Pankhurt’s the fight for citizenship in Britain

Pankhurt’s speech was pronounced in Hartford, Connecticut
on November 13th 1913. It was delivered in front of a group of
suffragist American women gathered to support women’s right to citizenship at
the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage Association (Greer).

            Emmeline
Pankhurts was one of the founders of the Women’s Social and Political Union
(WSPU), an organized group also called the suffragettes. This group
separated from the National Union of 
Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) which was a constitutional
organization that condemned the suffragettes’ extreme measures (Park).

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            In her
speech, Pankhurst makes a series of rather bold remarks, using simple language
and providing her audience with examples both men and women can relate to. She
starts by saying that the fight for citizenship in Britain had become a civil
war and goes on to explain that women have adopted such methods to make men
understand they are human beings. There is a series of points to make as to the
way she explains this to her audience. Warfare language is a reference men
understand easily, she states that it is legitimate for men to fight for a just
cause the way Americans fought for independence. When a group of people are not
represented, they can either surrender or rise against their oppressor and
women have opted for the latter. Not only does she make her case using a
historical example Americans are familiar with, but she also explains the
basics of democracy using men as subjects to make it clear that women’s cause
is just as legitimate. The choice of words such as battle, soldier
or civil war, is also a way to claim an aspect of revolution that had
always been attributed to men. She wants to send a message and dispel any
doubts that women are strong enough and willing to fight this war in the same
way men have fought before.

            A great
deal of her speech is devoted to justifying the measures the suffragettes
opted for (Greer). The group were known to have engaged in window smashing,
arson and attempted bombing of Saint Paul’s Cathedral (“Bomb at St Paul’s
Cathedral”; “Enormous damage in 1913”; Thorton). Nevertheless, their definitive
weapon was their hunger strike. These methods were severely criticized and many
objected they were ineffective to their ends. However, Emmeline Pankhurst was
confident this was the path to follow and encouraged her audience by telling
them about the suffragettes’ sabotage to telegraphic communication
between London and Glasgow. Pankhurst explains how important consistent
militancy is to become an issue for the government, which tries to repress
their activism and only causes more women to sympathize with the cause. To this
end, she uses the babies analogy,
which is another discourse strategy to make her point clear by using familiar
examples: a screaming baby will be fed first and that is what she intends to
become if necessary. She also does so by giving the omelet example, she claims
that suffering is inevitable in war, just as necessary as breaking eggs to make
an omelet. Nonetheless, she cleverly states that human life is sacred and that
is true for suffragettes and the politicians who attempted to dismantle their
equality ideas. That is the reason why hunger strikes were used as a strategy.
Politicians were put in the uncomfortable position of deciding whether or not
to neglect the suffragettes and let them die or let them vote.

            Although
she brings up delicate topics such as war and death, Pankhurst manages to
transmit an optimistic message. She encourages women by saying that there is no
limit to what they can do. In a way, she also calls for women of all classes to
unite and assures them their common objective is bound to succeed as it is very
difficult to locate its source.

            Considering
the historical circumstances, it is no surprise that a movement such as the suffragettes
arouse at the end of the
nineteenth century. The industrial revolution combined with women’s social
conditions, made it urgent for women to stand up for her rights and fight injustice. The suffragettes were
very much needed (Park). In a heavily industrialized Britain, working women
were taken advantage of sexually and forced to work like slaves in factories.
It was also legal for husbands to beat their wives and lock them in a room
until 1891. Until 1882, it was mandatory for women who married, to pass their
property onto their husbands (Mc Dowall 162), which made them depend on them
economically. Emmeline Pankhurst also fought for this cause alongside her
husband who was a lawyer and the author of the Married Women’s Property Acts
which allowed women to keep their belongings before and after marriage
(“Emmeline Pankhurst”). This allowed them to
afford the legal fees of divorce, even if it was socially frowned upon
(McDowall; Thorton).

            As she
herself states in her speech, Emmeline Pankhurst had been imprisoned and
released a number of times. The “Cat and the Mouse Act” stated that fasting
women were to be released until they were in good health to be rearrested. Even
though she did not make mention of it during her speech, a fellow suffragette
of Pankhurst’s, Emily Davidson, had also been imprisoned, force-fed and
released on many occasions. On 13th June, 1913, only a couple of
months prior to this speech, Davidson threw herself in front of a King’s horse
in an act of activism that caused her death (“Emmeline Pankhurst”; Connelly).
It is said that Pankhurst considered Davidson’s death a sign of commitment and
sacrifice. The mention of war casualties, sacrifice for a bigger cause, and the
justification of extreme methods of militancy, may have been a way to honour
her comrade’s recent sacrifice. Also, Pankhurst’s own sister, Mary Clarke had
died after being arrested and released for window smashing after Black Friday,
a demonstration in which 300 women met terrible police brutality at the House
of Commons on 18th November 1910 (Connelly).  

            The
fight for citizenship led to the legalization of women’s vote for those who
were householders or wives of householders over 30 in 1918. It was not until
ten years later that women were granted the right to vote at the age of 21,
like men. World War I (1914-1918) had a great impact on the cause as women had
to take part in activities that had traditionally been performed by men.
Without women’s work in factories, Britain would not have been able to continue
the war (Mc Dowell 162). This may also be true for other European countries, as
many countries of Western Europe granted women the right to vote around the
1920s (“Europe Suffrage Timeline”). In the US, women were granted the right to
vote in 1920 through the 19th Amendment, though it had already been
legalized in some states. 

            It is
rather difficult to look back from the 21st century and be able to
successfully asses0 the impact of this speech. Nevertheless, it
is unfortunately clear that it is not at all outdated. Women around the world
keep fighting for more and better representation in governmental and
international organizations. The issue is quite the same as the one Emmeline
Pankhurst laid out: If women are human beings, why don’ts1  they have the same
representation as men? The suffragettes’ 
fight was triggered by the evident imbalance in gender roles in society.
Sadly, this is still the reason why many demonstrations take place worldwide,
claiming a variety of rights to bridge the gap of gender inequality. Only a
couple or mo0ths ago, the Irish marched
for women’s sexual and reproductive rights (Specia), some of them attired as
suffragettes. As long as gender inequality continues to be a problem to be
tackled, Pankhurst’s speech will have an impact on activists around the world.

            Having
read about her, I see Emmeline Pankhurst as an upright and clever individual
with very clear ideas and excellent rhetorical skills. Analyzing ‘Freedom or
Death’, it was clear to me that she was committed to the principles she
defended. Her speech is not one of a person who is just repeating words, only a
person who is truthfully involved in the cause can articulate her beliefs in
such a passionate manner. I reckon that an essential part of her message lies
in the description of her own experience in prison and hunger strikes. She also
knows her audience enough to appeal to their nationalism and/or humanism to
make her case. Her cleverness and integrity were even clearer to me when I read
about one of the slogans the movement used: “Deeds not Words”. There are
documents that show how strictly Pankhurst stuck to this motto. In a letter to
Mabel Tuke, she writes about a bill the Prime Minister had promised to vote
upon, and says that the WSPU had refused to call truce until the government
took responsibility to put the bill into practice (Pankhurst).

I also reckon that she is an
extraordinary role model whose great example of commitment and persistence has
been passed on to many generations after her and it will be passed on to
generations to come.

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