Thursday, 29 December 2011

‘How It Feels To Be The Husband of a Suffragette’ – a 1914 guide for men

Imagine the horror. You’re a respectable man with a good job and a nice life and then, blimey, you discover your wife’s one of those ruddy suffragettes.  This 1914 manual for men – anonymously written by ‘Him’ and illustrated by May Wilson Preston (published by George H Doran Co, New York) – attempts to make the suffragette situation a little clearer for the troubled male at the turn of the last century. It's something of an obscure text now, and I can only find reference to it in two other books...
How It Feels To Be The Husband of a Suffragette is not as derisive about suffragettes as you might imagine, and – with the aid of a little out-of-date humour – attempts to portray women’s demands for suffrage in a somewhat sympathetic light.  Although there are still a few areas where the more enlightened reader will flinch. For instance, ‘Him’ refers to his wife as ‘his’ property, and seems somewhat patronising in his condescension that women are not intelligent enough to know how to vote unaided. And, most eye-popping of all is the following excerpt:

You’ll be pleased to know that Him concedes that since women make up about 50% of the population, he supposes they are indeed people. Phew.
Moving on, our author suggests that gun-owning readers have less reason to be afraid of their suffragette wives than their more peaceful brothers, which is strange logic – you’d think the wives would have more to fear from their gun-toting spouses.
Him also asks for some sympathy from both his male readers and his wife and her sisters because he insists a maid washes the daily dishes (rather than his wife), and that he himself takes over the cooking when they are away camping – presumably a barbecuing role that sees him revert to caveman stereotypes.
Mrs Pankhurst is dismissed as “a bit trying at times”, but even so, Him somehow manages – despite all the toss mentioned above – to generate some concealed semblance of sympathy, if not support, for the emancipation of women.
How It Feels To Be The Husband of a Suffragette is mostly interesting only as a historical curiosity. At almost 100 years old, it is a text of its time and mostly of its country – the American campaign having a fair few differences to the British one.  Yet the principles remain the same, and it is interesting to read a man’s view of the fight – especially one written while the demand for votes was still being shouted.  It’s a slim 63-page document of small pages, so don’t expect to learn too much from How It Feels To Be The Husband of a Suffragette, but it’s interesting from a historical and humorous point of view. And lest we forget, the fight for female emancipation was really all about how it affected men!

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