Historical Lessons in Tia Lessin’s Film The Janes

Women Who Won’t Be Controlled

Dee Hibbert-Jones screened an important and inspirational documentary at UCSC Tuesday evening followed by an engaging Q&A with Tia Lessin, the film’s director. The Janes is available to view on HBO Max. If you have a sister, daughter, or a mother whom you love, then this film is mandatory viewing. It’s also very important if you care about the reproductive rights of women, generally.

The film portrays a group of women in Chicago at the end of the 60s who were outraged at the status quo regarding women’s rights and abortion. Frustrated with a male-dominated medical system, these young women took matters into their own hands and formed an illegal organization dedicated to providing abortions to women. They named their gang “The Janes” when they decided to use that name as an alias when women would call their number looking for help.

Fighting Back against Inhumane Laws

The Janes acted with extreme courage and discipline during a time when abortion was a felonious offense. Before Roe vs. Wade, women who needed an abortion were forced to resort to dangerous acts of desperation. The first-hand accounts of women who witnessed and experienced the worst effects of that time are chilling and emotional. They are also an inspiring reminder of the rage, resourcefulness, and courage of women who are denied equal rights.

The film begins in 1968 at the peak of the civil rights’ movement and ends with the Roe vs. Wade decision in January of 1973. The five years that the Janes were active were a tumultuous period of unrest. The culture was changing and resistance to that change was fierce. It was a time of music, drugs, and ideas. It was also a time of police brutality, sexist policy, and anti-woman sentiment. The Janes stood up to the injustices of their times with style, tenacity, and conviction.

History Never Stops

Thinking about the situations women faced when birth control and abortion were unavailable gives you some perspective on the current situation and the extreme consequences of recent legislation. This film is a perfect opportunity to have that conversation, a reminder of the stakes.

Thanks to Dee Hibbert-Jones for bringing Tia Lessin and her film The Janes to Santa Cruz. UCSC has many events that are free and open to the public. You can find ongoing and upcoming events and exhibitions on the general UCSC Events calendar and the Arts and Events calendar.

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