Suffragettes: the art of sacrifice

“We do not want to be law breakers, we want to be law makers.” That is the cry of Emmeline Pankhurst before an enthralled crowd of Suffragettes, impassioned about attaining votes for women.

It’s London, 1912, and the Suffragette movement is gaining momentum. All of this is brought vividly to life in the film Suffragette which hit cinemas this October. It is a powerful film, following the involvement of Maud Watts, a 24-year-old mother and laundry worker who is invited along to a Suffragette meeting by fellow worker Violet Miller and quickly becomes a key campaigner and activist.

The film portrays the grim world of the early 20th Century, full of the grey drudgery of the lives of ordinary working people. But through all of this there is a glimmer of hope. It is a hope that things will change. But this change comes at a price. We witness women who were protesting for their right to vote being beaten by policemen and incarcerated. For Maud, it means everything, as she faces imprisonment, social ostracism, and the loss of her job. When faced with her husband, ashamed at her outspokenness, forbidding her from seeing her son, she says defiantly that “if the law says I can’t see my son, then I will fight to change that law”.

The film leaves you with a renewed respect for the struggle women went through for equality but it also leaves you asking whether we, as a generation, have lost the concept of sacrificing for the common good. We want quick-fix solutions to problems. We’re happy to voice our opinions on social media, but so often we leave it at that. Don’t get me wrong, social media is an excellent way of raising awareness of issues and starting a debate, but we must not leave it there.

Showing up costs. It cost those women a century ago more than many of us would ever have to endure, just so that we could have the right to have our voice heard too.

In a poignant scene in the film, Violet comforts Maud, quoting from Revelation 21 that God will “wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”. This vision of a better world to come has inspired many over the generations to work towards a fairer and more just society. It should inspire us too. We are fortunate that we live in a country where everyone has a political voice – all we have to do is to use it!

The last two words of the film are the challenge to "lead on". There is still so much injustice in our society, and we should seek to be part of the solution, even if it does require a sacrifice of our time and energy. It’s not going to be easy; it took 50 years for the Suffragettes to make an impact, and even after the Suffrage Act was passed in 1918, it was another 10 years before women were granted equal voting rights to men. But because those women showed up, change did come about. What change could we bring about, if we were willing to participate too, whatever the cost?


Photo: Focus Features