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29 January 2007

i finally watched iron jawed angels this weekend. i’d seen bits of it with caroline, but had never watched it all the way through. it tells the story of alice paul and lucy burns, who sought and were given control over the national american women’s suffrage association’s congressional committee and their later break with NAWSA and formation of the national women’s party. it depicts paul and burns’s efforts to push for an amendment to the consitution granting women the right to vote, including their picketing of the white house, demonstrations and parades, and their unjust imprisonment and the resulting hunger strike.

i was frustrated with the opening 45 minutes or so of the film. it felt too caught up in its snazzy soundtrack and its quirky camera work, both of which i felt detracted from the power and importance of the story the film was telling. and i have little patience for things like gratuitous lesbian kissing and masturbating scenes that do little if anything to develop character or story.

but. it is good. and worth watching, in spite of the weakness of the opening half. it brought to life the extremes to which these women were willing to go in order to make their voice heard. and it beautifully demonstrated the hypocrisy of the men who were willing to sacrifice human life in the name of preserving democracy even as they flatly refused to change laws in order to extend the rights and privileges of democracy to half of the american population. watch it. this history needs to be remembered and understood. and the film does present a succinct representation of that history.

perhaps the greatest praise i can give it is that it moved me to resolve to do better. to make use of the opportunities and rights that women who lived before me did not have. and to resist the myriad ways in which my own society confines, limits, and stymies women. i have watched commentary on hillary rodham clinton’s upcoming (current?) presidential campaign with a mixture of interest and distaste. not because of any dislike for her on my part, though i think it would be a horrible mistake for the DNC to nominate her. nor because i have even one little tiny reservation about a woman’s ability to fulfill the office of president, with all of its responsibilities. rather because of the kinds of criticisms i have seen of her. not so much by professional commentators; more from average, generally mormon, americans. she is criticized for wearing the pants in the family. for not leaving her husband when he cheated on her. i have heard her simultaneously criticized for betraying her sex by using domestic settings and for being a cold, unfeeling, unnatural woman–both criticisms coming in response to the same clinton statement, from the same person, practically in the same breath. when she makes a statement that, were it to come from a male politician would be lauded for its restraint, she is accused of being catty (the statement in question was “after six years of having bush in the white house”). but if she were to not level any criticism at all, she would be called weak. which is another critique i have heard–that she’s too soft to handle the difficult foreign policy issues facing our nation. this in spite of her support of military action in afghanistan and her initial support for the invasion of iraq, two foreign policy actions supported by those who typically oppose her. and in spite of the fact that president bush, who most of her critics seem to support, appointed a woman to be secretary of state.

the long and the short of it is that this presidential campaign will throw into stark relief the ways in which women are held to standards radically different from those of men. that opinions of women are governed in large part by continuing stereotypes about which social realms they have the ability and right to influence. if anything can demonstrate the hypocrisy of our society’s views on women, it will be a woman running for president. in my opinion the battle fought by women like alice paul will not be fully won until women can not only elect their representatives, but be their own representatives at every level of government.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 29 January 2007 6:29 pm

    A few years ago I heard Utah gov’r Olean Walker speak about her brief tenure in office. She spoke of the difficulty women have in politics simply because there is no image of a woman political leader. Like so many places she went people addressed her husband as Governor, and schoolchildren rarely believed that she was actually the Gov.That talk has really made me think about the challenges that women face in the public eye. PS: One of these days I want to watch IJA all the way through, too. Especially now that I have a Friend-ly connection to many of these women. :)

  2. 29 January 2007 8:18 pm

    i watched Iron Jawed Angels for the second time a few weeks ago. my 11-year-old daughter and a classmate are doing their history fair project on the picket lines, and i wanted them to see the film. i love it, love it and highly recommend it (but i’m not a great film critic!). i’m going to ponder some more about what you’ve written and come back another day . . .

  3. 29 January 2007 10:42 pm

    the history of quaker activism is something i’ve been interested in for a while now. sometime when i have the time (after grad school maybe? i shouldn’t wait that long; i should pick it up during the summer or something) i’d like to find some good books about the subject. do you have recommendations jana?your comment about gov. walker rings true for me. it actually reminds me a little of the experiences you and john have had with home teachers/missionaries and you calling on someone to pray. we simply have no frame of reference; we expect one thing and when the other happens it strikes us as wrong on some level, although there is no rational reason it would be wrong. it makes me appreciate the women who are willing to break new ground and begin to present examples of female political involvement and leadership.alison, i think it’s wonderful that your daughter is reporting on this topic. and at such a young age. this is history that, in my experience, did not get covered well enough in the public schools.

  4. 1 February 2007 6:48 am

    Amy, Why don’t you want the DNC to nominate clinton? your upstate sis

  5. 1 February 2007 11:37 am

    i think she will ultimately be too divisive to make a significant change in the u.s. political climate. while i don’t really find myself disagreeing with what i know of her politics, i think she’s a polarizing force and i think more polarization is the last thing washington needs just now. i also think that she carries a lot of baggage with her that could alienate moderates at a time when the DNC needs to be attracting moderates. and i personally would rather see someone without a lot of washington baggage hold the office; i’d rather have obama with all of his inexperience than clinton with all of the baggage she’ll bring with the way, use the “other” option when you’re commenting if you want to attach your name to the comment but you don’t have a blogger you.

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