Wonderful news this week that a glorious group of women marched on Parliament demanding equal rights for women and men. Led by Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, and organised by UK Feminista, they took to the streets to make MPs aware of urgent issues including the impact of cuts on women, the representation of women in Parliament, childcare access, and the low rate of prosecutions for rape.
Now, if you know only one thing about the original suffragettes, the simple version of history (which will do fine for now), it is that they chained themselves to railings demanding votes for women. And that this worked. So it’s not just that they’re known for one sole mission – they’re known for one sole mission that worked. Votes for women. Got them. Bam. “Deeds not words” was their rallying cry, repeated at this week’s march.
And so I find myself wondering if this New Suffragette movement, as it is known, might be trying so hard to bring every women’s issue and every woman with it that its voice is being lost in the multitudes.
I’m not suggesting people don’t need to bang very loudly on the doors of Downing Street to ask what the hell these men are up to, threatening to meddle with abortion rights, making cuts that hit women hardest, and all the other pressing stuff. I just wonder if a suffragette movement that carried on the specific work of its foremothers – say, representation of women in Parliament – would prove the harder hitter. And what a brilliant legacy it would be, if the first wave gave women the right to choose which man gets the power, and the great-granddaughters gave women every chance to be in power.
This all comes in the week when a survey says only one in six women in this country would call themselves a feminist. Well, I’m proud to be that one in six, but if other women aren’t, I'm not going to argue about a word, even one I love as much as feminism. If a gay man doesn’t want to describe himself as a homosexual because the word has, for him at least, rather gloomy and old-fashioned connotations, then he doesn’t have to. Similarly, if a woman who believes in equal pay and power doesn’t like the F word, her actions are more interesting anyway.
The twisting, shrinking corridors of semantics are full of trapdoors. Deeds not words, they said. Votes for women. Women being voted for. Men and women voting for men and women. Deeds not words. Bam.