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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Emmeline Pankhurst Judges You

Note: This a rather more tongue in cheek, ‘Catlin Moran capitalise RANDOM words style’ of blog post than this blog is used to I’m afraid. It was going to be published on my personal blog but this blog has more of a following and the message is important. Additionally, I’m writing this on the fly in the midst of exam revision and such the blog will not be updating in its professional, journalistic fashion- or perhaps at all- for another couple of weeks.

WWEPD? What Would Emmeline Pankhurst Do?

If you have two X chromosomes and live in Britain you should really go vote today.

People who don’t tend to annoy me. Its all ‘they’re all the same’, ‘they never live up to their promises’, blah blah blah. Women who don’t vote annoy me even more.

There is something about the combination of politics and women that modern society is so keen to portray as unsexy. It may be that each female cabinet ministers are given marks out of ten for their wardrobe when entering Number 10 (and never very high ones at that) where in contrast editors wouldn’t dream of grading male members on such trivial matters when they are busy running the country and so forth (making the assumption that women MPs’ sole function in cabinet meetings is to sit in the corner and make tea). It could also be that such trivialities as taking part in the democratic process takes too much time away from
women’s busy schedule scrutinising the ways to be better in bed and make their hair shiner in women’s magazines so one day they can trick a man into marrying them, paying for that lobotomy and granting them eternal, mindless bliss.

However, as I’m sure you vaguely heard in the back of that History lesson when you were 14 and passing notes about whether the boy in your French class fancies you, Emily Wilding Davison threw herself under a horse she was so annoyed about not being allowed to vote. Emmeline Pankhurst, who was ALREADY A MARRIED LADY, campaigned for most of her life along with her daughters to get the vote. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem argue, journalised and campaign to get women equal pay. Germaine Greer is still breaking taboos to get women equally respect in the bedroom.

Its important. By not voting you are giving the patriarchy an excuse to ignore you. We have fought for over a hundred of years for the right to smack any man that pats us on the head and says ‘Don’t Worry Your Pretty Little Head About It’, lets not give up the advantage now.

WWEWDD? What Would Emily Wilding Davison Do?

A lot of the apathy surrounding elections is based on the assumption that elections are for electing new leaders. As the last General Election and its hung parliament proved, this is a silly assumption. Whilst we still have hierarchy, barriers to social mobility and inequality the goals of an election have to be different. The purpose of an election now is not to make a new political establishment out of the mob, its to make the political establishment fear the mob.

For instance if there is a large number of females voting, politicians are going to want to act like they speak for us and thus we get stuff. If we start getting vocal about the stuff we actually want, politicians will stop pandering and give us more than just ‘making it cheaper to get married and have babies’ the way the current coalition are.

During the heady days of the Third Wave Feminist movement, the sight of angry young women pounding the pavements of Britain to demand equal rights lead to the Abortion Act, the Equal Pay Act and a hold host more legal safeguards against discrimination. Had we not had the power, or exercised that power, to get rid of them in a public vote every few years they would never had bothered.

The only power patriarchy holds in a modern, democratic system is the power we give them. Apathy is not a protest vote. Its a signal that you don’t believe your opinion matters. Why would a politician work to provide for someone who would never vote for them? It would be politically counter-intuitive.

What do you do if an authority won’t listen to you? Shout louder, stamp your feet, take away their power over you but don’t just storm off in a sulk.

If you are genuinely undecided then spoil your vote. Give the weary, sameness of the main political parties and the naivety, occasional stupidity and some malevolence of the fringes it is easily to be lost for an cross in a box. I would strongly advocate the adoption of ‘None of the Above’ option on the ballot paper as I believe is custom in Australia. However in the meantime, writing it on yourself is the best option.

Its time the women of Britain, and all over the world, stop complaining about patriarchal tools of suppression and started taking them away from them. So when you go to the ballot box today, proudly declare by any means of your choosing; on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, randomly shouting it in the street. You don’t have to say how you voted just that you did and shame those who didn’t with the hastag denouncement: #emmelinepankhurstjudgesyou.

I think she would be proud if you do.