Last week we saw how powerful and empowering voting can be. People began to hope for something better than there had been. We voted with a desire to see change. We voted against a backdrop of biased media reporting combined with a carefully-nurtured political disaffection and in the face of increasing political cruelty and arrogance.
As the snap election wore on, and a newly-invigorated Corbyn campaign emerged, things began to change quickly. The morning after the election people were, if not elated, at least glad that it wasn’t worse. The prospect of a rampant and unfettered Tory party crippling the poor with yet more austerity measures was just too painful to consider.
As election anticipation grew and excitement at the prospect of rebellion against Tory dominance flourished with the clear signs of Tory wheels coming off, some women still sat at home and did not vote. Not because they were disinterested. Not because they were not eligible to vote. Many of them will have sat at home with a polling card somewhere on a pile of mail. They knew it was there. They knew they could not use it. Or which is really the same - that they could not use it as they would like to.
I tweeted, as did many, about how hard suffragette women had fought for us to vote. This is true, however clichéd. The desire in saying it is that we can encourage women out to the polls. Women who are politically active may try to vote for issues that concern women and children. They will probably choose parties that represent women. In many cases that will not be the Conservatives. But….sometimes they will choose right wing parties. Sometimes women will vote for parties whose policies will harm them directly. That is the point of this blog. Yes, the Suffragettes did starve and die for our political rights. Sadly that alone did not free women to vote.
What stops them? Men stop them. The men with whom they are in intimate relationships. Husbands, brothers, partners, sons, grandfathers. The men in their homes and the men in their heads.
Free women can vote freely. Trapped women cannot. They may not be physically trapped.
If a man wants to control a woman he can isolate her from her family. If he wants to control her finances he can isolate her from work. If he wants to control her effectively beyond hurting her and creating fear, the easy ways are by limiting her movement, her financial independence and her access to help via friends, family and outside agency.
Abusive men love to take things from the women they abuse. Calling a woman names takes away her self-esteem. Hitting or raping a woman takes away her belief in personal safety and bodily integrity.
Telling a woman that what she thinks or has always believed is stupid can be really damaging too, as part of his “scheme” of abuse. A man constantly telling a woman that what she thinks is wrong, when he makes what he says and believes sound like “what everyone thinks”, is brainwashing. Many abused women are subject to attempts to brainwash them. Fighting to keep your ideological integrity is just one more fight in many fights. Some fights come before that one. Sometimes it is suffocating to see through the small every day battles and the bigger battle can seem remote.
A woman may have very strong political views when she meets her abuser. If those views disadvantage or disagree with those of her abuser, he will need to destroy them. If they are feminist views, they will need stomping on firmly.
Many abused women are outspoken and strong when a man targets them for abuse. They are confident and successful. They present a challenge. Skilled abusers need a challenge. Some seek vulnerability, but many also seek a strength that they can destroy.
When people say “Never discuss politics or religion” the suggestion is that it will lead to discord. In a household where disagreements escalate fast from such simple things as the content of a meal many women would never dream of challenging what a man says about the economy or immigration. If they do they soon learn not to. If they are fighting to survive, mentally and or physically, it is almost Pavlovian to learn to say the political things that chime with him. To parrot a political mantra he agrees with is like seeking a pat on the head. Women may support EDL marching bigots of the highest order - because how would you tell a man like that - his views are unacceptable? When he returns home full of fight and alcohol and the certainty from marching with a hundred other thugs that he is right how would you tell him he is wrong? If he has been kettled by police all day as he marched then where might the fight he did not achieve go? What might his partner need to say to defend herself from anger. Create a scale of political views down from the extremist and you will find women agreeing with fracking, NHS cuts, Brexit and more when they would previously have stood against those things. Some women of course are simply not “allowed” to vote. Some women are not allowed to leave the house.
Free women wake up quickly. Free women soon realise that part of reclaiming themselves from him physically and mentally is also about reclaiming yourself politically. Free women run to the polling booth.
I think of the woman who no longer knows what she thinks. I want that woman to finally vote again. Think of how different things might be today if all the abused women last Thursday had been able to vote for things that are good for women like them? Think of the women still dying without a vote.