I was excited to see Suffragette, having heard that it explored the feminist movement. The film itself was incredible and the audience was left in astounded silence when the dates on which individual countries gave the vote to women were listed. The film was an emotional roller-coaster; it was gleeful when the movement appeared to stand a chance of getting the vote, only to suffer a blow a few minutes later with a harrowing force-feeding sequence. At one point, women and men of all ages in the cinema were weeping for the loss of one of the characters, forcing one to stop and consider the sacrifices that were made for equality. I left the cinema feeling shaken and stirred, and I wasn’t the only one. Many others were spurred into taking action like protesting on the red carpet against the cuts that the government were delivering to domestic violence support.
The Suffragette film did get the historical facts right, including that the suffragettes weren’t always a popular movement. The militant methods that they called ‘direct action’ proved controversial because of the extreme measures they took to get their point across. Blowing up postboxes, throwing stones at shop windows and even placing explosives in David Lloyd-George’s country home to give him a ‘wake-up call’. Yet, their reasoning for it was that ‘war is the only language men speak.’ There is much discussion as to whether the Suffragettes hindered the movement of equality because they resorted to such extreme measures. The Suffragists had been lobbying parliament and using peaceful means to bring about change, but this was simply too slow for Emmeline Pankhurst. Her statement that she would ‘rather be a rebel than a slave’ indicates this. At the Grand National, Emily Davison lost her life to promoting the cause as she threw herself under the prince’s horse. This received national attention and thus more press coverage of the women’s situation in Britain. However, many responded to this event as an act of idiocy, making them question whether women deserved the vote.
Force feeding was introduced when the women went on hunger strikes in prison. This consisted of a tube inserted up the nose in which liquid or liquidised food was poured down. This was so horrific that the Suffragettes used it as propaganda to recruit people and incur sympathy from people. The force feeding was so inhumane that the Cat and Mouse Act was introduced in 1913. This act provided the temporary discharge of prisoners whose further detention in prison is undesirable on account of the condition of their health.
Eventually the voices of women were heard and those who were over the age of thirty were granted the vote in 1918. Nevertheless, this meant that they were still not on an equal footing with men. 10 years later, on 2nd July 1928, full equality was introduced as women were given electoral equality with men. Moving forward to modern day, the people in power are very different. For example, Prince Harry is a feminist whereas those in victorian times, such as then Prime Minister David Lloyd George, sympathised with the movement but did not make a stand for it. This is shown in the film when the women give testimonies to prove they needed more rights; Lloyd George sympathises but the result is that women are still denied the vote.
Also, many people today are wary of saying that they are a feminist because it has the word ‘feminine’ in it. However, the explanation for the inclusion of the word ‘feminine’ is that it derives from a time when the cause was solely fighting for women in a male-dominated society. Whereas now the name ‘feminism’ has stayed the same but the principles have changed: it fights for the political, social and economic equality of the sexes. We also have more leading figures participating in the movement, such as Malala Yousafzai, Beyonce Knowles, Tina Fey, Emma Watson, Stella Creasy, Emma Thompson, Terry Cruise, Will Smith, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Corbyn. The list goes on and this is empowering because of the influences these people have upon society.
Yet we still face discrimination in modern society. One example of a legal issue that women face in the modern world is under-representation in parliament. In the 2015 general election, 191 women MPs were elected – 29% of all MPs, which was a record high. However, this is still not equal, because to have equal representation of women, 50% of the parliament needs to be women MPs and 50% need to be men MPs. Many people may consider the argument for ‘the better person for the job’ but women are not getting an equal say. In Canada, they have a gender balanced cabinet – a 50-50 representation in parliament. The reason, according to the Canadian Prime Minister, is simply ‘because it’s 2015’.
In conclusion, we must express gratitude to the characters in the film, who were real people, for the sacrifices they made and for paving the way for the movement to reach equality. It has also heightened global awareness. For example, Saudi Arabia does not allow women to drive, although no official law bans it. Saudi clerics argue that it would ‘undermine social values’. They have also promised the vote to women but de facto and de jure are two very different things. It makes us appreciate how far we have come, but still how far we have to go. Empowering both men and women is something for which we should strive: to make everyone equal.
by Megan Robins