Feminism · Film · Politics · Reviews

Thoughts On: Suffragette

I decided to take myself to see Suffragette as a Halloween treat and I am so glad that I did. The film (written by Abi Morgan & directed by Sarah Gavron) follows the story of a group of working class women that become involved in the suffragette movement. It centres on Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) who works in punishing conditions in an industrial laundrette where working conditions are bleak and sexual harassment is rife. When she becomes acquainted with Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff), Maud becomes drawn into the movement, with heartbreaking consequences.
The film does take a while to get started, although this does mean that you get well-immersed into the working class world that Maud lives in, with her husband (my boyfriend Ben Whishaw) and son (an adorable Adam Michael Dodd). Plus, when it gets going, it really gets going. The suffragettes are regularly taught in school, and so most people are aware of force-feeding tactics, police brutality and the death of Emily Wilding Davison. However, it’s something completely different to see those events depicted on screen; the final event is the films climax and is just brilliantly done (and I spent that entire sequence somehow wishing that history was different). It’s also wonderfully acted; Mulligan is always a good screen presence, Anne-Marie Duff is great and performances by Helena Bonham-Carter as a female chemist and Romola Garai as a middle-class recruiter are also really wonderful (Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst pops up for all of five minutes). When it ended, I definitely just felt incredibly grateful that these women did so much and risked so much in order that women today can vote, and women like me can study & work in politics.
But what really stuck with me is the moment in the film when the lead police inspector (Brendan Gleeson) says to Maud that people would never listen to people like her, because what she has to say just doesn’t matter. The idea that the suffragettes were just somehow above their station, and just needed to shut up, is something that permeates the film…and still feels painfully familiar today.

This issue seems to have come to a head in the past week, when in the wake of the Tampon Tax debate, Philip Davies (an MP whose previous achievements include claiming that gay marriage is discriminatory to straight people) stated that he wanted an International Men’s Day debate in the Commons to look at the issues that affect men. Jess Phillips dismissed this idea, stating that until women have equity in parliament there’s really no need to have a specific debate on men. Regardless of the fact that it seems that important issues such as a male suicide and male domestic violence are only ever bought to the fore when women try and talk about anything to do with them-the response to Phillips suggesting that such a debate is unnecessary has been pretty grim.

(a fun sample)
The suffragettes were incredible women who help enfranchise millions to vote, yet for many the fight for women’s rights seems to have begun and ended with them. Whenever any woman suggests that things could be in any way better, the response is usually that they should be grateful for what they have in comparison to women living elsewhere and, as suggested above, if they’re not happy to be quiet they should be violently made to be. It’s a shame that whilst we have come so far from the events in the film; in terms of women having the vote and being able to have a say in how their children are raised, and yet some people’s attitudes are still very 19th century.

 

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