Sunday, March 23, 2008


Andrew Anthony, of whom more later, makes an unnecessary defence of Ayaan Hirsi Ali in his book, The Fallout, against a particularly silly criticism that Hirsi Ali fails to take Muslim women along with her. He writes, "it was almost half a century before the suffragettes began to demand what Mill had articulated in The Subjugation of Women … Most British women, let alone men, in 1869 would have thought that Mill was wrong and, what is more, insultingly wrong".

Leaving aside his omission of the contribution of Harriet Taylor to Mill's ideas and his neglect of 19th Century feminism, it is simply not true that demands for female suffrage had to wait until the birth of the Women's Social and Political Union. In fact, the WSPU was a split from the larger and older non-militant National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. The roots of the NUWSS lay in the rejection of Mill's amendment to the 1867 Reform Bill, which would have given women the vote on the same basis of men. The first women's suffrage rally was held in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in 1868 and London followed a year later. The WSPU were a feature of the end game, not the birth of the campaign. The prime mover, Lydia Becker, deserves better.

This is not merely an academic dispute about history. Published works reflect more than a writer's idiosyncrasy. They are a product of their times and I would be surprised if Hirsi Ali did not have her supporters, whether secret or open.


Will said...

Funnily enough -- i feel less need to comment at your blog when you are away in some sunny clime. Funny that.

Anonymous said...

It is not pedantry to point out an incomplete history, leave alone a misconstrued one. But why is Anthony making any such parallel? This form of apologetics does more to justify the indefensible by providing a cloak over the real issues that Ayaan Hirsi Ali raises. She is not exercised by the relative invisibility of women in Islamic society alone. She (and others in that society) have raised the far more serious issues of childhood mutilation, enforced marriage and 'honour' murders within families who might reasonably be expected to protect their female members. But I have not read Andrew's text in full and it might be he addresses these questions.