The main aim of the film’s first half, Craigie suggested, would be ‘to make a survey of the women in Britain showing what they are up to – how many work in industry, in professions, in the homes, in local government, in Parliament, in managerial and executive posts, and so forth. 'We will not ignore the fact’, she continued, ‘that working women also have to manage their homes’. Here Craigie identified a persistent problem in the evaluation of women’s work in monetary and career terms, one of the primary barriers to female progression in the professions – a problem that continues into our own times.
Craigie wanted the film to ask: ‘are we fully able to develop our personalities to the full? Are we playing our proper role in the community? How far have we progressed from the state of subjection in which John Stuart Mill found us back in the [eighteen] eighties?’
Craigie had already reached the conclusion that ‘we have not progressed far enough, [and] the film will show how and why’.
This prelude contextualised the more specific problem addressed in the film’s second half: equal pay. Craigie’s script equated pay with power and status in similar terms to the 2018 ‘What Women Want 2.0’ report. While she could not promise commercial success or even the completion of the film, Craigie offered a personal guarantee by asserting that, should she fail in this endeavour, her production company would be made bankrupt. She sought to reassure potential donors by declaring that she had ‘a Renoir painting from which [she had] no intention of being parted’.
To Be a Woman is of – and ahead of – its time. It asks the fundamental question: what does it mean to be a woman, and especially a woman at work? It confronts the issue of what women’s work is and has become, and the types of work men, and indeed some women, find acceptable for women. Craigie cleverly juxtaposes anti-feminist views – represented most starkly in the film by philosopher and well-known BBC radio presenter C. E. M. Joad – with facts, and she positions the women onscreen as experts. While Craigie centres on the problem of equal pay, she shows this to indicate a much wider problem.