Gloria Steinem, world-famous feminist leader, and the New York Times-described “bro-centric content” provider VICE may seem like an unlikely team at first. But the two have teamed up to create a powerful documentary series that plays to both Steinem’s and VICE’s strengths. Woman, premiering on VICELAND today, is an unforgettable look at the state of women’s rights and violence against women around the world, from gang rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to femicides in El Salvador to the state of women prisoners in the United States.
“We’re putting the V in VICE,” Steinem joked onstage at the premiere of Woman at the Ford Foundation in New York last week. In the audience, reporters, VICE employees and students joined celebrities including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, David O. Russell, Mariska Hargitay and Alia Shawkat.
In her over 50 years of activism, this is the first time that Steinem has produced and hosted a TV series. In a roundtable interview after the premiere, she told BUST why she’s turning to video.
“I started out as a writer and I was very clear about one thing: I would never speak in public,” she said. “Then I couldn’t get published. The women’s movement was exploding but editors would say, ‘Well, we’ll publish an article saying women are equal but right next to it we’ll publish one saying they’re not in order to be objective.’ Only in despair, out of no other way to talk about the women’s movement, did I go and begin to speak.
“And that way I discovered that as much as I love the printed page and books — and I do — that it’s not the same as being in a room together. And next best are images and sounds and sights. The more senses we have, the more we can empathize and understand. And VICE said yes.”
Steinem produced and hosts Woman, providing an introduction and conclusion to each episode, but young women reporters take the lead on the ground. The result feels both very VICE — the documentary is unscripted, millennial-oriented and does not shy away from disturbing scenes of violence — and very Steinem — the focus is undeniably on women’s rights, call to action included.
The documentary also has broader reaches: as Steinem said, “The biggest indicator of whether a country is violent inside itself or will use military violence against another country is not poverty or access to natural resources or religion or degree of democracy, it’s violence against females.”
Woman is not for the faint-hearted: The episode shown at the premiere (and available to watch online now), “DRC: Rape As A Weapon Of War,” includes graphic descriptions of gang rape, torture and murder. At times, the camera zooms in on Congolese women’s scarred bodies. One unforgettable scene shows a tiny six-year-old girl being examined by Dr. Denims Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee who specializes in treating survivors of gang rape.
“This unscripted documentary is as close as I have seen myself to what it’s like to be there yourself,” Steinem said. “That’s what we were trying to do, and we were trying to listen. Not to say or to generalize, but to listen.”
It’s hard to watch Woman and not feel a need to act. Watch the trailer below.
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