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The story of the early 20th. Century Women’s Movement campaign for the Right to Vote has been represented too often as just the story of the Pankhursts and well-to-do Suffragettes, and has left aside the work of the many thousands of working class women without whom eventual success could not have been won.
Suffragette intends to right that imbalance through its fictional principal character Maud (played by Carey Mulligan).
Before she joins the cause , she has been working endless hours in soulless conditions in the Bethnal Green Laundry where women are sexually harassed by a bullying boss.
Daily life in the grim East End of London is a perpetual source of misery for the working poor such as Maud.
In the laundry, she works alongside her husband, Sonny,
The gender pay gap thrives.
He earns 19 shillings a week in wages, she earns 13 shillings despite working a third more hours, and she hands over her meagre wages to him.
“Laundry life is a short life if you’re a woman,” she observes fatalistically.
Maud’s baptism into political activity comes from her initially acting as a substitute for a friend who is to appear before a Parliamentary Committee that is investigating the dangerous working conditions that women endure.
Maud’s friend cannot appear before the committee in person because she has been beaten up by her husband.
The experience at Westminster draws her into the Women’s Movement.
Complete reliance on the Parliamentary road to the vote is dismissed as ineffective, and the Suffragettes’ strategy changes to “Deeds not words”, with civil disobedience, the destruction of property and hunger strikes.
The response is police surveillance, assaults on women prisoners, and force – feeding.
For Maud, the cause consumes her whole life.
She is prepared to lose what little she has, all for right to vote, including the dissolution of her family.
As the film shows ,what was sought had to be fought for – a fundamental change in the status quo that would grant the political representation of women and political participation by women .
Voting rights in full came in the late 1920s, but the plight of women afflicted by violence, poverty, and inequality remains today.
The film is set in 1912 when the message was - Women should have the vote.
Today the message is different - Women should vote.
The numbers turning out to vote in the latest General Election was around two-thirds, meaning that millions of women did not participate.
The more that women stand for elected office, the more that women turn out to vote for policies that advance the modern day rights of women, the greater the likelihood of accomplishment.
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