|This is me and Holly Washburn at a Suffragette screening. I'm holding up two Vs for Victory in a nod to Winston Churchill. It's not two peace signs, though peace is a good thing too.|
I went with my friend Holly to see a screening of "Suffragette" about the women's rights movement in Britain in the late 19th century, and cried myself dehydrated.
Frankly, I was confused why this movie affected me so deeply. My life is embarrassingly good, compared to a washerwoman in 19th century London. My parents were middle-class, loving people with good education. My mother was (and still is) a powerhouse who taught me I could accomplish anything with enough hard work and elbow grease. I graduated from college. I married a man who brings home the bacon, then comes home to wrangle three kids, cook dinner (sometimes) and mop the floor (always) so I have time to write fiction.
But those tears, people. The tears. I am usually good at muscling them down when Hollywood throws an emotional potshot. But there's one scene where Carey Mulligan's character [SPOILER ALERT] finds out her estranged husband is adopting out their son to another family, and she has no say in the matter. I broke down into quiet sobs and Holly kindly slipped me the stack of napkins, originally intended for popcorn grease. I used all but two of them.
I woke up in the wee hours to feed my baby daughter, feeling depressed and a little hung over. Why had this movie felt so real, so personal?
Then it hit me: it had all started with this one line, delivered by Brendan Gleeson to Carey Mulligan: "You are nothing."
You are nothing.
That line made me sit straight back in my seat as if I'd been slapped. As I wept into my clenched fist I did not feel like the college-educated, well-kept mother of three children. I felt like I was seven years old again, believing the only way I'd be heard is if I screamed and stamped my foot. I suspect that children everywhere feel powerless at times, but I also believe it is the condition of little girls to feel like they have no voice. I know I felt that way, even in my well-protected home. The message was everywhere in my young life that women didn't matter as much. They were weak, unstable, even untrustworthy. I carried that message through young adulthood by distancing myself from other women and criticizing them heavily (a fault I am still scrubbing out of my character today).
As I sat in the dark with my baby daughter, her strong little body gone limp in my lap, I remembered a line from Elder Nelson's talk in General Conference a few weeks ago: "We need women...who know how to receive personal revelation, who understand the power and peace of the temple endowment; women who know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen children and families; women who teach fearlessly."
In this, I took a small piece of comfort. I have chosen a path that will probably not mean the kind of sweeping change brought about by British suffragettes, female prime ministers, women in science and technology, foster care workers, humanitarians and agitants for social change all over the world. But I have two daughters who I praise every day for their strength, their brains, their compassion. I have a son who is already learning to love and respect women, a message doubly reinforced by a dad who practices what he preaches. God willing, my children will have children of their own, and the ripple will continue to spread until we have an entire family of powerhouse women who know their worth, and men who protect a woman's right to be heard.
Laurie Jayne (LJ) Stradling began her writing career with horrible grade-school poetry (the kind with illustrations in the margins). She has since moved onto blogging and the occasional piece of fiction, which has improved slightly since she gave up the illustrations. LJ is a quiet feminist, a loud mom, a well-kept wife and a fervent believer in prayer. She also believes that most dogs came to the earth after the Fall of Adam. Twitter: @lauriestradling.
Image credit: Laurie Jayne Stradling (used with permission).