Iron Jawed Angels is a movie about the struggle of women to have the right to vote and it stresses the final years of the woman suffrage movement in the USA. In the movie, it all covers process which is until the American women gained the right to vote on 1920; women were also fighting for gender equality, the remuneration of domestic labor, and the union rights. Alice Paul, the leading actress, is one of the pioneers in women’s suffrage struggle who has become its benchmark on American history in the 20th century.
The movie begins with Alice Paul wants to lobby for the Constitutional amendment in 1912. The desired goal is clear: ‘Voting Rights for Women’. It is organized a walk against the White House in Washington. After then, reactions begin to be received. Wilson, the president of that period, thinks that women should be patient to expect their rights. Until when? How long would women wait for their rights? What is meant by the innate rights of people are men’s rights. In fact, one of the most obvious examples of this is not the world of the ”people” or ”human” but the idea of the world of men, which is also called “Men World”. It should be examined the place of women in the democracy history since the past in order to explain this situation.
What is a democracy, and what is the place of women there? Most basically, it means rule by the people is that the term of Ancient Greeks originally. Who are the people meant here? The usage of this term exercised with restriction of political participation. In Greek city- states, the population who have the right to participate was a small portion. It covers males older than 20 while it is excluding women, children, foreigners, slaves. Ancient Greeks only see very little proportion as citizens who included males. Indeed, the reason why women were not regarded as citizens is not gender discrimination like present-day, but since gender is not needed in the definition of citizen because it has always been a man since the existence of political power.
Jeremy Bentham, the pioneer of utilitarianism, defends there should be an opportunity is that to live aimed to give people as they wish in the protective democracy. Therefore, he claims a universal franchise is the only way to achieve the greatest happiness for most people. However, the universality he meant did not cover the women or any excluded, only for manhood suffrage again.
J.J.Rousseau, who is one of the greatest Enlightenment thinkers and one of the pioneers of the French Revolution, emphasized equality and freedom all the time, though, he saw these concepts only among men. Rousseau says that citizens must vote, voting is not a private but a public right. Although Rousseau always emphasizes equality in his discourses, he implied and sprinkled in his lines how this equality can be developed as an understanding between men (Üste, 2015). He dreamt of a stable male society, arguing that women should remain openly passive and weak. The individual one who is free and equal is the only man. This contradiction and paradox is at the center of liberal democratic theory and practice. So that during the French Revolution is the birth of equality and freedom, women were not even given the right to speak. As can be seen, many political scientists who were liberal thinkers have been silent for a long time or approved this exclusion regarding the political representation, participation, and voting rights of women.
It was J.S.Mill who was talking about women first time, he defends the right to vote for women, unlike his contemporaries (Berktay, 2013). They all considered concepts such as equality, freedom, tolerance, and compromise as men. Yet he underlined that it would be a beginning to provide equal rights for women and men to act together in society. The representation and participation should be coming together. He argued that there must be perfect equality for the intellectual structure to develop in the community. He only cared about education level, and he would say educated people can vote more than once. He believes that the difference between men and women is an inequality created by society and education, not natural like the difference between classes. Since he argues that all men and women have the right to fully develop their talents and mental capacities, he was the only male advocate for that period. While emphasizing that the principles of freedom, equality, individuality and rationality are the basic values of liberalism, Mill argued that it is meaningful that they apply to everyone in society. He argued that being a male and female “individual” plays a key role for freedom. He highlighted that men and women should act together in society and that ensuring equal voting rights can be a start. Harriet Taylor Mill and John Stuart Mill exhibited a beautiful and meaningful example of male-female solidarity in the mid-19th century (Üste, 2015).
Briefly, in the history of democracy, women could not speak on their behalf and represent themselves because men would do this for women. Throughout the film, it is also seen that there is a situation that reflects how much men value women. In other words, it is absurd for women to be on the street for their rights and to form a lobby because women are respected by the men should be enough for them. As in the movie, the rebellions that started with women saying ‘’How long will women wait for freedom?’’ in order to survive politically, it results in victory with a great effort, sweat and struggle. Alice Paul has a very impressive expression: ‘I do not accept the law under which I am being judged because I did not vote for that law. We pay taxes, but we have no say in this either. If we are an American citizen, we are just asking for our voting rights from people who say they are here for democracy and who are the benefits of citizenship. We want the right to vote, equality and justice” The decisions taken in the country all people live in are valid for everyone, but nobody will ask to a woman’s opinion. Isn’t it a pathetic situation?
Berktay, F. (2013). Liberalizm. H. B. Örs (Ed.) 19.yüzyıldan 20. yüzyıla modern siyasal ideolojiler (ss.47-106). İstanbul Bilgi Üniversitesi Yayınları:İstanbul
Üste, R.B. (2015). Hegel – Rousseau, Mill ve Hayek’in değerlendirmelerinde toplumda ötekileştirilen “kadın”ın konumu. Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Dergisi. Cilt:3, Sayı:4, (103-126).