Woman, struggling blindly up through the social upheavals of a new era, finds herself unaccountably at odds with her environment. Her conventional training of the last half century leads her to look for the reason of her discontent to any cause save the true one. She has so long been taught to subdue the flesh that she cannot recognize the call of nature.
Her new feminist leaders, it is true, preach a doctrine in which bodily needs are given full value, but the average woman, even while she absorbs these doctrines, distrusts them. Her instincts are against the remedies proposed. Vaguely searching for the cause of her growing discontent, she is taught by her blind leaders to fix the blame on Man, chiefly because he seems to have solved the problem of life in a more satisfactory way. He has the air of being “master of his Fate, captain of his soul,” while Woman feels she is caught in a vast and pitiless machine.
The purpose of this article is to show that militant suffragism, feminist sex-antagonism, and the woman problem in general have their roots in the mal-adjustment of modern woman to her surroundings, and that a great part of that mal-adjustment is due to a false scheme of education and the spurious ideals for which it is responsible.
It is a commonplace of feminism that the home is no longer an adequate sphere for woman, because home industries have been taken from her into factories, and that, as economic pressure drives her more and more to work for wages outside the home, her functions approximate more and more closely to man’s. But the observer who accepts these axioms may still be permitted to note that home life, a vital factor in race evolution, is dwindling in attractiveness, that the efficient housewife and mother is becoming rarer and rarer, and that the peculiarly feminine problems connected with domestic labour are, apparently, further from solution every year.
Are we to understand that the adjustment of woman to the economic and industrial conditions of the day involves the disappearance of the individual home?
That is the solution offered by many feminists who maintain that the line of progress is to be sought in the departmentalizing of all fields of human labour, and that each woman, instead of working in her own home, shall have an outside occupation like a man, while the simplified home, with communal feeding, recreation rooms, and nurseries shall be dealt with by “experts.”
It is obviously only by some such scheme that the individual woman, even in these machine-made days, can be freed from the multitude of small home duties which are now her daily task. It is impossible, say the feminists, for man and woman to be truly equal, while she is thus tied and bound, and her emancipation from the thrall of home drudgery is needed in the interests of her developing personality.
The keynote of all such suggested “reforms” is found in the assumption that what is good for man must equally be good for woman, that because man attains his fullest development in a life of regular and often monotonous work outside the home, returning only at intervals for rest and refreshment, the same way of life is equally suitable for women. The presumption underlying this hypothesis is answerable for the fatal mistake which, to the writer’s mind, sowed the seed resulting in our present feminist crop.
Fifty years ago the pioneers of higher education for women insisted that what was needed to enable women to find a higher place in a rapidly changing social system was a closer approximation of the education of girls to that of boys. In an interesting book on “Feminism and Education in the United States,” Professor Earl Barnes remarks that no attempt has ever been made, even in women’s universities which are closed to men, to evolve a distinctive type of education specially suited for women. On the contrary, the aim has been to follow, as closely as possible, the male model.
In Great Britain, women’s colleges are merely annexes of the older universities or institutions which prepare for a graduate course at these or at the newer universities; and at both old and new universities the training has been framed for male needs and the woman student fits in as best she may.
The courses at elementary State schools differentiate between the sexes only in respect of certain technical classes, the girls taking cooking or sewing where the boys would take carpentering. The time given is brief, the curriculum being crowded, and in many cases the theory inculcated has little connection in the mind of the pupil with actual practice.
Secondary education offers girls opportunities to specialize in domestic training in the shape of cookery scholarships, which, however, at any rate in the London County area, are but little sought after. The fact is that the girl whose parents are willing to sacrifice the possibility of her immediate earnings is usually ambitious of becoming “something more than a domestic servant,”—to wit, a teacher.
The high schools and colleges which have superseded the old fashioned “ladies finishing establishments” have followed blindly the lead of the “higher education.” Indeed, when the university standard is set up at the top, there is little chance of differentiation below.
For three generations, therefore, we have given a good trial to the theory that boys and girls should be educated on similar lines, and with what result?
In the first place, starting at the bottom of the social ladder, with the result that the average factory hand, servant girl, or even lower-grade shop girl, can read and write but cannot sew or cook. As a wife and mother she is, with rare exceptions, a notorious failure. Her children survive chiefly through the increasing intervention of the State between them and parental incompetence.
The high school and college girl faces the problem in a different shape. Owing to social conditions over which she has no control, she must be prepared for the eventuality that she may not marry. In many cases economic pressure on middle-class homes, and the rising standard of expenditure, make it desirable that she should be a wage-earner.
The choice of profession is singularly limited. A vast range of professions and trades open to men are closed to women for physical reasons. They cannot be soldiers, sailors, miners, civil engineers, mining engineers, railroad or ship builders, engineers, administrators or police officers in colonial dependencies, consuls at foreign ports. They have failed to get any real footing as merchants or financiers. Other professions are distasteful or uncongenial to women.
Domestic occupations are despised, and Professor Barnes says that even a steady demand for science teachers does not induce women to specialize in a subject where abstract rather than concrete studies are necessary. The consequence of these restrictions, natural and artificial, is that the vast majority of “educated” women look to teaching as the one possible career.
They are, for this reason, condemned to specialize early, because in the teaching profession proficiency in examination work is necessary, whereas many young men only need to begin their real professional training when college or school life is over. This accounts for a real difference of atmosphere in women’s as compared to men’s colleges.
Women leave off learning at an age when men often begin life in earnest, and going from the cloistered and strenuous atmosphere of their college to a similar environment in some other educational establishment they take with them a narrow pedantic outlook and, very often, an overstrained nervous system. Condemned for life to a profession where prizes are few, rewards small, and in which the strain is hard to all who have not a natural aptitude, they not infrequently feel like the starling in the cage of Sterne’s story—“I can’t get out!”
A full family life might help to develop the joyous side of such characters, but the smaller and more scattered families of to-day render this a diminishing possibility and the result is that the teaching of our girls is rapidly passing into the hands of female celibate pedagogues whose knowledge of the world or of the other sex is of an academic character varied by the lurid pictures of feminist imaginings.
It must be remembered that the school is more and more superseding the home as the moulding influence, both on girls and boys. Not only do school work and activities connected with it encroach on the time nominally spent at home, but the parent of today is increasingly anxious to eliminate the element of discipline in the home. He or she aims at being the companion rather than the mentor of his children in the rare intervals of intercourse permitted by school life and social obligations.
The psychology of girl-life reveals the natural tendency, in the early years of adolescence, to idealize some person. That person nowadays is usually some unmarried teacher, and, whereas the “old maid” was the nightmare of girls fifty years ago, she is now on the high road to becoming their ideal. To the inexperienced eye the life of the female bachelor has charms which are not apparent in the hum-drum existence of the average matron, nor is there any attempt to counteract this influence.
Parents and teachers alike feel it is their duty to treat matrimony as an alternative only, to discourage sentiment, which may have no legitimate fruition, and to prepare every girl so that enforced celibacy will not destroy her chances of happiness. Kindhearted persons and chivalrous men heap praise on single women who do public or philanthropic work,—and when in addition to all this there is superadded the poison of sex-antagonism, subtly distilled by the frustrated women seeking to account for their own restless discontent, one has an atmosphere which cannot fail to breed some very peculiar problems, but is hardly likely to elucidate the main difficulty—how woman is to adjust herself to her environment.
The recent establishment of a school of Domestic Economy in connection with the London University is the first sign that our educational leaders are wavering from the theory that there is no need to differentiate in the education of the sexes. But little real advantage will be gained so long as domestic science is regarded as an alternative to other subjects which alone are the open sesame to higher education and academic honours.
It is only when we recognize that home-making is the normal occupation of the average woman in her own interests and in the interests of the race, that we shall be able to devise an education for girls which will really prepare them for womanhood. The growing disinclination for motherhood among women of the “educated” class is a serious phenomenon.
It is not suggested that all the elements of a “liberal” education should be sacrificed in order to make women good cooks and housemaids. Nor is the writer presumptuous enough to attempt to suggest a curriculum calculated to meet all the needs of a modern woman. All she wishes to do is to point out that the growing discontent of woman in Great Britain has its source in the fact that she is being thrust more and more into a position where true self-completion and expression are impossible. This is no attempt to revert to the theory which is supposed to have governed our grandmothers—that wifehood and motherhood were the only possible employments for women.
It is an assertion, unassailable on biological grounds, that each sex requires union with the other to attain physical maturity, and that women need quite as much as men, to be able to secure that completion of their being by free choice, and in accordance with spiritual as well as physical affinities. The real problem is how, in a country where there are 1,300,000 more women than men, the former are to be assured of this elementary human right. It is often pointed out that the British Empire as a whole shews no such disparity, and that wholesale emigration would give the “odd women” a choice, at all events, between marriage and celibacy. But the kind of woman being manufactured by our present educational system is not wanted in any new country, and, moreover, she herself is not attracted by the prospects offered. It is reported that one of the suffragette leaders, returning from a recent visit to Canada, declared that it is “no country for an educated woman.” The vicious circle is completed by such an attitude, and there is no escape from it save by a drastic revolt from the utterly false standard set up and a frank recognition of woman’s real needs.
We can never go back to the point of view from which the unmarried woman was merely ludicrous, but we are permitting ourselves an entirely false perspective when we fail to perceive that she is tragic. The mischief of the present attitude among feminists is that by asserting woman’s essential independence they actually acquiesce in, and even help to perpetuate, a social difficulty and danger, instead of setting their wits to work on removing it. Once again, the fundamental need of all normal women is physical completion in marriage and maternity, and if modern woman feels a deep sense of unrest and frustration it is chiefly because, either in her own life or in the ideals by which she has steered, she has lost sight of this feminine pole star. A man, to whom fatherhood, however sacred, has no real physical significance, and whose life can find full and satisfying expression in a hundred ways, cannot conceive what it means to be a childless woman. Nature has focused woman’s being on the maternal function, which conditions her activities, whether she be married or no, from adolescence to late middle life. Her mentality, despite the passionate denials of suffragists, is inevitably affected by a function which, by its claim on the nervous forces, is bound to affect the activity of the brain. What modern woman needs, therefore, is no apotheosis as a saint, prophetess, or queen, but recognition of her rights as a human being, and such an adjustment of society as will give her the chance of exercising those rights under the most favourable conditions. It is necessary to recognize that, while natural, and domestic, functions are essential, public activities, however meritorious, are non-essential for the development of woman’s nature, and until the home, in its true sense, and the care and nurture of children are once more put back into the forefront of woman’s existence as her highest sphere and sweetest privilege, we cannot hope for a cure for the evil of feminine discontent. This readjustment need not involve the training of every woman as a mere household drudge; on the contrary, what we want is not the home without higher education but higher education which is something more than “an increase capacity for the recollection of unrelated statements” and which can be applied to the elucidation of home problems. A factor which the writer believes to be almost indispensable is the recovery by women of that manual skill, that joy of craftsmanship, which has been wholly lost in the struggle for book learning. To a vast number of women of the most discontented class, a little housework, intelligently done, would be an incalculable boon. This must sound strange to Canadian readers.
Of all the strange theories now current among women, and even accepted by some men, none is more mischievous than that which holds up “economic independence” as the solution of the problem of sex relations. Women who have drawn a blank in the matrimonial stakes are descanting on the degradation, to other women, of being dependent on a man for food and housing. They point out that this relationship involves the married woman in an obligation to make herself useful and pleasant — as a slave. Such a view of wifely duty comes as a striking novelty to the majority of married women, more particularly to those of the artizan class, who have their husbands well in subjection, taking their week's earnings and allowing them a small percentage for pocket money. The inherent vanity of man is tickled by the picture of himself as a sort of hereditary tyrant, and the meeker he is, the more he will grieve in public over the servile condition of women. There is only one type of woman who can really be placed in subjection, that is, the woman who has got out of touch with the realities of life, and has there-fore nothing to give in exchange for the voluntary servitude which is man's offering to his true mate. The real tyranny which women have to fear is that of one woman over another — a fact well recognized by all who have had to do with woman's work. The physical handicap of women is, however, a grim reality, and affected them even more in ages when force was the first, and not, as now, the last resort. The first lesson the sex had to learn was how to oppose strength with weakness — a lesson which the youngest daughters of Eve, the suffragettes, have learnt to perfection. The fatal mistake is that woman is now being urged to oppose strength with strength, a competition in which she will inevitably get the worst of it.
In Canada woman has not lost her touch on the realities of fife. Long may it remain “no country for the ‘educated’ woman!” So will it be the home of the human, natural, real woman. The vote is a feminist symbol, of no value in itself but a potential danger. Women can do all the purifying and elevating they feel fit for without it, and with it they may be tempted to forget they are just women, and split up into political women and non-political women.
Then the former will despise the latter, and the latter will secretly envy the former, and that way lies destruction. Moreover, political life, to which the vote invites women, offers premiums to the child-free, de-sexualized woman, and that is a distinct danger in itself. The social virtues of womanhood — her strong individualism, sense of family responsibility, and even that mystic quality which is called “spirituality” — find their roots in her very being, of which motherhood is an essential part. In truth there are no factors, spiritual or material, which can be regarded as woman's distinctive contributions to the common weal save those which she draws from her supreme sex-function. There is no experience she can contribute which may not be equally the experience of man except that which centres round her maternal duties. When we write of woman's influence, therefore, let it be clearly understood that, while we recognize the useful work done by some single women, we cannot consent that their influence, either in politics or in education, should be the predominant one, and it is because the normal woman has specialized, individual duties to perform that her public and social activities are of minor importance.
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