If Emily Wilding Davison wasn’t the primary name associated with UK Suffragettes before, she certainly is this week. (Just ask Clare Balding). I’ve blagged entry tonight to a Memorial at Westminster for Davison on the 100th anniversary of her famous, fatal protest, and am hoping to hear something fresh in the discussion – although how fresh it is just to be having the discussion right now, all over the social networks and in the mainstream. (Surely more compelling than Tulisa’s drugs bust?)
Looking at the programme of speakers for the Memorial, I have been going around the old debate with myself about whether there should be more men involved. It’s a familiar merry-go-round. On the one hand of course the empowerment of women should be celebrated and affirmed by offering a range of women’s voices that still seems to elude the mainstream. (Panel shows, anyone?) On the other hand, when will we see the point when ‘women’s rights’ becomes understood as a humanrights issue?
Looked at another way, in a week when various papers are covering ‘New Suffragettes’, ‘21stCentury Suffragettes’ and so on, why are women still being asked – in those very pieces – if they are feminists? And why are men never asked this question? No wonder some women twitch and duck when it comes up – there is an implied separatism in the fact that only one half of the population ever gets asked it. It is as if white South Africans could never have been expected to support the anti-apartheid movement. (Tell it to Nadine Gordimer.)
Lesser known fact: there was a Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage during Emily Wilding Davison’s time. Men were also imprisoned, went on hunger strike, were beaten and force-fed, in support of the women who were their peers. They understood that women’s rights are a universal issue, and sometimes also paid dearly for it.
So today, when I remember Emily Davison for her undeniable, desperate courage, and the thousands of other women who suffered for their cause, I will also think of Alfred Hawkins; a young workman from London who, 103 years ago, was beaten so badly he was disabled for life, at a protest in support of women’s – human – rights. They both understood, to their bones, why it mattered.