Monday, 19 October 2015

The Entrepreneurial Suffragette

Yesterday my partner and I went to see the newly released film, Suffragette, featuring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep. As the first dramatisation of the fight for votes for women in UK, this film explores the story of a small group of women who joined the movement and followed Emmeline Pankhurst in her dedication to the cause of equal rights for women. 

Set at the beginning of the 20th Century the film follows the life of Maud Watts who inadvertently becomes caught up in the Suffragette movement when she decides to support a friend. What starts as a reluctant association becomes a burning passion as she experiences first hand the pain of a world whose laws are made by and centred on the needs of men. At this time in history, women had no rights over property, their own desires or even the needs of their children. They were completely and absolutely at the mercy of the men in their lives; their father, their husband and their employer.

Although this film shows only a small part of the long running fight to change the laws of the land and allow women to vote for those who would govern them, the spirit of these women shines through strongly. Their willingness to sacrifice for what they believed in, their determination to follow through no matter what the personal cost and their absolute belief that they would win is inspirational. 

Eventually after more than fifty years of striving, UK women were finally given the vote in 1918. 

It seems inconceivable in 2015 (almost 100 years later) that the freedoms we take for granted today were fought so hard for, by so few. Whilst history honours these women as pioneers of their time, their reality was a harsh one. Ostracised by their peers, condemned and spat upon by their neighbours, abused and discarded by their men, these women paid a high price for our freedom.

As women in the 21st Century we are raised in the understanding that we will attend school and be educated, that we can follow our own career path and that we have the ability to decide what is right for each of us. 

Some of the changes which have occurred over the past 97 years include:

right to an education
right to equal pay for equal work
right to legal advice
right to our own money
ability to decide what is right for our children
ability to stand for parliament
wider access to previously male dominated career paths
introduction of birth control
sexual harassment is now a crime
women can no longer by fired for becoming pregnant
access to credit cards
access to university
choice to pursue a military career
ability to serve on a jury
right to vote
equality in the workplace

Whilst some of the points above are still in transition, in fact the rights and situation of a women has improved beyond all recognition particularly in the past fifty years. And as the years go by, more changes are being made which offer women, opportunities the suffragettes could never have dreamed of. We have women in some of the most powerful positions in government, in corporations, in the church and in business. 

More and more we see the rise of entrepreneurial women who to me embody the self same spirit we admire so much in the suffragettes of times past. The willingness to sacrifice for what they believe in, their determination to follow through no matter what the personal cost and their absolute faith in their ability to create whatever it is they have the vision for. 

And yet, the brave and revolutionary ones, the ones who see opportunities and possibilities are still even now often treated with derision. Their peers who cling tightly to the understandings of their youth cannot see what they see, cannot believe what they believe and therefore cannot accept that change is as inevitable as it always has been. 

It is the pioneers, the brave, determined and creative who have always changed the world. 

In our time, this is largely led by women who will no longer be silent. Women who want more than their mothers had, want more for their daughters and who are prepared to step out, step up and to become a beacon for others to follow in exactly the way that the women of the suffragette movement did all those years ago.

That spirit, that desire that is within you is one that has existed in women throughout history. The spark which although in times past has been stamped, ridiculed and spat upon has remained true and bright within the few, despite the attempts of the many to snuff it out. The most influential women and role models of our time are all entrepreneurs in their own way.

Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Clara Barton, Martha Stewart, Anita Roddick, Arianna Huffington, J.K. Rowling, Diane Von Furstenberg, Elizabeth Arden, Coco Chanel, Emma Watson and many more. 

Each of these women has followed their own path to success. Many have failed numerous times but all have got back up and with determination and a vision beating in their breast, have triumphed over their fears, standing now on the shoulders of those women who long ago set in motion the tide of change which we in this time have the privilege to enjoy.

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