“Doing Something Silly”: The Uses of Humour by the Women's Social and Political Union, 1903–1914 1
Investigations into uses of humour associated with the militant suffrage campaign of the Women's Social and Political Union have been largely concerned with the satirizing of suffragettes. The uses that suffragettes themselves made of humour as a considered political tactic have been less considered. This paper explores three ways in which suffragettes turned humour to their advantage during their campaign: by deliberately adopting “silly” behaviours as a counterpoint to over-formal and male dominated Edwardian politics; by quick-witted retorts to hecklers who sought to disrupt suffragette meetings and finally as a means of venting private political dissent and alleviating some of the stresses of hectic political campaigning. The exploration of humour within the WSPU's work reveals some of the links between humour and social protest in the early twentieth century, and considers the extent to which its use in public political behaviour might be gendered.(Published Online November 21 2007)
1 Many thanks to Simon Gunn for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper, and to Jon Lawrence for advice regarding election handbooks.