Does Blade Runner 2049 succeed as a Reproductive Dystopia?

By Polly Hember

The reproductive dystopia has become an increasingly popular thematic trend within the sci-fi genre. Global human infertility causes societal collapse in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, Margaret Atwood’s blazing novel The Handmaid’s Tale sits at the centre of this anxious exploration into what the future might look like for women, with the recent Hulu dramatization planning to take Offred past the last pages of Atwood’s masterpiece into a second season. So, a film about the creation of bioengineered androids (replicas) and the creator’s morbid obsession with making them able to reproduce, in a world filled with sexbots (sorry, “pleasure models”) and larger-than-life holograms dancing naked in the billboard streets of the sprawling, nightmarish L.A. of the future, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 fits right into the trend. Except… it kind of doesn’t. There are intensely anxious themes surrounding reproductive rights and gender politics that resonate profoundly with contemporary polemics, yet they are never pursed or unravelled in Blade Runner 2049. The portrayal of the female form is central in this film and almost wholly problematic, begging the burning question: is this an inherently sexist film or a clever exploration of the reproductive dystopia?
The villainous Wallace, played by a brilliant Jared Leto, is fascinated with finding a way to make female replicas fertile. A particularly nasty scene sees him slice open the womb of a helpless, newly-birthed replicant, as if to show her utter lack of value as infertile in his (very creepy) eyes. The main plot sees K (Ryan Gosling), a beaten-down replicant “blade runner” who chases down old models to “retire” (read: kill), search for the missing miracle child of Rachel and Rick Deckard, as seen in Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner.
There is an ominous underbelly to Wallace’s Frankenstein-esque desires; is he attempting to create an android race that has no need for “human” women at all? What does this mean, then, for the women of 2049? Is he attempting to outdate or perhaps “retire” an entire gender with the invention of synthetic wombs? Why, then, is there no mention of this plot that precipitates the possible extinction of an entire gender?
Well, because, as many other critics have pointed out, this is a man’s film. It is a film aware of and solely driven by specifically male desires. This is critically apparent in K’s relationship with Joi (Ana de Armas), a hologram that he can switch on and off at his will as he walks into his cell-like apartment. Programmed to please, she learns and stores K’s likes and dislikes, playing the doting housewife, switching instantly to sexy, then simply switched off when no longer needed – or else paused as a telephone call comes in, interrupting her Siri-like control system, flickering comically, waiting for a kiss that never comes.
The critical questions that swirl around in the swampy L.A. nightmare of Blade Runner 2049 are the same ones as the book the original film was based on. Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? asks what it means to be human. K seems to place value on being physically born, on having a soul. Replicants, we are told, cannot lie or disobey orders, but we see K do both of these things. Does this mean he’s human? In Joi’s case, I feel it becomes a crucial issue of autonomy.
She is a sexy simulacrum, she is “a sci-fi fan’s wet dream” who is programmed into servitude and therefore has no free will of her own. Their love story is touching, yes, and it attempts to ask the viewer whether this can be genuine emotion the android and the hologram feel. However, this question seems concerned with K’s hurt feelings rather than gender politics. A distraught Gosling looks up at a rainy, urban swamp of advertisements; swirling Sony projections and Coca Cola signs blare in the background as a giant, nude version of Armas looks down at him, designed to advertise the very ‘Joi-ous’ personal hologram product K purchased. He looks beaten, as he seems to question the validity of such a (critically male) consumer-driven society and whether Joi is unique and her feelings for him are valid. However, even when it asks these questions, the film remains problematic. When their entire relationship is built around a one-sided fulfilment of male desire, it becomes exploitative.
Joi’s complete opposite, the cut-throat and cold Luv (Wallace’s personal replicant companion) is fierce and fantastic, but the power politics are still inherently problematic. She is governed by Wallace’s whims and follows orders imperiously, which results in her nightmarish and dramatic death. Lt. Joshi, played phenomenally by Robin Wright, is fantastic as K’s strong but worn-down director, however she is severely underused and her character unexplored, killed off before the film gets going. The politics of the sex worker and underground rebel Mariette are muddy and never fully explored; she seems trapped in the same cycle of exploitation as that Joi operates in. In fact, Mariette is hired by Joi to act as a sentient, soulful sex-puppet so K and Joi can consummate their perturbing relationship, then bitterly ordered away by a jealous Joi, who tells her: “I’ve been inside you, and there’s not as much there as you like to think.”
Blade Runner 2049 is a cinematically spectacular film. It is visually stunning with a fast-paced plot, engaging characters and clever nods to the original, it’s highly enjoyable and attempts to ask interesting ontological polemics concerning the human condition. It presents a fragmented, polluted world that explores the horrors of what might be. However, the evocative female characters are all tied into reductive narratives where they simply serve and comply to the male drive behind the story. By neglecting to unravel Wallace’s sinister intentions with his reproductive replicas, the film avoids stating the true horror of this reproductive dystopia. It’s a film wreaked with a perturbing and persistent male gaze, which, seen through this lens, makes the nightmarish landscape of L.A. look even more frightening. Whilst K continues to seek out the answers to questions like “what does it mean to be human”, the women of this film are killed, silenced, retired or simply switched off at the flick of the button on their remote control.

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About the Author

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Polly Hember

Polly is a Freelance Writer, Editor-in-Chief of On the Beat, Art Editor at the The Rational Online, a coffee-drinker and country-music listener. She holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Bristol where she focused on feminism and early twentieth-century women’s writing. 

 

 

 

Editor

Daf Jenkins

Image:

Photosource: Ana de Armas with Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049. Allstar/WARNER BROS.

The Handmaiden: Exploring Gender Roles, Relationships and Changing Attitudes

Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden – now available from Curzon Artificial Eye – is an exceptional film.

By Jack Ford

Guest Edited by Dafydd Jenkins.

Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden – now available from Curzon Artificial Eye – is an exceptional film. On a base level, it’s an expertly crafted multi-layered story that becomes far more interesting and intriguing as it goes on. Furthermore, it deals with complex, difficult and even repellent issues in a thoughtful and highly sensible manner; presenting them in a way that’s easy for audiences to engage with. Thematically, The Handmaiden is largely concerned with the roles of women and their fight to control their own destinies in a male-dominated world.

Based on Fingersmith, (Sarah Waters, 2002) The Handmaiden’s main deviation from the source material is the change in setting: from Victorian England to wartime Japan. Despite this, remaining true to the book’s intentions caused Waters to respond positively about the treatment of her work. “Though ironically the film is a story told by a man,” she says, “it’s still very faithful to the idea that the women are appropriating a very male tradition to find their own way of exploring their desires.”

One of the great joys of the film is to watch its plot unfurl, so the less detail given about it here, the better for the uninformed. At its core, it’s the story of a relationship between reclusive Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) and Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), the Korean thief hired as her new handmaiden.

Lying somewhere in the subtext of The Handmaiden is a harrowing and haunting historical event – the ‘Comfort Women’ of the Second World War, where many young women and girls were kidnapped, held hostage and repeatedly raped by the invading Japanese army during their wartime occupation of Asia. This event continues to cause tension in particular between Japan and South Korea to this day. While there is not a single mention of these Comfort Women anywhere in The Handmaiden, the film can’t help but echo this horrific piece of history.

It might be, subconsciously, investigating whether the values and attitudes at the time could have caused the event to happen. Without doubt, the characterisation of the film’s male contingents make it easier for the audience to understand the mind-set of someone who would have committed and allowed such an act.

As well as Hideko and Sook-hee, there is a con man who calls himself Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), who hires Sook-hee as part of a plot to make off with Hideko’s fortune, and the heiress’s Uncle Kouzki (Cho Jin-woong). Neither are respectful to the women of the film – approaching them with an air of superiority – and they both allude to their views on how sex is for men to enjoy and women to endure, along with a belief that women enjoy the act more when it is ‘forced.’ An alarming mind-set, yet one that will no doubt sound familiar to many of the audience.

These flippant sexual attitudes branch into much darker territory. For as long as Hideko has known, her uncle Kouzuki has threatened female family members to read graphically sexual stories from his vast library of erotica to a crowd of high-paying aristocrats. When Hideko comes of age, she is no exception. In some cases, she is even made to perform the acts she describes with a mannequin.

Both Sook-hee and Hideko eventually go on to destroy Kouzuki’s book collection, in a lengthy and gleeful montage. The sheer screen time dedicated to this sequence serves two purposes: the destruction of the wide array of antique books which emphasises how long women have been depicted as sexual objects, whilst also acting as a symbol for the two, liberating themselves from sexual subservience. When Kouzuki finds his collection destroyed, he barely seems moved – he claims they can be repaired, and those that can’t can be re-created. This is the film making the point that chauvinistic attitudes continue to exist, and at the same time asking how long will it be before they change.

As the film moves on, the female leads’ defiance of their male oppressors’ will extends to the passion they start to feel for one another. Yes, they both go nude and, yes, there are sex scenes, but these moments are not in the film for sensational reasons. They are there to show the growth of the intimacy between the characters, and the awakening of emotions that have long been dormant within them.

For Hideko in particular, her only experiences of this supposedly wonderful thing have left her feeling jaded and unsatisfied, even sad. It’s only after falling in love with Sook-hee that she starts to feel any sort of excitement. She realises that the act of sex itself is meaningless, it’s the emotions that go with it and whether you feel a deep connection with your sexual partner that makes it valuable.

The central themes sexual liberation and the gender hierarchy are some of the key elements that make The Handmaiden such an absorbing experience; these ideas linger with you long after the film has ended. The Handmaiden is generous, not only with its inventive storytelling and lavish production, but how much thinking space it gives to the audience. It allows everyone who sees it to take away as much or as little from it as they want to or feel they can, and for that it is a highly commendable achievement.

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About the Author

Jack Ford is a charity worker, anti-rape activist and volunteer art gallery attendant from Somerset. Currently, he abides by the Hunter S Thompson quote: ‘I have no taste for either poverty or honest labor, so writing is the only recourse left for me.’ His work has appeared in Jupiter magazine, on the Bristol Sport website and he writes for The Redeem Team and Nondescript.

Sun, Skirts and Shorts: What is Acceptable?

By Jo Gough

When the sun comes out, so does the issue of ‘appropriate’ school uniforms. In some schools, shorts are off the uniform list – seen as too immature for young boys, whereas skirts for girls are mandatory. Does this suggest that it’s acceptable to infantilise and sexualise girls? That the exposure of female bodies is normalised? Whatever the case, school uniforms should be practical and comfortable, and not a patriarchal vehicle to control the bodies of young people.

In the workplace these power dynamics continue: a man on Twitter showed himself wearing a bright pink dress, having been sent home from work for wearing shorts. More recently, in a row over uniforms, boys at a school in Exeter made the news for wearing skirts to school, to protest the fact that they weren’t allowed to wear shorts[1]. In a previous workplace, working outdoors with no shade and no shorts, a male colleague asked for a skirt and was denied. Wearing a skirt was unacceptable to the employer – as this would challenge the heteronormative structures put in place by institutions.

Traditionally, shorts were seen as clothing items for boys. From around puberty onwards trousers were given as a marker of becoming a man. The idea that trousers equal masculinity is pervasive, and the clothing revolution (unlike the era of the miniskirt) has not happened for men. Clothing symbolises male status and the conformity of being ‘a real man’.

Perhaps the refusal to allow shorts is also because tights cannot be worn. One of the school boys being interviewed in Exeter explained that they were told they would need to wear tights – as hairs were unsightly. Boys think that they are getting the raw deal, but tights are also part of a uniform, so girls rarely get more air flow than wearing trousers on a hot day.

Female clothing is made with no pockets, thigh rub is painful, skirts are poorly designed for the wind or sitting comfortably, and there is a sexualisation and vulnerability that comes with skirts and dresses. Why it that skirts is aren’t also seen as too immature for young women once puberty hits? How come there isn’t a transition, as with men, in becoming ‘a real woman’.

It’s natural to feel concerned over pleats in skirts, short summer dresses and frilly stark white socks. Girl’s school uniforms are sexualised symbols in the media, pornography, fancy dress and fantasies (see Brittany Spears). Teenage girls feel pressure to hitch up their skirts to feel more attractive. One school decided to ban skirts, because teenagers were making them so short that it was:

‘Not pleasant for male members of staff and students either, the girls have to walk up stairs and sit down and it’s a complete distraction. After a while it stops being a uniform issue and starts becoming a safeguarding issue[2]’.

Girls have to wear tiny tennis skirts for PE, but are told that this is inappropriate in other areas. Femininity is enforced through tiny skirts, but somehow it is unfair on men when women continue this past puberty. Women then enter the world of work, and the expectations for a professional female are tight skirts and high-heels. That schools are concerned for male teachers is a stark reminder of the victim blaming culture we live in, and it’s an insult to men to assume that they have no self-control, even in the presence of children placed under their care.

Therefore, school uniforms are framed to sexualise girls and women, and banning shorts because of antiquated notions of masculinity is archaic. It should be more acceptable that boys and girls should have the choice to wear whatever version of their school uniform that suits them. With the multitude of gender identities being expressed in our increasingly intersectional world, it’s crucial that we make room for autonomy in young people’s clothing choices. However, this seems disturbingly far away.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jun/22/teenage-boys-wear-skirts-to-school-protest-no-shorts-uniform-policy

[2] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/school-bans-skirts-after-hemlines-5988614

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About the Author

Jo is an aspiring writer, deeply interested in gender, current affairs and popular culture. She has a degree in Education and Psychology, and it is what is not being said in news reports and how people react to the news and popular culture that gets her writing. To the left in politics, Jo has always tried to make the world that bit fairer. Twitter: @redphiend
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Review of The Beguiled: Standing Up for Female Voices in Cinema

By Dean Pettipher

The Beguiled

Directed by Sofia Coppola

Written by Thomas Cullinan (based on the novel by), Albert Maltz (based on the screenplay by), Irene Kamp (based on the screenplay by) Sofia Coppola.

Starring Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning & Colin Farrell

Barely two months have passed since the seventieth annual Cannes Film Festival and Sofia Coppola’s historic achievement as the second woman ever to win the award for Best Director. This was accorded for helming the enchanting motion picture masterpiece The Beguiled (2017). In the wake of recent discussions highlighting significant gender inequality within the film industry (see Jennifer Lawrence’s wage gap essay published in 2015) Coppola’s latest movie is crucial for maintaining the momentum towards a totally level cinematic stage. The Beguiled enchants, not just because it was directed by a woman, but principally due to a truly excellent collaboration that has brought about one of the most finely-crafted films so far this year. Thus, the various rewards earned for such efforts do not feel like tokenistic virtue-signalling by fake officials.

The primary sources for Coppola’s adaptation were composed by men. There was another movie, also entitled The Beguiled (1971), directed by Don Siegel. There was, of course, also the novel that started it all, written by Thomas Cullinan and first published in 1966, initially titled A Painted Devil. Not least because of the elegant exploration of the passions that men and women share as human beings, Coppola’s latest movie is a believable illustration that a film with a female gaze at its heart can be as good, if not better, than those that have been projected with a male lens.

The acting is superb. Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning in particular shine in their respective roles within the nineteenth century Virginian girls’ school. They each create their own uniquely compelling chemistry with Colin Farrell’s ostensibly charming character, a Union soldier, who desperately seeks sanctuary from the ravages of the American Civil War. Coppola’s script sizzles with tension in all its guises, courtesy of often cut-throat dialogue at the dinner table. The tension generally remains defiant when the dialogue gives way to action, thanks to some graceful and occasionally swift camerawork. While at times dulled a little by repetitiveness, the cinematography emerges triumphantly gorgeous in capturing the beauty of the white palaces situated upon the Southern plantations. The costumes thrive off of their intricate details; the women appear unquestionably fabulous in glossy dresses, and the guy that they aspire to impress looks pretty damn dashing as well. Consequently, the trill of the tale lies, to a great extent, in assessing which character is having the greater effect on their object of affection. All seem capable of rousing a state of limerence within those of the opposite sex, or at least prompting them to uncontrollably quiver in his or her presence.

The magic of the film fades not infrequently, but on each occasion quickly re-surfaces before the audience is lost. Kidman’s Southern accent slips from time to time, but fortunately not enough to tarnish her undeniably commanding presence and mellifluous voice. Perhaps the respective characters portrayed by Dunst and Fanning could have had their personal pursuits with Farrell’s character further developed through their dialogue, so that the stakes could have felt that much higher. On the other hand, a lot is communicated through both extremely subtle and very explicit displays of body language, which successfully maintain the central mysteries surrounding individual character motivations.

Ultimately, The Beguiled can seduce an audience. While Coppola’s Best Director prize is a well-deserved accolade, in the end, one must be more concerned about the opportunity than the awards. Women, like men, deserve to be given the chance to take the risk with their artistic visions in film and beyond. The Beguiled and Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017) are just two recent examples of that risk paying off both financially and in terms of positive social change.

Any drama set during the American Civil War will prompt audiences to consider the other tragic inequalities that plagued that period. During this film, they would then notice how those inequities appear to have been omitted almost entirely, as the film focuses on a particular set of female perspectives. Some have even ventured towards firm convictions that this is racism and whitewashing, elevating the image of the ‘Southern Belle’; of which many feel is a racist fiction. This is a useful criticism, which ties into the fact that feminist narratives must continue to reflect the intersectionality of modern feminism. However, it is still valuable to see the empowerment of female points of view. Therefore, this film does of course have flaws, but as Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenin, ‘if you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.’

THE VERDICT: 9/10

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About the Author

Born in South Africa and raised in England, Dean studied for a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Chichester. For the second year of this endeavour, he took part in a one-year student exchange programme at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada. Dean later obtained a PGCE in Primary Education. He is currently based in London and working for a children’s charity.
Beyond the workplace, Dean enjoys reading, going to the cinema and spending time with friends whenever possible. In addition to Canada and South Africa, countries that he has visited include the United States, Malaysia and much of Europe.

Feminism in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

By MariaJose Guevara

After all the holiday frenzy, I finally managed to watch Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It was all it promised to be and much, much more in many aspects, but it especially exceeded my expectations when it came to feminism.

I am a Star Wars fan. I have been since childhood when I went to the cinema with my mum and dad to watch Episode I at the age of eight. Years before I even knew the meaning of feminism, I knew that I wanted to be like Queen Amidala. The hairstyles and the make-up were cool, but it went beyond that. She was a strong-willed leader who would not budge under pressure and who was not afraid to speak her mind or engage in ‘aggressive negotiations’.

After being Queen, she becomes a senator and continues being badass — at least until she falls in love with Anakin Skywalker. Padme Amidala is quickly transformed from a diplomat to little more than a pretty face. Yes, she is in love, but her personality is completely changed. When Episode III came out, I felt that Padme’s character had been killed off long before her on-screen death. From Episode I through to Episode III we see the destruction of her character. The big screen showed us all how a strong, powerful and independent leader could turn into a sobbing mess who dies of grief.

The original movies (which I watched after episodes I-III) brought Leia to us, who is badass, kidnapped, badass, and kidnapped again, by the adorable Ewoks of all, um, ‘people’. She is pigeonholed into the traditional female role and stripped of her agency. After she is rescued (by men), she fights in the battle at the end of Episode VI, gaining some of the agency she had previously lost. In a way, she is a better female character than her poor mother, Padme, especially when we consider the latter’s diminishing strength of character.

Overall, it seemed that the Star Wars franchise lacked positive or even decent female characters.

Then came Rey.

Rey is not only an amazing character — she is the personification of the changes women have struggled to make over the years since the first Star Wars film came out in 1977. She is loyal and caring, but she is also strong and independent. She is a leader from the very beginning of the film and transitions from orphan, to awesome pilot, to fighter and finally to wielder of the Force. Rey is the feminist hero science fiction lovers have been asking for for decades.

Rey neither needs nor asks for anyone’s permission, and she does not need help either. I almost clapped at the beginning of a fight scene when Han Solo, saying ‘you might need this’, hands Rey a weapon. She replies: ‘I think I can handle myself’ and then he answers ‘that’s why I’m giving it to you’. This was a true fists-in-the-air moment for feminist sci-fi lovers and for pop culture as a whole. It is just an example of multiple moments in which the dialogues between Rey and Han Solo left me open-mouthed in my seat, proving that common sense could be and is, part of some Hollywood blockbusters.

We all loved (and hated) Padme and Leia, but they were not protagonists: they lacked authority and, in the case of Padme, were completely obliterated. Rey is not only front and centre in the latest film but she is also strong, independent and unapologetic. Moreover, not only does the new Star Wars film give us Rey, but we also see a stronger, matriarchal Leia. We are also introduced to Maz Kanata, a wise new Yoda-like figure, and Captain Phasma, who pulverizes gender standards being a ‘kickass’ warrior who is presented in a traditional stormtrooper silver outfit for the whole movie. No cleavage necessary, thank you very much.

There are still four more Star Wars films to come (at least). I sincerely hope that we see many more strong and inclusive female roles which will have us all glued to our seats and will provide many more fist-pump moments.

‘Suffragette’: Why Hasn’t it Been Done Before?

By Noa Sasson-Brooks

Suffragette is a great film.

I took my mother and granny to see Suffragette in honour of my granny’s 89th birthday. As she was born in 1926, women were granted equal voting rights during her lifetime. I have always considered her to be something of a matriarch. She was a single mother to two daughters, now has seven female descendants, and has always been one of my feminist icons.

As I had also brought my daughter with me, we were four generations of women watching the film together, and notably every adult in the screen was a woman. I sincerely hope that this was not a reflection of the film’s audience worldwide — I believe it is just as important that men see this film as women.

Despite some obvious issues to do with race, I found that the film gets so much right. And, to me, raised one huge question in particular: why hasn’t it been done before?

My mother suggested that this could be because women — or anyone who has risen out of a terrible situation — are inclined to want to leave it behind them. A sort of ‘We have the vote now, let’s move onto the next thing — no need to dwell on the past!’-type attitude. However, I’m more cynical than that. I don’t believe that the reason it hasn’t been done before it because of the attitudes of the women. I think it’s more to do with the way in which their history has been written for them.

Has anyone else noticed that whenever the history of women’s suffrage is discussed, it always seems to be referred to as women having been ‘given’ the vote? What the film Suffragette highlights, unequivocally and unapologetically, is that women were not ‘given’ anything. Women fought — tirelessly and painfully — in a long war that was eventually won. We weren’t ‘given’ shit.

I found that my enjoyment of Suffragette was affected by the memory of how I was taught this subject at school. We’re not talking about many lessons here, perhaps two or three, but the overall tone of these lessons stuck with me. Below are some snippets that I remember my teacher saying, strung together to produce the overall message delivered by these lessons:

“Women were given the vote after the First World War, because they had been so crucial to the workforce and the Home Front. They had proved their worth to the nation and deserved to be rewarded. They had finally shown that they could be trusted, having built up that trust again after all of the terrible things the Suffragettes had done for the cause. They had acted like terrorists, blowing things up and chaining themselves to things — statues in Parliament had to be vandalised in order to remove women who had chained themselves to them. And another really idiotic woman was killed trying to attach a scarf to a galloping racehorse. That could have seriously injured lots of people! If it weren’t for the violent tactics of the Suffragettes, women would have got the vote a lot sooner.”

That’s what I remember being taught. At the time, I didn’t challenge or question it. Some of it even made sense. I knew vaguely that I must always exercise my right to vote at the very least out of respect for the women who had fought for it for me.

So I decided to write this article, about how pissed off I am at yet another aspect of the cesspit of misogyny that was my education, and thought I would read a couple of reviews of the film. And I was amazed. The tone in which I was taught about the suffragettes was also used in the reviews, even now. Several of the reviews of the film chose to point out that ‘historians have often concluded that enfranchisement of women was actually held back by militancy, rather than advanced by it.’ I also read that ‘historians still debate whether the violence of the women’s suffrage movement was justified…the deeds of the suffragettes did not directly result in women getting the vote.’  These are just two of many examples I encountered.

How is it that these journalists and film critics share the same views as my old history teacher?

The problem is with the history itself. More specifically, the problem is with the historians. To use an old cliché, history has been written by men. And I’m tired. I’m tired of history being about men. I’m fed up of ‘women’s history’ being addressed, taught and learned separately. ‘Women’s history’ needs to be included in what we learn as ‘history’ because, as Maud Watts says in Suffragette, we’re half the human race. I don’t want a Women’s History Month. I want it to recognised that women have played an equal part in literally all of history.

But still, why has this film taken so long to be made? I’m not just talking about the fact that we have never had a film about the Suffragettes. That’s bad enough. But let’s consider the fact that it took this very film more than ten years to obtain the necessary backing to be able to get off the ground at all. According to scriptwriter Abi Morgan, this was because the team were too stubbornly attached to their vision: ‘A film that is being fronted by an ensemble of women […] not being funny or romantic, is hard. That became a huge obstacle.

This is why, in my opinion, it was good that they cast some big names in this film. The inclusion of Meryl Streep has been criticised as just getting an ‘icon to play an icon’, but to me that’s exactly the point. It’s respectful. It’s about trying to maximise ticket sales not just for profit, but to try to give this story the scope of audience it deserves.

Suffragette is not simply about the vote. It also deals with workplace sexual harassment, domestic violence, a woman’s rights over her children, a wife’s expectation to serve her husband, the idea that the roles of wife and mother are the only significant parts of a woman’s life, unequal pay, the expectation on women to be quiet and obedient, and more. These are all issues faced today in every country of the world.

Take a stand against the patriarchy, against the way it manipulates our history and impedes the progress we are still struggling to make in the realm of gender equality. Stand up for greater and better representation of women in film and popular culture. Go and see Suffragette.

‘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.