First In The Fight

On its Have-You-Read-This leg of its blog tour: a beautiful, illustrated book celebrating the pioneering, radical women of Manchester.

A statue of a woman was to be erected in Manchester because, and I won’t be too critical because this is a damn good start, the question of “where are all the women?” when it comes to statues is still something being asked in 2019. In order to decide which statue should stand in St Peter’s Square, a long-list of 20 Mancunian women was made, followed by a shortlist of 6 and the winner, Emmeline Pankhurst.

When we were in Grade 7 (which is 12 years old), we did a project where we had to pick something we thought ought to be considered a “world wonder” – we could interpret it however we wanted, people chose everything from the invention of glass to the Northern Lights. My project was the Suffragette Movement in the UK, meaning Emmeline Pankhurst played a pretty important role on my purple slide show and is someone I deeply admire.

Figures like Pankhurst are undeniable symbols of freedom and power, thus choosing her for the statue is hardly a disputable decision – statues are, after all, emblematic. However, having this book is just as important to the process, because it reminds us that all of them could be (should be) celebrated in some way, and of just how bloody and gruelling (how bloody gruelling) it was to be first in the fight.

The book touches on how many people (myself included) like to think of themselves as people who would’ve been at the forefront of the fight for women and equal voting rights. Reading this was a humbling reminder not to glamourise the sacrifices that had to be made or the bodies that fell in order to get us where we are today. We owe a lot to these women: the ones leading the way but also the nameless women, like those who fell in the Peterloo massacre.

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