From suffering to suffrage
It seemed wrong to let January slip by without acknowledging what happened during this month 109 years ago, in 1906. The occasion? The term ‘Suffragette’ was coined in the media for the first time. It was used as a term of disparagement – not surprisingly, considering that the newspaper concerned was our much loved Daily Mail, an organ not particularly well known for its liberal and forward thinking attitudes.
I confess to originally having had a rather romantic, simplistic, rosy-hued image of the women’s suffrage movement. I envisaged strong minded middle class ladies ripping off their aprons to march in careful formation on the streets of London, coolly informing their hapless husbands that tonight’s dinner could probably only be found in the dog, and that it was the maid’s night off.
Then a few years ago I went to see Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s Her Naked Skin at the National Theatre. For the first time I really appreciated the determination, courage and ingenuity of those women who sacrificed so much so that I could have the vote. They engaged in acts of vandalism, arson and bombing. They used acid to write on golf courses: ‘No vote, no golf’. They were challenging a status quo that is hard to imagine nowadays: one where men had all the power and say in society. (Yes, I know, there are moments when we wonder just how much we’ve moved on).
And they suffered greatly for their protests – the police exerted a degree of brutality in arresting them and locking them up. In prison, many went on hunger strike, only to be force fed under conditions that were extremely painful and quite inhumane. Nowadays, of course, they would probably be branded as terrorists, that useful catchphrase that seems to be applied to an ever-increasing range of people and causes. (This does not mean I condone acts of violence that harm other people).
As we know, full suffrage for women in line with that of men was only granted in 1928 in the UK. On election days, I invariably find myself chatting to some unknown woman encountered at the polling booth about how grateful we are to our suffragette sisters for all their efforts 100 years ago. I am also aware that I am of a generation that is less likely to take the vote for granted, and would not dream of giving up that right each time one of those special Thursdays comes round.
Well there is going to be one such Thursday on 7 May 2015 – less than 4 months away. It is a fact that older people are more likely to vote than younger ones. I want to urge the younger dames amongst our readers to get down to that polling station in May. We all know that our democratic system is flawed and that once in government the politicians never quite do what they promised, but don’t let that stop you from paying tribute to those strong-minded women by exercising the right they battled so fearlessly for.