I have been re-reading Emmeline Pankhurst’s interesting autobiography: “My Own Story – Memories of a Militant”, and the account of events prior to her founding of the Women’s Social and Political Union (the ‘suffragettes’) is fascinating and also casts a light on how very far more recent ‘feminists’ strayed from the original Women’s Movement, although they hijacked the suffragettes and claimed to be following the same cause.
Mrs Pankhurst came from a relatively well-to-do family in Manchester where her parents were actively involved in social reform. Such was her background that her parents were able to send her to a private school in Paris and she was clearly a particularly clever child. From her earliest years she was also affronted by the idea that her brothers’ education was seen as more important as her own, and when she heard her father once say of her: “What a pity she wasn’t born a lad!” she realised that the lot of women was one of subservience and inferiority to men. This, of course, would impact her later career.
Far more importantly, however, Mrs Pankhurst became a Poor Law Guardian involved with the Manchester Workhouse, where she instituted many reforms but frequently found herself in confrontation with the all-male Board of Guardians. Her descriptions of the state of the young girls in the workhouse are very moving:
“I found there were many pregnant women in the workhouse, scrubbing floors, doing the hardest kind of work, almost until their babies came into the world. Many of them were unmarried women, very, very young...mere girls. These poor mothers were allowed to stay in the hospital after their confinement for a short two weeks. Then they had to make a choice of staying in the workhouse and earning their living by scrubbing and other work, in which case they were separated from their babies; or they could be discharged. They could stay and be paupers or they could leave – leave with a two-week old baby in their arms, without hope, without a home, without money, without anywhere to go...”
And again: “It is from that class of workhouse mothers – mostly young servant girls...more than from any other that illegitimacy comes. These poor little servant girls...fall easy prey to those who have designs on them...” She goes on to describe how these girls often are forced to send their babies to ‘baby farmers’ whom they pay to care for them so that the mothers can work to survive. The baby-farms are not inspected because “if a man who ruins a girl pays down a sum of £20, the boarding home is immune from inspection. As long as the baby farmer takes only one child at a time, the house cannot be inspected. Of course the babies die with hideous promptness, often long before the twenty pounds has been spent, and then baby farmers are free to solicit another victim. For years, as I have said, women have tried to get that one reform of the Poor Law to reach and protect all illegitimate children, and to make it impossible for any rich scoundrel to escape future liability for his child because of the lump sum he has paid. Over and over again it has been tried, but it has always failed because the ones who really care about such things are women.”
This is one small example from the book, which demonstrates that one of the main reasons why women demanded the vote was the protection of children. The suffragettes – and Mrs Pankhurst in particular – firmly believed that giving women the vote was vital not only to recognise the value of women but also to recognise the importance of women’s maternal qualities and ensure that women were able to care for their children properly.
I find it really distressing that these great ideals for which the courageous suffragettes were prepared to suffer imprisonment, torture (and in some cases even death!) were so distorted by later feminists who claim to be following in their footsteps. Many years ago, while visiting a suffragette museum, I was aghast to see it filled with feminist literature supporting ‘a woman’s right to choose abortion', as though that were something the suffragettes would have supported!!
Naturally, there have been many benefits from the so-called 'women's movement' (equal pay, equal opportunities etc.) and I am a 100% advocate of equality and mutual respect; but I feel that there has also been a great distortion of what it means to be truly feminine. Many women who have attained high positions in business or politics, behave in a masculine manner, rather than employing feminine qualities. The worst part of all, though, is the way in which – in many cases – children (born or unborn) are seen as an inconvenience rather than complete individuals. Parenthood is seen as a right (and one that can then be handed over the state!) rather than a privilege. Motherhood is not respected and many mothers seem to view the state (or schools or other institutions) as responsible for their children.
I would highly recommend that those who promote feminism, look back at the writings of the campaigners for women’s emancipation, and recognise that these heroines were absolutely committed to the care of children and would undoubtedly be appalled that somehow their efforts have been distorted into pro-abortion arguments or the arguments which are even more widely bandied about nowadays, whereby children are somehow seen as the responsibility of the state rather than the parents. The suffragettes were aiming to enable mothers and fathers to care for their children and not to make them the responsibility of the Poor Law, the benefit system or any other aspect of the state.