Hello people of the Universe !
Last Thursday, I happily went to the cinema with a friend of mine. For a long time, a movie was getting my attention and I was waiting for November with many joy and impatience, looking forward to know how Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep would play their characters in a divided UK. I am of course speaking of :
You are transported to the old London of 1912, when nobody went out without a hat and when women wore long dresses and had elegant hairstyles while men cared about their beard and their three-piece suits. The first images immerse you in an atmosphere of hard work, in a laundry where women wash by hands and iron clothes all day long in tough conditions: chemicals, heat, strong pace. For their part, men seem to load and unload goods and have the opportunity to get outside, contrary to women. That day, Maud, the main character played by Carey Mulligan, is asked to deliver a package whereas it is not her job. You see her put her long and black coat on and pursue her path. She stops in front of a shop for awhile, looking at baby clothes in the vitrine. Next to her, she notices a woman with a pram. In that apparently serene or at least normal lifestyle, Maud seems to be perfectly at her place. Yes, you noticed it, that word that announces an abrupt change: apparently. Suddenly, Maud finds herself among a violent riot: women are screaming and throwing rocks into shops’ vitrines. Maud recognizes one of her colleagues while she is shouting “Vote for women!”. She runs away.
Boom. In five minutes, you have entered the world of feminism. Well, for the moment it doesn’t really sound like an explosion but more like a whistling. It is the beginning of the movie, you have time to anticipate. After you have been presented — a bit violently — to women defending the vote for women by throwing rocks, you have three possibilities. Either you are already an anti-feminist and just found a way to prove your arguments about the silly-females stereotype, or you are a strong feminist approving their methods and you get up in the room cinema with an out fist. Or you keep watching this movie, being a feminist or not, just because it has aroused your curiosity and you really want to know why those women are so attached to their rights, how they will explain their actions, and if you can compare what you see with what you know to deeply grok the topic. I am in the third category, option “feminist”. I was sure this was made for me.
I can’t really spoil this movie as it is a historical one and well, we all know British women can vote now. I won’t tell much about the principal characters’ personal life as you need to discover the movie on your own, but I think we have to concentrate on how women got their right. Let’s go back to Maud. After the demonstration, she makes friends with the colleague she recognized there and she promises her to listen to her speech in front of the parliament. Here is where Maud’s destiny swings. Violet, her colleague, is not able to speak so Maud has to take her place and ask for the right to vote for women by explaining her working and living conditions. She highlights the inequal wages, their bad health, their respect of the law whereas it denigrates their existence. At the end, they have good hope, but 1912 is too early for UK and their demand is declined. The group in front of the parliament gets angry, policemen start beating women and Maud and her friends are incarcerated. It was so violent to me that I hide my eyes. I can’t support that kind of oppression. At that moment of the movie, Maud doesn’t consider herself a feminist and she doesn’t want to be part of the movement. Unfortunately for her, she is already labelled.
But what movement am I really speaking about? The WSPU or Women’s Social and Political Union organized around a powerful slogan: deeds not words. After several attempts to get equality between men and women with a pacific method, Emmeline Pankhurst, a real person played by Meryl Streep, decides to create a group that would use civil desobedience to be heard. Suffragettes were born. Among late meetings in clandestinity, they also make explode mailboxes and telegraphs to cut communications or put fire to important places. Boom. Every time they get in prison, they use a non-violent method to pressure the government: hunger strike. They are fed by force.
I don’t want to give to much details so I stop here and start grokking a bit about what I saw in this movie. To be honest, I ended up crying, my head on my knees, hunched in a kind of foetal position on my red sit. Sounds pathetic but was necessary. I felt like every single part of my body was feeling all the frustration, anger, sadness, exhaustion those women felt during their fight. Because yes, it was a fight. They had to fight for their rights, they had to fight for their freedom. They had to prove to their family that they were not silly, that their cause was noble and worthy. They didn’t think of themselves, they thought of every single little girl in the streets, every single daughter they may have. They wanted to change every woman’s destiny. It was a hard work, harder than any other work and not because they were women, but because they were mothers, daughters, wives. They had a place in society that was decided til their birth. They had to respect men that didn’t always respect them. They had to work and take care of their children at the same time, without complaining and whereas the law didn’t recognize the joint parental authority. It was a fight of every second and it is thanks to them that society evolved.
Do you know why I had a crying episode after the movie? Because I couldn’t stop thinking of all the sacrifies they made and how we keep denigrating them today. When I hear Miley Cyrus say she is a feminist, when I hear Nicky Minaj… When I hear women and men say we don’t need feminism… I feel like their fight was for nothing. I feel like some of them were rejected by their family and handled oppression and stigmatisation for nothing. I feel like some of them died for nothing. Their movement wasn’t a joke, it wasn’t funny or cute. It wasn’t elegant or trendy. Their nails were dark and their hair was greasy. I don’t say we need to go in the streets and throw rocks or put fire to post offices or get nacked in front of journalists. It is not the same time, it is not the same story… But it is the same people, the same faith, the same issue: equality. One hundred years after and still so much to do, I can’t understand those who say we are done. We are not done. We will never be til women and men won’t have the same rights on paper and in life. Yes, men and women are different but being different is not being in a superior/inferior relationship. I had a crying episode after the movie and my tears were those that suffragettes never cried.
I now hesitate to call myself a feminist. I often tell you how important it is to fight at your own level but sometimes, I really need to get cheered up. What do I do to help today? Is it enough to speak? Is it enough to write? Is it enough to watch movies, read books and articles about the subject? No, it is not. We need help from the governement, we need information at school and in companies. We need to educate men and women, young and old. But how can we obtain equality if even the governement doesn’t respect parity? I am lost in a world that tends to regress whereas I want to move on. I can’t even understand why the gender difference is made because I don’t see it. I am just a human being trying to live her life with as many cards in hands as her neighboor.
Never surrender, never give up the fight. Love, Marion
Ps: if you are interested, you also can watch Made in Dagenham (We want sex equality, in France) by Nigel Cole.