The intention was "to provoke thought, talk and continued attention to a very important subject," said Patti Matson, American Broadcasting Company's vice president for public relations and planning, in her introduction last night of a preview showing of "The Women's Room."
What it also provoked, apparently, was a campaign by the National Federation of Decency against the made-for-TV film's feminist view of a woman's place by calling for a viewing and advertising boycott. A couple of advertisers have already dropped out, Matson told Kathy Bonk, chairperson of the National Organization of Women's media reform committee.
"It's really prior censorhsip," said Matson, presiding at the screening in the Sheraton Carlton Holtel's Executive Club, where more than 100 guests, many of them from leading women's organizations as well as the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations, were invited to see the film of Marilyn French's best-selling novel. It will be broadcast nationally next Sunday.
Bonk called the action by the decency federation "a dangerous trend," fearing that television networks might be "gun-shy" the next time controversial films such as "The Women's Room" were being considered for presentation. Matson, however, gave a different impression.
"If you have a movie like this that is important to be made, you're going to gut it through," Matson said.
The film stars Lee Remick, Colleen Dewhurst and Patty Duke Astin in the controversial drama about how wives of the 1950s became independent women of the 1970s. "It's crazy having an identity crisis at 38," Remick says at one point in the movie. "Not if you belonged to somebody else," Dewhurst replies.
Matson actually brought the film to Washington a few weeks ago for a more intimate preview by men and women whose political persuasions ranged from conservative to liberal. Later, over dinner, the film was under such intense debate and discussion, Matson said, that everybody lost track of the time and the restaurant finally kicked them all out because it was closing.
"Somebody said it was the first time they had ever spent two hours discussing something in Washington when politics never once was mentioned," said Matson.
"I empathized with it," said public relations consultant Vic Kamber, included among that early group, "especially the fraternity scene where Mira was trying to be one of the party girls, having a good time and the men interpreted it differently. I remembered all that -- we did abuse, we do take advantage. I think other men who saw it with me felt it's real, but we don't want to see it about ourselves. Still, we need more of that exposure to understand the problem."