Just a few weeks ago, Canadians voted for “change” and for “sunny ways.” We elected a young Prime Minister with a famous last name and idealism still twinkling in his eyes. He was sworn in last week and presented us a cabinet that among other things, had gender parrity.
That’s right. Half men, half women. So of course the very first question journalists needed answered about this tall list of accomplished people was why “he went with gender equality” in his cabinet. Why? Why did he “go” with “gender equality.” Is that really a question you can still ask this day in age? Okay, you know what – it is. Because sadly, this is the first cabinet to achieve this status. But Trudeau seemed to agree in spirit, answering simply “Because it’s 2015” – a mic-drop response that was heard around the world.
But the fact remains that if a Prime Minister chooses a cabinet that has a representative amount of women in it, he’ll have to answer as to why.
Isn’t that incredible? And incredibly sad?
As you know, the boys were dragging me off to see Spectre this weekend, and James Bond is probably the human embodiment of the antithesis of gender equality. To correct the imbalance, Sean agreed to hit up Suffragette with me first, because he’s a 2015 kind of gentleman, even if his movie idols aren’t.
Suffragette focuses on some of the lesser known but pivotal “foot soldiers” of the early feminist movement in Britain. After 50 years of peaceful protest, the women have amped up their right-to-vote rhetoric and are ready to engage in civil disobedience for the cause.
Carey Mulligan plays a young woman who was born in a laundry facility and has worked there all her life, working herself raw and having her boss force himself on her just to earn a third what the men take home. And then it goes directly into the pocket of her husband to do with as he sees fit. Not a naturally political woman, she gets dragged into the movement almost unwillingly but once she’s there, you can bet that neither her boss nor her husband are pleased. But it’s the vitriol from her fellow women that’s most upsetting. She doesn’t know her place, and this upsets everyone.
And it’s also enough to have her freedom taken away, and her child too if she’s not careful, so these are pretty high stakes. The laws are against her – but that’s the point. She is subject to laws she’s not allowed to influence let alone make. Women were property or commodities and laws existed to keep them that way.
Helena Bonham Carter plays a semi-educated pharmacist who is not only a pillar of her community, but an agitator and grass-roots activist. She’s recruiting and planning things when it’s time to start smashing windows and bombing letter boxes. HBC played her part well, injecting a little back bone into the character while still ultimately being subject to her husband’s whims. Helena Bonham Carter is the real-life great-granddaughter of H.H. Asquith, who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916, during the height of the suffrage movement. He was of course a staunch opponent of votes for women.
Mulligan is the perfect choice for a young mother who goes through quite the character arc, from wife and labourer to militant feminist – of course, you might find that the first two under such terrible conditions would inspire desperate reactions from anyone. Brendan Gleeson and Meryl Streep also having juicy roles, though Streep’s there in little more than a cameo, she’s nevertheless the perfect choice for the movement’s heroine, Mrs. Pankhurst (this is the little detail that got to me – that all of these brave, notable women were known only by their husband’s names, ie, Mrs. Pankhurst. It killed me). Streep is strong and steady as ever. All of this capable acting smooths over some of the flaws in film making. It’s not a perfect piece of art, but it is an important one, and it’s hard not to be stirred by it.
Women in Canada got the vote in 1916, for the most part. It was not granted in the province I live in until 1940. American women got the vote in 1920. Some women in the UK were granted the vote by 1918 but it wasn’t unconditionally granted until 1928. That’s less than 100 years ago: way too close for comfort. Is there a woman alive today who hasn’t wondered what it would have been like to live through that? To still be all that we are and yet to be so diminished in the eyes of the law – and society? It’s boggling. And yet, in 2015, when a Prime Minister hires women to work in his government at an equal rate that he hires men, he is still asked why.