In the buildup to what looks likely to be the biggest trade union demonstration in recent history, on 26 March, the role of women in organising and participating in protest will continue to be central. Nevertheless, for the usual suspects the participation of so many young women – in the education protests in particular – has given rise to a certain moral panic. See, for example, the hilarious Daily Mail cover:“Rage of the Girl Rioters”.
The attempted pillorying of these young women – accused of “lacking respect” – by the Mail is the latest in a long line of attacks on women who campaign directly against the state: the suffragettes; women involved in the 1926 general strike; the miners’ protests in the mid-80s; those who fought for reproductive rights and against domestic violence. Just as with the attack on “ladettes” in the 1990s, what looks to be a moral criticism frequently masks a deeper political and economic fear – what shall we do when young women are academically successful, economically independent, socially confident and not afraid to enjoy themselves? Could there be anything more terrifying?