WWWBlog6

Good morning, y’all. Veering off on a bit of a tangent today …

I’m not, and never have been, a rampant feminist, but I do expect to be treated equally to men in all respects – and I applaud the many who fought long and hard so that I might have those expectations. I am better qualified than my husband and my four sons – the OH occasionally teeters on the wobbly edge of chauvinism (although his father was an Australian, so I mostly let him off), but I have never seen any signs of that in the boys, three of whom are now parents themselves. In their own households, they muck in with all chores, change nappies etc.; whatever is required at that particular time. So, while I’ve never even burned my bra (frankly, no one would notice anyway) maybe I’ve done something right on an infinitesimally miniscule scale.

I’ve previously mentioned my paternal great-grandmother, Rose, who was born in a workhouse in 1876, and said how hard, hopeless and deprived life must have been for the lower echelons – especially women – in patriarchal, highly-stratified Victorian society.

The OH and I went to see Suffragette last night and it struck me that things hadn’t improved much during the thirty-odd years to 1912, when the film opens. Working class females were exactly that – working; long hours, often in back-breaking conditions. They had an equality of sorts with their men, but only in that they toiled every bit as hard as they did, and they did so for less money. Plus, they looked after their homes and children.

In the film, Carey Mulligan plays fictional character Maud Watts, who has worked at the same laundry as her husband and her late mother for many years – and she’s only twenty-four. Maud dutifully hands over all her wages every week to her husband, to do with as he sees fit. In this respect, she is no different to a woman of much higher class, who is married to an MP. This woman is a supporter of the suffrage movement and gets arrested, along with Maud and others, after a protest. When the MP turns up to bail his wife out by writing a cheque for £2, she begs him to make it £12, so that the others can be freed as well. He refuses, despite her pointing out that it is in fact her money he is spending.

Similarly, another Suffragette was a qualified pharmacist (her ambitions to be a doctor thwarted by a disapproving father), but because she was a mere woman, it was her unqualified husband’s name above the door of the dispensary. She also churned out a nifty line in explosive devices, to be left where they wouldn’t do harm to any persons, just objects like post boxes. Helena Bonham-Carter played that role, with her mad hair mostly under control.

The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded by Emmeline Pankhurst, organised protest rallies to get recognition for their cause. They were often met with extreme violence by police – the women had no rights at all as individuals and could therefore be beaten at will, with no fear of recrimination. This is in the good old days, when husbands were at liberty to sort out the missus with their fists, should the fancy take them. Women were merely part of men’s goods and chattels, control passing from father to husband. It’s horrifying to think it’s really not that long ago that police had no powers to intervene when attending ‘a domestic’.

The police violence at Suffragette protests conjures comparison with the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, constables replacing the military who beat working class protesters mercilessly then, because they had no human rights – sadly, that has become a ludicrously overused and abused phrase now.

Real-life militant activist and member of the WSPU, Emily Davison, was trampled under King George V’s horse during the Epsom Derby 1913. The plan had been to get the King’s attention and thereby the publicity needed – but since the women couldn’t get near him, it’s thought Emily either tried to attach a Suffragette sash to the horse’s bridle, or threw herself under its hooves. Well, her funeral procession was watched by thousands lining the streets and reported worldwide, so she did achieve her aim, but at tragic loss. Emily had studied both at Royal Holloway and Oxford universities, but due to her gender she was not admitted to a degree – first class honours from Oxford, in her case. I wonder how today’s young women would react to that sort of gross discrimination. Not well, I imagine.

It wasn’t until 1925 that all women got the vote in the UK – and that varied globally. New Zealand recognised females’ right to suffrage early on, before the beginning of the twentieth century, compared (quite surprisingly) to 1971 in Switzerland – those gnomes have a lot to answer for. Equal pay and conditions in the UK, however, was not legislated until 1970; that’s during my lifetime – a Suffragette would have been the age of my great-grandmother or older, so progress was at a reluctant snail’s pace.

I found it strange that in the film, Emmeline Pankhurst was played by US actress Meryl Streep – after Margaret Thatcher, I wonder if she is working her way through roles playing famous English women? Maybe she’ll get to play the Queen, if Helen Mirren is too busy prancing around, making commercials for Boots the Chemist.

Thinking about the woman characters I’ve created in my books (this is meant to be a WWWBlog, after all!) I realise most of them are strong go-getters. There’s my great-grandmother’s namesake, Rose Huntingford, for instance, who is a high-ranking murder detective and who will take great risks to protect her colleagues or solve her case. Then Callie Ashton from Hostile Witness (out Feb 2016), who hauls herself up from the doldrums of abandoned wife and mother, to find out who is killing people off around her – and why. My ladies are not always on the right side of the law, either – makes life more interesting to invent the odd psychotic crim!

Maybe see you next week?
NP

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