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“The Heretics”: Film Invigorates Feminism, Art, Politics

by Ariel Dougherty

Exuberance and bravado! Gumption and sweat! Vision and breadth! These are among the many elements that composed the literal collective experience of 28 women who came together in 1977 to produce one of the truly dynamic womens publications to emerge from the Womens Liberation Movement.

That publication was Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics. The energy and commitment lasted 15 years and produced 27 issues, which are viewable online. Today the rosy cheeks, bright eyes and continued high energy and creativity of these women is deeply invigorating.

In the new film, The Heretics, Joan Braderman, filmmaker, professor and one of the collective members, takes her camera crew on the road -- from New Mexico to Venice -- to revisit her collective sisters. Now ages 54 to 84, in ones and threes, the women gather in homes, studios and worksites. With the same excitement and freshness that they brought to the publication, the women recant the tale of how and why they came together, made content decisions and physically cut and pasted the publication into being, issue after issue.

While a history, Braderman breaks way out of any formal mold. Starting with personal narrative, yet instilling a dynamic group process, a new kind of collective gemoir unfolds.

Building from the rich and imaginative graphics of the publication itself and old photos, Braderman animates (via talents of Sarah Clark and Molly McLeod) the women when younger, enlivening some of their critical political points. An amusing yet informative history bursts through in this experimental spark. Tight-framed head shots filmed by camerawoman Lily Henderson -- adoringly contain the women like loving arms. Angled here and there, these smart women maintain a constant conversation as though all were still in one room.

This dynamic is skillfully crafted by editors, Kathy Schermerhorn and Scott Hancock, as the women discuss how we have to do it ourselves (Marybeth Edelson) and the engagement and passionthat is what I still hunger for (Harmony Hammond). Viewers are drawn back into their powerful collective and consciousness raising processes--processes that made Heresies provocative, highly productive and stimulating for collective and readers alike.

Pat Steir, noted painter, stands on a tall ladder dwarfed before a gigantic red field painting, as Braderman asks: Who was the first person who told you (that) you painted like a man Steir, brush in hand, laughs, pauses ever so briefly and turns to the camera: A man! she states emphatically.

Bradermans series of questions to the women are sharp and pointed, shaping a series of ah-has that so many women experienced via consciousness raising groups. The sequences inform the viewer that feminism is a process on a continuum. The personal is political learning moments form bridges to new plateaus as women de-robe the myths they were brought up with or that persist within patriarchal culture, and collectively delve into new truths.

Consistent with a Braderman trademark in earlier films, she analyzes mainstream media. For The Heretics, she composes TV news anchor vignettes in the corner of the frame in which the anchor expounds something horrific about women or feminists. A lightening bolt strikes them off the screen.

The enthusiasm is infectious, such as when performance artist Marty Pottenger exclaims about the naming of the publication, There were 300 written namesI have the list.and Heresies was one of them! And it bubbles over in heartfelt joy when Miriam Schapiro reads an Adrienne Rich writing, and at the end comes back to the phrase: the power to name. Viewers are reminded about Schapiros own vital contribution here: Femmage = Female + Collage.

The Heretics captures a fertile and effervescent past that is a model for young activist-artists of today. Couldnt we all, old and young alike, benefit from some dazzling, politically savvy, visually dynamic new collectively made television show One that combines news and culture, opinion and analysis And looks into ourselves

Without documenting our own cultural and political process, we do not have a movement. Thanks to Braderman and her savvy crew, in The Heretics, we have a compelling powerhouse example of feminisms creative force both in the history on the screen and the makers of the history.

The Heretics, directed by Joan Braderman, produced by Crescent Diamond; 95 minutes.
Watch the trailer.

October 23, 2009

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Ariel Dougherty, a media maker and advocate, is the initiator of the Media Equity Collaborative. She lives in New Mexico.

Also see Women in the Arts: How They Can Change Your Life by Barbara Kahn in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See Third Wave Video Art: Sarcastic and Serious by Heather MacGibbon in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


Sara posted: 2013-06-17 15:43:12

I think End Pornography and Patriarchy is doing a dangerous thing--conflating "pro-porn" & "pro-sex industry" with actively working against the shaming and stigmatization of people that are sex workers. While I too oppose the way that porn and informal economies like sex work are mostly oriented to cater to the male gaze/consumption and feed into the power dynamic that creates, I know that taking a black & white stance against porn and sex work in fact harms the women that are sex workers. Why? Because it further invisibalizes their work and thus creates policies (informal cultural AND legal) that undermine services and protection for them. Taking a strict anti-porn and anti-sex work stance misses the point by shaming women's sexuality and the way they use and express it. Porn and sex work don't exist in isolation--they are part of a complex web of industries and cultural norms that largely do work in conjunction with the patriarchy, but I know that policing women's choices and sexuality (even if we do know they are in part making these choices because they have internalized patriarchy) is not the way to go about the work of ending patriarchy. In fact, it's just using the patriarchy's very own most precious weapons--shame and stigma. (Systems of oppression are so good at creating cycles for us to re-create...) I know I never ever want to shame, victimize, & other a group of women in the name of feminism and ending patriarchy.

Sam Berg posted: 2013-06-17 15:43:26

As an anti-prostitution activist, I have often been stunned by the silencing efforts taken by persons purporting to be believe in absolute freedom of speech. Witnessing them defend Larry Flynt's right to profitably pornographic speech while denying me and my sisters a political platform from which to diasgree with sexual capitalism has been one of the most despiriting experiences of my feminist life. Thank you for allowing Sunsara Taylor the opportunity to protest her mistreatment by pro-pornstitution industry persons and their bully tactic sympathizers.

Randie posted: 2013-09-11 21:08:52

Below is a recent email I wtrote to sexuality,gender and women's studies professor Jane Caputi who is the author of a great important book about sadistic,violent woman-hating typical serial sex kilers of girls and women,who many have said Christian Grey is exactly like,some have said Ted Bundy on and some just said like serial killer without mentioning any names.A social worker who works with women domestic violence victims said in her bad review of the horrendous Fifty Shades of Grey,that Christian is like the next Green River serial killer and he's just how serial kilers started out! Dear Jane, I recently read an online old PBS interview with you, from No Safe Place Violence Against Women and I read good reviews of your important book,The Age Of Sex Crime. Also anti-sexist,anti-violence,anti-pornography pro-feminist author and educator Jackson Katz says in his notes section in his important great book The Macho Paradox How Some Men Hurt Women And How All Men Can Help ,For a study of the phenomenon of serial murder that locates this gruesome crime in systems of gender and power,and particularly in cultural constructs of masculinity and the deep misogyny in Western cultures see The Age of Sec Crime by J.Caputi 1987. I'm very concerned about this sexualized,eroticized and normalized extremely sexist,violent,woman-hating S&M book series Fifty Shades Of Grey that is very depressingly and disturbingly huge best selling novels with mostly women and the media calls it mommy porn.It's written by a sick,woman-hating pornography influenced British woman,E. L. James and it's now going to be unfortunately normalized and glamorized even more by being made into a Hollywood movie! The very biased sexist media has glamorized,normalized and promoted it everwhere! In one of the many reviews ,one of the reviewers said that in her first" spanking" Christian hits Ana 18 times in her own room and she's crying. Another reviewer said that he hits her so hard that he left marks on her body,but she lies to her friend and says she fell down the stairs,and the reviewer says in (Red Flag!). Another reviewer on UK who reviewed all 3 books,in this review of the last book,Fifty Shades Of Freed,she says that Christian hits her when she's pregnant and she says that this author has a lot to answer for and that her mind is a dark place and she never should have spewed it's contents with the world.She also said that she hopes she never writes another book,and that she needs help. Several other reviewers said that he rapes her too. I read quotes from the book of Ana saying she's a virgin,(another reviewer who is a writer herself says that every time they had sex it was like Ana is being raped,and she too mentions him slamming into her as a virgin,and said she wanted to slap him)and that he says to her I'm going to f*ck you hard,(of course just like in the porn videos and Christian has a huge penis too just like in the porn videos,which makes it even more painful and violent,and women in porn videos are portrayed as loving it too!) and she says he slams into her and rips out her virginity and she feels a pinching pain! And another reviewer said that every sex scene begins with Ana saying he slams into me. He beats her with whips,belts,chains,his hands,stalks her and is sexually sadistic,and physically and psychologically abuses her too and she's portrayed as an unimportant insecure,submissive masochist who loves him and learns to like being dominated and brutalized by him!And Ana of course is portrayed as an insecure,immature childlike inexperienced,submissive masochist,who loves this sadistic,violent,woman-hating,man,and learns to like and accept him sexually,physically,and psychologically abusing her!

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