1918 marks the centenary of not just the end of the First World War, but also the extension of voting rights to a wider segment of the population. Before, only property-owning men were allowed to vote, but after 1918 all men over the age of twenty-one, and property-owning women over the age of 30, were allowed to take their part in Britain’s elections.
Married women had only been allowed to own property in their own right since 1882; before that all women’s property belonged to their husbands after marriage. Men also automatically retained custody rights to any children of the marriage—even if their wives had been unfaithful and they were not the biological fathers. Essentially, women were minors in the eyes of the law, and their lives could only ever be as good as the men they married. While certainly many men were kind and considerate husbands, women occupied a very vulnerable role in society.
Men returning from the war who did not own property were outraged at the thought that they had been sent to fight, and perhaps die, for their country, but were not allowed to have a say in how it was run, while the women’s suffrage movement had been working hard for decades to see greater voting rights extended to women.
A hundred years ago may seem like a very long time, but it’s scarcely more than three generations, and in terms of overall cultural evolution, that’s not long at all. In many ways, our society is still coming to terms with the massive social revolution represented by the broader women’s rights movement. We can see the movement as a sort of cultural shock, with ripple effects throughout society.
Full voting rights were extended to women in 1928. A generation later, in the 1960s, the modern women’s liberation movement emerged, with women demanding greater control over their reproductive freedoms, equal treatment at work, and so forth. Arguably, other social movements such as the gay rights movement and (in the US) the civil rights movement, would never have happened without the women’s liberation movement, which was a trailblazer in terms of achieving broad-ranging changes across society in a relatively short period of time.
Today, while many women feel that the women’s rights movement is a work in progress, some people feel that not all of its effects have been positive for society, and some men in particular feel displaced. Men who were brought up in very traditional families may feel that if they are not seen as the head of their household they are left without a clear identity and sense of purpose.
While few today would suggest that women shouldn’t have the vote, or equal rights to men, in broad cultural terms we are all still adjusting to a huge social revolution which had and continues to have an impact on every aspect of our lives. It might take a few more generations before we’ve got it all figured out!
WHO CAN I SPEAK TO FURTHER ABOUT THE ISSUES IN THIS ARTICLE?
For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.