I’ve just been to the cinema to see “Suffragette”, and I feel like going to the library right now to learn more… I have questions!
The first question I had after leaving the cinema was if the men who see the film feel they are seeing things from a different perspective than usual. Do they actually understand the experience of women more because of the film? It’s like when I saw a Tracey Emin retrospective a few years ago. I wanted to ask all the men in there how they felt about it all, what their reaction was – not on an intellectual level, but at a personal, gut level.
So much of the worldview of the time which the film shows seems familiar. So much of what is shown doesn’t shock me or surprise me, I feel like I know it. Even though I live more than 100 years later, even though I have choices these women never had, I still grew up in surroundings where a woman speaking up and/or asserting her right to make her own choices was (and partly still is) a real issue. But there’s no law to say I can’t. It’s just against tradition. The only thing I break is expectations. And I want to know who exactly I’ve got to thank for that.
At the end of the film, they ran a list of years in which women got the right to vote in different countries; Switzerland legalised the vote for women in 1971. A country in the middle of “progressive” Western Europe. I just looked it up – it’s even worse than this: in 1971 women got the vote on a federal level. It was enforced in the Cantons until 1990. The last Canton had to be forced by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland to accept women’s suffrage. 1990. I was 5 in 1990. Living next to a country in which some women weren’t yet allowed to vote.
This is not a far away issue at all…
Feminism in general really has not come as far yet as we might want to make ourselves believe. Equal pay or equal representation in politics or equal numbers in leadership roles are what a lot of people focus on in debates, but a thing as basic as the personal safety of women is a huge issue that gets much less press coverage: There are horrendous numbers of women who experience domestic violence and/or sexual abuse. Domestic violence referrals to the police in the UK alone rose by 17.5% from 2013 to 2014, to the highest level ever. There are constant poster campaigns trying to teach men what rape is and what consent means because too many of them seem to have no sense of (or no interest in) what’s right and wrong, having scarily warped ideas about what it means to “be a man” (here’s a good article on that subject). They need to learn, still, that strength does not have to do with having power or control over someone, but that it’s to do with respect, and with choosing not to trample over someone else’s rights with of a sense of entitlement. They need to learn, still, that no woman is a “slut” or a “cunt” or a “bitch”. That being called a “girl” (or “gay”) is not actually an insult. That being caring or considerate does not make them less “manly”. Clearly, this is no “women’s issue”.
(And while we’re on this subject, why, do you think, is it such a big deal for so many people if someone describes God as “She”…?!)
Where are we in our efforts for women’s rights? What is needed at the moment to get through to people – men and women – about all of these things? How do we create a healthy idea of what is “normal” in relationships or on dates or in a family? What is needed to change these issues at the roots – instead of ending up having to fix the consequences (like these or these or these – and yes, it’s that serious)?
Suffrage is one part of the story. We’re just about getting there in most countries by now (Saudi Arabia: 2015). But there is so much else yet to do – for some issues, the law is supportive of women, in other issues, the law needs to be changed. In most issues, people’s minds need changing.
When is the last time, by the way, when you heard a man talk about a woman as his role model? (And how many women do you know whose role model is a man?)
The conscious search for role models for young girls and women is on, and naming women to look up to, women whose steps others can follow, makes a great deal of difference to how girls and women see their own lives, and to how men see women. The need for that to happen is as urgent as it was 100 years ago.