Suffragettes May 23 1914



One good effect will be produced by the orgy of Suffragist outrages which has taken place this week. The Government will be able to feel that they can count on the support of public opinion in adopting new and sterner methods for the repression of the activities of these demented furies. Hitherto the authorities have not met the campaign of the “militants” with sufficient firmness and resolution. For their failure to vindicate effectively the majesty of the law there have been two excuses. They feared, no doubt, that severe measures constantly enforced might enable these foolish women to post as martyrs, and might thus lead many sentimental and unthinking individuals to sympathise with them and bring new recruits to the movement. Moreover, they could not be sure that the general public would support them in carrying out a policy of stern and unrelenting repression. In the past, the average man has been apt to view the suffragist exploits with a certain contemptuous detachment. He could not bring himself to treat these crazy fanatics seriously. Their acts were so thoroughly senseless and absurd that they excited almost as much ridicule as annoyance. It was almost impossible for any rational person to suppose that the militants would continue on their mad course when they saw the effect produced by their exploits and the injury done to the cause which they professed to serve. The result was that the public were at first little concerned at the comparative immunity enjoyed by the outrage-mongers. People realised how preposterous it was that the authors of serious crimes against property should be allowed to escape with a few days’ imprisonment. But, looking on the whole movement as ridiculous, they received each announcement of the release of a hunger-striker with scornful indifference, and thought no more about the matter. And since even recent events have not killed the old instinct of chivalry towards women, it is not improbable that a short time ago many would have expressed disapproval if the Government had meted out to female offenders the same measure which would have been given to men. But the authorities need no longer be afraid that they will lack the sanction of public opinion in punishing these crimes as they deserve. It is plain from what has happened this week that existing methods are inadequate to meet the evil, and that some new system will have to be employed. In the interests of the women themselves some effective deterrent must be discovered. For if the authorities cannot enforce the supremacy of the law the public will take the matter into their own hands. The general attitude of contemptuous indifference is giving way to one of real exasperation, and the police already have difficulty in rescuing Suffragists from angry crowds anxious to inflict summary and condign punishment. We think that in the end the weapon of deportation will have to be employed. There are, no doubt, in the movement some individuals possessed by a wild fanaticism which no punishment can subdue. But there are a larger number attracted by the love of excitement and notoriety. Some women have the theatrical instinct strongly developed. Many seek a natural outlet for their craving on the stage. Others find in the Suffragist movement an opportunity for playing a romantic part in the drama of life, and in the adventures of house-burning and picture-destroying, in defying hostile crowds, and in declaiming against man’s tyranny in police courts, they experience emotional thrills even more intense than those enjoyed by their sisters behind the footlights. Deportation to some distant island would destroy much of the glamour of the Suffragist’s career. There would no longer be repeated opportunities for histrionic displays, and once the temptation to pose before an audience was removed the stream of recruits to the “cause” would soon dry up. In the meantime the constitutional Suffragists might surely lend their aid in checking the campaign of outrages. So far they have either exposed the conduct of the militants or deplored it in vague and general terms. They explain this equivocal attitude by the casuistry that “the cause is greater, than the methods.” But as long as they fail to do everything in their power to stop the deeds of the militants they must bear a share of the responsibility for these crimes. If they pledged themselves to cease speaking or working on behalf of Women’s Suffrage until the outrages stopped they would not only establish the sincerity of their professions but take the wisest course in the interests of their cause.



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