Voice and Vote Exhibition – Battleaxe visits in a mad, mad week….

The first week back from holiday is always strange, but right now, the world is completely mad….. The Government seems to be in a state of collapse, Brexit hangs on a knife-edge. Trump, World Cup, Wimbledon…..and the scorching hot weather continues. In the middle of all this, I visited the Voice and Vote exhibition in Westminster Hall, with WI friends. The exhibition commemorates 100 years of (some) women getting the vote and their subsequent involvement in Parliament.

      It was a WI Book Club trip. Mostly, our outings are linked to our reading, although some links are more than a little tenuous – how about IKEA after reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ for example. Our overall verdict on the exhibition? Good, but not that good.  As you can see above, when you first enter Westminster Hall, which of course is vast, the exhibition looks small.
      I think for us band of relatively well-read battle-scarred warriors, it seemed a bit slight. We felt it didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know.  I guess there are so many similar exhibitions on show round the country right now that the supply of interesting artefacts must have run dry….
       Some of the ‘immersive’ spaces, such as ‘The Ventilator’, (where women had to peer down at the Chamber through a ventilation hole in the ceiling) and the mock-up of the House of Commons itself, were pretty perfunctory, I thought.
       However, the reconstruction of the Ladies Gallery or ‘The Cage’, with its grille, was quite good – we all posed inside for a passing official to take a photo.

      It was to this grille that Hastings resident Muriel Matters chained herself in 1908. 

      On that theme, another Hastings resident, one of the earliest and greatest pioneers of women’s suffrage, Barbara Bodichon,
got no mention at all.  She was responsible for the presentation, via
John Stuart  Mill, of the first ever petition to the House of Commons in
regard to women’s suffrage, in 1866.
       Looking through the grille reminded me of peering through the purdah screens found in older grand Islamic houses, intended for women to observe proceedings without being seen….  apparently in Parliament the male MPs felt they would have found it impossible to conduct their business if they clapped eyes on a woman. I read that just today some junior Tory minister has resigned for sending 2000 sexy texts to two barmaids. Oh purleeze.
      On that theme, I did feel there could have been more in the exhibition to raise awareness of just how much revulsion greeted the Suffragettes, and also the less militant Suffragists. Here are a couple of postcards from Battleaxe’s collection of images.

    In the space that was supposed to be the Chamber you could listen to recordings of women describing their experiences of being MPs, but maybe they could have shown videos of the school-boy hooting and braying that goes on… ‘Calm down, dear…’  But I guess that would be too near the knuckle…..
    Finally, here’s the plate from outside Emily Davison’s broom cupboard, put up by Tony Benn.

    Altogether we had an excellent outing. Ate at the Civil Service Club courtesy of one of our number who is a member, then popped into the National Portrait Gallery. There was apparently one room devoted to the women’s suffrage movement – very small indeed, and buried in a hallway filled with dark-suited Victorian gentlemen – except for Radclyffe Hall and a couple of John Singer Sargant lovelies in beautiful frocks. We finished with a cuppa in the Crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields.
     London was already filling up with demonstrators in preparation for the Trump visit.  It felt strange to have to think about him in conjunction with a day spent considering women’s rights. It is nauseating seeing him holding Theresa May’s hand…. how can she be so abject? How can she stand his horrible hands anywhere near her? Never mind his insulting behaviour to the Queen…. But apparently it is all just fine and we are all, according to Liam Fox, an ’embarrassment to ourselves’ if we don’t like it.

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