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Women on the March (1958)

by on 2013/09/15

Women on the March (1958)
“It is difficult to realize that only half a century ago that a woman was not even a person officially in Canada.”

* * *

My very favourite teenager in all the world, Miss_Tree is a feminist. Ask her, she’ll tell you.

In fact, she’s, at times, a very loud, impassioned feminist. After railing on about the ridiculous Robin Thicke (are we all really sure he has to be Canadian?) and his “Blurred Lines” the other day, she stopped short and gasped, “My god, I think I’m becoming a rad fem (radical feminist).”

I couldn’t be prouder of her. She’s consuming all of my various feminist tomes, and educating her peers. Sometimes stridently.

I don’t disagree with the need for passion. Even anger. Some might feel the race has been run, and we’ve crossed the finish line, with no more need for vigilance. We may have come a long way but there’s still more long, hard road to travel.

As part of Miss_Tree’s education, I thought it might be fun to watch Pierre Berton-narrated Women on the March. Billed as a filmic record of women at the turn of the century, the National Film Board (NFB) two-part documentary takes us to the U.K., the U.S. and Canada to tell the story of the First Wave of feminism.

The First Wave, as Miss_Tree will tell you, was the battle for ‘personhood.’ These crazy-brave women were struggling, and in some cases, dying, to get women property rights, the vote, the right to be recognized as a human being.

This Canadian documentary was a reminder of how far we have come.

Archival footage of Emily Wilding Davison being trampled to death by King George’s horse Anmer at the Epsom Derby in 1913 was a bucket of proverbial ice-cold water. Even in the flickering black and white, it took our breath away. Before her death, Davison was jailed on nine occasions and force-fed 49 times during her hunger strikes – all for the right to vote. She was a martyr for the cause in Great Britain.

Imprisonment, demonstrations, women ridiculed, ostracized, hurt, killed. For these sacrifices, Miss_Tree and I agree, we are grateful.

This film skims a lot of ground, floating between countries, lighting only occasionally on Canada.  We learned the Canadian Prairies were more progressive than the rest of Canada. Manitoba led the pack, followed by Saskatchewan and Alberta, as the first provinces to recognize women’s right to vote in Canada.

I’m proud to be a Prairie girl.

The footage of women going off to jobs in during the war effort was great – working loading docks, working in munitions plants. It was all quite inspiring.

Some footage however was less inspiring. The film spent a great deal of time tackling the argued importance of the UN Status of Women committee, with interminable footage of international delegates making speeches.

All in all, it was perhaps too ambitious an undertaking. By covering too much ground, it was thousands of miles wide and only an inch deep. Berton’s voice as the storyteller verged, at times, on bemused, undercutting the solemnity of the content.

But quibbles notwithstanding, we were grateful for this whirlwind early survey of some very brave women, fighting the good fight, not so very long ago.

* * *

58 minutes


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