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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Iron Jawed Angels

FEMINISM - Iron Jawed Angels recounts for a contemporary audience a key chapter in U.S. history: in this case, the struggle of suffragists who fought for the passage of the 19th Amendment. Focusing on the two defiant women, Alice Paul (Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns (Frances O'Connor), the film shows how these activists broke from the mainstream women's-rights movement and created a more radical wing, daring to push the boundaries of political protest to secure women's voting rights in 1920. Breathing life into the relationships between Paul, Burns and others, the movie makes the women feel like complete characters instead of one-dimensional figures from a distant past.

Although the protagonists have different personalities and backgrounds - Alice is a Quaker and Lucy an Irish Brooklynite - they are united in their fierce devotion to women's suffrage. In a country dominated by chauvinism, this is no easy fight, as the women and their volunteers clash with older, conservative activists, particularly Carrie Chapman Catt (Angelica Huston). They also battle public opinion in a tumultuous time of war, not to mention the most powerful men in the country, including President Woodrow Wilson (Bob Gunton). Along the way, sacrifices are made: Alice gives up a chance for love, and colleague Inez Mulholland (Julia Ormond) gives up her life.

The women are thrown in jail, with an ensuing hunger strike making headline news. The women's resistance to being force-fed earns them the nickname "The Iron Jawed Angels." However, it is truly their wills that are made of iron, and their courage inspires a nation and changes it forever.

Women who marched for the right to vote were arrested, starved, force-fed, beaten, tortured.

This is the kind of thing they endured. It comes from an email about the movie:

Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'

They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.

They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cell mate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack.

Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote.

For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their
food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms.

When I talk with women who say they can't be bothered to vote, or they don't know enough about the issues, I wish they were more aware that all this happened less than a century ago.

Again: Many battles have been won but the war for equality is not yet over.

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