We've still got a way to go: Suffragette review and women's rights

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

So I just got back from seeing Suffragette. Boy oh boy, do I feel a rant coming.

It's the latest in a string of films being produced with strong female protagonists. It's seems that hollywood has finally caught on, and maybe our continuing frustrations regarding the portrayal of women as feeble-minded, weak and in need of saving might finally come to an end.

The movie was good to say the least. It stars Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Strep alongside others. The film centres on Maud Watts (played by Mulligan) a young mother and laundress, slowly drawn into the British suffragette movement of the late 19th century and early 20th century. The film draws inspiration from real life suffragettes, such as Emily Davison and Emmeline Pankhurst, strong independent women who fought valiantly for our rights. Their aim: the vote, and they did just about anything to get it. Dismissed and suppressed in the media by the government, the movement became increasingly violent.

New Zealand women were given the vote in 1893, the first country to do so. Kate Sheppard, a prominent Kiwi suffragette, is quoted as saying "all that separates, whether of race, class, creed or sex, is inhuman, and be overcome". It's safe to say that us kiwi girls got pretty lucky - but for the British and many other women in countries all over the world, not so much.

One thing that fascinated me about Suffragette, were the men. Of course I'm not referring to the police or parliamentarians, their sour attitude and utter indifference to the rights of women was to be expected. However through the first half of the film, Watts' husband complains about her caring more for the movement than she does for him and their son. In one part she asks if he has eaten. He hasn't of course, because his wife wasn't there to cook it for him. I won't go into too much detail because I don't want to spoil it, but his behaviour is atrocious, not to mention selfish, to say the least. One article I have read since seeing the film talked of Hannah Mitchell, the suffragette who inspired Mulligan's character. In her autobiography, she stated that most of the suffragettes who were married found that the movement was of "less interest to their own husbands than their own dinners" and most couldn't understand why they "made such a fuss about it". Futhermore another man, Watts' employer, sexually abuses, harasses and violates the women working in his laundry, including the twelve year old daughter of another suffragette, basically because he thinks he has a right too. This kind of behaviour of course was common in those days, and women were expected to put up with it. Yet I still found my top lip curling up in disgust at the man. To conclude, the only male of any redeeming quality is the film is the husband of Edith, who supports the suffragette movement and his wife.

Anyway carrying on, on leaving the cinemas my Aunty commented "we have the vote, yet we still don't have equality", and to be honest when I thought about it, she's right. The Suffragettes of course inspired the Feminist movement of the 1970s. These women paved the way for not only the vote, but access to safe and legal abortion, the pill and property rights amoung other things. These days, if you're born female you don't have to be a housewife. You can be a teacher or professor, a doctor, a lawyer. You can travel, be a poet, a business owner or an athlete. Yet although we have come far, we still have a long way to go. The husband of Maud Watts' bears striking resemblance to much of the garbage I put up with in high school. From "we don't need Feminism anymore" to "what are you complaining about" to the infamous "are you a lesbian?" and "but you shave your legs", I engaged in much discussion with other girls on the topic of feminism and equal rights, many of whom believed we were already there. Don't even get me started on the infamous "get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich" rebuttal. Furthermore, Watts' boss of course represented the harassment we receive everyday. On the street and in our workplaces, in shopping centres and gas stations. Whether we are simply walking past a road construction crew or sitting in the park reading a novel, women constantly put up with a stream of sexual comments and wolf whistles. I've been putting up with it since I turned 12. People occupying my body with their eyes. In fact in my first year of uni, I had been working as a waitress at a small bistro on Cuba Street for a mere five months when I quit suddenly after my boss decided it was alright to slap me on the butt and laugh when I protested (wanker).

Then of course there is the matter of the pay gap, which widens even more for women of colour, as well as the ways in which we are presented in the media. In addition, least we forget the infamous "Women Against Feminism" movement. I'm not sure how many likes they are up to now, as I got banned from the page months ago. However last time I was causing havoc, I believe it was well over 30,000. What frustrates me most about the people that follow the page is not their stance against feminism. They are of course entitled to their own opinions. What frustrates me is the way they go about it. They may as well spit on the women that came before us and fought. Many state "I don't need feminism because I chose to stay at home with my family" (um, feminism gave you the fucking choice). Another popular stance is "I don't need feminism because I'm not ugly" (comments like this are the exact reason we need feminism you idiot). What saddens me most is that most of the page's followers are infact, women. I can kinda understand why some men would be against a movement that threatens their power, but for modern 21st century women to not recognise what their ancestors fought for, and condemn their actions, simply flabbergasts me. To be honest I think most of them participate in the vendetta to gain the approval of men and that just makes me sad. To me, without the sacrifices the suffragettes made, we would not be as free as we are today. It's that simple. There is no denying the power the suffragettes gave us, the roads they paved or the sacrifices they made, but movements like "Women Against Feminism" make it obvious that the fight is far from over.

Anyway, that concludes my rant for today. Go and see Suffragette. Get inspired.

"Never surrender. Never give up the fight"



Until next time babes xx






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