Magazine article History Today

Votes for Men. (Letters)

Magazine article History Today

Votes for Men. (Letters)

Article excerpt

The article on Emmeline Pankhurst (`Deeds not Words', May 2002), in emphasising the feminist angle on the campaign for equal voting rights for women, embodied the usual distortion of history that surrounds this topic.

The campaign for equal voting rights for women should be seen as part of the greater struggle for voting rights for the whole population, especially those of the `working' classes. In reality prior to 1918 very many men had no right to vote, whilst property-owning women did--and indeed from 1872 women who were `householders' also had the fight to vote in local elections.

Prior to 1835 the right to vote was largely dependent on being a property owner and prior to 1918 approximately 40 per cent of the male population had no right to vote. In 1918 all men over 21 and all women over 30 were given the vote. After these steps to widen the franchise were made, it was only ten years before women between 21 and 30 were given the vote.

The right to vote was a very real issue for both men and women, though for some reason the story of when, why and how ordinary men were given the vote is all but invisible.

It is apparent to me, having worked in the education sector, that the campaign for voting rights for all has (along with many other topics) been hijacked in order to promote political agendas. Ask the average secondary school student about the development of the franchise and my experience tells me that you will be given a simplistic black and white story about how men had the vote and women were oppressed to keep them powerless. In reality, in a period of history when social and class roles were far more defined then they are today, all members of society had their `rights' and `freedoms' restricted, be it women at the voting booth or men who were equally expected to `know their place' in the social order.

Given the popular legends that have grown up around the suffragette movement, it seems unfortunate that it has been forgotten that many of those men who died in the trenches of the First World War were also considered to be unworthy of the vote. Surely historians, even those of a feminist persuasion, owe the truth a little more respect than to distort history by ignoring those facts that do not fit their own agendas. …

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