At one of Jajnik’s editorial meetings in mid-October, we decided to commemorate the anniversary of Black Friday protests of the English suffrage movement, which is today. We thought it’d be a fitting topic after the first female presidential candidate shattered the highest of glass ceilings.
The symbolism of that moment—not the actual consequences of HRC’s feminist, yet surprisingly Republican, policies—felt important. We thought, January 2017 is when girls and young women around the world will finally see a truly inspirational result of the centuries-old fight.
And then, of course, we had a reality check.
On November 18, 1910, in London, 300 women gathered in front of the House of Commons in peaceful protest against the “the policy of shuffling and delay with which the agitation for woman’s enfranchisement has been met by the Government”. The events of that day gained such notoriety that today we refer to it as Black Friday. Over 200 women were arrested. Before the arrests were made, many protesters were manhandled, abused and sexually assaulted by the policemen blocking them from entering the building.
On November 19, 1910, The London Times reported in an article entitled “Suffrage Raiders”:
“One of [the women] slipped through the cordon, got on to the wall, and tried to climb or fling herself down into the yard, a height of 12 or 15 feet. She was apparently unused to mountaineering, or her dress caught on a buttress, and she was saved from a dangerous fall by two policemen, who caught her before she quite reached the ground.
Several of the police had their helmets knocked off in carrying out their duty, one was disabled by a kick on the ankle, one was cut on the face by a belt, and one had his hand cut. As a rule they kept their tempers very well, but their method of shoving back the raiders lacked nothing in vigour. They were at any rate kept warm by the exercise, and so were the ladies who flung themselves against the defending lines.”
Black Friday protests marked an escalation of the so-called “militant” suffrage movement. Because of the events of that day, and the powerful accounts of the abuse and violence, as well as the many arrests that were made, the leaders of Women’s Social and Political Union had the idea to use the law to their advantage and, to an extent, for protection of the protestors. By damaging public property, and getting arrested for it, the suffragists subverted the shame related to getting arrested, incorporating it into their campaign and thus transforming it into a powerful expression of dissent.
A similar tactic was adopted by members of the civil rights movement in the 1960s in the US. It’s worth remembering that although universal suffrage was officially granted in 1928 in the UK and in 1920 in the US, the “universality” did not extend to persons of colour in either country.
The first wave of feminism was not perfect, because nothing ever is. The first female candidate to run for president of the U.S. wasn’t perfect either. Critics of both tend to focus on these imperfections, rather than acknowledge the impact of these events happening in the first place. This is not to say that we should remain oblivious to what is not right. The mistakes early suffragists made should have been an important lesson. But we have not learned from them, and we are repeating them to this day, also in our support of HRC.
The suffragists we commemorate today were middle-class, educated, white and privileged. They changed the world for all other educated, white and privileged women. The suffragists we commemorate today, as well as their American counterparts, were white supremacists*. We commemorate their failure to include in their fight women who did not belong to the same class or ethnic group.
The legacy of those suffragists continues to this day.
One of the reasons HRC didn’t shatter the glass ceiling on November 8 is because so many of us, white ladies, have been looking at it with growing disgust for decades, while so many other women couldn’t even see it properly, so deeply have they internalised misogyny.
If HRC wasn’t a perfect—or even good enough—candidate for so many millennial women and for so many baby-boomers at the peak of their professional lives, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that she was a perfect candidate for Women of Colour who did overwhelmingly support her bid for presidency. She wasn’t, but they voted for her anyway, because out of two racist evils, she was definitely the lesser one.
Only white people are shocked
Perhaps it’s a good thing that HRC didn’t win. Had she become the first female president of the US, the gratification of accomplishing this goal would’ve further perpetrated the illusion that all is well, and that feminism has finally “won”. Just as Barack Obama becoming the first African-American president on the US has lulled many into believing that racism has been „solved”.
Like the British suffragists, we—white, wealthy, privileged women—have been wilfully blind. And we have been complacent.
To paraphrase Don Draper: “if you don’t like the ceiling you’re looking at, go stand in a different room”. It’s time we stopped operating in a world where glass ceilings exist for women. Even if we shatter the glass ceiling, we’re still within the glass construction made by and for white men, and it’ll still be exclusive, because it is exclusive by design.
Instead, let’s shatter the entire construct and make our own, together.
Here’s how we can do that:
- Be curious. Ask questions. Educate yourself on racism, sexism, misogyny, misogynoir, and everything else. The advantage of the Internet is that it has everything on it, so it’s really easy to find resources. Talk to real life people, too.
- Don’t be afraid of confronting different views on the matter. Don’t be afraid of feeling out of your comfort zone. Read authors with different, sometimes contradictory, opinions on the subject. Consult them to ponder arguments that will eventually strenghten your views.
- Be skeptical about information you find in the public domain. Don’t trust mainstream media. Refer to points 1 and 2 when in doubt.
- Once you’ve understood well what racism, sexism, misogyny, misogynoir are about, educate people around you who don’t know.
- Do not tolerate any form of the above, in public spaces or at home. Yes, this includes Sunday lunch at your Nana’s and happy hour with your co-workers. If you go along with it or stay quiet, you’re part of the problem.
- Be kind and patient when people don’t understand, but are willing to listen. Allow yourself to be angry with those who won’t.
- Don’t put down any form of activism others are doing. “Clicktivism” takes courage, too. Become part of it as much as you can: share, comment, participate in groups and protests. Your democratic rights don’t only start and end at voting. You are a citizen every day and allowing that side of your personality to flourish is rewarding and fun. Give it a try.
*You have an issue with that statement?
“I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ask for the ballot for the Negro and not for the woman.”
— Susan B. Anthony
“What will we and our daughters suffer if these degraded black men are allowed to have the rights that would make them even worse than our Saxon fathers?”
— Elizabeth Stanton