Women and Work,
a video series by the National
Review by Christina Starr
I must confess, I am an NFB, Studio D fan. Studio D has produced a number of intelligent, insightful films about the lives of women, always grounded in reality, always based on the real life mix of what's funny about what happens to us, and what's tragic.
The four films which make up the women and work series follow the pattern. A diversity of women representing a diversity of work situations (with the exception of one man who is the only person with a disability represented) talk about their career choices, conditions of work, and trying to earn a living in a labour market which more often than not refuses to see women as contributing, productive partners.
But there is an inconsistency in the series. Careers to Discover follows three teenaged women as they interview women working in male-dominated fields. A Balancing Act surveys ways in which women (and one man) balance their work and family lives through initiatives such as flex time, satellite offices, job sharing, and telecommuting. Both films present workable and rewarding ways that women can participate in the labour force, but untempered by any discussion of barriers, they feel like propaganda for how calm, wonderful, and interesting a woman's working life can be if she just gets the right pieces sorted out.
Careers to Discover especially, and unfortunately, neglects to mention sexist and misogynist barriers that girls and women face. "It's up to us" is the final lesson for the girls, and I am uncomfortable with their complete assumption of responsibility for their own success in a society which so often hates to see girls successful. I also dislike - or have grown tired of - the emphasis on math and science, and careers in white collar engineering; couldn't we sometimes mention that careers in the arts, in social justice work, or in the non-profit sector are also rewarding and interesting ?
The Glass Ceiling and A Web Not a Ladder solidly counter this optimism. After enduring the "anything is possible" approach, it was oddly reassuring to hear the first voice in The Glass Ceiling state categorically that equality has not yet been achieved. Asking for a raise for her work as a secretary, this woman was told - apparently without sarcasm - that what she did was not hard, that when you work with a computer "you just push a button and it does the rest by itself."
An older woman who traded her work as a bar tender to become a machine operator in a furniture factory relates how most of her male co-workers spend "all their time" thinking of ways to sabotage her work. And a manager in a government position admits the stress she feels to perform to perfection nearly all the time, partly because she's a role model and partly because as a woman she feels there's far less allowance for her mistakes.
I was particularly pleased by the portrayals of Native women in A Web Not a Ladder, which account for three out of six portraits of women business owners. With the exception of one of these six, all the women speak about the discrimination they faced in setting up and running their own businesses and the difficulties in keeping it going.
The Glass Ceiling and A Web Not a Ladder deliver the characteristically Studio D reality of the sour along with the sweet. The other two films are purely motivational: A Balancing Act for corporations and organizations that want to better meet the needs of their employees, and Careers to Discover for young women on the verge of making important scholastic choices. But at our own and our daughters' peril we neglect to mention that larger forces sometimes dictate the directions of our lives, and it is often exceptional women who resist. A Web Not a Ladder and The Glass Ceiling give us this reality.
Christina Starr is the Editor of Women's Education des femmes.