Brazen Hussies is a film that champions the voices of women, the same women who fought to have their voices heard for so long. This film is comprised of archival footage and interviews, none of which involve men. Instead, the women who were silenced for so long finally get to tell their stories of how they changed Australia forever.
One of these women, feminist screenwriter and director Margot Nash, reminds us that history has to be told over and over again otherwise people will all too easily forget. This film does an excellent job making sure we remember. It starts in the sixties, at the start of the women’s liberation movement in Australia and the world. At this time, women couldn’t drink in pubs, they couldn’t work if they were married and there was no single mothers’ pension.
Some like to dismiss the work of feminists during this time as just women burning bras in the street, but the women featured reveal that it was so much more. The women in this film are smart, aware of the world and undoubtedly brave. The women realised the society they lived in didn’t serve them and actively fought to change it.
To combat this, the women would run what they called, “consciousness-raising” sessions. These sessions served to make other women aware of how they had been failed by the patriarchy and to give them the opportunity to fight back. Brazen Hussies works as a consciousness-raising session for 21st century women. It makes us aware of how normal it was for women to be treated terribly. It also makes us aware of the fact that we didn’t get to where we are by luck, but because of the hard work of those before us. The women in this film make sure to warn us that if we’re complacent, not only we will not progress, we could find ourselves back there.
The film takes special care in making sure that it highlights not only the good aspects of the women’s liberation movement but also the problematic parts of it. While the movement claimed it fought for the rights of all women, it was led by straight white women who tended to ignore or oppose the involvement of lesbians and Aboriginal women. This is an important reminder for the feminist movement even today, which can easily become exclusionary if it doesn’t stay vigilant.
Another tension depicted in the film was between the women who wanted to tear the whole system down and those who wanted to work within the system to fix things. The women who chose the latter often faced incredible opposition from the men who dominated the government and the courts. The large majority that men had in government has subsided a little but unfortunately not enough. In Australia, only 28.7 per cent of MPs in the house of representatives are women, with Australia being ranked 50th in the world by the International Parliamentary Union on the Women in National Parliament Tally, just under the Philippines.
While it was refreshing to see how far we’ve come it’s also worrying to see how little we’ve progressed on some topics. Women fought fifty years ago for the right to an abortion and while in most Australian states it is legal, New South Wales only legalised it last year. During the discussion before the bill was eventually passed, Tony Abbott, our former Prime Minister, called it “infanticide on demand”. Too many men in power still don’t understand or care for the rights of women.
While this film reminds us that there is still work to be done, it does give us hope that change can actually happen. We have progressed so far because of the work of these amazing women and we owe it to them to keep up the fight. We can do so by remembering their commanding chant, “women united will never be defeated”.