I'd rather be a rebel than a slave
Photo: Mary Rozzi

‘I’d rather be a rebel than a slave,’ is what Emmeline Pankhurst said at a London rally in 1913. ‘Emmeline Pankhurst chained herself to the railings so you could vote,’ is what my mild-mannered mum said, when at 18 and first eligible to vote, her lazy, idle, good-for-nothing daughter couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed, to do so.

I have never forgotten this. And being shamed by my mum once was enough; ever since that day, I have always been up at the crack of dawn to carry out my civic duty.

Photo: Guardian

The film Suffragette is top of my autumn must-see list. Written by Abi Morgan (Shame, The Iron Lady) and directed by Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) it stars some of my favourite actors: Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, Romola Garai and Natalie Press. There was a great feature on the film and feminism in Time Out this week, including interviews with four of the leads. When asked ‘What’s the most annoying question women get asked in interviews that men don’t get asked?’ Anne-Marie Duff replied:

‘”Are you worried about ageing?” It’s totally passive-aggressive, like : “You should be. “If I have to answer it one more fucking time…’


The fight for equality continues. There’s a trailer for the film HERE. And the full Emmeline Pankhurst quote is:

“I know that women, once convinced that they are doing what is right, that their rebellion is just, will go on, no matter what the difficulties, no matter what the dangers, so long as there is a woman alive to hold up the flag of rebellion. I would rather be a rebel than a slave.”

20 thoughts on “Suffragette – my autumn must see

  1. My father shamed me for failing to vote when I was 18, I had some pathetic excuse and I have never forgotten it. As I say to the youngsters, we are so lucky that we live in a democracy where we are entitled to vote… don’t waste it! Your vote counts.
    I am looking forward to seeing this movie.

  2. I have a rule that whenever I meet someone who is complaining about “the government” or something related to it, I ask them: “did you vote in the last election”? If the answer is no, my reply: then shut up — if you can’t make the effort to learn about the issues & making an informed vote, you don’t deserve any better than you’re getting & I have no interest in listening to you. And anyone who tells me they don’t vote because it doesn’t make a difference gets a fairly heated lecture on democracy & the moral responsibility of being a responsible & politically educated citizen. I take no prisoners on this topic [or on women’s issues & freedooms, which too many people seem to be trying to undermine daily] Whew. Rant over. Thanks, Alyson. I obviously needed that!

  3. I saw the world premier at the Telluride Film Festival in September! It is my favorite of the year and Carey Mulligan does an amazing character study.
    I would urge everyone to watch as they role the dates, by country ,of when women were granted the right to vote at the end of the film. It is sobering and made me more than a little angry!
    Thank you, Alyson, for bringing this fine film to your reader’s attention!

  4. Hi,
    Surely the whole point of the voting debate and the rights of women,is that we now, thanks to those brave suffragettes ,have a choice in whether we wish to vote or not.
    I do not agree with the agree with bullying and rude comments printed here.
    Everyone is entitled to their own opinions without having to justify them

  5. I’d rather be an informed rebel and not a slave to a monolithic feminist/socialist ideology. I’d rather be a knowledgable rebel than a slave to any political party that has lost the meaning of Liberty for the people while enforcing their own power. I’ve learned and lived my philosophy for 40 years and it works very well.

  6. Many years ago, I used to work at the National Archives where there were many documents relating to the suffragettes, including some stirring speeches made by Mrs Pankhurst. One election day during my time there a few of us women took a taxi to Mrs Pankhurst’s statue outside the Houses of Parliament and laid some flowers. I still remember the message we wrote.:

    In grateful memory of Emmeline Pankhusrt and all her brave companions who fought to win for women the right we have exercised this election day.

    I ALWAYS vote and would crawl over broken glass to do so.

    My formidable headmistress had an aunt who was a suffragette. The head brought along to school auntie’s booklet of instructions for dealing with policemen: 1 Knock his helmet off. 2 Cut his braces. Dignity and mobility speedily removed!

  7. So look forward to seeing the film when it arrives in Norway! We celebrated our 100th anniversary two years ago as we got our women`s vote in 1913. Finland was first in Europe in 1906. When it comes to actually using the right to vote men and women are equally ignorant these days. We were down to 55-60% at the recent local election. A great shame. I agree totally with Janet: vote or shut up.

  8. Never understood why people don’t vote, for those who say there is no point – I have to wonder what point they are trying to make by NOT voting as if any politician would really come round to their house and beg them to vote next time or something… but then I am from NZ – 1st country to give women the vote, and over 100 yrs later there are still women in countries where they can’t, dammit

  9. In 1968, one still had to be 21 in order to vote and to drink alcohol. While most people my age were anticipating going to their “first” bar for their “first” legal drink, I could hardly wait to vote for the first time. I loved registering to vote. I was proud to stand in line, waiting for the opportunity to pull all those little levers to select my candidates. I chose Robert Kennedy in my first-ever primary, then bawled like so many others when he was killed. And, when it comes to my relationships and working life, I very much prefer being “a rebel then a slave.”

  10. My gran, born in the late 1800s, attended a Pankhurst rally in our local town. She was a farmer – daughter, wife and widow, and took all of her responsibilities in life very seriously. The right to vote was very hard won. We should not disabuse it.

  11. Isn’t it a shame that actual slaves didn’t decide to be rebels instead?
    Oh, wait.
    Celebrating this quote- particularly for promotional reasons- without acknowledging the exclusion of poc from the suffragette movement, is fairly terrible. I do agree that voting is extremely important and that these women were right to fight for it, but they should have fought for everybody’s right for it, and we should acknowledge not only their positive points but also their failings. Particularly when Meryl Streep, when asked, didn’t respond with ‘yes’ to the question ‘Are you a feminist?’ The relationship between the (white) suffragette movement and the civil rights movement wasn’t as harmonious as we all wish it had been.

    I’d write a more detailed response if I had more time, but if you’re interested in why people have a problem with this quote, please just google it!

  12. Rachel – thank you for your comment, I have amended the post and included the full Emmeline Pankhurst quote which I hope provides a bit more context. This was a quick post intended to highlight the film and the plight of women at the time, I now realise I should have given the quote and it’s implications more consideration.

  13. The job that the brave Suffragettes fought for still is not done. Parliament and politics continues to be dominated by men. There are 672 more men in the UK Parliament than women. 7 out of 10 MPs are men. There are many reasons for this but we want Party Leaders and Parliament to come up with solutions. They have the power. Nearly 100 years after women got the vote and 150 years after the original 1866 Suffrage Petition we are still campaigning for gender equality. Join us, take action sign change.org/5050Parliament!

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