All Quiet On The Wench Front

Herstory at its fucking finest.

Churchill, Sexism and Petticoat Politics

The following was originally posted over at The Women’s Room as part of their Banknotes Campaign.


Frequently voted greatest Briton, greatest twentieth-century Prime Minister, greatest – YAWN – Sir Winston Churchill’s “outstanding contribution” (to use The Bank of England’s endorsement) was, until fairly recently, indubitable in the eyes of academics and the nation alike.

Yet, his unfavourable view on women, in both his personal and political lives, well that’s never been bridled with such an amorous bias. He’s renowned (and readily accepted) as an unmitigated misogynist. Bouts of sexist hostility are part ‘n’ parcel of Mr Churchill’s looming iconography, along with the cigars, the booze and the V sign. So much so, that rather than a hideous character defect, his stance on women is considered a queer little eccentricity. Something which often warrants the response “yes, but he was a GREAT man” or “he was JUST a product of his time”.

Now when we heard that Elizabeth Fry, the only woman currently fronting any of our banknotes, was being retired in favour of a man, we didn’t think it could get much worse. But to be faced with the possibility of her replacement being a man who didn’t even want women to have the vote, well it peed us off. And since his advocates at The Bank of England have been reluctant to respond in any real depth, we crawled into the deepest recesses of our sarcastic little minds and decided to interview the late Sir Churchill, to see what he might have said about his moneymentous achievement, on this, His Fiver Hour.

WARNING: Only parts of the following conversation are imagined. A massive, horrifying chunk of the words we put in Churchill’s mouth were based on, inspired by or snippets of actual quotes.

The Wenches: Churchill, thank you for coming.

Churchill: Good to be here. {Cough}.

The Wenches: I guess the first thing we want to ask you is – how do you feel about the progress women have made in politics since you were in office?

 Churchill: What a ridiculous tragedy it is that our strong Government, and my party, which has made its mark in history, has given into Petticoat Politics. And I know what I’m talking about; I was the Prime Minister you know. {Cough}.

The Wenches: {Astonished silence}.

Churchill: {Cough}. It’s ruddy well awful. Having women in Parliament has made politicians more mealy-mouthed than in my day. And public meetings are much less fun. You can’t say the things you used to. {Cough, COUGH}. I’m glad I never had to endure these atrocious constraints on the scale that my successors have. War was bad enough.

The Wenches: Er. I guess that shouldn’t come as a shock to like, anyone who’s studied GCSE History. You were ardently anti Votes For Women.

Churchill: Yes, well. They were violent militants you see. {Cough}. I don’t advocate militancy. Or violence.

The Wenches: It’s funny you say that. In November 1910, a suffragette rally at Westminster was met with pretty extreme brutality at the hands of the Metropolitan Police, and several women were injured. The incident became known as Black Friday. Though you were not personally present at or responsible for Black Friday, we know that as Home Secretary you rejected all allegations against the Met and refused to launch an inquest. Why is that?

Churchill: That’s because they’re the police. Not some silly, hysterical Suffragettes with nothing better to do than stand outside Parliament shouting. {COUGH, SPLUTTER}.

The Wenches: But it wasn’t just the Suffragettes, or even the Suffragettes’ tactics you were opposed to, Mr Churchill. In 1912, the Cabinet debated whether or not to introduce a franchise bill for universal suffrage, and you were dead set against it…

Churchill: I see exactly where this is going. Yes. I was against it. We already have enough ignorant voters, and I don’t want anymore.

The Wenches: Ignorant?

Churchill: Yes. Ignorant. What do women know about politics anyhow? The role of women has been the same since the days of Adam and Eve. {Cough}. Why should it change? Women are represented well enough, by their fathers, their brothers, their husbands.

The Wenches: Wow. {Collective rolling of eyes}. But you eventually came round to the idea of women voting – what made you change your mind so dramatically?

Churchill: The war, of course. It changed everything.

The Wenches: You’re referring to the First World War?

Churchill: Yes. {Cough}. The Great War put a stop to all that ruddy window smashing and finally mobilised masses of impassioned women for a decent cause.

The Wenches: You mean the Home Front?

The Churchill: Yes the Home Front. We’d have been lost without the little poppets. Us men were fighting. We couldn’t sew our own parachutes or collect tickets on busses. I mean, women weren’t entirely put to use like they were when I was Prime Minister – did you know I was named greatest wartime leader of the twentieth Century? It’s because I saw potential in eve –

The Wenches: We’ll get to that.

Churchill: Oh, sorry dears. Where were we?

The Wenches: Do you think women were treated fairly after WWI? Many lost the jobs they’d been actively recruited to take on by the government, and were now expected to return to the way their lives were before the conflict?

Churchill: They ruddy well got the vote, didn’t they?!

The Wenches: Well yeah, but there were quite a few restrictions put in place. Women over 30 received the vote but they had to be either a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register, or a graduate voting in a University constituency. And they still couldn’t vote on equal terms with men.

Churchill: I really don’t see what the fuss is about. We weren’t just going to give women the vote. We had to test the ruddy water, see if they could be trusted first. And it didn’t take long for them to start infiltrating politics; women started cropping up everywhere!  It was only a few months later that Nancy Astor become a member of the House. And the ruddy woman threatened to poison me! Women were everywhere I tell you – working, voting, holding seats in Parliament. Some of them were even Ministers! You’re forgetting that I let women have men’s job when I took over in 1940. As Prime Minister, I –

The Wenches: YES. Er, ahem, sorry – yes, your supporters often champion you for your inclusion of women in the war effort. Women In War: From The Home Front To The Front Line, edited by Celia Lee and Paul Edward Strong, suggests that the Second World War forced you to embrace sexual equality. Is that a fair statement?

Churchill: Ha! Cough. Dear old Paul, what a hoot! That woman he allows to work with him, what’s her name? Yes, Celia. They run a Women In War group for the British Commission For Military History, and they’ve been studying several areas in which I, the Prime Minister, personally encouraged British women to undertake jobs that had, up until the 1940s, solely been done by men, therefore freeing up British men for the frontline. Under my instruction, Women were able to fulfil such positions as secretarial work, telephone operating, cyphering, accounting, even typing. We had lady transport vehicle drivers, and of course we needed women to take on domestic tasks, like cooking, stewarding and waitressing.

The Wenches: We’ve got to be honest, that doesn’t sound particularly liberating…

Churchill: It ruddy well was! The Nazis retained their Home and Hearth ideologies throughout the war, and never utilised or encouraged women to the extent that I did.

The Wenches:  Right. So, to summarise, your attitude to gender equality is favourable only to Hitler’s?

Churchill: Not just Hitler’s. Stalin’s too.

The Wenches: Much better. What about as leader of the opposition? What did you do to redress the massive inequalities that women faced despite getting the vote and despite being “allowed” to work in traditionally male sectors?

Churchill: {Cough}. {Silence}…

The Wenches: Mr Churchill?

Churchill: {More silence}… They voted me out. Apparently I wasn’t the right man to instigate post-war social reforms. And something else… Something about peace and transitions? Oh I don’t know. Anyway. Women were the last of my worries. I needed my power… I mean position back. {Cough}.

The Wenches: And what about your second term in office? What policies would you say particularly bolstered the rights and interests of women?

Churchill: What dears? {Cough}.

The Wenches: Lets move onto your personal life. You’ve been quoted as saying that your greatest achievement was convincing your wife, Clementine, to marry you.

Churchill: {Wistful look}. It truly was. {Cough}. {Pause}. I had to ask four women to marry me before one said yes!

The Wenches: Yes, it’s common knowledge you had a weakness for beautiful women…

Churchill: {Cough}. I have no weaknesses. Never has so much, been owed by so many, to one man. Like me.

The Wenches: What about your childhood? You grew up in an aristocratic family, and rarely saw your parents. You particularly missed your mother, and as a young boy wrote letters begging her to visit you at your boarding school or to allow you to come home. Psychoanalysts might say that your cold detachment to women stemmed from these early experiences?

Churchill: {COUGH}. Poppycock. {Cough, Cough}. {Cough}.

The Wenches: Okay. One final question; How do you feel about your latest homage from The Bank Of England? And do you feel at all guilty that Elizabeth Fry, the only woman currently to be honoured on any British banknote, has been removed in your favour?

Churchill: {Cough}. Fuck Elizabeth Fry. She didn’t win a war.

The Wenches: Thank you, Churchill.



/wenCH/ noun Origin Middle English: abbreviation of obsolete wenchel, meaning child, servant, prostitute; perhaps related to Old English wancol, meaning unsteady, inconstant. Definition Girl, woman, probably a right stand-up bird.



her·sto·ry /ˈhərstərē/ noun Shit hot history from a female or feminist perspective.
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