Yours in Sisterhood (2018). 100 min. Directed by Irene Lusztig.
This review is part of a double feature on the short film, Yours in Sisterhood. You can also find an interview with director Irene Lusztig here.
“There is more than one way to be a feminist. When are you going to stop hating bad things and start loving them: Feel anger. It is real. But, turn that love into constructive action instead of destructive bitterness. Please, we may all be sisters but we are all different, which isn’t bad or wrong.” —A Reader In Rochester
Like the reader in Rochester, Irene Lusztig’s film allows viewers to hear and see the different ways one can live and think as a feminist. Most importantly, however, Yours in Sisterhood reminds us that we are not alone in the daily tasks of living as women in a world that is still as sexist and racist as it was 40 years ago.
Yours in Sisterhood is a documentary that features women and gender non-conforming people today performing letters written by readers in the 1970s to Ms. Magazine. The letters explore stories of self image, self love, sexuality, reclaiming womanhood, breaking gender norms, and women’s liberation (to list a few) as told by diverse women and children. Watching Yours In Sisterhood brought to life stories of women and children in the 1970s that had been overlooked by our culture. I found it particularly compelling that viewers were able to watch the letters come to life through present day performances by women, gender non-conforming people, and children. In some of the most engaging moments, the readers related to the original writer’s experience. One woman reads a letter that describes her past as a little girl whose father would come home from working in a nuclear plant in different clothes because he was exposed to excessive radiation at work. She tells us he later died of cancer from radiation exposure. The woman performing the letter explains that she could have written this letter herself because she lost her mother, father, and brother to radiation exposure. She is the only survivor.
On the other hand, some women disagreed with the letters they performed. A Cincinnati reader’s letter says:
The feminist movement must be mature enough to accomplish political diversity as it has racial, occupational, and sexual diversity. Black or white, democratic or socialist, lesbian or straight, we are all women suffering mutual oppression from political to cultural, social, and economical forces.
The letter ends by saying “let us confront our differences with honest dialogue and an agreement to disagree on many issues. Then let’s get on to emergency issues facing us all.” The Black woman performing this letter responds,
As I prepared to read the letter, I started to think about who the letter writer might be and the first thing that immediately came to my mind was that letter writer was not a woman of color and mostly because of this notion that we should agree to disagree, when the agreement to disagree is rooted in my oppression as a woman of color, it’s really hard for me to just get on with it and talk about emergency issues because to me, my oppression is an emergency issue.
As a Black woman, I understand my sista’s annoyance with this letter. I felt what she meant when she said that reading this letter “It felt a little bit violent, it did, it felt like I can’t be repeating this, because I don’t agree with it. Like it’s totally countered to my safety as a person what she’s suggesting that we just move on,” as it did the same to me as I listened. Her response to the reader in Cincinnati’s letter acknowledges moments of tension between past and present in the film as well as tensions within feminist practices. It is not the responsibility of feminist work to determine that one matter is more pressing than the other.
Sisterhood is essential to reclaiming womanhood and liberation. Knowing that there is someone going through similar experiences as ourselves reminds us that we are not alone. Realizing that we are not facing social and political issues on our own helps us find strength and ways of bringing about change. Yours In Sisterhood illustrates how support happens through sharing our experiences. The film reminds us that when women stand together, it influences and impacts our lives in different ways because together our voices become magnified. Watching the women’s faces and body posture as they read allows the audience to understand their emotions as they perform the letters. Some of the women are uncomfortable performing these letters, but by doing so even if they are uncomfortable, they show that they understand that this collaborative work has to be done to create a more just world.
Some of the performers read with great enthusiasm, while others seemed to lack energy in their performance. Perhaps the film was trying to recreate the struggle of writing such personal, difficult stories through the more tentative performances. Collected together, the letters are powerful, but I do wish the film were a little shorter because the format does not seem to have enough narrative force to handle a feature film. It is possible, however, to read the length of the film as a statement about how far we need to go to find equality for women. Perhaps part of the film’s message is understanding the magnitude of the problem by listening to this collection of letters about issues that should have been resolved decades ago but are still as prevalent as they were in the 1970s.
Hearing the stories in Yours in Sisterhood reminds us that feminist issues have not disappeared, and as women, we need to continue supporting each other. Lutsztig’s film contributes to the feminist work that is happening now in important ways. I hope those reading this review will take the time to listen and watch to these compelling stories, but just as importantly, I hope readers will consider how their own stories might make them a sister.
We are not all filmmakers, but we are all storytellers. Yours in Sisterhood reminds us that stories are a key step towards women’s liberation. With a film like this one out there to inspire our own feminist actions at a time like today—hope remains.