Parliament last week commemorated the 100 years since some women (over 30 with property) were granted the vote.
We have all seen the footage of Emily Davison, falling under the King’s horse at The Derby on 4 June 1913. Many thought she threw herself under the horse as a sacrifice to the movement but it is now thought she was trying to attach a flag to the horse.
She was also carrying a return train ticket from Epsom and had holiday plans with her sister, seeming to indicate she had not intended to kill herself.
She died four days later from her injuries. As a postscript, the impact of that day on the jockey haunted him for years. Whether it was part cause of his suicide in 1951 we will never know.
What we do know is the horror of force feeding of Suffragettes who refused to eat in prison, which went on for days and weeks. Cloths were stuffed over the women’s mouths to stop them vomiting and the tubes damaged gullets. Enemas were used, causing internal damage. It is the stuff of another world yet it happened in my late grandmother’s lifetime.
However there was and still is a long way to go. Although the vote was eventually extended to all women over 30 in 1918 it was not until 10 years later that it was extended to the age of 21. However in front-line politics – council chambers, the Scottish and UK parliaments – the gender gap is still evident, although the Scottish Parliament with 39 per cent women is better than Westminster with 32 per cent.
Now the term “positive discrimination” has been replaced by “gender balance” though in effect it’s much the same thing. I am not one who supports that.
Don’t get me wrong, I hope more women enter politics but there are good reasons why they do not: caring perhaps for children, elderly parents and a culture today which still stereotypes little girls and indeed boys into career choices which I feel haven’t changed much since the 1950s.
Politics is no different. Take my granny for example. She left school at 14 and her hope for me was that I would marry by the age of 20, have my first child at 22 and spend my days at the kitchen sink. I nearly did but with luck, decent passes in my Highers and a student grant, university took me away on a different path.
That was due a good state education, that grant and a father who, with four daughters and one son, made it plain from day one that we were all to have the same opportunities.
Thankfully he did not take after his mother. Today, 100 years after the Pankhursts, I still see girls who by every advert are challenged to question their shape, their looks, equating some ideal of these with success.
To marry a Premier League footballer, to being famous through some “reality show”, to fit into a size eight are for some young women serious life targets.
Am I being hard on my sex? Well yes, a bit. Of course we all want to look our best, to succeed in some way, but while women have come a long way since grannie Grahame’s day, the path has not always been for the best.
Even today women politicians are taken to task on their appearance, yet balding fat men are let off scot-free. Yes still a long way to go.