Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The longest continuously operating women's center in the U.S.

LEFT ON PEARL tells the story of a highly significant but little known event in the history of the Women's Liberation Movement of the late 60's and early 70's.  On March 6, 1971, International Women’s Day, hundreds of women took over a Harvard University owned building declaring it a Women’s Center. The building occupation highlighted the hopes and triumphs, as well as the conflicts and tensions, within what is now called Second Wave Feminism.  The legacy of this action lives on in the founding of the longest continuously operating women's center in the U.S., the Cambridge Women's Center.

With the building takeover as the focal point, LEFT ON PEARL explores what led women of different class, racial, and ethnic backgrounds to join the Women’s Liberation Movement, how this movement fit into the broader social ferment of the 1960’s and early 1970’s, and how the Second Wave fit into the larger scope of women’s history in the 20th century.

LEFT ON PEARL also reveals the intersection of the women’s movement with the other political struggles of the time, the antiwar, civil rights, black power, and lesbian and gay rights movements. The film highlights several intertwined stories: the need for women’s space, the demands of the predominantly African-American Riverside community (where 888 Memorial Drive was located) for affordable housing, and Harvard University’s expansion into working class Cambridge communities. A key demand of the occupiers was for Harvard to build low and moderate income housing for neighborhood residents being displaced by Harvard's rapid expansion.

Why Is This Film Important Now?

A well-funded backlash has turned the word "feminist" into a slur. Young people do not identify as feminists because of the way the term has been misrepresented and caricatured by the media. Many young women are not aware of what life was like before the Second Wave of feminism. With little choice and few opportunities, women were relegated to low-paying jobs as teachers, nurses, secretaries or maids, often fired upon getting married or becoming pregnant, not permitted to open bank accounts on their own, subjected to violence in the home, sexual harassment on the job, illegal back alley abortions - all without recourse or protection by law. At the same time, homosexuality was considered a mental illness and lesbians and gay men could be fired from jobs, jailed or confined to mental institutions. Women now expect equal pay and opportunities in employment, the classroom, the military, and in professional sports. These rights and opportunities were hard fought and won by the feminist movement.

Yet, the struggle continues. From the debate over whether birth control should be covered by the Affordable Care Act, to extreme anti-abortion laws adopted in Texas, North Dakota, Arkansas, and North Carolina, to serious discussions by politicians over what constitutes “legitimate rape”, we are seeing some of the most radical attacks on women's basic rights of the past 40 years. Clearly, the campaign for women's liberation remains as relevant and as critical as ever.

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