What I’ve learnt about society’s views on women from walking round Edinburgh Fringe dressed as a suffragette.
Firstly, I feel incredibly proud to wear my sash. It’s a constant reminder of the real women who – however controversial – fought for a very basic right; that women should have an equal voice and say as men. They were determined, brave, unwavering, and consistently belittled, beaten, arrested, mocked and shamed for simply wanting to give women a voice.
Whilst we’re not facing a fraction of the hatred heaped upon our Edwardian sisters, we are still getting heckled, called out and challenged every single day. Just yesterday we had:
“No, no, no, no, no. Dreadful idea!”
“That’s worked out well!”
Some of these comments are dressed up as wit, some less so, but there’s an uneasiness behind each negative reaction. In 2019 people still find the concept of women needing to fight for their rights as just a little bit of a joke. Don’t be silly love. You’ve no need to go on about any of that any more.
Our male cast members, particularly, come in for a lot of curiosity, incredulity and scrutiny. Fair enough, a group of women might parade around as silly suffragettes but surely a man can’t be standing there holding a ‘deeds not words’ banner?
“Men can’t be suffragettes, can they?”
“Don’t you mean, votes for men?”
This is a pervading attitude, one that seems to think that only women can support the rights of women, only women should have an interest in feminism. And this is a big problem. If people only care about issues that 100% directly effect themselves, it doesn’t leave much scope for creating a better world.
On the flip side, we’re getting a huge positive reaction from young women and girls (and a wonderful young father with his baby daughter). You can see visible excitement pass their faces as we stalk past with our sashes and banners.
“Votes for women!”
The image of these militant freedom fighters resonates hugely with them. But why? It’s been over 100 years since Emmeline Pankhurst and co. chained themselves to the railings and threw bricks through windows. You could argue that suffragettes are no longer relevant. But perhaps, just perhaps, that struggle to have your voice heard still rings true for many women today.
In the arts world, there is a huge lack of female writers, producers, and directors getting their work made and recognised. Though, not for a want of willing and able candidates.
Even here at Fringe, according to The Stage, men earn 60% more than women. (https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2019/men-earned-60-more-than-women-at-last-years-edinburgh-fringe-study-claims/)
This year the #womenoffringe group have been truly excellent, offering support and a platform for the women coming up to Edinburgh. But the fact remains, that it’s still sadly necessary to have a specific group supporting women. Our voices still get lost, talked over, patronized.
So pardon me if we continue “engaging in unedifying conversations about the suffragette movement.” There’s still a long way to go.
As Emmeline said:
“I incite this meeting to rebellion!”
And that’s my call to you. Support female theatre, support female writers. Listen to what we say and recognise that there’s still plenty we have to fight for. Because, if the reaction to our costumes is anything to go by, wanting equal rights is still an act of rebellion!