A recently published article in the Huffington Post states that the film Suffragette has failed in its attempt, or lack thereof, to progress the feminist movement, instead suggesting the battle has been won since many countries in the world have now gained voting rights for women. I beg to differ.
These comments were reminiscent of the protest staged at the premiere of Suffragette, in which the activist group Sisters Uncut lay across the red carpet, released green and purple smoke bombs, wielded placards and chanted 'Dead women can't vote'. The group wanted to draw attention to the issue of domestic violence, with relation to the cuts that have been made to specialist services under the Tory government, and how this has had an effect on women of colour in particular.
There's no denying that a protest like this needs to be made. Domestic violence statistics remain at a shocking high, with 1 in 3 women globally experiencing violence at the hands of a male partner. Yet it just seemed a little incongruous to me that the protest was staged at a film that presumably would help, not hinder, the battle we are trying to fight. Wouldn't it have made more sense to have protested at the premiere of Fifty Shades of Grey? The group also stated that the film implies that we're in a 'post-feminist era' and that 'there is this delusional element to it all'. Fair enough -- but isn't that the sort of comment you should make after watching the film, not before?
I watched Suffragette a day after stumbling across this video online. In the video, a man confronts a woman on the street, asking her why she is 'dressed like a slut', continuing to do so, and implying she is a prostitute by asking how much she charges for sex. The misogynist brazenly continues to verbally abuse the woman, and nothing she says will deter him from his one-man-mission to tear her down. It is only when another person steps in and hits the man in the face with a glass bottle which causes him to collapse, that the man is silenced, and faced with a brutal consequence of his words.
Now, I'm not for a moment suggesting that this was the right action to take. Yet whilst watching Suffragette, Carey Mulligan's character Maud Watts delivered a line which really resonated with me having just witnessed this incident: 'War is the only language men listen to.' In order to silence a misogynistic mouth, or change the way that men treat or view women, sometimes violence is the only action one can take. The fact that some women are still having to resort to this technique 100 years after the incitements of Emmeline Pankhurst and actions of her followers is chilling, and surely a demonstration of the film's relevance.
Similarly, I disagree with the idea that the ending of Suffragette implies that the feminist movement is now redundant since women have achieved the right to vote. The real life footage shown of suffragettes storming the streets of London for the funeral of Emily Wilding Davison marries together the original faces of the suffragette cause with our modern day actors, causing past and present to collide. Feminists from a century ago can still inspire the actions of feminists today, because this is still a war that needs to be fought.
The rolling dates which mark the year that women gained the vote in particular countries are not reductive, but instead create a continuous timeline which promises more. It is not a smug reminder that the West is years beyond anywhere else, but a shocking signal that the vote, just one right women deserve yet have not been afforded for years, is part of a larger, continuous problem of inequality. It doesn't say 'It's 2015 now, we've done as much as we can so let's just stop now'. It says, Look how far we've come, but look how much further there is to go.
Third wave feminism, for all its glories, has a nitpicking problem which can often detract from the real issues at hand. When I watched Emma Watson's UN speech back in September 2014, feminists at my university could only criticise her for being a white, privileged feminist and not covering the right issues and not saying the right things. I certainly agree that Watson needed to discuss the concerns of women of colour to a greater extent, yet couldn't help but feel the general comments were unfair. Firstly -- she actually acknowledged her fortunate position within the speech. Secondly -- can we not all just take a step back and realise that there are still millions of people on this planet who do not think that feminism is necessary? We can find fault with everything if we look hard enough, but I don't see why a woman who uses her fame to create a public platform for sharing important words on equality should be condemned.
Perhaps this back-to-basics approach is problematic, and fraught with the idea that if we're not picky enough to begin with then we'll never achieve what we want. But please, remember that sexism is rife within this country and the entire world, that too many people still refuse to recognise this, and that we need to change their minds. The latter should be our priority as feminists, not deconstructing the nuance of half a sentence spoken by a woman simply trying to raise awareness of a hugely important cause. It is easy to become consumed by an academic bubble which likes to throw around big words from its ever-expanding vocabulary, but let's not forget what we're really fighting for. A film has just been released which celebrates and tries to forward the women's movement, and the deconstructive and critical nature of academic feminism makes us lose sight of the bigger picture -- instead moralising the past and moaning about how the film is not right.
Suffragette creates and continues a dialogue; it places the recognition of oppression in a modern context; it encourages us to re-evaluate situations of inequality. In Maud's simple closing words of the film: 'Lead on'.