I went to see the new film “Suffragette”, (director Sarah Gavron, daughter of Labour peer Lord Gavron, who sadly died recently) at a special showing in Westminster. It isn’t perfect, but it certainly makes you think. This is what I thought.
The struggle is not over. There are equality laws in place, but women are still not treated seriously in the workplace, in the legal profession, by the media, even by fellow women. This is due in part to the fact that family law still sees all women, regardless of their actual circumstances, as dependants, as needing to be kept by the man with whom they have, or have in the past had a relationship.
Then I thought, it is presumptuous for today’s feminists (however defined) to see themselves as being in the vanguard of the movement, as breaking new ground. They know no history if that is what they think. The call for equal rights and respect goes back hundreds of years, if not thousands, and has had several manifestations in the last century. For me it was the 1950s and 1960s, and the book that affected me most was Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. For others it was Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, 1963. Today’s feminists need to know that the big struggles and victories, such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, were achieved long before their time. The mood in those decades could be summed up as: take down the barriers, we can do everything that a man can do, and, if we want to, be good mothers as well. Now the mood seems to be one of demanding special treatment, seeing themselves as victims and sexual objects.
Third thought. Next time I hear a young woman saying she does not vote I will remind her, forcibly if necessary, that women were laying down their lives to achieve the right to vote only 100 years ago, and she is betraying her sex if she does not use it. Likewise someone who puts aside her education, another hard-won privilege – but I don’t want to get into the war between full time housewives and women who go out to work, because the comments will be too vitriolic! And we should all take up the struggle on behalf of women the world over who are not allowed to drive, not allowed to vote, who are mutilated, denied access to contraception and education, forced into marriage, bought and sold, covered up and silenced.