From 22 September to 14 October, Femspectives is teaming up with Invisible Women to present punch in / out: iterations of labour, a season exploring how the world of work intersects with class, race and gender. Each week we will present a curated programme of films, which will be available to watch IRL at Glasgow Film Theatre and at home via Indy on Demand. An online panel discussion with guests will bring the season to a close on 14 October.
These programme notes have been written by Lauren Clarke (Femspectives) to accompany our week 3 (6 October) screening of Payslip.
“Now is never the time”
– To Be a Woman, Jill Craigie (1951)
“The fight goes on, but I wanted to celebrate the protagonist’s victory in this moment.
Women aren’t victims anymore, they’re agents of change.”
– Rubaiyat Hossain
There is a longstanding history of gender pay inequality around the world, and this pay gap is only widening further through the impact of COVID-19. This pay inequality intersects with other labour issues – disappearing jobs, increased childcare costs and the burden of unpaid care work – to trap many women in increasingly precarious working lives.
The films in “Payslip” deal with timely themes around the value of work, pay equity, unsafe working conditions and lack of care, while reflecting powerfully on the role of women in the workplace. That these two films are separated by a span of nearly 70 years – Jill Craigie’s To Be a Woman was made in 1951, Rubaiyat Hossain’s Made In Bangladesh in 2019 -demonstrate how deeply these issues are embedded in our global working culture.
Craigie and Hossain are deeply informed by their feminist politics and activist work – deconstructing the dominant western male view through their respective films. The filmmakers both hone in on the complexities and nuances of women’s labour. While the films make very different choices with regards to genre and form, they very much in dialogue with one another. Just as the campaign film To Be A Woman, puts forward an argument for equal pay, so the drama of Made in Bangladesh, serves as an awareness raising purpose – the story demonstrates how direct action from women working collectively can lead to change.
Commissioned by the Equal Pay Campaign Committee (EPCC), To Be a Woman is a documentary piece showcasing women’s labour in the home and in the workplace. Contending with the status of women’s employment after the war – the first section is presented almost like a survey – the film serves as a fascinating document of the position held by working British women in society at the time.
The distinctive second act zeros in on the issue of equal pay more specifically, looking how the labour of women in the private and public sphere has been consistently undervalued and underappreciated. Women’s labour was considered to be inferior and “cheap”. Though the focus of the piece is an extended argument for equal pay, Craigie alludes to the larger systemic and structural issues at play.
Made in Bangladesh follows a collective of women in Dhaka, Bangladesh as they begin to slowly take steps towards forming a union at the garment factory where they work. When their manager and floor boss become aware of this plan they begin pushing back through scare tactics and by threatening to close the factory and leave the women unemployed.
Despite challenges and concerns, the women continue to quietly lobby and to advocate for safer work conditions, fair protections and better compensation. Protagonist Shimu serves as a quiet leader, discreetly taking pictures of the factory and secretly collecting signatures to put pressure on officials and prevent them from stalling on the paperwork. Made in Bangladesh is a story of resilience and a true testament to what can be accomplished when we fight for the collective good instead of focusing on the individual.
There is a poignant line in To Be a Woman that cuts to core – “Now is never the time.”
There is always a rationale, someone standing in opposition to progress – there are always arguments and counterarguments to explain why women’s labour is undervalued, why we haven’t closed the pay gap or why we shouldn’t be pushing for more money, more support, more care. We can’t allow this type of rhetoric to hinder or discourage us from pushing for change.
These two pieces unite in a radical act of feminist solidarity as both filmmakers use their voice to challenge the brokenness of the system.