20th Century Britain - The Women Hour

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  • Přidal/a: anonymous
  • Datum přidání: 01. července 2007
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20th Century Britain - The Women Hour

Votes for women


The twentieth century will, without doubt, be viewed by historians as the Woman’s Hour. A girl born in 1899, had little chance of evading the role that was considered her destiny - to marry young, stay at home and raise a family. Still, only the privileged few, whose fathers or husbands were enlightened enough to permit it, got foot on the ladder of opportunity. In the early part of the century the suffragists argued powerfully, but peacefully for the vote.



It was the suffragettes who would really make a difference. The term was first employed in the Daily Mail on the 10th January 1906 and by March of that year it was in general use as a means of differentiating the militant campaigners of the Women’s Social and Political Union from the suffragists. The WSPU was formed in Manchester in 1903 by a small group of women led by Emmeline Pankhurst. When a London office was opened in 1906, her daughters Sylvia and Christabel joined her as leaders of a movement which dedicated itself to securing the vote for women to enable them to take full part in the democratic process. They were to achieve this by any militant means, drawing the line at any threat to human life. So they would break windows, throw stones, burn slogans on putting greens, cut telephone and telegraph wires, destroy pillar boxes and burn or bomb empty buildings. Emily Wilding Davison was the martyr of the movement, prepared to give her life for women’s rights. Like many of the arrested suffragettes she went on hunger strike in Holloway prison and in 1912 she tried to kill herself by leaping over a stair railing there. Her death came a year later when, with the WSPU flag sewn into her coat she threw herself in front of the King’s horse at Epsom and died from her injuries. Her coffin, draped in the suffragette colours of white, green and purple, was followed by 2000 uniformed suffragettes. On 6 February 1918, the British parliament passed an important law. This law gave women in Britain the right to vote for the first time.

1944 Education Act


In the family, wives and mothers wanted a renegotiation of the old order. They argued for a form of democracy at home where rights and responsibilities would be equally shared. In the work place thay wanted equal rights, equal opportunity and equal pay. For a girl born in 1950, there was, for instance, no equal access to education.

The 1944 Education Act established the principle of free education for all from primary to secondary, but at eleven plus there were quotas for admission to grammar school.


Late 60s and early 70s


In 1968, came the second wave of feminism. The women’s movement of the second part of the century began to bubble in the mid sixties. For anyone other than the upper classes, childcare and the running of the home was still considered woman’s work, forcing women to choose between their talents and their family lives. Women were saying that what is most personal is political and they were questioning and redefining their roles as wives, mothers, workers and lovers in the light of their own experience, rather than through men’s eyes. To be a young woman in the late sixties and early seventies was unimaginably exciting. For example at the BBC women weren’t allowed to wear trousers.


The f – word


What has characterised the modern women’s movement has been its ability to put everything up for discussion. And the crucial question that has been most hotly debated has been what it means to be a woman. They have examined what they wear. Shall it be dunfarees, trousers, long skirts, short skirts, lipstick high heels? Do women go out to work or stay at home and raise children? Whichever you choose. Can girls study maths and physics? Of course they can. In every area, in every sphere women have attended to their kind and made a difference. The revolution has not been without its casualties. Relationships between men and women have frequently been stretched on the rack of unmatched expectations. Men have frequently been reluctant to embrace women’s new found autonomy and have ridiculed new hopes and aspirations, clinging like dinosaurs to the old ways where man was master and woman served. Men at the end of the century still earn on average 30 per cent more than women and research carried out in 1999 by the Equal opportunities Commission has shown that this has nothing to do with the fact that many women chose part time work to enable them to juggle their family and their work. …feminism – known in some quarters as the f – word - has become almost too shameful to admit. Does feminist mean large unpleasant person who’ll shout at you or someone who believes women are human beings? It’s an echo of what Rebecca West said in 1913, “I myself have never able to find out precisely what a feminist is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”.

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