The F-Word: Who Wants to be a Feminist?, from Toronto-based Markham Street Films and premiering on CBC Doc Zone on March 3, is marking the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day by bringing the topic of feminism to today’s audiences.
Director Michael McNamara says the team was both looking to take the current temperature of feminism and also “to discover what kind of unfinished business there is” within the idea.
The F-Word opens by asking women on the street whether they identify themselves as feminists, and many say they don’t. McNamara attributes this to the word “feminism” being tarnished over time. “For many women and men, there may be stereotypes associated with it – man-hating, humorless, inflexible, radical activists – [but] it has a much deeper meaning than that,” he says.
Producer Judy Holm agrees. “It’s a word that’s become weighed down with meanings that have been foisted upon it by the media,” she says. “In the second wave, I didn’t know it as feminism, I knew it as women’s liberation. Maybe another term will come up [in the future].”
The 42-minute documentary takes a brief historical tour through the history of feminism, including its first, second and third waves, and features interviews with feminist icons Germaine Greer, Naomi Wolf, Susan Faludi and Amy Richards.
Surprisingly, the challenge wasn’t in getting the famous feminists to take part. It was in distilling the broad topic of feminism and its history down to those 42 minutes.
“Let’s face it, we could do 14 hours on feminism and still not cover everything,” said Holm.
“We take it for granted that people who grew up in the second wave and the early days of the third wave were aware of what was going on. Things move very quickly today and the positive female role models are very different from 30 to 40 years ago. We wanted to give our younger viewers a context and a way inside very quickly so they could start to think about the deeper issues,” said McNamara.
For example, that meant that the inclusion of the famous Virginia Slims cigarette ad, which mimicked the women’s movement to sell cigarettes with its “You’ve come a long way baby” tagline, needed more explanation for younger viewers that have never seen cigarette ads on television. “You say, ‘You’ve come a long way baby,’ and ordinarily anyone over the age of 40 knows what you’re talking about. We wanted to make sure this is accessible,” offered McNamara.
Markham Street has also made an international version, which has already sold to Sweden. “I think there’s a lot of interest in this story around the world. It’s obviously different from culture to culture, but there are some universal messages in this film that will speak to different audiences,” said McNamara.