Guest post: Why Parliament needs a statue of suffragette Emily Davison
Of the 100 statues of politicians in Parliament, only 6 are of women.
Following International Women's Day, Emily Thornberry MP argues that a statue of suffragette Emily Davison should be erected in order to remind women and girls that Parliament is a place for them.
Do read the post, and sign the petition here if you agree.
MP for Islington South and Finsbury
Posted on: Mon 10-Mar-14 12:13:11
(34 comments )
Emily Davison, the suffragette who locked herself in a broom cupboard on census night so she could be recorded as "a woman in parliament" and was later killed when she fell under the King's Horse at Ascot, deserves a statue in her honour.
As the only Emily ever to be elected an MP, I am leading a campaign to ensure she gets a statue right here in parliament, and I'd like some help.
Last week I spoke to four girls from Islington schools who were studying politics for A-level. They had just been on a tour of Parliament and had been given a very strong message - that it wasn't for them.
Only 22% of MPs elected in 2010 were women and only four sit in the Cabinet. But it's not just the living; men dominate Parliament's history and how it presents itself. Of the 100 statues of politicians who have made their mark, only 6 are of women; two of Thatcher, two of Nancy Astor, one of Barbara Castle and one of Betty Boothroyd.
An abstract piece celebrating gender, understood only by some and placed in an obscure corner, would be a wasted opportunity. A commemoration of women's suffrage should be accessible, because it has a big job to do.
Attempts have been made to represent women in some of the modern portraits, but these are not on the main visitors’ route. Visitors see men.
Last year, on the anniversary of Emily Davison’s death, I held a memorial for her in Parliament, which you can watch here. This launched the campaign for a statue of her, which is supported by the Fawcett Society, Helen Pankhurst, more than 70 MPs and hundreds of people across the country.
The Parliamentary authorities have been persuaded to commission a lasting memorial to the struggle for women’s suffrage, and next week we will be deciding on an artist to develop ideas.
I believe that this artwork should be a statue of Emily Davison. She can stand alongside the men and provide inspiration, and stimulate the telling of stories – stories of how women were excluded from parliament for most of its history, and what a fight there was for the vote.
We must inspire girls to get involved in politics, and we must ensure that they don't take their vote for granted. An abstract piece celebrating gender, understood only by some and placed in an obscure corner, would be a wasted opportunity. A commemoration of women's suffrage should be accessible, because it has a big job to do.
If you want to recognise the women who fought and won our right to vote, and send a clear message that politics today needs more women involved, then sign the petition to erect a statue of Emily Davison in Parliament here.
By Emily Thornberry MP
Of the suffragettes, why Emily, out of interest and not a Pankhurst?
I don't think you should
Be celebrated when you
Risk harm to others
For your cause, even
A good one. What about
The poor horse and jockey?
there is a pankhurst memorial on the gardens next to parliament, I think?
the horse and jockey? really haiku? always good to put the feelings of an animal above the death of a woman who was so certain of her convictions.
Not the "feelings" of
The animal, but the chance
Of it's pain, or death.
Thanks snapes. Wasn't sure.
I'm not sure what i think tbh. I can't see why not but I wonder if the uncertainty about the purpose of her dashing out might make it a less straight forward choice?
I don't know why I'm not feeling more strongly in favour
Because however great her cause was some of her actions were stupid, dangerous and could have caused death to more than just herself.
That's why I'm kind of on the fence anyways!
She also didn't fall under a horse. She ran out in front of it.
Yes. I think it's the lack of clarity making me a bit
I'd rather see a statue of Margaret Bondfield.
We have a statue of Mandela, few hesitate to celebrate his achievement, yet we question a woman whose campaign was about representation of half the population because an innocent horse was injured? Really?
Men owned women, that was effectively the status of women pre-1918
Emily Davidson was everything wrong with women - hysterical, unreasonable, illogical, drama llama and her actions dis nothing but DAMAGE the Suffragettes aims and work. Of course men were not going to give the vote to women when they act like her!! Now Emiline Pankhurst on the other hand was calm, reasonable, thoughtful, intelligent and dis far more for the movement. Give her a statue by all means but not Emily!
Wonder stuff, the horse hasn't featured in my thinking. It's Emily's actions that make me a bit uncertain.
Emily, as extremely well put upthread, was a loose cannon. I do not believe she is the best contender for this. By a long chalk.
"everything wrong with women"
It's not just the horse thing though. From what I remember from school she went around setting fire to postboxes, the starving herself etc.
Her cause was (and is) an important one. However, it's not clear why she ran under the horse, she could've have been mentally ill for all we know, and I do agree in a way with the poster that said she is everything wrong with women.
The suffragette movement was not just about middle class women acting hysterical. There were well thought out campaigns, a mix across the classes, women who risked everything just to go to meetings and who carried themselves with dignity. The women who could respond well to the jibes and the setbacks without feeling the need to damage property or lives are the ones we need statues of.
I doubt the fathers rights movement will be celebrating fathers for justice in the future. She seems to have been that end of the scale. There were so many brave, intelligent, inspiring women involved in the suffrage movement. A good candidate shouldn't be hard to find.
How about a statue of a WW1 female ambulance driver, a female munitions worker or bus conductor?
It was their actions in the First World War that showed that middle class/upper class women were actually able to do 'men's work' without harming their mental or physical health.
One of the main arguments against female suffrage was that women were inferior to men in mind and body, by doing the work they did they changed a lot of minds and earned a debt of gratitude.
I admire Emily Davidson's passion for the cause, but the militant suffragettes did very little to change people's minds, they were the epitome of the mad, hysterical woman in Victorian ideology. I have much more admiration for the women who were brave enough to step up and do jobs they had been told all their lives were not suitable for them and would damage them/affect their marriage prospects. Especially those who underwent severe deprivation and danger in war zones.
But aren't we guilty of judging women by different standards to men here? By saying celebrate the quiet, dignified ones who just got on and did things because they needed doing.
Do male historical figures get judged by these extra standards? As someone upthread pointed out, I don't recall Mandela being known for quiet dignity in his early activism. Later on, yes of course. But he helped establish the military wing of the ANC, which carried out violent acts.
A quick wikipedia of public art in London shows lots of military men, including Bomber Harris. These men carried out acts of violence, killing many people.
One could argue that they represent "everything wrong with men" and yet we don't speak out against their commemoration.
In fact, I don't know enough about ED to have formed a proper opinion about whether she's the best choice for a statue. But come on, let's at least recognise the double standard that's being put forward here. If you applied the same standard to men, I can only really think that Ghandi could be commemorated.
Agree about the double standards being applied. I expect she brought a huge amount of publicity through her actions, so the end justified the means.
I think a statue of her in parliament is a good start. She sacrificed her life to get women the vote.
However I think a lot more needs to be done to encourage women to enter parliament.
A feminist campaigner "hysterical" because you disagree with the tactics she used?
She sacrificed her life to get women the vote
Yes, this is important. Let's not write her out of her role in history because she wasn't quiet and dignified.
Although I do agree wholeheartedly with other posters who've said that there have been many amazing unsung sheroes who deserve commemoration as well. Why not have lots of monuments to amazing women?
This reminds me of the bank note debacle. One token spot for a woman, and then sit back and watch us scrap over who should get it, rather than asking why 50% of the spots aren't being given to women.
I called her hysterical because that was a word (based on a medical disorder prevalent at the time) that would have been used to describe her actions by opponents of female suffrage. That was how the actions of the suffragettes were seen, literally mentally deranged on the whole.
The Victorian and fin de siècle context in which she was set is important. The more extreme actions and criminal behaviour of the suffragettes brought them publicity yes, but did not necessarily advance the cause. For women to break out of their gender roles in this way was shocking and disgraceful. If women can behave like that then they are merely proving their inferiority to men, their lack of sense and balance, bad idea to give them the vote.
She sacrificed her life yes, perhaps not intentionally (there is evidence that she was trying to tie a scarf around the neck of the horse) for the vote, but there is little evidence that her actions actually sped up the suffrage process. Indeed it may even have impeded it.
As I said I have a great deal of admiration for her, but I think her effect was limited on the actual suffrage process. Her real strengths lie in her adoption as a later feminist icon and role model, but in focusing on this single woman, much of the other activism etc has been forgotten.
But we don't know why she threw herself under the horse. It's been assumed it was to do with the suffragette movement but no one knows for sure. By honouring her over others we are giving out the message that only radical women get noticed so if you aren't going the whole hog then don't bother. IMO anyway!
Perhaps rather than asking "which woman" we should be asking "why only one woman"?
If there was more than just one slot to be filled by someone who has to represent absolutely everything about women's liberation since women first started fighting for it, then lots of women could be commemorated.
One fucking spot, when men's actions are commemorated in vast numbers.
In fact, I think my vote would go for an empty podium, to symbolise how far we still have to travel to achieve equal recognition and representation with men. Women are still absent, that's what my blank podium would mean.
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