The physical force objection to women’s suffrage
in ‘The truest form of patriotism’

The suffrage movement was a central strand in Victorian feminism, and one of its primary aims was confronting anti-suffragists' opposition to the enfranchisement of women. A principal argument for opponents of women's suffrage was the physical-force objection: the principle that women were unable to take up arms to defend their country, and therefore could not qualify for the franchise. In engaging with this question, many feminists began to approach the question of why and under what circumstances they might sanction the use of physical force. This led many to develop pacifist, anti-imperialist or internationalist agendas, which in turn enabled a minority to redefine discourses of patriotism. In this chapter, the feminist response includes the reassertion of arguments of sexual difference and an emphasis upon the legal anomalies that derogated women by viewing their physical abilities in terms of the prevailing domestic ideology.

‘The truest form of patriotism’

Pacifist feminism in Britain, 1870–1902


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