Suffragette: The Right to Vote, and Much, Much More


Suffragette, directed by Sarah Gavron, depicts the battle for the right to vote in the early 1900s – but the film goes above and beyond this, portraying the inequality of women in all facets of life at this time. But did Suffragette succeed in driving home a century old story?

Film Review: Suffragette

A Brief Synopsis

Suffragette shows the awakening of compliant, working mother Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) into a window-smashing, phone box burning supporter of the right to vote.

Much of the film is based on history – we see the leader of the suffragette movement, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Emily Davison, the suffragette who was trampled to death by the King's horse in an effort to disrupt the event. Maud herself is a fictional character, and becomes an embodiment of not just the suffragette movement, but the police brutality, violence, force feeding in prisons and the full difficulties women faced at the time.

Sexual Abuse and Harassment

Sexual harassment and abuse is hinted at both during the police brutality and for women in the workplace. The sexual and psychological abuse of young women in the factories is detailed, with the women essentially powerless and unable to stand up to their male boss.

Sadly, unequal treatment of women in work is something that still happens to this day.

Singer and songwriter Kesha's legal battle against Sony brings these continued issues to light; Kesha lost her case, meaning she's being forced to remain tied to a contract with producer Dr. Luke, a man who Kesha says raped, drugged, and abused her over the last decade. Actress Lena Dunham has spoken out in support: "What's happening to Kesha highlights the way that the American legal system continues to hurt women by failing to protect them from the men they identify as their abusers."

Deana Bates, Employment Law Solicitor based at Simpson Millar's Manchester office, comments:

"Women today now have the benefit of laws which are in place to protect them from discrimination, harassment and abuse at work where such detrimental treatment is related to their sex. But this doesn't mean unfair treatment in the workplace linked to sex doesn't happen – the gender pay gap continues to remain a problem and is an example of how, despite laws being in place in an attempt to protect women, women continue to be treated differently and harassed in the workplace. If you are a victim of discrimination or unfair treatment in the workplace, it's important to speak out and seek help."

Inequalities in Parental Rights

The film also shows how control over women's lives extended into the family dynamic. Maud's husband, Sonny, casts her out of the family after her involvement with the suffragette rallies. Maud desperately wants to have contact with her son, but as Sonny points out, he can – and will – legally prevent her from seeing him. She later learns that Sonny gave Georgie up for adoption.

Up until the early 1900s, the father would be given custody in the event of divorce. Only in 1925 did mothers gain legal rights over their own children.

Associate Family Law Solicitor Emma Hopkins Jones, who is also a member of the Women's Equality Party, comments:

"Biases towards either parent no longer stand in child arrangement matters in the UK; in all decisions concerning children, it is the child's best interests that are paramount to the decision."

"However, in other aspects of family dynamics we do still see inequality - 1.4 million women in the UK suffered domestic violence in the last year as opposed to 700,000 men, and many couples are beginning to favour the idea of a civil partnership, as marriage can be viewed as a 'patriarchal' institution."

It's also thought that many women are being let down by the justice system, as the strict requirements for legal aid mean victims are missing out on getting the help they need to escape an abuser. The feminist group Sisters Uncut took to the red carpet at the Suffragette premiere to protest against local authority cuts to domestic violence services.

Actress Helena Bonham Carter said: "I'm glad our film has done something. That's exactly what it's there for, if you feel strongly about something and there's an injustice that you can speak out and try and get it changed. This is exactly what our characters would do."

Unfinished Business

It's been argued that Suffragette has succeeded in making viewers aware that the fight for equal rights is still not over today. Women's rights campaigner Caroline Criado- Perez said:

"But although women did eventually gain the vote, so much of this film still feels painfully familiar. Women are still being sexually abused, still being pathologised as hysterical, still being locked out of positions of power and ridiculed for caring."

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