There have been a few articles recently about feminism in response to the new film Suffragette. I saw the film last week and was incredibly moved, shocked and in awe of what these women went through to gain the vote. No film is perfect and it’s been criticised for only showing one side of the movement lead by Mrs Pankhurst who famously urged the suffragettes to do ‘Deeds not words’ and incited much of the violence that took place. But the film shows clearly how different life was for women back then, it seems a million miles from where we are now but in reality this was the era that many of our grandmothers lived through.
Because it’s such a contrast I would guess that young women watching this will find it difficult to relate to how things were and they are relevant today. But I believe it’s really important that we continue to tell this part of history. That’s why it was shocking to see the recent press headline stating that DfE is planning to drop feminism and gender equality from its A level politics syllabus.
There was a brilliant article in The Guardian by a 16-year-old female blogger – June Eric Udorie who wrote about how we tend to dismiss past generations of women because we believe we are better. This abstract illustrates the problem she sees today.
The feminist academic Lori Marso has argued that “feminists rarely seek to identify with the lives of their mothers”, and it’s hard not to see some truth in this. We roll our eyes and block our ears to our mothers’ generation because, ultimately, we believe we are better. We tear down the work of “second wavers”, those women who campaigned so fiercely for women’s rights in the 1970s; they are now often written off as trans-exclusionary radical feminists… We ignore and conveniently forget the many victories they won on our behalf. As the writer Glosswitch has argued the problem with the idea that feminism comes in waves is that “men get to leave something permanent; we seek to wash away the traces our foremothers left”.
I like to think I’m not guilty of dismissing previous generations – but I think I have been. I have In the past felt quite angry and sad about my mother’s life and her traditional (dismissive?) role as a housewife and mother. Why not the career? Why did she choose this? But now, with hindsight, she probably didn’t have the choices we have now or the support, there were different expectations, realities and more barriers. But then I think about me and my sister – there was never any expectation put upon us by our parents to get married, settle down, follow tradition. We were encouraged to make our own choices and supported in our education. Quietly, without any fuss or pressure. So you could argue that my Mum and Dad were thinking ahead, thinking of our rights and chances and freedoms, as young women with choices. So I was to dismiss this as not doing much to promote the cause – maybe quietly supporting your daughters in their choices was good enough, more than good enough.
I still get hung up on the feminist debate, it just all seems so unfair at times, our struggles, there is a long way to go, but there are more choices – even if we see other women making choices we feel are ‘against the cause’ – a choice is freedom from expectation and choice is what we need to continue to fight for.