1913 - Militancy

Militancy is a weapon used by women as the only discoverable substitute for the vote. But it is more than that. It is a means of breaking up the false relation of inferior to superior that has existed between men and women, and it is a means of correcting the great faults that have been produced in either sex by the subjection of women.

Ours is an old country. Prejudice and conservatism in the ugliest sense of the term are entrenched here as they are entrenched nowhere else, unless it be in Turkey. The British man's attitude to women - above all, the British politician's attitude to women - is a matter of contempt and derision in our colonies, in America, and in all those enlightened countries where women have the vote. It is impossible to ignore the fact that it is since the beginning of British militancy that the greater number of Suffrage victories have occurred. For the British Suffragist, militancy is the only way; it will succeed where all other policies will fail.

Violence is wrong, say the anti-militants. Nothing could be more untrue. Violence has no moral complexion whatsoever. Its rightness or wrongness depends entirely on the circumstances in which it is used. If violence is wrong in itself then it is wrong to break a breakfast egg, it is wrong to hammer in a nail, it is wrong to pierce a tunnel through the rock, it is wrong to break into a burning house to save the life of a child. Yet, as we know, all these actions are entirely moral. This is because, though violent, they, like militancy, are justified by the motive of those who do them and the object with which they are done.

The opposition to women's militancy is founded upon prejudice, and upon nothing else. For the very same acts that militant women commit would, if they were committed by voteless men, be applauded. The moral law which the Suffragettes have defied is not the moral law accepted for themselves by men. It is slave morality that they have defied, a slave morality according to which active resistance to tyranny is the greatest crime that a subject class or a subject sex can commit.

Christabel Pankhurst (1880-1958) was a suffragette and a co-founder of the Women's Social and Political Union.


This article first appeared in the 29 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, An explosion of puffery