Helen Lewis ‘The suffragettes should not be used as a reproach to modern feminists’ As political movements fade from living memory, they are pummelled and marshalled into neatness. At worst, they become a simple story of good versus evil, with all their agonised debates, bitter personal rivalries and thunderous schisms smoothed out into a easy narrative arc. But history doesn’t feel like history when it is being made. As a novelist, Hilary Mantel’s greatest achievement has been to put the French revolution and Henry VIII’s break with Rome back into the present tense. She strips away the feeling of inertia from historical events; she makes us see her characters wavering over the road not travelled. A century on from the suffragettes, we should try to do the same for them. There was nothing inevitable about women getting the vote when they did. It took Switzerland until 1971 to pass universal suffrage, and Saudi Arabia still hasn’t done so (although this year it graciously began to allow women to register to vote in municipal elections). There must have been many moments when the suffragettes felt dejected and downcast. There is another temptation: to see their fight primarily through what it says… Read full this story
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