Film-maker Louise Lever reflects on an upcoming screening of her feminist documentary Revolt She Said to celebrate International Women’s Day 2023.
“If I hear one more person say, we were the first to give women the vote, I think I’ll scream.” This is by far, my favourite line from my film Revolt She Said said to me in an interview with award-winning journalist Alison Mau.
Since then, I have marinated her sentiment in my mind. New Zealand likes to annoyingly point out that since we have a woman as Prime Minister, ergo we have reached equality but this simply isn’t the case. I too will join in on Alison Mau’s screaming.
NZ still has the highest rate of intimate partner violence against women in the OECD and one in three will experience physical, sexual or coercive violence so I’m afraid not very much has changed in our society and it won’t unless we begin to address the hierarchies of power and specifically hegemonic masculinity. “Hegemony is the dominant, invisible, taken-for-granted world view″ and so if you don’t happen to fall into the able-bodied, white, English-speaking, strong, middle-class heterosexual club then, well you are out of luck. We are mostly out of luck.
Where is feminism at in 2023?
The stakes of feminism are high. So, it seems like a good time to examine the state of feminism in New Zealand post-Roe v Wade, which the US Supreme Court overturned on June 24, 2022, eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years in the States. Contrast that with our own country where abortion was only decriminalised on March 24, 2020. This brings attention to the wider ramifications for us all. How such narratives of power and control are tactics used to abuse and harm all women in society, and this in turn harms their families, partners and friends. In a nutshell, it’s all of us and it happens every day.
The Global Gender Gap Report of 2022, by the World Economic Forum, found that it will take another 132 years to close the global gender gap, with Iceland being the world’s most equal country. There is some positive news: women hired to leadership roles have risen from 33.3 per cent in 2016 to 36.9 per cent in 2022. New Zealand ranks fourth in the global top 10.
A 132 years means anyone reading this won’t see gender equality in their lifetime. Quite sobering.
The day I interviewed our former prime minister Helen Clark, I was so nervous I accidentally drove down the wrong side of the street picking up the camera gear. Clark answered my questions like I was the only person left on earth with her undivided attention and I picked up right away how her passion for women’s rights hasn’t wavered. In our interview, she delved into a range of significant issues affecting women but I could tell close to her heart was the unacceptable issue of violence. She told me that we can’t be complacent because of the possibility of the throwback of Roe v Wade, and that “our world needs people prepared to speak truth to power.” Sadly, it was overthrown in 2022 and now not even women in the land of the free, are free to make that choice. Although the events in Iran have been chilling, it is deeply heartening to see how unveiled female Iranian activists are united in protesting the atrocities against women in their own country.
We face a collective trauma because whatever way you would like to spin it, on some level New Zealand tolerates the abuse of women. This tolerance stems from our own dominant masculine culture and old ideas of gender. In this amnesic forgetting of our own history, I am reminded of how we seem condemned to repeat it. The horrific child abuse. The women who flee from abusive partners. The women who go unnoticed.
The core of trauma is best articulated by the writer Cathy Caruth: “The historical power of the trauma is not just that the experience is repeated after its forgetting, but that it is only in and through its inherent forgetting that it is first experienced at all”. In Revolt She Said, these cultural and gendered ideas are elucidated and examined. What kind of ideals are we really advocating? Why do we gender our children so much? Why is stepping outside the social constructs of gender so incredibly threatening to so many of us?
Why I made Revolt She Said
There are not many films today that you’ll see featuring women. As I look to screen my film this coming March (to celebrate International Women’s Day 2023), the highest-grossing film right now is about blue-bodied, AI-created creatures, a sci-fi spectacular described by the Guardian as a “trillion-dollar screensaver”. Ouch.
I never set out to make a film about feminism. I was filming something else. It was the year Hillary Clinton ran for president and women’s marches protesting Trump gained traction that piqued my attention. That’s how the film began, with a borrowed video camera from work, a promise to my boss I wouldn’t damage it, and weekends spent interviewing women, hour after hour.
I would be in the archives in Melbourne finding beautiful 1970s black and white grainy photographs of women protesting abortion in the streets, and then at 5pm, I would walk down Bourke St and see women lining the streets with eerily similar placards. They were blocking the road. Nothing had changed. It struck me so plainly.
In a sweltering Melbourne apartment, I interview Isha, a former counsellor. She recounts a story where her granddaughter could openly ask her about her same-sex relationship and how different that was from her own experience of her mother. She said it was one of the most beautiful moments of her life and I was touched she recounted it for me that day.
I contemplated interviewing men, but in the end, decided there are enough men’s voices out there. I filmed interview after interview, to hear tales of oppression, heartbreak, solidarity and hope. I was welcomed into the homes of so many, and left each time with a richer soul. I was given insights into how feminism had progressed, stalled then progressed, and I hope that I have passed on this knowledge through the film.
We need more powerful women
New Zealand can’t stand powerful women, because powerful women can’t be controlled. This doesn’t mix well with hegemonic masculinity. Powerful women earn the same as men and are independent of them across all spheres.
Powerful women do what they want.
We are nowhere near achieving equality in this country without first addressing the trauma that women have collectively gone through. If the violence issue wasn’t enough, being paid on average 10 per cent less than men is truly appalling. That means on an average wage of 60 grand a year, women get $6,000 less. That’s probably a trip to Hawaii and a few good Mai Tai’s. And I reckon that’s worth screaming about.
- Revolt She Said screens at The Lido (Epsom) on March 12, 2023, at 7.15pm. Tickets available on Ticket Tailor.