It’s hard to believe, but until 1971, Swiss women did not have the right to vote. In 1959, Swiss men voted 2-1 to deny women the vote. There was even a women’s group formed that year called the Federation of Swiss Women against Women’s Right to Vote.
Written and directed by Petra Volpe, The Divine Order deals with the 1971 referendum to reverse this prohibition, told from the point-of-view of Nora (Marie Leuenberger), an everyday housewife with two young sons, living in a village. She has never questioned her submissive role in rural Switzerland’s male-dominated society. But when her husband refuses to allow her to take a job, which is his legal right, something starts to stir inside her. Add to this, her niece is sent to prison for trying to run away with her boyfriend without her father’s permission, and Nora has had enough. She and her sister and an older woman who is angry because she lost her restaurant when her husband died, begin a campaign to support the vote for women’s suffrage. This eventually leads to a Lysistrata-like women’s strike.
Except for the obvious climax of the vote referendum itself, for me the highlight of The Divine Order comes when the three women join a march in Zurich and are exposed to a more open atmosphere than they are used to. They wander into a New Age seminar to teach women to feel comfortable with their bodies and their sexuality. They are given mirrors to study their vaginas and learn to love them. The Swedish moderator explains that vaginas come in different kinds, like bunny, butterfly and tiger. Although this scene is amusing, there is a serious aspect in that it exposes how isolated the village women have been. Nora, for example, has never had an orgasm.
There is never any doubt where this story is going, but it makes you feel good anyway. Because of Switzerland’s decentralized government, parts of the country continued to allow only men to vote. In fact, the men of one half-canton, Appenzell Innerrhoden, held out until 1989, when the Swiss Supreme Court finally ruled that women’s suffrage was a national right. By coincidence, the theater in Los Angeles where I saw The Divine Order was one block away from a Swiss pastry shop. Naturally, I stopped in, and I found myself sitting next to an elderly couple originally from Switzerland who had also just seen the film. The man confirmed this development because he grew up, in fact, in Appenzell Innerrhoden.