Feminism / Films

Happy Women’s Equality Day! Celebrate By Watching Media Honoring Women’s Suffrage

Originally published at Bitch Flicks.

Women’s Equality Day commemorates the passage of the 19th amendment, women’s suffrage, which the U.S. government ratified the 19th amendment on August 18, 1920 enabling women to vote.

Too often, people say women were given the vote. Women weren’t given anything. They valiantly spoke out, organized, protested and fought for their rights.

One of my favorite films, Iron Jawed Angels captures feminist activists Alice Paul (Hilary Swank in one of her best performances) and Lucy Burns (Frances O’Connor) in their vigilant struggle to get Congress to pass the 19th amendment. While established suffragettes like Carrie Chapmann Catt and Anna Howard Shaw ran the more conservative National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) which worked on suffrage state by state, Paul and Burns founded the National Women Party (NWP) in 1917 to rally women and demand a federal amendment. Paul and Burns organized thousands of suffragettes to march in parades in NYC and DC and protest President Wilson during wartime outside of the White House. They endured harassment, incarceration, a hunger strike and force feeding.

While I wished it had included more scenes with women of color (suffragist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells only makes a brief appearance), the film gives a fantastic overview of the sexism and uphill battle suffragists faced to ensure future generations of women could vote.

Here are two of my favorite quotes from Iron Jawed Angels:

“We women of America tell you that America is not a democracy. Twenty million women are denied the right to vote.” — Alice Paul (Hilary Swank)

“You ask me to explain myself. I’m just wondering, what needs to be explained? It should be very clear. Look into your own heart—I swear to you, mine is no different. You want a place in a trades and professions where you can earn your bread; so do I. You want the means of self-expression, some way to satisfy your own personal ambitions; so do I. You want a voice in the government under which you live; so do I. What is there to explain?” — Alice Paul (Hillary Swank)

 When we face a daily bombardment of restrictions on abortion access and contraception which threaten our reproductive rights, when legislators like Todd Akin victim-blame and slut-shame women with asinine comments about “legitimate rape,” when laws don’t protect rape and domestic violence survivors, when trans women like Cece McDonald are incarcerated for self-defense, when the LGBTQI community is persecuted for their gender identity and sexual orientation — you realize how vital it becomes to exercise your right to vote. We need to make our voices heard.

In addition to Iron Jawed Angels, if you haven’t seen it (or just want to watch it again), check out the parody of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” paying homage to Alice Paul and honoring the struggle for suffrage and equality.

Now get out there and vote, ladies!


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