Yesterday was the centenary of the death of Emily wilding Davison, who threw herself under the feet of the king’s horse to draw attention to the campaign for women’s rights. There has been a lot of stuff in the media about her, but though tragic, she was rather a marginal, solitary figure in the movement. I heard a commentator pondering on what she would make of all the achievements since her time, and as with many of my posts, this is a notion that goes nowhere. We have no idea what she woudl make of anything in our modern age. But of course I have a few ideas.
The suffragettes were incredibly brave women, hard working and prepared to sacrifice. One of the worst things they suffered was the so-called cat and mouse act which was passed to deal with their hunger strikes in prison: they would be released to allow them to recover, then re-arrested to serve the rest of their time.
The speaker made much about how much we have achieved since then, but I wonder. Sure, we have had a female prime minister in this country, but she was the wife of a millionaire and was voted in to clean up the mess the boys had made of the country, then thrown out when she had done so. Though often held up as a model for other women, she did nothing to advance her peers, so I don’t think we’ve come very far on that point.
There are few mature women in the BBC, the new Bond girl is Penelope Cruz, approaching middle age – this is claimed as a sign of advance. But she’s a Bond girl, not Bond. Dr Who has long been a model for young boys, but they will not have a female replacement, nor is there a female equivalent.
In the 70s and 80s women were loud and very visible – they had a peace camp at Greenham Common, there were girl groups that were competing with the boys, especially on the Punk scene, but that decade gave us Madonna (sorry) The Go Gos, Shakespeare’s sister, and a whole lot of others. Not just fronting bands, but actually playing their own instruments. They were setting up businesses like The Body Shop, and were well represented in the press – not just as journalists, but editors and setting up their own presses.
So, women got the vote, which was great, but it came a century after women had campaigned for men – including the descendants of slaves – to get it. But in the century since, there have been a few shoots but little real growth. Even when women get equal jobs, they seldom get equal pay, and they still end up being the ones who stay home and look after the kids. The men still have their clubs, they still run the banks and big businesses. I don’t think the feminists would be impressed.
To show how far the sisters haven’t come, here’s The Wanted with ‘She Walks Like Rhiannon’. If you can hear a sound in the background, it’s probably the sound of suffragests spinining in their graves.