Die Dohnal [Johanna Dohnal – Visionary of Feminism] (2020)

Die Dohnal
Director: Sabine Derflinger
Writer: Sabine Derflinger
Seen on: 27.2.2020

Johanna Dohnal was Austria’s first minister for women and the first (outspoken) feminist to be part of the government in Austria (maybe even Europe). She fought for women’s rights and achieved a lot. The documentary looks at her achievements, her career and the influence she still has.

I have to say that until this documentary came out, Dohnal was not a name I really knew. She was a minister when I was a child and I was not a child overly involved in politics. And as is so often the case, women and their achievements are more quickly forgotten than you’d ever think possible. I don’t think I ever heard about Dohnal in school. So it is fantastic to get this documentary that memorializes her and makes sure we don’t forget what she made possible.

The film poster showing Johanna Dohnal smoking.

Every time I look at the history of feminism, when I watch a documentary about older feminists or something along that vein, it is always astonishing – and to a certain point even surprising – how little demands have changed since the 70s. And they haven’t changed because there is still so much that has never been acted upon. I mean, 30 hour work weeks? Fair pay for women? Equal sharing of care work? Yeesh.

That’s not to say that nothing has been achieved. Quite to the contrary – thankfully there are some discussions we are not having anymore – like whether rape within a marriage is rape at all. And Dohnal was instrumental in most of the achievements in Austria that can be considered feminist. She was a really impressive woman and the documentary shows the extent of her achievements – and also shows how she was ultimately booted from government in probably the worst possible way: half a year before she wanted to quit herself, via a newspaper article that informed her she was to be replaced – after 17 years in government. It’s depressing how shabbily such an important woman was treated.

Johanna Dohnal's widow Annemarie holding up a photograph of Dohnal.

We can also see in the film that, unfortunately, the neoliberal erosion of social politics in Austria has been going on for decades and that none of what we now consider normal in terms of women’s rights is ever safe. For example, the women’s shelters that were one of the must successful projects Dohnal initiated are currently very much under threat.

Derflinger deftly ties all these different things together in her film, interviewing a lot of people who knew Dohnal personally, but also some of the women who came after her in politics and journalism (unfortunately, she also speaks to Alice Schwarzer who was an important feminist at the time but who has since destroyed her own legacy with racism and misogyny. Luckily it’s only a short scene). Those interviews are put together with interviews Dohnal herself did to create a very round picture of her. The only thing I’d criticize was the ending which was a little on the down note – and I would have liked it to end more on a hopeful “we are still fighting together” note. But other than that, I really have no complaints about this wonderful portrayal.

Johanna Dohnal as a young woman.

Summarizing: should be compulsory viewing for all Austrians (at least).

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