Why calling Millicent Fawcett a suffragette is not o-fucking-k

Yesterday was a landmark day for women’s history; the design for Millicent Fawcett’s Parliament Square statue was unveiled. It’s truly momentous, with the statue set to become both the first woman to stand in this memorial to political powerhouses and also the first statue in the square designed by a woman!

Twitter was immediately a buzz; finally women’s history getting the acknowledgment it deserves! Even mainstream media joined in on the excitement with both The Guardian and The Independent leading with headlines on the amazing new ‘suffragette statue’!

BUT…there’s just one problem:

Millicent Fawcett wasn’t a suffragette.

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Well, this is awkward…

Millicent Fawcett was the leader of the NUWSS (which was the largest suffrage organistion in the country) and among many other amazing things, she spent decades tirelessly campaigning for women to have the vote.

So why is calling her a suffragette a big deal? Well, the difference between the suffrgattes and the suffragists is huge; let me break it down:

The Suffragists were (broadly) members of Millicent’s NUWSS, whilst suffragettes were members of the much smaller WSPU (run by Emmeline Pankhurst). Both groups wanted the same thing; the vote. But they went about getting it in very different ways.

Millicent was for peaceful protesting and working to get politicians on side…. While Emmeline was for extremism, using bombs, weapons and all out illegality.

I think we can all agree…

THATS A PRETTY FUCKING BIG DIFFERENCE!!!

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Yeah…bombs and petitions, kinda not the same thing

Probably due to their  more, er… explosive methods, Suffragettes are the most well known organastion from the women’s suffrage movement. They’re the group you learn about in school and the face of the movement in TV and film; from the eponymous, Suffragette to Mary Poppins!

Seriously, if you went into the street right now and asked 10 people who were the suffragists, I would bet you good money that :

A ) 90% don’t know how they are

B) The other 10% would think you just said ‘suffragette’ wrong

Don’t get me wrong, the suffragettes should get their due; they had a huge impact in getting the vote…but they should not be the only thing we’re taught.

The WSPU was very much a fringe group, with a few thousand members. The NUWSS on the other hand, had tens of thousands members, made up of hundreds of nationwide groups. That’s a lot of women to have been forgotten by history. millicent fawcett giving a speech

Historian Bettany Hughes recently said that:

‘women have always been 50% of the population, but only occupy around 0.5% of recorded history.’

That’s slowly starting to change (hooray!) as historians do ever increasingly incredible work to uncover untold stories and get them out there.

But the fights not over! Don’t forget that in 2015, a promised museum to the women of the East End, turned out to be nothing more than a shrine to a sex worker killing ass hat.  Last year, English Heritage asked people to name just 3 women from history and they really bloody struggled (with one guy saying Ada Lovelace was Kim Kardashian…)

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I mean…..

So yes:

  • Calling Millicent Fawcett a suffragette matters.

  • Calling a woman who self identified as a suffragist, something entirely different, matters.

  • Overlooking the fight and struggle of tens of thousands of women, matters.

It’s not being pedantic, it’s ensuring that we treat women’s history with the same respect as we do every other facet of history.

 

Note: The Guardian and The Independent have now both changed their wording to Suffragist – hooray!

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