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A tale of 'Sisterhood'

I only recently came across an interview with Prof June Purvis, her 2017 book, Christabel Pankhurst: A Biography, and a subsequent, more recent article written on the Pankhurst sisters, February 5, 2018 exploring what is described as the seemingly bitter divisions behind the Pankhurst sisters fight for women’s votes.

Who can believe that among women who gave so much, and fought so hard to win the right to vote for women, such divisions existed especially given the fact that the name“Pankhurst” is synonymous with that struggle. On one hand their is Sylvia who is mainly remembered for leading the East London Suffragette Movement and on the other Christabel, who is mainly remembered for being the driving force behind the militant wing of the women’s suffrage movement. Emmeline seems central to any analysis of the sister's relationship but what of the third sister, Adela?

Much available evidence considered a family rift, disagreement on tactics and ideological differences created the fault lines which, today we analyse in terms of 'intersectionality'. However, it is highly likely that the fault lines which led to the inevitable fracturing of a movement into many strands ranging from Liberal to Radical Feminism, occurred long before, but especially once the vote was realised,

The 'Scared Cows' of both 'Motherhood' and 'Sisterhood' come under close scrutiny in the analysis of the Pankhurst strained relations and infighting eking out the paths each would take and indeed shaping the stories each tells

Many say the fractious Pankhurst relationships are about jealousy, favourites, divergent political trajectories and ideologies which, a quest for popularity and status.... In reality, whose ever side 'we take', will to a large part depend on our own experiences of 'sisterhood and Sisterhood', 'motherhood and 'Motherhood'

Definitions of sisterhood, such as that given below, highlights yet another issue which impacts how we analyse the Pankhurst relationships for ourselves.

"A bond between two or more girls, not always related by blood. They always tell the truth, honour each other, and love each other like sisters" Source The Urban Dictionary

This nice fuzzy quite emotional, if naive definition of sisterhood presumes so much about women and female consciousness. And another (see below) further demonstrates the presumption underlining sisterhood.

"Sisterhood is the affection and loyalty that women feel for other women who they have something in common with"



the state of being related as a sister or sisters


a religious body or society of sisters, esp a community, order, or congregation of nuns


the bond between women who support the Women's Movement



UK ​ /ˈsɪs.tə.hʊd/ US ​ /ˈsɪs.tɚ.hʊd/

[ U ] a strong feeling of friendship and support among women who are involved inaction to improve women's rights

[ U ] the relationship between sisters:

It was sisterhood that made her care for me as she did.

[ C, + sing/pl verb ] a society of women living a religious life


Writing in HUFF POST THE BLOG 06/11/2014 Angela D. Coleman, founding President of Sisterhood Agenda uses excerpts from her book, Black Girls Guide: How to Be a Sister, point to five main reasons why Sisterhood is important and what we can learn from Wonder Woman

1. Sisters in the sisterhood understand. To share the thoughts and feelings of your honest, authentic self is one of the best benefits of sisterhood. Our sisterhood is our safe space to share and heal, especially useful when it feels like to world is against you. To call another woman a sister is to say, “I trust you”, “I have your back”, “Your feelings are valid”, and “I believe in you.”

2. Sisterhood is empowering. A female must know, love, and honor herself before she can know, love, and honor you as her sister. Like attracts like and we can find each other to connect and share resources. When women are empowered, the entire community is empowered.

3. Empowered sisters are superwomen. Don’t believe me? William Moulton Marston, an American psychologist and writer credited for inventing the polygraph (forerunner to Wonder Woman’s magic lasso), struck upon an idea for a new kind of superhero, one who would triumph not with fists or firepower, but with love. “Fine,” said Elizabeth, his wife. “But make her a woman.”

The superhero that Marston created became known as Wonder Woman. We can look at Wonder Woman as an archetype of female empowerment.

4. The sisterhood has secrets. You have to be a sister in the sisterhood to know each other’s secret identity and special talents. Diana Prince is Wonder Woman’s cover to protect her secret identity. Wonder Woman is gifted with a wide range of superhuman powers along with superior combat and battle skills. She possesses an arsenal of weapons which include the Lasso of Truth, a pair of indestructible bracelets, a tiara which serves as a projectile, and, in some stories, an invisible airplane.

5. Mentoring girls is an important part of the sisterhood. Our sisterhood must be inter-generational and diverse to grow and continue positive social change. We need more women like Nubia and Wonder Woman and they were groomed to be empowered superwomen sisters from birth. We all have the capacity to be them with a collective responsibility to promote justice, love, peace, gender and racial equality.


Frankly I like much of what Davidson has to say on 'sisterhood' but I think she relies too heavily on the Wonder Woman metaphors to make her points in ways that feel valid and safe for me. The aforementioned is true, not least because Wonder Woman was created by a man, in the image of Amazonian's, who were all white, fine figured, and well, 'beautiful. Undoubtedly the bonds of sisterhood have been used effectively to unite women to fight for social equality. However, the umbrella of sisterhood can also be used to mask within group oppression and silence voices which need to be heard. Perhaps it is this aspect of sisterhood which is missing from the narratives which seek to both frame, analyse and understand the Pankhurst situation.

Lets us move from sisterhood presumed and to sisterhood engendered in a status quo where sisterhood is not a destination, but a journey.

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