‘Suffragette’ and the Visibility of Privilege

By Anonymous

I have never been called out for my ‘privilege’.

This is unsurprising for two rather visible reasons: I am a woman and I am non-white. However, I am also one of the most privileged people that I know.

Without reeling-off a long list of my advantages in life, there are two key features which I believe illustrate this privilege quite obviously. Firstly, I went to a private school, which was not funded by a scholarship. I have personally witnessed others’ remarks being undermined for this reason and yet it seems that because I don’t fit the average stereotype for a privately educated individual, my opinion is allowed to remain untouched.

Secondly, I went to university. A privilege not just for financial reasons, university equips you with skills for the future that often place you in a better position later in life. Perhaps the reason why I am not called out on this, however, is because most of the people using the language around ‘privilege’ have been educated on these terms – they might even have gone to universities themselves. Try and deconstruct that dichotomy.

As a population, I have found that we are often reduced to making judgements based on what we see. Yes, it is possible to detect the ‘posh’ accent of my voice and see the pictures of my graduation on Facebook, but I would argue that on a face-to-face basis, these criteria are often ignored.

On this note, I would just like to make an observation. I have found recently that we throw the word privilege around more frequently that we should. Yes, there are situations where it may be entirely necessary to dismiss someone’s comment because they have no empathy for a situation that is someone else’s reality. I am not denying that ‘privilege’ has a place.

However, increasingly I have found that this “my voice is louder than your voice” rhetoric has come full circle. Just because someone may be in a position of privilege, it does not mean that they do not have something of value to say.

Let’s take the example of Suffragette. Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing this film, which centres around Maud Watts, a laundrette worker in the 1910s, who joins the suffragette movement after some initial hesitation. The narrative is upheld by the collective voices of several women from a variety of backgrounds – all of which are important.

Controversy has shrouded the Suffragette film since before its release date last week. To start, the ‘I’d rather be a rebel than a slave’ T-shirts worn by the cast were heavily criticised for their implications about slavery. Additionally, the film has been somewhat condemned for its focus on white women.

But let’s not undermine the fact that this is a significant story. Women winning the right to vote continues to be one of the most historically important turning points in the fight for women’s rights. What I find to be the most shocking thing about all of this, is that this story hasn’t been told sooner.

For those who have made objections over the linear perspective that Suffragette portrays or the lack of non-white characters in the film, I urge you to reflect on your argument. There is always a danger in telling a ‘single story’. However, there is a greater danger of not telling a story at all. And whilst Suffragette may not represent every voice of that generation, it is not intending to silence those other stories. If anything, I hope this opens the door to more films being released, by and about women and our rights.

Which brings me back into the argument on ‘privilege’. I know that society is patriarchal and that those at the top of the food chain tend to be white. But let’s not use intersectionality as an excuse to dismiss the reality of others. Privilege isn’t as simple as black and white.

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