By Janice McLaughlin, Newcastle University
The VOTE 100 activities ongoing this year generate lots of questions and personal reflections on the significance of the vote to women’s lives - both at the time and now. While working class women were closely involved in the more militant suffragette movement, they did not achieve the right to vote for another 10 years due to the requirement to either own property, or have a husband who owned property. The class divisions present in the campaign for the vote, highlight that such divisions have always been a tension within feminist campaigning and politics. When thinking about what the importance of marking VOTE 100 means, I both celebrate it and feel a sense of anger for the women who campaigned, but had to wait to gain the same right other women obtained at that point. It is also apparent that class remains an important intersection with gender in understanding contemporary dynamics of inequality. That period poverty means that some girls skip schools is just one example of such contemporary intersections of class and gender; intersections that also connect to other crucial social factors such as race and ethnicity. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s powerful keynote at the BSA annual conference captures the insistence that we must engage always with intersectionality when thinking about women’s position in society and how to resist social hierarchy.
My own very early recognition of intersectionality, although I certainly didn’t articulate it in that way then, was something that happened to my mum when I was around 10 years old. She came home one day very angry, and when I spoke to her about it when writing this piece, she remains angry some 40 years later. She explained that she had been to the bank to request a small loan; the loan repayments were affordable to her due to her part time work in a department store. However, the bank manager insisted she would have to her husband sign the bank loan agreement, before they would approve it. My mum was angry my dad had to give permission for her to have a loan she could afford; looking back now it is clear she was treated this way because of both her class and her gender.
Therefore, when we press the need for young women to see the importance of the right to vote and the continued importance of feminism, it must be with a recognition that the difficulties those young women will face will be significantly varied. It is important as ever that feminist activism, does not - as the Representation of the People Act 1918 did - only benefit a minority of women.