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Wonder Women: Radical Objects

by on October 1, 2013

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On 3rd April 1913 three suffragettes – Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta and Lillian Forrester- attacked a number of pictures in the Manchester Art Gallery as part of the militant campaign for votes for women. One hundred years later this pivotal moment provided the focus for a commemorative season of events aimed at promoting national awareness of the importance of Manchester as the birthplace of the suffragette movement. The first Wonder Women: Radical Manchester season (henceforth WWRM) consisted of around 40 events which took place at cultural venues across the city to acknowledge, celebrate and commemorate the sacrifices made by many radical women, both historical and contemporary, in the fight for equality.

The Radical Objects project was devised as a method for documenting the first WWRM season. When attending WWRM events, I would ask women to share an object which they were carrying in their handbag or on their person. I recorded the stories hidden within these ‘radical’ objects as a means of generating discussion about what it is to be a woman in Manchester in 2013. I took photographs of the objects and uploaded the images and associated personal stories to the WWRM project blog (http://wonderwomenmcr.blogspot.co.uk/). The objects included compasses, toothpaste tubes, 3-way adapter plugs and wine glasses. The associated stories were compelling and ranged from the sentimental to the hilarious.

The initial Radical Objects post sparked a dialogue on Twitter. I began to ask our followers to take their own photographs of the objects within their handbags and to upload them to Twitter so that they could be included on the blog. The result is a digital archive of objects and stories told by the women of Manchester. The objects shared by the ‘ordinary women’ of Manchester are re-appropriated in the Radical Objects project; those items we carry around every day take on new meaning by being associated with a personal history. Feminists have long examined the personal histories and experiences of ‘ordinary women’ as a means to democratise authority and knowledge, to deconstruct the male bias of the historical record, and to tell new stories about the past (Chidgey 2).

A key tenet of the suffragette movement was the notion of reconfiguring everyday objects: ‘The material culture of the movement [banners, badges etc.] was consciously developed and given an importance not usually applied to the ephemeral, or everyday’ (Kean 585). The Radical Objects project seeks to find meaning in the everyday objects in women’s handbags in order to encourage them to reflect upon their role in contemporary society, particularly within a commemorative and reflective season of events.

The WWRM project blog continues to serve as a platform for the exchange of ideas and a place to examine how the city might best commemorate the upcoming centenary of 1918 when women were first granted (partial) suffrage.

References

Chidgey, Red. “Reassess Your Weapons: the making of feminist memory in young women’s zines”. Women’s History Review. Published online: 15 Apr 2013. Accessed 20 May 2013.

Kean, Hilda. “Public History and Popular Memory: issues in the commemoration of the British militant suffrage campaign”. Women’s History Review, Volume 14, Numbers 3&4, 2005 pp.581-602. Print.

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