Working on an article about Lady Knightley, Dame of the Primrose League, Conservative suffragist and an important political activist (mentioned on this blog here, here and here), I am re-reading Mitzi Auchterlonie's excellent Conservative Suffragists. Repeatedly she discusses the difference between the Conservative women's approach to the question of suffrage and of female participation in active politics and that of the Liberals' (other parties at that point not being important enough to discuss in detail).
These paragraphs sum up the different approach and the advantages and disadvantages of both.
The Primrose League was considerably more successful in bringing women into the political realm than its rivals. The fact that women and men worked side by side was a restraining factor but also a liberating one - although the League women were pressured into a position of self-censorship on issues like female suffrage they were able to demonstrate heir competence in political work, with the result that the men became increasingly dependent on their support.There is a long article by Dr Auchterlonie on the subject in this issue of the Conservative History Journal.
Single-sex organisations gave Liberal women the freedom to discuss and pursue their own political interests, but they experienced more diviseness and arguably were no less marginalised by their party than Conservative women. The choices that women made about how they wanted to pursue their political activities were influenced by many factors but they invariably centred on whether their party or their concerns as women came frist. It could be argued that the pursuit of a self-consciously separate 'feminist' agenda was not necessarily a better strategy than the encouragement of a more 'domestic-centred politics' within the mainstream, if the latter ultimately led to a greater 'feminisation' of the political discourse.