Women’s rights

Suffragette, the film

1/ What was a suffragette? explain the meaning of that word.

Suffrage = vote / Suffragettes were women who wanted the right to vote.

2/ What did the Suffragettes want ? Why? When did this take place, and where?

Suffragettes wanted to be considered as men’s equals. They wanted the right to vote but also other rights so as to be independent from their husbands. The movement began in the late 19th century and lasted until 1928 in the UK. The film takes place in the early 20th century, when the movement became more radical. The story is set in London.

3/ Why was the right to vote so important to get? which other rights did women fight for?


4/ Maud’s evolution :
Compare Maud’s life at the beginning and at the end of the film

Maud at the beginning of the film

Maud at the end of the film

She works as a laundress.

She has a husband and a son.

She has a home.

She obeys her husband and her boss Mr. Taylor. She has no political opinion.

She has lost her job and injured her boss.

Her husband kicked her out of their house and had their son adopted.

She is homeless and sleeps in a church.

She makes her own choices.

She is a radical suffragette activist

b/ What do we know about Maud’s life before the film begins?

She is laundress who has enduring dangerous and exploitative working conditions, including sexual harassment in her workplace. Maud doesn’t have all the privileges the posh suffragettes enjoy, such as a supportive husband, the freedom not to have a day job (= travail quotidien / boulot), or the (financial) means to bail themselves out of prison. A bail= une caution.

c/ How did Maud find herself committed to the Suffragettes? What were her motivations? How
did her involvement in the movement evolve

At first, she did not believe she stood a chance of (= avoir la moindre chance de) improving her living conditions so she stayed away from the movement. But one day she got caught in a strife (troubles / conflit) caused by suffragettes and discovered the cruelty of the police crackdown (= repression). Lateron, she boldly (= bravely) testified about women’s working conditions and caught Lloyd George’s attention but the bill was rejected. So she threw herself into battle and was ready to resort to any means (= avoir recours à tous les moyens) to reach her goal.

d/ Why did Maud go to prison? How were the Suffragettes treated in jail? what was their reaction to imprisonment?

She was charged with bombing llyod George’s summer house. In jail, suffragettes were denied (= se voir refuser) their status of political prisoners and they were force-fed. As their time in prison dragged on (= trainer en longueur, s’éterniser) without any positive outcome (= dénouement, résultat), quite a few suffragettes started hunger strikes which soon deteriorated so much their healths that the authorities were worried that a death in custody (= détention) would convince the press and the public that the government should yield to (= céder à) the suffragettes’ demands (= exigences = revendications).

e/ Did Maud’s husband support his wife and her cause? Why? Did all husbands share his opinion?

Sonny was initially worried by Maud’s association with the suffragettes but as she became more involved in their cause and questioned why her life could not be other than what it was, Sonny got confused and angry. When Maud was brought home by the police after attending a suffragette rally, he was so ashamed of her that he kicked her out and would not allow her to see George. Unable to cope as a single parent, Sonny gave his son up for adoption. Most husbands reacted this way in front of their troublesome wives as they did not understand why men and women should be treated equally. Very few of them supported them as Edith’s husband did.

f/ Which sacrifices did she have to make? From what you see in the film, do you think they were worth it?

Maud was powerless to challenge her husband’s decision regarding their son’s adoption as the law said that George belonged to Sonny. Giving up her son must have been the biggest sacrifice she made. She also lost a dear friend. She paid the high price (= payer le prix fort) but I doubt she regretted it.

5/ The Suffragettes’ evolution
What actions did they lead to fight for their rights? How did these actions evolve in time, and why? did everyone in the movement agree with that evolution? Why? Was it a clever move? How did they finally manage to attract public attention ?

The Suffragettes started off relatively peacefully but their peaceful actions were all but unheard of (= passer inaperçu) and they were arrested and thrown into prison. The Suffragettes refused to bow to violence. They vandalised shopping streets, breaking all the windows, they chained themselves to Westminster railings, the PM’s house was fire bombed, they went on hunger strikes …. Suffragists and even suffragettes disagreed with such violence which culminated with Emily Davison’s sacrifice.

6/ A battle of the sexes
Why do you think men were opposed to women’s vote? Do you think all men shared this opinion? Are all men depicted as enemies in the film?

Many female maternal reformers, who sought to protect women’s defined spheres of motherhood, education, philanthropy, and civil service; felt that women were the better sex for preserving British society through social service to their communities rather than by meddling with politics. Women considered themselves as less able to participate in politics and that to do so was women just imitating men, instead of being « real women.’’ Some feared that the right to vote would introduce uninformed women in making decisions on important political matters. Since Britain was in the process of colonizing other regions around the globe, some viewed the right to vote as a threat to their imperial power as it would make the British look weak by other nations who were male oriented still. So women were seen as mentally unable to handle political matters and both genders had different strengths. (from Wikipedia)

The director of the film is a woman. Do you think Suffragette would have been a different film if it had been directed by a man? Is Sarah Gavron trying to rally women viewers to the feminist cause ?

‘’These women changed the course of history. It was a story that was overdue but also felt timely with issues that we are dealing with in the 21st century. There are women across the globe that are fighting for not only the right to vote but just simple human rights. The film felt relevant to today’s struggles. (…) The women in this movie were dealing with issues that are still out there, and it’s important that we keep up the fight.’’

‘’I hope that it’s a reminder of how hard fought the road to get women the right to vote was. How we should cherish the right to vote and just how recently it was won. And a reminder that you should exercise your right to vote and stand up to be counted. In addition, just how remarkable and inspiring these women were. Get inspired challenged by these women.’’ Sarah Gavron


A/ Suffragettes in the UK

a) The two main characters, Maud and Violet, were invented.
Why do you think director Sarah Gavron chose to focus on imaginary characters and not historical ones?

 »It’s a common tactic when making a film about an historical moment to focus on a single participant. Make that character fictional and you have more room to move, being able to channel all the important points into an Everyman – or Everywoman. »

b) Which social class do the heroines belong to? They belong to the toiling (= laborieux)  working class and they represent the ‘footsoldiers’ of the women’s suffrage movement.

Do you think they were the only social class involved in the Suffragette movement? No, we saw the upper-class Alice who stands on her soapbox at the Laundry gates and calls upon working women to join the struggle for the suffrage. But nobody listens to her.

How is the fight different for upper-class women? When a group of suffragettes gets arrested on a demonstration outside Parliament, Alice is promptly bailed out by her wealthy husband, while Maud and Violet are left to serve their time. 

Why do you think the director chose to focus on working class women ? The director wanted to show how much harder it was for working-class women to join the suffrage movement and undertake militant activity. Smashing windows, firebombing letterboxes and blowing up stately homes takes time, organisation and nerve – all the more so when it has to be done at the end of a 10 hour working day. 

B/ Women’s right to vote in the world
a/ The director chose to end her film on a chart with the dates voting rights were granted to women per country in order to underline (= souligner) how long the fight has been in some countries.

b) Country Voting rights for women
New Zealand : 1893, first country ever   / 
Finland : 1906   

UK: 1918 (for women over 30) and 1928 (men and women of the same age)  / USA: 1920 

France: 1944   /    Tunisia: 1956      / Switzerland : 1971   / Liechtenstein: 1984 

Koweit : 2005    / Saudi Arabia: 2011 (effective in 2015)

c/ Look at the year when France granted women the right to vote. What was the context?

1944, French women were granted suffrage by De Gaulle who acknowlegded their involvement in the resistance and the war effort.

d) Was there such a movement as the Suffragettes in France?

The second half of the 19th century is considered the beginning of the French first wave of feminism but it was only in the beginning of the 20th century that the suffragettes movement travelled from Great Britain to France, but starting with the first voting on the issue in 1914, all attempts remained unsuccessful until 1944. France was therefore one of the last European countries to introduce female suffrage.

e) Do you know when women were officially considered as men’s equals in France?

A 2013 law (“la loi de 8 juillet 2013”) made gender equality part of the French curriculum. Starting in primary school, French students are taught that boys and girls, men and women are equal. The policy aims to promote mutual respect, and to build a society without prejudice or sexist discrimination.

GRAMMAR TIME : Expressing oppression and persecution
From what you’ve seen in the film, complete the following sentences
At the beginning of the 20th century, British women could not have a career, they couldn’t choose whether or not to marry, and whether or not to have children and how many.

They had to obey men, because in most cases men held all the resources and women had no independent means of subsistence.

They were not allowed to get a divorce and, until 1891, if a woman ran away from an intolerable marriage the police could capture and return her, and her husband could imprison her.

They were forbidden to enter universities, and could obtain only low-paid jobs. All professions that needed academic qualifications were closed to women.

Women were expected to serve men and (men’s) offspring, by marrying and reproducing.

Most of them could only live in a state little better than slavery.

They could not be given their children’s custody; their husbands  could take their children without reason and send them to be raised elsewhere.

The Suffragettes wanted to promote ideals of liberty and personal freedom for women.
They were seen as hysterical and dangerous.
They were treated as mere (= de simple) criminals and not political activists.
They were forced to submit to a misogynist society.

Passive women?
Use the passive voice to express the repression women had to undergo every day.
Put these sentences in the passive voice. Can you hear the difference between the 2 voices?
1. Prison guards force-fed the inmates.
2. Violet’s husband beat her up.
3. The police tracked down and arrested Emmeline Pankhurst.
4. The Draytons adopted Maud’s son George.
5. The King’s horse killed Emily at the derby.
6. Detective Steed did not arrest Maud after she injured her boss.
7. The director abused the young women of the laundry without any consequences.
8. Edith organized meetings and attacks from her pharmacy.
9. Lloyd George did not pass the bill supporting women’s right to vote.
10. Sonny did not support Maud, he kicked her out of their house.