Iron Jawed Angels

Story of Suffragette Alice Paul

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Women’s Empowerment

Hilary Swank’s character in Iron Jawed Angels, stages a protest for Women’s Right to Vote.

“We forget here in the new millennium, that women have enjoyed the right to vote for less than a century.”

Iron Jawed Angels is a most uplifting and amazing movie about the work of Alice Paul, who, along with her other suffragette buddies, managed to endure ridicule and abuse beyond belief simply for standing up for women’s right to vote. Alice Paul, played by the inimitable Hilary Swank, pushed the envelope big time—and was completely absorbed in her mission.

Alice was a Quaker, and what I loved most about her was her humanity and sense of humor. Men liked her—and she even had an ardent and handsome suitor (played by Patrick Dempsey). She also had fun-loving girlfriends who assisted her and stood by her side. Anjelica Huston won a Golden Globe in her role as an older, more established suffragrette named Carrie Chapman Catt. She followed a more traditional route trying to work within the system (a path I know very well myself). I was very touched by the ways in which these two women ended up cooperating with each other—despite widely different views about how their work should be done. Isn’t that always the case?

During the film, Hilary Swank and her friends are thrown in jail and decide to go on a hunger strike. This causes so much flack that their jailers are ordered to force-feed them. When the women oppose, they are nicknamed “The Iron Jawed Angels,” which is where the film gets its name. This is just one example of their courage and the influence they had on the future of women’s rights in the United States.

Iron Jawed Angels reminded me to appreciate how very much we owe the invincible women who came before us. We forget here in the new millennium, that women have enjoyed the right to vote for less than a century. That won’t happen until the year 2020. (A friend of mine suggested that one of the reasons why Obama won the democratic nomination and not Clinton is because sexism runs far deeper than racism. Blacks got the right to vote 50 years before women did. Whether you believe this or not, I find the point fascinating and worth some thought.) And yes, there’s still more to be done. But this film moves us along because it celebrates how far we’ve come, which is so much more effective than complaining about how far we have to go.

Iron Jawed Angels is an adventure story and a heroic one—there’s plenty of action—that men and women will both like. I’d make it required viewing for children starting about age 10 or so. Like the amazing series John Adams, also produced by HBO, Iron Jawed Angels makes history come alive.

Last Updated: October 1, 2008

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

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