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Women’s Oppression in Iron Jawed Angels

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What does oppression mean and how to take a stand? Oppression is the act of being treated unfairly due to someone abusing the power they may have over someone. Women live their daily lives not often reflecting on the struggles and battles other women had to endure during the women’s suffrage period. Women during this time were persistently fighting for the right to vote and for their voices to be heard. Martin Luther King an activist and leader of the civil rights movement wrote powerful essay in 1958. The essay “Three Ways of Meeting Oppression” emphasizes on the best methods to approach oppression through acquiescence, violence, and non-violence. King wrote a strong essay due to his familiarity with oppression, African-American’s were being discriminated and segregated because of the color of their skin. The methods King mentions can be seen throughout the women’s suffrage movement, portrayed in the film “Iron Jawed Angels.” The women fought their oppression through strikes, marches, and a hunger strike in imprisonment that led to the 19th amendment, that gave the women the right to vote. King’s three types of ways to meet oppression are all significantly portrayed in the film “Iron Jawed Angels” and can also be seen during current situations today.

One of the methods to meet oppression King mentions is acquiescence. Acquiescence is way of accepting oppression, passively accepting the unfair treatment. In the film “Iron Jawed Angels,” Paul and the other women were marching and the men on the sides lines kept yelling at them. Men yelled “Look what you got under your skirt!” “are you trying to be a man?” These men were yelling their expectations of a woman because not every woman had the strength to stand up against women’s suffrage. They believed women did not belong in a parade and them displaying strength was their attempt in trying to be a man. Women were expected to accept the unfair treatment because they were seen as a minority. Another example is how many countries around the world are still not accepting of the LGBT community. There are countries that homosexuality is still considered illegal. People part of the LGBT community living in Russia has found it difficult to be themselves. “Discrimination based on sexual orientation is widespread in Russia. Harassment, threats, and acts of violence targeting LGBT individuals have occurred. Government officials have been known to make derogatory comments about LGBT persons.” The Russian LGBT community has to resort to leaving the country to be with their significant other or accept living in silence, oppressed to their true sexuality. Conforming to oppression is giving the oppressor the authority, and allowing them to believe that they are morally correct.

A second way of dealing with oppression that King mentions is through the use of violence. Violence is a method that he finds destructive due to the hatred it fuels and not providing a peaceful resolution. In the film “Iron Jawed Angels” we see Alice Paul and Lucy Burns meeting with the NAWSA and asking if they may hold a suffragist parade. They were strictly asked to not utilize the methods that were used by the British. British women were adapting the method of violence to protest woman suffrage. The film mentions that they were causing destruction and throwing bricks at government buildings. “The suffragettes disrupted British daily life and many went to jail. The initial reasons for arrest arose when police tried to move noisy protestors on and fights broke out between suffragettes and police.” This method was only creating chaos and unquestionably not the proper approach. Violence was also used in the Oscar Grant protests in Oakland, were they protested the excessive use of police force. It was a protest that started peaceful but many deviated their course and started vandalising. The use of violence did help benefit the protest in any way. Many protestors were arrested and tear gassed, not to mention the looting and vandalism that destroys the community. Violence will provide a temporary solution but it will not create a significant change in our society.

A third way for the oppressed to fight for their freedom is through non-violence. Non-violence is the form King stood behind as the most positive influence for change. Alice Paul and her supporters often used non-violence to protest women’s rights. They had rallies, marches, and picketed the White House. Picketing the White House led to their arrest where they were tortured. Although, they were arrested while having a peaceful protest they kept their determination. They were relentless while incarcerated and held a hunger strike that gave them the much needed publicity. A peaceful protest can have tremendous impact and inspire resistant movements. Using non-violence has a better success rate and provides positive solutions. California LAUSD teachers protested in downtown LA for better pay and smaller classrooms. “Here we are on a rainy day in the richest country in the world, in the richest state in the country, in a state that’s blue as it can be — and in a city rife with millionaires — where teachers have to go on strike to get the basics for our students.” This peaceful protest was over a week long but their determination led to their resolution. There is a lower risk of non-violence protest to get out of hand and have better successful results.

To conclude, people have different approaches to how they may deal with oppression. In King’s essay he properly examines the different approaches, some successful and others not much. Acquiescence and violence will not unite the oppressed or encourage change. Believing in the impact of non-violence will lead our society to change. “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people (Martin Luther King Jr).”

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Women’s Oppression In Iron Jawed Angels. (2020, October 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 12, 2021, from
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