One hundred years ago this week, Emily Wilding Davison threw herself in front of a horse. By chance or very possibly design, it was the king’s horse, and her fate became legend as the most famous martyr of the suffragette movement.
Did you watch Clare Balding’s documentary too? Oh good. Fantastic, wasn’t it? If you didn’t, I must bid you put down your Coco Pops and 4oD-it this instant, because it needs to be seen. Especially if your overriding image of the suffragettes is the mum in Mary Poppins doing a merry jig in a yellow petticoat. The sinister, brutal reality of the battle for women’s votes was about as far from Disney fable as it gets.
As a teenager at Davison High School for Girls, which wasn’t named after Emily although I always liked to imagine it was, the message of her cause managed to penetrate the almighty cloud of Clearasil and Impulse and Maroon 5 and hormonal angst for four years without us quite realising it. Our teachers drummed ambition into us along with long division. In 2004 we won the Global Rock Challenge with a dance about the suffragettes, and cried snotty tears of joy at Prince Edward as we collected our award.
It might be because I was woozy on body spray fumes at the time, but as a school girl I honestly don’t remember ever believing there was anything I wouldn’t be able to do on account of my gender. No, that came later. That came when I realised there’s still a whole, horrible chunk of society who value a woman’s body far beyond her brain.
It came the first time I noticed how many shops still shelve music, science and technology magazines as ‘Men’s Interest’. And when I discovered that I could expect to earn 15 per cent less than the men who graduated alongside me. And when I read that two women are killed every week in the UK as a result of domestic violence – a figure that hasn’t changed in 15 years.
My mother taught me regularly, well before I was old enough to, that I must always vote - “because of the suffragettes.” And I do.
I haven’t yet had the pleasure of voting in a government I’ve actually wanted (or a London mayor who isn’t a Bash Street Kid come to life) but at least I’ve had the pleasure of contribution. Exercising my right, to decide who governs me – and with it, the pleasure of knowing I can whinge and moan to my heart’s content about our politicians, because I played my part. Because I could.
So as Emily Davison’s centenary is commemorated on our screens and in our papers, I’d rather use it as a rallying call, not a memorial, to carry on what the sister suffragettes kicked off – to men and women, because human rights are everybody’s issue. And the march is far from over.
In which you are a feminist, I promise you
2 weeks ago