When women started campaigning for suffrage, opponents tried to shut them down, under the guise of preserving civil society.

Men looking at materials presented by the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, circa 1911.
Men looking at materials presented by the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, Library of Congress, circa 1911.

Various tactics were used, such as appeals to “domestic feminism” (the idea that women should have more autonomy within the family – but not outside it), or warnings about dire outcomes for men in a world where women have rights.

Postcard opposing suffrage, released by the University of Northern Iowa.

At times, opposition included violence, with women subjected to physical attacks, including sexual assaults, sometimes by police, and sometimes by gangs of men.

Black Friday protest, 1910: Suffragettes assaulted by police and men in the crowd. (Courtesy: BBC)

In some ways, not much has changed in the past 100 years. Opponents trying to stifle women fighting for their sex-based rights use a variety of tactics, such as appeals to intersectional feminism, and/or warnings about dire outcomes for males who identify as women[1]. Violence, the threat of violence, and/or disruption manoeuvres are also frequently used when fallacious arguments fail to dissuade women.

Social media post, circa 2018-19
Social media post, circa 2018-19

The following are some recent examples of opponents trying to shut down any discussion about women’s rights:

In March 2019, a planned debate in Lewisham (England) about race, gender and identity, which featured three prominent black woman activists, was cancelled due to external pressure. The mayor informed organizers that their debate could not take place on Lewisham Council premises, because of “the likelihood of harm to people attending (the) proposed event”. In his email, the mayor referred to “an earlier violent incident during a previous event”, in which a young male trans activist assaulted a 60-year-old female attendee. In essence, the mayor was stipulating that, because women may be attacked, a panel of black women could not speak.

"We are black being silenced from a conversation about race and gender. The response by those trans activists who protest is taking our platforming as black women to speak which is both misogynistic, sexist and racist." - Sarah Myers, one of the panellists.

Also in March 2019, a planned U.K. conference on prison reform was cancelled following threats from the transgender lobby. The two-day event was co-organized by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS), an educational charity. The previous month, CCJS had released a statement recommending that male prisoners who identify as women be incarcerated separately from female prisoners. Because of this stance, transgender activists sent numerous emails with some “extraordinarily overheated” language, threatening to disrupt the event, possibly in the conference hall itself. At the time that the event was cancelled, over a hundred delegates had already bought tickets.

More recently, a Scottish National Party (SNP) Member of Parliament (MP) needed police protection to attend her weekly constituency surgery, following a barrage of online abuse, including a death threat[2]. At an evidence session of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), MP Joanna Cherry had questioned representatives from Facebook and Twitter about the abuse of women on social media. Ms. Cherry had asked why sex was excluded from Twitter’s hateful conduct policy, despite this being a protected characteristic in U.K. law. Some of the examples Ms. Cherry provided included murderous images, such as chopping a woman in the neck or flaying a woman alive. Following the joint committee session, Ms Cherry received numerous hate-filled messages, including a cartoon with a gun and the words “Do it”.

In sum: two images, over one hundred years apart, with the same basic message:

Anti-Suffragette postcard, circa 1909.
Anti-Suffragette postcard, circa 1909. (Courtesy: History of Feminism)
Social media post, circa 2018-19.
Social media post, circa 2018-19.


[1] Intersectional feminism is a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to describe the interplay between race and sex, meaning that black women for example, are doubly discriminated against. Over the years, this concept has been misappropriated to encompass gender identity, wherein proponents argue that males who identify as women face more discrimination than those born female. Thus for example, a white, male-bodied individual is considered to be more oppressed than a woman if the former *identifies as a woman. And since the former is viewed as more oppressed, activists stipulate that feminism must fight for these males, and cannot exclude them from any women-only spaces or activities.

[2] Constituency surgery is a series of one-to-one meetings that an MP may have with constituents.

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