312 Views

Women’s suffrage 100 years on: what’s changed?

As it reaches a century since the defining moments of women’s suffrage, Roisin McCormack looks into how much things have really changed. Is a celebration of the time passed since women gained the vote bitter-sweet in reminding us of how much still needs to be done, or can we look at our century of progress with sincere pride?

Amidst the seemingly unending reports of high profile sex scandals, of pay gaps and of everyday sexism, the celebration of 100 years of female suffrage has quietly crept onto our radars.

On the 6th February 1918, under the Representation of the People Act, voting rights were extended to women aged over 30 for the first time.

This was a defining moment in the history of gender equality.

Although limited in scope by today’s standards, only applying to 40% of the women in the country, the act marked the success of a hard-fought, unrelenting campaign by the suffragettes. A decade later all women aged 21 and over were granted suffrage.

Accounts of women chaining themselves to railings, going on hunger strikes, continually protesting and, as in the case of Emily Davison, giving up their lives for the right to vote now seem alien to a generation of gender equality campaigners who (not to take away from them at all) have initiated successful and powerful global campaigns such as #MeToo from behind screens and via the internet.

Of course, the power of protest and activism remains strong: the recent Time’s Up rally in London and others across the globe show this.

While the methods and the aims of campaigning may have changed, there does remain an element of continuity between now and a century ago.

The celebration of a hundred years of suffrage certainly reminds us how far we’ve come: from achieving, by today’s standards, the humbling possibility of voting to having the highest ever number of female MPs in government (32%) and being ranked 49th globally in terms of gender equality.  However, the celebration does taste slightly bitter-sweet.

Leader of the Suffragette movement Emmeline Pankhurst stated that “men make the moral code and they expect women to accept it”.

In the age of Weinstein and Trump, her words arguably still have huge significance some hundred years later.

Pankhurst’s own great-great granddaughter having spoken at the Time’s up Rally in London last month showcases this sense of an inherited continuity.

Her grandmother’s statement remains relevant, as women across the globe refuse to concede to a male moral code – one of routine sexual abuse and harassment.

It’s important to remember the suffrage campaign was not solely concerned with votes for women; it was driven by a desire to change people’s attitudes to women.

It has come to light that today, in certain spheres and situations, an outdated and degrading view of women and their bodies persists. We can begin to question whether burgeoning success in democratic rights, on paper, means less when such basic mental attitudes towards women persist in practice.

The motto of the suffragettes was “deeds not words”. With inappropriate attitudes, behaviours and deeds toward women seeming commonplace, even within the very walls where democratic rights for British women were first writ in law, words and laws granting women the same rights as men lose potency.

The work of the suffragettes is to some extent reduced when a strong mental zeitgeist within Parliament, Hollywood, and elsewhere remains firmly rooted in the 1900s, when the fight for suffrage first began. 

As the motto “deeds not words” was important during the height of the suffrage movement, used to encourage women’s active involvement, it remains so now in highlighting the blatant inconsistencies between social and legal discourses on gender equality, and actual practices of sexual misconduct and pay gaps.

Clearly, women are still fighting their own battle and share common ground with the suffragettes in their view to correct attitudes about women. This, however, goes hand in hand with the shared experience of facing down critique and adversity.

The suffragettes gained their very name from what was meant to be a desultory Daily Mail headline (some things don’t change). They faced fierce opposition from the Womens’ National Anti-Suffrage League, were subject to physical and sometimes sexual abuse during protests, and were often ostracised by family and friends.

Women today and supporters of the #MeToo movement are also being attacked for voicing their opinions. In less extreme ways, of course: but nevertheless their attempts to bring predatory men to justice, and to reassert women’s positions as equals who surmount the role of sex bots, has gained them critique for recreating the Salem Witch Trials, and for (as French feminists and actresses suggested) destroying the art of male seduction.

This latter criticism shares similarities to one anti-suffrage argument that stated granting women the vote would introduce competitive relations between the sexes, and would thus destroy ‘chivalrous consideration’.

Both arguments centre around the anxiety that men might have to change their behaviour and their attitude towards women; that certain moral codes might have to be rewritten.

There remain continuities of a negative kind, ones that we hoped would have been left in yesteryear.

However, an inherited sense of female solidarity, on a truly global scale, is one continuity that Emmeline Pankhurst, Emily Davison and her ilk would have been proud of – it’s just sad that it has become so necessary.

Indeed, within this very continuity of female solidarity lies a discontinuity: one sure to make the women’s movement stronger.

Movements like #MeToo, that are – due to their sheer widespread recognition and support – comparable to the suffrage movement, are no longer centred around white middle-class women.

The Disneyfied image of blonde, blue eyed, middle-class suffragette Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins no longer fits the bill, as the women’s movement today is far more far-reaching and intersectional in its approach.

Though there still needs to be progress in making this more visible in Parliament (there are currently only 4 black female MPs), suffragette solidarity is evolving to represent our more multicultural society.

Marking 100 years of suffrage is important in recognising the things that have changed for women since 1918- in law, at the very least.

Laws begin to seem futile, however, when it appears the impetus and mindset behind them is half-hearted and non-committal.

The Equal Pay Act of 1975, and other gender equality laws, are made a mockery of, and render the whole system abject, if the principles behind them are not being put into practice.

Get the best viral stories straight into your inbox!

Don't worry, we don't spam

Leave a Reply

Join the Badger Team

Apply today!

Latest Posts

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate
Campus News
272 views1
Campus News
272 views1

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate

Jordan Wright - April 27, 2018

Student society Liberate the Debate’s most recent event was cancelled over a lack of compliance with the Students' Union's (USSU) requirement for a neutral chair - a…

Dollywould at The Old Market preview
Arts
5 views
Arts
5 views

Dollywould at The Old Market preview

Alex Hutson - May 22, 2018

From the 22nd May - 25th May 2018 DollyWould will be showing at The Old Market. An exciting new show, presented by Sh!t Theatre, who won the…

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu
Artist Focus
65 views
Artist Focus
65 views

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - May 16, 2018

Last week artist Fedilou made her debut exhibition in the downstairs space of Morelli Zorelli, a quaint vegan Italian restaurant in Hove, featuring a collection of intimate…

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley
Interview
46 views
Interview
46 views

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley

Nikolaos Manesis - May 15, 2018

Ron Chrisley is a Reader in Philosophy, on the faculty of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, and is the director of COGS (Centre for Cognitive Science).…

Adam review
Arts
96 views
Arts
96 views

Adam review

Ketan Jha - May 13, 2018

If you have been a stranger to the stage this spring and decide to see one contemporary show, let it be Adam. This reviewer went in entirely…

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
92 views
Arts
92 views

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 13, 2018

In celebration of iconic Brighton local, legendary alt-rock musician (and episodic actor) Nick Cave, TOM’s Film Club are hosting a double-bill screening of his films at The…

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review
Arts
110 views
Arts
110 views

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review

Georgia Grace - May 11, 2018

Meta-theatricality and interactivity are becoming all the more vogue in contemporary theatre, and in a world where the arts are becoming increasingly open and democratised, I find…

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks
Artist Focus
90 views
Artist Focus
90 views

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks

Alex Leissle - May 9, 2018

  [gallery type="slideshow" ids="35385,35386,35387,35388,35389,35390,35391,35392,35393,35394,35395,35396,35397,35398,35399,35400,35401,35402,35403,35404,35405,35406,35407,35408,35409,35410,35411"]

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival
Books
78 views
Books
78 views

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival

William Singh - May 9, 2018

Afua Hirsch’s 2018 book - part memoir, part polemic - provokes mixed feelings. So too did her discussion of the topic at this year’s Brighton Festival. Don’t…

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality
Science
110 views
Science
110 views

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality

Luke Richards - May 8, 2018

Bioweapons exist, while ethnic-bioweapons are whispered conspiracies. Pandemics can fairly hazardous to human life, the 1918 Flu Pandemic killed 20-50 million people. A man made pandemic could…

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced
News
158 views
News
158 views

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced

Jessica Hubbard - May 4, 2018

Students have voted to support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, reject Prevent and adopt new Gender Equality policies. Results for the Students' Union referenda were…

Why I’m Jewish AND I support BDS
Comment
152 views
Comment
152 views

Why I’m Jewish AND I support BDS

Sarah McIntosh - May 2, 2018

The idea of a land where my religious identity is welcomed and where I feel safe to be myself and live in peace is a beautiful idea…

Student research happening at Sussex
Features
136 views
Features
136 views

Student research happening at Sussex

Nikolaos Manesis - May 1, 2018

(Image source: Flickr, Pixabay, Wikipedia) Another academic year is coming to a close and with it, the last edition of The Badger. To celebrate our last science…

Sussex Festival cancelled
Campus News
194 views
Campus News
194 views

Sussex Festival cancelled

Jordan Wright - April 30, 2018

The Students’ Union have cancelled their highly anticipated end-of-term event Sussex Festival: Desert Island Disco, which was due to begin on Saturday May 12th. The Students’ Union…

Students’ Union President Gustafsson and Liberate the Debate respond to the cancelled event
Comment
215 views
Comment
215 views

Students’ Union President Gustafsson and Liberate the Debate respond to the cancelled event

Jordan Wright - April 27, 2018

These comment pieces represent the opinions of both the Students' Union and Liberate the Debate with regards to the  recent cancellation of the Society's freedom of speech…

Artist Focus: Rory Hinshelwood
Artist Focus
136 views
Artist Focus
136 views

Artist Focus: Rory Hinshelwood

Louisa Hunt - April 25, 2018

Rory Hinshelwood studies Zoology with Spanish at Sussex. His brand is called Poplar St., at the moment the brand sell embroidered high-quality t-shirts. Rory works mostly in graphics…

Artist Focus: Maayan Cohen
Artist Focus
99 views
Artist Focus
99 views

Artist Focus: Maayan Cohen

Emma Phillips - April 24, 2018

The Badger spoke with Sussex University’s Maayan Cohen about her creative workshop, ‘Bits and Pieces.’ Can you tell us a bit about Bits and Pieces- what’s the…

Voodoo enthralls at The Old Market – review
Arts
116 views
Arts
116 views

Voodoo enthralls at The Old Market – review

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - April 24, 2018

As part of South East Dance’s micro-festival, Undisciplined, Voodoo comes to being as a collaboration between South East Dance and Project O. Project O brings artists Alexandrina…

Arts
120 views

Trial & error: Sex, sass and foolishness through dance

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - April 24, 2018

For the concluding show of South East Dance’s micro-festival, Double Bill brings two short performances to The Old Market’s stage: Comebacks I thought of later by Eleanor…

An evening with Candoco Dance Company – review
Arts
176 views
Arts
176 views

An evening with Candoco Dance Company – review

Georgia Grace - April 24, 2018

Last week at the Attenborough Centre, the phenomenally unique and refreshing dance company Candoco brought to the stage a double bill of performances exploring identity, community and…