Book Reviews Historical Fiction

Book Review: Jenni Murray’s ‘Votes for Women’

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

A charming selection of Suffrage biographies which does nothing to challenge the popular narrative on the Suffrage movement.

Votes For Women!: The Pioneers and Heroines of Female Suffrage (from the  pages of A History of Britain in 21 Women): Murray, Jenni:  9781786074751: Books
Maybe the review by the Daily Mail on the front cover should have set alarm bells ringing?


This is a standalone extract from a much longer book – A History of Britain in 21 Women. It gives brief biographies of six women involved in the Women’s Rights and Suffrage movements from the Victorian to the Edwardian period: Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Emmeline Pankhurst, Constance Markievicz and Nancy Astor. There’s a short introduction by the author, and charming portraits of each of the women at the start of the chapters. It’s not long – only around 120 pages, and it’s a small book with a large font, so I finished it in one sitting. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but it’s a good introductory profile of six amazing women.


There’s not much regarding highlights to cover, other than it was a light and easy read and showed some depth of research. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include any WSPU radicals other than Emmeline herself, and I think there are far more interesting characters than the Pankhursts to write about. Too much has been made of Emmeline and Christabel’s contributions to Votes for Women, and the most interesting Pankhurst characters – Sylvia and Adela, are all too often shunted aside in favour of their more autocratic relatives. I’m only glad the author didn’t decide to cover Christabel – I have a lot to say about Christabel, and not much of it is good.

As a journalist, I don’t think Murray does enough to get under the skin of the historiography of the movement, especially in 2018. There has recently been a small wave of reckoning on Suffrage history – the materials, preserved by Suffragettes themselves in the early-to-mid 20th century, were often carefully vetted and audited to craft an image of the movement, and what the average person on the street will still picture if somebody were to say the word ‘Suffragette’ to them: white, middle-or-upper class, single, chaste, well-mannered and non-violent. Actually, many Suffragettes weren’t white, many Suffragettes were working class, many were married, many had active sex lives outside marriage or were employed in the entertainment industries, and many were violent. This book regurgitates the tired history of Suffrage by focusing solely on upper-middle or upper-class women, and completely omitting the radical violence of the WSPU. It was a cute read, but more needs to be done. It omits more than it tells.

Book Reviews

Book Review: ‘Invisible Women’

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I like reading a few non-fiction books a year, and this was given to me by a friend in Germany. I’m almost finished now, and it is absolutely gripping. This was such a necessary book which filled a data gap all of itself, about the ways in which mankind treats man as the default setting and woman as an accessory to that- a deviation from the norm. Half the world’s population are thereby sidelined in everything from medicine to working life and government policy because either nobody knows how to include women or how to consider their needs because of a blinding data gap, or the (white, male, upper-class) powers-that-be don’t really care enough to bother finding out. Because, well, they’re not women.

It confirms a lot of my suspicions so far in life using a mind-blowing amount of facts and figures to prove the ways in which women have systematically been ignored and undermined by a complete lack of data. This book will engross and infuriate you in equal measure if, like me and (hopefully) the majority of people, you’re a proponent of equal opportunities across the sexes. Did you know that the first female crash test dummy was used in America in 2011? Did you know that most clinical trials are done on exclusively men? I didn’t until I read this book, but I can’t say I’m surprised.

This book struck a chord with me. I spent a year and a half of my university days playing Sunday league rugby. As any woman in a male-dominated sport can attest, things just aren’t build with us in mind. From rugby clubs with no female toilets whatsoever to clubs with no doors on the changing rooms – visible from the corridor or even outside – playing rugby as someone with two X chromosomes is not for the fainthearted. And I’m just talking about structural problems here, let alone the socialised sexism involved in trying to socialise with the men’s team: or, in short, either being condescended to or ignored by the men’s team entirely. Because rugby means men’s rugby, and women’s rugby is women’s rugby, a slightly comical sideshow.

And we all know the toilet problem too well. I was once kicked out of the SU bar for being so desperate with the queue for the women’s toilet I went into a cubicle in the men’s. It was freshers week and the queue for the women’s snaked out the door and all the way up the stairs, whilst men were walking straight into theirs. Great for men, with their urinals, lack of menstruation and easy access to their pee-holes. In fear of peeing down my leg in the queue, I snuck into a cubicle in the men’s. None of the guys inside seemed to mind that much, but security did. A huge security guard started knocking on the cubicle door within around thirty seconds. Knocking is a polite word really. It sounded more like someone throwing bowling balls at the cubicle with from a few feet away. To confound matters, an extremely drunk girl who was a stranger to me had barrelled into the same cubicle as me at the same time and clearly needed assistance. She had a very complicated bodysuit on which took some time to get off and on again, as well as no bra, so you can imagine the scene behind the cubicle door (not fit for a bouncer’s gaze). So while this bouncer, clearly feeling threatened by my gender-bending toilet-hopping, was trying to rip the door off its hinges, I was frantically trying to help a drunk stranger back into her bodysuit. I was ‘escorted’ (shoulder-barged) out of the men’s toilets by four bouncers and barred from the club. Boy, I must have been real threatening. I do regret ruining it for every other man in the club that night, daring to walk into one of their cubicles in my female urinary desperation.

Anyway, Criado Perez addresses the toilet problem here at length, which is both vindicating and frustrating. I would recommend this book not only for every feminist, but also for every man who considers himself ‘not sexist’. Bro-ishness is often disguised as gender-neutral.

So why only four stars? The sheer amount of numbers (It was at some points overwhelming), and the fact that it’s very black and white on the male-female gender dichotomy. True, this book spends a lot of time talking about the biological differences between men and women, so I wasn’t expecting a thorough consideration of how trans and non-binary people fit into this equation, but the author could at least have acknowledged the double-edged sexism which affects those who don’t fit neatly into either category.