IT is clear enough, from what has been said, that what Woman most needs to-day, and is mostly seeking for, is a basis of independence for her life. Nor is her position likely to be improved until she is able to face man on an equality; to find, self-balanced, her natural relation to him; and to dispose of herself and of her sex perfectly freely, and not as a thrall must do.
Doubtless if man were an ideal creature his mate might be secure of equal and considerate treatment from him without having to insist upon an absolute economic independence but as that is only too obviously not the case there is nothing left for her to-day but to unfold the war-flag of her "rights," and (dull and tiresome as it may be) to go through a whole weary round of battles till peace is concluded again upon a better understanding.
Yet it must never be forgotten that nothing short of large social changes, stretching beyond the sphere of women only, can bring about the complete
emancipation of the latter. Not till our whole commercial system, with its barter and sale of human labor and human love for gain, is done away, and not till a whole new code of ideals and customs of life has come in, will women really be free. They must remember that their cause is also the cause of the oppressed laborer over the whole earth, and the laborer has to remember that his cause is theirs. 1
And since Motherhood is, after all, woman's great and incomparable work, people will come to see that a sane maternity is one of the very first things to be considered--and that really, though not the only consideration, it is a work which if properly fulfilled does involve the broadest and largest culture. Perhaps this might seem to some only too obvious; yet when for a moment we glance around at the current ideals, when we see what Whitman calls "the incredible holds and webs of silliness,
millinery and every kind of dyspeptic depletion" in which women themselves live, when we see the absolute want of training for motherhood and the increasing physical incapacity for it, and even the feminine censure of those who pass through the ordeal too easily, we begin to realise how little the present notion of what woman should be is associated with the healthy fulfilment of her most perfect work. A woman capable at all points to bear children, to guard them, to teach them, to turn them out strong and healthy citizens of the great world, stands at the farthest remove from the finnikin doll or the meek drudge whom man by a kind of false sexual selection has through many centuries evolved as his ideal.
The nervous and sexual systems of women to-day, ruined among the rich by a life and occupations which stimulate the emotional sensibilities without ever giving the strength and hardiness which flow from healthy and regular industry, and often ruined among the poor by excessive labor carried on under most unhealthy conditions, make real wife-hood and motherhood things almost unknown. " Injudicious training", says Bebel, "miserable social conditions (food, dwelling, occupation) produce weak, bloodless, nervous beings, incapable of fulfilling the duties of matrimony. The consequences
are menstrual troubles 1 56 and disturbances in the various organs connected with sexual functions, rendering maternity dangerous or impossible. Instead of a healthy, cheerful companion, a capable mother, a helpmate equal to the calls made upon her activity, the husband has a nervous excitable wife, permanently under the doctor's hands, and too fragile to bear the slightest draught or noise."
The Modern Woman sees plainly enough that no decent advance for her sex is possible until this whole question is fairly faced--involving, as of course it will do, a life very different from her present one, far more in the open air, with real bodily exercise and development, some amount of regular manual work, a knowledge of the laws of health and physiology, an altogether wider mental outlook, and greater self-reliance and nature-hardihood. But when once these things are granted, she sees that she will no longer be the serf, but the equal, the mate, and the comrade of Man.
Before any such new conception it is obvious enough that the poor little pinched ideal of the 'lady,' which has ruled society so long, will fade away into distance and obscurity. People may rail at the new developments, but what, it may be asked, can any decently sensible woman think of her
present position--of the mock salutations and heroic politenesses of the conventional male--with their suggestion of an empty homage to weakness and incapacity; of the unwritten law which condemns her, if occupying any place in society, to bridle in her chin and use an affected speech in order that it may be patent to everybody that she is not free; which forbids natural and spontaneous gesture as unbecoming and suspicious-and indeed in any public place as liable to the attention of the policeman; what can she think of the perpetual lies under which she has to live--too numerous to be recorded; except that all these things are intolerable? Rather than remain in such a coil the modern woman is sensible enough to see that she must face the stigma of doing things 'unlady-like;' and that only by facing it can she win her true place in the world, and a real comradeship with the only class of man who is capable of such a thing--namely, the man who is willing not to be 'a gentleman.'
That a new code of manners between the sexes, founded not on covert lust but on open and mutual helpfulness, has got to come in, is obvious enough. The cry of equality need not like a red rag infuriate the Philistine bull. That woman is in general muscularly weaker than man, and that there are certain kinds of effort, even mental, for which she is
less fitted--as there are other kinds of effort for which she is more fitted--may easily be granted; but this only means, in the language of all good manners, that there are special ways in which men can assist women, as there are special ways in which women can assist men. Anything which goes beyond this, and the friendly exchange of equal services, and which assumes, in the conventionalities of the private household or the public place, that the female claims a general indulgence (because of her general incapacity) is an offence--against the encouragement of which women themselves will no doubt be on their guard.
I say the signs of revolt on the part of the lady class--revolt long delayed but now spreading all along the line--are evident enough. When, however, we come to the second type of woman mentioned in the preceding pages, the working-wife, we-naturally enough--do not find much conscious movement. The life of the household drudge is too like that of a slave, too much consumed in mere toil, too little illuminated by any knowledge, for her to rise of herself to any other conception of existence. Nevertheless it is not difficult to see that general and social changes are working to bring about her liberation also. Improved house-construction, public bakeries and laundries, and so forth, and, what is
much more important, a more rational and simple and healthful notion of food and furniture, are tending very largely to reduce the labors of Housework and Cookery; and conservative though women are in their habits, when these changes are brought to their doors they cannot but see the advantage of them. Public institutions too are more and more taking over the responsibilities and the cost of educating and rearing children; and even here and there we may discern a drift towards the amalgamation of households, which by introducing a common life and division of labor among the women-folk will probably do much to cheer and lighten their lot. None of these changes, however, will be of great use unless or until they wake the overworked woman herself to see and insist on her rights to a better life, and until they force from the man a frank acknowledgment of her claim. And surely here and there the man himself will do something to educate his mate to this point. We see no reason indeed why he should not assist in some part of the domestic work, and thus contribute his share of labor and intelligence to the conduct of the house; nor why the woman--being thus relieved--should not occasionally, and when desirable, find salaried work outside, and so contribute to the maintenance of the family, and to
her own security and sense of independence. The over-differentiation of the labors of the sexes to-day is at once a perpetuation of the servitude of women and a cause of misunderstanding between her and man, and of lack of interest in each other's doings.
The third type of woman, the prostitute, provides us with that question which--according to Bebel--is the sphinx-riddle that modern society cannot solve, and yet which unsolved threatens society's destruction. The commercial prostitution of love is the last outcome of our whole social system, and its most clear condemnation. It flaunts in our streets, it hides itself in the garment of respectability under the name of matrimony, it eats in actual physical disease and death right through our midst; it is fed by the oppression and the ignorance of women, by their poverty and denied means of livelihood, and by the hypocritical puritanism which forbids them by millions not only to gratify but even to speak of their natural desires 60; and it is encouraged by the callousness of an age which has accustomed men to buy and sell for money every most precious thing--even the life-long labor of their brothers, therefore why not also the very bodies of their sisters?
Here there is no solution except the freedom of woman--which means of course also the freedom of
the masses of the people, men and women, and the ceasing altogether of economic slavery. There is no solution which will not include the redemption of the terms 'free woman' and 'free love' to their true and rightful significance. Let every woman whose heart bleeds for the sufferings of her sex, hasten to declare herself and to constitute herself, as far as she possibly can, a free woman. Let her accept the term with all the odium that belongs to it; let her insist on her right to speak, dress, think, act, and above all to use her sex, as she deems best; let her face the scorn and the ridicule; let her "lose her own life" if she likes; assured that only so can come deliverance, and that only when the free woman is honored will the prostitute cease to exist. And let every man who really would respect his counterpart, entreat her also to act so; let him never by word or deed tempt her to grant as a bargain what can only be precious as a gift; let him see her with pleasure stand a little aloof; let him help her to gain her feet; so at last, by what slight sacrifices on his part such a course may involve, will it dawn upon him that he has gained a real companion and helpmate on life's journey.
The whole evil of commercial prostitution arises out of the domination of Man in matters of sex.
[paragraph continues] Better indeed were a Saturnalia of free men and women than the spectacle which as it is our great cities present at night. Here in Sex, the women's instincts are, as a rule, so clean, so direct, so well-rooted in the needs of the race, that except for man's domination they would scarcely have suffered this perversion. Sex in man is an unorganised passion, an individual need or impetus; but in woman it may more properly be termed a constructive instinct, with the larger signification that that involves. Even more than man should woman be 'free' to work out the problem of her sex-relations as may commend itself best to her--hampered as little as possible by legal, conventional, or economic considerations, and relying chiefly on her own native sense and tact in the matter. Once thus free--free from the mere cash-nexus to a husband, from the money-slavery of the streets, from the nameless terrors of social opinion, and from the threats of the choice of perpetual virginity or perpetual bondage--would she not indeed choose her career (whether that of wife and mother, or that of free companion, or one of single blessedness) far better for herself than it is chosen for her to-day--regarding really in some degree the needs of society, and the welfare of children, and the sincerity and durability of her relations to her
lovers, and less the petty motives of profit and fear?
The point is that the whole conception of a nobler Womanhood for the future has to proceed candidly from this basis of her complete freedom as to the disposal of her sex, and from the healthy conviction that, with whatever individual aberrations, she will on the whole use that freedom rationally and well. And surely this--in view too of some decent education of the young on sexual matters--is not too great a demand to make on our faith in women. If it is, then indeed we are undone--for short of this we can only retain them in servitude, and society in its form of the hell on earth which it largely is to-day.
Refreshing therefore in its way is the spirit of revolt which is spreading on all sides. Let us hope such revolt will continue. If it lead here and there to strained or false situations, or to temporary misunderstandings--still, declared enmity is better than unreal acquiescence. Too long have women acted the part of mere appendages to the male, suppressing their own individuality and fostering his self-conceit. In order to have souls of their own they must free themselves, and greatly by their own efforts. They must learn to fight. 63 Whitman in his poem "A woman waits for me," draws a picture
of a woman who stands in the sharpest possible contrast with the feeble bourgeois ideal--a woman who can "swim, row, ride, wrestle, shoot, run, strike, retreat, defend herself," etc.; and Bebel, in his book on Woman, while pointing out that in Sparta, "where the greatest attention was paid to the physical development of both sexes, boys and girls went about naked till they had reached the age of puberty, and were trained together in bodily exercises, games and wrestling," complains that nowadays "the notion that women require strength, courage and resolution is regarded as very heterodox." But the truth is that qualities of courage and independence are not agreeable in a slave, and that is why man during all these centuries has consistently discountenanced them--till at last the female herself has come to consider them 'unwomanly.' Yet this last epithet is absurd for if tenderness is the crown and glory of woman, nothing can be more certain than that true tenderness is only found in strong and courageous natures; the tenderness of a servile person is no tenderness at all.
It has not escaped the attention of thinkers on these subjects that the rise of Women into freedom and larger social life here alluded to--and already indeed indicated by the march of events--is likely
to have a profound influence on the future of our race. It is pointed out that among most of the higher animals, and indeed among many of the early races of mankind, the males have been selected by the females on account of their prowess or superior strength or beauty, and this has led to the evolution in the males and in the race at large of a type which (in a dim and unconscious manner) was the ideal of the female. 1 65 But as soon as in the history of mankind the property-love set in, and woman became the chattel of man, this action ceased. She, being no longer free, could not possibly choose man, but rather the opposite took place, and man began to select woman for the characteristics pleasing to him. The latter now adorned herself to gratify his taste, and the female type and consequently the type of the whole race have been correspondingly affected. With the return of woman to freedom the ideal of the female may again resume its sway. It is possible indeed that the more dignified and serious attitude of women towards sex may give to sexual selection when exercised by them a nobler influence than when exercised by the males. Anyhow it is not difficult to see that women really free would never countenance for their mates the many mean and
unclean types of men who to-day seem to have things all their own way, nor consent to have children by such men; nor is it difficult to imagine that the feminine influence might thus sway to the evolution of a more manly and dignified race than has been disclosed in these last days of commercial civilisation!
The Modern Woman with her clubs, her debates, her politics, her freedom of action and costume, is forming a public opinion of her own at an amazing rate; and seems to be preparing to "spank" and even thump the Middle-class Man in real earnest! What exactly evolution may be preparing for us, we do not know, but apparently some lively sparring matches between the sexes. Of course all will not be smooth sailing. The women of the new movement are naturally largely drawn from those in whom the maternal instinct is not especially strong; also from those in whom the sexual instinct is not preponderant. Such women do not altogether represent their sex; some are rather mannish in temperament; some are 'homogenic,' that is, inclined to attachments to their own, rather than to the opposite, sex; some are ultra-rationalizing and brain-cultured; to many, children are more or less a bore; to others, man's sex-passion is a mere impertinence, which they do not understand, and
whose place they consequently misjudge. It would not do to say that the majority of the new movement are thus out of line, but there is no doubt that a large number are; and the course of their progress will be correspondingly curvilinear.
Perhaps the deficiency in maternal instinct would seem the most serious imputation. But then, who knows (as we have said) what evolution is preparing? Sometimes it seems possible that a new sex is on the make--like the feminine neuters of Ants and Bees--not adapted for child-bearing, but with a marvelous and perfect instinct of social service, indispensable for the maintenance of the common life. Certainly most of those who are freeing themselves--often with serious struggles--from the 'lady' chrysalis are fired with an ardent social enthusiasm; and if they may personally differ in some respects from the average of their sex, it is certain that their efforts will result in a tremendous improvement in the general position of their more commonplace sisters.
If it should turn out that a certain fraction of the feminine sex should for one reason or another not devote itself to the work of maternity, still the influence of this section would react on the others to render their notion of motherhood far more dignified than before. There is not much doubt
that in the future this most important of human labors will be carried on with a degree of conscious intelligence hitherto unknown, and which will raise it from the fulfilment of a mere instinct to the completion of a splendid social purpose. To save the souls of children as well as their bodies, to raise heroic as well as prosperous citizens, will surely be the desire and the work of the mothers of our race. 1
It will perhaps be said that after going about to show (as in the previous chapter) the deficiency of women hitherto in the matter of the generalising faculty, it is somewhat inconsistent to express any great hope that they will ever take much active interest in the general social life to which they belong; but indeed the answer to this is that they are already beginning to do so. The social enthusiasm and activity shown by women in Britain, Russia, and the United States is so great and well-rooted that it is impossible to believe it a mere ephemeral event; and though in the older of these countries it
is at present confined to the more wealthy classes, we can augur from that--according to a well-known principle--that it will in time spread downwards to the women of the nation.
Important as is the tendency of women in the countries mentioned to higher education and brain development, I think it is evident that the widening and socialisation of their interests is not taking place so much through mere study of books and the passing of examinations in political economy and other sciences, as through the extended actual experience which the life of the day is bringing to them. Certainly the book-studies are important and must not be neglected; but above all is it imperative (and men, if they are to have any direct sway in the future destinies of the other sex, must look to it) that women, so long confined to the narrowest mere routine and limited circle of domestic life, should see and get experience, all they can, of the actual world. The theory, happily now exploding, of keeping them I innocent' through sheer ignorance partakes too much of the 'angel and idiot' view. To see the life of slum and palace and workshop, to enter into the trades and professions, to become doctors, nurses, and so forth, to have to look after themselves and to hold their own as against men, to travel, to meet with sexual experience, to work together in
trade-unions, to join in social and political uprisings and rebellions, etc., is what women want just now. And it is evident enough that at any rate among the more prosperous sections in this country such a movement is going on apace. If the existence of the enormous hordes of unattached females that we find living on interest and dividends to-day is a blemish from a Socialistic point of view; if we find them on the prowl all over the country, filling the theatres and concert-rooms and public entertainments in the proportion of three to one male, besetting the trains, swarming onto the tops of the buses, dodging on bicycles under the horses' heads, making speeches at street corners, blocking the very pavements in the front of fashionable shops, we must not forget that for the objects we have just sketched, even this class is going the most direct way to work, and laying in stores of experience, which will make it impossible for it ever to return to the petty life of times gone by.
At the last, and after centuries of misunderstanding and association of triviality and superficiality with the female sex, it will perhaps dawn upon the world that the truth really lies in an opposite direction--that, in a sense, there is something more deep-lying fundamental and primitive in the woman nature than in that of the man; that instead of being
the over-sensitive hysterical creature that civilisation has too often made her, she is essentially of calm large and acceptive even though emotional temperament. "Her shape arises," says Walt Whitman,
"She less guarded than ever, yet more guarded than ever,
The gross and soil'd she moves among do not make her gross and soil'd,
She knows the thoughts as she passes, nothing is concealed from her.
She is none the less considerate or friendly therefor,
She is the best belov'd, it is, without exception; she has no reason to fear, and she does not fear."
The Greek goddesses look down and across the ages to the very outposts beyond civilisation; and already from far America, Australasia, Africa, Norway, Russia, as even in our midst from those who have crossed the border-line of all class and caste, glance forth the features of a grander type 71--fearless and untamed--the primal merging into the future Woman; who, combining broad sense with sensibility, the passion for Nature with the love of Man, and commanding indeed the details of life, yet risen out of localism and convention, will help us to undo the bands of death which encircle the present society, and open the doors to a new and a wider life.
54:1 The freedom of Woman must ultimately rest on the Communism of society--which alone can give her support during the period of Motherhood, without forcing her into dependence on the arbitrary will of one man. While the present effort of women towards earning their own economic independence is a healthy sign and a necessary feature of the times, it is evident that it alone will not entirely solve the problem, since it is just during the difficult years of Motherhood, when support is most needed, that the woman is least capable of earning it for herself. (See Appendix. 54)
56:1 See Appendix. 56
65:1 See Appendix. 65
68:1 As to the maternal teaching of children, it must be confessed that it has, in late times, been most dismal. Whether among the masses or the classes the idea has been first and foremost to impress upon them the necessity of sliding through life as comfortably as possible, and the parting word to the boy leaving home to launch into the great world has seldom risen to a more heroic strain than "Don't forget your flannels!"