The new suffragettes: Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez and Laura Bates on what women want

Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and writer Natasha Walter also share their feminist objectives...

As her documentary Suffragettes Forever! The Story of Women and Power comes to BBC2, historian Amanda Vickery picks out six modern suffragettes.


Radio Times asked these modern crusaders what they want for women…

Mary Beard

Classicist and TV historian

I’ve seen enormous improvements in the position of women over my lifetime but, quite frankly, there’s still a lot to be done.

One of the things I’m most interested in is the language we use. It’s still an insult to call a woman ambitious whereas it’s a compliment for a man. And I still hear clever young women start sentences saying: “I’m not a feminist but…” and then they make a point and you think, “You’re a feminist! Why do you feel the need to deny it?”

These things aren’t changed by an Act of Parliament; it’s a question of awareness. Real progress has to happen in our heads – that’s where the prejudice really is. The best way is to see women in powerful positions without it being an exception.

I remember the first time I heard a woman pilot on a plane and I thought, “Oh gosh, a woman!” Now I don’t think twice about it. Why would a little girl think about being a pilot if she’d only seen men do it? She needs to see women in these positions, and for it to be normal, for her to realise what she’s capable of. 

Natasha Walter

Writer and Broadcaster

Feminism has become more mainstream since I wrote Living Dolls in 2010. A lot of this is down to the fact that we have people like Beyoncé and Emma Watson speaking out. It makes young women say, “What’s this all about? Maybe I am a feminist.” But for change to occur, we need this raised awareness to translate into a response from politicians. 

Laura Bates

Founder of the Everyday Sexism project

I go into schools to talk about gender stereotypes and so many girls say to me, “We can’t win”. On the one hand, girls are under this enormous pressure to be sexy, but then they’re called a “slut” if they send a provocative picture. They’re understandably confused.

We need to help young people reject these labels and teach them about healthy relationships and consent. Yes, part of this means a cultural shift in how we treat women, but we also desperately need the government to make sex and relationship education compulsory in all schools. We’ve won a lot of rights thanks to the suffragettes of years gone by, but there are still plenty of legislative battles to fight. 

Justine Roberts

Co-founder of Mumsnet

It’s a sad reality that four out of five of our users say they feel less employable after having children and lots feel that far from “having it all” they’re “doing it all”.

A big reason for this is that men aren’t doing their fair share. All the evidence shows that the earlier that dads get involved, the more likely they are to share responsibility as their children grow up, which is why we need to extend paid paternity leave and push for shared parental leave to become the norm.

There’s a huge opportunity for smart employers to create a culture change – and along with that a generation of motivated, loyal female employees – by offering women a flexible approach to work when they start a family. The average mother is often portrayed as a bit thick; Mumsnet refutes this prejudice on a daily basis. 

Caroline Lucas

Green Party MP

My office is quite some way from the House of Commons chamber, so every day I choose a route that takes me past the suffragette display with the scarf that Emily Wilding Davison was wearing when she was killed by the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. It’s a reminder that I’ve got a responsibility to go in there and fight. 

Caroline Criado-Perez 

Journalist and feminist activist

In 2013, I started a campaign to get more women on bank notes [Jane Austen was subsequently selected and will appear on the £10 note] which resulted in me getting lots of death and rape threats.

My experience reinforced the fact that generations of men have grown up thinking they’re the only ones who occupy the public sphere,and we need to change that.

The problem is that masculinity is often defined in opposition to what women are, so if suddenly we’re saying that women can be educated and powerful, that leaves a strange space for men.

It’s up to everyone – parents, teachers, the media, Hollywood, advertising – to challenge these gender messages so that women can be leaders and men can demonstrate “feminine” traits like empathy without being judged.

I’d love to completely change the landscape of the media. Take The Sun’s page three debate. The problem isn’t that there’s a naked woman in the paper every day, it’s that that’s all there is; it’s a parade of identikit thin, white, conventionally beautiful models.

So rather than just getting rid of page three, we should focus on a more diverse representation of women. Banning something is easy, but it doesn’t fundamentally change things. 

Interviews by Ellie Austin

Suffragettes Forever! The Story of Women and Power is on BBC2 tonight at 8pm


Read more: Amanda Vickery on inequality: “one would be naive to think the battle is won”