Not Just a Girl by Caitlin Chapman
This story is to remember Charlotte Marsh who planted a Picea on 5 March 1911
“Woman should stay at home. The only good thing that they can do is help in the kitchen.” Dad’s words filled my head, anger consumed me.
Why was I different to my brothers, Alex and Sam? Just because they were boys, why were they so special? I could climb a tree as well as any boy. I was ten times faster than Sam and yet, if I was caught, I would be punished and Sam praised. Sometimes, I wished I was a boy. No, that’s not true, some days I wished I was a boy every living second. But I’m not, I’m a girl; a girl who is going to follow her dreams, with or without my parent's support or approval.
One day, something changed in the village, but not in a good way. No, it never changed in a good way for me if my parents had anything to do with it. They had decided I was too old to attend school anymore and that now, I was to help out in the house. Alex and Sam were going to the best of the best, posh private school, but now that I was fourteen, I was to be locked away in the kitchen.
Soon, the village forgot that I existed, but I was too angry to care. Not attending school was the only thing that frustrated me. Mother said I couldn’t go because I wasn’t able to learn. According to her, all me going to school would do, is bring shame on the family and spend all their money. Mother and father both said that going to school was a dreadful gateway and after that there would be no stopping me. I could even end up being a suffragette.
My family has a lot of opinions on suffragettes, but the only good one is mine. Father thinks they are arrogant fools, trying and failing to get the vote. Whenever anyone says a word about them, he always comes up with the same response: “They will never get the vote because they would have to overpower men first and that’s never ever going to happen.”
Mum’s opinion isn’t as loudly-voiced as his, but she still believes the same as Dad—how stupid is that? She’s a woman herself and yet, she doesn’t care what Dad says about them. She has no backbone.
And Alex and Sam? They hate suffragettes the most. They want to become anti-suffragists one day. They think that girls shouldn’t even be allowed out of the house.
No-one ever asks me what I think of them, because I’m “just a girl”, but if they did, then I would tell them that I think suffragettes are amazing. My hope that one day I will be a suffragette is what keeps me going. And I will not only fight for women's rights, but get them too!
There is a family living next door to us, a family of four. The son, a blond, rosy-cheeked boy called Charles, who laughs all the time, was befriended by Sam and Alex at once, so I don’t trust him. He’s probably in league with the anti-suffragist movement. But there’s also a girl living there and she is the only one in the village who knows about my existence. Her name is Emily and she is amazing. Emily is living the life I dream of: she is part of the suffragettes, her mother is also a suffragette and she is my idol. She goes on hunger strikes and she has even been to prison and I know it sounds stupid, but I would love to do that.
It was the day of Emily’s birthday and we were getting ready to leave the house. I had the most wonderful surprise for her, an original suffragette’s poster, stolen from my Dad—he had bought it to put the suffragettes in their place. I put on the nicest item of clothing I owned, my gorgeous, baby-blue, hat, and prepared to leave the house. My father looked at me like I was out of my mind, then he started laughing.
When he managed to calm himself down, he said to me in a voice as cold as ice, “Where do you think you’re going, young lady?”
I should've known something was wrong then, as he only called me “young lady” when I'd done something he disapproved of.
Stupidly, I replied, “Going to Emily’s party, where did you think I was going?”
I knew I'd made my mistake when his face turned tomato-red and I swear I could see smoke coming out of his ears.
“I WILL HAVE NONE OF THAT CHEEK, YOUNG LADY. YOU WILL NOT BE GOING ANYWHERE, A GIRL IS NOT FIT FOR A PARTY!” he bellowed.
But by this point, I’d had enough. I wasn’t going to take his verbal abuse any longer. It was now or never, I had to stand up for myself.
“NO? WELL THEN WHY IS MOTHER GOING? I SUPPOSE SHE’S JUST A BETTER GIRL THAN ME? WELL LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING, YOU ARE THE WORST PARENTS EVER IN THE HISTORY OF PARENTS. WHY CAN’T YOU JUST SUPPORT ME, LET ME LIVE THE LIFE I WANT TO LIVE, BECAUSE I AM A GIRL?”
And just like steam from a boiling kettle, all my anger was gone. My parents stood there in shock. They’d known I was angry, but they hadn’t thought I would rebel. Unfortunately, my father didn’t give up without a fight. Neither did the cane. The thrashing left my hands black and blue. One of his strikes went so deep that it scarred. My father believed it would be a reminder that I should never, ever disobey my parents. But I healed harder, stronger and more determined than ever before, I was going to be a suffragette and there was nothing that they could do to stop me. The mark will always remind me how much I wanted to be a suffragette.
Over the next months, I stayed away from my family. The reason I kept away was because I had a plan, an amazing devious plan: I was going to go to a suffragette’s meeting with Emily!
It was going to be held that night at midnight on the dot. I couldn’t wait to go. It was the first step to achieving my dream to change the world.
Sneaking out of the house was terrifying but the best thing I’ve ever done. My heart thudded like a ball bouncing on concrete. I was so nervous I could barely walk, but I was happy as well. I was so close to my dream that I could taste it. Even so, I knew I couldn’t get too confident as the hardest part was still to come: getting past mother and father’s room.
I had chosen my oak-brown boots because they didn’t make a noise on the stair. This was the hardest part. I held my breath and slid smoothly past the creaky floorboards outside my parents room. It like was a scene from a play. I paused for a moment, frozen, until I heard their snores.
As my hand clutched the cold, brass, rusty doorknob, I felt a wave of victory wash over me. I had made it, I was free! It was the first time I had ever gone out of the house without my parents’ permission.
Outside, it was a frosty winter’s night and snow was starting to fall. A dainty, delicate, beautiful, white snowflake landed upon my nose and it perched there as I ran through the snow, to the Dropenty’s mansion. This was where many meetings took place, and luckily it was only half a mile from my house. As I sprinted to the meeting, I felt the happiest I had ever felt in my life.
The meeting was amazing, there had been such ambition and joy in that room I hadn’t wanted to leave. There were even a few men in the room, it was epic. Everyone had different dreams and yet we were all affected in the same way, by the same problem: there was no equality.
When I returned home, I didn’t have a care in the world; I didn’t care, and I wasn’t careful. I sprang up the stairs , my boots making a huge racket, humming the first few bars of The March of the Women. . I practically danced down the hallway. But then I heard something, somebody. and I jumped back in shock, scared, and landed on the squeaky floor board – the one right outside my parents’ room.
My parents sprung out of their room. “Thief!” shouted my father but all they saw was me standing in the hallway, pressing myself into the thick, striped wallpaper. Immediately, my father started shouting. He was in a rage like no other.
“WHERE ON EARTH HAVE YOU BEEN? GALLIVANTING OF WITH YOUR FRIENDS AT NIGHT? YOU ARE A DISGRACE OF A DAUGHTER AND I WILL NO LONGER HAVE YOU AND YOUR DISOBEDIENCE UNDER MY ROOF, PACK YOUR BAGS! YOU’RE LEAVING!”
“But, but, but where will I go?”
“NO BUTS CHILD! You will stay with your great aunt, she’s the only one who would want you.”
I was angry, upset and confused. I had always had a love-hate relationship with my family, especially with my father, but I never had once even considered that they would throw me out. I was fuming and petrified at the same time. How could they do this to me? I was their own kin. Where was I going to go?
I flung my clothes into my small, old suitcase. I couldn’t go to my great Aunt’s house, she was worse than my parents. My clothes crumpled like my feelings. I felt like sobbing, but I knew I had to stay strong, I had to put on a brave face. Packing was hard, I didn’t have much space and I didn’t know what to pack. I knew there would be no coming back once I had left. It was difficult to leave my room behind, I had so many memories and I knew this was goodbye forever. I didn’t care about my family, I hated them and they hated me now. It was fact. The only person I was going to miss was Emily. She had felt like a sister to me since day one and I had been like a sister to her.
Just then, a great idea hit me. Emily! I could go and stay with Emily. After her mother’s death, I had watched her change into an angry suffragette, filled with rage at the world. She had wanted compensation and she was going to get the vote, even if she died in the process. Her mother had been my idol too and I was dreadfully upset, but I hadn’t been angry—not then. Emily hated the world, then she started to be a proper suffragette, not just a person who supports the movement and goes to their meetings. She participated in everything, the riots, the hunger strikes, the protests. She’d even been to prison. Emily had turned into an angry, proper suffragette and I knew I was ready to change too.
My first protest was super, no better than super, it was absolutely amazing. So was my second protest and my third and fourth and fifth. All my protests were the best times of my life, I was so happy, being with people who believed in the same things as me. All my hopes and dreams came true. And I did stop protesting, but I didn’t get beaten by the anti-suffragists, I won. Yes, that’s right, us woman got the vote.