Historically, women have been relegated to the back seat in matters to do with leadership or choice of their leaders. Nonetheless, this is not the case today as many societies have embraced gender ‘equality’ with opportunities shared among men and women. Of importance is that these rights should not to be taken for granted as it took a lot of suffering and dedication to win them. Such kind of struggle is portrayed in the film Iron-Jawed Angels, which depicts the United States society as it was in the 1920s.
The society is dominated by political chauvinism, it is a men society: the women are denied the rights to vote. The director of the film uses the two protagonists (women), Alice Paul and Lucy Burns to portray the ills the women suffragists went through in their fight for the empowerment of the women (repeal of the 19th Amendment of the U. S. constitution). Having just arrived from England where they have been actively involved in women suffrage movements, Paul and Burns joins the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
However, it is not long before they realize that NAWSA cannot accommodate them as they are too radical. As a result they form the National Women Party (NWP), a much more radical vessel through which they can protest and fight for women rights. As expected the NWP and NAWSA leaders openly trades criticisms. For instance the NAWSA blames the NWP for staging demonstrations during a time when the country was in war. The demonstration leads to the arrest of several members of the NWP for allegedly disrupting traffic.
The arrested members are sent to the Occoquan Workhouse were they stay for a period of 60 days. While there they undergo all sorts of prison brutality. As a result, Paul and others members goes on a hunger strike prompting the prison authorities to feed them using pipes. The news of the harsh treatment leaks to the media people who regard the women as the ‘Iron Jawed Angles. ’ Meanwhile the NAWSA lobbies relentlessly and they win the presidents heart who eventually pardons Paul, Burns and the other arrested members.
The movie portrays the society as one-sided and leaning on the side of men while leaving the women to grapple their way out of the socio-political darkness, an endeavor which is not easily achievable. It needs people (women) to make many sacrifices and to incur huge costs, for instance Paul is forced to choose between love and socio-political equality – she chooses the fight for equality while Inez Mulholland a colleague gives up her life for a similar cause. To achieve their objectives the protagonists shelf their different personalities and unite to fight for women socio-political equality.
They clash with the male dominated, chauvinist society. Interestingly even one of their own, the older women led by Carrie Chapman are stumbling blocks who believe that the men will eventually grant them voting rights. Indeed they have got iron-made wills that gives them the courage to fight for the good of society since a society built on pillars of equality of opportunities and respect of basic human rights never stumbles. Paul and colleagues may be typically attractive but they are not ready to sit down and wait for their men to change things or to continue being subject to laws that they were not involved in making.
As opposed to the traditional American suffragists ways of doing things Paul and colleagues adopts the British way which demands for full socio-political recognition of the women. For instance, they refuse to eat when they are held in prison. Hence their movement can be regarded as a real tool for uprooting all forms of societal inequalities. Apart from agitating for women suffrage the movement also recognizes the need to uproot others ills such as racism. In fact, Paul recognizes black women organizations such as the Delta Sigma Theta and others which volunteers to support her movement.
However she is too clever to see that their joining will negatively affect the required support for winning the suffrage particularly in the southern region. There is one outstanding aspect of the movie that, despite it championing for women suffrage it does not restrict itself to women supporters. It recognizes men as part of the collective supporters of the movement and who stand to benefit not by getting partners or even not because they are obligated to do so but they acknowledge the fact that there should be a similar and impartial social justice system.
As such therefore the movie seeks to convince both women and men that the fight for modern woman equality is not confined to women only, it is an issue that concerns everybody. Lastly, though the movie depicts historical events that took place a century ago it should not be taken as so. These events define the contemporary society: women enjoy voting rights because of the efforts made by Paul and colleagues and therefore the issues that affected the society at that time are contemporary issues which are among us today.
Courtney from Study Moose
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