In Parliament Square, stand the statues of some of the greatest men of all time.
Winston Churchill keeps vigil proudly. He watches over ten other men who have shaped and changed history in ways most of us will never see again. Voted Greatest Briton, few can deny that the British Bulldog and his spirit were a notable light in the darkest days of the Second World War. A beloved Prime Minister, politician and general character, it is only right he stands in Parliament Square.
No women stand.
Britain has given the world a huge number of incredible women. Boudicca and Elizabeth I in leadership, Barbara Castle and Margaret Thatcher in politics and Mary Wollstonecraft and Josephine Butler in feminism, these women have shaped the world we live in. Each of these women, and more, would be more than deserving of being immortalised next to Churchill.
In 2016, a Change.Org petition was started, requesting that a statue of a suffragette be placed in the square. Sadiq Khan replied to said petition, promising his support and interest, but reminding the signatories that practical issues needed to be considered. Several months later, and we have heard nothing since.
In 1918, the nation will celebrate 100 years since women first achieved (only partial) suffrage. In 1928, the celebration will centre on 100 years since men and women got equal suffrage. Female voters are a normal sight on polling day; one does not even blink as females shuffle past them, ballots in hand. Great Britain has produced two female Prime Ministers, one of who is our incumbent Head of Government.
Theresa May, Margaret Thatcher and all the female voters of the land have some remarkable women to thank for this.
The suffragettes – and suffragists, as one does not want to disregard those who chose a non-militant approach – were women of all walks of life. From the very poorest, to those who held noble positions in high society, these ladies marched, yelled and fought to simply have access to the vote in the same way as their fathers, husbands and sons did. Though people often remember the movement as being mainly in the early twentieth century, with the hard work of the NUWSS (National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies) and WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union), the advocacy of the female vote has been going on for centuries. John Stuart Mill, a notable political philosopher whose work ‘On Liberty’ has been studied by Politics students across the country, was one such example of early advocacy.
For years, these women – and sometimes men, though the WSPU did not permit male members – fought against a barrage of insults, social anger and general discrimination and hatred, to make their voice heard.
A large portion of society deemed it morally wrong for ladies to vote. Politics were seen as dirty and impure, completely against the ‘delicate’ sensibilities of the women folk, who were idealised in works of art and literature as gentle, demure and quiet members of society whose greatest wish was to be the best mothers, wives and daughters. On the dexter side, when not portrayed in such a way, anti-suffrage citizens would believe that women were too emotional and irrational to make a decision so serious. If they gave women the vote, they would have to give it to all men – regardless of station in life. Of course, many assumed that women would simply vote as their husbands did. Finally, ladies did not and could not fight in the army like men did and to society, that did not make them full citizens. In short, early twentieth century women were subordinate to their male counterparts.
Of course, the suffragettes of the nation stood up against the injustice. Emmeline Pankhurst, and her non-militant counterpart, Millicent Fawcett, led legions of dedicated women as they fought in the battle for the ballot. Intelligent, bright and brave, these two leading lights are owed a great debt of gratitude by the woman voter. Angered by the injustice and hypocrisy of society, Pankhurst and Fawcett, as well as their followers, rose up from their domestic spheres and made a stand in public. Society was shaken.
Though Fawcett and the NUWSS’ contribution to suffrage is invaluable, history most remembers the violent campaigns of Pankhurst and the WSPU. From arson to throwing items at the unfortunate PM, they tore apart the image of morality and purity of the Edwardian women, creating images that would send gasps. They did not benefit from the new age of television like the Civil Rights Movement did, newspapers still captured women being bodily carried by policeman, pictures that would be echoed through movements years later. No longer were women powerless in protest. Though most historians agreed that the work of the suffragettes set the movement back, their place in history is permanent and most certainly memorable.
This article is not as much a history lesson as it is an argument.
Winston Churchill was a great man – one of history’s greatest.
The suffragettes and suffragists were great women – some of history’s greatest.
They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and indeed, the ballot is greater than the bullet. The ballot has voted in heroes such as Churchill, and villains such as Hitler. Ballots have helped towards wars that have killed millions, and peace deals that have saved them. Voting is seen as a fundamental human right in a world where so many do not have access to fair and free elections, with no right to choose the person or people that will affect every aspect of their life.
Thanks to our foremothers, women now have a chance to vote. Only the Vatican does not allow voting based on gender, but in a country with only a very, very small number of female residents and one which only allows Cardinals to vote, it hardly seems significant. Every non-imprisoned British woman aged eighteen and over can go to an election, whether it be for Police and Crime Commissioner or for the future of the relationship with the European Union.
They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and indeed, the ballot is greater than the bullet
Thanks to those women, numerous governments have been voted in. Thanks to these women, those governments have decriminalised homosexuality, outlawed racism, a voice to the disabled and allowed de jure equality between the sexes. From David Lloyd-George (the first PM to be elected by women) to Theresa May, governments have been formed that have shaped the society we lived in, and those governments have been elected by millions of both men and women. In many places, more women than men vote.
Every woman voter is different, but they share similarities. Each has a different job, education, marital status, sexuality and geographical location, but each of them goes out on voting day for the same reason – to raise their voice. It doesn’t matter if they’re a seasoned voter, a member of a political party or are just voting because they know it’s important. This social aspect, it mirrors that of the women who came a century before. Though mainly white and middle-class, they were not exclusively so. It was a movement who brought together those with one goal, just as the actual act of voting does.
Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst may have led the movements, but like any good army, it is the work of the many and not the few that contributes to the victory.
Churchill, and Gandhi, and Lincoln all accomplished amazing feats on their own, which secured them the honour of being remembered in Parliament Square.
All that is needed, however, is just one statue of a suffragette. That statue is an amalgamation of all the women who fought like soldiers just to be able to vote like their men. It disregards social class, sexuality, race and everything else that shows some of what a person is, and instead focuses on character that shows all of what a person is; the character of each of the thousands of brave women who stood up in the face of huge adversity. And won.
There’s a quote from the Marvel universe, which reads as follows:
“Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye and say, “No, you move.”
If that isn’t the perfect inscription for a statue of one iconic woman, and one iconic movement, then I don’t know what is.