Modern feminism reflected in suffragette plays

Earlier this month, Augustana’s Deeds Not Words: Plays of the Suffragettes—a set of four century-old, one-act plays—explored what it meant to fight for women’s suffrage while also reflecting on the challenges women still face in 2018.

“It’s interesting to hear a show that was written a 100 years ago and still hear the same language and arguments,” junior Malia Lukomski said.

The suffragettes believed in equal pay, political rights and independence for women, all of which are still values of modern women’s movements.

While between 1.8 and 2.6 million people peacefully marched in the 2018 Women’s March,  the suffragettes believed in more direct methods of protesting. The suffragettes had a policy of direct, militant action shown in their motto “Deeds Not Words.”

The first play, “A Woman’s Influence” written by Gertrude Jennings and directed by Dan Workman, Augustana’s Theatre Department chair, emphasized the pay gap women faced despite harsh working conditions and family situations.

At the beginning of the act, women talk of a friend who works in a factory to support the children of a husband who deserted her. The sole worker in the family, she is paid significantly less than men.

Although the suffragettes hoped it would, the pay gap did not close when women won the vote. PEW research found that women in 2017 would have had to work 47 extra days a year to equal the average pay for men.

The #MeToo movement, mentioned by the directors as a modern application of suffragette principles, began in 2006 to support survivors of sexual violence and highlight the issues’ severity.

And while the second play, “The Twelve Pound Look,” written by J.M. Barrie and directed by junior Andrew Canaan, does not directly address sexual violence, it explores a man’s power over his wife through the character Lady Sims (freshman Claire Borgerding).

Sims has downcast eyes and a meek voice which terrifyingly snaps to attention at the call of her husband. She faces the same fear women feel when facing the realities of abuse.

The strength and determination that women have had, both then and today, help other women realize their worth and that they can do more than just be wives, said senior Bailey Franzen, who played Kate.

In the play, Kate returns to her ex-husband’s house after leaving him, proving she could earn a living without his help. Franzen performed with sass and sarcasm, holding her head high in self-reliance.

“Kate is a character who, I think, everybody in the modern age can relate to and everyone should aspire to be,” Canaan said.

The sarcastic narrator (junior Elizabeth Schumacher), who was Canaan’s own addition to the 1910 play and whose lines came directly from the original stage directions, implied that everyone has a bit of the husband’s pride and close-mindedness.

The third play of the evening, “Press Cuttings” by George Bernard Shaw, used satire to ridicule arguments held by those opposing woman’s suffrage.

General Michener (sophomore Streeter Woods) threatens to shoot anyone who disagrees with him, arguing that public opinion is obsolete. Through freshman George Kellogg’s acting in the role of Balsquith, Michener’s arguments are proven all the more ridiculous.

In the end, Michener supports the suffragettes, fearful of two anti-suffragettes and the vision for society they present to him at gunpoint.

The final play, “Which,” written by Evelyn Glover in 1914 and directed by Lukomski, centers around women helping women—a theme in the recent 2018 elections. Just as women fought together for their vote, women now fight to earn their way into political office.

Emily’s List, the largest national organization supporting female candidates for political office, helped more than 900 women win their election.

Women now constitute 20.2 percent of Congress. Because the number of congresswomen is rising, Georgetown Professor Michele Swers compares 2018 to 1992’s “Year of the Woman.”

“The [play is the] only show that is really all about a woman wanting to do good for other women without needing or wanting the influence of another man,” Lukomski said.

In this final play, Mary (freshman Kyja Norris), tells her father she wishes to become a nurse at the India Women’s Hospital. Mary and her father display the complex relationship of a family with different ideals about the proper place of a woman.

“Women in the audience and myself can watch these shows and be surprised by how little has changed,” Lukomski said, “and hopefully be empowered to continue to fight for that change.”

Mrs. Farrel (Samantha Meyer) in “Press Cuttings.”

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