Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Votes For Women: The Case Against

I ruddy love playing politicians, me. I also love playing police as part of the old immersive (see profile pic above right {or this}) and over the weekend I was lucky enough to do both as part of Story Spinner's interventions and rally celebrating the centenary of Women's Suffrage at the Museum of London. The whole event was incredibly well attended, and I got to see what the City gets up to before noon, which is pretty much exactly what I expected:

We had to write our own speeches for the rally, which was great because I really hadn't done any paid writing at all last year. The first character given to me was "an anti-women’s suffrage politician, of the Liberal persuasion. They were not anti the idea women’s suffrage per se, but worried that women would vote Tory and boot them out..." which of course they then did. This made for a great jumping off point in the current climate of Brexit and Trump, and I loved performing the speech in front of families all waiting for something to boo. Here's a little clip of it posted on twitter, and here's the whole thing:
Thank you for inviting me to speak. I will open my address, if I may, by saying something that may shock you:

I want a fairer society for all. 

Why then do I wish to deny women The Vote, lovely as that might sound? Well, by way of an answer I would like, if you will indulge me, to tell you a fairy tale... Imagine a utopia, a world in which every citizen were indeed allowed to vote. One day a proposition is put to these lucky inhabitants and it is this: If passed by a majority - if more than half the inhabitants vote in favour - these voters will be allowed to banish everyone who voted against the proposition, and take all of their belongings. Now even if voted for, would that be fair? Of course not. So why would anyone vote for such a proposition?

Would it not only be because these voters have as yet no understanding of the responsibility of their vote? No experience of the wider workings of civilization, of the Greater World, of... Society? No ambition beyond their own immediate domestic sphere, their own home?

And am I not now describing a woman?

I say to you that women should not be allowed the vote until it is clear that they know what to do with it. Now you may find me terribly patronizing for arguing as I do… a silly fool, an overbearing jackass. But I would ask you… indeed I would beg you ladies… beg you to consider how far, far more overbearing a tyrant you could face if the job of electing him was suddenly given to those who, by your own argument, have never known freedom. Once you are free, then you can vote. That must be the rule. We have all had too strong a taste of the terror and chaos wrought by any other argument. Though your intentions are good, the road to Hell is - as we know - paved with good intentions, and there is driving these protests something sinister that you might not yet see. But I can. As a Liberal I refuse to believe that any civilization can be made healthier letting its course be decided by those who plant bombs, attack the police, and throw themselves under horses. And I see no reason to think that future generations of women, with clearer heads, might disagree.

Thank you for listening.
Basically last weekend

The second brief was, well... "Second character is a little more tricky. He is an early ‘90s ‘New Man’ type, bit tree hugger-ish, bit trustafarian, who works for Amnesty, but we don't want to take the piss out of him (!). His angle is that although women in our country by then are relatively free and equal, around the world, many are still enslaved, (bearing in mind that the audience are 10 +  and most likely there will be younger ones)." So... something simple and vague but heartfelt and from the nineties. I decided to make him a performance poet, and wrote this to cleanse the pallet:

The first International Women’s Day
Was observed in Russia in 1913,
By textile workers. And who could have foreseen
The revolution set rolling: The Vote, Equal Pay,
And what were their weapons?  Ideas.
Not violence.
And how far we’ve come thanks to those who fought
And marched and shouted and gave no thought
To the men – mainly men - who wanted them silenced.
So I’m here to say thank you but also:
Let’s listen…

For the world’s getting smaller now, but louder
And as we head towards the new millennium
Let’s celebrate all that these women have done
And say: yes, we couldn’t be prouder
But also –
No, and also
Let’s listen…

Because there are still women now, women today
Women alive now in lands far away
Not given their say
Over how they should marry
Not given their say in the children they carry,
Or where they can move, Or what they can learn,
What jobs they can hold, what money they’ll earn.
Around the world women are still crying out
So let’s listen to their stories, join in their shout.
Listen to the world, add our voices to theirs
To the women of the world, not just thoughts and prayers
But – Yes, thoughts and prayers - 
But also arms! Mouths! Ears!
Demonstrate! Remonstrate! Until the whole world hears:
It’s International Women’s Day
Every Day!
Every Day!
International Women’s Day
Until every woman is given a say!
There are still ideas out there that still need defeating
So the message of this movement still bears repeating:
It’s International Women’s Day
Every Day!
Every Day!
International Women’s Day
Until every woman is given a say!
Until all of the planet’s saying “Nowhere to hide!
All those who oppress, it’s the end of the ride!”

And a better world’s waiting if we listen to this one
Already made better by what women have done.


 Thanks to Beccy and Georgia for inviting me aboard, and to Jo "Annie" Bowis (left) and Grace Brightwell for letting me tear down their posters and chase them round the Millennium Cauldron. Here's Al Jazeera:

P.S. I'd forgotten that I found this while staying at my parents' over Christmas: "Pank-A-Squith", the contemporaneous Suffragette Board Game!


  1. While I enjoyed reading both pieces that you wrote, I particularly liked the poem the most. It is something that is true as women all over the globe are fighting, for, well, everything and anything. As a woman who is fighting a seemingly endless list of faceless and not so faceless enemies, I really appreciated the poem and the direction that you took with it.

  2. Thanks, Nicole! Sympathy and support ever.

  3. Excellent writing, as ever. Thank you for sharing.

    (The ramifications of such a sentence as 'Once you are free, then you can vote' are incredibly relevant at this moment in time, though it's all about an entirely different concept of freedom than the one your character was thinking of. On a lighter note, I now have the Emmeline Pankhurst sketch from JFSP stuck in my head, so thanks for that.)

  4. Thanks for the post, and for the links. I would probably otherwise not have heard The Votes for Women Festival. It’s good to be reminded of how far we’ve come when I’m overwhelmed by how far we still have to go.

    To add my piece to the others that have commented, I’ve been working in IT for 20 years. The misogyny and sexual harassment in the industry has decreased significantly since I started, although there are still pockets of it out there. Your line “…that women should not be allowed the vote until it’s clear that they know what to do with it.” is the perception that I face daily. Less experienced male colleagues work with new clients and new staff and are immediately accepted as knowing what they’re talking about. It’s a rare occasion when that happens to me, and I do know what I’m talking about. The women that I’ve worked with share this experience. Sometimes it’s funny, but mostly it’s frustrating. And with this, I know that I’m privileged compared to the majority of women because of where and when I was born. So, on we go.

    Anyway, tl:dr version, keep up the good work, feminist fella. I also hadn’t heard of Pank-a-Squith before your post, that is good information.

  5. Belated thanks, Amanda, Lothiriel! Thanks for sharing that too. I have no idea how long a game of Pank-a-squith lasts by the way, let me know if you ever find out.