Above is a small selection of pro-suffragette cartoons, showing the suffragettes had a sense of humour even in the most dire circumstances. It always amuses me when women are accused of having no sense of humour. This comment is usually made by someone who just made a very misogynistic joke or hasn’t understood the humour of a woman’s joke. It argues that women do have a sense of humour … but it is those making the accusation that aren’t getting the joke.
Humour is a great weapon in the political arena. It makes a pointed comment, without using a real spear. Of course, pro-suffragette/pro-suffragist propaganda was a mere drop in the flood of anti-suffragist discourse. Because most of the media was run by men, and most of those men wanted to support the status quo.
In the pro-propaganda, the suffragettes and suffragists are portrayed by normal-looking women. In the anti-propaganda, they were always made to either look like harridans or dismissed as fluffy followers of fashion – with wanting equal rights the equivalent of wanting a new hat. The men (and the children) are always depicted as victims of their wives’ aspirations, henpecked or abandoned.
The real issue behind both sorts of propaganda was about giving voice to – or suppressing – women’s politics and attitudes. The majority of women wanted to be taken seriously and given representation in the political and legal spheres of public life. The domestic sphere was a cage or a jail.