PBS's "Makers" Chronicles the Fight for Womanhood as We Know It

BlogHer Original Post

MAKERS is a landmark digital and broadcast initiative from AOL and PBS showcasing compelling stories from women of today and tomorrow. A three-hour documentary, MAKERS: Women Who Make America is now viewable online at PBS.org.

I was born in 1981. I'm a part of a generation of women who carry the torch of equality and feminism while simultaneously taking for granted so many of the basic liberties that our grandmothers and/or mothers had to fight so hard to attain -- liberties they were still fighting to attain even as many of us took our first steps.

The work is far from over, but while we face forward and stare present day inequalities in the face, taking a look at how far we've come just in our own and our mothers' lifetimes is a humbling reminder of the power we wield as women with a platform, and the collective work it took for us to get here. That's what makes PBS's upcoming documentary, MAKERS: Women Who Make America, so utterly important.

I grew up with a grandmother who divorced and supported herself and my dad in the 1950's, and a mom who raised herself and then put herself through college while cooking and cleaning for her chauvinist father. But I never fully understood the bravery and activism it took them to live their everyday lives. I never fully understood that talking back to the boys in my elementary school class was an earned privilege that my mother had fought for on a daily basis.

Image courtesy of PBS

MAKERS is powerfully done. Archival footage and ephemera are expertly curated to illustrate better than word-of-mouth testimonial ever could the shocking and overt sexism being battled in the second half of the twentieth century. The relative youthfulness of the documentary's interview subjects also helps to drive the recency of these inequalities home, we hear from women still active in today's movement -- mothers, authors, entrepreneurs, athletes, homemakers, trailblazers, executives, and media personalities -- all recalling experiences that serve as a humbling reminder to third wave feminists (and perhaps our predecessors as well) that there are moments we take for granted every day that would not have been possible 35 years ago.

One pattern that emerged for me during the documentary's revelatory first hour was that some of our most ardent feminists and game-changers have been regular women who never intended to start a movement, but by simply being willing to say "no" to inequality found themselves representing their gender in ways they never imagined. I didn't know the story of Katherine Switzer, the first woman to run a marathon, or Lorena Weeks, the first female telephone switchman, but hearing their struggles and triumphs -- and how those intertwined and flowed in to the stories of other second-wave feminists, all trailblazing not only equality but the notion that women could have fulfilling lives and careers in a man's world -- drove the plight of the generations before me home in a way that no amount of literature ever could.

The three-hour documentary chronicles our collective journey as a force to be reckoned with over the past 75 years. It's emotional, inspiring, eye opening, and not to be missed.

Yesterday my three-year-old daughter, who loves pink and princesses at no prompting of mine, declared that she didn't want to be brave and strong because she was just a little girl. I didn't know how to respond. I tried to convince her that being brave and strong was a wonderful quality, a feminine quality, a quality easy to spot in the princesses she so admires. But try as I might, she wasn't having it. The conversation devolved into her wailing "I'm not brave and strong! I don't want to be!" and so I dropped it cuddled her and read her a story instead. Later, as I watched MAKERS with tears in my eyes (because I'm a sap, obviously) she sidled up next to me. "Look at those ladies, Mommy," she said, pointing at a shot of Gloria Steinem and the Ms. Magazine founding team, "aren't they beautiful?" I saw my opening. "They are beautiful," I replied, "and they're also really brave and strong."


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