Once a week we had movies, after lunch and before our nap. We sat on the floor of the Domestic Science room, on our little grey mats, and waited while Aunt Helena and Aunt Lydia struggled with the projection equipment. If we were lucky they wouldn’t get the film threaded upside-down. What it reminded me of was geography classes, at my own high school thousands of years before, where they showed movies of the rest of the world; women in long skirts or cheap printed cotton dresses, carrying bundles of sticks, or baskets, or plastic buckets of water, from some river or other, with babies slung on them in shawls or net slings, looking squint-eyed or afraid out of the screen at us, knowing something was being done to them by a machine with one glass eye but not knowing what. Those movies were comforting and faintly boring. They made me feel sleepy, even when men came onto the screen, with naked muscles, hacking away at hard dirt with primitive hoes and shovels, hauling rocks. I preferred movies with dancing in them, singing, ceremonial masks, carved artifacts for making music: feathers, brass buttons, conch shells, drums. I liked watching these people when they were happy, not when they were miserable, starving, emaciated, straining themselves to death over some simple thing, the digging of a well, the irrigation of land, problems the civilized nations had long ago solved. I thought someone should just give them the technology and let them get on with it.
Aunt Lydia didn’t show these kinds of movies.
Sometimes the movie she showed would be an old porno film from the seventies or eighties. Women kneeling, sucking penises or guns, women tied up or chained or with dog collars around their necks, women hanging from trees, or upside-down, naked, with their legs held apart, women being raped, beaten up, killed. Once we had to watch a woman being slowly cut into pieces, her fingers and breasts snipped off with garden shears, her stomach slit open and her intestines pulled out.
Consider the alternatives, said Aunt Lydia. You see what things used to be like? That was what they thought of women, then. Her voice trembled with indignation.
Moira said later that it wasn’t real, it was done with models; but it was hard to tell.
Sometimes, though, the movie would be what Aunt Lydia called an Unwoman documentary. Imagine, said Aunt Lydia, wasting their time like that, when they should have been doing something useful. Back then, the Unwomen were always wasting time. They were encouraged to do it. The government gave them money to do that very thing. Mind you, some of their ideas were sound enough, she went on, with the smug authority in her voice of one who is in a position to judge. We would have to condone some of their ideas, even today. Only some, mind you, she said coyly, raising her index finger, waggling it at us. But they were Godless, and that can make all the difference, don’t you agree?
I sit on my mat, hands folded, and Aunt Lydia steps to the side, away from the screen, and the lights go out, and I wonder whether I can, in the dark, lean far over to the right without being seen, and whisper, to the woman next to me. What will I whisper? I will say, Have you seen Moira. Because nobody has, she wasn’t at breakfast. But the room, although dim, isn’t dark enough, so I switch my mind into the holding pattern that passes for attention. They don’t play the soundtrack, on movies like these, though they do on the porno films. They want us to hear the screams and grunts and shrieks of what is supposed to be either extreme pain or extreme pleasure or both at once, but they don’t want us to hear what the Unwomen are saying.