Last week I had my eyes opened and my ignorance stretched in front of me like a cats guts over a guitar.
I’ll take it from the top … it was turning out to be just another Monday afternoon when a very kind friend of mine offered me tickets to the premier of ‘Made In Dagenham.’ I knew the basic premise, and when I say basic I mean I knew it was about a bunch of women working in a Ford factory. So with this deep insight in mind I gratefully accept the offer, get ready, put on my finest Uniqlo shirt and strut/run uncomfortably down the red carpet in to the comforting womb of the cinema.
We sit down and my word are we greeted with a plethora of goodies. Water, Popcorn and a Weight Watchers Flapjack – which I have to say was bloody delicious. “This is just great,” I think whilst revelling in the oaty goodness of my flapjack. “Oh fucking hell look, that’s Mark Kermode, God he’s a God.” I make a little joke about the row of oldies sitting behind us and I’m just about to make, what in retrospect would have been a pretty tasteless joke about a rather slutty looking middle aged woman who turned out to be Ben Kingsleys wife when I clock ….. Ben Kingsley. He sits down like an absolute player. Has a swig of water and then to my delight rips open his Weight Watchers flapjack. Now, although I could only see the back of his head, the bald creases at the bottom of his skull turned in to what can only be described as a smile as he tucked in to this heavenly low fat treat.
The director and producers come on stage and have a chat, the cast come on stage and have a chat, then the lights are lifted to the bunch of oldies behind us. They are not just any bunch of oldies, they are some of the women this film is based on. I’m impressed, but not absolutely sure why at this point.
The lights dim….ooo….premier….exciting!
The film starts and this is where my eyes are opened and my ignorance is exposed. For anyone who, like me, is unaware of the actual premise of the film. It is about a bunch of women who worked as seamstresses making leather seat covers at a Ford factory in Dagenham but these women were pretty remarkable. All from working class backgrounds, they had worked all their lives and lived, as was expected at the time, like second-class citizens. Even though it was the ‘60s and there was all this free love going on, women on a day-to-day basis were still treated like servants you slept with …..
“I expect dinner on the table at 6pm Bonnie and a hand job at 9pm.”
“Yes Brian, would you like peas with that?”
That kind of thing. Women got paid about half what men did and this was never disputed because its absurdity was never questioned to any beneficial extent. That was until, these women stood up and said “Hang on a minute love, this isn’t right. What we’re doing is skilled labour and it should be paid as such.” They were initially laughed off, and ignored. They’re women, they’re just making a fuss, pay them some attention and they’ll shut up. They didn’t. They kept shouting. They went on strike. They went on strike for so long Ford ran out of seats to put in the cars. Ford has to close the factory. The men are out of work. The women start getting shit from the men because they’re out of work. As one woman perspicaciously points out after being berated for going on strike “All us women came out and supported you men when you went on strike, why is this any different?” It gets harder and harder the longer they’re out of work.
After months of speeches and protests and refusals to back down and be laughed out of the room these women are invited by Barbara Castle (a labour politician, the first female secretary of state and also a woman with massive balls) to the Houses of Parliament. Without permission from the man in power at the time these women that afternoon changed rights for women around the world as much as the Suffragettes did. Because it was recognised that day that women should be paid equally to men it was therefore recognised that they should be treated the same as men and respected to the same degree instead of being fobbed off as something nice to come home to.
How then – did I know none of this? I understand it’s my duty to educate myself but Jesus Christ, why the hell aren’t we taught about this in school? We’re taught briefly about the civil war, the abolition of slavery, the Suffragettes; why aren’t we taught about one of the most revolutionary occurrences to happen this century and it happened in this country! I’m honestly quite ashamed I didn’t know about this. I walk around with my iPhone, my flat and my job (from time to time) not just thinking I should be paid or treated the same as men but expecting it as my right. I’m not saying I should be grateful to be treated with the same respect as a man, but I should be grateful and most certainly aware of the people who made this possible. But then I get confused. Does this mean I’m not to expect chivalry and in line with equality go out and buy my man Milk Tray and Gladioli? I don’t know …. anyway, I’m veering wildly of course here.
So, as the film draws to its end I am busy trying to hold back tears, I don’t know if the fact that these incredible women were sitting behind me made the film all the more poignant but it really did feel incredible to be in such close proximity to these unbelievable people, who for some unknown reason receive barely any recognition for their achievements on a day to day basis. As like me, most people would think they were just any old ladies.
After some idiot from Strictly Come Dancing comes over to them and asks some pretty insensitive questions, we head over to the after party (after walking up and down Wardour Street 2,00000000 (zillion) times trying to find the place.) The after party is perfectly nice. Champagne. Salmon. Dominic Cooper ripping up the dance floor like some sort of crazed jive alien. The band finish and the DJ steps up. All attention is on Dominic Cooper and what turned out to be Rosamund Pike (I need to get some glasses) when ‘The Beatles – All You Need Is Love’ comes on. Now, anyone who knows me, knows I’m not a massive Beatles fan but to this song possibly the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen happened. All the old ladies got up from their seats, formed a circle all held hands and swayed and sang along to this, even one of their husbands who looked incredibly frail got up and joined in. I watched them and just thought “You can actually look back on your life, safe in the knowledge that not only did you achieve something with it, you achieved something that every generation of woman is thank full for and will be thank full for.” That must be a pretty incredible feeling.
The evening ended as ‘Nancy Sinatra – These Boots Are Made For Walking’ came on and one of the old women strolled over and danced with us to the whole song, as I serenaded her with my ethereal voice I thought “It can’t get better than this….” but then, the old frail looking husband prowled over and after a little boogie, grabbed my face and gave me a nice big smacker.
I couldn’t have been happier.
… And no, I am not suddenly anti-male and sadly, Weight Watchers aren’t paying me for this. It just was truly delicious.