[WARNING: CONTENT DISCUSSES RAPE AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT]
On March 30, 2023, in an auditorium filled with 17 people with ages ranging from college-aged to middle-aged, the University of Maine Judaic Studies in collaboration with the Maine Jewish Film Festival had a free showing for the film “My Name is Andrea”, a documentary on the life and accomplishments of feminist and civil rights activist Andrea Dworkin.
Before this film, I had no idea who this woman was and the impact she made on women’s history. I felt a deep agony and distress for her as her voice was silenced only to be heard years after she spoke. The very thing she fought for was what caused her to be hidden from society. A bold, confident woman with a powerful voice that can make a difference is what society fears the most.
“My Name is Andrea is, first of all, an excellent film with many accolades from the likes of the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and the Boston Jewish Film Festival, among others. So, Judaic Studies is honored to partner with MJFF to bring it to the greater Bangor area. The film gives voice to the life and thoughts of Jewish feminist author and activist Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005). Long before the era of #MeToo, she identified the pervasive nature of sexism and rape culture,” said Michaud.
“The Maine Jewish Film Festival is a nonprofit organization that provides a forum for the presentation of films that enrich, educate and entertain a diverse community about the global Jewish experience.” MJFF hosts screenings of films at multiple locations throughout Maine every month,” said Derek Michaud, the director of Judaic studies at UMaine.
The film was not primarily focused on Judaism itself, but Dworkin was Jewish and the film was important to show to the public as it captures issues that we continue to suffer with. Dworkin was prominent in the 80s and 90s, using her courage and strength to speak out against the mistreatment of women. Her works such as “Intercourse” and “Pornography” remain an important part to the development of women’s history, yet her voice was silenced by the media as society pushed her aside as another “bitch,” a label many gave to these women as a way to discredit them, for them to no longer take the position of a man.
The documentary, in a Bob Dylan “I’m Not There”-esque film of actors acting out different parts of her life, showcased the many issues that surround women from who knows when to who knows when. From a section called “poet” that showed Dworkins time as a Vietnam activist and being arrested and detained at a womans detention center were she would be raped by doctors and found her voice to speak out against such atrocities, to a section called “Lover” to Dworkin’s time in Amsterdam and her first marriage to her abusive husband where she lost her voice for a while, all for the movie to conclude with “Rolling Thunder”, a section where Dworkin was fueled by passion and love and thus found her voice once more. Cut in between these scenes was actual footage of Dworkin at colleges or on television or typing away at her study. Distressing images of rape and violence were used to tug at the heartstrings of the viewers. Protesting and pornography showcased different reasons and meanings behind female activism. The film redrew what female activism is made out to be into something that it should be. It has a power that many fear and are destined to silence.
After the showing of the film, the audience was opened to discussion by a panel of experts in rape and sexual harrasment. Yet much of the audience had nothing to say as the film left us all in a moment of silence and reconciliation. The panel consisted of local representatives from sexual harassment and rehabilitation centers.
“I will moderate a panel discussion with Tamar Perfit Mathieu of Rape Response Services and Amanda Cost of Partners for Peace. We will contextualize the film and discuss its themes with an eye on local resources.” said Michaud.
The only question I had to ask was who she was. I was not alone in this lack of awareness as a few other participants were appalled to hear the history of Dworkin and how her fight went unrecognized. Even the panelists admitted to reading about her in their studies, but she went overlooked.
One audience member remembers her presence on television. For the sake of the content of discussion, audience quotes are anonymous.
“I remember watching her [Dworkin] on television in the 80s. I didn’t watch her on Donahue, but I do remember forgetting who she was and taking her for granted as society demonized her.”
The panel opened a valuable discussion that more people should have witnessed. The panelists made the vulnerable topics of discussion easier to comprehend and eased audience members into their comforts. It took a while, but audience members began to find their confidence to speak with the panelists.
“I thought about my 15 month old niece and began to wonder what future she will have to go through being a woman,” said one audience member.
“As a lesbian, I am proud of what she has accomplished for us and our ability to speak out,” said another.
The panelists concluded with a powerful statement.
“All that protesting and parading does not have the same impact as saying ‘I believe you.’ sometimes that’s all someone needs,” said Mathieu.
Culture is something that encompasses a group of people and creates relationships and a community that we can associate ourselves with. Dworkin’s contribution to women’s culture should not be forgotten or silenced.
Judaic studies will be hosting another film on April 20 called “Four Winters” at 6pm. in the Donald P Corbett building. Professor Anne Knowles will have a discussion on her research of the topic on April 17 at 7 p.m. Events are open and free to everyone.