Current Affairs Movie Review Protest & Rights Movements

Hidden Figures: The feminism we need not the one we deserve

For some time now, certainly within male ranks, feminism has come across with negative connotations; you need only look at twitter accounts like meninist.

This is not down to the true cause of the movement nor due to many its supporters, but because of the radical demands of the few. This scrutiny is encapsulated by TV personality (and I use the term personality sparingly) Piers Morgan calling the women’s march ‘vacuous’ and labeling many of the people participating as ‘rabid feminists’.

And just like that the hugely important and good work done by the millions protesting becomes undone by those most privileged – a middle class white male – who has taken offence at the minority using strong sentiments; see Madonna’s speech at the rally for example.

This is not dissimilar to how within the last ten years Islam has been majorly scrutinized in the West due the few members who weaponize an otherwise strictly peaceful religion. And if we go back further; the Black Panthers, and to an extent Malcolm X, became more synonymous with the Black movement than the peaceful and civilized work by Martin Luther King Jr and his supporters.

As far back as Western history goes, the white male has ruled. It was 1920 that women were enabled to vote in the US as per the constitution [though of course this excluded black women] and another 8 years before they had any such right in the UK – 15 years after Emily Davidson martyred herself in front of the King’s horse. To further this point, it was only in the 1800s (1833 in the UK and 1865 in the US) that slave trade was finally abolished – not before an estimated 22-55 million died, a sum dwarfing that of the holocaust – and a further 100 years before President Lyndon Johnson allowed African-Americans to vote.

As seen, during these brutal regimes, throughout history it has been the peaceful protests – the ones that make the white people feel that the transition is in their hands – which I think is why Hidden Figures is so successful and why their stories are so incredible.

I don’t speak from experience as being a white male I can’t relate to people of any oppressed race or minority but I don’t think through the course of history that there has been a group oppressed more in the Western world than African-American women and this is depicted in the powerful and rightfully Academy nominated film. Not only did they suffer constantly at the hands of those in charge [unsurprisingly white] via rejection, snobbery and disrespect but even from their partners who questioned initially their chances of succeeding due to being women.

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I highlight this film because of how both the stories and the way they portrayed are such a strong indictment of women empowered. There was no attack on men which can cause such defensive responses, purely a celebration of these three incredible women and their talents and drive that gave them their due success.

They all fought injustices in different ways; Katherine Goble through a determined and constant effort to prove her talents until even those most bigoted could deny her no further; Dorothy Vaughn who simply used her foresight and intelligence to make her indispensable; and finally, Mary Jackson who fought both peacefully and in a way which played on the ego of a middle class (and you guessed it white) judge’s ego on his ability to make change – see my earlier point. Even once they got their foot in the door they were continuously knocked back; whilst the film did not focus too heavily on the racial element, one of the most poignant and painful scenes was when Katherine Goble arrived to work to see a colored only kettle had been acquired to right the wrong of sharing with the white colleagues. After all she had done, all the incredible intelligence and work she had displayed she was still not respected until she made her point clear yet still in a dignified and respectful manner.

By carrying out their fights in such intellectual and peaceful ways they did not tarnish their reputations, did not destroy the goodwill generated by their incredible achievements but more importantly did not align themselves with the ignorant stereotypes held for them at that time. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, as soon as Madonna started throwing out proclamations of bombings she completely undid the good work of her fellow protesters by allowing her oppressors to latch onto her words and highlight their conformation to the stereotypes held of feminism today.

By no means should those oppressed be required to show such patience or behave certain ways simply to avoid having their justified and moral causes mocked and ridiculed for aligning with caricature-like, false stereotypes by the very people oppressing them. Unfortunately, though, our reality is where the world’s largest misogynist was voted leader of the free world; equal pay is still a dream in many roles; and sexism and sexualisation are more common than female CEOs/politicians.

Whilst the actions of the oppressor by no means deserve so a civilized approach, it is the Hidden figures methods of protest that necessary to successfully achieve equality.

They are the heroes we need even if not the ones we deserve! Because whilst the methods of oppression towards women [and to all other minority groups I have only touched on with this blog entry] may have changed with the modern times, the bigoted and ignorant views that cause them certainly haven’t and so we can take a hint of comfort in the fact history teaches us how to successfully combat these human weaknesses.

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