#338) Growing Up Female (1971)

GUF-2

#338) Growing Up Female (1971)

Directed & Written by Julia Reichert and Jim Klein

Class of 2011

No footage of “Growing Up Female” that I could embed here, but this is a tribute to Julia Reichert that includes footage from the documentary.

NOTE: “Growing Up Female” is about the feminist movement of the early ‘70s and the patriarchy’s oppression of women in America. As a straight white male, I am the last person anyone needs to hear address this topic. There’s a wealth of information out there about feminism, starting with this article about second-wave feminism as seen in “Growing Up Female”. To learn more about feminism in 2019 America, turn on the news and cry.

The Plot: “Growing Up Female” is an examination of five women at different stages in their lives. Janelle is 11 and prefers playing games with boys and wearing pants instead of a skirt. Terry is a 16-year-old beauty school student who enjoys dressing up for her boyfriend than for herself. Tammy is 21 and her “independent” lifestyle may be a product of materialistic advertising. Jessica is also 21 and is raising a five-year-old daughter whose father has become unreliable. Mrs. Russell is a 34-year-old housewife who expresses her daily frustration with raising three daughters. All five of these women are serving other people in their lives while ignoring their own needs and wants. Seeing as this is 1971, perhaps a change in our national attitude towards women is in order.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “[a]mong the first films to emerge from the women’s liberation movement” and mentions the “cooperative of female filmmakers” who helped the film get distributed across the country.

But Does It Really?: Absolutely. “Growing Up Female” is a fascinating time capsule of binary gender norms, when a woman’s role was in service to the man in her life. At the same time, the film is gently provoking you to look a little deeper and question that perception, a concept that must have been radical in 1971. It’s an oversimplification of the feminist agenda, but “Growing Up Female” shows the little things you can change about your attitudes towards women that can start the ripple effect.

Everybody Gets One: Outside of their filmographies, there isn’t a lot of information about either Julia Reichert or Jim Klein, other than they met while attending Antioch College in the late ‘60s. “Growing Up Female” was a student project of Julia’s, and the two spent most of the 1970 spring semester producing this film.

Wow, That’s Dated: The perception of women in society solely as homemakers and mothers. “Growing Up Female” can be an encouraging viewing experience.

Wow, That’s Not Dated: The perception of women in advertisements as sex symbols and playthings. “Growing Up Female” can be an infuriating viewing experience.

Seriously, Oscars?: To the best of my knowledge, “Growing Up Female” never played an Oscar qualifying run, and was therefore ineligible. Reichert and Klein would be nominated for their later films “Union Maids” and “Seeing Red” (with Reichert receiving an additional nod for “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant”) but both filmmakers have yet to take home an Oscar (2020 Update: See “Legacy” below).

Other notes

  • Once again, “Growing Up Female” was Reichert’s student project at Antioch College. Believe me, none of my student films are making the NFR any time soon.
  • It always fascinates me in these movies that no matter what time period it is, kids playing always looks and sounds the same. That’s a major pro-nurture bullet point in the “nature vs. nurture” debate.
  • I can see how Reichert and Klein were able to get such candid responses from their subjects: Julia is very conversational and down-to-earth in her interviewing, putting everyone at ease to truly speak their mind.
  • It doesn’t take long to figure out the pattern between all of these women. Just from Janelle and Terry you can learn that this movie is about women who feel oppressed by the patriarchy, but aren’t able to articulate these feelings. Terry even mentions moving to California. In other words, as far away from her current life as possible.
  • Having been born long after the feminist movement of the ‘70s, it’s easy for me to describe ‘60s sexism in its broadest “go back to the kitchen” stereotypes. What this film opened my eyes to is how much of that sexism towards women was presented by other women, typically of the older generation who obeyed their husbands without question.
  • Oh god, the Advertising Executive. Obviously, he’s there to set up the sexist attitudes of ‘60s advertising and its effect on the younger generation, but does he have to be such a dick about it? And stop calling women “chickies”!
  • The most memorable moment in the film is the extended amount of time we spend learning about Tammy, her personality, and her aspirations, only to get the reveal that she’s a secretary. That stings quite a bit.
  • Jessica’s story is the closest this film gets to dealing with the racial aspect of being a woman in America. An examination of our treatment of African-American women is a task for someone far more qualified than I. Perhaps we need a documentary called “Growing Up with Institutional Racism”.
  • All you really need to know about this movie’s stance of feminism is that all of the subjects are addressed by their first names, except for Mrs. Russell the housewife.
  • I became so caught up in these women’s stories, I actually got upset during the end credits when I realized the film was co-directed by a man. No offense to Jim Klein, who I’m sure is a lovely guy.

Legacy

  • Reichert and Klein knew that a pro-feminist film in 1971 wouldn’t get a big distribution deal, so they handled it themselves, sending 16mm copies to churches and libraries all across America. The two were later joined by fellow filmmakers Amalie Rothschild and Liane Brandon, and founded New Day Films, a company that is still going strong today.
  • Both Julia Reichert and Jim Klein are still making documentaries, though Klein seems to be focusing more on the editing side. Reichert’s most recent documentary “American Factory” premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and was acquired by Netflix.
  • 2020 UPDATE: “American Factory” won the Oscar for Best Documentary! Yay, Julia!
  • As far as I can tell, besides the title and general concept, the 1974 book “Growing Up Female: A Personal Photo-Journal” by Abigail Heyman is not directly connected to this film.
  • Does anyone know what happened to any of the women in this film? If I find out they all became unsatisfied housewives, I’m gonna be real upset.

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