A series of provocative and often heartbreaking conversations between the past and the present, Irene Lusztig’s Yours in Sisterhood, is a collective portrait of feminism, and a beautiful paean to the lost art of letter writing.
Beginning as an insert in New York Magazine, before becoming the first ever mainstream feminist magazine in the US, Ms. Magazine provided a space for feminism within the public, commercial realm of the 1970s. The magazine made history in 1972, when it published the names of women admitting to having had abortions when the procedure was still illegal. It would go on to give a platform for intelligent, considered debate about the marginalisation of women in society for years to come.
Between 2015 and 2017, Lusztig decided to gather over 300 strangers from across the US to read aloud letters written in the 1970s to the editor of Ms. Magazine. These submissions, the majority of which went unpublished at the time, provide a ground floor window to experiences of those living through the woman liberation movement. But all windows provide a faint reflection, and Lusztig encourages her volunteers to engage with the letters they’re reading.
Each woman is filmed in the same way, positioned in the centre of meticulously composed frames as they talk directly into the camera. It’s a relatively simple way to convey the information with maximum clarity and transparency, but it doesn’t stop some of the women from being uncomfortable camera. However, there are some who enthusiastically deliver their letters with a fire in their bellies, whilst others disagree vehemently, highlighting the impasse between equality and identity politics as one of the greatest threats to contemporary movement struggles.
“There is more than one way to be a feminist.” states one writer from Rochester, articulating the clash between the personal and the political evidenced in many of these letters. Yours in Sisterhood doesn’t strive to eradicate these divides but instead reinvigorate and build upon conversations surrounding identity politics. Covering a broad range of topics; from the expectations to achieve impossible standards of beauty, to the lack of civil rights afforded to incarcerated women, Lusztig combines all these accounts together to move the conversation away from listing personal privileges and disadvantages, and show the politics of identity as one of positionality: a recognition of our different locations within intersecting systems of oppression.
Clocking in at 101 minutes, Yours in Sisterhood could certainly do with some abbreviating but, if the emergence of the #MeToo movement has taught us anything, it’s that the film’s lengthy runtime is merely a reflection of just how little progress has been made. But as one writer from Cincinnati puts it; “Feminism has had, and will continue to have its crisis, but let’s embrace them with inclusivity.”
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Patrick Gamble | @PatrickJGamble