Last night, I finally watched the last part of an excellent BBC2 documentary series that was on a few months ago called Suffragettes Forever! The Story of Women and Power. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re about to have a General Election in the UK, so the story of women’s struggle to gain their electoral rights and loosen the male establishment’s grip on power was even more inspiring.
Many women are bored of hearing the same old line: women must vote because suffragettes died for their right to do so. But it was so much more than that. Women were beaten with whips, raped, force fed and trampled to death. Men were so afraid and angry about the suffrage movement and women gaining power that they were prepared to go against all modern standards of respect for the “fairer sex” at the time and would physically attack with abandon. If that doesn’t make you angry enough to get out there and exercise the right which they fought so hard for, then I don’t know what will.
Or perhaps I do. The thing that struck me most about the last part of Suffragettes Forever! was that it looked at how much power women have now, in Britain today, and how that power still brings out the worst in some men. In 2013, campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and the MP Stella Creasy campaigned for the Bank of England to put at least one woman on the back of the newly-designed bank notes, which were planned to only feature men. Their campaign was successful, and Jane Austen will grace the back of our £5 notes in the near future. However, it was what happened afterwards that was shocking and shows how men still fear women with power. Both women received hundreds of rape and death threats from anonymous trolls on Twitter. Stella Creasy, when interviewed for the documentary, detailed some of the sexism and misogyny she’s had to endure as a female MP too.
And not that much has changed as far as the balance of power goes, either. We may have had a female Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, but she felt she had to surround herself with men in order to be taken seriously. In her 11 years in office, only one other woman held a position in her cabinet. There were only five women in David Cameron’s most recent cabinet. If you look at photos of British cabinets since 1990, there are so few female faces as to be, frankly, insulting. Even Tony Blair’s first cabinet, which featured more female politicians than ever before, was immediately ridiculed in the press, with these well-respected, intelligent women reduced to being called “Blair’s babes”. Another huge insult.
So this is my call to British women during this important last week of the election campaign. You must vote. Vote for your sisters who fought and died to gain your right to vote. Vote for women all over the world who still don’t have the right to vote. Vote because the balance of power is not shifting fast enough. Vote because men still threaten powerful women. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, but please, for women everywhere, vote.