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100 Years of Suffrage

Well. What a week. Tuesday marked 100 years since some women got the vote. It was the result of a hard-fought battle by a courageous, badass group of women and some equally brilliant men. The stories that increasingly come to light never fail to amaze and inspire me. Charlotte Marsh was one of the first suffragettes to go on hunger strike, in an attempt to achieve the status of political prisoner. She was imprisoned on more than one occasion for periods between one and three months. During that time, she was force fed 139 times. 139 times. Yet she never compromised. Undeniably badass.

To mark 100 years, many glorious things will be happening to celebrate throughout 2018. One of which was Sadiq Khan revealing a public exhibition featuring 59 life-sized images of central figures of the suffrage movement in Trafalgar Square. 
Imagine my excitement at discovering that one of those featured is my Great Great Aunt, Edith How Martyn. Edith was a key figure in fighting for women’s rights at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Born in 1875 she studied Physics and Mathematics at University College, Aberystwyth. She went on to obtain a D.Sc in Economics at London University and became a lecturer in Mathematics at Westfield College.

She was a key member of the Women’s Social and Political Union before breaking away to form the Women’s Freedom League because she thought the Pankhursts were perhaps a little over the top with their letter bombing and burning down of (empty) properties. She could not get on board with the lack of democracy within the organisation and there is some evidence that she was trying to mastermind a coup to overthrow the Pankhursts. Edith was not a woman to be messed with.

In 1906 she was arrested in the lobby of the House of Commons when trying to make a speech and subsequently imprisoned for two months at Holloway. I am beginning to feel a tad embarrassed about the fact that if someone so much as mentions the word confrontation I leave the room, just in case…

Edith How Martyn & Charlotte Marsh

The Women’s Freedom League was a pacifist organisation, campaigning not only in relation to the right to vote but also focusing on wider issues such as violence against women, women’s exclusion from power, unequal pay and entrapment in narrow roles and expectations. Edith preferred less violent tactics and urged women to stop paying taxes until they had a say in how they were spent.

She was one of the first women to stand for political office in 1918 in Hendon, becoming a member of the Middlesex County Council from 1919 – 1922.

Not content with all that, she then became a leading figure in birth control, campaigning around the world – including a cracking series of letters between her and Gandhi. To paraphrase, Edith: “Gandhi, you seem on point with many things, but you’re getting the whole birth control thing wrong”, Gandhi: “Thank you so much for your thoughts, now please just do one.” 

So much has been achieved since then, but as the last 12 months has shown, so much is still to be achieved. For example, it seems incredibly sad that I still need to explain to a man, in one syllable words, why casual misogyny is not ok, why it’s not funny and why using my image in connection to it, in a YouTube video with nearly 40,000 views, without my permission, is not funny, not ok, and breaching privacy laws.

It is sad that I have had some incredibly dull conversations regarding the use of grid girls and walk-on girls and the impact that this has on society’s perception of women.

The fact that the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby and Louis CK and all the other cases of harassment, both involving the known and the unknown, are still coming to light since the #metoo movement last year provides a weekly reminder of the need for the #metoo discussion to be had.

That, whilst, yes, there are conflicting statistics to support almost any viewpoint, there are irrefutable examples of men being paid more when doing exactly the same job as their female counterparts,

It seems fairly remarkable that last week someone openly told me they were a member of a Gentlemen Only Debate Club because, well, it would just “change the dynamic”, whilst wrinkling his nose.

I still have hope. If Edith How Martyn and the other amazing people involved in that campaign, achieved all that they did, at the turn of the 20th century, I sure as hell hope we can do a lot more now. 

Amazing to think I have some of her badass genetic code. I should really do more with it.