Women’s Voices: The Gender Gap Movie

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Documentaries offer an opportunity to allow diverse voices to be heard, and Women’s Voices: The Gender Gap Movie does just that for women’s issues. Even though this 16-minute documentary short first appeared in 1984, many of the issues it raises remain timely.

Directed by Jenny Rohrer, Women’s Voices: The Gender Gap Movie brings together a diverse group of women who offer their perspectives on the current states of affairs for women. The women range in age from a young girl to a retired senior and range in profession from a forklift driver to a political leader. They discuss many issues, including fair pay, farm subsidies, women’s health care, labor and unions, reproductive rights, the environment, and even social security.

Too often women’s issues get left out of mainstream discourses, or if those issues are raised, the people talking about them and commenting on them have little to no personal experience with them. What’s important about this piece is that the women present their own views from their own experiences about these issues.

Gertie Washington, for example, discusses how social programs that helped her earn her professional degree got cut. Susan Carson, a dairy farmer, discusses how changes in the policies that helped her get her farm resulted in her losing it. Several young women comment on the disparity between cutting social programs and building nuclear weapons and other bombs.

A key interview in this piece comes from Mary Crisp, co-chair of the Republican National Committee from 1977 to 1980. Crisp attempted to garner support for the flagging Equal Rights Amendment and advocated for women’s reproductive rights, only to be voted down on both issues, ousted from the party’s leadership, and even called out by then-President Ronald Reagan.

In addition to the interviews, Rohrer incorporates brief animated sequences that juxtapose the stereotypical ideas with sarcastic commentary. In one sequence, a caricature of a man spouts statements such as “Women’s issues — you mean like dieting?” and “Most women don’t even know where Central America is.” As he talks, the voiceover cites polls showing how men and women view issues differently, and as both voices continue a crack in the ground widens until the man falls through.

This and the other animated sequences come from the hands, mind, and wit of Nicole Hollander, creator of the syndicated comic Sylvia. Her acerbic humor appears in each of the sequences, which feature light bouncy music and often end with a dry comment on various issues.

One sequence shows a white man talking to an African-American woman. The man asks, “Do you believe in reverse discrimination?” The woman replies dryly, “No, I believe in the Easter Bunny.” Another sequence features a woman at a typewriter. She types, ‘I’m Getting Old in America,’ by Sylvia. Page one. Best to do it somewhere else. While the humor might seem out of place, it actually balances quite well with the issues raised in the interviews.

The underlying point of this entire piece is the importance of voting. One previously held assumption about voting was that women voted the way their husbands told them to. Sarah Buford brings up another perspective. She recounts how when she lived in Mississippi she had no right to vote herself — instead, the plantation owner voted for her and the others living there. When she moved to Chicago in 1957, one of her first priorities was to register to vote. This short piece demonstrates how women have their own motivations for voting. As Candace Lucas puts it, “Your vote is just your chance to talk.”

With the election just a few weeks away, the re-release of Women’s Voices: The Gender Gap Movie is well timed. It will be shown as part of a special screening and panel discussion on Thursday, October 25, 2012, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh started Documentary Site as a resource for documentary media and has greatly enjoyed the connections it has fostered over the years.