Every single day we take things for granted that totally didn’t exist 100 years ago. For example: Mobile phones, or airplanes that can take you to the farthest reaches of the world in less than a day, or zippers, or votes for women.
Sarah Gavron’s new film Suffragette (also written by a woman and starring women — woot!) is the first time I’ve ever really emotionally understood that in our not-too-distant past women did not have the right to vote. You may be reading that and thinking, “no, duh,” but seriously consider it. Dive into the deepest parts of your mind and really imagine what it would be like to not have the right to vote, to have the government think that your father, or brother, or son, or husband could and should speak for you when it comes to making ballot decisions. Now, internalize the reality that 95 years ago (95!) in these here United States, that was the law of the land. It’s chilling, honestly.
What Suffragette, which tells the story of the women’s suffrage movement in the UK in the 1910s, does is really make you feel that history and understand just how very close it is to this present moment. The film depicts what these women did not have — things like legal rights to their children— and what they were willing to risk to be granted equal rights. Spoiler, they were willing to risk absolutely everything and in many cases they did.
While the entire film paints this very vivid reality it is the very last minute of the film — and this is no spoiler — that really puts things into perspective. The movie ends with a scrolling list of countries around the world and the dates when women in those countries were granted the right to vote. It’s shocking.
The first country on the list is New Zealand, which granted women suffrage in 1893 — still pretty recent if we’re being honest with ourselves. There is a wave of countries that granted women suffrage in the early 1900s (Denmark, Iceland, Latvia); the U.S. granted women suffrage in 1920, the U.K. in 1928.
But as the dates keep getting closer and closer to the present the names keep scrolling past. France (1945), Italy (1945), Argentina (1947), Nepal (1951), Cambodia (1955), Tunisia (1959), Morocco (1963), Switzerland (1971), Iraq (1980), Oman (2003), Kuwait (2005). In 2015 women in Saudi Arabia were promised the vote, which they are hoping to exercise for the first time during this December’s elections.
As the names and numbers and realities passed by on the screen the audience in the movie theater shuffled uncomfortably, and for the first time during the entire film, murmuring was heard. For an hour and a half we had watched a very personal story about a few women’s struggles to advance the suffrage movement; but seeing the country names and dates pass by only illuminated the continued global fight for a woman’s right to vote.
I live in New York City. Had I lived at my very same address in 1915 (my building was already standing) I would not have been able to vote. Had I lived in France for the first half of the 1940s I would not have been able to vote, had I lived in Switzerland in 1970 I would not have been able to vote.
What Suffragette does is shed light on just how personal the fight for women’s suffrage was and how tirelessly many of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers fought so that we would be better off than they were. What the last minute of the film does is reverberate the truth that that same suffrage fight is still ongoing — it makes you feel it.
We take many things for granted in 2015 — the Internet, instant coffee, ice cube trays – but the truth is we should take nothing for granted. And one thing that we certainly shouldn’t take for granted is our right to vote. The ballot was not handed to us, it was fought for by women who came first. And with the election season barreling closer we should all cast our votes with pride, remembering just how much was sacrificed for us to have this very opportunity.
[Images via YouTube and Shutterstock]