You’re not the Suffragettes

May 16, 2023

We need to think critically when looking back on activist history

The following post was written in conjunction with Jemima Elliott, and came about as the result of shared concerns over the continued uncritical idolisation of past movements by current climate activists and direct action groups. Yes, the suffragettes were hated in their time and are vital to our lives now, but we must also remember how many of those in the suffrage movement perpetuated systems of white supremacy, ableism and imperialism. 

They were not perfect, and neither are we, but we must strive to learn from their mistakes and do better. There is no place for injustice in justice movements.

On the frontlines

The Suffragettes were amongst those most impacted by the cause they were fighting for: Votes for Women. In contrast, the majority of climate groups in the UK and across the Global North are not led by those on the frontlines of the climate crisis (largely BIPOC in the Global South), with many groups actively ignoring their voices.

Votes for who?

In 1918, the first women in the UK won the vote… provided they were over 30 and met various ‘minimum property requirements’. This excluded many marginalised women, but the largely white and middle-class Women’s Social and Political Union disbanded and the movement lost steam. It wasn’t until 1928 that women won full equal suffrage to men.

‘Terfy’ Suffragettes

In comparing themselves to the suffragettes, climate direct action groups are in bad company. The colours and language utilised by many suffragettes has become increasingly analogous with transphobic ‘feminists’, who view themselves as political successors of the suffragettes. Sounds about right considering their fascism…

Suffragettes and Fascism

Racism and Fascism were rife in the suffrage movement. The British Union of Fascists, supporters of Hitler in his rise to power and notorious anti-semites, drew many key supporters and organisers from their ranks. Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst also supported British Imperialism, and the promotion of eugenics.

Learning from the Past

The Suffragettes are undoubtedly a vital part of our history, but by idolising them uncritically we risk perpetuating the same systems of oppression they upheld. We must recognise the mistakes of past movements in order to learn from them – to centre the voices of those most marginalised and resist fascism in all its forms.