Monday, November 9, 2015

Deeds, Not Words

Usually when I walk out of a movie that doubles as a history lesson, I am not left feeling appalled.

Tonight's film, "Suffragette," made me feel exactly that and it wasn't because the film was lacking. Why then? Because I learned of the almost unbelievable delays worldwide in giving women the vote.

I went in thinking that, unimpressive as these dates were,  the U.S. (1920) and Great Britain (1928) were pretty typical in finally allowing half the population to have a say in lawmaking. Sadly, no.

What, 1944, France? Really, Italy, 1945? Morocco, seriously 1963? Come on, Switzerland, 1971? Watching this timeline roll over the closing credits was the worst kind of history lesson: one that makes me acknowledge just how backward the world still was about women in my own lifetime.

I'm not sure if it was because I was seeing a film based on true events or not, but almost all the previews I saw were cut from the same cloth.

"The Danish Girl" is based on the first transgender surgery. "Race" is about Olympian Jessie Owen, while "Concussion" looks at the doctor who told the NFL that repeated tackles were giving players brain injuries. The workers trapped in a Chilean mine in 2010 are the focus of "The 33."

All based on real life and all likely to be of interest to me because of the factual source material.

Which is how I'd ended up at "Suffragette" in the first place. I know far too little - Mrs. Banks in "Mary Poppins" doesn't count, right? - about the civil disobedience that apparently went hand in hand with trying to get the vote for women in England.

Rocks thrown through windows, mailboxes blown up, empty houses dynamited, all of this was news to me, despite the story being one I should know and care about as a woman. And I do, now that I understand it better.

Could there have been a drabber place than London in 1912 (was everything gray or brown?) when the story takes place or a more hellish place to work than a stinkin' hot and often unsafe laundry, especially with a predatory boss who makes the rounds of the female workers...even the twelve year olds?


In several ways, the film did the same thing "Selma" did: pinpoint a moment in a much larger movement and show how it turned the tide. Once the women's suffragette movement had its first martyr and lots of press behind the incident, you'd better believe that men in power began reconsidering their position.

And, like that film, it is excrutiating for me to watch cops beat up people - in this case, women - in the streets for protesting, knowing that real women felt every blow depicted.

As it happens, I exercised my right to vote just last Tuesday, without a second thought about how hard-won that privilege had been.

"Suffragette" wasn't a perfect movie, but it did teach me not only the sacrifices made for that right, but just how long men in other countries denied (and some, like Saudi Arabia, are just now in 2015 considering it) their female population representation in the voting booth.

Let's just say I have a new appreciation for the rights of women to rock the vote. Girl power, indeed.

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