I wrote this piece over two years ago.
I re-post it tonight in sorrow and anger at the news of death of the young woman the news calls the “Delhi Rape Victim”. No doubt she had a name, a family, friends. She was, of course, so much more than the person who is now defined by the crimes of the men who raped, beat and killed her.
I post this in hope that our anger, our desire to do better, be better, might mean she is not called ‘victim’ for all time, not defined by the actions of those who brutalised her and took her life.
A response to Emmeline Pankhurst’s ‘Freedom or Death’ speech :
Thank you Emmeline, for all you did. You thought universal suffrage would fix the inequalities, change the status quo, and make a real difference. And it did, in some ways. But not for everyone, and not enough. It needed – it needs – much more than that.
I’m sorry, Emmeline, that Emily Davison died in 1913 under the hooves of the King’s horse so that a woman’s voice can now advertise breast enlargement on the radio – as a woman’s choice. So that personal choice becomes paramount – the choice to be objectified, to be re-shaped, to be made different, re-model-ed, is what gives a woman her self-confidence. Because, apparently, the size of her breasts, not the size of her intellect or even her salary or her bank balance (let alone the amount of love she receives) is what gives her self-confidence. I’m sorry that in the wealthy west, where women’s body obsession is so useful to those who want us compliant and quiet, that we are prepared to spend thousands of pounds on what we look like, rather than pay attention to our sisters struggling for water, for food, for life.
You called for a wholesale revolution. We still need it. You spoke of emancipation coming to women across the world, that we would be a beginning and the rest would follow. Oh Emmeline, if you saw the news today – forced marriage, honour killings, corrective rapes, female genital mutilation, girls forbidden education by the Taliban, lesbians murdered/stoned/raped and denied asylum when they come here and ask for help.
You spoke of a civil war affecting property and wealth, of hitting the men in power where it hurt them most. But you know, those powerful men, they’re still doing so little – we women, with our votes – are still doing so little about the bloody and scarred face of the blinded girl attacked with acid. The bloody, scarred vagina of the woman raped to shut her up. And those things have happened here, in England. Your England. My England. The trafficking and the forced prostitution and denied education. Denied lives.
So what are we to do, Emmeline? Weep? Fight? Ignore?
We have the vote. We have the pill. We have our jobs.
And systematically, in places where religion is growing more fundamentalist by the day, those freedoms are being taken away. In places where men say they are sick of us moaning, those freedoms are being taken away. In places where women say “I’m not a feminist, but …”, in places where girls say they prefer being quiet because the boys at school are nicer to them, in places where teenage girls share anorexia tips – those freedoms are being taken away. From our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our selves. Our governments go to war for oil, for land, for what they call our ‘safety’. But not for the rights of fifty percent of the human race. I’m tired of standing for it Emmeline, lying down for it, opening up for it, and I’m tired of my tiredness keeping me quiet, sleeping, flat. I think I might just have had enough.
Here’s what I want, Emmeline. I want us to be as brave as you were. To call for freedom or death. I want an international army of women, a vast troop of women, old and young, all races, all nations, a mass of women who can’t be bothered any more with the arguments about the glass ceiling and the glass slipper, or the inequalities of City pay, and what we’re going to do about it. Because those things are just small things, yes they do matter, but they’re not the disease, they’re the symptoms. They are the symptoms of the deaths from domestic violence. Women killed for their big mouths, girl babies unwanted, teenage girls unloved.
I call for a swathe of militant women, a hoard of angry women, a world of women, standing up and saying No. No more sexual violence, no more FGM, no more forced marriage and no more denied education, no more corrective rape, no more.
Because we are half the world and, as you taught us Emmeline, if we all stand up and we all say enough – then we can force change. We can overbalance the precarious point this world teeters on and we can make a difference.
You did it in small numbers with attacks on property. We’ll do it in huge numbers with legislation, as you said. We are voters, we vote in greater numbers than the men. We can legislate, speak, write, march, we can use the vote you won for us and we can force our governments to do better. And if they won’t do better, if they say no or not yet or hush now girls, then we can get rid of them. We can stop looking at our own small lives and look to live bigger lives where we care about those who really need our attention.
Because Emmeline, I didn’t actually do anything to get the vote. To be allowed an education. To have the right to decide who I’ll marry, who I’ll worship – or not, who I will bow down to – or not. I did nothing to not be trafficked into prostitution at fourteen, to keep my clitoris and my labia, to have control over who and what goes into my vagina. I did nothing except be born here, and now. Lucky, lucky me.
So I’m using that luck, I’m using that good fortune and I’m standing up and my standing up shatters more than just glass windows, glass ceilings, and the stupid, pointless glass slippers that hurt my feet and promise me non-existent princes. That sound, louder than horses hooves, is the sound of me standing it no more, breaking through the glass coffin, standing up, standing out.
Can you hear me, Emmeline? I’m going to make a difference. I’m joining the international army of women and I’m marching on oppression everywhere.
And this time, we’re going to win, not just the little battles, but the lot. Because our brothers and fathers and sons need this freedom too – even when they don’t realise they do. We’re half the world. We’re huge and so powerful together. And we’re ready. Let’s go.