Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 11 June 2018

Women’s Suffrage

This year marks the centenary of women being given the vote… And I say ‘being given’ very deliberately.

Of course we should celebrate all the women who fought for our right to vote, and of course we owe them a debt of gratitude. Part of that debt is about their strength and fearlessness; the very same kind was demonstrated by the women of Ireland over the past months, years, and in some cases decades. Some fights are simply worth fighting, and the wins worth celebrating.

Let’s not pretend extending the right to vote to women in 1918 wasn’t a very deliberate move by the Patriarchy, taken when it needed balance, and not because women were fighting for their rights.

Let me take you back.

Women had historically been able to vote in the UK. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution was well underway that women were actually disenfranchised. We were all taught about the importance of the 1832 Reform Act, but, despite being a student in an all-girls school, I wasn’t taught that the Act deprived women of the vote. Prior to 1832 women of property could vote. Nearly four decades later, that right was restored, at the local level, at least. Single women ratepayers, as rare as they were, had the vote in 1869 under the Municipal Franchise Act. in 1894 the Local Government Act extended the law to include some married women. In 1900 close to a million single, propertied women were registered to vote at the local level.

One woman voted in a general election between 1832 and 1918. Lilly Maxwell was a ratepayer who would have been eligible to vote had she been male. Her name was added to the electoral roll in error, and she did, indeed vote. Her vote was subsequently declared illegal.

The Chartists planned to campaign for women’s suffrage in the 1840s, but dropped the cause, fearful that it would hold up their political progress, and universal male suffrage became the goal.

Women’s suffrage movements began to emerge around 1865, mostly locally and in the cities. The Women’s Liberal Federation was one of the early national organisations to promote women’s suffrage. It began in 1881, almost forty years before any women could vote in national elections.

We all know about the Suffragettes, of course, and our focus is often drawn to them when we remember the women who fought so hard for the right to vote. The Suffragettes, the Women’s Social and Political Union was founded in 1903, fifteen years before the national vote was extended to women, and twenty-five years before women had equal voting rights with men.

So, why did it all take so long? 

Women had been denied the right to vote in national elections in 1832, under the Reform Act, and, less than thirty years later, they were forming organisations to fight for suffrage. It was almost seventy years before they would get it on an equal footing with men.

So, what was special about 1918?

Well, lots of things were special about 1918, but the most obvious is the end of the First World War. 

About six million British men went to war between 1914 and 1918, and a little over five million returned home. During the war a great many women were recruited to do the work that had previously fallen to the men who were conscripted. Time was ripe for political change, and part of that included suffrage, not least, universal suffrage for men… For Men!

More than five million working class men who had not been eligible to vote previously, were given the vote in 1918. It was a massive threat to the establishment. Many of these men had been to war, and some had become politicised. Of course, with the loss of around a million men to the war, women outnumbered men in the British population.

All men over 21 got the vote in 1918, and men over 19 who had served were also eligible.

Of course, some women were eligible to vote, but they had to be over 30, and there were several other restrictions. Women voters had to be householders or married to householders, or had to occupy properties at a rent over £5 per annum. Women graduates of British universities were also eligible.

In the final analysis, 5.6 million men were newly able to vote, almost exclusively from the working classes. 8.4 million women were eligible to vote, but they were older, married, educated and/or wealthy. Many or most of those women might be expected to vote in opposition to many or most of the working class men also able to vote. Married women might be expected to be influenced by their husbands’ political opinions, and wealthy, educated women by family loyalties.

It was, essentially, a wash.

Women didn’t win the suffrage battle. I believe that they were used to balance the new voting rights of working class men.

In some ways, this might seem like a simplistic view, and that’s OK, in some ways it is.

I’m just trying to demonstrate that the Patriarchy has a long history of doing what is good for the establishment, not for the people, and certainly not for women.

Some very politically aware, often courageous women fought long and hard for the right to vote. They didn’t win a battle, there was simple expediency in giving some women the vote in 1918 to offset the influx to the polling stations of so many working class men.

I take nothing away from the Suffragettes. They were fierce! I also suspect that they understood precisely what was happening.

It wasn’t until 1928 that all persons over 21 years old were eligible to vote. One Conservative claimed that the issue could divide his party for years to come. I guess nothing much has changed.
Yes, this is me...
photographed by James K Barnett

Not for nothing, I have voted in every election, local and national, for which I was eligible. I have never voted for the candidate who won, although I have voted for the winning party nationally. I hope that will happen more often in the future. I am unlikely ever to vote for my local winning candidate, given the historic political biases in my constituency, but I hope that will change, too.

Sunday 11 February 2018

The harder I work, the luckier I get

I have never met Sarah Pinborough, but I hope to, one day.

Ms Pinborough and I know a little of each other. I like her… I like her, and I like her work.

When I think about success, and I mean success in almost any field, I think of two things. Firstly, I think of that old idea that success has three components: talent, punctuality and popularity. In short, to be successful you need to display two of these three traits all of the time. You can be terrible company if you happen to be talented and punctual. You can be endlessly late if you’re talented and people like you. If you’re nice and on time, you don’t need a whole heap of talent, and so on.

The second thing I think of when I think of success is a little adage that I use on young people a good deal. I tell them that the harder they work the luckier they’ll get. Of course, by this I mean that working hard at being talented, punctual and nice, and working hard at what they do, being conscientious and getting on with the job is the most effective way to ensure good results. 

I would like to think that this applies to everyone, but, of course, it doesn’t.

I know plenty of people in the business of writing, some of them full-time, some part-time, many published, and many of them are men. Some of these men are talented, some punctual, and some of them are even nice. The truth is though, that, for the most part, they don’t need to display two of these three traits at any given time to succeed.

Men can be arrogant, lazy, difficult, alienating, demanding… They can be whatever they want to be, but if they can do a workmanlike job and they have the right contacts, they can succeed. I know this to be true of writers just as I know it to be true in all fields of endeavour. Men are forgiven, their peccadilloes excused, for no better reason than because they are men.

Some of the male writers I know will read this and fume, and some will bluster, and that’s ok. One or two will tell you that they are not like that. They will tell you that they work hard, that they are punctual and that they try to be decent human beings. Well, of course there are men like that, not for nothing, I’m married to one of them… That isn’t my argument.

My argument is that I also know women in the business of writing who are talented, punctual and lovely, who cannot catch a break. I know that women have to qualify in countless other ways to succeed in any field. Two out of three traits, isn’t going to cut it. Three out of three traits isn’t going to cut it. Women simply have to bring a good deal more to the table.

In some ways, I’m a good example of this, and in some ways not. I do not pursue this career hard enough to count. On the other hand, I know that I am considered difficult, and it is because I do what men do.

Yes, in many ways, I am nice and I am respectful, qualities that few men have to think about, but I’m also considered to be intimidating, bossy and opinionated. In short, I am considered difficult. If I were a man, I would be thought of as strong, clever, and forthright… I am not. 

I was once told, by another woman, that if I was asked what I bring to the table, I should answer that I bring the table. Can you imagine what the response might be if I ever actually did that? If I was a man, the response would probably be a little laughter and a touch of awe; as a woman, the best response I could expect might be confusion, but this answer would almost certainly alienate, and it might even be met with ridicule.

It is hard for women to succeed. I’m saying it, and there are those who might disagree, but the proof is in the statistics. More men succeed than do women in all walks of life, in all professions, in all endeavours. This suggests to me that men have an advantage, or, more likely, a whole raft of advantages.

When women do succeed it always comes at some cost. Women's success is never met with the same positivity that is men's. Where is the applause, the congratulation, the praise?

This brings me neatly back to Sarah Pinborough.

Check out Sarah Pinborough at United Agents
Ms Pinborough has seen some success, and I sincerely hope that she sees more of it. She is talented, hardworking and conscientious; she also happens to be charming, personable, thoughtful and funny.

It was recently suggested in the media that Sarah Pinborough’s success was good luck.

I despair!

And I suggest that the harder Ms Pinborough works, the luckier she gets… And if that’s true, she’s working about as damned hard as any writer I know, including all those lucky enough to have been born male.