International Videoletters: Rochester Women’s Video Collective

From the International Videoletters series, a message from the Rochester Women's Video Collective. It features two parts: an interview with Reverend Merrill Bittner about sexism in the church, and and interview with Deborah Granger about office gender politics.

00:00Copy video clip URL A title card reads: Videoletters. Rochester Women’s Video Collective, Rochester, NY, May 15, 1975 CR.

00:14Copy video clip URL Black.

00:26Copy video clip URL Freeze frame on Rev. Merrill Bittner sitting in a house being interviewed. Audio only of Bittner in mid-sentence addressing a group, telling the story of a general convention that meets every three years. The Episcopal church had an opportunity to speak about freedom and liberation by addressing the issue of ordaining women. The church said no, it will not allow women to be ordained. In the bible it says women are not equal, they can not share the ministry.

01:27Copy video clip URL Video of Bittner suddenly appears. She continues talking. “I am a deacon in the Episcopal church, the associate at a church in New York. I have a special ministry to women in prison.”

01:49Copy video clip URL Intercut of still photos as Bittner continues talking. “That’s what’s so exciting about this ministry. The oppression of women is as a jail with iron bars.” Bittner says it speaks to the image of women, that they have to get a man and a family or they’ll never make it. There’s no hope of them making it on their own. They in turn take this image on themselves. They see themselves as completely dependent and unable to use their own gifts. “It’s rooted in our culture, the idea that women don’t belong in leadership roles. The fear of women … I see strong women put into two categories: neurotic or a bitch. In my work with the parish I can’t bless, consecrate or absolve. These are symbolic and real things. We women are basically allowed to play at being priests, to dabble around in the game without all the marbles. People don’t care if we’re a deacon or a priest, to the people we just represent the church. But we’re having to tell them, sorry, I can’t do everything for you because I’m female. Lord knows there’s no shortage of male ministers to give a healing word to people, yet we are told because we’re women we can’t give that word.”

05:37Copy video clip URL She continues: “Lately I’ve had to seriously deal with whether or not I should leave the church. How can I speak to the gospel that says everything different to what the church stands for. I’m growing in good ways, but now a denomination is a way that feels good to a person in expressing faith. I grew up Episcopalian. For me to go to another denomination is like learning a new language and always having a foreign dialect. I could do it, but with the issue of sexism evident in all denominations it is just adding battles to battles. You pick your battles.”

07:33Copy video clip URL Gray screen. Organ music. Camera focuses on a church service in progress. A male priest is talking to his congregation. “We’re here because we know the best way to reform the church is to act as the church would act if it were reformed.” He states they need to see women functioning as priests. “A man who breaks convention and asks both men and women to serve him, can this be the Christ? That’s what we ask today. It’s up to you. Reverend Merrill Bittner has answered that question for herself. It is now for me and you to answer.”

10:54Copy video clip URL B-roll of congregation greeting each other with hugs. Female deacons, including Bittner, receive hugs.

11:41Copy video clip URL Bittner calls the congregation to order and leads a sermon. They sing a hymn.

12:59Copy video clip URL Video cuts. Bittner continues her sermon, going through the Eucharist and Communion.

17:08Copy video clip URL Guitar music begins as Bittner gives Communion. The guitarist sings: “I didn’t know it was a crime to be born a woman.”

18:01Copy video clip URL Bittner finishes up her sermon. The congregation sings.

18:52Copy video clip URL Footage of Bittner being interviewed by several journalists describing what led her to the ministry. “I started teaching biology, I went to seminary, became aware of gift I had to help people come to grips with their lives. Why did it take 7 months from becoming ordained to today’s service? I agreed with Bishop Spears to honor a process. The Bishop eventually said he felt he could not regularize me, I made it clear to him I would have to begin functioning as a priest as I see myself as a priest.” The journalist asks: “Will there be any reprisal or punishment for Spears?” Bittner tells the journalist to ask Spears. “But I don’t see it as a disobedient act, but an act of obedience for who I am and what I am meant to be.”

20:42Copy video clip URL Another journalist asks Bittner to talk about the support she received from other priests. “There’s a large number of priests who support me. It’s not overwhelming yet, but a community is rising affirming the fact that we have women priests and to put it to a vote is wrong.” She adds that we must be open to new areas, of women becoming visible in position of leadership and decision making.

22:03Copy video clip URL Gray. Cut to a congregation clapping in unison and singing. Bittner stands in front of the congregation thanking them all.

22:33Copy video clip URL Gray.

22:48Copy video clip URL Title card: The Other 2/3’s of the “office girl.”

22:55Copy video clip URL Deborah Granger in mid-sentence appears being interviewed on camera. “It’s a position I’m forced into because of money, and because I don’t have anything to sell in the job market. I went to a liberal arts college and I don’t type.”

23:16Copy video clip URL Granger is being interviewed. It’s the dilemma of the modern American female out of college and working. She goes into an office and turns into a tape recorder and an index machine.

23:33Copy video clip URL Cut to Granger again talking. “I operate a switch board, six lights, 14 trunks and 30 extensions. So what’s that? A possibility of people wanting me at the same time besides the intercom on my desk, people buzz me on, and people coming in the front door and back door and wanting me at the same time.”

24:06Copy video clip URL Granger again in mid-sentence talking about a magazine that her office gets called the Modern Secretary. The articles are ranged from the coffee-buying secretary, slimming lunches for the secretary, and flowers for the desk. If a boss buys you flowers it alleviates the Monday morning blues. She was stunned. Another article told them how to read their boss’s eyes.

25:04Copy video clip URL Granger says the looks these men gives you is incredible, watching you walk down the hall. “One man called up and said, ‘I called five minutes ago and the phone rang 75 times and no one answered.’ I told him my what responsibilities as switchboard operator are. Suddenly this guy was apologetic, ‘and you mean you have to do all of that by yourself!?’ Now he comes in the office and stands there and talks to me. Then there’s the guys who comes in. A policeman comes in each day. The thing I resent the most working in an office is the role of the office girl. I don’t believe the attorneys realize how important the women are in the office. They consider us as a body, not as individuals. No office could function without us. I have to call them Mister and sit up straight and they come in and say, disrespectfully, ‘Debbie, where’s my messages.'”

27:28Copy video clip URL Businessmen should change their attitude toward women: “I’ll be reading a book of poetry and they’ll act so amazed that I’m an intelligent person.”

28:08Copy video clip URL Title card: Camera and Sound: Portable Channel Workshop; Office Girl: Deborah Granger; Editing: Jean Vlamynck

28:19Copy video clip URL Gray.

29:36Copy video clip URL END.



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