Today She’s Nobody’s Baby: American Women In The 20th Century (1981) is an all but forgotten two-part television special. Hosted by Marlo Thomas and Alan Alda, the film charts eighty years worth of social and political steps forward for women in America. She’s Nobody’s Baby: American Women In The 20th Century was directed by Ana Carrigan and written by novelist Susan Dworkin and represents what was the epitome of educational television of the moment.
The motivation behind She’s Nobody’s Baby: American Women In The 20th Century was to educate young people about the gender inequalities that women faced, overcame, and continue to overcome.Using news reels, films, commercials, television shows, and radio broadcasts the film creates an efficient tableau that functions very much like your basic survey course. For the most part the film consists of a list of names of progressive, radical women and their accomplishments that are briefly contextualized.
The great Marlo Thomas (whose show That Girl is included in the film) handles the bulk of the narration with Alda chiming in primarily to contextualize as mentioned above. The film does a good job pinpointing patriarchal institutions and racism as the primary villains in American society yet the film relies on Alda to legitimize the work of Thomas, Carrigan and Dworkin for white male audience members. This is not a failing on the part of She’s Nobody’s Baby: American Women In The 20th Century, but rather a sign of its time. The sad thing is that even today a male narrator would likely be necessary to sell the points and message of this film to certain right-wing demographics.
For the uninitiated, She’s Nobody’s Baby: American Women In The 20th Century is likely to be a rather educational experience but for those who are initiated the film becomes a kind of celebration of feminism and women’s liberation. She’s Nobody’s Baby: American Women In The 20th Century was Ana Carrigan’s first feature length film yet her choice of images and the way she arranges them around Dworkin’s words is highly affecting. It’s almost impossible to watch this forty-two year old television special without catching the enthusiasm and optimism of its authors.