A Girl Like Her @ Montreal World Film Festival

a girl like herSometimes today’s “modern” (I’ve always found that to be a weird term as there is always going to be someone more modern as time keeps marching on) girl/women has no concept of what came before them in regards to the struggles that women went through for equality, etc.  We have no concept of how hard it was for women in the past.  They did not have the freedoms and multitude of choices we do now.  That is not to say that equality has been achieved leaving nothing else to fight for.  If you do take the time to look at the lives of women in the past then today’s woman would be more appreciative of what they have.

One battleground that remains is women’s rights over their bodies and the prejudice that single mothers face.  However it was nothing compared to what women in the 1960s (the period covered by this documentary) faced.

The 1960s was a time of turmoil in the United States with race relations and the Vietnam War going on.  For women while it was a more liberal time than say the 1950s it still did not treat them as equals.  While watching the 47 minute documentary by director Ann Fessler you see that it was a time for free love combined with restrictions aimed mainly at women.  Single women getting pregnant was frowned upon with all the blame falling on the woman and not the man involved.  A big double standard.

Though the 60s are thought of as a time of free love that did not come coupled with sex education for women.  Many women in the film tell of how little they knew about sex.  Their mothers did not talk to them about it so the only information they got was from sex ed films shown in school which were not very helpful.  It was also a time where contraception was not readily available and abortion was still illegal.  So these young women and girls were having sex without much knowledge or birth control.

To begin with the film uses all black and white footage from that era and has 100 women who found themselves unmarried and pregnant as narrators.  Their stories are poignant as you can hear the pain, confusion and guilt even 50-odd years later.

If a young unmarried woman became pregnant she was probably ostracized by family and friends.  Because of the stigmatizing that went on many kept their pregnancy a secret.  If you were unmarried and got pregnant while working you had to give up your job.

At the very end of the film we are told that between the years of 1945 and 1973 1.5 million women in the United States gave up children for adoption.  This was not a rare occurrence.  These women all had to leave school once they started showing and were sent off to special hospitals for pregnant unwed women.  None of these women were given a choice.  For them, as they all explain, there was no choice.  Giving their babies up for adoption was the only solution.  If you fought against it you were threatened with being placed in a mental institution until you gave in.

After they gave up their babies it was expected of the women to just carry on and forget what happened.  The women interviewed by Ann Fessler are very open about their feelings and how they had no choice.  They also talk towards the end of the documentary about how often they think about the babies they were forced to give up.  One woman tells of how she has not been able to sleep a night through without waking up to think of her baby for the past several decades.  Another statistic that shows the effect of the forced surrendering of their babies for adoption is that of the 100 women interviewed for the film 30 never had another child.  The emotional scarring was obviously deep.

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