We took the DVD of the film Suffragette with us this week when we went on a few days caravan break on Gareloch. We bought it at Christmas but hadn't got round to watching it yet. I had no idea till I read the Sunday papers that this was also the week that marked 100 years since Parliament voted in favour of votes for women. Of course, as with all advances for women it wasn't as simple as that. It took several years for some women to actually get the vote and a lot longer for all to get it.
Rights for women have made huge strides in this last century. I also learned this weekend that a statue in honour of suffragette Millicent Fawcett is to be erected in Parliament Square. Today the Fawcett Society is a leading charity supporting gender equality and women's rights at work. No doubt the Daily Mail will only cover its unveiling if the she is depicted with legs showing. How ironic that the Daily Mail's sexist headline 'Legs-it' on its front page picture of the PM and Scottish First Minister was only possible because of the progress women have made in both Scottish and U.K. Politics.
This last century has been a story of progress/reaction/backlash/resistance. It is ever thus. I find it of great sadness the number of women who reject the women's movement and all it seeks to achieve. There were many women, even progressive thinkers, who didn't support votes for women a hundred years ago. Successful women politicians like Margaret Thatcher were only too happy to pull the ladder up behind them, and first woman Speaker Betty Boothroyd thought other women MPs had to toughen up and make it on merit - isn't that all women have ever wanted?
It is also heartbreaking to see how journalists like Melanie Phillips can forget her feminist past and veer to the reactionary right or Fay Weldon come to describe sexual harassment at work as 'what we used to call welcome attention from men'. Another great irony is when a majority of women voters opt to support political parties who have never supported women's rights and have resisted every advance for women. That's democracy!
Of course I mustn't fall into the age old trap of blaming women for the backlash. Disappointing as these examples are, men must shoulder the blame for the backlash against women's rights and the persistence of a patriarchal society. Whenever issues are raised like tackling domestic violence, sexual assault, positive action for women or even celebrating International Women's Day - it is only a matter of a very short time before a whining male voice can be heard saying 'What about the men?' And we can't put it all down to caricatures of manhood like the horrible mysogynist Tory MP Philip Davies, Nigel Farage or even Donald Trump. We all have to take our share of the blame.
My eighteen year old granddaughter Sophie proudly cast her first vote for Labour last year. I often wonder what she will think fifty years from now, when she is my age, and looks back.