The Strategy of Self-Restraint

In the 1908 “Speech from the Dock,” British suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst, states that her organization Women’s Social and Political Union is advocating for the right to equal representation under the law, and she believes that having the right to vote will lead to more representation for women. (Pankhurst, 470) For instance, when Pankhurst mentions why some women in her organization were arrested for handing out leaflets with the message “to rush the House of Commons” printed on them, she mentioned to a man questioning her, “Well, sir, that is all I have to say to you. We are here not because we are lawbreakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers. (Pankhurst, 472) This statement demonstrates that suffragettes, such as Pankhurst, advocated for women to have the right to make laws. For instance, she mentioned that women had to pay taxes but could not decide how they were spent. Also, she mentioned that women had to obey the laws but could not decide what laws should be enforced. Thus, women were forced to submit to laws and rules that they did not decide themselves. Therefore, women had to draw attention to their cause by protesting and causing “agitation.” However, Pankhurst made it clear that “agitation” was not used to create violence or break laws but was used to anger opponents. (Pankhurst, 471) As a result, “agitation” would cause opponents to enact violence against the suffragettes, and they would remain calm to prove that they were rational and not overly emotional. For instance, after Pankhurst is arrested, she mentions that her followers likely wanted to fight the police and cause chaos; however, they remained calm. Pankhurst stated, “They were very indignant, but our words have always been, “be patient, exercise self-restraint, show our so-called superiors that the criticism of women being hysterical is not true; use no violence, offer yourselves to the violence of others.” (Pankhurst, 472) In reality, the women purposely placed themselves in situations that would result in violence and opposition because they insisted on the right to vote in a patriarchal society in which women could not make decisions for themselves. Pankhurst’s statement demonstrates how women had to remain calm and collective even when facing violence to prove to men and all of society that they can be rational beings. Also, the women were able to make the violent perpetrators appear irrational instead. How does the self-restraint demonstrated by frustrated suffragettes reflect the patriarchal society they lived in? How could this strategy be effective for other social movements?

One Reply to “The Strategy of Self-Restraint”

  1. This strategy is effective because it makes it seem like you said that the violent perpetrators are the irrational ones instead. For other social movements, the demonstrators should act calm and collected because it shows the people watching that they are mature and are not willing to resort to violence just to get what they want.

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