Review of “I Was a Teenage Feminist”

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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

men.

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."

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