Imagine not having a voice. Imagine not being able to speak unless spoken to. Imagine not being able to share your opinion. Imagine not having a say over your Children’s welfare. Imagine not having the vote. This is hard for us to imagine but for women before 1918 this was their life. No vote, no rights, no voice.
This week I went to see the new film “Suffragette”. Having studied the history of the Suffragettes for three years I was looking forward to seeing how the film represented the long-lasting struggle. I was not disappointed, if not slightly shocked.
The film focused on a young girl Maud who lived and worked in a factory all her life. For 24 years she was subjected to living under the shadow of a sickening boss; despite marrying a decent husband, the film portrays her changing opinion. Initially, Maud is not a suffragette but her curiosity leads her to trouble and only then does she realise that whilst women are without a vote, they are without a voice.
It was through the media the Suffragettes hoped to gain support. Early campaigners wrote leaflets, pamphlets and letters to MPs. Despite gaining some support these methods proved largely unsuccessful. It would have been scandalous in the early 20th century for a woman to event speak out in public. Despite this many “respectable” women understood the importance of gaining the vote despite the media branding the Suffragettes as “ugly spinsters”. If we reflect on how we would identify these “respectable” women it would partly be on their appearance and whether they were well spoken. A person’s accent and dialect reflected their educational background and their upbringing immediately placed them in a social class.
Emmeline Pankhurst was crucial to the Suffrage campaign. Mrs Pankhurst’s inspirational speeches ensured the women kept fighting despite a lack of success. Mrs Pankhurst’s main motto was “deeds not words” a key theme foregrounded in the film. This motto outlines Mrs Pankhurst belief in causing enough scandal that a woman’s voice would finally be loud enough to be heard.
A scene in the film that stood out for me involved a policeman telling his Sergeant that the media were struggling to be controlled because of the escalating events. So far in the film I had witnessed the characters fight with police, blow up post-boxes and burn down an MPs house. I witnessed and felt their frustration as they only ever gained a brief mention in the newspaper despite their drastic actions.
Evidently the media were critical of the Suffgettes. The belief of the media was that the level of violence proved women were not responsible enough to have the vote. As a result the papers reported minimal news of Suffragette activity which only escalated events further. In 1913 the campaign gained a martyr as Emily Wilding Davison died whilst trying to attach a Suffragette banner to the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby (the largest social event at the time). This emphasises the dedication these women had to gaining equality for us all, they were prepared to risk their lives. Emily’s death was reported in every British newspaper and her funeral was viewed by millions across the globe. The Suffragettes’ voices could no longer be silenced.
Despite around 100 years difference many parallels can be drawn to the Suffragettes and modern women.
The Hollywood Actress Jennifer Lawrence recently spoke out about the gender pay gap. Lawrence explained that she accepts a much lower payment than her male co-stars. She emphasises that she feels obliged to accept this treatment because if she appeared “difficult” she would find herself with less work. Lawrence also emphasises how women care about their reputation if they share their opinion; whereas a man’s voice is instantly heard. Unlike the Suffragettes, Lawrence has instant access to the media. Her statement caused a media frenzy with thousands discussing her views and tweeting in support.
This links to David Cameron’s political campaign to reduce the gender pay gap. His proposal is that companies with over 250 employees will need to publish how much they pay their employees. This will outline the pay gap with the hope of companies providing “Equal pay for Equal work” (another Feminist campaign!). The Telegraph outlines that women work for “57 days for free” compared to a man in the same job. In a sense David Cameron and Jennifer Lawrence are tackling the same issue of inequality in the same way the Suffragettes did, by being heard in the media they hope to gain public support.
In today’s society it is far easier to express a point of view and opinion. The power of the media is instantly available and tangible to us all. Sadly inequality still exists but we owe it to the Suffragettes to keep fighting for equality, in the words of Mrs Pankhurst “Never give up, never surrender”. I never thought I would become so passionate about women’s rights. A few years ago I was completely naïve about politics but now I owe it to the Suffragettes to use my vote wisely. I am so thankful to the Suffragettes, I have freedoms they would never have dreamed of having. Despite campaigning for over 50 years they never gave up on gaining equality. The Suffragettes ensured that a woman’s voice would be heard and it could never be silenced again.
References/ further information:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bm3YfMtgEdI Woman discovers pay gap
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3160045/David-Cameron-forces-big-firms-publish-gender-pay-gap.html David Cameron discusses pay gap plans
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=056FI2Pq9RY Suffragette trailer