This is one of those films where – for just a moment – you really do stop taking for granted something you always took for granted.
LONDON – In the full flurry of mid-life – between the job and the kids and the husband and the commute – I’m one of those people who rarely ventures out to the movies anymore. But I’ve got a recommendation for all you parents of tween and teenaged girls: take your daughters to see Suffragette.
This is not a brilliant film by any stretch. It’s got some fantastic actors – including Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anne Marie Duff. But there are a few too many heart string moments in the life of one protagonist for my taste. And as someone whose predilections tend to run to films about the Holocaust, family dysfunction or – ideally – both, I tend to be very wary of anything that smacks of Inspiration (capital I).
But Suffragette still merits a viewing, and ideally on the big screen. Here’s why:
First of all, I learned something. The film has caught some flack for not demonstrating sufficiently the role that women of colour played in the suffragette movement True that. But to paraphrase one of the reviews I read before going to see it, my knowledge of the suffragette movement pretty much begins and ends with Mrs. Banks fluttering around the living room with that sash in Mary Poppins. This film actually gave me some sense of the arc of that movement – who was in it, how long it took to achieve their goals, and the many obstacles – political, professional, social, familial – they faced in doing so.
Second and relatedly, the movie reveals the cross-class nature of the suffragette movement. When my 14- year-old son got wind that I’d taken his 11-year-old sister to see the film, he was initially sceptical. “It was a very elitist movement,” he said dismissively. (He’s currently going through a Marxist phase.) Actually, it wasn’t. The movie is all about working class women from East London and why they saw this movement as an essential precondition for liberating themselves from brutal work hours, low wages, sexual harassment and assorted other workplace injustices facing British women at the turn of the century.
Suffragette is also fundamentally about that most salient of topics for we women (see first line of this blog) who spend our lives juggling: trade-offs. You want to talk about work/life balance? This film’s got it in spades: What happens when your political commitments conflict with your personal life? When you and your husband work for the same company but he gets paid more for working fewer hours? Do you go to the political rally to protest that injustice, even if it means that you miss dinner and he has to put the kid to bed? Or when you got finally get that raise you so desperately needed but had to sleep with the boss to obtain it? How great for girls to see what that looks like…because that’s what adulthood looks like, folks.
Finally and above all, Suffragette illustrates how very hard it was to secure this fundamental change in women’s lives. Without giving away too much about the plot, there’s no big “reveal” where all the tough, determined women who’ve been beaten down finally rise up to claim victory. (Thank Goodness). Rather, the arc here is more: girl hits wall…girl hits wall…girl hits wall again. But they never give up. But this is of those films where – for just a moment – you really do stop taking for granted something you always took for granted.
Lord knows these themes remain relevant. I live in the UK, where in the past couple of weeks alone we are actively debating the persistence of the gender pay gap and whether or not it’s time to equalize female representation on public sector boards. Over in the States, it seems like a week doesn’t go by that I don’t hear a prominent actress or female director complain about gender discrimination in Hollywood, a fight which looks like it may soon take on a legal dimension. And then there’s that whole Hillary thang.
On the way out of the cinema, I commented to my daughter that I thought that all girls should see this film.
She paused to reflect. “Actually I think all boys should see it,” she answered.
And how, sweetheart.
Delia Lloyd is an American writer based in London. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times and The Guardian. She blogs about adulthood at realdelia.com.
Image: #15 Give Women The Vote via husbandunit