Tuesday, March 16, 2004

A Movie Must

Last night I sat down and watched HBO's Iron Jawed Angels. It chronicles the heroics of women sufferagists in the early 20th century. Specifically it centers around the "radicals" Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. These young women, they were in the late 20's, went toe-to-toe with politicians, including then president Woodrow Wilson, society, other women and even the organization that was leading the fight at the time, The National American Women Suffrage Association. They believed whole-heartedly in their fight and noted the hypocrisy of the president in going to war to liberate those who don't have say in their own governments, as women in the US didn't.

They did unpopular things such as protesting out front of the White House in whatever weather from dawn to dusk. They protested during the war. They went to jail on trumped up charges and Alice lead a hunger strike that got her labeled as a trouble maker and they forced fed her so they wouldn't have a martyr.

They won.

I think this is the type of movie that should be shown in history classes. It uses direct quotes of speeches, letters and editorials. As a young woman myself I cannot totally appreciate what these women went through because I have always had the rights they fought so hard for. But watching this movie really puts a human face on the issue and appreciate those battles.

I want to point out an extraordinary part in the film. The character Emily Leighton played by the wonderful Molly Parker. She was the wife of a U.S. senator who began to see how important women's rights were. At first she was behind the scenes supporting the group with her money. Then her husband found out and closed her bank account and told her she would have to pay for household goods with credit and he would pay the bills. The last straw? He threatened to take her children away from her because she had taken them to a protest rally. He accused her of being a bad mother and that "No judge in the district would give you custody." And how could she pay for a lawyer, she has nothing. The light went off in her head. She was nothing to her husband in his eyes and she had nothing. Everything was his and his alone. She started protesting and went to jail too. And she tells her husband the only reason she is doing this is for her daughters so they don't have to do it.

This internal struggle portrayed was amazing. I wonder if I were her would I have stood up or would have I been pushed into submission like so many other women of her stature?

But I am lucky, unlike her, I will never have to make that choice. If you have HBO see it! If not, I am sure it will be available out there for rental. It's time more people understood what had to happen for women to be granted the same rights as men and the same rights for those we fought a war over.

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