DOHA, Qatar (WOMENSENEWS)– It’s not often that a movie makes me verklempt. When it happens, it’s because the work resonates deep within me, infusing pride, admiration and passion through to my arteries and bones.
And when it does happen, there’s a good chance that’s because whatever I’m watching is about the power of women, in particular their righteous determination to be treated as nothing less than full human beings equal to men.
The last movie that made me cry was “Iron Jawed Angels.” This 2004 HBO drama was an intoxicating re-telling of the struggle of Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and the American suffragist movement to secure women the right to vote.
It ends with a beautiful, evocative scene: Alice and Lucy celebrating their historic victory amidst a shower of yellow cutout stars fluttering around them (a symbol of support for women’s suffrage back then). I was awed.
I cried that day because I finally, truly, intensely understood that this early feminist movement was not some abstract, archaic, now irrelevant episode of history. These women had fought for me. This movement had been started for me. Not just for me, of course, but for all women.
Watching that scene, an epiphany struck. The significance of these women flooded over me. Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Ida B. Wells, Inez Milholland, and their predecessors Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth – the list goes on — these women are my ancestors. They are all American women’s foremothers.
It doesn’t matter that I’m not biologically related to any of them, or that my genetic antecedents immigrated to the United States long after women could legally head to the polls here.
These 19th and 20th century suffragists united, protested, fought and sometimes even sacrificed their lives so that we could be free — so that future generations of American women could claim their God-given, fundamental equality with men.
The film is not perfect though. It only superficially addresses the racial injustice that afflicted the era. For instance, the courageous women’s rights and anti-lynching campaigner Ida B. Wells is given just a few moments of screen time. First wave white feminists were wary of joining forces with black women, and this is depicted in the movie with Alice telling Ida that she must march at the back of the 1913 Suffragist Parade. She feared that having African Americans dispersed throughout would jeopardize support for the movement. When Ida rightly refuses and defiantly marches in her state’s delegation of the parade instead, Alice smiles to herself. As if this “good for Ida” smile is enough to right Alice’s, and other white feminists’, wrongs.
Yet despite its flaws, “Iron Jawed Angels” helped me to understand that in a cosmic, intrinsic way, I am as much a part of all these women as they are of me. Their memory, and the early women’s rights movement they sowed that would eventually go on to change the world, is my birthright. It is our birthright simply because we are women. They are our mothers and we are their daughters.
Women’s eNews is screening “Iron Jawed Angels” on
Sunday, March 1
4pm – 7pm at its New York City headquarters as part of Women’s History Month. Join us.
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