie. The focus is on middle class women, beginning with Betty Friedan's famous book The Feminine Mystique which bemoaned women's status as worthless housewives. You get the impression that the biggest crisis for women is that guys don't do any housework. A lot of attention is given to the amount of unpaid work women do, but the word poverty is almost never mentioned.
Then weirdly, The F Word takes the position that the presence of feminism in mainstream culture is a bad thing - The Spice Girls' girl power campaign, for example, is dismissed as a negative, when anyone had an eight year-old at the time knows it was a godsend. That Girl Power swag sure beats all those Porn Star T-shirts tweens are wearing these days. Trashing pop stars for empowering young girls is tantamount to the current campaign launched by queer groups complaining that Lady Gaga is exploiting and commercializing the gay movement - ridiculous.
Though The F Word has a Canadian pedigree - Ann-Marie Macdonald narrates, law professor Kathleen Lahey appears and occasional references are made to the Canadian situation - the production team plainly felt that in order to sell the thing, they had to go for international celebrity, most of it American, over content. The three feminists that act as centrepieces to the action are all famous and white - Naomi Wolf, Susan Faludi and Germaine Greer - all fascinating women, to be sure. But the reason why, over history, feminism couldn't challenge the system in the way it needed to is precisely because, in its public manifestation, it tended to ignore poor women and women of colour. Except for Native Canadian activist, Jessica Yee, feminism looks lily white in this film.
And there's almost nothing about the feminist victories that radically altered women's lives and consiousness - putting rape on the agenda, getting funding for shelters for assaulted women - still, unfortunately, full, all the time - getting the health care system to take midwifery seriously.
Sure, it's hard to cover all the facets of a movement that itself, seeks to change so much in so many areas. So, choose wisely, please.
Director Michael McNamara does not - not because he's a guy, by the way, but because he fell into the trap of thinking that celebrity and the requirements of middle class women are what feminism is about.
See what I mean when The F Word: Who Wants To Be A Feminist airs tonight (March 3) on at 9 pm, and tomorrow (March 4) at 10 pm on CBC.