“You better learn to answer a man when he speaks to you!”
It’s a rainy afternoon in east London and two women are writing these words on a pavement in coloured chalk.
The words are a catcall – shouted by a stranger to a woman walking down a street in London.
The trend of writing out catcalls started in New York and now it’s spreading to other cities around the world.
The woman who started the idea says she wants to stop “street harassment”.
Throughout my career, I have constantly batted off exhausting banter from professional contacts that remind me of one thing: I am a body, a body, a body. Yet I often thought of myself as a machine during these moments, daydreaming of how, through sheer resilience, I would one day gather enough power to remove myself from their company. I would be interested to know how many male artists have had to think of that.
I want to refer to myself as lucky to have had relatively innocuous experiences, but that would do a disservice to those who have been through similar. As I write, I waver between two thoughts – the first that my story is insignificant and I shouldn’t make a fuss, and the second that I am terrified for my parents to read it, in case they think I’ve screwed up my life. These two positions cannot both be true. I will say that this is the first time that I’ve written an article while shaking. That’s why these stories need to continue being told.
University professor Hazel Barrett, whose grandmother supported the suffragette movement, said people of all classes got involved, adding: “Just look at them, ordinary women”.
Sheree Davey, who came with her young son to see the display, said: “It’s incredible. It inspires you to learn a bit more.
“You know the basics but there’s so much more to it.”
Victoria Taylor, a tourist visiting from Australia, said: “It’s a great way to engage people. It’s not confronting but it’s very prominent.”
I can’t be the only person in the world to have discovered as I grew up that life was a bit more complicated than that, and opportunity for women wasn’t really going to be defined by Kylie Minogue’s example of switching careers when she fancied it. Personal choices were a lot more complex. And yes, reality crept in – women were, and are, treated differently in so many parts of life. Without question, that decades-long struggle finds its own echoes today.
The gender gap in voting is fairly small. Other demographic factors have a far bigger impact on people’s likelihood to vote for each party.
In the past, social class was a dominant factor. Middle-class people were more likely to vote Conservative and working-class people were more likely to vote Labour.
Recently that’s changed. In 2017, age and education were far more important. Young voters and voters with degrees were more likely to back Labour. Older voters and those with fewer qualifications were more likely to back the Conservatives.
But how do the sexes differ when it comes to elections?
If we look back over time the gender gap in voting has changed.
The British Election Study has data going back to the 1964 general election. In the 1960s and 1970s it found that women were more likely than men to vote Conservative and less likely to vote Labour. It’s not easy to find a definitive explanation.
Historian Kathy Atherton says people nowadays can find it “surprising” that women were involved in an anti-suffrage movement, but that it’s important to “put yourself in their shoes”.
“There would have been a general acceptance that women were intellectually inferior and emotional – and women would have believed that as well as men – so they didn’t have the capacity to make political judgements,” she says.
“It’s a really hierarchical society and the white male is at the top of the heap.
“There’s a fear that you’re upsetting the natural order of things, even going so far as thinking the colonies would be affected if they felt that Britain was being ruled by women.”
Unfortunately, much like President Trump’s Black History Month speech, the contributions of many black feminists to the feminist movement have long been overlooked and replaced with an overwhelmingly white narrative due to an unwillingness from the movement to understand that while women of color are affected by sexism, as is every woman in a patriarchal society, black women and other women of color must also deal with a systematic racism that many white women will rarely, if ever, face in the United States.
Olympe de Gouges, a playwright of some note in France at the time of the Revolution, spoke for not only herself but many of the women of France, when in 1791 she wrote and published the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Citizen. Modeled on the 1789 Declaration of the National Assembly, defining citizenship for men, this Declaration echoed the same language and extended it to women, as well. In this document, de Gouges both asserted woman’s capability to reason and make moral decisions and pointed to the feminine virtues of emotion and feeling. Woman was not simply the same as man, but she was his equal partner.
From her first chapter: “Behind this celebration of the American woman’s victory, behind the news, cheerfully and endlessly repeated, that the struggle for women’s rights is won, another message flashes.
You may be free and equal now, it says to women, but you have never been more miserable.”
Margaret Bondfield was one of very few working class women who rose to the top of the suffrage movement.
Born in Chard, Somerset, in 1873, the second youngest of eleven children, she became an apprentice at a drapers in Brighton aged 14.
There she saw how the daily grind wore down the women workers and affected their self-respect. She observed they were left with little time or energy to pursue interests away from work, with many girls seeming intent on getting married as early as possible in order to escape the drudgery.
Ms Bondfield left Brighton and went to live with her brother in London – working, again, in a shop. She became an active trade unionist and was shocked by the working culture of long hours, low wages, poor diet and requirement to “live in” in often dismal dormitories.