Daniel Smutek is a rising junior, majoring in English

(What is From the Field?  Check out the series welcome post to learn more!)  The post that follows is the last of this segment on the film Iron Jawed Angels.


Katja von Garnier’s 2004 film, Iron Jawed Angels illustrated the events of the 1920’s women’s suffrage movement, as well as the challenges they faced from an opposing male population. Alice Paul and members of the Congressional Union for Women’s Suffrage (CU) were faced with discouraging comments and sexist remarks from men who were determined to bar them from earning their right to vote. Often, the question as to why men were against women’s suffrage is overlooked. In the times before the women’s suffrage movement, men held many responsibilities that women did not have according to societal norms that date back to Biblical times. The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment served as a breakthrough event that overturned such norms. Now, one hundred years later, the line between what responsibilities men and women are expected to do has been blurred. To many respects, this change transpired for better. Thereby, it warrants the question: why were men opposed to allowing women to vote? Because they perceived a threat to their masculinity, the male population believed they had to do everything in their power to stop the CU from achieving its goal to defend it.

On several occasions in the film, one or more male characters were depicted making a discouraging or sexist remark. That is, either directly to the women picketing in the streets or behind closed doors in conversation. In one scene, Alice Paul, who was played by the actress, Hilary Swank, comments that most of the men she encountered were “either idiots or terrified of me” (Iron Jawed Angels). Despite making remarks about women not having the capabilities to vote for state and national leaders, men recognized their potential, and that their persistence would likely result in a constitutional amendment. Their support for women would not only help them convince President Woodrow Wilson and the United States Congress to pass such an amendment, but it would cost them their masculinity according to a subconscious perception. In the episode of the Hidden Brain podcast titled “Playing The Gender Card: Overlooking And Overthrowing Sexist Stereotypes,” host Shankar Vedantam suggests that when women begin to dominate a male-oriented field or profession, men feel as though their masculinity at risk. In the situation where a formerly male-oriented occupation becomes female-oriented, they feel like they have lost a significant part of what makes them a man.

Additionally, Vedantam characterizes masculinity as something that is “hard to gain and very easy to lose” (“Playing The Gender Card: Overlooking And Overthrowing Sexist Stereotypes”). For example, if a growing boy does not develop the characteristics attached to the male gender, he is not considered masculine. To illustrate further, young men who enter professions that are thought to be more female oriented such as nursing or housekeeping will not be regarded as masculine according to a formerly popular opinion. In order to be considered masculine, they would need to develop qualities associated with the respective gender, as well as enter more male oriented professions such as working as a car mechanic or entering into military service. Back to the matter of suffrage, granting women the right to vote likely struck most men as a revolutionary event where women would take over the political sphere that they once had complete control over. Thereby making men who participate in electing regional or national leaders less masculine given the proposition Vedantam made in his podcast. Another proposition to consider when thinking about this matter is the question of why women were not allowed to vote from the beginning. In other words, was there ever a set rule from the government or even the Bible that prohibited women from voting?

Having mentioned the Bible, as part of the Gender Family and Politics course, I and several other students prepared for and engaged in a debate regarding to two main perspectives for how women should behave in society. That is, according to what is written in the Bible. Our main source of information came from William M. Swartley’s book, Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation. The two main perspectives he presented in his book regarding how women should behave in respects to men are hierarchical and liberationist, though variations exist between them. The former holds that women should be subordinate to men, no questions asked, while the latter holds that women and men are called into mutuality in a relationship with one another. Furthermore, while there may be different societal roles prescribed to either gender, neither men nor women should be limited to those roles according to the liberationist perspective.

There exists no definite or Bible-driven answer as to whether or not there should be a rigid hierarchy among men and women. Especially considering the fact that sin has corrupted the relationship that both genders have been called into. Sin may also be the catalyst for why men and women have placed each other into a rigid hierarchy that has, since the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, begun to fade into obscurity. Alas, neither gender will be bound to the prescribed roles that society once held them to. Yet, there will still remain a portion of the population that believes that men should act like men and women should act like women according to the hierarchical perspective. Those in favor of it perceive considerable differences between the two genders.

Child development also adds important perspective on the impact of gender roles that arise according to sociocultural factors. Alice Eagly and Wendy Wood analyzed the differences between the “nature” and “nurture” theories behind the psychology of gender. “[Nature] refers to biological structures and processes and nurture refers to sociocultural influences” (340). That is to say, the nurture theory is based on how boys and girls model their own lifestyles based on what they experience. For example, if a boy grows up in a house where the mother works and the father is the stay-at-home parent, he may be more likely to model his life after his father (based on the popular opinion that boys generally tend to model themselves after their fathers). This example is a less common occurrence, and in most cases, the father would work while the mother assumes the role of stay-at-home parent. In situations like this, the boy would still be expected to model his life after the working father. However, that is not always the case. According to Vendantam’s podcast, discussed earlier, this could cost the boy his masculinity, even at a young age. Over time, this could pressure the boy in question into making himself more of a man in the eyes of a sexist society. Thereby hindering himself from becoming his own person.

Society limits and hinders from people achieving who they truly are. Neither gender is bound to act like a man or a woman according to popular beliefs or expectancies. While there are Bible-prescribed roles for each gender, neither one is limited to those roles. Looking back to the times when women were denied the right to vote, it seems absurd that they would be limited to the status of housekeeper and silent wife. Now, women have many more opportunities than ever and have prospered in the political realm. Both men and women should not be hindered by society to act as they are often expected. Unfortunately, some will feel the need to act as they are expected. That was likely the disposition of the male population that fought against Alice Paul and the CU.


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