What do suffragettes and cats have in common? We will see in this article.
Women, especially those fighting for women’s rights, were (and still are) often called various names and likened to various things by men just to belittle them.
Origin of the term Suffragettes
Even the term “suffragettes” was first used as a derogatory name. In 1906 a British journalist Charles Hands, who was writing in the Daily Mail, coined the word “suffragette” to mock women, who were fighting for their right to vote. The suffix “-ette” is used to refer to something small or weak. He wanted to minimize the work of those women and show their “small-mindedness”.
How did those women fighting for their right to vote react? In a clever way. They adopted the name and reclaimed it from its original derogatory use. Sylvia Pankhurst, principal figure of The Women's Social and Political Union who were leading the campaign for women’s right to vote said that the name “SuffraGETtes” (hardening the “g”) implies that women not merely want to vote, but they mean to GET it!
In the 1800s and early 1900s there were people that opposed women’s suffrage. For them, women were supposed to stay at home and take care of their husbands and children. Anti-suffragist organisations often used cartoons with animals in their advertisement or on postcards to make a point. Women were associated with animals perceived as passive, simple and delicate like cats. Women were meant to be quiet, apolitical and domestic. Men, on the other hand, were associated with dogs, because they are often bred for specific work and occupy public spaces. These days, thanks to Gender Identity Ideology, men occupy spaces for women as well.
And because history likes to repeat itself, another male journalist wanted to belittle women. He wrote that to give women the right to vote would be as absurd as giving cats the same rights. Men saw suffragettes as cats that scream for the vote, which they will never get, cause it’s not their right to set foot in men’s political sphere. But because Suffragettes were masters in turning around bad propaganda, they were not discouraged by the attempt at slander but chose the cat as their mascot.
Cat and Mouse Act
Many suffragettes were jailed and resisted inhumane imprisonment with hunger strikes. They were force fed with steel devices that opened their mouth and with long hoses that were inserted into their noses. This resulted in severe damage to the women’s bodies (faces, mouths, lungs, stomach), which sometimes caused illness or even death.
The British government didn’t want to create a group of martyrs and wanted to free itself from responsibility of injury and death from force feeding, so it responded with the Prisoner’s Act of 1913. This act temporarily freed the female prisoners to recuperate at home and then rearrested them when they were well. If they didn’t die. This act became known as the “Cat and Mouse Act”.
A domestic cat plays with its captured prey by continually releasing it to tire and weaken it. This way the cats can make a successful kill without getting hurt in the process. The British government acted the same way; it toyed with female prisoners as a cat does with a mouse. Because of this, cats started to represent the violent realities of women’s struggle for their rights.
Black kitten Saxon
A cat also played its role in America. In 1916 two suffragists, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke, started a 5-month cross-country road trip in a two-seater car they called “The Golden Flier” to talk about the importance of women’s suffrage. At that time, women had been fighting for the right to vote for over 60 years but felt that the movement was losing its steam. There was no television, internet or social media, so the road trip was the best solution. During their trip Nell and Alice adopted a little black kitten named Saxon, who become their unofficial mascot.
Women fighting for their right to vote were called suffragettes and cats to be belittled. They fought back and reclaimed those terms. These days history is repeating again. Another man, this time a politician, called women who are fighting for women’s rights “dinosaurs, who are hoarding their rights”. How did women react? As usual they reclaimed the derogatory term and used a dinosaur as a mascot. And I have to say, they did it in a very funny way! Well done women! Well done!
I started to draw a collection of illustrations called Wild Suffracats as a commemoration and a big thanks to suffragettes, who fought hard so we can vote, and to all the brave women who fight for women’s rights today. It is a very hard fight. Women are harassed, kicked out of jobs and the police come to their home because they wrote a post on social media or because they have suffragette ribbons or stickers. We are banned, blocked and silenced just because we want our hu(wo)man rights. But women are strong, no matter how men belittle, harass or attack us, we never give up. We don’t just turn hate propaganda around, we can also have a lot of fun with it!
Cats are not passive, stupid or weak. They can bite and scratch. And you really don’t want to be bitten or scratched by a wildcat. Men, who don’t want women to be liberated, simply hate women. Because when you love somebody you set them free.
Wild women make history!