Most of us first heard about the suffragette through either our relatives or our education at school. We were told that as ladies we had to ensure that we use our vote as ladies had suffered and died for us, to give us our vote and therefore our freedom that we enjoy today.
It is all too easy to look at what we have now in our lives and forget just how far society has travelled from the early 1900’s. We are incredibly lucky in many aspects and therefore can take for granted just exactly what we have.
This is one of the reasons that films like suffragette bring the message back home. History is important – it has played a massive part in the development of society.
The film takes us on the journey of Maud – a young working class woman who works in a ‘sweat’ factory.
From the outset of the film we are drawn in to London Victorian living. The outfits, the hairstyles, the old-fashioned vehicles and the pram. That is the benefit of film – it has a wonderful way of bringing imagination to life.
We see the back streets, the smoke, the washing hanging on the line in great rows across the streets.
We see Maud as she journeys through London. The hustle and the bustle and the lady pushing an old-fashioned pram. The grim looks on people’s faces as they go about their daily business and grind. Then all of a sudden everything grinds to a halt as the lady pulls out of the pram – not a baby but bricks! She throws the bricks through a shop window with all of her might and stands in the middle of the street shouting:
“Votes for Women!”
The passion for the cause definitely comes through the big screen.
At that point Maud is trying to stay away from any sense of trouble as she arrives home to tell her husband.
Maud’s life as a working class woman is difficult. She’s worked in a ‘sweat’ factory since the age of seven. She’s worked her way up through the ranks in difficult working conditions which result in a shorter life span. She later describes this to Politicians.
It’s a hard life and it was during the era when a woman’s fate relied solely upon the men in her life. Her brothers, her husband and indeed the man she would marry.
That made me think about the tradition of when a man asks a father for permission to marry a daughter.
Life was like that for women. Just possessions and owned by men. Passed from the head of the family to move to the next head of her own family that she would birth children to.
It was clear from the story that women were expected to work one-third longer hours for one-third less pay than the men. They would then go home and ferociously look after a growing family. Maud had a son of whom she adored. No daughter.
In the day – I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to have a daughter.
It is clear from the film that women needed the vote. They were after all working, earning and paying taxes but they had no say as to what their taxes were paid into. The men – although at the time men had restrictions upon them as to who could vote – had the power. Women were powerless.
The film did an excellent job in showing how powerless the ladies were in society. The horrors of being beaten, working like slaves and powerless to their own sexual being.
The owner of the ‘sweat’ factory sexually harassing and raping girls as young as 12 – overlooked. Women had no rights.
Recruitment for women’s suffrage was strong. The film shows how Maud became involved in the era during Emmeline Pankhurst. Peaceful protests were no longer the option. Peaceful wasn’t working. The ladies upped their game, including damage to properties and they endured horrific violence from the powers that be, before being locked up. Which they fought further by going on hunger strikes. The force feeding was barbaric and a film on the big screen depicts this.
At one point my boyfriend said to me:
“Shelly, I feel ashamed to be a man. Those ladies of the era were treated like criminals.”
Criminals for wanting equality.
The ladies were seen as a tremendous threat to society. If women gained the vote then that would mean that women could stand up and have a say by becoming an MP. It would therefore change the dynamics of what was then a male controlled society.
But the ladies fought and they fought hard. They showed strength and courage. For Maud this came at a great cost as she lost her husband. It was embarrassing to have a wife who was a suffragette. One man shouted to him:
“You should control your wife!”
This made me think about modern society and the sayings that still exist. “You should control your wife!” “You should put the woman in her place.” “Women can’t behave like that because you’re a woman!” and so on and so on. I even watched a programme with young people on the other day when a young male of say twenty hollered “I need to show her who’s the boss!”
These sayings are the aftermath from history and though we’ve moved on to the level we have. It is clear that we do still have inequality and unequal human rights as society still evolves. This could be decades more before it fizzles out completely.
What was truly heart-breaking while watching the film. Not only did ladies have no rights to their future or no voice to make change. They also had no rights to their children. Maud lost her husband and then she lost her child. A woman could bear children but they were owned by their fathers. The film was successful in the sense that it made me shed a tear for the ladies who lost everything fighting for what we have today.
However, with losing everything Maud then became not desperate. She became dangerous.
I don’t wish to share any more of the film as it could spoilt it for you. But if you watch it you will then feel a sense of “good on her” as she gets her revenge on the ‘sweat’ shop owner.
At the end of the film. The audience applauded. The audience was of a mixed ages and I enjoyed seeing a lady who was certainly ninety or beyond. I thought how her life must have been during the decades and how proud she must feel for the development in society for women.
She would have been here for the start of when – women over the age of thirty who met property qualifications were granted the right to vote upon the Representation of the People Act – which was passed in 1918.
8.5 million ladies could therefore vote but it still only represented 40% of the population of women. Women like Maud were still voiceless.
21 million men had the right to vote. The statistics were still heavily weighted in the men’s favour but it was a step in the right direction.
In 1922 Margaret Wintringham achieved the passage in the Criminal Law Act which was introduced to protect girls against under age sex.
In 1925 women were allowed rights over their own children.
These were great steps forward and would never have been achieved if women hadn’t won their right to vote.
But it wasn’t until 1928 and the passing of The Equal Franchise Act that more women could vote as the age was lowered to 21.
Great strides have been made and voices heard for what would have been the most vulnerable women in society.
Indeed Barbara Castle a British Labour Politician who stood for Socialist Politics was responsible for the introduction of Child Benefit – to ensure that women had access to her own money to feed her own children. Helping and empowering women, again moving us forward.
The great strides that have been gained through women gaining a vote, has meant women have a voice and have been represented – giving us more choice. Therefore ladies like Maud and their lives have not gone to waste.