Iron Jawed Angels: The power of sisterhood
Last night, I watched Iron Jawed Angels for the second time. Aside from the film's sheer awesomeness, I was deeply moved by the bond between the women in the film. The film was made for HBO back in 2004 and tells the oft-overlooked story of radical suffragists Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and the National Woman's Party's role in the struggle to get women the right to vote in the 1910s. The most moving scenes occurred after several women (that would eventually total 218) were sent to a Virginia workhouse on trumped-up charges of obstructing traffic because they had been picketing Woodrow Wilson for suffrage after he officially brought the U.S. into WWI. Lucy Burns and three others, the first group sentenced, have just arrived in the workhouse. They wear drab gray dresses, the uniform of the workhouse. Lucy demands food for the hungry girls, pen and paper so they can write to their families, and their own clothes back because they are political prisoners. The warden declares that it's time to “bed down,” the guards roughly toss the girls into their separate cells. They handcuff Lucy Burns' arms to the barred door above her head. She'll spend the night standing. The three girls, in a courageous show of solidarity and defiance, stand also, and cross their arms above their heads. They'll bed down when all of them can bed down. Later, Alice Paul is sent to the workhouse. She's been on hunger strike, but the guards drag her to the mess hall during meal time with the rest of the women. The suffragists shove their plates of food away and one starts singing. All the women join in and sing, “I was standing by my window (Will the circle by unbroken).” The song continues even after Alice Paul is forcefully removed from the mess hall. The whole film, but those scenes in particular, got me thinking how intensely important it is that women support each other. It would have been pert near impossible for these women to accomplish anything if not for the community and the deep sense they shared that they were fighting for something worth fighting for. And their absolute determination to fight. We've come far since 1920, but not nearly far enough. We've discussed it on this site many times before how women aren't taken as seriously as men. Women are still overlooked as writers and editors. Outside the writing world, women are still underrepresented in government and lagging behind pay, etc, etc. I wonder, what's happened to that energy the women of the National Woman's Party had? Sometimes, I think we've lost it. The fact that women as a class are still marginalized certainly isn't entirely our fault. But could we be doing more to help each other, our daughters, ourselves? Our Motivator wrote an outstanding post last week touching on this-- that we shouldn't force any marginalized group to shoulder the burden of justice on their own. That we need to stand up for each other and with each other. Building a community, like here at She Writes, where women with all sorts of different experiences and backgrounds can come together is a step towards getting that energy back. The energy of hundreds, thousands of women, has accomplished great things in the past: from getting the right to vote to increasing the numbers of women in universities, to working for civil rights, reproductive rights, and so on. Iron Jawed Angels not only reinvigorated my inner-feminist but my commitment to this community. Suffragists and feminists have never seen eye to eye on every issue, but I hope that as our numbers grow, and we take the time to listen and learn from each other, to talk about our differences and reach an understanding, our collective force as women writers can become a power to be reckoned with.

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