10 06 2013
With women's rights it's still one step forward and quite a few back – but it still behooves us to acknowledge that we've come a long way.
Last week's centenary celebration of the death of Emily Davison, who fell under the royal horse at the Derby clutching a Votes for Women banner, has failed to establish whether she really meant to kill herself (she had a return train ticket with her). But it's good to be reminded that the suffragettes arrived so much earlier than America's women's libbers, because when it comes to women's rights people are more inclined to remember Betty Friedan than Emmeline Pankhurst. Margaret Thatcher said when asked if she believed in women's liberation: "Some of us have been liberated for a very long time." Girton, after all, was founded in 1869.
I once met a woman who studied zoology at a Scottish university before the First World War – though she said that for human anatomy males and females were taught separately, and there were said to be bits of the gentlemen that the ladies never got. It seems unthinkable nowadays for women not to have the vote, but even in the 60s we couldn't get a mortgage without a male guarantor. With all our agonising about too few women in boardrooms, it's worth remembering just how far we have come. And haven't come, since rape victims are routinely disbelieved and teenage girls are still trafficked into prostitution – and not just luckless immigrants either: some "people like us". Emily, perhaps you should be living at this hour.