THESE are lines from my favourite speech by Emmeline Pankhurst, Mancunian mother of the suffragette movement and its figurehead. They're a superbly expressed rationalisation of direct action.
A statue in the city centre is about giving the women of Manchester, particularly the young women someone to identify with
'We were called militant, and we were quite willing to accept the name. We were determined to press this question of the enfranchisement of women to the point where we were no longer to be ignored by the politicians. You have two babies very hungry and wanting to be fed. One baby is a patient baby, and waits indefinitely until its mother is ready to feed it. The other baby is an impatient baby and cries lustily, screams and kicks and makes everybody unpleasant until it is fed. Well, we know perfectly well which baby is attended to first. That is the whole history of politics. You have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else, you have to fill all the papers more than anybody else, in fact you have to be there all the time and see that they do not snow you under.'
Those words were spoken in 1913. In three years time Pankhurst will join the men's club in Manchester. 116 years after creating the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) on Nelson Street in Manchester she will have a free standing statue in Manchester - click here. Pankhurst's Nelson Street house survives as the Pankhurst Centre and includes a small museum but more importantly, a women's community centre, Manchester Women's Aid.
Pankhurst was one of several Manc women shortlisted for commemoration. Aptly the suffrage campaigner won with 56% of a democratic vote in the WoManchester campaign. The latter was kicked off by Didsbury Councillor Andrew Simcock who noticed that amongst the several bronzes of dead Victorian bigwigs across the city there was a notable lack of women. He said, ''Manchester’s more gender-balanced democratic structures these days would be unrecognisable to our Victorian forefathers but they would find the statues in the city largely unchanged. It’s time to move forward.'
It's true there is a huge imbalance in statuary, Queen Victoria aside, memorials to real people are largely those of men apart from symbolic ladies summing up abstractions such as motherhood or the arts. And then invariably their tops have fallen open and they’re baring their breasts. Honestly, Victorians and repressed sexuality.
Counter to this myth there are some other actual females scattered across the city centre streets aside from miserable Vicky. Queen Elizabeth I stands over the main entrance of the Town Hall, there are a couple of Madonnas (Mother of Jesus not the other one) and even the nineteenth century French radical and author George Sand, aka, Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, who would wear male clothing when she wanted, smoked publicly and broke convention with her fluid sexuality.
As an example of self-empowerment it's hard to better Sand. Shame then that in Manchester Sand is included on the worst representational statue in the city as a subservient and very badly modelled figure. She is shown sat passively under the Frederick Chopin statue on Deansgate from 2014 by Robert Sobocinski. Sand took Chopin as a lover, in return he made her his muse. Of course they had a terrible falling out before the end.
Emmeline Pankhurst was the obvious choice for a new statue, the most prominent name amongst those on the shortlist, aside from possibly novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. There was another woman perhaps even more deserving than Pankhurst who wasn't shortlisted, Lydia Becker, but more of her later.
Gail Heath, CEO of the Pankhurst Centre, is of course pleased with the decision but realises its part of a bigger picture: "A statue in the city centre is about giving the women of Manchester, particularly the young women someone to identify with. An example of a woman who was in control of her life, made a mark and changed things for the better for women. It's about instant recognition and getting women motivated."
The debate over the siting of the statue will be an interesting one. It always has been with statues, the arguments over the positioning of the Albert Memorial, the Piccadilly statue of Queen Victoria and the Cenotaph were almost painful in their intensity.
Heath jokes, "Maybe Albert could move out of his memorial in Albert Square. Or maybe given the depth of women's achievement in Manchester, a terracotta army of women in some central location. Seriously though it needs to be sited in a very prominent position in the city centre where it will get huge exposure and recognition. We want young women giving it a selfie-moment, discussing it on social media."
Piccadilly Gardens and Albert Square are both predictable and crowded with statues so Confidential thinks the statue should be positioned in either Exchange Square or, even better, Stevenson Square, the traditional location of protest meetings and where Suffragette meetings took place. The statue would, in that location, not only underline the female contribution to Manchester's history but also become the focal point for a more general upgrade of this politically important location, focusing attention on the city's radical past.
Another area of debate will revolve around the nature of the Emmeline Pankhurst memorial. Aren't representational statues of famous people past their sell-by-date? Aren't they the public art disasters of the last twenty years - think of the Chopin statue mentioned above, or the dreadful tat of the Intu Trafford Centre.
Sarah Perks, Artistic Director of HOME, thinks so. She says, "I don't notice statues in Town and I would pull them down for real equality for all. Since that won't happen I applaud the initiative to draw attention to the issue, but I don't really like hero worship or idolatry. We need to focus on real progress in terms of equality for women and everyone. I am gutted we are not further ahead."
Heath sees it differently, "Of course we have to have a proper representational statue. Only in this way will we provide some balance - before we commission the next 100 statues of women - to the male statues. It has to have the instant recognition, I mentioned."
That's important for Heath. The Pankhurst Centre is currently applying for Heritage Lottery funding to develop a museum dedicated to women's rights that can become a more general focus for the battle for equality.
"In this way," says Heath, "we can make sure that it's not just Emmeline Pankhurst celebrated but so many other significant women, give them their place. That would include Lydia Becker."
Bloody democracy eh?
I would have had a statue of Lydia Becker before Emmeline Pankhurst. Pankhurst compromised her radicalism in later life and became a Conservative party member and a woman appalled by her daughter, Sylvia, having a child outside marriage. Becker was an indefatigable campaigner for votes for women and for equality. She was one of the prime movers in the mid-nineteenth century in Britain of the female suffrage movement, the one that got the campaign off the ground when in 1866 she created the Manchester Women's Suffrage Committee. In 1870 she launched The Women's Suffrage Journal. She was a polymath too, a pioneering educationalist who in her thirties wrote a well-received book on nature called Botany for Novices.
I would have celebrated her life with a statue before Emmeline's. Still, maybe this is just a start in Manchester. Maybe Lydia Becker's contribution can be marked next. What is certain is that when the £200,000 statue is put in place (as with those nineteenth century statues the money will have to come from private subscription not the public purse), an old wrong will start to be righted, symbolically if nothing else. Gestures can be important.
Anyone interested in supporting the new Pankhurst Centre museum can go to www.justgiving.com and donate to The Pankhurst Trust.