100 years of disobedience and still a long way to go

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On this day in 1913, a 41 year old governess went to the derby and, whether she intended to or not, became a martyr.

When Emily Wilding Davison stood in front of the King’s horse 100 years ago she already had a long record of militant action and she had the physical and mental scars to show it.

In school we are taught the suffragettes were the radical branch of the suffragists who fought the status quo with civil disobedience; setting fire to post boxes, hiding in the Houses of Parliament on census night and slashing paintings.

In retaliation the men in parliament willfully ignored them till they did their duty in the First World War and ‘earned’ their right to vote.

But the reality, as always, is more complex. Instead of a few women’s agitation this was a civil war between the lawmakers and their wives.

The suffragettes were far more violent than history often realises. One suffragette even tried to horsewhip Winston Churchill who was Home Secretary at the time. Wilding Davison even went to prison for 10 days for assaulting a vicar she mistook for a cabinet minister.

But they resorted to these measures because they were fighting fire with fire. As time progressed police attacks got more and more brutal. Police dispelling the Black Friday march in 1910 were even alleged to have sexually assaulted the protesters.

The suffragettes had to fight dirty because they were backed into a corner. Their assault on the society around them was such a shock to the people around them because they weren’t behaving the way they were supposed to.

Women weren’t granted the vote in 1918 because of their contribution to the First World War like conventional wisdom says. The idea that women were rewarded for putting down the placards and behaving themselves is laughable. The war was a catalyst which sped up women’s suffrage but it didn’t cause it.

Women got the vote because the establishment now knew after four years of war and suffering women weren’t going to wait any longer. Rebellion and concession was sweeping Europe and Britain was no exception. Between January and August 1919 there were a series of bloody riots in towns and cities across Britain were former soldiers were said to have played a large part.

In fact, the artificial reinflation of the economy in 1918 to prevent recession temporarily is considered by some historians to be the only reason Britain didn’t see more rebellion.

The actions of women before the war like Emily Wilding Davison should women were not the weak willed pushovers they had been expected to be for generations. True there were women who did not support suffrage, (including famous suffragist Virginia Woolf’s own mother) and some them even campaigned against it, lead by Mrs Humphry Ward.

These women won because they knew their enemy and knew how to fight it.

Unfortunately this is where modern feminism falls down.

For all the suffragettes, suffragists and their feminist’s successors’ successes, we still have a long way to go.

Approximately two women a week are killed by their current or former partners, a figure that hasn’t come down in 15 years. Rape reporting rates are still ridiculously low and when a case does come to light there always seems to be a celebrity or Twitter hate mob on hand to dismiss it as the victim’s fault. Women are still told it is more important to be skinny then happy.

And how do some (though I concede probably not most) deal with this? Bitch at each other about ‘privilege’ and campaigning to change the gender of a beloved children’s TV character for no real reason.

The suffragette movement was successful because it sent a message that they wanted the power to control their own lives. For the modern feminist movement it needs to send the message to young women that they are in charge of their own destiny.

Emily Wilding Davison has been portrayed as a mad women because she refused to play by anyone’s rules, not even the WPSU. Whether she was accidentally or intentionally stepping into the path of that horse she was defying what society thought was becoming of a lady.

Feminism should not be about conditioning every microscopic detail of society around the common needs of ‘women’ and arguing over a set of preconditions women need to feel ’empowered’.

It should be the simple message for each and every individual; do what you want, say what you want, think what you want and make sure people know to get out of your way.

Because there is nothing more empowering than that.

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Chinese New Year: How far China have come and how far they still have to go

Chinese-New-YearChina has come a long way in 101 years.

Back in 1911 (during the year of the pig), China’s final dynasty, Qing collapsed after nearly a  150 years of gasping for breath. The encroachment of the Western powers (and later Japan) with their unequal treaties, opium wars and favourite nation clauses had been met by ‘head in the sand, fingers in the eyes’ approach by the de facto ruler Empress Dowager Cixi for over fifty years before her death in 1908.

Although yesterday marked the start of a new lunar year and a new chapter of China’s history, tomorrow marks the 101th anniversary of the edict forcing child Emperor Puyi from the throne in 1912.

This measure led to the brief dictatorship of General Yuan Shikai and the beginning of the Republican era.

It is remarkable to think that after the traumas the country faced over the past century with seemingly endless civil war, the rise of communism and the brutal of life under Chairman Mao that the country is on the verge of being the most strongest economic power on earth in the next 10 years.

But we should not be too quick to sit back and watch. Despite America’s recent ‘Asian Pivot’ and the prospect of the Trans-Pacific Partnership potentially being formed as a more powerful trading bloc than the EU with China at its centre, China’s future could still be rocky.

The Chinese economy, whilst still the strongest in the world, is starting to slow down with the effect of the Eurozone crisis and the continued financial turmoil across the world. So they are unlikely to see the same double digit growth figures they’ve enjoyed over the past few years.

That is not to say the country doesn’t have anything to look forward to. Construction is now under way to build the world’s largest skyscraper, Sky City One in Changsha, Hunan province in south west China.

Similarly, China will be taking further steps into the space race with their lunar probe Chang’e 3 being launched later in the year.

However with the continuing  Bo Xilai scandal’s twists and turns remaining in the news and Xi still not fully cementing his authority over the biggest population on earth 2013 could still be a bumpy ride.

The Chinese authorities are still trying in vain to control the tide of information leaks but new innovations in telecommunications continue to outpace them. The power of microblogging sites has persisted despite manifold attempts to shut them down and it looks like nothing will change as we head into the new year.

So the dissident in China is likely to only build in the next few years. The examples of Ai WeiWei and Chen Guangcheng are international embarrassments to the nation which tries so hard to maintain control. While most foreign powers are too awestruck by China’s economic might to pay much attention to internal human rights abuses, these controversies are getting harder and harder to hide from the internet savvy Chinese population.

So as Xi tries to assert his authority over the next few years he will have several different challenges.

One way he could assert his authority is to go down the Cristina De Kirchner Fernandez route and continue to claim Japanese territory .

The ongoing dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands (know as the Diaoyu islands in Chinese and the Pinnacle Islands in English) has historical roots but has only really come to the fore in the past year. Although the islands are closer geographically to mainland Japan they are on the edge of China’s tectonic plate which is traditionally viewed as the extent of Chinese maritime influence.

The dispute goes back to the days when what is now the Okinawa prefecture of Japan was an independent kingdom. It survived by offering tributes to both China and Japan but adopting Chinese fashion, style and way of life. When Japan and China were forced to trade by the Western powers, instead of sticking their heads in the sand like China, Japan embraced change and the Meji Restoration cement a central government across the country instead of the Shogunate that had ruled for hundreds of years.

This included Okinawa which remained under Japanese rule from 1895 until America annexed it at the end of the Second World War.They gave it back in 1972 under the Okinawa Reversion Treaty and the Senkaku Islands were part of the deal.

Ever since China has not given up its territorial claim to them but has done very little to demand them back. They argue that as the islands were administered along with Taiwan after Japan annexed it in 1895, the islands should have been returned to China in 1945 as well. They claim that the then Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai Shek was too busy fighting the civil war against the Communists and too dependent on US support to fight his case properly.

The new conflict was sparked by a comment from the Toyko Governor in April 2012 Shintaro Ishihara saying he would use public money to buy them back from their private Japanese owner. In August several Hong Kong activists sailed to the uninhabited islands but were sent back, 10 days later Japanese activists did the same. In December 2012 a Chinese aeroplane was said to have violated their air space and in January of this year, Beijing said they were conducting a geological survey of the area.

Neither side seems to want to go to war over the islands but the tensions could be the perfect opportunity for Xi to distract from problems at home like De Kirchener is trying unsuccessfully to do in Argentina over the Falkland Islands.

Despite its new found status and power China is slightly licking the wounds of its past. A war with Japan could go a long way to healing the humiliation of losing a war with them, a smaller nation that had previously looked up to them, in 1895 which overtaking them economically hasn’t achieved.

China is the oldest and biggest continuous civilisation in the world. It has a delicate future ahead of it which could cement its rule as the most powerful nation on earth or it could crumb back into chaos. History is still crucial to China, and they will try to right wrongs in the twentieth century alongside power building in the twentieth first.

Marriage has already been redefined, its time the law catches up

just-married-gay-marriageIn today’s equal marriage debate, everyone’s favourite conservative foghorn Nadine Dorries, argued against the equal marriage bill because it does not contain a provision for adultery. She believes if a marriage contract does not contain a fidelity clause it cannot be a real marriage.

Now, putting aside how galling it is to be lectured on marital morality from someone accused of being a homewrecker, Dorries interpretation of what marriage is, is laughably out of date.

Ever since the Divorce Reform Act in 1969, it became possible for couples to go their separate ways without having to demonstrate infidelity (or even fake it in the most absurd circumstances), marriage has slowly evolved into a much more fluid entity.

In truth, despite what some backbenchers and the Coalition For Marriage say, the definition of marriage, like other British ‘institutions’, has never been static.

As Stephen Williams, Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West, explained effectively in the Commons today, marriage has always been a socially developed institution with religious overtones occasionally attached. Nearly every human conurbation in history has had some sort of ceremony destined to recognise not coital or romantic union. Whether its polygamous or monogamous, whether its gay or straight, whether its for life or until the ink on the divorce papers are dry was irrelevant.

Time passes, but from the Ancient world into the Christian medieval world, marriage was never viewed as a sacrament ordained by the church. Indeed, in the eyes of the Catholic Church it still isn’t. Villeins, yeomen and the everymen and women of medieval England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, could be married by their local lord in a civil cermony that had little to do with their local church.

It was only during the Protestant Reformation that marriage became a sacrament in the eyes of the Church as way to distinguish themselves from Catholicism and prevent the build up of monasteries swimming in wealth and cut off from the rest of the world. Up until 1753 you didn’t even need a formal ceremony to be declared married. This is the status quo favored by ‘traditionalists’ but it was effectively ended by the Civil Marriages Act in 1836 which allowed civil services in registry offices.

In 1858, divorce was allowed via legal process rather than the 300 divorces which were granted through act of parliament. This was around the time when ‘marrying for love’ became in vogue for Victorian Britain. Eventually, this led to nascent women’s rights with the Married Women’s Act of 1882 which allowed women to own their own property.

This paved the way for women’s rights and the suffragette movement. When they were granted the right to vote on equal terms to men in 1929, the reform of marriage really started. This culminated in 1991 when rape in marriage was finally recognised a crime.

This brief history of marriage shows there is no ‘default setting’ for the institution. The only constant of marriage is that it is whatever the participants want to be with the according legal rights. Whether is a purely economic transaction, a gesture of platonic companionship or romantic union, a married couple decide the parameters of what is and is not acceptable in their marriage.

The adultery principle is therefore not valid. Every marriage is different. Some are open, some are closed. Some are destined for children, some are not. The purpose of a marriage  is to build a secure, happy home. If that includes two men, two women or multiple men and women so be it. Comedian Sharon Horgan recently had a programme on Channel 4 about modern marriages. Some were weird, some were traditional but all of them seemed, at least on the surface, to be working.

Who says marriage has to be for life? Who says marriage can only be for two people at a time? Who says marriage should be for children? Marriage is a legal and an expression of love; beyond that everything else is semantics.

Therefore there is no grounds for the delusion it is only between a man and a woman.

The Politics Of Fear: Why The Sky Is Always Falling

A mock-up of the Houses of Parliament under European rule created by the Sun in 2007
This week’s debate on the referendum to stay in the European Union, instigated by the rather dubious e-petitions website, predictably resurrected fears that our continued presence in the EU is actually a plot to create a United States of Europe.

Of course, out of all the ridiculous notions that are floating around UK Politics this is probably the most ridiculous and I have previously had limited patience with it. However, this week as the hysteria has started to come to light again, I’ve found myself considering where it really comes from and the historical precedent for it.
Continue reading The Politics Of Fear: Why The Sky Is Always Falling

Chile Protests Columbus Day

A Protester in Traditional Mapuche Dress- Many were dressed in traditional costumes and carried Mapuche flags. Courtesy of BBC Online
‘How do I define history? It’s just one fuckin’ thing after another.’ Rudge said famously in one of my favourite movies, the classic History Boys in 2006.

People don’t always realise how important history can be in certain parts of the world and how, even over 500 years later, the wounds of the past can still affect the people of today.

Take the discovery of the West Indies by Christopher Columbus in 1492. For millions his discovery is the start of what would eventually be their home countries but for many its the start of when their homeland got destroyed.

Yesterday marked the 519th anniversary of when Columbus made landfall on 12th October 1492 and to mark this there have been celebrations all over the Americas. The day has been celebrated under various different names across the landmass for centuries despite only becoming a national holiday in the 20th century. However, for the Mapuche people of Chile it is seen as a day of mourning. Continue reading Chile Protests Columbus Day

After The Fall: What’s Next For The Middle East?

Courtesy of Nick Hayes/ The Guardian

Now that the Gaddafi regime has been ousted from Tripoli and the rebels revel in and loot the various palaces of him and his family, the blogosphere and the Guardian’s picture editors are making the (slightly obvious) comparison’s between Gaddafi’s regime and the forgotten colossus in Shelley’s Ozymandias.

However, as talk turns to what Libya and the Middle East will do next I think a probably more profound literary allusion would be George Orwell. Or more specifically, the final words of his 1945 novella Animal Farm:

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from
pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Continue reading After The Fall: What’s Next For The Middle East?