Suffragettes Forever!

That’s not just a rallying cry, it is the title of a three-part documentary series on BBC2 fronted by Amanda Vickery. It is a great piece of history, because it reminds us that while the nature of liberation struggles might change, the tactics used by those in power, and by those fighting for their rights, don’t change much. I’ve just watched the final program, and as Vickery points out there’s no question that what the suffragettes did in Edwardian times would count as terrorism today. The heavy-handed and violent police suppression of demonstrations is also very familiar (though at least they don’t come at us on horses and armed with sabres as was the case with the Peterloo Massacre — and no, that wasn’t specifically a feminist protest, but scroll down that link and you’ll see that the soldiers deliberately targeted female protestors).

The final program featured a short clip from a 1959 interview with Nancy Astor, the first woman to win a seat in Parliament. The interviewer did the classic thing of asking her if it wasn’t true that women were temperamentally unsuited to a role in government. Her response was pure Joanna Russ. No, she noted, it is men who are temperamentally unsuited, because they are so weak-willed. With just a little flattery you can get them to do anything. All you have to do, she said, is smile sweetly and say, “tell me more about yourself.”

I may have punched the air at that point.

Something else I discovered from the program is that the feminist hatred of sex workers may date back to a book written by Christabel Pankhurst. In The Great Scourge and How to End It she argues that wives should avoid having sex with their husbands because men are forever going off with disease-ridden prostitutes and bringing their infections back home. I note that Christabel was also opposed to including working class women in the movement.

Of particular interest to me was he way in which the government tended to dismiss the suffragettes as mentally ill (“hysteria” being the usual diagnosis). It is so like the way that trans people’s concerns are dismissed these days.

Vickery makes it clear that while feminism has won many victories, the struggle for equality still has a long way to go. There are more men currently sitting in Parliament than the total number of women MPs who have ever got there. Vickery also makes mention of the online abuse directed at women. There is indeed much to be done.

Had I not had duties at Sofacon I might have been in Bristol for the Women’s Literature Festival. Then again, it is probably better that I wasn’t, because I would probably been thrown out as a dangerous rapist. They had a panel on women and journalism that was stuffed with TERF sympathizers. Obviously I’m only going by other people’s tweets, but the hypocrisy on display appears to have been jaw-dropping.

This from a woman who spends much of her time paying white, middle-class women to persecute trans women and deny them access to, well, everything, starting with bathrooms.

The only reason that most trans women get to tell their stories, you arrogant, self-righteous prig, is that they are stuck at home being unemployed, and because they are willing to write for no pay just to get the message out there.

To quote Amanda Vickery’s final line from the series, “It isn’t over”.

Too damn right it isn’t.