Therese Shechter is face-to-face with Gloria Steinem when
she asks, "Has feminism become a dirty word?"
Steinem, of course, has been asked this before. Many
times, in fact, since she’s been one of the faces of feminism from the
1960s to the present day. She remains poised as she answers that some
people have made feminism into a dirty word, but she hasn’t let it become
one to her.
I Was a Teenage Feminist is a documentary Shechter made to explore
why she no longer considered herself a feminist, despite having felt
she was one in her teens. A filmmaker/graphic designer living in New
York, Shechter says in the film that
she’s about to turn 40, and she felt the need to revisit the idea of
feminism as she was ultimately not sure how she measured up in the world:
Lately I’ve had this feeling like
I don’t measure up. I’m not a wife. I’m not a mother, and I’m not a
supermodel. What I am is a woman who feels incredible pressure to live
up to a standard that I don’t even buy into.
She introduces this idea while standing
below an oversized billboard of a lingerie-clad woman, glancing up at
it with a wince.
Filmmaker Therese Schecter
The film serves as a personal journey for Shechter, who narrates and
interviews friends and her mother as well as strangers. Her mother,
who has had several professions and was once awarded "The Liberated
Mother of the Year Award" from a group of her friends, says she
is not a feminist; Shechter’s friend’s 20-year-old sister laughs off
her Cosmo‘s ridiculous anti-feminist articles and prides herself
on being independent, but also claims she’s not a feminist.
Shechter really sets the scene for strong
women denying feminism, and drives this point home when she shows
both women and men in Times Square describing their idea of what a feminist
is: a lesbian.
We shouldn’t necessarily take seriously what a group of young college
men say to a camera in Times Square while laughing and nodding in agreement
with one another. But it is extremely apparent in this documentary
that both feminism and lesbianism are
still being misconstrued as being (first and foremost) about hating
Shechter doesn’t comment much on this
notion. Instead, she has a male friend ask the questions while she is
behind the camera. Later in the documentary, she talks about getting
over the stigma of everyone thinking she’s a lesbian if she claims to
be a feminist.
Shechter is not a lesbian, as she maintains throughout the film, discussing
how she’s afraid to tell the men she dates about her film and that a
prospective boyfriend never called back after she’d mentioned the word
"patriarchy" over dinner.
Shechter may not identify as gay, but there are several queer women
in the film, including musician Gina Young, 28 Days Records label owner
Nancy Scibilia, and the author of Look Both Ways, Jennifer Baumgartner.
Young is out and proud as a feminist and a lesbian. When asked if she
considers herself a feminist, she nods quickly and
with gumption, and then looks to her right at Scibilia, who pauses before
answering, "I guess I have those thoughts that I’m not aware of,
[that] everyone will think I’m gay or whatever. I mean, I am gay, but
that has nothing to do with it."
If only the college boys were present during this interview. They’d
learn a lot: being a lesbian doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a feminist.
And being a feminist certainly doesn’t mean you are a lesbian.
Shechter begins to feel as if she’s excluded
from feminism, however, after attending a politically
charged meeting of the minds with Steinem and leaders of organizations
speaking on the many facets of feminism including gender roles, reproductive
rights, queer women’s issues and women of color’s rights.
Despite being Jewish, Shechter claims
to feel removed, and relays to another interview subject that the experience
almost felt too "big" for her.
One of the next moves Shechter makes is attending a gay pride parade.
She prefaces the event by saying she is unsure about going because she
feels like she will be surrounded by the most feminist group of people
she has been around since the previous conference she attended (where
she was overwhelmed with how "big" and noninclusive feminism
felt to her). But ultimately, she feels like the parade is one of the
best places to be "out" about being the feminist she thinks
she might be again, and she enjoys talking to the creators of sold-out
bumper stickers such as "Abort Bush."