The greatest mission the world has ever known?
Updated: Jun 3, 2019
Are you like me, tiring of politics and changing the channel to avoid Trump and of course the endless Brexit to-ing and fro-ing? Were you ever interested in politics or just meh?
I have been known to have my opinions about certain issues, at points in my life, but have to admit I pretty much take my vote for granted. Despite being interested in women's and human rights, the strongest emotion I can muster about most of today's political dramas is thorough disinterest.
I've just finished the autobiography of Emmeline Pankhurst, political activist, Suffragette and leader of the Women's Social and Political Union in the early part of the 20th Century. Don't worry I also read a lot of chick lit. This tome interestingly covers the period from her first involvement in the suffrage movement up until the beginning of the First World War.
This book was a revelation to me. Not because of the extreme lengths to which members of society have gone to in order to make their point, get their voices heard and ultimately work to take some control over their lives but in how relevant Mrs P's thoughts and beliefs about the position and status of women relative to men are still valid today, albeit on a very different (and much more subtle scale). I don't condone their methods but in the context of previous bloody rebellions and revolts, civil wars and two world wars since, the Suffragette's tactics stand out as being shocking to me only in that women born in the 19th century were the perpetrators.
Although the book's foreword is written from the perspective of a movement which had paused it's militant activities (they called a truce on their campaign of damage to property and harassment of government ministers) in order to support the war effort at home, the author remains absolutely clear in her purpose as well as the legitimacy and inevitability of her demands - achieving equal voting rights for women. The particular quote that struck me was of her eloquent call to arms of the women's suffrage at a time when the movement was scaling up it's militancy, to continue 'the greatest mission the world has ever known--the freeing of one-half the human race, and through that freedom the saving of the other half.'
This in the face of a press which either ignored, belittled or demonised them, a government who appeared to relish spinning the democratic process in ever spiralling circles and a public and parliament which refused to take action, although were believed generally 'for' greater rights for women.
Back then equality hinged on being able to inform law through votes and through this political expression having a say against unfair, discriminatory laws which impacted the welfare and opportunities of women and children and in addition allowing women (and men to positively contribute to the well-being and productivity of society.
Despite it being almost 90 years since women were granted the franchise (on the same terms as men, 1928), how relevant do you think these sentiments are today?
"Other histories of the militant movement will undoubtedly be written; in times to come when in all constitutional countries of the world, women's votes will be as universally accepted as men's votes are now; when men and women occupy the world of industry on equal terms...the historian will be able to sit down in leisurely fashion and do full justice to the strange story of how the women of England took up arms against the blind and obstinate Government of England and fought their way to political freedom". E. Pankhurst
Given the Suffrage movement as a whole achieved it's aims and women legally have held the same rights as men in all aspects of life for at least three generations, has equal legal rights for women freed one half of the human race? What of the other half - have men been 'saved'? Personally given the carnage of the World Wars and almost a century of warfare still to come I find her words have a retrospective relevance that is almost chilling. She felt it imperative that women have a say in the policy decisions of the lawmakers of the land and saw this as improving things for everyone including saving men - 'the other half'.
What are your views on equality of the sexes? So much is written in today's press either directly or indirectly about women's equality via the pay gap, everyday sexism and more recently how to raise a gender equal next generation. Being particularly interested in the roles of men and of women in society, I believe that true equality means true choice in roles and that this impacts how we treat each other as individuals and as groups. And that we are not there yet.
In my view only when we get rid of the ideas of 'women's work' and actively encourage girls and boys to develop their true breadth of strengths and interests (regardless if these cross socially constructed gender boundaries) will both women and men have real choice and equal opportunities to develop themselves to their full potential. Further to this if gender equality is explicitly addressed in issues of economic and social development this can only benefit our society, from affecting how we could raise and educate our children to addressing prejudices and unhelpful attitudes of the incumbent generation in our workplaces, schools, hospitals and governments and more.
What do you think?
All extracts taken from The Project Gutenberg EBook of My Own Story, by Emmeline Pankhurst