“The argument of the broken window pane is the most valuable argument in modern politics.”
Votes for Women is a play I have written based on the dramatic true story of Emmeline Pankhurst, the charismatic head of the militant suffragettes, and how her violent movement for female suffrage in pre-war Great Britain succeeded in getting women the vote but, in the process, ripped apart her family.
It investigates how Emmeline’s authoritarianism and tunnel vision may have made her suffragettes successful, but those same traits alienated her three daughters, traumatised them and eventually led to the destruction of the bonds between them.
Emmeline Pankhurst is, today, seen as a hero by many – but how well do we know her? Will we still consider her a hero when we witness her cruelty, her ruthlessness and callous disregard for the welfare of her own children? This was a woman who was prepared to make any sacrifice and pay any price for her cause, and expected the same from those closest to her.
We tolerate and forgive such behaviour in male civil rights leaders (do we judge Mandela for his many wives? Or Gandhi for his tactical use of Indian lives to create confrontation with the British?) seeing it as evidence of their commitment to their cause. But we are not so forgiving with Emmeline Pankhurst. She is judged differently because she was a woman. And a mother.
By bringing women as agents of change front and centre, Votes for Women is a modern story that resonates loud and clear with society today. Don’t be deceived into thinking this is a quaint historical play – this subject fascinates me because of its relevance to feminist activism today with its controversial topics of intersectionality, male allies, and the justification of violence. In this era of Twitter hashtags, online petitions and armchair campaigns, perhaps we still have much to learn from the Pankhursts.
And at the heart of this family drama is a critical study of female power that we desperately need today, in a world where female leadership and authority is still maligned and even mocked. Female leaders can be genteel but they can also be as ruthless as any man. And in that, Emmeline Pankhurst didn’t just win the vote, but challenged every notion of gendered behaviour along the way.
If you are interested in the play and want more details, get in touch.