Updated: Nov 3
Director: Catherine Dwyer
Long before the ‘Me Too’ movement took on new life with the Harvey Weinstein allegations and most certainly long before Dior put ‘We Should All Be Feminists' on a T-shirt in 2017, the Feminist journey has been live. Even before Emmeline Pankhurst, the movement’s journey has wound through decades and evolutions, experienced popularity and disdain, as new issues arise and new voices demand to be heard.
And just like any other revolutionary group it continually reflected on itself while others reflected too.
Director Catherine Dwyer’s ‘Brazen Hussies’ populates feminist history in Australia in the sixties, seventies, spilling into the eighties, and is a fascinating documentary every Australian woman and man should see.
In ‘Brazen Hussies’ we meet the key players of the era – Kate Jennings, Sara Dowse, Zelda D’Aprano, Anne Summers, Germaine Greer, and so many more – as they make themselves heard and seen; grabbing microphones on university campuses; chaining themselves to bars in male-only drinking enclaves; demanding the right to make decisions about their bodies, their minds and their bank accounts.
image: Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bognor chained to the public bar, Regatta Hotel, 1965.
The film also details those accusations made by women of non-Caucasian backgrounds – significantly our Aboriginal community but also other minority groups – that Australia’s Feminist Movement was the exclusive domain of educated white women.
We (all) certainly have come a long way 'baby' (remember that dreadful cigarette advertisement in the late seventies?) but still have a long way further to go. This Feminist journey – like so many other ‘ism’ journeys – has had everything to do with identifying, communicating and working to change the value systems and cultural attitudes that would seem to repetitively disenfranchise one group to benefit another. ‘No one is free while others are oppressed’ was a standout mantra in ‘Brazen Hussies’ and the universality of this message really does highlight that the feminist awakening was one of so many in those critical decades.
Dwyer’s film touches lightly on the late seventies and eighties as a more structural approach to Feminism saw many of a newly-minted female executive workforce labelled ‘pseudo-men’ and 'slaves' to patriarchal capitalism and a man-made and measured value system. A break-away group of women even went bush, possibly the first Feminist Separatist group in Australia if the 'Women's Business' of our Indigenous sisters did not have exclusive moments touching on similar themes. I sure they did.
I loved the scene of the Women and Politics Conference (1975) that was held by our first ever 'Women's Advisor' Elizabeth Reid, to our then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. The girls ran wild as Reid had managed to gather 700 representatives from every female minority group in Australia to the Canberra conference where they openly and heatedly discussed with each other their lives, their problems, their disagreements and their aspirations. Of course it was bedlam, but a vital colourful bedlam that strangely and unjustly ended Reid’s Federal Government career, when it should have brought her accolades for so bravely being all inclusive in her trail-blazing. (Reid went on to work at the UN).
One monumental change – a real revolutionary shift – will of course be when those critical cultural roles traditionally labelled ‘womanly’ because of their human caring nature are re-evaluated and justly rewarded. When our value system evolves to properly compensate those care-based occupations that are so poorly remunerated and respected by our still male-scripted culture, then that will mark another revolutionary leap forward.
Stay tuned. Hopefully in our lifetime.