The Suffragettes and Male Anxiety

After the passing of the Third Reform Act in 1884, attentions for the further extension of the franchise turned towards women. [1] The women’s movement in Britain saw women joining together in multiple organisations to voice an opinion and to act for their personal right to vote in parliamentary elections. The militant actions of the Women’s Social and Political Union received mass coverage in the British media and abroad. [2] In 1906 the Daily Mail coined the term ‘suffragette’ for the women in the WSPU, which American clergyman Robert Afton Holland used for the title of his anti- women’s suffragette article ‘The Suffragette’ (1909). [3]

Holland’s article presents a male anxiety caused by the prospect of women receiving equal citizenship to men. Holland personally believed that social ranks and standards had been put in place for a reason, thus, society ‘connects the beard to the ballot’. The title ‘The Suffragette’ is arguably Holland’s way of drawing in readers , during the time of militancy, to express his misogynistic views. Holland argues ‘women are wholly unaware of the extent to which the finesse of their nature unfits them for political life’ which upheld the patriarchal values that continued the rejection of women from the franchise. [4]

Holland supports his views by explaining the ‘wrong’ and ‘immoral’ actions of previous female rulers such as Queen Elizabeth I. Holland describes the suffragettes’ actions as ‘hysterical jumps and screams and seizures’. [5] He relates their actions to the corrupt power figure of Jezebel from the Hebrew Bible [6] and Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth; a woman who would readily kill her own infant for her own ambition. Holland, just like Shakespeare and his fictionalisation of historical characters in Macbeth (1606), is creating his own personal fabricated image of the suffragette to diminish their credibility for his reader. [7] Furthermore, Holland’s association between the suffragettes and corrupt female power enforces a justification for his male anxiety and his wish to conserve current societal conventions regarding gender. The article, extreme in its opinions, is an example of the phenomena the suffragettes created abroad, as well as the hostility they faced from male opposition.    

[1] A. Clarke, ‘Gender, Class and the Nation: Franchise Reform in England 1832-1828’ in j. Vernon (eds), Re-reading the Constitution: New Narrative in the Political History of England’s Long Nineteenth Century, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1996) p249

[2] J. Pervis, ‘Gendering The Historiography of the Suffragette Movement in Edwardian Britain: Some Reflections’, Women’s History Review, 22:4 (2013) p557

[3] R. A. Holland, ‘The Suffragette’, The Sewanee Review, 17:3 (1909)

[4] Ibid. p278

[5] Ibid. p279

[6] J. S. Evenhart, ‘Jezebel: Framed by Eunuchs?’, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 72: 4 (2010) p688

[7] S. Greenblatt (eds), The Norton Shakespeare, W. W. Norton & Company (New York, 2016) p2712


Image: Unknown. circa 1906


9 thoughts on “The Suffragettes and Male Anxiety

  1. Wow! What an interesting blog you are producing.

    Anyway, called in here to leave my thanks for your recent decision to follow Learning from Dogs. That was very kind of you and I hope to see you over at my place from time to time.


  2. This is a really interesting blog post that brings to attention an article that I wasn’t familiar with until now.
    I like the focus you have made on the language of the article by Holland and how this reflected the impact of the women’s movement, particularly abroad. It’s fascinating to able to analyse the views of a man in 1909 who was so set against the suffragettes.
    Visually, I think that the picture used at the top of the blog post works really well with the topic and adds to the overall effect of the post.
    I look forward to reading more of your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments Brenna. This is the first post I have made with a leading article for a primary source. The presentation of your primary sources with emphasised quotes in bold ect is engaging from the reader and helps gain a better understanding of the source as a whole. Would you have any recommendations for how I could present my primary sources in a different and more visual way for my next blog?


      1. Thank you for your feedback about the presentation of my blog, it is helpful to know that it is effective in terms of making quotes stand out etc. I do feel that your blog is effective as it is, but if you wished to make changes to the visual element of it, I would perhaps suggest using bold text or giving the primary sources their own space so that they stand out more individually.


  3. I agree this is a great blog post revealing the extent of male anxiety towards the suffragette. (A minor point, but I think it would have helped to give a date of the publication of the Holland article in the main body of your blog post). Like Brenna, I think the image works really well – I wonder, did you choose it because of the men in the background “gazing at” the women suffragettes? It is quite a powerful image when you think about the range of expressions.

    Remember to provide details of the images used, date, source and any copyright.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I find it really effective that this blog post centres on a specific primary source, which is a brilliant way of engaging and giving readers a taste of the subject in so little words. I personally had not researched how the suffragettes were perceived abroad and your choice to focus on American Harold’s article disapproving of women being enfranchised explores a different perspective; this was not just Britain’s debate, it was one on the world’s stage as well. You have a very convincing and secure grasp on the primary source and make specific arguments about Harold’s misogynistic beliefs, which demonstrates your knowledge of the wider context and the nature of the opposition to female suffrage. Not only are we being informed about the opposition to female suffrage, but the patriarchal world women were up against when campaigning for their freedoms.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I found this post incredibly interesting, I particularly like the use of the image which is so characteristic of the suffrage movement. One thing that stood out to me was the amount of reading you have done and how well researched this post is!


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