Emmeline Pankhurst on Women’s Suffrage

The predominant middle class value system of the 19th and early 20th centuries articulated an image of the “ideal woman.” This ideal woman was to be quiet and reserved, obedient and dependent on her husband, and the manager of the domestic sphere (the household). While much of the middle class, women included, aspired to exhibit these ideals, there were many who were dissatisfied with the prevailing notions of women’s role in society.   One critic in particular, Emmeline Pankhurst, in the document titled Militant Suffragist, 1913, rejected many of society’s conceptions concerning women. She was a staunch advocate of women’s suffrage. She tried to accomplish her goals by any means possible, including the use of violence. She argued that women were disserving of this inalienable right because, similarly to men, they have lived “useful lives,” and are “animated with the highest motives.” Pankhurst was radical because of her implementation of militant tactics, but she was also radical for the mere fact that she was active in the public sphere. She was not afraid to voice her opinions publicly, and rejected the notion that women’s only place in society was within the domestic sphere.

3 thoughts on “Emmeline Pankhurst on Women’s Suffrage

  1. I think that you made some good points here, but I would argue that Pankhurst is not actually advocating violence, so much as referencing it as a rhetorical device. She says that in the current situation in England, the government needs to decide whether to kill women for demanding the right to vote or to grant them this right. From what Pankhurst says here, I would argue that she is not suggesting violence as a viable option, but rather as the barbaric alternative to not granting women what she sees as a natural right as members of the society in which they live.

  2. I would also agree that Pankhurst was not necessarily suggesting violence, but rather creating a metaphor in comparing suffrage to war. She used strong language like this throughout the piece. I particularly noticed how she immediately differentiated herself from the American suffrage “advocates”. I would assume that in 1913 the word “suffrage advocate” had a negative connotation just as the word “feminist” might today, and she immediately distanced herself from that label by saying “in England it has passed beyond the realm of advocacy and it has entered into the sphere of practical politics” (Pankhurst). Pankhurst was looking to be taken seriously as an intellect and political threat, and being considered just another one of those suffrage advocates would have been detrimental to her cause. In order to be taken seriously, she used dramatic language to distance herself from any negative connotations. She also used dramatic language to compare woman suffrage to war, which was heavily discussed in the “sphere of practical politics” that Pankhurst greatly desired to be a part of. War was also perceived as very masculine, so by comparing suffrage to it she attempted to reach her male audience; additionally through this she alluded that women (like men) were capable of discussing war or even causing a war if necessary.

  3. While I agree that Pankhurst did not see violence as the solution and used it as a “metaphor in comparing suffrage to war,” I also agree with Ray and his assertion that Pankhurst, “tried to accomplish her goals by any means possible.” I agree with Ray and his assessment of Pankhurst here because when reading her piece, her tone is forthright and one could classify it as angry. Because of her constant frustration with the role of women in the early 20th century, I do believe that Pankhurst, if progress was not made soon after the writing of her piece, would in fact turn to violence in order to see that women could have similar rights of men.

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