“Yours in Sisterhood”, Ours in Life

“Walking back in case I die”

When you watch things on a screen, they seem distant, almost fiction. It’s not that I don’t believe that the women that were shown, one after another, did not experience the discrimination and frustration that they claimed, I simply felt that it existed in their universe and not my own. Irene Lusztig goes to great lengths to bridge that gap between women, most notably between those of the past (1970s) and of the present. She accomplishes this by approaching people (almost entirely girls or women, with the notable exception of one fantastic man who read a letter in sign language) and having them read letters that women sent to Ms. , a popular feminist magazine back in 1971. I should mention that all but one of these letters went unpublished. In the filmmaker’s own words, “The letters gain a new meaning when they’re read.” (Lusztig, 2018), each of the people selected adding new emotions or interpretations to the words of women like themselves from so many years ago.

Despite all this, I still walked out of that building feeling somewhat separated from all I’d seen. It was fascinating, yes, and very empowering. I was proud of everyone involved, I just did not consider myself one of those people.

That is, until I did something that has become instinctive, and I was instantly vacuumed into the list of people. I texted my roommate. You can see a screenshot here:

sisterhoodchat5
I should mention I got my roommate’s permission to publish these conversations!

This is something we started a couple of weeks ago when she had to walk back from an activity late at night. We’d talked about SafeRide and about the false sense of security we can feel on campus because it feels familiar (all topics that had been drilled into our minds in great depth by various sources), so it felt like a good idea to text each other, however casually, to let the other know that we were walking back alone at night, to be alert and worried if we didn’t show up soon.

I don’t know of any guys who do this.

Yet somehow, since we were kids, and since we got here, it’s been repeated to us over and over not to walk alone at night, to at least have a friend with you, preferably a group. Don’t go with anyone you don’t know, keep an eye on each other. Here are some more screenshots from the last couple of weeks:

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But it goes further. One of my textbooks has an explicit account of a rape as an example for research methods; we had to go through training in orientation on not getting drugged or taken advantage of. Most if not all examples of inappropriate, unwanted, and potentially dangerous sexual situations used girls as the victims.

Why should we be afraid? Why should we have to live with that fear?

A friend had a class where there was a movie about climate change where a woman faces some demeaning behavior from security guard. A boy in her class thought it wasn’t too big a deal. When the female teacher asked for a show of hands on who thought the man was being rude, all the girls raised their hands. She said, “Interesting, looks like it’s mostly girls who raised their hands, we’ve had these kinds of experiences before so it makes it easier to identify.”

A male student in a class involving research thought it’d be okay to make his experiment about standing close to lone girls in an otherwise empty elevator and seeing how they reacted. He was told firmly not to carry it out. He disobeyed. (Though, fun fact, he did not get a good grade).

What’s worse is that when I sat down at my laptop a half hour ago, I only expected to write one example, and look how many have come to mind.

The topic Irene Lusztig decided to shed light on is all around us, and worse still, we don’t even realize it. I say all these things not in contempt but saddened surprise, and a little frustration. Everyone has a story, I promise you, but sometimes it is not enough just to tell them, it does no good to complain or start giving looks of suspicion towards every poor soul that happens to fall under the category of “man”. To quote the film, “Let us turn this anger into constructive action instead of bitterness.”

Moving away from the central theme, there were several more aspects that really stood out to me, such as there not being just one way of being a feminist, or how Irene said that it’d be a mistake to assume that history is progressive, a straight line. That instead, history is circular. This instantly made me think of Maus, her thoughts seemed mirrored by Art Spiegelman’s, how he did not see the events of the Holocaust so much in the past as he did a solid event in time that would not disappear.

On a more personal note, I thought it was a privilege to meet Irene Lusztig in person, a woman who awarded each of the speakers in her film a generous amount of time to collect their thoughts, who conveyed messages through pauses as well as words. She was a woman I was able to relate to very well considering my panic at raising my hand (I’m still convinced my arm gained a will of its own), and how she told a brief anecdote about her own horror at believing that two years’ worth of footage was blurry and useless (happy ending: it wasn’t). It’s why I found it important to quench my fears again and approach her after the event had finished and shake her hand. The woman interviewed over 300 people. About 20 were included. How could I offer anything less than my feeble congratulations?

This has already gone on for much longer than my intended “2 paragraphs” so I’ll finish up by inviting you all to go watch the film, I believe it’ll be showing again in Atlanta on October 6th, and if you couldn’t notice by my long winding rant, I recommend it.


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