because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Emmeline Pankhurst

Even though she was born into a middle class British family in 1858, Emmeline Pankhurst's parents raised her to be an in-your-face woman. They read her Uncle Tom's Cabin as a bedtime story. They invited U.S. abolitionists to visit them. And they encouraged their children to read from an early age books such as Thomas Carlyle's trilogy on The French Revolution: A HistoryAs she grew up, though, it was going with her mother to hear Lydia Becker speak on the struggle for women's rights and especially women's right to vote that set Pankhurst on the path she would trod for the rest of her life.

In fact, she was so single-minded that, even though barely out of her teens, when she met and fell in love with Richard Pankhurst -- a confirmed bachelor and lawyer twice her age as committed to women's rights as she was -- she suggested that they just live together rather than marry. It was only after he convinced her that she would be taken more seriously politically as a married woman that she agreed to the union.

While birthing and raising five children, Pankhurst turned her home into a center where abolitionists, anarchists, activists and revolutionaries of all types from three continents met and encouraged each other. But by the time her children grew up and her husband died, Pankhurst had begun to feel that agitation, speeches, letters and legal ploys were not enough to change the plight of women and the poor and make society more equitable. So she amped up her volume, formed the Women's Social and Political Union, and began going to jail at the age of fifty. "Deeds, not words, was to be our permanent motto," she said, adding "Trust in God -- She will provide."

Needless to say, smashing windows and punching police officers in the face are not everyone's cup of tea, so Pankhurst and the WSPU lost support from some, including eventually, a couple of her daughters. But Pankhurst paid no attention. Ridiculed, heckled, and pelted with rotten eggs and stones by crowds of men offended by their demands, Pankhurst and her merry crew went to prison and jail over and over, where they were beaten unconscious, threatened with the loss of their children, and force-fed with a hose when they went on hunger strikes over the conditions in which they were held.

Ultimately, as we now know, Pankhurst and the WSPU were instrumental in winning the vote for women in Great Britain, but not until after they became infamous for setting things on fire, burning messages with acid into golf course greens, and organizing a squad of jujitsu-trained woman bodyguards to protect them when attacked. In-your-face women mean business -- in no uncertain terms.

No comments:

Post a Comment