THE new documentary Brazen Hussies shines a light on the fearless women who kickstarted the feminist revolution in the 1960s and 1970s in Australia.
Skilfully weaving archive footage with passionate accounts from women who were on the front line, director Catherine Dwyer captures the raw and sometimes chaotic energy of the times.
The footage includes a group of anti-feminist men in 1973 at Curtin University, which was then known as the WA Institute of Technology.
A female reporter asks a male student with a giant bushy moustache, “What you’re really saying is that you men are superior in every way to all women?”
Deadpan, the man replies.
“That’s putting it very simplistically, but basically yes.”
Dwyer says Perth has the oldest, still-operating women’s refuge in Australia (Nardine, opened in 1974).
“The catalyst for making the movie was the sense that the history of the women’s movement in the 1970s was being lost,” Dwyer says.
“I had a friend who didn’t understand why I would call myself a feminist and I was appalled at her misunderstanding of what feminism meant.
“I felt like women’s history gets too easily erased and then we are told that women don’t do anything that is remarkable and worthy of being recorded.
“I wanted to revisit this exciting time because I knew that society changed so much because of the second wave women’s movement and that it would be eye opening to see how that change was achieved.”
The film took fives years to make with Dwyer undertaking meticulously research and interviewing dozens of influential women from the period like Elizabeth Reid, who became Gough Whitlam’s advisor on women’s affairs, Lola Mathews, a founding member of the Women’s Electoral Lobby, and Pat O’Shane, the first Aboriginal law graduate in Australia.
The director notes that during the making of the film she was struck by the complex relationship between Aboriginal women and the feminist movement back then.
“The movement did come out of a predominantly white experience of sexism, especially how women in the anti-war movement were treated by New Left men, whose ideals of universal humanity didn’t extend to women,” Dwyer says.
“The Aboriginal Rights movement in the 1970s was full of strong, smart women like Pat O’Shane, Bobbi Sykes, Isobel Coe, Marcia Langton and Naomi Mayers but their priority was not to split from their black brothers and join white women who didn’t understand their racial oppression.
“It wasn’t as simple as that. Its important to remember that not all women are oppressed in the same way and that if you are born with privileges that others don’t have access to you can use that privilege to elevate the voices and experiences of those who are more marginalised than yourself.”
A special Q&A screening of Brazen Hussies will be held at Luna Leederville on Tuesday October 27.
Guests include Dwyer and Carmen Lawrence, who became the first female premier of WA in 1990.
Tix at lunapalace.com.au
by STEPHEN POLLOCK