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Reel Dames Film Series

On Thursday March 29th, the Office for University Women continued their series of documentaries of and by women with Ferry Tails. This movie was played in Walter Library on the University of Minnesota’s east bank campus. The event was free and a directed discussion was held afterwards with Joanna O’Connell, a professor from the University.

The documentary covers the lives of a diverse group of women in their daily commutes from Staten Island to Manhattan. The entire documentary takes place on the ferry in the women’s restroom (was known in the video as the “Powder room?). The ferry trip is quite short, only lasting about 30 minutes, but in this short time a group of women meet up in the powder room and experience something unusual. The women that meet up in the powder room are from all different backgrounds and social classes. Some are very wealthy while others are not. The women are from all different ethnicities and it seems they have been given a rare opportunity to come together in this tiny little room for 30 minutes a day.

The women all admit that they normally wouldn’t have sought each other out in their daily lives for friendships or companionship but they seem to be the best of friends when on this boat. They gossip, share ideas, argue and connect in many ways. They are support for each other and they all claim that these 30 minutes they get to spend in the powder room is the time they need to get through their day. Many of them are mothers and wives and they say that this is the time when they aren’t fulfilling a role (i.e. Mom, Mrs., Sweetie), but instead they just get to be themselves. This is ironic because the film focuses a ton on the main activity these women do in the powder room, which is putting on makeup. Some of them say, “I am putting on my face for the day?, and it is made clear that you cannot be in the powder room if you don’t have makeup with you. I think it is funny that get to be themselves on this boat, but the whole time they are preparing to present themselves as someone else or for someone else.

After the film, Joanna O’Connell led a discussion about the movie and what the purpose of the film might be. Many topics were discussed, but the one idea that really stuck with me was the unity these women felt together in this tiny little space for this short amount of time. It was very clear to me that some of these women most likely lived for these 30 minutes on the ferry. You could see how happy and fulfilled these women seemed to be in the presence of each other. We discussed how rare an opportunity like this one is in our society. It isn’t everyday or even in every place that a group of people that are extremely diverse encounter each other and get along so well. It was a very interesting dynamic.

What I noticed most about the film was that there was a very specific pecking order in the powder room. Despite class or skin color, there was a sense of seniority to the powder room which seemed to be played out daily. Certain women had special seats in front of the mirror and if one of them came in and you were in her seat you knew to get out. It was like a clique in high school that wasn’t very penetrable, and only certain people seemed to fit in. I thought this was interesting because it seemed that this pecking order ignored the class status and racial status that presents itself most other places in our society. I thought it was interesting that a pecking order was established in this “safe? room where only women could meet. Throughout history men have always dominated women and oppressed women, and not that these women were oppressing each other, but there is something to be said about their behavior in this room. It seems that they were acting out the same types of domination by making rules for being in the room (such as, you must have makeup and this room is not for using the toilets) and forming a hierarchy. But then again, I am not an expert on how groups of women function, and maybe this is the way it is done.