If Emmeline and Millicent came back?....... Getting the ‘gist’ of suffrage.
By Julia Moore
This is a tricky one - on many levels. How to mark the Centenary of the partial victory for female suffrage in Britain (1918) avoiding the - ‘much achieved, so much more to be done’, cliche. Much like the campaign itself, a Leviathan struggle. But here goes nothing.
Mulling on this column, in a French brasserie, on my own, in 2018, the truth, as they say, is sometimes much closer than you think. This simple act, much taken for granted, is, surely, one way to celebrate. Try repeating this innocent action in Saudi Arabia, or Northern India, and you, too, can experience only a fraction of the social and personal danger to which those campaigning women exposed themselves.
Cliche alert, No.2 - a set of scales. On one side, legal systems, codes of practice, widening career choices and other elements of structural change in civil life, stand as a testament to the fight for suffrage in the early-1900s Britain. On the other, a general pay gap void, systematic bullying (any sector, but highlighted by the MeToo, campaign), and, now here’s the thing...bottled water and (just recently) a brand of chips marketed specifically for women? Was never sure why the water (now chips) was special? I think women are meant to consume them sitting side-saddle, not in the presence of men and from behind a fan (read instructions on the packet).
The reprehensible current reports of exploitation and abuse by employees of some of the biggest, international charities is more stomach-churning than that of Hollywood, but any abuse of power and trust is equally outrageous. Both examples illustrate victim-vulnerability, however, the moral dimension not only distinguishes the two examples, but provides an insight into the how and why of exploitation persists. The paradox of abuse perpetrated by those in positions of trust is no more horrific when executed by employees supposedly acting as aid-workers, than in individual, domestic or private settings - exploitation is exploitation. However, returning on-track, specific issues of inequality as it affects women are nuanced - pay gap is a major example, but, women who are at best, unsupportive of other women, or at worst, exploiters of their gender is a subject mostly overlooked. Low-level, everyday behaviours which undermine women - by other women - especially in the formative years can have a lasting impact on confidence, self-esteem, horizons and aspirations. A snide teacher, an envious line-manager, an unsupportive mother-in-law, grandmother...the relationship opportunities are legion - and omnipresent.
Last month’s damning report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission highlighted the still common ‘dark ages’ practice of the discrimination/family questions during recruitment, and reminds us all of the challenges still to be addressed. So, that titular question?..Well, if I were luckily enough to snatch a coffee with either of the ladies (irony intended), firstly I would ask which they would choose as their prime, 21st Century battle - between ‘vertical’ (glass-ceiling-type) discrimination or ‘horizontal’ (nasty-lady syndrome). Secondly..do they find the semantic, hair-splitting debate about which one was, historically, more important - the ‘suffragettes’, or ‘suffragists’, a) irritating, or b) REALLY irritating? Or c) the crux of the issue, which illustrates why there is so much more still to do…
(and then watch out for flying missiles because I think, rightly, both of them would be justified in decking the interviewer…. beware the, fragrant ladies).