Obviously, along with most people, my mind is on polls, voting, and the exercise of democratic rights today. It got me thinking about the women’s suffrage movement, and realising that I don’t know a great deal about it. Distracted from work, I had a quick look on Wikipedia to find out more. This paragraph from the page on Women’s Suffrage in the United Kingdom really struck me:
Hunger striking and force-feeding, particularly, were undertaken by individual people and served as points of battle carried out on the individual body. Starting in the summer of 1909, Suffragettes employed the hunger-strike as a method of protest while they served time in British prisons against the government that imprisoned and mistreated them. Hunger striking, as Jane Marcus points out, was a way for the British women to refuse her role of mother and nurturer of the country. Authorities responded to their protest with force-feeding, an invasive and painful procedure performed within the confines of their cells. The resistance of the suffragettes to this procedure caused such encounters to be extremely violent and painful in nature – prisoners were held down while their mouths were pried open and instrumentation for force-feeding was shoved into their throats by male doctors. Looking to the firsthand accounts of the force-feedings, as evident in June Purvis’ work, The Prison Experiences of the Suffragettes, one can easily start to see where this form of response took on a quality of rape. This element of forced sexuality was exacerbated in the incidents when these forcible feedings were conducted through the rectum or vagina of the prisoners. So great was the trauma of such an experience, that several women were permanently scarred – mentally and/or physically – by this experience. Still, Suffragettes, despite having fore-knowledge of these force feedings and fearing potential damage to mental or physical capability as a result, remained loyal to their cause. Suffragettes devoted their minds and bodies to achieving the pearl of freedom for women in Britain.
I’ve voted with pride in every single local and national election since I turned 18, and I always get a little thrill from doing so. I’m always shocked when women say to me that their vote doesn’t count or that all politicians are the same. Not because they’re wrong (in many cases they’re not), but because that makes no difference to me: women fought and died for my right to vote. I have a duty to use it. It’s a cliche, and I’ve said it so many times I’ve almost ceased to really think about what I’m saying but just reading that short bit of history about the movement has suddenly made it very real for me. This is not somewhere back in dim and distant history. This happened in my Grandma’s lifetime. I’m off to vote.