Two days before the closure of the Edinburgh Book Festival, three empowered and inspirational women – Helen Pankhurst, Fern Riddell and Adele Patrick – discussed about suffragettes, feminism and women’s current position. The discussion was motivated by Pankhurst’s book Deeds Not Words: The Story of Women’s Rights – Then and Now and Riddell’s book Death in Ten Minutes: Kitty Marion: Activist. Arsonist. Suffragette. Patrick, who founded Glasgow Women’s Library and organised the Revolting Women strand at this year’s Book Festival, started the conversation by pointing out the lack of evidence and stories of Scottish suffragettes.
Helen Pankhurst – who is an activist, a professor and the great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst – presented an outline of her book and the motivation to write it. She wondered “what would Emmeline think of today?” and tried to answer by researching how things have changed for women in relation to politics, work and economics, family, violence, culture, power; all of which make up the main topics of the chapters of her book. Pankhurst mentioned that the increased discussion around equality and diversity issues is promising, but also asked what is achievable leading up to 2028 (which is the centenary of the Equal Franchise Act). She talked about the women who have fought all those years since 1918 and have achieved some changes in the legislation, but not in social norms, and she described how dangerous this can be. People can assume that with a couple of laws and policies the problem is solved. Pankhurst made it clear that she is fed up and she doesn’t want to wait one hundred more years for actual social change. She motivated women with her motto “fun and purpose” to continue trying to make a difference without forgetting the fun of sisterhood. She finally admitted that part of her wants only women to be involved in the feminist conversation, but at the same time she knows that if men do not engage then women are not getting anywhere.
Cultural historian Fern Riddell talked about her book on the unknown story of suffragette Kitty Marion, which is based on Marion’s autobiography. Riddell admitted that when she started working on this book, she realised she didn’t know much about suffragettes, their amazing story and their impact, and she believes that there is still so much that we do not know about this part of history. She explained that this was made clear to her when her book printing was rejected many times before she found her current publisher, because of the belief that the story of an unknown woman would not sell. Riddell encouraged women to start writing our history, because so far it has been written mainly by men. Since truly objective history writing is something of a myth, there is a lot about women that needs to be written. However, she is very excited about the future, because she believes that the “feminist epiphany” happens to women at a younger age now than in the past.
After a couple of questions and thoughts from the female dominated audience, the session was completed by Patrick’s comment on the importance of this discussion in the history of the Book Festival.
Death in Ten Minutes Kitty Marion – Activist, Arsonist, Suffragette
Hodder & Stoughton
Deeds Not Words The Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now
Hodder & Stoughton
Image: Ben Snooks via Flickr