Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline_Pankhurst_I_croppedThe campaign for women’s suffrage is one of those things, like abolition or civil rights, that makes you wonder why on earth anyone opposed it. And yet many women and men suffered, and sometimes even died, to secure something which everyone now takes for granted. This serves as a reminder that our current moral and political certainties may one day be disowned by our grandchildren.

Emmeline Pankhurst was the doyenne of the movement in England. She died on June 14, 1928 and so it seems appropriate for the Mormon Lectionary Project to mark her death this weekend.

Her speech in Hartford, Connecticut on November 13, 1913 is a remarkable thing. The rhetoric is both simple and devastating:

“Suppose the men of Hartford had a grievance, and they laid that grievance before their legislature, and the legislature obstinately refused to listen to them, or to remove their grievance, what would be the proper and the constitutional and the practical way of getting their grievance removed? Well, it is perfectly obvious at the next general election the men of Hartford would turn out that legislature and elect a new one.

“But let the men of Hartford imagine that they were not in the position of being voters at all, that they were governed without their consent being obtained, that the legislature turned an absolutely deaf ear to their demands, what would the men of Hartford do then? They couldn’t vote the legislature out. They would have to choose; they would have to make a choice of two evils: they would either have to submit indefinitely to an unjust state of affairs, or they would have to rise up and adopt some of the antiquated means by which men in the past got their grievances remedied.”

With no enfranchisement, women had no mechanism for resolving their grievances. This left them with no choice but to protest, something Pankhurst admits was an “antiquated means.” The suffragettes were disruptive and their actions were often met with brutality. Pankhurst had been able to travel to the US because she had been freed from jail but faced re-arrest on her return home. These “cat and mouse” tactics allowed the authorities to avoid having to force-feed hunger strikers in prison.

Two other things about Pankhurst stand out. First, that she was not willing to kill to advance her cause: “Human life for us is sacred, but we say if any life is to be sacrificed it shall be ours; we won’t do it ourselves, but we will put the enemy in the position where they will have to choose between giving us freedom or giving us death.” Second, her struggle against the government did not mean she did not consider herself loyal or patriotic. Pankhurst was a supporter of the war effort and helped persuade women to work in the munitions factories.

The readings below from Psalms and the Book of Mormon remind us of the equality of all of God’s children, the realisation of which for men and women was Pankhurst’s great cause. We can also contemplate the difficult story of Tamar in Genesis 38 who also felt compelled towards “antiquated means” to secure a proper place in society, appropriating symbols of male power along the way. The story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew is particularly arresting as it hints that even Jesus carried a human instinct that was at times wedded to his cultural world. Three times he rejects her; after her fourth plea, mercy finally flows.

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MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Emmeline Pankhurst

The Collect: Almighty God, like the Suffragettes we know that  “life, strife—those two are one”; that naught can we win but “by faith and daring.” We are firm in our communal reliance on you, “Shoulder to shoulder and friend to friend.” We pray for the cause of women’s rights in this world, knowing that all are alike unto God. Teach us always to hunger for him who is the true and living bread, and enable us to live by every word that proceeds from out of your mouth; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings: Genesis 38: 12-23; Psalm 82; Matthew 15:21-282 Nephi 26:33.

Comments

  1. Karen H. says:

    “We pray for the cause of women’s rights in this world…” Amen brother.

  2. Jason K. says:

    The story of the Canaanite woman is devastating.

  3. It is, right?

  4. Amen. Thank you.

  5. This is really wonderful. We all owe a great debt to Emmeline Pankhurst and the many women and men who followed their conscience rather than the entrenched cultural view that devalued women and their contribution, usually with the result of significant repercussions in the form of being abused or shunned. In addition, an objective sense of morality obligates us to feel ashamed for those who vehemently opposed the goals of women’s suffrage, often based on religious arguments stemming from their understanding of “doctrine” at the time.

  6. Just to clarify, are you suggesting that Christ’s interaction with the Canaanite woman is an example of gender discrimination?

  7. Mixture of gender and ethnic, I think.

  8. manpace says:

    “The campaign for women’s suffrage is one of those things, like abolition or civil rights, that makes you wonder why on earth anyone opposed it.”

    Can we not put ourselves in the mind of past generations, and try to see the world the way they saw it, and appreciate the pressures, opportunities and limitations that their culture and environment imposed upon them?

    If the actions and values of past generations are unfathomable to us, that’s a critical lack of perspective on our part.

  9. “Can we not put ourselves in the mind of past generations, and try to see the world the way they saw it, and appreciate the pressures, opportunities and limitations that their culture and environment imposed upon them?”

    Not on an issue like this, in which the entrenched status quo responded with massive amounts of hate and oppression to the suffragettes, physically abusing them and fighting against them with all kinds of dishonorable means. To give them a pass would be an exercise in moral relativism. The disenfranchisement of women is universally recognized as morally wrong by decent people today. The thing is, it was just as morally wrong back then too and just because people refused to accept that does not mean that it was morally right back then. It is wrong now and it was wrong then.

  10. “If the actions and values of past generations are unfathomable to us, that’s a critical lack of perspective on our part.”

    You are taking Ronan’s words too literally by interpreting him as saying that their actions are “unfathomable” to us just because he said that today one wonders “why on earth anyone opposed” women’s suffrage. He knows why they opposed it. They argued that their religion required it. That was incorrect and wrong. Apostasy from the Truth, essentially. Luckily, society was touched by the Restoration, which is an ongoing process, as President Uchtdorf taught in the most recent Priesthood session of General Conference. So, this gross error being supported by entrenched religious interests of the day could be toppled and overturned. Unfortunately, it required women like Emmeline Pankhurst to be not “well-behaved”. But the experience of millions of suffragettes shows that there was no other way.

  11. “He knows why they opposed it. They argued that their religion required it.”
    That’s a very religion-centric view. Science also required it. Philosophy also required it. It wasn’t as if every argument for limiting the desires of a subset of people, then or now, is rooted only in religion. It’s just the easy way to disregard people now.

  12. “Mixture of gender and ethnic, I think.”

    Respectfully disagree. First, Christ stated the different treatment was based on lineage. Second, the interpretation ignores Christ’s compassionate interaction with other women in the New Testament. Third, the idea of Christ treating women poorly because of societal attitudes at the time indicates He was not perfect.

  13. “To give them a pass would be an exercise in moral relativism.”

    The twin danger is ethno- and chrono-centric application of morality. It’s easy to feel righteous when one’s values match those of their wider culture. Much harder to go against the flow.

  14. “It’s easy to feel righteous when one’s values match those of their wider culture. Much harder to go against the flow.”

    your comment implies moral relativism

  15. Frank, science and philosophy required the disenfranchisement of women? Are you really trying to say that people tried to justify it based on non-religious arguments too, including arguments rooted in the science and philosophy of the day?

  16. Marc, given many of the ambiguities in the gospels it isn’t easy to fully understand what is really going on. However, not only would I resist a crayola version of Christ’s perfection, I think that if you look at how some Gentile men are painted (the Good Samaritan, the centurion), her being a woman and foreign put her at the bottom of the pile.

    I wouldn’t insist on that reading, however, and it is barely relevant to why I used it.

  17. There were many scientific and philosophical arguments against female enfranchisement. Many men seemed to really believe that women were simply adult children who couldn’t handle manly tasks like mathematics, science, logic, etc. While I wholeheartedly agree that the morality of gender equality is *not* relative, it is incorrect to lay it all at the foot of religion. Religion may have informed those assumptions about the capacity and worth of women, it may have been the pernicious root, but it was not the only boot on the neck of women in those times.

  18. johnf, there have been many, most of them refuted by later science and philosophy. Look up the origins of “hysteria”. Read up on the philosophers that considered women an “inferior species”. If you think religion has been alone in disenfranchising women, you’re woefully uninformed.

  19. Crayola version? Okay.

  20. “your comment implies moral relativism”

    Most people, in all time periods, evaluate their values according to the values of the wider culture (from where they inherited their values) and pat themselves on the back for it. It’s not “relativism” to point out the circularity, or our vanity for chiding our deceased ancestors for not being enlightened like we are.

    I don’t blame my ancestors singly for slavery, any more than I blame you for that stupid war in Iraq, though you or I may have played some minuscule role in making it happen. I like to see people rise above the circumstances of their times, but can only reflect at how rarely that happens, historically or today.

  21. some people in those times were plugged in to the objective morality that was whispering to all humans that slavery was an absolute evil, and though acting on this conviction meant severe social retribution, they did not shrink

  22. “The campaign for women’s suffrage is one of those things, like abolition or civil rights, that makes you wonder why on earth anyone opposed it.”

    In the U.S. two big lobbying groups opposed women’s suffrage: the liquor industry because they feared if women got the vote they would support prohibition and the manufacturing industry because they knew enfranchised women would oppose child labour and poor working conditions. As usual, money played a huge role in history.

  23. Uh, yeah.

    “I like to see people rise above the circumstances of their times, but can only reflect at how rarely that happens, historically or today.”

  24. I agree, john f – and we laud the ones whom history proves to have been right while condemning the ones whom history has proved to be wrong. We don’t have the luxury of looking back on ourselves through the lens of history, and neither did they, so we all do the best we can in the here and now to do what we deem to be right and good.

    I am confident I will be justified in some of my beliefs through the lens of history, and I am sure I will be condemned for some of my beliefs through that same lens of history. I hope I am forgiven in the case of the latter for not being able to rise above my time and in the case of the former if I am not able to exercise charity toward those who were wrong in that same time.

    Please understand, that is a generic statement and is not directed in any way at any particular person here.

  25. To the Collect, I enthusiastically say, “Amen.”

  26. Bless you, Ronan.

    Even my theretofore very ambivalent heart leaped with sisterly pride and joy when I saw Kate at the demonstration wearing a bold color combination of purple and gold. It was unmistakable–the colors of the suffragette movement.

  27. And, Ronan, don’t forget Emmeline’s daughter Sylvia Pankhurst, also a suffrage campaigner and political activist for many other causes including anti-colonialsim and anti-war — who lived for over 30 years in Woodford Green. By the time she moved to Ethiopia in 1956, she had accumulated quite the MI5 dossier, with MI5 even looking for ways, as early as 1948, of “muzzling the tiresome Miss Sylvia Pankhurst.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvia_Pankhurst

  28. There’s something in the air in Woodford Green.

  29. By the way, to celebrate this over the weekend (in the most cheesy way possible, I suppose) we watched Chapter 7 of the Young Indiana Jones Series (“Love’s Sweet Song”), which contains a lengthy segment dealing with Women’s Suffrage and shows a speech by Sylvia Pankhurst to the East London Federation of Suffragettes and showcases not only suffrage but the related causes that Sylvia was engaged in at that time in 1916 — equal pay for equal work, equity and justice for war widows, etc.

  30. Love!

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