This Tuesday the first statue of a woman was unveiled in Parliament — an 8ft 4in bronze of suffragist campaigner, Millicent Fawcett.


The installation is very pertinent to British political history. This year marks a century since women were granted the right to vote in our country, and celebrations have been taking place all over the UK.

Millicent, a key character in the campaign for women’s suffrage, unarguably deserves her place in our nation’s most iconic square. She fought heavily for better education for women, focusing much of her energy to improve their opportunities for higher education. In her later years, alongside her suffragist work, she was the leader of an investigation into the concentration camps that appeared in the wake of the Second Boer War.

But does her statue unveiling come a little too late? What does her name, and now image, mean for young women around the country? Furthermore, what does feminism now mean for these same young women in our society? Has celebrity culture shifted our focus to the feminist body and away from feminist rights?

Of course, feminism is not a straightforward ideology. Women may practice and adhere to feminism as they wish, especially with our modern, more flexible mindset of it. However, it is still vital to understand the history of this free-thinking womanhood, a history that sees women like Millicent Fawcett as key players.

However, there is also the sense that we must not be ‘too grateful’ for the statue — something rightly stated by former deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman. Parliament Square has been dominated by men (and male sculptors, with Gillian Wearing being the first female sculptor to have her work in Parliament Square) for years, why has it taken until 2018 for this to be rectified?

Of course, there is still a huge imbalance in the male/female representation in the location, and in statues around the entire country — something that women (and men) need to keep pushing against.

Much of this starts with educating ourselves about the great female leaders in history. Millicent Fawcett was a woman, something that I’m sure many women around the country are aware of. But is it enough to appreciate her efforts just by recognise her name?

For the centenary celebrations, I took the time to educate myself more about the women’s suffrage movement and was shocked at how much I did not know. My history classes had often focused on the underlying differences of the suffragettes/suffragists — I remember splitting my page in two and listing to the pros and cons of each movement. However, I know now this wasn’t really a priority back then. The groups of women were far more similar than they were different. It seemed my education had attempted to create a divide, pitting these women against each other, rather than focusing on the real enemy: injustice.

There are also many female suffragists/suffragettes who do not get mainstream recognition within our lessons, never mind a statue of them. Indeed, there were even suggestions that the ‘wrong feminist’ (writes Rachel Holmes for the Guardian) was picked to be immortalised. Many called for someone like Sylvia or Emmeline Pankhurst to be placed in the square instead, who belonged to the so-called ‘militant’ suffragettes.

However, it seems that society finds it difficult to ignore the controversial history of these other feminists. For comparison, consider the public outrage at petitions to remove the statue of Winston Churchill or Nelson’s Column — two men whose wrongdoings are buried under popular history.

Does our ability to only recognise the softer, more gradual work of Fawcett suggest that this is what our country believes feminism should be? Something which is quieter, on the periphery and ultimately, not a major threat?

Feminism should be angry. Women should be passionate and proud of their rage. How many times has history succumbed to a timid woman?

I’ve had conversations with young women that often venture into gender politics and they’ve been quick to declare that they are ‘not a feminist’ — I’m guessing this is because of the negative connotation this label often endures. Perhaps these women and the women who come after them, need to be shown that these assumptions need not exist, and if they do, they certainly needn’t be a bad thing.

Will a statue of Millicent Fawcett achieve this? It’s undoubtedly a start, but we’ve still got a long way to go before there is enough ‘courage everywhere’ for young women not to be ashamed of having feminist leanings.