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Women’s Suffrage: A Cinematic Study

Le suffrage des femmes : une analyse filmique
Suzanne Bouclin

Résumés

Le film Iron Jawed Angels (2004, de la cinéaste Katja von Garnier) porte sur la deuxième vague des suffragettes aux États-Unis au tournant du siècle dernier. Dans cet article, j’aborde le film comme s’il s’agissait d’un texte juridique que je lis au moyen de lentilles « intersectionnelles ». J’y discute de la manière dont le processus visant à l’établissement du suffrage, comme l’illustre le film, génère des significations sur les normes et valeurs dominantes, les rôles attribués à chaque sexe et les notions d’égalité. J’examine trois scènes par le biais de lentilles « intersectionnelles » afin de soutenir que le film Iron Jawed Angel démontre à quel point le mouvement des suffragettes s’articule autour de pratiques d’exclusion fondées sur la race, le sexe, la classe sociale et la citoyenneté. Je tiens cependant à souligner que, par l’entremise de trois interactions entre les différences et les similitudes, ce film propose des points de vue intéressants et complexes sur la justice et l’égalité. Ces potentialités tant réductrices que transformatrices, hégémonie et collaboration, façonnent et reflètent la vie des femmes au tournant du XXe siècle. J’explique en outre la manière dont ces mêmes tensions continuent d’influer sur la vie des femmes aux États-Unis de nos jours.

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Entrées d’index

Index de mots-clés :

femme, cinéma, intersectionnalité

Index by keywords :

suffrage, cinema, intersectionality, woman

Index géographique :

United States, États-Unis

Index chronologique :

20th century, XXe siècle
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Texte intégral

I received valuable feedback and insights on these three moments of interaction from the participants at the Annual International Women’s Day Seminar (Department of Justice, Canada, March 7, 2012) as well as from the students enrolled in my “Les femmes et le droit” course (Fall 2012) at the University of Ottawa. I thank Lauren Barney and Surinder Multani for their research assistance and the Law Foundation of Ontario for their financial support.

1Iron Jawed Angels (2004 dir. Katja von Garnier) recounts the second suffragist wave in the United States at the turn of the last century. In this article, I approach the film as a legal text read through an intersectional lens. I discuss how the process of achieving suffrage as conveyed in the film generates meanings about dominant norms and values, gender roles, and notions of equality. I examine three scenes through an intersectional lens to argue that Iron Jawed Angels reveals how the suffrage movement was organized around exclusionary practices based on race, gender, class and citizenship. I go on to highlight that through three interactions across differences and similarities, the film generates complex and meaningful views of justice and equality. Both these reductive and transformative potentialities – hegemony and collaboration – shape and reflect women’s lives at the turn of the 20th century. I indicate how these same tensions continue to constitute women’s lives in the United States today.

Context and Synopsis

  • 1 See Sally G. McMillen, Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement, Oxford  (...)
  • 2 Ellen Carol Dubois, Feminism and Suffrage : The Emergence of an Independent Women's (...)
  • 3 Sara Hunter Graham, Woman Suffrage and the New Democracy, New Haven (CT) : Yale Uni (...)

2In 1848, the Declaration of Sentiments was approved at the Seneca Falls Convention. The Declaration, penned by suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was modeled after the Declaration of Independence and stipulated that to achieve equality, women must be franchised1. Despite strong momentum across the country, by 1890, women had not yet achieved suffrage. That year, Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton attempted to consolidate suffragists’ efforts by bringing together two rival national women’s groups – the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) and the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). The former directed energy and activism at state-level enfranchisement for women; the latter included a small male membership and sought to achieve national suffrage through a constitutional amendment2. With the merger of AWSA and NSWA into the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) came a new commitment to serve as a national umbrella to help mobilize and support suffragists at the state level instead of focusing on a constitutional amendment.3

3In addition to ideological division within the movement by the early 1900s, tactical differences between the first and new waves of suffragists became apparent. It is within this context that we meet Iron Jawed Angels’ main protagonists, Alice Paul (Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns (Frances O'Connor). The young women are depicted as the next wave of activists influenced by cascading social movements in the United States – namely workers’ rights and the abolition of slavery. Paul and Burns were disciples of Susan Anthony in the United States but also admired the militancy of the British Suffrage movement. They want a constitutional amendment enfranchizing women and treating them as equal to men, and are willing to deploy more radical and unorthodox methods to achieve that end. Alice and Lucy arrange in 1912 to meet with two NAWSA leaders – Carrie Chapman Catt (Anjelica Huston) and Anna Howard Shaw (Lois Smith) – who favor more gradual, state-by-state change.

4Lucy and Alice want more flexibility in suffragist organizing and suggest a parade in Pennsylvania. Chapman Catt and Howard Shaw are unimpressed, especially when the event attracts as many hecklers as the media. Nevertheless, the women upstage the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson (Bob Gunton) and are seen by many suffragists as a success. Despite continued disapproval from Chapman Catt, Alice and Lucy lobby Congress to have the suffrage amendment brought to a vote. It dies in committee and exacerbates tensions between more seasoned and younger suffragists. The possibility of collaboration between different factions of the suffrage movement seems lost when Alice and Lucy publish their own news flyer urging women not to support Wilson in the upcoming election. Chapman Catt subsequently calls for a NAWSA investigation into expenditure and has the new wave suffragists’ funding cut off.

5As a result, Lucy and Alice start their own association, entirely independent of NAWSA, the National Woman’s Party (NWP) whose tactics are shown to include shaming politicians who oppose a constitutional amendment. As World War I begins, Catt urges Paul and Burns to take a more conciliatory approach that would ensure on-going relationships between the President and the women’s movement. They refuse and in the Winter of 1917, NWP members, with Lucy Burns to the fore, picket the White House. While their early efforts had attracted quite broad support among mainstream society, the ethos of war and the nationalist discourse has turned the public against the movement. President Wilson refuses to meet with them and instead has the women arrested for obstructing pedestrian traffic. They challenge the charges on the grounds that they complied with zoning regulations but are found guilty and ordered to pay a fine at the risk of imprisonment. Faced with the choice between their individual freedom and the larger cause, the women refuse to pay and are sentenced to sixty days in the Occoquan workhouse. They claim protection as political prisoners; their request is denied. Lucy Burns complains to the warden about atrocious living conditions in the prison. Guards retaliate by having her cuffed to her prison cell, hand over head.

6When Alice is told of the violence to which the suffragists are being exposed, she joins other NWP members in protest. She is also jailed and quickly put into solitary confinement where she refuses to eat. Without legal counsel and while in a strait-jacket, she undergoes a psychiatric assessment that finds her in a healthy mental state. Upon her return to the general prison population, she initiates a mass hunger strike. In a brutal sequence, the suffragists are systematically shackled, gagged and violently force-fed. News of the women suffering lacerations to the mouth, enamel damage and psychological trauma is leaked. Public opinion sways again, this time in favor of the “Iron Jawed Angels”. Chapman Catt uses the media frenzy to the suffragists’ advantage : she deploys popular feminist discourses around women’s natural propensity as moral agents and urges President Wilson to put an end to this brutality and to support the suffrage amendment. Wilson orders the suffragists’ release and ultimately the Nineteenth Amendment passes in 1920.

7With this basic narrative structure of the film in mind, the remainder of this article considers three moments of interaction that help constitute shared beliefs about the dominant values and gender roles at the turn of the 20th century as well as hierarchical structures within the suffrage movement. I do so through an intersectional reading of Iron Jawed Angels as a legal text.

Law, Film, and Intersectionality

8When we approach film as a legal text, we open the possibility of drawing on the interpretive arsenal of cultural criticism and the rigor and rule-based analysis of law. “Law and film” scholarship looks at how films portray and constitute societal norms, legal rules and the moral and ethical frameworks that inform them. This body of research conceptualizes the relationship between law and film in several ways. First, films portray law and are, for many viewers, a mediated encounter with formal legal processes. The Accused, for instance, depicts Sarah Tobias (Jody Foster) being berated by a male defense attorney ; he refers to how she was dressed on the night of the assault, and asks whether she was wearing undergarments. This scene calls attention to the ways in which women’s credibility has been challenged through legal arguments steeped in sexist presuppositions about modesty and female sexuality.

  • 4 See for instance The Indian Copyright Act, 1957.

9Alternatively, the relationship between law and film can be thought of in terms of the rules that govern filmmaking: intellectual property regimes, labor standards, and censorship guidelines. The Motion Picture Association of America, for instance, rates movies and may recommend against viewing by people under a certain age when violence and nudity are portrayed ; laws may also regulate the reproduction and distribution of films.4

  • 5 Robert Cover, “Violence and the Word,” in Martha Minow, Michael Ryan & Austi Sarat (eds.), (...)

10Finally, the relationship between law and film can be considered in terms of their mutually constitutive nature. This approach is based on two assumptions : films can reflect actualities about law, or truths about what law is, but they can also suggest other possibilities for law, or what law ought to be. Film, like literature, mythology and other art forms, is a way of telling stories about law. Through film, we imagine and construct new visions of how to relate to one another. Films, like laws, can be, to borrow from Robert Cover, projections of possible futures upon reality5. Accordingly, films have normative power : they play an active role in the circulation and promulgation of certain values, popular beliefs, world-views, ideologies, and expectations about, among other things, law, gender and justice. Moreover, films can elicit different responses from viewers and often in a more immediate register than reading the written words of a legal judgment. It is this understanding of the law-film relation that, I believe, is most relevant to my intersectional reading of Iron Jawed Angels, and according to which I claim that the film generates meanings about women’s legal status at the turn of the 20th century.

  • 6 Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins : Intersectionality, Identity Poli (...)
  • 7 For thought-provoking discussions in other fields, see the work of Leslie McCall, “The Comp (...)
  • 8 Leslie McCall, op. cit. Patricia Hill-Collins , op. cit. Yet, as Jennifer Nash rightly note (...)
  • 9 Angela Davis, Women, Culture, and Politics, New York : Vintage Books, 1990, 18.
  • 10 Adrienne Rich, Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence, London : Only Women (...)
  • 11 Nasa Begum, “Disabled Women and the Feminist Agenda,” Feminist Review, vol. 40, 199 (...)
  • 12 Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes : Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses (...)
  • 13 Patricia Monture-Angus, Thunder in my Soul : A Mohawk Woman Speaks, Toronto : Fernw (...)

11Intersectionality is a metaphor, a theoretical approach and a methodology to understanding how social, cultural, political, aesthetic and juridical subject positions are located within multiple systems of power6. To speak of intersectionality is to locate a subject, in a particular moment of interaction along shifting vectors of privilege, based on race, class, gender, sexual identity or expression, age, nationality, or religion. The intersectional self, or the legal subject, is not fixed, but rather fluid, permeable and contradictory. The intersectional method in feminist legal scholarship is generally attributed to the early work of Kimberlé Crenshaw7. More recently, it has become the method of choice across disciplines in which feminist scholars have worked to destabilize the universal female subject of much of the orthodox feminist thinking and activism8. Before the concept of intersectionality became a dominant trope of feminism, scholars and activists had long established how the feminist movement, by furthering the myth of universal sisterhood, was itself reinforcing interlocking systems of domination by ignoring other discursive categories of race, class, disability, age, and nationality that are fluid and shift over time. Specifically, feminists claimed that universality occluded the specificities of class oppression9, engaged in “white solipsism”, conceded to heterosexual privilege10, displaced the concerns of differently abled women11, exhibited condescension to women of the “Third World”12, and was complicit with colonial and imperial structures13.

  • 14 Court upheld the constitutional validity of a state law which required persons of d (...)
  • 15 On the complexity of the concept of substantive equality, see Catharine A. MacKinno (...)

12Intersectional analyses aim to recognize women’s shared experiences of discrimination and stigma in relation to legal, economic and political institutions while highlighting how the potential for coalitions and solidarity among women is complicated by divergences in access to social, economic, institutional, political and cultural power. Consequently, scholars and activists who explicitly use intersectionality to grapple with gender inequality argue that formal equality – the orthodox liberal view of equality as treating like people alike – is insufficient to effect transformative social projects14. Instead, intersectionality favors substantive equality, that locates the disadvantaged historically, takes into account differences in opportunity or in access to resources, strives to counter the negative impacts of laws and policies that treat everyone “identically”, and protects policies and programs that address discrimination proactively15.

  • 16 Sherene Razack, Looking White People in the Eye : Gender, Race, and Culture in Cour (...)
  • 17 Merri Lisa Johnson, “Gangster Feminism : The Feminist Cultural Work of HBO's ‘The Sopranos’ (...)

13Intersectional approaches have certainly encouraged critical self-reflection by feminist activists and scholars who occupy spaces of privilege ; it has also permitted the feminist movement to articulate differences among women. Its transformative thrust lies in its utility in merging discursive critique with pragmatic anti-subordination tactics16. Intersectionality draws attention to women’s multiple forms of victimization, but more importantly, it invites an understanding of the specificities of women’s resistance that emerges within intersectional hegemonic structures17. Intersectionality is not simply a means of documenting multiple categories of identity ; rather, it is a political and historically-located structural analysis of power and hegemony that stems from the knowledge produced from the experiences of marginalized women.

  • 18 Nikol G. Alexander-Floyd, “Disappearing Acts : Reclaiming Intersectionality in the (...)
  • 19 Jennifer Nash, “Rethinking Intersectionality,” Feminist Review, vol. 89, 2008, 6.
  • 20 Ibid, 4.
  • 21 Ruth Buchanan & Rebecca Johnson, “Strange Encounters: Exploring Law and Film in the (...)

14The intersectional method has been called into question by a number of feminist scholars. Nikol G. Alexander-Floyd, for instance, shows how the intersectional method has been reappropriated in ways that “re-subordinate” marginalized women, especially women of color18. Rachel Luft and Jane Ward have documented how scholars who fail to account for the structural sources of inequality and oppression turn out a flattened and ultimately empty version of intersectionality. Jennifer Nash finds that in an effort to dismantle essentialism, some feminists lock us into divisive and fractured selves that practically render equality-seeking endeavor to mobilize an exercise in futility19. J. Nash also urges us to reconsider in what circumstances it “makes sense” to rally as “women”, as “racialized women”, or as any other “equity-seeking” group; she asks feminists to consider new forms of coalitions that cross identify markers and the systems of power in which they are embedded20. The cinematic media may assist in such a project. Cinema’s aesthetic techniques can jolt us viewers to feel empathy and regard for experiences different from our own21. Films may invoke in us a desire to understand and possibly even do something about injustice.

Iron Jawed Angels : Intersectionality in Three Interactions

15In what follows, I rely on the concept of intersectionality to generate meaning about three moments in Katja von Garnier’s retelling of the suffrage movement. In each of these scenes, the main protagonist, Alice Paul, encounters interlocutors who insist on the validity of their lived experience, suggest temporary coalition that could destabilize hierarchies within the movement, and invite her to abandon her reductive views of gender equality.

Gender and Class

  • 22 See Trisha Franzen, “Singular Leadership : Anna Howard Shaw, Single Women and t (...)
  • 23 On the characteristics of working women between 1870 and 1920 generally, see Claudia Gold (...)

16Whereas the suffragist movement of the turn of the century was predominantly the purview of white, socially connected, upper-middle-class married women, with time and resources to devote to meaningful causes22, single, unmarried, migrant women dominated the industrial labour force23. Alice Paul and her contemporaries, however, were part of a new wave of suffragists who were highly educated, yet single, and often childless. These new suffragists sought to expand their pool of allies, especially to forge ties with women in the labour movement.

  • 24 Leon Stein, The Triangle Fire, New York : J.B. Lippincott Company, 1962. Arthur F. McEvoy (...)
  • 25 Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom : American Women Win the Vote, Freeport (NY) : Books (...)

17Ruza Wenclawska, sometimes referred to in newspapers and other cultural artefacts by the anglicized version of her name, Rose Winslow, played a crucial role in marshalling immigrant working-class women around broad issues, including universal suffrage24. Wenclawska had long sought out alliances with her male counterparts in the factory and workers’ advocates within the mining industry. She was well-versed in classical Marxist critiques of the work structure and she favored solidarity among all workers rather than adopting a universal sisterhood model of social transformation25. In Iron Jawed Angels, Alice Paul meets Ruza Wenclawska (Vera Farmiga), a Polish immigrant, outside a factory in Pennsylvania. The scene begins as the young factory worker, in close-up shot, performs repetitive tasks in near darkness; there is sweat on her brow and the diegetic sound is a mix of the metal cranks from the factory floor and the voice of Lucy Burns :

One thousand women marching are better than ten thousand signatures on a piece of paper. Suffrage is not a dead issue. It’s us! It’s living, breathing women. We’re not just a petition that can be crumbled up. And this is what marching does. Marching shows the politicians that we women are united in our demand for political…

18The camera moves from Lucy Burns standing on a soapbox addressing a crowd, to Alice Paul handing out flyers to women, to a group of white women in hair kerchiefs and overalls listening to Lucy Burns. Ruza joins the crowd of women and begins to whisper to the other workers. She interjects and challenges Burns : “Show me a raise. Screw the politicians.” The crowd laughs and Lucy tells Ruza to “go ahead” if she “thinks it will help.”

19Alice Paul intervenes from behind the crowd, surrounded by workers she speaks directly to Ruza : “One hundred and forty-six women burned to death in a factory fire last month,” then more sarcastically “Where’s your fire escape ?” There is a partial close-up of Ruza who is stunned. Alice walks toward her, in full frame : “Law is made by elected officials.” Ruza hangs her head and stares uncomfortably at her feet. Alice continues : “Laws are made by elected officials. A fire escape could be required by law.” Ruza looks directly at Alice who finishes with : ”A vote is a fire escape.” Ruza takes a deep breath and replies :

We take Sunday off […] we get fired on Monday. You have children missus ? If we picket on Sunday […] we get fired on Monday. You have children Missus ? They don’t eat ballots.
In a condescending tone, Alice replies : “Go ahead. Shout your head off.”

20She looks down to fidget with her pamphlet and continues : “The ruling classes are those who have a voice,” then looking up, with her eyebrows raised : “That voice is a vote. No one hears you.” Alice turns her back on Ruza who gestures a profanity. Alice and Lucy continue to distribute flyers to the women.

21After a few seconds, Ruza nods her head, shrugs her shoulders and has a remarkably quick change of heart. She grabs a stack of flyers from Alice’s hands and repeats “A vote is a fire escape !” to her coworkers. Ruza’s initial intervention operates as a judgment of a mainstream movement for suffrage which would do little to further meaningful conditions of justice for all women, and certainly not for working-class immigrants without access to formal education. She makes apparent the class divisions that rendered her concerns quite different in nature from those of her interlocutor (ballots will not feed children). In this interaction, however, it is Alice Paul who gets the final word when Ruza takes on her slogan as her own : “A vote is a fire escape.” Ruza ultimately lends her support to the movement and the fight for symbolic rights while also demanding that the suffrage movement attend to basic economic needs. The scene is important because it illustrates how working-class immigrant women drew on their everyday lived experiences to raise awareness in more mainstream movements about systemic inequality. Ruza expresses her distrust of voting as a panacea by drawing on an intersectional analytic : what does a movement wedded to a unitary conception of the female voting subject offer young, under-educated, working-class mothers for whom English is not their first language ? The film glosses over the working-class women’s endeavors to generate conditions of empowerment as separate from the suffrage movement. It does, however, demonstrate the importance of interactions among differently located women in refining socialist feminist critiques of gendered hegemony. While Ruza points to how economic status is already embedded in existing political structures, Alice uses that knowledge to articulate how suffrage can actually bring about material change.

  • 26 Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, New York : W.W. Norton & Company, 1963. Sheila Rowb (...)
  • 27 Catharine A. Mackinnon, “Feminism, Marxism, Method and the State : An Agenda for Theory,” (...)

22While Iron Jawed Angels does not explicitly articulate a socialist feminist analysis, with one phrase from Ruza, “You have children ?”, it conveys a complex and an enduring question in feminist movement: how do we alter the conditions of ownership, production and reproduction to enable women to choose or refuse motherhood without also incurring economic disadvantage26. The scene also points to another reality: the on-going relevance of socialist feminism and its challenge to leftist discourses and practices that indirectly or directly overlook women’s experiences of class oppression27.

23It seems in the end that Alice Paul learnt from her interaction with Ruza Wenclawska that efforts to promote women’s equality must begin from marginalized women’s experiences, here working-class immigrant women. By adopting a condescending approach, however, she fails to draw on their situated knowledge and instead imposes her own (middle-class, educated, single) understanding of meaningful social change. Whereas in this scene Ruza accepts Alice’s flawed assumptions for a greater good, in the next scene I discuss, Alice’s interlocutor refuses to adopt the mainstream discourse and instead insists on the specificity of the oppression she navigates and resists.

Gender and Race

  • 28 Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote 1850- (...)
  • 29 Glenda E. Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow : Women and the Politics of White Suprem (...)
  • 30 Following Crenshaw, Black Women is capitalized as they constitute a “specific cultural gr (...)

24The federal amendment of 1920 granted white women the right to vote. Women of African descent, however, did not obtain full suffrage until well into the 1960s with the advent of the Civil Rights Movement28. Until then, constitutional exemptions and Jim Crow policies of racial segregation ensured African American women’s disenfranchisement29. The film tells the story of two young, white suffragists, leaving aside a less visible story : African American women’s organization and the leadership of women, and the alliances forged between African American women, African American men, and white women30. Indeed, women of African descent had long been mobilized to counter discrimination and oppression and had been lobbying for universal suffrage through voluntary organizations and Church groups. One example is Ida Wells Barnett (1862-1931) who stands out for her work to secure universal suffrage; she also devoted her life to further challenge the bans on miscegenation and worked tirelessly to have lynching recognized as a violation of fundamental rights. In 1893, for instance, she gave an impassioned speech insisting that :

  • 31 Hilda L. Smith & Berenice A. Carroll (eds.), Women’s Political and Social Thoug (...)

Nobody believes the old threadbare lie that negro men rape white women. If Southern men are not careful they will overreach themselves and public will have a reaction. A conclusion will be reached which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women [some parts of her speech refer to the high rates of lynching of black men accused of having raped white women].31

  • 32 Chesapeake, Ohio, & Southwestern Railroad Co. v. Wells, 85 Tenn. (1 Pickle) 613, 4 S.W. 5 (...)
  • 33 “A Darky Damsel Obtains a Verdict for Damages against the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad,” Me (...)

25It is this kind of analysis and discourse that indicates what Hill Collins has argued, namely, that Ida Wells Barnett prefigured intersectional analysis in her work by making explicit connections between race, gender and sexuality. She herself had dealt with the formal justice system when, as a young teacher, she purchased a ticket for the ladies car in first class where “respectable women” could avoid the “smoking and obscene language” in the second class compartment. When she boarded the Southwestern Railroad train, the conductor refused her access to first class ; she protested and was forcibly removed32. In 1887, judge Piece of the Shelby Circuit Court awarded Ida Wells Barnett 500$ in damages : 300$ of which was for the company’s failure to provide her with first class accommodation, despite having accepted her fare; 200$ was “for the greater wrong” of forcibly ejecting her from the train33. The decision was reversed, however, on appeal before the Supreme Court of Tennessee.

  • 34 Vron Ware, “Moments of Danger : Race, Gender and Memories of Empire,” History and Theory  (...)

26Iron Jawed Angels makes no reference to these facts. It could, consequently, be criticized for failing to commit to a historically informed and anti-racist agenda that reclaims this history and a past that is too often ignored in mainstream accounts of feminist movement34. The film nonetheless invokes a race analysis through a brief interaction between Alice Paul and Ida Wells Barnett (Adilah Barnes). We hear Ida Wells Barnett (IWB) before we meet her and we get a sense of her influence and power: the sound of her voice alone gets Paul’s attention and her self-introduction : “Ida Wells Barnett, from the Chicago Delegation.” In a wide shot, Ida Wells Barnett stands in the doorway. She is framed by sunlight and barred windows. There is a cut to a medium shot of Lucy Burns (LB) who looks uneasy, wipes her brow and takes a deep breath. The camera moves to Alice Paul (AP) who walks over to greet Ida Wells Barnett with a handshake. In a shot-reverse shot sequence, each moment of dialogue is captured through an alteration of identical medium shots separated by cuts : (1) IWB, arms by her side, framed in natural light and seen from over AP’s shoulder; and (2) AP, arms behind her back, seen from over IWB’s shoulder and with LB in the background standing with a hand on her hip.

  • 35 In an earlier scene Mabel Vernon is also coded as a lesbian. I read this cut which disrup (...)

IWB : I am told you expect Negro women to march in a separate unit. At the back. (cut)
AP : Southern suffrage groups threatened to withdraw. (cut)
IWB : (interrupting AP mid-thought) Are the ladies afraid we’ll march out of step ?” (speaks sarcastically while she waves her arms like a dutiful soldier. No response from AP). Call their bluff. (cut)
AP : (speaking slowly, in a measured tone) We can’t afford to lose the support – not with the Democrats in office. (cut)
IWB : Who is we ? Women ? Or just white women. (cut)
LB : Now wait a minute !
AP (turns around to stop LB from speaking further, looks back to IWB) : We have one agenda: suffrage. Add another issue…
IWB : If we don’t stand up now. What happens to Negro women when you finally get the vote ? (cut to Mabel Vernon, who is visibly upset and gives IWB a look of empathy)35
IWB : They will keep us out of the polling place any way they can. (cut)
AP : Other colored groups have agreed to the compromise.
LB : It’s not perfect but we have to be practical. (cut)
IWB (speaking directly to LB) : Dressing up prejudice and calling it politics ? (speaking directly to AP) I expected more from a Quaker. (cut to AP who is struck silent. cut)
IWB : I will march with my peers or not at all. (cut)
AP (pause) : I understand.

27The final cut is a semi-close up of Ida who nods to the women, turns and walks away. The scene seems designed to convey how African-American women prefigured feminist intersectional thinking by centering the experiences of Black women. When Lucy offers that pragmatism is never perfect, Ida reminds her that universal aspirations of the suffrage movement never justify discrimination and prejudice against already marginalized groups. Invoking a shared history of exclusion and discrimination as a member of a religious minority, as well as appealing to her social conscience, Ida expresses her disappointment in Alice’s and Lucy’s willful blindness. Alice’s inability to fully hear other women’s stories exposes the broader movement’s missed transformative potential : the creation of a more inclusive feminist community. A closer reading of the interaction between these women suggests the film’s desire to express a more nuanced story. Through cinematic techniques and editing, Ida is presented in ways that foreground her agency rather than casting her as a victim: she is framed by sunlight ; she takes the last word. Moreover, Alice is significantly less assertive when meeting Ida than when she confronts Ruza Wenclawska. Ida enacts her own judgment of Alice and of the mainstream white feminist movement; she articulates the rules of engagement (“I march with my peers or not at all”) and invites her feminist interlocutors to engage in collaboration rather than pragmatic affiliations while still acknowledging the specificity of the oppression she faces as a Black woman rather than simply as a woman (“What happens to Negro women when you finally get the vote ?”).

  • 36 The suffrage movement, for instance, is scarred by its association with eugenic policies (...)
  • 37 Barbara Smith, “Ain’t Goon Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” in The Black Scholar (ed.), Court (...)
  • 38 See Goli Rezai-Rashti, “Anti-Racist Feminism: Connecting Race, Class and Gender (...)
  • 39 Patricia Hill-Collins, op. cit., 96.

28The interaction between Alice and Ida demonstrates the pitfalls of unholy alliances such as those between some feminists and conservative fundamentalists36. Without trying to “pit racial oppression against sexual oppression”37, Ida W. Barnett challenges white women to stop neglecting race in an effort to further social conditions for certain women38. The scene highlights how mainstream feminist efforts to promote equality at the turn of the 20th century were embedded within existing intersecting power relations. Importantly, it also conveys how women of African descent were already deploying intersectional frameworks to reveal the limits to “mono-categorical thinking”39 about equality and social change more broadly. Whether or not Alice Paul and Lucy Barns exhibited racist animus is irrelevant to the scene; the point is that Ida W. Barnett takes the role of a judge and determines Alice and Lucy to be engaging in tactics that promote racial segregation. The final moment of interaction, when Ida turns away and leaves is a mirror held up for Alice, showing her what the white suffrage movement actually is. It is also, a projection, showing her what the movement ought to and can be. In the next scene, the film invites the viewers themselves to judge Alice Paul for her reductive assessment of other women.

Gender and Marital Status

  • 40 Cultural capital refers to the competences, skills, habits of mind and resources that per (...)
  • 41 Leslie McCall, “Does Gender Fit ? Bourdieu, Feminism, and Conceptions of Social Order,” T (...)
  • 42 Terry Lovell, “Thinking Feminism with and against Bourdieu,” Feminist Theory, vol. 1, n°1 (...)

29In his pivotal work on social reproduction, Pierre Bourdieu argues that one’s relative social and cultural capital reflects the “aggregate of the actual or potential resources […] linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.”40 Bourdieu’s framework is generally used to understand class dynamics ; it has, however, been challenged by socialist feminists for its androcentricism41. More recently, his conceptual frame has nonetheless been deployed as a device to understand and articulate how patriarchal and capitalist relations intersect42. The institution of marriage, for instance, can be examined as a means of achieving cultural capital and a social area through which are reproduced differential access to cultural and social capital.

30Iron Jawed Angels grapples with married women’s location along axes of privilege and disadvantage through the interaction of Alice Paul and Emily Leighton (Molly Parker), a fictional character, who stands for the many white upper-class women who were faced with competing interests and loyalties during the suffrage movement. The scene is set at NWP headquarters. In a single shot, Alice Paul hurries down a flight of stairs reading aloud to herself. She crosses paths with Emily, a graceful and airy figure standing in the doorway. Emily seems timid and in awe. Without niceties or small-talk, Alice (A) hands a letter to Emily (E): “Could you type this for me ?”

E : Oh I am just here to make a donation.
A : (continues walking with her back to Emily, drops the papers on a desk) : Well it won’t take you long, the typewriter is here.
E : I don’t know how to type. (cut and a close up of A who looks irritated)
A : The letters are on the keys. Thank you.

31Emily looks around for more guidance, finding none, sits at the desk and begins two finger typing. In the next scene, Alice, who is in mid-shot, sits behind an oak desk and tears open some mail. There is a knock and Emily enters beaming with pride and hands the letter to Alice. Their positing in space is much like that of employer and employee. Alice is an imposing figure sitting behind her desk, nodding to acknowledge Emily’s presence. Emily stands at the foot of the desk and looks ready for dictation. There is a shot-reverse-shot sequence :

A : (reading over the letter): Did you sign up for training ? We need volunteers to lobby for the amendment ? (cut)
E : (somewhat stunned, perplexed): Oh … um … (pause). I’m Senator Layton’s wife. He doesn’t approve. (cut)
A : (smiling sarcastically) If everyone approved, there would be no point to it would there ?
E : (calmly) I love my husband and see no reason to publicly embarrass him.
A : (takes a deep breath and refills the ink of her fountain pen). Hum. Women like you are worse than anti-suffragists. You perpetuate the lie every day at breakfast.
E : (dumbfounded) I beg your pardon. You don’t know what you’re talking about (Emily hurries out of the office but doubles back momentarily to shut the door behind her).

32Alice dismisses Emily for being ignorant and for having internalized societal expectations of wifely behavior that disempower all women. However, judgment functions differently in this scene than the interaction with Ida W. Barnett. Whereas in that scene, Ida is constructed as a judge, in this scene, through the use of time, editing, and narrative, the audience is placed in a unique position as bearers of privileged knowledge. We are aware at that moment that Emily has been surreptitiously funding the suffrage movement despite her husband’s explicit objections. We also know that her husband is a Senator who voted against proposed suffrage amendments. We learn later, however that, convinced that the law is on his side, he has threatened to take her children away. Consequently, the scene positions viewers to judge Alice Paul in her treatment of Emily.

  • 43 Ellen Carol Dubois, op. cit., 39-40.

33Alice essentially claims that women who adhere to a different set of values – those often attributed to maternal feminism – are of little use, and worse a liability for the suffrage movement, and for women’s equality more broadly. Maternal feminism, associated with more conservative understanding of gender roles, favored policies and structures that would enable women to remain committed to home and family, and to exercise their moral influence over the men in their lives within the private sphere. At a time when some women were entering higher education, having less children, and ensuring the right to divorce43, maternal feminists’ gendered beliefs were a threat to women’s achievements. At the same time, their money and connections were necessary to advancing those achievements, including suffrage.

  • 44 The work of cultural feminists, informed by Carol Gilligan’s ethics of care, are particul (...)

34Some may read that Alice is challenging Emily as though she were an equal : pointing to her hypocrisy, calling upon her to acknowledge her privilege, take a stand and do something to help herself and her sisters. This reading is informed by an idealism to call out orthodox feminists to be mindful of their social and political power. I am of the belief, however, that the film also articulates something else. Feminist tactics that aim only to humiliate our interlocutors wound in ways that do not further feminist values and that further alienate alternative modes of conflict resolution founded upon inter-subjective dialogue and the valuing of everyone’s specificity and world-views44.

  • 45 Dianne Post, “Why Marriage Should Be Abolished,” Women’s Rights Law Reporter, vol. 18, n° (...)
  • 46 Mary Louise Fellows & Sherene Razack, “The Race to Innocence: Confronting Hierarchical Re (...)

35Emily’s confinement to the private sphere, psychological and intellectual restraint and adherence to norms of femininity may make her tactics less explicitly disruptive but they are subversive nonetheless. Her method of resisting conditions of constraint is non-confrontational, sentimental perhaps but certainly within an ethos of care for her family and for the suffrage movement. Two later scenes illustrate the film’s own tension around the difficult question of difference. Emily will, in the end, support the movement, picket alongside Alice; she will also be arrested with the other suffragists. However, her public engagement with the movement will only occur after her husband wields his economic advantage and legal status, threatening to leave her destitute. The threat to have her children taken from her is, of course, backed by a legal system that still considers women to be men’s chattel45. Rather than critically examining how multiple systems of oppression commingle in ways that operate differently, but with no less material consequences, in her life46, these later scenes call into question Alice’s assessment of Emily as quintessential upper-class oppressor.

Conclusion

  • 47 Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen, vol16, n°3, Autumn 1975, 6- (...)

36There are always multiple and competing stories, voices, and ideologies at play in any film. It is unsurprisingly then that Iron Jawed Angels circulates contradictory messages at times. Indeed, the screenplay may suggest a less empowering image of Alice Paul by insisting that she has a heterosexual love interest, albeit a single father and leftist ally. Moreover, the film’s jacket cover – a woman’s bare back draped only by an American flag – might, according to some feminist theorists, invite heterosexual male identification and female objectification47. The camera’s gaze is, according to this view, created by and for male desires and fantasies; the camera objectifies women’s bodies purely for the pleasure of male spectators.

  • 48 In Boys Don’t Cry, she plays a non- or pre-operative trans-man and in Million Dollar Baby (...)
  • 49 Merri Lisa Johnson, op. cit.

37The film remains a feminist legal text nevertheless. It attempts to promote and reproduce new understandings of women's equality, of gender roles, and of strategic coalitions. The scenes that depict Alice Paul’s suffering must be read in light of Katja von Garnier’s aesthetic, political and normative commitment to portray the sacrifices and struggles that her protagonist faced. Alice Paul challenged her own class privilege by advocating the rights for women workers; she refused to shield herself from the legal sanctions associated with the movements for passive civil disobedience ; she challenged orthodoxies by advocating more direct action and tactics; she was sentenced to prison for attempting to further women’s rights; and she was violently force-fed (graphically depicted near the end of the film). Further, the choice of actors in the film invites a feminist understanding of the film and its protagonists’ motivations, actions, and choices. Consider what difference it would make if Alice Paul’s character were played by anyone other than Hilary Swank who has played romantically ambivalent characters who challenge hetero-normativity48. Moreover, the film was produced and marketed to an audience familiar with HBO’s commitment to releasing intelligent, progressive, and complex material49.

  • 50 These comments were made during Rev. Peterson’s Sunday service “Exploring Your Destiny,” br (...)

38Iron Jawed Angels is a powerful medium for exploring feminist concerns about law and political institutions. It conveys how hierarchies among women play out in a more subtle and implicit manner depending on one’s shifting location along vectors of privilege and disadvantage. It tells a partial yet realistic story of Alice Paul’s involvement in the American women’s suffrage movement that takes several women’s vantage points, including women differently located along axes of privilege and disadvantage. It is a rich and complex site where gendered meanings about law and justice continue to be circulated today. Strangely enough, the film is also timely and almost anticipates fundamentalist attacks on women’s suffrage in the West. Recall that in May 2012, Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson made the shocking remark that granting women suffrage was “one of the greatest mistakes America made” as women are “voting for people who are evil.”50In this landscape, it is more important than ever to remember the struggles of the feminist foremothers, to honor their sacrifices, to accept them as flawed human beings who were attempting to craft more meaningful life conditions within their own varying conditions of constraint, and to remember their oversights in an attempt to avoid them in our own equality-seeking efforts.

  • 51 Several film scholars reject the opposition, and often hierarchical ordering, of fictional (...)

39My cinematic study of Iron Jawed Angels is not meant to assess whether the film is a perfectly accurate depiction of the historical events that led to women’s suffrage in the United States. The meanings audiences attach to particular scenes are contingent and ultimately emerge from each audience member’s lived experience. My interpretation of Iron Jawed Angels, like any other audience member’s, occurs through and within a particular interpretive community: law-and-film scholars and feminist law-and-film scholars especially. Consequently, the film’s (necessarily contingent) meanings, as I present them here, include my interpretation of director Katja von Garnier’s intended messages. They are an evaluation of its ability to meet my expectations given its form (a biopic or fictionalized account of real events)51, aesthetic devices (continuity conventions blended with more experimental editing and modern music), subject matter (the story of a white woman’s role in the suffrage movement), and marketing (the trailer and tagline insist on its factuality). Each of these devices and choices carries contradictory feminist messages, critiques, and understandings about equality. These contradictions permit Iron Jawed Angels to work as a contemporary feminist reappropriation and critical engagement of the suffragist movement.

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Bibliographie

Works Cited

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BEGUM Nasa, “Disabled Women and the Feminist Agenda,” Feminist Review, vol. 40, 1992, 70-84.

BLAND Sydney, “Never Quite as Committed as We’d Like : The Suffrage Militancy of Lucy Burns,” Journal of Long Island History, vol. 17, n°2, 1981, 4-23.

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BOURDIEU Pierre, Language and Symbolic Power, Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1991.

BOURDIEU Pierre, “The Forms of Capital,” in John G. RICHARDSON (ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, New York : Greenwood Press, 1986, 241-258.

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COVER Robert, “Violence and the Word,” in Martha MINOW, Michael RYAN & Austi SARAT (eds.), Narrative, Violence, and the Law : The Essays of Robert Cover, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993.

CRENSHAW Kimberlé Williams, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex : a Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics,” The University of Chicago Legal Forum, vol. 139, 1989, 139-169.

CRENSHAW Kimberlé Williams, “Mapping the Margins : Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Colour,” Stanford Law Review, vol. 43, n° 6, 1991, 1241-1299.

DAVIS Angela, Women, Culture, and Politics, New York : Vintage Books, 1990.

DUBOIS Ellen Carol, Feminism and Suffrage : The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America, 1848-1869, Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1978.

EBERT Teresa, “(Untimely) Critiques for a Red Feminism,” in Mas'ud, ZAVARZADEH, Teresa EBERT & Donald MORTON (eds.), Post-Ality, Marxism and Postmodernism, College Park, Maryland: Maisonneuve Press, 1995.

FELLOWS Mary Louise & Sherene RAZACK, “The Race to Innocence : Confronting Hierarchical Relations Among Women,” Journal of Gender, Race and Justice, vol. 1, 1997-1998, 335-352.

FLEXNER Eleanor, Century of Struggle : The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States, Cambridge (MA) : Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1975.

FRANKENBERG Ruth, White Women, Race Matters : The Social Construction of Whiteness, Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

FRANZEN Trisha, “Singular Leadership : Anna Howard Shaw, Single Women and the US Woman Suffrage Movement,” Women’s History Review, vol. 17, n° 3, 2008, 419-434.

FRIEDAN Betty, The Feminine Mystique, New York : W.W. Norton & Company, 1963.

GERBNER Katharine, “We are Against the Traffik of Men-Body : The Germantown Quaker Protest of 1688 and the Origins of American Abolitionism,” in Jeffery A. DAVIS & Paul Douglas NEWMAN (eds.), Pennsylvania History : Essays and Documents, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey : Pearson Publishing, 2010.

GERBNER Katharine, “Antislavery in Print : The Germantown Protest, the ‘Exhortation’ and the Seventeenth-Century Quaker Debate on Slavery,” Early American Studies : An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 9, n°3, 2011, 552-575.

GILMORE Glenda E., Gender and Jim Crow : Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920, Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

GOLDIN Claudia, “The Work and Wages of Single Women, 1870-1920,” Journal of Economic History, vol. 40, n°1, 1980, 81-88.

GRAHAM Sara Hunter, Woman Suffrage and the New Democracy, New Haven (CT) : Yale University Press, 1996.

HANCOCK Ange-Marie, “Critical Perspectives on Gender and Politics : Intersectionality as a Normative Empirical Paradigm,” Politics and Gender, vol. 3, n°2, 2007, 248-254.

HILL-COLLINS Patricia, “Piecing Together a Genealogical Puzzle : Intersectionality and American Pragmatism,” European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy, vol. 3, n°2, 2011, 88-112.

JOHNSON Merri Lisa, “Gangster Feminism : The Feminist Cultural Work of HBO’s ‘The Sopranos’”, Feminist Studies, vol. 33, n°2, 2007, 269-296.

KAMIR Orit, Framed : Women in Law and Film, Durham and London : Duke University Press, 2006.

“Labour Symposium on Suffrage Cause : Women Should Have Vote to Ensure Proper Economic Balance, Says J.-J. Murphy,” The New York Times, May 18, 1914.

LOVELL Terry, “Thinking Feminism with and against Bourdieu,” Feminist Theory, vol. 1, n°1, 2000, 11-32.

LUFT Rachel E. & Jane WARD, “Toward an Intersectionality just out of Reach : Confronting Challenges to Intersectional Practice,” Advances in Gender Research, vol. 13, 2009, 9-37.

LUMSDEN Linda J., Rampant Women : Suffragists and the Right of Assembly, Knoxville (TN): University of Tennessee Press, 1997.

MACKINNON Catharine A., “Feminism, Marxism, Method and the State : An Agenda for Theory,” Signs, vol. 7, n°3, 1982, 515-544.

MACKINNON Catharine A., ”Substantive Equality : A Perspective,” Minnesota Law Review, vol. 96, n°1, 2011, 1-27.

MATSUDA Mari, “When the First Quail Calls : Multiple Consciousness as Jurisprudential Method,” Women’s Rights Law Reporter, vol. 11, n°7, 1989, 7-10.

McCALL Leslie, “The Complexity of Intersectionality,” Signs, vol. 30, n°3, 2005, 1771-1800.

McCALL Leslie, “Does Gender Fit ? Bourdieu, Feminism, and Conceptions of Social Order,” Theory and Society, vol. 21, n° 6, 1992, 837-867.

McCAMMON Holly J., “Stirring Up Suffrage Sentiment : The Formation of the State Woman Suffrage Organizations, 1866-1914,” Social Forces, vol. 80, n°2, 2001, 449-480.

McEVOY Arthur F., “The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 : Social Change, Industrial Accidents, and the Evolution of Common Sense Causality,” Law & Social Inquiry, vol. 20, n°2, 1995, 621-651.

McMILLEN Sally G., Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2008.

McMURRAY Linda O., To Keep the Waters Troubled, New York : Oxford University Press, 1998.

MILES Angela, Integrative Feminisms : Building Global Visions 1960s-1990s, New York : Routledge, 1996.

MOHANTY Chandra Talpade, “Under Western Eyes : Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses,” in Ann MCCLINTOCK et al. (eds.), Dangerous Liaisons : Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1997, 255-277.

MONTURE-ANGUS Patricia, Thunder in my Soul : A Mohawk Woman Speaks, Toronto : Fernwood Books Ltd., 2003.

“Move Militants from Workhouse : Confinement There Illegal, Judge Waddill Holds, Sends 25 Back to Washington Jail,” The New York Times, November 25, 1917.

MULVEY Laura, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen, vol. 16, n°3, Autumn 1975, 6-18.

NASH Jennifer, “Rethinking Intersectionality,” Feminist Review, vol. 89, 2008, 1-15.

NEAL Meghan, “Reverend : Women’s Suffrage Hurt America,” The New York Daily News, May 9, 2012.

PODESTA James, “Wells-Barnett, Ida B. 1862-1931,” Contemporary Black Biography, 1995.

POST Dianne, “Why Marriage Should Be Abolished,” Women’s Rights Law Reporter, vol. 18, n°3, 1997, 283-314.

“President Offers Shelter to ‘Pickets’: Invites Suffragist Sentinels Into White House to Get Warm, but They Decline,” The New York Times, January 12, 1917.

RAZACK Sherene, Looking White People in the Eye : Gender, Race, and Culture in Courtrooms and Classrooms, Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1998.

REZAI-RASHTI Goli, “Anti-Racist Feminism : Connecting Race, Class and Gender,” in Nancy MANDELL (ed.), Feminist Issues : Race, Class and Sexuality, Toronto : Pearson Education Canada Inc., Third Edition, 2001.

RICH Adrienne, Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence, London : Only Women Press Ltd., 1981.

ROWBOTHAM Sheila, A New World for Women : Stella Browne, Socialist Feminist, London : Pluto Press, 1980.

SHEPPARD Collen, “Inclusive Equality and New Forms of Social Governance,” Supreme Court Law Review, vol. 24, n°1, 2004.

SMITH Barbara, “Ain’t Goon Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” in The Black Scholar (ed.), Court of Appeal : The Black Community Speaks Out on the Racial and Sexual Politics of Thomas vs. Hill, New York : Ballantine, 1992.

STANTON Elizabeth Cady, A History of Woman Suffrage, Rochester, New York : Fowler and Wells, 1889, 70-77.

STEIN Leon, The Triangle Fire, New York : J.B. Lippincott Company, 1962. STEVENS Doris, Jailed for Freedom : American Women Win the Vote, Freeport (NY) : Books for Libraries, 1971.

TERBORG-PENN Rosalyn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote 1850-1920, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1998.

WALLEY Jonathan, “Lessons of Documentary: Reality, Representation, and Cinematic Expressivity,” An Association for Aesthetics, Criticism and Theory of the Arts, vol. 31, n°1, 2011, 1-5.

WARE Vron, “Moments of Danger : Race, Gender and Memories of Empire,” History and Theory : Studies in the Philosophy of History, vol. 31, n°4, 1992, 116-137.

WELLMAN Judith, “The Seneca Falls Convention : Setting the National Stage for Women’s Suffrage,” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, n.p. n.d., October 15, 2012.

WELLS Ida B., Crusade for Justice : The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1970.

ZIEGLER Mary, “Eugenic Feminism : Mental Hygiene, the Women’s Movement and the Campaign for Eugenic Legal Reform, 1900-1935,” Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, vol. 31, n°1, 2008, 211-243.

Filmography

The Accused. Dir. Jonathan Kaplan. Perf. Kelly McGillis, Jodie Foster. Paramount, 1988.

Boys Don’t Cry. Dir. Kimberly Peirce. Perf. Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 1999.

Iron Jawed Angels. Dir. Katja von Garnier. Perf. Hilary Swank, Frances O'Connor. HBO, 2004.

Million Dollar Baby. Dir. Clint Eastwood. Perf. Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood. Warner Bros Pictures, 2004.

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Notes

1 See Sally G. McMillen, Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2008. Judith Wellman, “The Seneca Falls Convention: Setting the National Stage for Women's Suffrage,” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, n.p. n.d. October 15, 2012.

2 Ellen Carol Dubois, Feminism and Suffrage : The Emergence of an Independent Women's Movement in America, 1848-1869, Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1978. Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle : The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States, Cambridge (MA) : Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1975. Holly J. McCammon, “Stirring Up Suffrage Sentiment : The Formation of the State Woman Suffrage Organizations, 1866-1914,” Social Forces, vol. 80, n°2, 2001, 449-480.

3 Sara Hunter Graham, Woman Suffrage and the New Democracy, New Haven (CT) : Yale University Press, 1996.

4 See for instance The Indian Copyright Act, 1957.

5 Robert Cover, “Violence and the Word,” in Martha Minow, Michael Ryan & Austi Sarat (eds.), Narrative, Violence, and the Law : The Essays of Robert Cover, Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, 1993, 203.

6 Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins : Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Colour,” Stanford Law Review, vol. 43, n°6, 1991, 1241-1299. Patricia Hill-Collins, “Piecing Together a Genealogical Puzzle: Intersectionality and American Pragmatism,” European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy, vol. 3, n° 2, 2011, 88-112. Mari Matsuda, “When the First Quail Calls : Multiple Consciousness as Jurisprudential Method,” Women's Rights Law Reporter, vol. 11, n°7, 1989, 7-10.

7 For thought-provoking discussions in other fields, see the work of Leslie McCall, “The Complexity of Intersectionality,” Signs, vol. 30, n°3, 2005, 1771-1800, as well as Ange-Marie Hancock, “Critical Perspectives on Gender and Politics : Intersectionality as a Normative Empirical Paradigm,” Politics and Gender, vol. 3, n°2, 2007, 248-254.

8 Leslie McCall, op. cit. Patricia Hill-Collins , op. cit. Yet, as Jennifer Nash rightly notes, much of the feminist work that challenges the exclusionary nature of the universal woman did so without relying on the concept of intersectionality. See also Angela Miles, Integrative Feminisms : Building Global Visions 1960s-1990s, New York: Routledge, 1996.

9 Angela Davis, Women, Culture, and Politics, New York : Vintage Books, 1990, 18.

10 Adrienne Rich, Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence, London : Only Women Press Ltd., 1981.

11 Nasa Begum, “Disabled Women and the Feminist Agenda,” Feminist Review, vol. 40, 1992, 70-84.

12 Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes : Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses,” in Ann McClintock et al. (eds.), Dangerous Liaisons : Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1997, 255-277.

13 Patricia Monture-Angus, Thunder in my Soul : A Mohawk Woman Speaks, Toronto : Fernwood Books Ltd., 2003.

14 Court upheld the constitutional validity of a state law which required persons of different races to use “separate but equal” segregated facilities.

15 On the complexity of the concept of substantive equality, see Catharine A. MacKinnon, “Substantive Equality: A Perspective,” Minnesota Law Review, vol. 96, n°1, 2011, 1-27 ; Oddny Mjoll Arnardottir, Equality and Non-Discrimination under the European Convention on Human Rights, The Hague, The Netherlands : Kluwer Law International, 2003 ; Collen Sheppard, “Inclusive Equality and New Forms of Social Governance,” Supreme Court Law Review, vol. 24, n° 1, 2004.

16 Sherene Razack, Looking White People in the Eye : Gender, Race, and Culture in Courtrooms and Classrooms, Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1998.

17 Merri Lisa Johnson, “Gangster Feminism : The Feminist Cultural Work of HBO's ‘The Sopranos’”, Feminist Studies, vol. 33, n° 2, 2007, 269-296.

18 Nikol G. Alexander-Floyd, “Disappearing Acts : Reclaiming Intersectionality in the Social Sciences in a Post-Black Feminist Era,” Feminist Formations, vol. 24, n°1, 2012, 1-25.

19 Jennifer Nash, “Rethinking Intersectionality,” Feminist Review, vol. 89, 2008, 6.

20 Ibid, 4.

21 Ruth Buchanan & Rebecca Johnson, “Strange Encounters: Exploring Law and Film in the Affective Register,” Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, vol. 46, 2009, 33-60. Suzanne Bouclin, “Women in Prison Movies as Feminist Jurisprudence,” Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, vol. 21, n°1, 2009, 19-34.

22 See Trisha Franzen, “Singular Leadership : Anna Howard Shaw, Single Women and the US Woman Suffrage Movement,” Women’s History Review, vol. 17, n°3, 2008, 419-434.

23 On the characteristics of working women between 1870 and 1920 generally, see Claudia Goldin, “The Work and Wages of Single Women, 1870-1920,” Journal of Economic History, vol. 40, n°1, 1980, 81-88.

24 Leon Stein, The Triangle Fire, New York : J.B. Lippincott Company, 1962. Arthur F. McEvoy, “The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 : Social Change, Industrial Accidents, and the Evolution of Common Sense Causality,” Law & Social Inquiry, vol. 20, n°2, 1995, 621-651.

25 Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom : American Women Win the Vote, Freeport (NY) : Books for Libraries, 1971.

26 Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, New York : W.W. Norton & Company, 1963. Sheila Rowbotham, A New World for Women : Stella Browne, Socialist Feminist, London : Pluto Press, 1980.

27 Catharine A. Mackinnon, “Feminism, Marxism, Method and the State : An Agenda for Theory,” Signs, vol. 7, n° 3, 1982, 515-544. Teresa Ebert, “(Untimely) Critiques for a Red Feminism,” in Mas'ud Zavarzadeh, Teresa Ebert & Donald Morton (eds.), Post-Ality, Marxism and Postmodernism, College Park (MD) : Maisonneuve Press, 1995.

28 Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote 1850-1920, Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 1998, 136-137, 163.

29 Glenda E. Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow : Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920, Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

30 Following Crenshaw, Black Women is capitalized as they constitute a “specific cultural group and, as such, require denotation as a proper noun.” Crenshaw adds that “white” ought not to be capitalized because it is not a proper noun and “whites do not constitute a specific cultural group,” Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins : Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Colour,” Stanford Law Review, vol. 43, n°6, 1991, footnote 6, 1244.

31 Hilda L. Smith & Berenice A. Carroll (eds.), Women’s Political and Social Thought. An Anthology, Indiana : Indiana University Press, 2000, 262.

32 Chesapeake, Ohio, & Southwestern Railroad Co. v. Wells, 85 Tenn. (1 Pickle) 613, 4 S.W. 5 [1887]. See also Linda O. McMurray, To Keep the Waters Troubled, New York : Oxford University Press, 1998.

33 “A Darky Damsel Obtains a Verdict for Damages against the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad,” Memphis Appeal Avalanche, December 25, 1884, 4, <http://americainclass.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Reading-9-Ida-B.-Wells-RR-case.pdf>, accessed June 27, 2014.

34 Vron Ware, “Moments of Danger : Race, Gender and Memories of Empire,” History and Theory : Studies in the Philosophy of History, vol. 31, n°4, 1992, 116-137.

35 In an earlier scene Mabel Vernon is also coded as a lesbian. I read this cut which disrupts the traditional shot-reverse shot structure as foreshadowing how the exclusionary tactics of early feminists also reproduced and reflected heterosexual hegemony.

36 The suffrage movement, for instance, is scarred by its association with eugenic policies and forced sterilization of women with intellectual disabilities, see Mary Ziegler, “Eugenic Feminism: Mental Hygiene, the Women's Movement and the Campaign for Eugenic Legal Reform, 1900-1935,” Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, vol. 31, n°1, 2008, 211-243.

37 Barbara Smith, “Ain’t Goon Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” in The Black Scholar (ed.), Court of Appeal : The Black Community Speaks Out on the Racial and Sexual Politics of Thomas vs. Hill. New York : Ballantine, 1992, 188.

38 See Goli Rezai-Rashti, “Anti-Racist Feminism: Connecting Race, Class and Gender,” in Nancy Mandell (ed.), Feminist Issues : Race, Class and Sexuality, 2001, Toronto : Pearson Education Canada Inc., Third Edition, 2001, 4-9 ; Patricia Hill-Collins, op. cit. ; Chandra Talpade Mohanty, op. cit.

39 Patricia Hill-Collins, op. cit., 96.

40 Cultural capital refers to the competences, skills, habits of mind and resources that permit an individual or a group to wield power and influence in a particular social context. Social capital refers to the relational aspect of power relations in which we are embedded ; these relations may generate benefits or conditions of oppression. Pierre Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital,” in John G. Richardson (ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, New York : Greenwood Press, 1986, 241-258.

41 Leslie McCall, “Does Gender Fit ? Bourdieu, Feminism, and Conceptions of Social Order,” Theory and Society, vol. 21, n°6, 1992, 837-867.

42 Terry Lovell, “Thinking Feminism with and against Bourdieu,” Feminist Theory, vol. 1, n°1, 2000, 11-32.

43 Ellen Carol Dubois, op. cit., 39-40.

44 The work of cultural feminists, informed by Carol Gilligan’s ethics of care, are particularly convincing in this regard. See Linda Alcoff, “Cultural Feminism Versus Post-Structuralism : the Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory,” Signs, vol. 13, n°3, 1988, 405-436.

45 Dianne Post, “Why Marriage Should Be Abolished,” Women’s Rights Law Reporter, vol. 18, n°3, 1997, 305.

46 Mary Louise Fellows & Sherene Razack, “The Race to Innocence: Confronting Hierarchical Relations among Women,” Journal of Gender, Race and Justice, vol. 1, 1997-1998, 335-352.

47 Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen, vol16, n°3, Autumn 1975, 6-18.

48 In Boys Don’t Cry, she plays a non- or pre-operative trans-man and in Million Dollar Baby a female boxer.

49 Merri Lisa Johnson, op. cit.

50 These comments were made during Rev. Peterson’s Sunday service “Exploring Your Destiny,” broadcast live from Los Angeles, CA, on March 5, 2012. The sermon’s topic was “How liberal women are building a shameless society.” Rev. Peterson is the Founder of and President of BOND (the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny). See Meghan Neal, “Reverend : Women’s Suffrage Hurt America,” The New York Daily News, May 9, 2012.

51 Several film scholars reject the opposition, and often hierarchical ordering, of fictional cinema to documentary. Instead, all representation that draws on cinema’s aesthetic techniques, language, and devices to invoke a response in viewers or to “express or amplify meaning” whether used in the fictional or non-fictional register transform reality in some way. See Jonathan Walley, “Lessons of Documentary: Reality, Representation, and Cinematic Expressivity,” An Association for Aesthetics, Criticism and Theory of the Arts, vol. 31, n°1, 2011, 1-5.

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Suzanne Bouclin, « Women’s Suffrage: A Cinematic Study », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XII-n°7 | 2014, mis en ligne le 30 novembre 2014, consulté le 24 mai 2017. URL : http://lisa.revues.org/6918 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.6918

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Suzanne Bouclin

PhD, Université d’Ottawa, Canada. Suzanne Bouclin is an Assistant Professor in the French Common Law program at the University of Ottawa. She holds a doctorate in Law from McGill University. Her research examines law through the lexicon, theories and methods of film and feminist studies.

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