After the film premiere “Madame Presidenta: Why not U.S.?” on March 8 at the Carnegie Museum of Art, I sat down with its director and producer Heather Arnet, CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation in Southwestern Pa. As was promised in my yesterday’s blog post, I am sharing our conversation below.
Natalie Bencivenga: Why Brazil? This was a question asked by the audience, and I’d like you to explore it further.
Heather Arnet: I thought it was interesting once I started to think about how Chile, Argentina and Brazil had all elected female heads of state before us. But once I started researching it, I was blown away by the history of this country that I knew very little about. They resemble the United States in that they are a huge country, incredibly diverse, have the 6th largest world economy, and have some bad history there, like we do. Presidenta Dilma Vana Rousseff was someone that I could admire, especially after learning her story.
I was so shocked by how casually the word “feminism” was used in the film by Brazilians. Why do you think it is considered a “dirty word” here in the States?
I was so struck by that as well when I visited Brazil! I remember being at the airport in Brazil and a woman and her daughter started to talk to me about what I was doing. The mother used the word feminist to describe herself, and did so casually, without apology. That doesn’t happen here. It wasn’t an accident as to why the word became demonized, but we are in a moment of change. Cate Blanchett, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Beyonce and Meryl Streep have all recently talked openly about equal rights. We don’t have to apologize or ask permission for that.
The film revealed that birth control can be easily obtained over the counter in Brazil. That struck me as bizarre, considering Brazil is an officially Catholic nation. What were your thoughts on that?
Yes, I found that to be interesting as well. Here I was in a conservative, Catholic nation, and yet they are advancing all of these reproductive freedoms, which are intricately tied to economic stability and human rights. When I would ask Brazilians about it, they would say, “What does one have to do with the other?” And yet, politicians here at home don’t make that connection. When the majority of people living in poverty here at home are single-parent, female-headed households, we have to make note that economic development is tied to the ability of women to have control over their health and bodies.
Many critics would say that the feminist movement is dead here in the States because it is too fragmented. But, it seemed in the film that women from every background were able to come together (and with men, too!) for social change.
I think one thing that seems to be bringing people together is the idea of raising the minimum wage. Mostly, women work minimum wage jobs, and so this is something that could unify. In the past, reproductive health has been used to divide, but the more we talk about it as an issue every woman and every family faces, the more we can depoliticize it.
What did you learn from making this film?
I was inspired by how women became actively involved, how they didn’t ask for permission. They didn’t want to integrate into the system, they chose to change the system instead. As women, we must support one another. This will help us move forward politically and economically, as well as improve our lives and the lives of our families.
“Madame Presidenta: Why Not the U.S.?” premieres March 29, 2014 on WQED.
Set your DVRs, believe me you DON’T want to miss it!
Follow @HeatherArnet and @WGFPA on Twitter