Alys Cooke, 22, is an undergraduate student and Women’s Officer of Warwick University. She took time out her final exams to discuss quite extensively issues of women’s suffrage and today’s problems with poor voting turn out.
Interviewer (RM): Do you vote – do you vote regularly, rarely, all the time?
Alys Cooke (AC): I vote whenever I have the opportunity to vote... so in like national elections, local elections, student politics – I vote a lot!
RM: Do you feel that you have a kind of duty to vote?
AC: Yeah, I think it’s really really important that everybody votes, even if – I think that we have a duty to be informed about what we’re voting about, and also to vote. I don’t think you have a right to complain about how things are if you haven’t voted.
RM: And what about as a woman? How do you consider your right to vote as a woman?
AC: I think having a vote makes women equal to men; I think you can’t deny women anything because we’ve been... like, historically women were perceived not able to vote; now that it’s accepted that women can vote, it kind of suggests that actually women are completely equal to men – because if we have the same ability to decide politics, we also have the same ability to work, we have the same ability to look after children, we have the same ability to be in the public sphere, and I think that women getting the right to vote means that you can’t shut women out of any spheres of society any more. So I think that it’s really important that women embrace their vote and take it forward and use it actively and proactively and one might hope that actually women being engaged in the voting process might push them into politics, might get them more engaged in the political sphere, and might balance out like representation issues that we have.
RM: On an everyday basis, for example when you go to vote, would you say you take your right to vote for granted, or do you think you really value the fact that you have that right?
AC: I think I’m probably guilty of taking it for granted, because I don’t see why we wouldn’t have it, if you see what I mean. It blows my mind that there was a time where women didn’t have the vote, and so I think that when I go to vote I just think ‘yeah, this is what everybody does, everybody votes’, so in that respect I think maybe I am guilty of taking the right to vote for granted and that maybe we should be pushing for women all over the world to have the right to vote.
RM: How do you consider your right to vote in comparison to a male peer’s right to vote (your male friends)? So do you consider your right to vote as being any different from theirs, and if so in what way?
AC: I think that – I think that women’s right to votes is something that maybe needs to be protected more than that of men’s, I think the exercising of women’s votes is hugely, hugely important, and I think that because most of us – if you take voting in, say, the general election – the majority of parliamentarians and MPs are men, and so it’s really important for women to express their opinions in voting because if they don’t express their opinions there, actually they get completely shut out. And so I think that a woman’s vote is hugely important, but I don’t want to say it’s more important than a man’s vote because I think that all voting should be equal and the whole reason women didn’t have the vote was because of these equality issues. So I think that the woman’s vote is hugely important and should be – I think that women are a really important demographic and it’s quite exciting that, in politics, increasingly, the female demographic is being taken into consideration more. If you look at Obama, like, so many of his policies in his first election targeted women and young people, which Republican campaigns have never really done, and I think that’s really really important.
RM: What do you think about young women in general – do you think they value their rights to vote, do you think they consider that, you know, it’s not been that long since women had the vote... what do you think their opinions are?
AC: I think the young women in Britain – young people in Britain – are just so kind of lax about the voting. If you look at voter turn-out statistics it’s overwhelmingly the over 50 who vote. The turn-out for young people has been dropping consistently to the extent that I think it was like 17% or something in the last election, both men and women, and of those more of them are men than women. So I think that young women in particular often feel kind of disengaged in the political process and stuff, so are less likely to vote, which I think is a travesty – I think we should all be voting, I think we should all feel...
RM: Do you think that’s a gendered issue though, or do you think that’s just a general disillusionment with politics and lack of knowledge?
AC: I think there is a general disillusionment with politics – completely – but I think that maybe that’s heightened for women, and especially women of colour, who don’t see how parliament and political bodies represent them. Like, if you try to think of women of colour in parliament, I can maybe think of two or three, and I think actually that might be it, which is really really depressing – and considering that such huge swathes of our population are young women of colour, there’s nobody there that they can reflect – reflect, is that the right word? – reflect off, look up to... and say ‘actually look there’s somebody like me there, this body maybe can embrace me’.
RM: So in a sense, it’s similar for women [all women, women in general] because maybe women can’t see women in parliament, so why should they vote because there’s no-one representing their voice?
AC: Yeah, yeah.
RM: Have you heard of Emily Wilding Davison, and do you know who she is if you have heard of her?
AC: I have [pause]. I want to say she’s the woman who died under the King’s horse but I know that’s incorrect... is that right? Yes! Come on GCSE History!
RM: What do you think about young women in general’s knowledge on the suffragettes and that movement, and do you think people know that someone died for their vote?
AC: I think that we have no idea – the only reason that I can dredge that knowledge up is because I studied the suffragettes at school for GCSE. And, I went to an all-girls’ school and feminist movements weren’t like hugely focussed on, but there may have been a bit more of a focus because they went ‘actually, girls, you must be interested in this!’ But still it was GCSE History so it was optional – and, had I not taken it, actually I don’t know – I’d like to think that I’d know but I don’t think I would. So, I think that actually maybe women in the UK just have no idea, which maybe means... feeds back into the whole issue of why they don’t vote because maybe they don’t realise just how hard it was for us to get the vote in the first place.