Did you watch Clare Balding’s documentary too? Oh good. Fantastic, wasn’t it? If you didn’t, I must bid you put down your Coco Pops and 4oD-it this instant, because it needs to be seen. Especially if your overriding image of the suffragettes is the mum in Mary Poppins doing a merry jig in a yellow petticoat. The sinister, brutal reality of the battle for women’s votes was about as far from Disney fable as it gets.
As a teenager at Davison High School for Girls, which wasn’t named after Emily although I always liked to imagine it was, the message of her cause managed to penetrate the almighty cloud of Clearasil and Impulse and Maroon 5 and hormonal angst for four years without us quite realising it. Our teachers drummed ambition into us along with long division. In 2004 we won the Global Rock Challenge with a dance about the suffragettes, and cried snotty tears of joy at Prince Edward as we collected our award.
It might be because I was woozy on body spray fumes at the time, but as a school girl I honestly don’t remember ever believing there was anything I wouldn’t be able to do on account of my gender. No, that came later. That came when I realised there’s still a whole, horrible chunk of society who value a woman’s body far beyond her brain.
It came the first time I noticed how many shops still shelve music, science and technology magazines as ‘Men’s Interest’. And when I discovered that I could expect to earn 15 per cent less than the men who graduated alongside me. And when I read that two women are killed every week in the UK as a result of domestic violence – a figure that hasn’t changed in 15 years.
My mother taught me regularly, well before I was old enough to, that I must always vote - “because of the suffragettes.” And I do.
I haven’t yet had the pleasure of voting in a government I’ve actually wanted (or a London mayor who isn’t a Bash Street Kid come to life) but at least I’ve had the pleasure of contribution. Exercising my right, to decide who governs me – and with it, the pleasure of knowing I can whinge and moan to my heart’s content about our politicians, because I played my part. Because I could.
So as Emily Davison’s centenary is commemorated on our screens and in our papers, I’d rather use it as a rallying call, not a memorial, to carry on what the sister suffragettes kicked off – to men and women, because human rights are everybody’s issue. And the march is far from over.