Why the suffragettes still matter: ‘they dared to act as the equals of men’

They endured violence and cruelty to further the cause of votes and equality for women. Ahead of the release of the movie Suffragette, we asked writers to reflect on the meanings and modern relevance of the militants’ direct action

Bridget Christie, The Guardian, Saturday September 19th, 2015

This is an extract from a larger piece – which can be found here.

Bridget Christie

‘The suffragettes were slightly more committed to the emancipation of women than I am’

Apparently, Jimmy Savile didn’t run all the charity marathons he said he did. He would run for a short distance, then jump into an ambulance or some other type of flashing, wailing, inconspicuous emergency service vehicle and be driven, by a headless coachman, to somewhere near the finishing line, hop out and run the last bit.

Earlier this year, my left foot got jammed in a long, narrow pothole in the road. I didn’t see it because I was distracted by a text telling me that Mary Beard had sent a tweet out saying my routine about her was hilarious. I tore all the ligaments in my ankle, broke my finger and had to have my engagement and wedding rings sawn off. They’re still in pieces in the urine sample bottle the nurse put them into for safe-keeping. I expect Beard, the feminist, loves that.

About a month later I was asked by Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of the leader of the suffragettes Emmeline Pankhurst, to take part in a panel discussion on International Women’s Day, and to walk with her in solidarity with all the women around the world facing inequality and injustice. I was incredibly flattered and honoured – it was like a descendant of Jesus had got in touch.

The walk was to launch 2015’s Walk in Her Shoes campaign for Care International, where Helen is a senior adviser, and many brilliant women attended a mass walk along London’s South Bank. Arm in arm, they remembered all the thousands of women and girls around the world forced to walk for water all day long. I didn’t, though, because my ankle was throbbing. I did the talk, then got a taxi to the end of the walk. I am the Jimmy Savile of feminist campaigners. And I am ashamed.

The suffragettes were slightly more committed to the emancipation of women than I am. Kitty Marion, the music-hall entertainer and militant suffragette, was force-fed more than 232 times in prison for her beliefs. On the night of the 1911 census, Emily Wilding Davison hid in a crypt at Westminster overnight so that on the census form she could legitimately give her place of residence as the House of Commons. The suffragettes blew up houses, smashed windows, burned down unoccupied buildings, poured chemicals into mailboxes and chained themselves to railings outside Buckingham Palace. They were imaginative, passionate, fearless, dignified, good-humoured and extremely well organised. I deserve to have my T-shirt with the suffragette motto “Deeds not words” written across it ripped from my back and thrown into a bin.

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