The Origins of Feminism: The Women's Suffrage Movement

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Feminism is a vast opposing collection of theories, movements and philosophies motivated by women in their personal life, social life and economic inequalities. Feminist ideology is the movements that question the male-dominated social policies. On the basis of the problem, there are different types of feminist ideology’s that can be formed which are liberal, radical, Marxist, socialist, black, development, cultural and global feminism, among all these feminism liberal feminism is the most dominant and forms the backbone of all other feminist ideology’s and groups.

Liberal feminism fights for equality or man and women and it is achieved through legal means and social reforms and protests. Liberal feminism focuses on changing the current policies that favour only the men and not the women rather than an revolutionary change. Similarly, Radical feminism focuses on women’s patriarchy on human relations in the society. It rejects the standard gender roles and male oppression. Radical feminists locate the root cause of women’s oppression in patriarchal gender relations, as opposed to legal systems or class conflict.

The suffrage campaign in the United Kingdom for the Right to Vote for women is a great example of a feminist movement, the movement was of one of UK’s biggest protest between the government and the women. The suffrage movement ended in 1918 and the equal right to vote for men and women were given in 1928. The campaign brought into being Britain’s largest women’s movement, and heightened expectations of gender reform. Till the end of the 18th century, women had no distinct interests of their own, and thus had no plans in the political sphere. But as the 19th century progressed, the changing structure of the work and the family complicated the traditional application of the principle because wage-earning women were tied neither to domestic nor to the matrimonial homes.

By the turn of the century, powerful arguments were made as to why, especially those who were independent, should no longer be excluded from the electoral franchise. As a rule, the first historical manifestation of self-government excluded women. Through females played a role in the revolutions that paved the way for democratic compacts, the men who eventually brokered those pacts deemed the fairer sex to fickle, frail or too free from guile to participate in the world of democratic politics.

Pankhurst family, Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Catherine Marshall were the main feminist leaders in the suffrage movement, The women part of the suffrage movement formed The Labour party in 1900 and it had only just begun to emerge on the national stage in 1910.

The Labour party contested in 15 constituencies in 1900 and 1906, 78 seats in January 1910 and 56 seats in December 1910. It was difficult for the Labour Party to contest in the next elections because of the pact with the liberals and as it was not a rich organisation. candidates had to fund their elections and were bound by tradition to show generosity to local clubs. By 1905, frustrated at the stalling of suffrage legislation, Mrs Pankhurst, Christabel and Annie Kenny planned a direct action in Manchester that leads to the arrest of Christabel and Annie.

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On 13th October 1905, they repeatedly interrupted a liberal party rally at the Manchester free trade hall, demanding to know when it would give the women the right to vote. After unfurling a white banner displaying in black letters “Will You Give Votes for Women”, both Annie Kenney and Christabel uttered this challenge to startled politicians. Forcibly ejected from the hall, but not yet arrested, Christabel used her legal knowledge of technical assault and spat into a policeman’s face, her hands being held behind her. In doing so, she ensured her arrest and, in her words, performed the WSPU’s transformation of “ladies” into “women”. They were then taken to jail where they spent their brief sentence, refusing offers of bail. According to plan, the Manchester dailies, and eventually even The Times, carried the story (Rosen, 1974: 53).

The first London-based woman suffrage march took place on 19 February 1906, organized by Annie Kenney and Sylvia Pankhurst, founding members of the Pankhurst’s militant WSPU. They timed this first demonstration, like those that followed, to coincide with the parliamentary calendar, synchronizing the public appearance of marching women with the sequestered meetings of governing men. And they sent press releases to the mass-circulation dailies to ensure advance publicity for the march and the presence of journalists to document the event with stories, photographs and illustrations. Often omitted from accounts of suffrage marches, this early demonstration offers a rare glimpse into the geopolitics of the London-based militant movement at its earliest stage, when it adopted elements of rhetoric and iconography from the labour movement.

On 19 February 1906, 200 women from the East End districts of Bow, Bromley, Poplar and Canning Town marched ‘in an irregular column’ from St James’s station to Caxton Hall. The hall’s proximity to the House of Commons permitted the kind of immediate action employed at the Caxton Hall meeting when Mrs Pankhurst received news that ‘the King’s speech’ the official government program for the session omitted reference to the woman suffrage movement: “I moved a resolution that the meeting should at once proceed to the House of Commons to urge the members to introduce a suffrage measure. The resolution was carried, and we rushed out in a body and hurried towards the Stranger’s Entrance’” (Pankhurst, 1971: 55).

The police again barred their way, finally admitting them in groups of 20 at MPs’ insistence. For nearly two hours, those admitted directly lobbied MPs while their fellow demonstrators stood outside in the rain. In the end, the demonstrators failed to change a single vote, but they gained publicity for the Union, typified by The Daily Mirror’s page 5 story headlined, “Vote less Women”. 3,000 Demonstrators March Behind a Red Banner. Smiling but Earnest’.8 Mrs Pankhurst later estimated that between 300 and 400 women joined this first WSPU London march on 19 February 1906 before a “large crowd of intensely amused spectators” (Pankhurst, 1971: 54).

On 18th November 1910, Ada Wright joined hundreds of other suffragettes marching to the house of commons to protest the shelving of the conciliation bill that would have enfranchised 1 million Englishwomen. Despite their efforts, the suffrage marches and demonstrations, along with their images, failed to secure passage of a bill before the first world war. In early 1912, several months of debates between Catherine Marshall, Fawcett, and Labour leaders led to the founding of the Election Fighting Fund (EFF), an organization that raised capital to support Labour candidates in coming by-elections.37 Having no official alliance with the suffrage movement after Pankhurst family broke with the party in 1903, several Labour MPs who served on the Conciliation Committee had formed relationships with leaders of the nonpartisan National Union. Together, they decided that because Labour was the only party to put women’s suffrage on its platform, the party deserved suffragist support. The organizations agreed that the National Union would provide money and administrative assistance to official party candidates that had “acceptable” views on suffrage, so long as the opponent was not a “tried friend” of women’s suffrage.

In a relatively infelicitous political environment, where parliamentary custom makes government sponsorship of bills paramount for reform, and where the ruling coalition, headed by the Liberal party, faced strong electoral incentives against giving women the vote. British women won voting rights using an ordinary but rather clever strategy. The largest group of Liberal suffragists, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, formed an alliance with the Labour party that exchanged the suffragists’ vast resources for a promise by Labour not to support voting rights reform for men alone. By forming this pact, the suffragists paved the way to women’s inclusion in the 1918 Representation of the People Act and allowing the woman to vote in 1928, adding to this Women marchers set out to be seen and photographed stamping a gendered political telos on the most public of streets in a modernizing city. “All roads”, their marching declared, “lead to Parliament”.

With the city and even the River Thames as witnesses, they arranged themselves on the routes to power in military-styled patterns, repeating, with a gendered difference the rhetoric of male demonstrators and thereby enacting the inevitability of their arrival at the national ballot box. All the Riots, Mass Movements, Political Strategies, Public Demonstrations and other suffragist movements created a revolution in the nation and caused changes in the social policy of a country and won the women the right to vote in the United Kingdom.

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