Female Emancipation, A Collection of Images

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equality / gender discrimination / human rights images / photography and journalism

“Female emancipation” has become a somewhat old-fashioned term. Like “women’s lib”. “Gender equality” and “women’s rights” are probably better. However, for history’s sake, here’s a short illustrated guide to the early days of what used to be called female emancipation.

The bicycle has become somewhat of an icon in the history of gender equality. A century ago, Alice Hawkins, a suffragette, cycled around Leicester promoting the women’s rights movement, causing outrage by being one of the first ladies to wear pantaloons in the city. During the fight to win the vote the bicycle became not only a tool but also a symbol for the emancipation of women.


Emancipation wasn’t just about the right to vote. The right to work and to choose an occupation was equally important. Here’s a clipping from the Caledonian Mercury, February 5th, 1814:

Caledonian Mercury 5 Feb 1814

This is “Wendy the Welder” at a boat-and-sub-building yard, adjusting her goggles before resuming work in Groton, CT, 1943:

'Wendy the Welder' at a boat-and-sub-building yard adjusts her goggles before resuming work. Groton, CT, 1943


Communist regimes – the “workers’ paradise” – always made a big deal of gender equality, at least in their propaganda messages:



Female parachuters appear often on Chinese communist posters, to show the emancipation of women and the role of the People's Liberation Army in their liberation

Female parachuters appear often on Chinese communist posters, to show the emancipation of women and the role of the People’s Liberation Army in their liberation

Obviously, emancipation had a private meaning as well. Traditional gender roles within the family had to be challenged:

if you want breakfast in bed

One rather strange manifestation of female anticipation was called the “Torches of Freedom”. The point was to encourage women to smoke. Cigarettes were described as symbols of emancipation and equality with men. The term was first used by psychoanalyst A. A. Brill when describing the “natural” desire for women to smoke and was used by Edward Bernays to encourage women to smoke in public despite social taboos. Bernays hired women to march while smoking their “torches of freedom” in the Easter Sunday Parade of 1929 which was a significant moment for fighting social barriers for women smokers (source).

torches of freedom

Needless to say, the movement for women’s rights hasn’t completely fulfilled its mission. Here’s a contemporary example:

Dana Bakdounes,

Dana Bakdounes, holding a sign that read, “I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world because for 20 years I wasn’t allowed to feel the wind in my hair and on my body.” Bakdounes also held open her passport, showing a photo of her wearing a veil.

Dana Bakdounes posted this image in 2012 on a Facebook page called Uprising of Women in the Arab World.

Facebook suspended the account of several people behind the Uprising of Women in the Arab World page Wednesday over an issue stemming from a photo of an unveiled woman.

More than 61,000 people like the page, which shares hundreds of images of women (who were variably veiled, unveiled, or wearing a niqab) and men who support women’s rights in the Middle East. The photos typically depict those people holding up signs explaining why they support the “human rights, freedom, and independence of women in the Arab world.”

Facebook deleted the photo, apparently over complaints that it was “insulting,” and suspended an admin for 24 hours. Other reports suggested the image was reported for nudity and one of the admins, Farah Barqawi, told German site Detektor.fm that it was pulled due to “mysogenists and extremists.” (source)

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