An interview with Marilyn Webb

Tell me a bit about the documentary The film itself is both a documentary and a call to arms targeted to your generation. It goes through the narrative history of how the second wave of feminism came to be and what we did. I mean, there we were, fighting for other people’s issues (like civil rights) and we realized, hey, we have issues too. So the documentary is constructed through the story of what we went through.


It’s a very inspiring movie because, basically, it shows how normal people changed culture. It kind of leaves you in the end with here we have a new group of women — your generation — and these issues are still happening. Maybe people don’t necessarily like the word feminist, but the issues are still out there.


How have things changed since your time as an activist during the second wave?

There’s been a backlash, especially on reproductive rights. You know, abortion and birth control. That was a major concern for us because we grew up in a time when abortion was illegal, before Roe v. Wade, and people had died from illegal abortions. So the filmmaker Mary talks about what’s happening now, which is how we’ve had this backslide on things that we thought were settled (like rape on college campuses), but really aren’t settled. We don’t have equal pay for equal work, we don’t have equal numbers of women in Congress, and we don’t have a woman president yet. So we’ve come forward, and we slide back.


You mentioned that people may not be comfortable with the word feminist, but some say that feminism is becoming trendy. What do you think of this?

I think there has to be something behind it. I think it’s a good sign — I mean, gee, we didn’t have someone like Beyoncé years ago saying, “I’m a feminist,” but we also didn’t have “Our Bodies, Ourselves” yet. You’ll see (in) the film, this book has been reprinted, redone in hundreds of other places in many languages so … issues that are not even in our culture have become more open in other cultures as a result of (“Our Bodies, Ourselves”). So when Beyoncé goes on international television and says that she’s a feminist, it can’t hurt, that’s for sure. And also, this is true with Patricia Arquette, even with all the controversy of what she said in the back room, she used the academy awards in such a way to say we still don’t have equal pay for equal work — I thought that was enormously important. It’s one thing to raise a word like feminism, and it’s another to say violence against women is not okay.


How do you think our generation can continue the work put forth by women like you?

Well, I don’t really know. What we did is sit around in consciousness-raising groups and said, “well what’s your experience?” And so somehow it ended up that our personal experience that we thought was our own fault and felt guilty about was a shared social experience. And the particular experiences we had were different than the ones you have. It’s really just however you guys communicate best (Twitter, Facebook) ... I personally think face to face is best. Just ask, what is (life) like for you? When there’s just one person, it’s hard. But when there’s a group there’s strength. When I see Take Back The Night demonstrations and marches, it gives me hope. There’s all kind of ways that you can do things that are different from how we did it.


Speaking of involvement, you mention in the documentary the issue of getting working-class women involved in the movement. Why was it important for you to get this diverse group of women involved?

Betty Friedan’s book — The Feminine Mystique — and (the National Organization for Women) and all, they were very middle-class issues. They were suburban women. And we were not suburban women. We were, at the time, young students, or just a little out of college. And when you talk about a women’s movement, you talk about a mass women’s movement, not just middle-class women … We all had these different issues, but they all had to do with a larger issue, which is patriarchy, essentially.


What do you hope people take away from the documentary?

I certainly hope another wave of the women’s movement evolves in your generation. And I hope that all the gaslighting stops and that (there’s an end to the erosion of) the gains that we made — like abortion rights, like the fact that there is still no guaranteed child care. So for my generation, these issues are now hitting us in a different way, and I think it’s important to keep raising these issues. These are not going away. Unless we’re vigilant, they’re going to continue in my stage of life and they’re going to be eroded in your stage of life. So I’m hoping it prevents erosion and inspires change.


Is there anything else you’d like to add?

There’s one thing I feel really good about (in) this film, and that is its consciousness of internationalism. You’ll see (it in) the “Our Bodies, Ourselves” part where they’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of the book. So many women come forward and talk about how it changed their lives. It’s totally international — all this stuff that’s happening with Boko Haram kidnapping girls, and girls being targeted like Malala (Yousafzai) for wanting an education, women who had their face burned with acid, gang rapes in India … I just think the more publicity we can give to support women internationally as well as our own national issues, the better we’ll be all together.



Arts & Entertainment Editor 

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