Queen Alexandra, George V’s mother, described it as a ‘sad accident caused through the abominable conduct of a brutal lunatic woman’.
History has been kinder to suffragette Emily Wilding Davison who squeezed through the railings at the Epsom Derby to make a grab for the king’s horse as it raced past. Buried in Morpeth, her headstone is inscribed with the King James Version of John 15:13, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’, along with the maxim of the Women’s Social and Political Union – ‘Deeds Not Words’.
It was nearly five years later that the Representation of the People Act was given royal assent, granting the vote to women over the age of 30 who owned property, an act whose centenary has been marked this week. In the immediate wake of #metoo, the BBC equal pay debate, and the Presidents Club debacle, celebrations are mostly tinged with reflections on how much more needs to be done.
Earlier this week, The Guardian asked a panel whether parity between men and women would be achieved in the next 100 years. Economic inequality, the cost of childcare, and the objectification, even pornification, of women were all mentioned as issues to be tackled.
Christians have a stake in these debates. Christians also have a stake in demonstrating to those around us what renewed relationships in Christ look like, not least between men and women in different spheres of life.
Notable at the beginning of the biblical story is that men and women are equally and together created in the image of God, called to exercise dominion as representatives of God on earth. This gave men and women a status and responsibility not found in other cultures of the time. Notable, too, is the New Testament’s insistence – again, largely against the grain of its first-century world – that men and women are one in Christ, caught up together in God’s plan to reconstitute humanity.
As those living out this different story, we can start with the women we know, where we are – in our family, workplace, college and church, our colleagues and clients.
Originally the Suffragette slogan, ‘Deeds Not Words’, was a call to radical action, but it resonates with the biblical injunction that faith without works is dead, and is seen most remarkably in the supreme sacrifice of Jesus giving his life for his friends.