Directors: Cynthia Salzman Mondell & Allen Mondell
In the CINE Golden Eagle award-winning documentary Sisters of ’77 (The Spirit of Women), NOW founder Betty Friedan, the author who helped launch a revolution with The Feminine Mystique, predicts that the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) will pass when Americans get their first female president. Although filmed a few years ago, coyly and most likely alluding to the recent campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Friedan adds her belief that the reality of a woman in the White House may not be so very far off, after all.
Of course, we all know how Clinton’s campaign turned out and whatever one’s political beliefs may be, after watching this stirring documentary from the award-winning husband-and-wife filmmaking team of Cynthia Salzman Mondell and Allen Mondell, we begin to realize just how the passage of such an amendment would’ve benefited the lives of the largest American minority group, namely women.
It’s an ironic term being that population-wise women comprise the majority of Americans. But it’s even far more ironic when deducing that the amendment which would have protected the rights of a mother for such vital life-lines as better health and child care would in turn have additionally benefited that same woman’s husband, son, brother, etcetera as well.
Recalling the same fiery gumption and passion for justice embodied in the quintessential suffragette Susan B. Anthony, who gathered with her colleagues in Seneca Falls, New York back in 1848, more than 100 ridiculously overdue years later, the first federally funded National Women’s Conference was held in Houston, Texas. Kicking off with a symbolic torch run from Seneca Falls to Houston, the 20,000 brave men and women who gathered for the conference courageously ignored the prejudice of more than 10,000 angry protestors. As one male reporter now admits, such an event made men very fearful as some protestors of both genders held signs reading “Lesbians Go Home,” and a man used a megaphone to argue that men were designed to lead whereas women were simply designed to help.
However, in stark contrast to the narrow view of who would possibly arrive at what was being treated by the media as simply an outgrowth of the hippie movement, and in addition to equal-rights activists such as Gloria Steinem, Coretta Scott King, and Bella Abzug, the attendees included the historic and supportive presence of three first ladies including Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, and Lady Bird Johnson. Needless to say, their involvement spoke volumes being that at the time, women comprised less than five percent of the U.S. Congress. Perhaps the most fitting quote as documented in the film came from Johnson who shared her initial impression that the women’s movement belonged more to her daughter’s generation than her own, but later realized that it affects women of all ages.
And fitting to the conference’s goal to hear the voices of all women, 2,000 elected delegates convened-- with one even going into labor while awaiting proper registration—to embark on a chaotically busy, adrenaline-fueled, intellectually stimulating, and productive journey set over the course of four days between November 18-21, 1977. Their daunting agenda was to craft a plan consisting of 26 resolutions regarding every major area of concern (including economic, personal, social, and political issues). Additionally, they vowed to not only end discrimination against women and promote equal rights but also define just what the parameters of each resolution should be, in trying to take in the viewpoints of women from all walks of life.
Charting the conference with captivating archival footage as well as inserting both supplementary research and candid modern interviews in Sisters of ’77, we’re given a thorough insider’s perspective of a hugely significant yet highly under-publicized event. And given the results of this year political campaigns and some of the controversial media coverage which has provoked eye-opening discussions about discrimination and double standards regarding both gender and race, the Mondells’ film seems even timelier.
Sisters of ’77, which was featured in PBS’ prestigious Independent Lens Series can be purchased exclusively through the Media Projects, Inc. website with varying price levels for individual or professional use. In addition, an official trailer for the film as well as a compelling teaser can be found on YouTube by clicking on the aforementioned links.