I started my blog in March 2014 and, in lieu of a readership, much of what I have written has been practice for the day that my ‘voice’ might reach a larger audience. But because I attended the Australian National Committee for United Nations (UN) Women special pre-screening of the film Suffragette at the Palace Centro Cinema, New Farm, on Thursday 26 November 2015 (official screening commences on Boxing Day – 26 December 2015), I thought it timely for me to ‘reload’ some material from a long ago archived post so accompanying this post is Another Ode To The Suffragettes Reloaded, to give those interested a bit of historical perspective.
But first a plug for the sponsors of the event, the Australian National Committee for UN Women who hosted six pre-screenings across Australia. All funds raised will contribute to UN Women projects in the Pacific that: keep women and girls safe from violence; provide education and training to women and girls, to combat illiteracy and ensure a fair go for all; offer decent jobs with opportunities to develop as small-business owners and entrepreneurs; and, promote women in leadership.
The delightful Darlene, resplendent in her Leona Edmiston bicycle shirtmaker dress, and her fellow cycling enthusiasts were also raising awareness for the ‘Ride for Rights’ – a tour group who will participate in a 12-day adventure from 12-23 March 2016. The women will cycle from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Siem Reap, Cambodia with the aim to help empower women and girls to break the cycle of poverty and violence.
I think this tour might be fully booked, but if you are interested in challenging yourself, click here to view other adventures-of-a-lifetime that raise vital funds to support women’s economic empowerment projects throughout the Asia Pacific region.
Photo courtesy hdwallpapers.cat
Suffragette – Review
I must admit that, despite having seen snippets and trailers for the film, it was not the story I expected. I assumed that it would be the story of the Pankhursts, with the magnificent Meryl Streep playing the matriarch – Emmeline. And I wrongly assumed that Helena Bohnam-Carter would play her firebrand and revolutionary daughter, Christabel.
Despite Meryl’s high-profile involvement in the promotion of the film, the role of Emmeline Pankhurst is a cameo performance of the charismatic figurehead of the ‘votes for women’ movement who incites women to action. Meryl, who is marvelous at accents, gets the British cut-glass accent pitch perfect, but the effect is somewhat overshadowed by her rather large hat.
Suffragette is the story of the ‘ordinary’ women – the ‘foot soldiers’ for the cause. Some are better placed in society than others – the well-born wife of a Member of Parliament (and fortunate recipient of a private income), Alice Haughton (Romola Garai); the educated woman, Edith Ellyn (Helena Bohnam-Carter) – a pharmacist, who is the most militant of this sub-group, and not afraid to resort to violence; and the women who have the misfortune to work in the Bethnal Green laundry – Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff) and Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan).
It is the story of heroism – what makes a woman risk everything, and lose the things that are most precious to her, for the sake of a cause, in the hope that one day life will be different for those that follow in her footsteps? At first, it appears Maud Watts is an unlikely heroine. Her life has been difficult and brutal. She was born in the laundry where she works, and knows no other life. Her mother continued to work with baby Maud swaddled and strapped to her body but died four short years later.
Maud started working part-time at seven, commenced full-time at 12, and at the relatively advanced age of 24 is a respected worker (she has the ‘hands’ for collars). Laundry work is fraught with danger – it is a well-known fact that women don’t last a long time in this industry. Maud’s arm is already disfigured by burn scars but fortunately she does not yet suffer from the foot and leg ulcers or chest infections brought about by the steam. Then there is the sinister and pervasive undertone in the workplace that the women are a commodity – young girls barely out of puberty are seen as sexually available livestock.
But, Maud does have some happiness in her life. She is married to Sonny (Ben Whishaw) and is the devoted mother of Charlie. But where Maud sees hope for a better life for Charlie and suggests the idea of a visit to the seaside, Sonny has no such vision and discourages her optimism. Ben Whishaw’s slight and boyish physique which so aptly suits his role as Q – the boy genius in Spectre (part of the Bond franchise) – works equally well in his role as Sonny, the physically weak and ineffectual husband who is so downtrodden by life, he cannot even provide the emotional support Maud so desperately needs.
Photo courtesy http://www.filmhdwallpapers.com
Maud, the well-behaved wife and model employee, is initially reluctant to join the ranks of the ‘filthy Panks’, as they’re derisively called in public – until, by a twist of fate, she winds up in a position to testify in Parliament before the chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George (Adrian Schiller), who is considering a voting-rights bill amendment that would favor the women’s cause. When the prime minister rejects the amendment, Maud’s righteous indignation is decisively awakened, though it’s almost just as quickly extinguished when she’s caught up in a violent street protest and spends a week in the grim and bleak cells of Holloway Prison, alongside Violet and Edith Ellyn. But Maud’s consciousness has been raised and there can be no turning back, nothing can stop her.
Suffragette is a women’s film about women’s history so it is not surprising that the male characters are predominately one-dimensional – they are either weak and ineffectual like Sonny or brutish like Bethnal Green laundry boss, Mr Taylor (Geoff Bell). But there is one exception, the Irish policeman (Brendan Gleeson) who is against women’s suffrage but is not entirely unsympathetic to Maud. He makes a valid point that poor women from the working classes are dispensable – they are merely fodder for the cause and are asked to take risks that upper-class may refuse to take. This is a salient and poignant point, especially given the recent events in Paris and Lebanon. And it made me think deeply about martyrs for causes, and how they are ultimately viewed through history’s lens.
The characters of Maud Watts, Violet Miller and Edith Ellyn are fictional but are based on depictions of various real-life suffragettes. The suffragettes did have their own Joan of Arc, Emily Wilding Davison (Natalie Press), the real-life militant activist who famously stepped in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913 – it was this act of fatal self-sacrifice that galvanized the women’s suffrage movement and made headlines around the world.
Photo courtesy wallpapershome.com
Suffragette ends with a roll of dates showing when various nations gave women the vote. New Zealand takes out the honours as the first, granting female suffrage in 1893, followed shortly by Australia in 1902. I heard the woman next to me gasp when she saw France granted women the vote in 1944 and Italy in 1945, and I said, “you think that’s bad just wait until you see Switzerland – it was 1971.” The final entry is Saudi Arabia in 2015. And it was very clear to all in the audience that there is still much work to be done.
Because it was too, too hot to wear blue stockings
In the 18th century, before the terms suffragette and feminist were introduced into common parlance, women (and indeed some men) who were educated and literary were referred to as Blue Stockings (or bas bleu in French). The term later developed negative implications because some women who held these attributes were more interested in matters of the mind than fashion, and were stereotyped as being frumpy because they wore the woollen worsted stockings of informal dress as opposed to the more fashionable black silk stocking which were de rigueur for formal wear.
The rise of the feminist movement in the 1960s encouraged women to abandon conventions of feminine appearance. Many women discarded the symbols of what they deemed to be oppressive: bras, makeup, and high heels, and argued that restricted clothing and the fashion and beauty industries cast women as sexual objects.
But this not was the case for the suffragettes – aristocratic ladies and shopgirls alike took great pride in their appearance. Titled ladies wore Edwardian lace blouses and marched alongside working-class women in lace collars, expertly stitched to their black dresses, and both sets knew the value of ‘good hair’, with their tresses artfully pinned to best advantage. I chose my outfit to honour these women. Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst promoted their three colours: Green equals Give, White equals Women and Violet equals the Vote. And okay my violet is sort of of a pinky-purple or even heliotrope, but I dressed as best I could to theme.
After a long and hot day in the office and beyond, Black and White (B&W) said “I made a superhuman effort to get home in time to take you to the pre-screening, can I go casual and wear shorts? I’ll dress them up as well as I can.” And so he did. “Look”, I said eyeing the few other men present, “man-buns and Birkenstocks are the order of the day!”
The ratio of women attending the pre-screening was much greater than men, and when we sat down in the theatre, the woman to my right congratulated B&W on his presence at the screening and proffered out her hand for him to shake. “Take a look at his feet though,” I said, “they are not clad in Birkenstocks, he is wearing Scholls.” But this did not seem to perturb her in the least, and she proceeded to shake his hand.