Women’s Suffrage Depicted In “Suffragette”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Women’s rights is nothing new, even if some of today’s political candidates might think so. The women’s suffrage movement goes back to the 19th Century. Here in the US we think of pioneers like Susan B. Anthony (yep, she’s the lady on the silver dollar), Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone. Thanks to the Nineteenth Amendment, women got the legal right to vote nationally in 1920.
Seems weird that it was ever a question, doesn’t it?
The rights of women in England was a hard fought battle by the Suffragette Movement.
An 1825 broadside laid out the issue thusly: “An Appeal of One Half the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain Them in Political, and Thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery: In Reply to Mr. Mill's Celebrated Article on Government.”
The Reform Act that came seven years later enfranchised “male persons,” providing the first explicit statutory bar to women voting. This added fuel to the emblazoned women’s suffrage movement. It wasn’t until The Representation of the People Act 1928 that women gained the right to vote on the same terms as men.
A new film titled “Suffragette” depicts the women’s suffrage struggle in 1912 England. It stars Cary Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Natalie Press, Anne-Marie Duff, and Meryl Streep, among dozens of other strong female actors.
Who said there aren’t any meaty roles for women?
“Suffragette” is the gritty and downright depressing story of women militants in Great Britain who fought -- yes, literally -- to extend the rights of franchise to women.
Carey Mulligan (you’ve seen her in “The Great Gatsby,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,“ and “Far From the Madding Crowd”) plays Maud, a 24-year-old laundress who gets caught up in the women’s rights movement led by fiery Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep). Maud’s husband disapproves, especially when she gets arrested. Her ongoing activities come with a high price, causing her to lose her family, her friends, her job. If she and her fellow suffragette Emily (Natalie Press) can only get their message before King George at Epson Derby …
This is a film that feminists will applaud, but it’s seeing some backlash. A group of bloggers are calling it anti-male. “Just what we need, more feminist revisionist history,” bemoans one thread on Internet Movie Database.
“While the story of female suffrage is taught at school from a young age, few people today know the long and gruesome history of how men won the right to vote,” says Neil Lyndon in an articled titled “Why has everyone forgotten about male suffrage?” He points out that before 1918, the vote was restricted not simply by sex but also by property qualifications.
“The reason is that the whole truth is extremely inconvenient. It conflicts with the dominant feminist narrative which portrays women as the victims of repressive men, from whom liberation and progress had to be wrested by militant uprising. The true history of votes for women, however, is not a story of sex war but of a continuous progress of electoral reform over a century from 1832-1928 in which women’s suffrage was only one element.”
Sounds like we’re getting into the semantic territory of that debate between “BlackLivesMatter” and “AllLivesMatter.”
Sure, men have historically had to fight for rights, but let’s not let that diminish recognition of the struggle women have faced. Both are facts. And a film can choose to depict either of those stories. This film happens to be about the Suffragette Movement in England, so accept it for what it is.
In 1999 Time magazine named Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. It stated, “She shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back.”