Black-and-white film clips show an entrenched refusal to accept that civil rights could be violated on the basis on gender as well as race. Prominent TV journalists, Harry Reasoner and Eric Sevareid among them, derided the notion of "women's lib," with Reasoner seen giving a mea culpa for his off-target prediction that groundbreaking Ms. magazine would quickly fold. (The magazine turned 40 last year.)
The documentary also addresses how white, middle-class women and working-class minorities responded differently to the movement, as well as some activists' deliberate exclusion of lesbians they viewed as a threat to feminism's mainstream acceptance.
Others, such as conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, were outsiders by choice, casting feminism as a dangerous attack on women and traditional family life. It was personally insulting, as another opponent says in the film, with the stinging implication that "if we had a brain in our head, we couldn't be happy changing that baby's diaper."
Last year, as a precursor to the documentary, PBS and AOL launched MAKERS.com, an interactive video platform that showcases a growing collection of women's stories.
Why the generic "Makers" title for the project and film?
"I think 'Makers' gives you the sense that this is still a movement. This is still moving forward, and specifically we didn't put the word 'women' in there because we wanted it to be inclusive," said project founder and executive producer Dyllan McGee, who worked with filmmakers Betsy West and Peter Kunhardt.
Aileen Clarke Hernandez, among the first members of the EEOC and a founder and early president of the National Organization for Women, said the past must be understood for progress to continue.
"We have not made it. We have not made it by any way. So we have a lot of work to do, and we need the young people to know the history," she told a news conference.
The battle is only half-won, as Steinem sees it, with much-debated reproductive as well as economic rights unsettled. Any social justice movement takes a century to become an entrenched part of society, she said, and this one can be stopped.
"The very same people who used to say to me, 'This is crazy. It's against God, nature, Freud,' whatever, the same people will say, 'Oh, that used to be necessary. But it's not anymore.'"
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber(at)ap.org and on Twitter (at)lynnelber.
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