Tracy Satchwill

Hysterical Females

A short film that interprets the story of suffragettes

The original concept of the film was to narrate the story of women’s suffrage and mark the 100th anniversary in 2018. The majority of us know about the history of suffragettes: the force-feeding, the protests, the breaking of windows, so I wanted to look at it from a different angle, focusing on the core of the problem which was the men’s behaviour towards women. This led me to look at the discrimination against Edwardian women in general, starting from girlhood. Why were young girls encouraged to suppress their ambitions? Why was marriage the only vocation for women?  Why didn’t politicians take women seriously? I wanted to communicate some of these obstacles in my film.

I didn’t want to approach women’s history in a literal way, so instead I decided to create a surreal world but show historical behaviours, attitudes and beliefs. In Hysterical Females the protagonist is subjected to discrimination through the eyes of a politician, a husband and dowager. In order to review current discrimination against women I combined relevant contemporary and Edwardian political quotes. Are these Edwardian perceptions of women still embedded in our society today?

I love working with collage and chose to use this method for the film using disjointed sounds with the combined techniques of stop motion, live action and animation aimed to create a powerful emotive piece. In order to communicate with a broad audience I introduced playful and theatrical characters to narrate and represent the story. I believe a playful element can engage attention more effectively than bare facts! 

Esther, a young, curious but naïve woman in Edwardian times, explores a visually inviting but uncomfortable world where there’s a struggle between power and freedom. In this domineering patriarchal society women are treated as victims and represented as automated, unconscious and desired objects. This world is a conflation of the Surrealist’s notion of convulsive beauty with Freud’s the uncanny. Men are the masterful creators and women dismembered, punched and severed art objects. Their owners devour their soul and body, empowering the right of habeas corpus, resulting in the woman becoming an animated inanimate human. The protagonist is a living doll, a fusion between a toy and a young woman (Walter 2010, p2), converted into an uncanny animated lifeless object. She is an effigy ready to be damaged and destroyed. Although the era is based over 100 years ago, thoughts and feelings of women are revealed from both yesteryear and today, posing questions about the similarities of attitudes, identities and desires.

However this world isn’t only controlled by men but also by outdated influential women that prod and manipulate innocent girls. This figure is both powerful and controlling in this disturbing anti-utopian society. The narrative is part reality and part fantasy, being both disruptive and disjointed, with an emergence of the relevance and irrelevant.

A rebellion, a radical change is required to overcome and deconstruct the oppositions and boundaries of the patriarchal thought. The appearance of an angel signifies entering another world. Her function is of prophecy, communication and guidance (Allmer 2009, p.12). She is a suffragette, a savour of the women of today.

Allmer, P. (2009) Angels of anarchy: women artists and surrealism. Munich; London: Prestel.

Walter, N., (2010) Living Doll: The Return of Sexism. London: Virago Press.

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'Just wanted to say we saw Hysterical Females last night at Leyden gallery in London and loved it. Just rewatched it and wanted to say thank you to you- it is technically superb, with wonderful sentiments and out of the many films at the gallery, it really stood out'

Angela and James Tubbs, audience at the Video Art Film Club, Leyden Gallery