Deeds Not Words
Some thoughts on women’s achievements in 100 years, based on Helen Pankhurst's The Story of Women’s Rights Then and Now, Sceptre, 2018.

By Hilary

With the recent increase in violence against women, and two particularly bad years during Covid, with evidence coming out that women took on the bulk of homeschooling, and views that women working from home may well miss out on promotion at work, we might well think everything was going backwards in society for women. However, a wide-ranging analysis in Helen Pankhurst’s 2018 book reminds us to see the broader picture and be optimistic on some counts. 

Identity: including marriage, sexual rights, motherhood rights,  Image and make-up, hair, clothes, adverts, female illnesses, 
Violence against women 
Culture: magazines, children’s books, media, social media and internet, theatre, film, art, sport, women’s organisations, religion, 3.5 
Helen Pankhurst: Deeds not words, Topics (chapter headings) as marks out of 5 awarded by the author:

Helen Pankhurst has a chapter on Power, where she doesn’t award marks, as it is an issue which pervades all the previous topics. 

This book was published in 2018; on re-reading parts of it, I wonder how she would have written it in 2021. She quotes some optimistic visions from young girls in the final chapter; and we could do with some more uplifting visions of the future. 

“We need to look back to better understand where we are going, and then we need to keep making waves.” 

According to Pankhurst we have achieved in the fields of marriage, divorce, sexual rights, motherhood rights, image , adverts, female illnesses, all of which she collects under the “Identity” chapter. She slams the high rates of anorexia and points out it has the highest death rate for any psychiatric disease, but outlines successes in treatment of cancers. She concludes that there have been positive changes around women’s personal lives and their identities. 

Curiously she doesn’t say much about older women. 

Back in 2018 OFN did a discussion exercise where we took several of Pankhurst’s topics, in small groups, discussed and then rated them out of 5. I think we rated violence against women as low as she did. Unfortunately I haven’t kept a record of our ratings. I wonder how we would rate these topics, and how we would interpret them in 2022?



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