As suffragettes demanded voting rights in the days and years leading up to the first world war, many women did not want the vote. A good number of anti-suffrage leagues were composed mostly of women, meaning that in many cases women were creating grassroots campaigns to stop themselves from getting the vote.
Similarly, the second wave of feminism boasted a slew of women who opposed furthering their own rights. Alarmed by a rash of feminist victories in the 60s and 70s, staunch conservative anti-feminists such as Phyllis Schlafly, Beverly LaHaye, and Judy Brown helped de-rail the Equal Rights Amendment, create the anti-abortion movement, halt progress on federally subsidized day-care, and stall gains made in regard to equal pay.
Ironically enough, as Susan Faluldi hints in her book Backlash, many of these leaders enjoyed professional careers and had husbands who shared domestic responsibilities, and yet simultaneously argued against these perks for other women.
Even today, women such as Wendy McElroy and Camille Paglia boast ideologies which insinuate that rape culture is either a “fallacy” or an “occupational hazard” women must simply deal with. Both are highly disturbing beliefs, given that one in four women will be the victim of sexual abuse by a partner in their lifetime.
These highly educated, influential women–like their peers on Women Against Feminism–seem to think that the important groundwork for feminism has already been made, and what’s left of the movement only exists to demonize good men. And yet through their discourse, they help maintain a cultural and legal framework that makes rape a difficult crime to prosecute.
While it’s true that women in the West have made significant social progress over the past century, it’s dangerous to say that feminism’s fight is over, especially since intersectional feminist politics aren’t only about white women’s oppression. Racialized police violence, migrant worker rights, transphobia, the effects of race in the gender wage gap, conflict in Syria and Palestine, cultural appropriation, and sexual violence against women are just drops in the bucket of serious issues that feminist thinkers and activists battle daily. Are those who do not support feminists insinuating that this work is unnecessary or unimportant? That the groundwork we are currently laying down won’t be important 50 to 100 years from now?
Suffragette takes place at a time of mass political and social unrest, and in some ways one which does not look that dissimilar from the world today. And yet we know what the film’s protagonists do not: life for women does get better.
But the film also reminds us that our comparatively brighter present is not one that emerged spontaneously. It came from years of thankless work on behalf of thousands, many of whose names, stories and struggles we will never know. Put simply, we are able to “forget” feminism because the movement helped provide us the platform to do so. With any luck, Suffragette will help us remember.