Margaret Sanger, "The Militants in England," June 1914.
Source: " The Woman Rebel, June 1914, p. 31. Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series C16:539."
For a follow-up article, see "Militants in England," July 1914.
Among the causes which have made Britain the battlefield of feminism, are, firstly, the preponderating number of women over men; secondly, the conservative temperament of Englishmen--their dread of change and of liberty, and thirdly, the whole-hearted opposition springing from Imperial interests.
Since Mary Wollstonecraft first raised her voice in protest against the subjugation of her sex, women in England had gradually imbibed the intellectual ideas of feminism. Not until the close of the Victorian reign, however, was this dormant intellectual spirit, stimulated by the writings of John Stuart Mill and others, aroused to make a definite demand for political representation. But Englishmen, while prepared to admit the theoretical justice of womens' claim, never seriously considered the question of yielding to it. Promises were given, women were bidden to educate and make themselves fitted for their new "responsibilities" but their rights were deliberately ignored.
After twenty years of promises on the one side and of patient, wearisome petitioning on the other, a handful of women idealists determined that the time for patience and submission had passed. Action was required and direct action against property, to awaken English stupidity and show that these women were serious. In 1903 Mrs. Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel, with a fund of $10, organized a fighting union, including Annie Kenney, a mill hand from Lancashire, and Mrs. Drummond. Mrs. Pankhurst had become almost obsessed with the idea of the subjugation of her sex. She and her followers quickly realized the intensity and breadth of the struggle that was before them. From the low, brutal, British wife-beater, from the middle-class "husband," whose wife served as domestic and sexual slave, to the aristocracy and the Court with its unclean conception of women; to the Monarchy itself, stretched one vast solid phalanx of stupendous opposition. Weak in body but unconquerable in spirit, Mrs. Pankhurst and her followers suddenly flung themselves against this insufferable mass of prejudice, stupidity and hypocrisy; against the male Moloch who had for centuries crushed the soul of woman and trafficked in her body. They made attacks on the propertied class from every conceivable point. Acids were poured into letter boxes, telegraph wires cut, plate glass windows smashed, fire engines called out on false alarms and ministers baited wherever they went. Thus, with a burning faith and a faith in burning, militancy arose.
The middle classes, alarmed, hastily revived the sleeping suffrage societies and made a respectable, peaceable demand for the vote in an attempt to outdo the militant organization. But in vain, militancy continued to spread throughout the land despite the opposition of the majority of men. Suffragettes were stoned, assaulted, hounded and beaten yet their organization daily grew in strength. They drew monster audiences and thousands of class-conscious workers extended their sympathies and support.
Meanwhile the persistent refusal of the government to give a political status to women determined the militants and only added fuel to the flames that had been lighted. Sheltered behind the government, as yet unmolested, was the sovereign; indifferent because undisturbed. Symbolizing in his person the political and social inequality of the sexes, the king of England, emperor of India, defender of the Faith, the fountain head of privilege, monopoly and property, remained singularly secure. His time was yet to come.
When the torch and the hatchet laid low historic buildings and priceless paintings the public hysteria broke out in all directions. The militants were roughly handled by hooligans and "yahoos." In addition to chasing a rat and hunting a fox, hounding a suffragette has become the sport of English gentlemen.
But the militants, strong in the equity of their cause and the historical justification for their methods, are out to win. Imprisonment, forcible feeding and persecution cannot crush the indomitable spirit of the womanhood which had arisen to inflame the world with a new passion for liberty. With its battle scarred heroines ennobled by a high idealism militancy is stronger today than ever before.
The monarchy, the church and the selfish millions who would have woman remain a source of sexual excitation and a kitchen slave all now are combined in one towering mass to crush that organization which has behind it a decade of unparalleled activity, exuberant heroism and an awakened womanhood. In the fight that is now being waged by women against the domination of man, the torch and the hatchet may be followed by the bomb and the bullet. All these weapons will be justifiable for all may be needed in effacing forever the white-livered monster that fattens upon child labor, that hounds women into filthy dens, into factories and prostitution and that denies to her the right of her body and of civic and economic equality.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project