Elevate Difference

Made in Dagenham

I am not much for plays. I generally prefer to sit bundled in my comforter, wine in hand, and watch a movie. However, I was recently convinced by a friend to join her for Mrs. Warren’s Profession, the main attraction of which was Sally Hawkins. I know Sally Hawkins only from Happy-Go-Lucky where her cheerfulness, tireless as the Sony synopsis describes, was also guileless and irritating. It was nice seeing Hawkins as something more than a ditz; no, not more than a ditz, merely a different kind of ditz—aloof and self-righteous in a very different way. In Made in Dageham, Hawkins’ character is still wrapped up in her own fiction.

Made in Dagenham depicts the first strike of female workers in Britain. Starting as a dispute over wage classification, these women were not “unskilled” so much as they were specialized; however, the strike expands to an argument about pay equality. The strike is settled at ninety-two percent of parity.

Between unskilled and ninety-two percent, however, life continues and Rita O’Grady, as played by Hawkins, is too soon to forget the mundane—or at least it appears. She does not return to cooking or doing the dishes, and in a pivotal argument with her ever passive-aggressive husband, she rebukes him for behaving as he should towards her and their children, but never better. It is not a Betty Friedan sort of stance, trying to have it all, but it is also not third wave feminism’s acceptance that maybe having it all is not possible. In the film, O’Grady is called “the Revlon Revolutionary,” but only because she is a woman, not because her feminism resembles lipstick feminism. Her life doesn’t represent a particular political stance and seems merely a meditation on the ways things were.

While the film invites comparisons to Norma Rae, I have none to offer. The women of Dagenham were all too willing to go on strike, having seen their men do as much before. The women escalate their action after they feel that management’s response to their initial action is disrespectful. The women’s strike in Dagenham is endogenous, brought about by the preexisting union and acceptance of this behavior in a way that the South never has been.

Made in Dagenham is mostly a bubblegum depiction of feminism. It has a token scene in the union headquarters wherein heated arguments rely upon Marx—the progress of a society can be measured by its treatment of women. The film never develops any of its arguments or its characters fully; all remaining as tokenistic representations of the depths which feminism can reach.

Written by: Elisheva Zakheim, November 19th 2010