Suffragists and Feminists: How far have we really come?

wife selling

The sale of a wife with the livestock in England

I recently watched the BBC series The Suffragettes presented by Amanda Vickery. There were shocking facts revealed in this series. For example, until 1991 it was legal for a man to rape his wife in marriage. Can you believe that? I cannot believe, through my own ignorance, that in my life time a law so discriminating existed.

We are supposed to be living in the 21st Century, but it is exactly this kind of statement that women were saying during the 20th Century. So except for women’s legal rights how much has really changed for women?

One sure thing that has changed is that it is no longer legal for a husband to sell his wife at the market as if she were a cow or sheep. What a quick and easy way for bored husbands to rid themselves of their inconvenient wives! As Amanda states, there were at least 300 sales of women in their best Sunday attire during the 19th and 20th Century, and the last wife to be sold in England was in 1928 in Wales for a whole £1. There is a great article on this if you’re interested, which can be found at: http://www.aitkenalexander.co.uk/suffragettes-forever-the-story-of-women-and-power/

What hasn’t changed quite as drastically, however, is the attitude towards the word feminist just as there were negative and derogative attitudes towards the word suffragette. This is obvious in the reactions one receives when using the word feminist, always a squeamish face, and the fact that we are still having to argue why feminist isn’t a dirty word. It is also evident, however, in the new and very old caricatures of both feminists and suffragettes that we can see online.

Take this modern day example:

Feminist caricature

And compare it with this of the suffragettes:

Suffragette.jpg 3

The suffragettes have their argument downplayed and patronised, “at the suffragette meetings you can hear some plain things – and see them too”, as if they’re to be stared at like zoo animals while their audience listen as they talk ‘plain things’.

Like the suffragettes, the modern day woman has also been intentionally made to look ugly and unfeminine. She has been portrayed as an angry, monstrous devil. The misogynist who won’t work for the woman who he thinks should be an assistant gets the top job even though he isn’t sure he has the right qualifications.

A prime example of this kind of attitude towards women in top jobs today can be found in an experience MP Stella Creasy shared on The Suffragettes. She works in a male dominated parliament (20% women). She was told that she should use her Doctorate title rather than Miss because people are then likely to take her more seriously as she is a blonde woman in parliament. What does her hair colour or sex have to do with her knowledge, passion, and abilities in politics?

Another example, although less recent, can be found in this caricature of Margaret Thatcher. She had numerous caricatures made up of her, such as the one below, representing her as an ugly, hooked nose woman with all of her femininity and features as a woman transformed into monstrous or failed superhero qualities, as though it is not possible for such determination and power to mould with womanhood.


Over 350 years ago, in 1649, one Member of Parliament stated that women should be at home washing the dishes. This may not come as such a surprise to us now, but how is it then that in 2014 MP Stella Creasy received threats of rape when she had Jane Austin put on our £10 notes, and in 2015 Emma Watson was told to get back in the kitchen just before she discussed #HeForShe with Facebook?

It is my belief that if we are still having to talk about female equality, feminism, feminists etc. then there is still a major problem. There is a problem with sexism and equality that needs to be addressed. I am so pleased that Emma Watson and Amanda Vickery have bought the world’s attention back onto feminism and for beginning what I believe is another positive movement for women.


2 thoughts on “Suffragists and Feminists: How far have we really come?

  1. I didn’t realise that so many husbands sold their wives. The only example I was aware of was that in Thomas Hardy’s “The Mayor of Casterbridge” which is, of course fictional. I recall a conversation with a friend who is in his late 70’s in which he mentioned how, in the mid 20th century, in order for a woman to obtain a mortgage she required the support of a man. I was shocked to hear this. Kevin


    • Hi Kevin, thankyou so much for taking the time to read my post. It really is fascinating isn’t it. There were also head cages for women with strips for the tongue with spikes on the end that would pierce the tongue, which men could arrange to be placed over the head of their wife to shut them up. They could then too take them to market to show them up. There is so much fascinating history out there. It is my intention to write so much more about it. I feel like a whole new world of history has been opened up to me and there is also so much history that can be related to the politics of today. I really look forward to taking a look at your blog. Chloe

      Liked by 1 person

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