I have not bought a newspaper for years.
The mainstream media has been the anathema of the truth for decades, the tabloids screeching out their lurid ‘Celeb’ headlines from every front page, regardless of what is happening in the world.
The latest drunken antics of Katie Price, or the vacuous whining of the likes of Cheryl Cole, only serves to highlight the depths to which journalism has sunk.
In less than 120 years, the role of women in society has gone full circle in the media. The headlines at the start of the 20th Century, were only shocking due to their accounts of the bravery and sacrifice of hundreds of women who were prepared to risk imprisonment, personal injury and even death for their beliefs.
Women had been lobbying the government since the mid 19th Century for votes, and by 1897, the women’s movement had organised itself into the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.
They ran a campaign of letter-writing, introduced Parliamentary Bills, and held public meetings to explain and promote their aims, going through many changes before becoming the radical direct action movement that resulted in women getting the vote in 1918.
Members started disrupting public meetings of MPs and ministers, standing up and making speeches demanding the vote, even chaining themselves to their chairs so they couldn’t be removed.
In January 1908 two suffragettes chained themselves to the railings outside Downing Street to create a diversion while another attempted to infiltrate Number 10.
But they also saw the need for a large and vibrant movement of women, and in the summer of 1908, organised a huge demonstration in Hyde Park that was attended by over half a million people asking for social and political change.
The mass demonstration achieved very little, and forced the Women to escalate their tactics yet again.
On October 13th 1908, 60,000 people (joined by 5,000 policemen) attended another rally in Parliament Square, but this time no one was satisfied with standing outside, being ignored by those inside. At 7.30, groups of suffragettes tried to force their way past police lines to enter the House, and were arrested.
During the course of the evening, a total of 37 arrests were made, and 10 people were taken to hospital. One woman managed to enter the floor of the House while debate was in progress, and said a few words before being taken out.
The Suffragettes were unstoppable by that point. They consolidated their look, deciding to wear white (symbolising purity and truth) with sashes reading ‘Votes for Women’ and a colour scheme of green and purple. They started publishing a newspaper, and founded their own press.
They adopted the slogan ‘Deeds Not Words’, and most spectacularly, an array of inventive direct action exploded into life.
They poured jam and other concoctions into post boxes around the Bank of England and Downing Street to disrupt communication, they wrote on the MPs’ favourite golf courses in weedkiller (“No Votes, No Golf!”), they even waited outside Ministers houses and hit them with their umbrellas when they came out.
Their greatest strength was persistence, making sure those who had the power to change their plight were as irritated, disrupted and put upon as women were who were forced to live as second class citizens. They disrupted more talks and meetings, even throwing stones down on the roof of a building where the Prime Minister was speaking, making his speech inaudible, other times chanting and singing en masse in public meetings.
When they were inevitably arrested and imprisoned (which was often), they went on hunger strike. Even this constant presence was not quite enough. A campaign of window smashing was co-ordinated, targeting Oxford Street and Buckingham Palace, telegraph wires were cut, and several empty properties were set alight (harming no-one), in demonstration of the urgency of their demands.
In 1914, at the height of their campaign, they only suspended their activities to concentrate their energy on the war effort.
Women gaining the Vote in 1918 was almost entirely due to the efforts of those brave women, who sacrificed almost everything in order to get an equal footing with men at the Ballot Box.
I wonder what those women would have thought of the fame-hungry, grasping and shallow female ‘celebs,’ of today.
Would they have made such sacrifices if they knew that they would never be seen as truly equal?
I think they would, because, though not many men would admit it, women have been and will continue to be the real strivers.
The real power behind the thin veneer that the male-dominated seats of power, the workplace, and even the Church portray.
Putting aside the vacuous and disposable, sex-obsessed image the mainstream media portrayal of women puts out every day, those female heroes of the Suffragette movement knew that the fight would go on until the true balance is restored…