In our Salon de la Vie about Helen Keller in November last year, Artistic Director Becca was joined by our supremely talented friend, the actor, Audio Description Consultant and general disability rights activist person, Chloë Clarke, and actress, sign song diva and comedienne Caro Parker. This brief blog cannot do justice to the brilliant conversations therein and the whole Salon – we would urge you to watch it here.
At the start of the Salon, Chloë and Becca discussed Helen Keller and the fact that what most of us have been taught about her does her a huge disservice. Helen Keller was a suffragette, a pacifist, kick-ass socialist radical, an author who toured extensively, a campaigner examining class and intersectionality. You knew? Us neither – until recently.
Chloë closed the Salon reading an article penned by Helen, first published in the daily socialist newspaper, The New York Call on October 17th, 1913. It’s this article that we examine here today.
Why Men Need Woman Suffrage reads today, 110 years after its first publication, as a stunningly radical piece. Can we say that this,
“Perhaps one of the chief reasons for the present chaotic condition of things is that the world has been trying to get along with only half of itself. Everywhere we see running to waste woman-force that should be utilized in making the world a more decent home for humanity.“
is no longer true? We cannot. And as we see threats to laws around women’s bodies and rights, it is depressing to realise we have still some way to go from, ‘The laws made by men rule the minds as well as the bodies of women’. And the debate around parental responsibility, emotional labour and domestic work continues today in a way that might seem very familiar to the author of this statement. “It is indisputably true that woman is constituted for the purposes of maternity. So is man constituted for the purposes of paternity. But no one seems to think that incapacitates him for citizenship.”
The article methodically destroys hypothetical arguments against the vote for women. Point by point, detail by detail, it builds a case for female suffrage that is inarguable. Appealing to reason and emotion by turns, it is a masterpiece – a mistresspiece- of polemic against the status quo, against capitalism, and for a better future.
The article closes saying. “…equipped with the vote, men and women together will hasten the day when the age-long dream of liberty, equality and brotherhood shall be realized upon earth.”
There cannot be many among us who would not want that (though we might include sisterhood!)
These words were not written by a delicate, disabled, helpless child-woman. They were written by an activist, a powerful and passionate woman. We should remember Helen Keller as the campaigner and activist she became, not the child that she was.