This is the night we get to hear some of the voices of those who created “the biggest social movement in the history of the planet,” as TV and film producer Diane English puts it. Check your local listings here to find at what time this evening you can view PBS’s MAKERS: Women Who Make America.
Think about it. English is not fantasizing. What other movement has aimed at lifting the stigma of inferiority (with its brutal consequences) from the shoulders of half of the human beings on Earth?
Featured in this three-hour documentary are the stories of the “makers” who sparked the transformation of American culture back in the 1950s and 1960s—and are still defending the revolution. Those were the days when Ruth Bader Ginsburg—first in her class at both Harvard and Columbia Law Schools—graduated, only to be refused a job by 14 law firms. Those were the days when a Harvard law-school dean could invite the few women in the law-school class to dinner . . . to grill each one about why she was taking up a seat that could be occupied by a man.
“It turned out to be easier to kick down the door than to transform society,” Ellen Goodman notes on camera. Still, these makers did a lot of transforming, nonviolently, in the past 50 years.
“It was like a tsunami. It was like something was boiling under the earth, and we could bring it up,” Marlo Thomas says. It was, as Hillary Clinton notes, exhilarating; those of us who were young back then remember that exhilaration. But PBS gives feminism’s opponents their due: we hear from the formidable Phyllis Schlafly, homemaker Shirley Curry, and Beverly LaHaye, founder of the conservative Concerned Women for America.
Susan Brownmiller, author of Against Our Will, the book about the prevalence of rape that shocked the nation in 1975, notes that the existence of sexual harassment was a woman’s-movement discovery. “They didn’t have a title for it . . . we all thought, ‘You’re a woman; this is what happens. You carry on,’” she says. “But without a name, without making it a political issue, national recognition wouldn’t have happened.” Or, as Oprah Winfrey puts it, “Nobody listens to you when you go quietly into the night.”
Diane Nash, Gloria Steinem, Sandra Day O’Connor, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Madeleine Albright, and many other trailblazers give us, through their blunt remembrances, a click! of recognition and a shiver of dismay about the way things used to be. The revolution may not be over, but we who knew the old world can hardly hear these makers’ stories without a thrill of exultation at how far we women have come. For younger women, the documentary should be galvanizing. Watch it. Tonight’s the night.
MAKERS: Women Who Make America – Trailer