Crowned With Honour
March 28, 1912 — Women’ Social and Political Union rally, The Royal Albert Hall, London, England
It is not for me — who take no part in political struggles, whose work lies in other paths than that of political strife — it is not for me to express either approval or disapproval of one type of policy rather than another, to urge any to take part in a danger that I do not share, or to say one word of criticism against those women who have brought back the heroic into political life, and who are showing to-day what so few in our luxury-loving civilization are prepared to show — that a great cause is more precious than personal ease, and loyalty to principle greater than the applause of the newspapers and of the public. For me it is nothing whether or not windows have been broken, although I think it on the whole better to break windows than to break heads; but what is important is that this cause for woman’s enfranchisement has found devotion ready to go to martyrdom, has faced ignominy, shame, disgrace, as every great cause has faced them in the past on the way to victory. And to-day, as many a time before, force has set itself against justice, and power against suffering for principle.
There is not one nation in Europe, nor across the Atlantic, that is not to-day crying same on the treatment which is being meted out to women. But the shame does not lie on the prisoners, but on those who are putting them into prison. And when I take up the Times, and read the disgraceful letter of Sir Almroth Wright, when I read about hysteria, when I read about women losing their self-control, I cannot but say to myself that the hysteria is on the bench rather than in the dock, and the loss of self-control is to be seen more in the magistrates than in the prisoners.
For let us see what is taking place. We know well enough the penalty for the breaking of windows; but these women, because they have not been violent save in the breaking of non-sentient glass, are being sent to hard labour for six months. Why, you do not punish wife-beaters as heavily as that! You reckon your glass windows more valuable than the limbs of the women of the poor. Where such sentences are given they dishonor the law, and they exalt the lawbreakers. Now, I grant to the full that no Government, no police, can allow ladies to walk about with hammers in their muffs in order to break shop-windows. I grant that such action is against the law, and must be stopped; but I say that where such sentences are passed we shall forget the offence and speak for the offender. It is ill for a country, it is bad for law-abiding citizens, it means encouragement to despise the law, where revenge is sought instead of justice, and where panic inflicts sentences that are a scandal and a disgrace to civilisation.
Let me call your attention to another point, one of the most serious import in the future. We read in the papers that, while these sentences were going on, Mr. Asquith consulted the law officers of the Crown in order to see if the women’s funds could not be seized and their leaders could not be captured. The reason why that could not be done was not publicly stated, but it was stated that it would be difficult to pass such legislation. We know where the difficult lies; we know very well that any weapon brought against the Women’s Social and Political union among these lines would strike at every Trade Union in the country. Are we to respect government? Then let it show strength against the strong, and not only tyranny against the weak. I know that Trades Unions are protected against the action of the Law of Conspiracy. Special Acts of Parliament guard these associations of men-voters, and they can do what they will, because they have the vote. Oh, if anything be needed to strengthen the feelings of women, if anything be needed to inspire them to renewed and stronger exertion, it is when they see a Law of Conspiracy used against women that they dare not use against men, and when they are trying to create a crime at which everyone would revolt if men were similarly condemned!
Therefore it is, friends, that I am here to-night in order to protest against a great wrong and a great injustice; for I know nothing of the value of religious teaching nor of the right duty of the spiritual teacher, but to stand up when unrighteousness is done in the name of the law, and when principles are trampled on. I believe in the value of law; I believe that on justice alone a nation can stand secure; because of that I plead to those who to-day are strong that they will not use their strength for oppression, and drive to despair those who are only asking to be regarded as citizens in their native land.
Why is it that these women want the vote? It is because they believe that there are difficulties in woman’s life, especially among working women, that cannot be remedied until they possess the power of the vote. Let me take one illustration, not important, which will show you exactly the value that the vote has when people are to be considered, when their welfare is at stake. An Insurance Bill has been passed; good or bad, I am not concerned; but I notice that all over the country men are going out to explain the Insurance Bill, in order that the voters may realise that they must not vote against the Liberal government because they have passed an Insurance Bill. But they do not trouble to send out emissaries to the women, they do not trouble to explain to the working women the enormous advantages that will come to them from the working of this Bill! What do their opinions matter? Who cares how they feel, either helped or hindered? They are dumb in the councils of the nation, and none cares for the dumb that has no power to speak. And so on many another point.
I would not ask for a Vote for women on the ground of equality of sex — it is difference of sex that makes the grant of the vote so necessary. To add to your millions of ignorant male voters a few to your millions of ignorant male voters a few millions more of ignorant women voters — that is not in itself a thing to rouse enthusiasm or to inspire much feeling. If they were only the same as men you would merely multiply similarity. Women should have the Vote because they are different, not because they are alike. They want it because there is a woman’s standpoint as well as a man’s standpoint, because your nation is not a nation of men only, but of men and women as well; because England has wives as well as husbands, mothers as well as fathers, and the view of the wives and mothers matters in the councils of the nation, and their voices should be heard for the sake of the whole. I know attempts are made sometimes by those against the vote to stir up a sex war, to incite to sex hatred. It is because men and women love each other, trust each other that they would fain work together for the common good.
The arguments used are excuses, they are not arguments. They say women cannot be soldiers. Apparently in China they can, and as good soldiers as men. But if a soldier from time to time risks his life for the sake of the nation, you would have no soldier if his mother had not risked her life to give him birth. Men and women are equally necessary; men and women are wanted for the building of a nation; men and women together everywhere — that is the need of the future, and that no one can keep back or much delay. And when history in the future judges the struggle of the present; when women all the world over walk hand in hand with men in equal liberty, in mutual respect, in loving coo-partnership, then posterity, looking back on the shameful story of to-day, will crown with shame those who have used strength against the women who are doing hard labour now. And in this country — in this country where the Cross, the sign once of ignominy is now regarded with adoration — the martyrs of this cause will also be crowned with honour, because they realise that to suffer means in the long run to succeed, and to be ale to face pain ensures the triumph of the cause for which the martyr is in pain.
Source: Votes For Women, Vol. 5, no 213, April 5, 1912, p. 423.