Lifestyles: An Experiment in Feedback

Two students from a Global Village workshop explore their lives and family's beliefs about gender roles by using video feedback. One is a New Jersey housewife who hopes to convince her flamboyant and macho husband that she can be more than a wife and mothers; the other is a NYC single mother and writer already forging an independent path. Poignant and often funny, the resulting 'experiment' evolves into a striking feminist documentary using the power of new video technology.

01:13Copy video clip URL Title. A group watches video of Nancy DeVoto talking about her sense of identity and self-awareness.

01:36Copy video clip URL Quote from John Reilly: “This is a tape about the process of Video. A human feedback loop of inter-action among the group who made this tape. It is an experiment in living the process of Video.”

01:56Copy video clip URL Joe DeVoto, Nancy DeVoto, and their daughter stand together in their home kitchen. While Nancy DeVoto cooks, Joe DeVoto tells a story about confronting strangers in a restaurant and “taking a stand” in life.

03:20Copy video clip URL Barbara Sher, a working mother, reflects with her children about living together.

04:05Copy video clip URL As an interviewer, John Reilly mentions documenting the IRA for his project The Irish Tapes. Joe DeVoto explains how the IRA represent what is missing in the culture of protest and resistance in the United States. He says that he would vote for Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug because they are “movers” and “they care.”

05:14Copy video clip URL Barbara Sher sings as one of her children plays guitar and the other goofs-off. She reflects on being shown the videotapes in her own home that she made with Global Village.

07:03Copy video clip URL Outside his home, Joe DeVoto is asked, “What role do you see your family playing in your life?”  He describes not being able to relate to one’s family and the conflicts that arise from division of labor between husband and wife.

08:28Copy video clip URL Joe DeVoto watches his wife reflect about their relationship on television. The working mother reflects on how the husband might listen to her differently through the medium of video.

08:59Copy video clip URL Barbara reflects on her love of motherhood but says, “I’ve got to have more.” She says, “I’ve got a lot of years to live and I want a lot of things in my years.” “More like what?” her child responds. She then opens up about writing a book, living through the trials of poverty and motherhood, and her fear of becoming something more than a “nobody.” Her interview interweaves with real-time footage as well as being played back through the television.

11:48Copy video clip URL Barbara reflects more about her “irrational feeling” at having “broke” a societal rule that “a woman works hard and has nothing for herself.” Nancy argues that such a defiance of social expectations would have been liberating for her. She also reflects on her own difficulties of breaking out of the social roles of womanhood.

14:09Copy video clip URL Outside his home next to his wife, Joe DeVoto is asked, “What if Nancy had more of a role in a creative area?” Both Joe and Nancy reflect on their changing attitudes towards gendered roles in domestic life, the freedom of a marriage partner to explore their own intellectual and creative interests, and trying to understand each other’s experience.

16:59Copy video clip URL Joe, Nancy, and their daughter watch a video of Nancy describing the importance of each person in a marriage having time for themselves.

17:08Copy video clip URL Nancy DeVoto, talking with Barbara Sher, describes the feelings of guilt as a mother when her own needs conflict with the needs of her children.

17:34Copy video clip URL With her children on their home couch, Barbara Sher watches footage of Nancy DeVoto speaking. Barbara then interviews her children, asking them to describe their experience of growing up with a working mother.

19:10Copy video clip URL In contrast to Barbara, Nancy says that she would not want her children to think she was spending too much time away from home. Barbara describes her reaction to watching footage of herself saying that she wished she could be home more. Nancy reflects again on seeing footage of Barbara and Barbara’s children as well as her own reactions at the time. Nancy deliberates about how to match her aspirations with her current responsibilities.

20:26Copy video clip URL Barbara attempts to dispel perceptions of codependency in marriages and relationships. In a different setting she describes the absence of a paternal presence in her life and the imposition of a dominating motherhood in its place. “Women need to get out and men need to be home. Men need their children,” she says.

21:18Copy video clip URL Outside their home, Joe and Nancy DeVoto are asked about the American Dream and owning a home in the suburbs. Joe and Nancy debate, with Joe turning the conversation toward the roles of a woman and a mother in the domestic sphere. He emphasizes support for women’s liberation but says women should first mature and explore the world before settling down in a domestic partnership and assuming the role of mother and housewife. Nancy pushes back saying, “That’s the way they brought us up” and that “Now I don’t want to be just a housekeeper.”

25:16Copy video clip URL In another interview, Nancy describes her perception of different phases in life and her transition away from the role of mother.

25:57Copy video clip URL Seated around a dinner table together, Joe asks Barbara about her perception of Nancy’s life. Barbara suggests to Nancy that she can help find extra paid help for around the house. The discussion between Joe and Nancy becomes somewhat heated, with Nancy confronting Joe about the limitations of what she can do within their marriage. When asked to reverse their roles, Joe admits to Barbara, “I’m with you.” However, he then says that it’s too late to make any such changes. The conversation between Joe, Nancy, and Barbara continues to develop, touching on the different perceptions of marriage between Joe and Nancy, their reasons for staying together, each person’s willingness to imagine inhabiting different roles in the relationship, and the conflicts and contradictions of trying to make essential generalizations about gender roles versus attending to the particular lived experiences of people who inhabit the various roles available to them. Though each person professes support for women’s liberation, the conversation revolves around conflicting perspectives of how that liberation might be achieved.

33:42Copy video clip URL Barbara confronts Joe about his contradictory perspective on women’s liberation. Joe defends his position and the work he’s done to achieve his position in life.

35:05Copy video clip URL In a videotaped interview with Nancy and Barbara, Nancy describes the insatiable energy she feels and the limitations placed on that energy by the demands of family life. The interview continues as it is shown over the television with Nancy, Joe, and Barbara watching and switches back to its original footage. Barbara talks about occupying typical male roles in her professional life and the fear and shame she feels for someday having to “pay” for this transgression of gender norms.

36:28Copy video clip URL At the couch, Barbara tells Joe that he is unwilling to properly receive love from those who love him, acknowledging that receiving such love is difficult because it exposes one’s own vulnerability.

37:27Copy video clip URL Back at the dinner table, Joe says to Nancy “If you want to do something in life there is nothing that should get in the way of you doing it. Period.” Nancy and Joe trade arguments until a freeze frame holds his face captured in the image of a television set. Barbara sings “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet” by Woody Guthrie.

39:57Copy video clip URL End credits.



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