Suffragette follows the personal journey of a young wife, mother and laundress, Maud Watts, and her unplanned involvement with the women’s suffrage movement in 1912. Although the film is largely a work of fiction, the story blends real life historical events and characters to recreate the turbulent fight for the female vote in Great Britain. I watched this film with my partner and we had some great conversations after the film finished. Suffragette is a harrowing and inspiring snapshot of the women who gave up everything to lay down the foundations for universal suffrage. As a modern day woman I acknowledge that I take my rights and privileges for granted. I walked out of the cinema feeling so grateful for everything that has come before me to secure the freedoms I exercise so effortlessly today. The right to have my say at election time, the ability to work and control my own money, the freedom to make my own decisions, and the choice to decide when (and if) I want to have children. Lionhearted women fought courageously so that I can stand here today socially and economically equal to my partner.
Despite this, some days it feels like we still have a long way to go. Quite incredulously, I have seen firsthand how uncomfortable the word FEMINISM makes some people feel, including women – single, married, mothers with daughters – the very people who happily enjoy the fruits that feminism has borne them. The almighty F word has attracted quite a colourful reputation over the years and continues to spark controversy and debate in the headlines today.
What struck me the most about the narrative of the film Suffragette was just how quickly Maud lost everything she loved as a result of fighting against the status quo. Hearing girls say “I am not a feminist” in this day and age makes me so sad. Are they worried that being a feminist might brand them an unfeminine, unattractive, aggressive, man hating lesbian? Feminism is not about seeking power over men, but rather power over ourselves.
Suffragette is important because it shines a spotlight on just how disenfranchised women were at the time. Maud endured years of sexual abuse at the hands of her employer, she lost her home, her marriage, her child, and her freedom – simply for seeking the same opportunities in life that were given freely to men. The sheer frustration and powerlessness of being denied a voice and free agency left women with no alternative. There were only two paths for women, passivity or anarchy.
Women campaigned peacefully for the vote for years, but their voice was mute to an all male parliament. It was no surprise that women turned to “deeds not words” to get their point across. Choosing arson and window smashing, the Suffragette’s were met with the brutality of the police – torture, force feeding, imprisonment and separation from their children and families. The Suffragette’s were painted as dangerous rebels, but in reality the Suffragette’s were an alliance of courageous women pushed to a point of utter desperation. How long did these exasperated women ask politely for the right to vote before taking matters into their own hands?
We burn things, because war is the only language men listen to – Maude Watts, Suffragette