Points of friction/Woman Enthroned - Wikisource, the free online library
THE Michigan magistrate who gave orders that a stalwart male angel presiding over the gateway of a cemetery should be recast in feminine mould may have been an erring theologian and a doubtful art-critic; but that he was a sound-hearted American no one can deny. He was not thinking of Azrael the mighty who had garnered that little harvest of death; or of Michael, great leader of the "fighting seraphim," whose blade
"smote and felled
Squadrons at once";
or of Gabriel the messenger. Holy Writ was as remote from his mental vision as was Paradise Lost. He was thinking very properly of the "angel in the house," and this feminine ideal was affronted by the robust outlines, no less than by the robust virtues, associated with the heavenly host. Cowley's soothing compromise, which was designed as a compliment to a lady, and which, instead of unsexing angels, endowed them with a double line of potencies,—
"They are than Man more strong, and more than Woman sweet,"—
is not easily expressed in art. The very gallant Michigan gentleman simplified the situation by eliminating the masculine element. He registered his profession of faith in the perfectibility of women.
It is awkward to be relegated to the angelic class, and to feel that one does not fit. Intelligent feminists sometimes say that chivalry—that inextinguishable point of view which has for centuries survived its own death-notices—is more disheartening than contempt. Chivalry is essentially protective. It is rooted in the consciousness of superior strength. It is expansively generous and scrimpingly just. It will not assure to women a fair field and no favours, which is the salvation of all humanity; but it will protect them from the consequences of their own deeds, and that way lies perdition.
Down through the ages we see the working of this will. Rome denied to women all civic rights, but allowed them many privileges. They were not permitted to make any legal contract. They were not permitted to bequeath their own fortunes, or—ordinarily—to give testimony in court. But they might plead ignorance of the law, "as a ground for dissolving an obligation," which, if often convenient, was always demoralizing. Being somewhat contemptuously absolved from the oath of allegiance in the Middle Ages, they were as a consequence immune from outlawry. On the other hand, the severity with which they were punished for certain crimes which were presumed to come easy to them—poisoning, husband-murder, witchcraft (King Jamie was not the only wiseacre who marvelled that there should be twenty witches to one warlock)—is evidence of fear on the legislators' part. The oldest laws, the oldest axioms which antedate all laws, betray this uneasy sense of insecurity. "Day and night must women be held by their protectors in a state of dependence," says Manu, the Hindu Noah, who took no female with him in his miraculously preserved boat, but was content with his own safety, and trusted the continuance of the race to the care and ingenuity of the gods.
In our day, and in our country, women gained their rights (I use the word "rights" advisedly, because, though its definition be disputed, every one knows what it implies) after a prolonged, but not embittered struggle. Certain States moved so slowly that they were overtaken by a Federal Amendment. Even with the franchise to back them, American women have a hard time making their way in the professions, though a great deal of courtesy is shown them by professional men. They have a hard time making their way in trades, where the unions block their progress. They have a very small share of political patronage, and few good positions on the civil lists. Whether the best interests of the country will be advanced or retarded by a complete recognition of their claims—which implies giving them an even chance with men—is a point on which no one can speak with authority. The absence of data leaves room only for surmise. Women are striving to gain this "even chance" for their own sakes, which is lawful and reasonable. Their public utterances, it is true, dwell pointedly on the regeneration of the world. This also is lawful and reasonable. Public utterances have always dwelt on the regeneration of the world, since the apple was eaten and Paradise closed its gates.
Meanwhile American chivalry, a strong article and equal to anything Europe ever produced, clings passionately and persistently to its inward vision. Ellen Key speaks casually of "the vices which men call woman's nature." If Swedish gentlemen permit themselves this form of speech, it finds no echo in our loyal land. Two things an American hates to do,—hold a woman accountable for her misdeeds, and punish her accordingly. When Governor Craig of North Carolina set aside the death-sentence which had been passed upon a murderess, and committed her to prison for life, he gave to the public this plain and comprehensive statement: "There is no escape from the conclusion that Ida Bell Warren is guilty of murder, deliberate and premeditated. Germany executed the woman spy; England did not. The action of the military Governor of Belgium was condemned by the conscience of the world. The killing of this woman would send a shiver through North Carolina."
Apart from the fact that Edith Cavell was not a spy, and that her offence was one which has seldom in the world's history been so cruelly punished, Governor Craig's words deserve attention. He explicitly exempted a woman, because she was a woman, from the penalty which would have been incurred by a man. Incidentally he was compelled to commute the death-sentence of her confederate, as it was hardly possible to send the murderous wife to prison, and her murderous accomplice to the chair. That the execution of Mrs. Warren would have sent a "shiver" through North Carolina is doubtless true. The Governor had received countless letters and telegrams protesting against the infliction of the death-penalty on a woman.
One of the reasons which has been urged for the total abolition of this penalty is the reluctance of juries to convict women of crimes punishable by death. The number of wives who murder their husbands, and of girls who murder their lovers, is a menace to society. Our sympathetic tolerance of these crimes passionnés, the sensational scenes in court, and the prompt acquittals which follow, are a menace to law and justice. Better that their perpetrators should be sent to prison, and suffer a few years of corrective discipline, until soft-hearted sentimentalists circulate petitions, and secure their pardon and release.
The right to be judged as men are judged is perhaps the only form of equality which feminists fail to demand. Their attitude to their own errata is well expressed in the solemn warning addressed by Mr. Louis Untermeyer's Eve to the Almighty,
"Pause, God, and ponder, ere Thou judgest me!"
The right to be punished is not, and has never been, a popular prerogative with either sex. There was, indeed, a London baker who was sentenced in the year 1816 to be whipped and imprisoned for vagabondage. He served his term; but, whether from clemency or from oversight, the whipping was never administered. When released, he promptly brought action against the prison authorities because he had not been whipped, "according to the statute," and he won his case. Whether or not the whipping went with the verdict is not stated; but it was a curious joke to play with the grim realities of British law.
American women are no such sticklers for a code. They acquiesce in their frequent immunity from punishment, and are correspondingly, and very naturally, indignant when they find themselves no longer immune. There was a pathetic ring in the explanation offered some years ago by Mayor Harrison of Chicago, whose policemen were accused of brutality to female strikers and pickets. "When the women do anything in violation of the law," said the Mayor to a delegation of citizens, "the police arrest them. And then, instead of going along quietly as men prisoners would, the women sit down on the sidewalks. What else can the policemen do but lift them up?"
If men "go along quietly," it is because custom, not choice, has bowed their necks to the yoke of order and equity. They break the law without being prepared to defy it. The lawlessness of women may be due as much to their long exclusion from citizenship,
"Some reverence for the laws ourselves have made,"
as to the lenity shown them by men,—a lenity which they stand ever ready to abuse. We have only to imagine what would have happened to a group of men who had chosen to air a grievance by picketing the White House, the speed with which they would have been arrested, fined, dispersed, and forgotten, to realize the nature of the tolerance granted to women. For months these female pickets were unmolested. Money was subscribed to purchase for them umbrellas and overshoes. The President, whom they were affronting, sent them out coffee on cold mornings. It was only when their utterances became treasonable, when they undertook to assure our Russian visitors that Mr. Wilson and Mr. Root were deceiving Russia, and to entreat these puzzled foreigners to help them free our nation, that their sport was suppressed, and they became liable to arrest and imprisonment.
Much censure was passed upon the unreasonable violence of these women. The great body of American suffragists repudiated their action, and the anti-suffragists used them to point stern morals and adorn vivacious tales. But was it quite fair to permit them in the beginning a liberty which would not have been accorded to men, and which led inevitably to licence? Were they not treated as parents sometimes treat children, allowing them to use bad language because, "if you pay no attention to them, they will stop it of their own accord"; and then, when they do not stop it, punishing them for misbehaving before company? When a sympathetic gentleman wrote to a not very sympathetic paper to say that the second Liberty Loan would be more popular if Washington would "call off the dogs of war on women," he turned a flashlight upon the fathomless gulf with which sentimentalism has divided the sexes. No one dreams of calling policemen and magistrates "dogs of war" because they arrest and punish men for disturbing the peace. If men claim the privileges of citizenship, they are permitted to suffer its penalties.
A few years before the war, a rage for compiling useless statistics swept over Europe and the United States. When it was at its height, some active minds bethought them that children might be made to bear their part in the guidance of the human race. Accordingly a series of questions—some sensible and some foolish—were put to English, German, and American school-children, and their enlightening answers were given to the world. One of these questions read: "Would you rather be a man or a woman, and why?" Naturally this query was of concern only to little girls. No sane educator would ask it of a boy. German pedagogues struck it off the list. They said that to ask a child, "Would you rather be something you must be, or something you cannot possibly be?" was both foolish and useless. Interrogations concerning choice were of value only when the will was a determining factor.
No such logical inference chilled the examiners' zeal in this inquisitive land. The question was asked and was answered. We discovered, as a result, that a great many little American girls (a minority, to be sure, but a respectable minority) were well content with their sex; not because it had its duties and dignities, its pleasures and exemptions; but because they plainly considered that they were superior to little American boys, and were destined, when grown up, to be superior to American men. One small New England maiden wrote that she would rather be a woman because "Women are always better than men in morals." Another, because "Women are of more use in the world." A third, because "Women learn things quicker than men, and have more intelligence." And so on through varying degrees of self-sufficiency.
These little girls, who had no need to echo the Scotchman's prayer, "Lord, gie us a gude conceit o' ourselves!" were old maids in the making. They had stamped upon them in their tender childhood the hall-mark of the American spinster. "The most ordinary cause of a single life," says Bacon, "is liberty, especially in certain self-pleasing and humorous minds." But it is reserved for the American woman to remain unmarried because she feels herself too valuable to be entrusted to a husband's keeping. Would it be possible in any country save our own for a lady to write to a periodical, explaining "Why I am an Old Maid," and be paid coin of the realm for the explanation? Would it be possible in any other country to hear such a question as "Should the Gifted Woman Marry?" seriously asked, and seriously answered? Would it be possible for any sane and thoughtful woman who was not an American to consider even the remote possibility of our spinsters becoming a detached class, who shall form "the intellectual and economic élite of the sex, leaving marriage and maternity to the less developed woman"? What has become of the belief, as old as civilization, that marriage and maternity are developing processes, forcing into flower a woman's latent faculties; and that the less-developed woman is inevitably the woman who has escaped this keen and powerful stimulus? "Never," said Edmond de Goncourt, "has a virgin, young or old, produced a work of art." One makes allowance for the Latin point of view. And it is possible that M. de Goncourt never read "Emma."
There is a formidable lack of humour in the somewhat contemptuous attitude of women, whose capabilities have not yet been tested, toward men who stand responsible for the failures of the world. It denotes, at home and abroad, a density not far removed from dulness. In Mr. St. John Ervine's depressing little drama, "Mixed Marriage," which the Dublin actors played in New York some years ago, an old woman, presumed to be witty and wise, said to her son's betrothed: "Sure, I believe the Lord made Eve when He saw that Adam could not take care of himself"; and the remark reflected painfully upon the absence of that humorous sense which we used to think was the birthright of Irishmen. The too obvious retort, which nobody uttered, but which must have occurred to everybody's mind, was that if Eve had been designed as a care-taker, she had made a shining failure of her job.
That astute Oriental, Sir Rabindranath Tagore, manifested a wisdom beyond all praise in his recognition of American standards, when addressing American audiences. As the hour for his departure drew nigh, he was asked to write, and did write, a "Parting Wish for the Women of America," giving graceful expression to the sentiments he knew he was expected to feel. The skill with which he modified and popularized an alien point of view revealed the seasoned lecturer. He told his readers that "God has sent woman to love the world," and to build up a "spiritual civilization." He condoled with them because they were "passing through great sufferings in this callous age." His heart bled for them, seeing that their hearts "are broken every day, and victims are snatched from their arms to be thrown under the car of material progress." The Occidental sentiment which regards man simply as an offspring, and a fatherless offspring at that (no woman, says Olive Schreiner, could look upon a battle-field without thinking, "So many mothers' sons!"), came as naturally to Sir Rabindranath as if he had been to the manner born. He was content to see the passion and pain, the sorrow and heroism of men, as reflections mirrored in a woman's soul. The ingenious gentlemen who dramatize Biblical narratives for the American stage, and who are hampered at every step by the obtrusive masculinity of the East, might find a sympathetic supporter in this accomplished and accommodating Hindu.
The story of Joseph and his Brethren, for example, is perhaps the best tale ever told the world,—a tale of adventure on a heroic scale, with conflicting human emotions to give it poignancy and power. It deals with pastoral simplicities, with the splendours of court, and with the "high finance" which turned a free landholding people into tenantry of the crown. It is a story of men, the only lady introduced being a disedifying dea ex machina, whose popularity in Italian art has perhaps blinded us to the brevity of her Biblical rôle. But when this most dramatic narrative was cast into dramatic form, Joseph's splendid loyalty to his master, his cold and vigorous chastity, were nullified by giving him an Egyptian sweetheart. Lawful marriage with this young lady being his sole solicitude, the advances of Potiphar's wife were less of a temptation than an intrusion. The keynote of the noble old tale was destroyed, to assure to woman her proper place as the guardian of man's integrity.
Still more radical was the treatment accorded to the parable of the "Prodigal Son," which was expanded into a pageant play, and acted with a hardy realism permitted only to the strictly ethical drama. The scriptural setting of the story was preserved, but its patriarchal character was sacrificed to modern sentiment which refuses to be interested in the relation of father and son. Therefore we beheld the prodigal equipped with a mother and a trusting female cousin, who, between them, put the poor old gentleman out of commission, reducing him to his proper level of purveyor-in-ordinary to the household. It was the prodigal's mother who bade her reluctant husband give their wilful son his portion. It was the prodigal's mother who watched for him from the house-top, and silenced the voice of censure. It was the prodigal's mother who welcomed his return, and persuaded father and brother to receive him into favour. The whole duty of man in that Syrian household was to obey the impelling word of woman, and bestow blessings and bags of gold according to her will.
The expansion of the maternal sentiment until it embraces, or seeks to embrace, humanity, is the vision of the emotional, as opposed to the intellectual, feminist. "The Mother State of which we dream" offers no attraction to many plain and practical workers, and is a veritable nightmare to others. "Woman," writes an enthusiast in the "Forum," "means to be, not simply the mother of the individual, but of society, of the State with its man-made institutions, of art and science, of religion and morals. All life, physical and spiritual, personal and social, needs to be mothered."
"Needs to be mothered"! When men proffer this welter of sentiment in the name of women, how is it possible to say convincingly that the girl student standing at the gates of knowledge is as humble-hearted as the boy; that she does not mean to mother medicine, or architecture, or biology, any more than the girl in the banker's office means to mother finance? Her hopes for the future are founded on the belief that fresh opportunities will meet a sure response; but she does not, if she be sane, measure her untried powers by any presumptive scale of valuation. She does not consider the advantages which will accrue to medicine, biology, or architecture by her entrance—as a woman—into any one of these fields. Their need for her maternal ministration concerns her less than her need for the magnificent heritage they present.
It has been said many times that the craving for material profit is not instinctive in women. If it is not instinctive, it will be acquired, because every legitimate incentive has its place in the progress of the world. The demand that women shall be paid men's wages for men's work may represent a desire for justice rather than a desire for gain; but money fairly earned is sweet in the hand, and to the heart. An open field, an even start, no handicap, no favours, and the same goal for all. This is the worker's dream of paradise. Women have long known that lack of citizenship was an obstacle in their path. Self-love has prompted them to overrate their imposed, and underrate their inherent, disabilities. "Whenever you see a woman getting a high salary, make up your mind that she is giving twice the value received," writes an irritable correspondent to the "Survey"; and this pretension paralyzes effort. To be satisfied with ourselves is to be at the end of our usefulness.
M. Émile Faguet, that most radical and least sentimental of French feminists, would have opened wide to women every door of which man holds the key. He would have given them every legal right and burden which they are physically fitted to enjoy and to bear. He was as unvexed by doubts as he was uncheered by illusions. He had no more fear of the downfall of existing institutions than he had hope for the regeneration of the world. The equality of men and women, as he saw it, lay, not in their strength, but in their weakness; not in their intelligence, but in their stupidity; not in their virtues, but in their perversity. Yet there was no taint of pessimism in his rational refusal to be deceived. No man saw more clearly, or recognized more justly, the art with which his countrywomen have cemented and upheld a social state at once flexible and orderly, enjoyable and inspiriting. That they have been the allies, and not the rulers, of men in building this fine fabric of civilization was also plain to his mind. Allies and equals he held them, but nothing more. "La femme est parfaitement l'égale de l'homme, mais elle n'est que son égale."
Naturally to such a man the attitude of Americans toward women was as unsympathetic as was the attitude of Dahomeyans. He did not condemn it (possibly he did not condemn the Dahomeyans, seeing that the civic and social ideals of France and Dahomey are in no wise comparable); but he explained with careful emphasis that the French woman, unlike her American sister, is not, and does not desire to be, "un objet sacro-saint." The reverence for women in the United States he assumed to be a national trait, a sort of national institution among a proud and patriotic people. "L'idolâtrie de la femme est une chose américaine par excellence."
The superlative complacency of American women is due largely to the oratorical adulation of American men,—an adulation that has no more substance than has the foam on beer. I have heard a candidate for office tell his female audience that men are weak and women are strong, that men are foolish and women are wise, that men are shallow and women are deep, that men are submissive tools whom women, the leaders of the race, must instruct to vote for him. He did not believe a word that he said, and his hearers did not believe that he believed it; yet the grossness of his flattery kept pace with the hypocrisy of his self-depreciation. The few men present wore an attitude of dejection, not unlike that of the little boy in "Punch" who has been told that he is made of
"Snips and snails,
And puppy dogs' tails,"
and can "hardly believe it."
What Mr. Roosevelt called the "lunatic fringe" of every movement is painfully obtrusive in the great and noble movement which seeks fair play for women. The "full habit of speech" is never more regrettable than when the cause is so good that it needs but temperate championing. "Without the aid of women, England could not carry on this war," said Mr. Asquith in the second year of the great struggle,—an obvious statement, no doubt, but simple, truthful, and worthy to be spoken. Why should the "New Republic," in an article bearing the singularly ill-mannered title, "Thank You For Nothing!" have heaped scorn upon these words? Why should its writer have made the angry assertion that the British Empire had been "deprived of two generations of women's leadership," because only a world's war could drill a new idea into a statesman's head? The war has drilled a great many new ideas into all our heads. Absence of brain matter could alone have prevented this infusion. But "leadership" is a large word. It is not what men are asking, and it is not what women are offering, even at this stage of the game. Partnership is as far as obligation on the one side and ambition on the other are prepared to go; and a clear understanding of this truth has accomplished great results.
Therefore, when we are told that the women of to-day are "giving their vitality to an anæmic world," we wonder if the speaker has read a newspaper for the past half-dozen years. The passionate cruelty and the passionate heroism of men have soaked the earth with blood. Never, since it came from its Maker's hands, has it seen such shame and glory. There may be some who still believe that this blood would not have been spilled had women shared in the citizenship of nations; but the arguments they advance in support of an undemonstrable theory show a soothing ignorance of events.
"War will pass," says Olive Schreiner, "when intellectual culture and activity have made possible to the female an equal share in the control and government of modern national life." And why? Because "Arbitration and compensation will naturally occur to her as cheaper and simpler methods of bridging the gaps in national relationship."
Strange that this idea never "naturally" occurred to man! Strange that no delegate to The Hague should have perceived so straight a path to peace! Strange that when Germany struck her long-planned, well-prepared blow, this cheap and simple measure failed to stay her hand! War will pass when injustice passes. Never before, unless hope leaves the world.
That any civilized people should bar women from the practice of law is to the last degree absurd and unreasonable. There never can be an adequate cause for such an injurious exclusion. There is, in fact, no cause at all, only an arbitrary decision on the part of those who have the authority to decide. Yet nothing is less worth while than to speculate dizzily on the part women are going to play in any field from which they are at present debarred. They may be ready to burnish up "the rusty old social organism," and make it shine like new; but this is not the work which lies immediately at hand. A suffragist who believes that the world needs house-cleaning has made the terrifying statement that when English women enter the law courts they will sweep away all "legal frippery," all the "accumulated dust and rubbish of centuries." Latin terms, flowing gowns and wigs, silly staves and worn-out symbols, all must go, and with them must go the antiquated processes which confuse and retard justice. The women barristers of the future will scorn to have "legal natures like Portia's," basing their claims on quibbles and subterfuges. They will cut all Gordian knots. They will deal with naked simplicities.
References to Portia are a bit disquieting. Her law was stage law, good enough for the drama which has always enjoyed a jurisprudence of its own. We had best leave her out of any serious discussion. But why should the admission of women to the bar result in a volcanic upheaval? Women have practised medicine for years, and have not revolutionized it. Painstaking service, rather than any brilliant display of originality, has been their contribution to this field. It is reasonable to suppose that their advance will be resolute and beneficial. If they ever condescended to their profession, they do so no longer. If they ever talked about belonging to "the class of real people," they have relinquished such flowers of rhetoric. If they have earnestly desired the franchise, it was because they saw in it justice to themselves, not the torch which would enlighten the world.
It is conceded theoretically that woman's sphere is an elastic term, embracing any work she finds herself able to do,—not necessarily do well, because most of the world's work is done badly, but well enough to save herself from failure. Her advance is unduly heralded and unduly criticized. She is the target for too much comment from friend and foe. On the one hand, a keen (but of course perverted) misogynist like Sir Andrew Macphail, welcomes her entrance into public life because it will tend to disillusionment. If woman can be persuaded to reveal her elemental inconsistencies, man, freed in some measure from her charm—which is the charm of retenue—will no longer be subject to her rule. On the other hand, that most feminine of feminists, Miss Jane Addams, predicts that "the dulness which inheres in both domestic and social affairs when they are carried on by men alone, will no longer be a necessary attribute of public life when gracious and grey-haired women become part of it."
If Sir Andrew is as acid as Schopenhauer, Miss Addams is early Victorian. Her point of view presupposes a condition of which we had not been even dimly aware. Granted that domesticity palls on the solitary male. Housekeeping seldom attracts him. The tea-table and the friendly cat fail to arrest his roving tendencies. Granted that some men are polite enough to say that they do not enjoy social events in which women take no part. They showed no disposition to relinquish such pastimes until the arid days of prohibition, and even now they cling forlornly to the ghost of a cheerful past. When they assert, however, that they would have a much better time if women were present, no one is wanton enough to contradict them. But public life! The arena in which whirling ambition sweeps human souls as an autumn wind sweeps leaves; which resounds with the shouts of the conquerors and the groans of the conquered; which is degraded by cupidity and ennobled by achievement; that this field of adventure, this heated racetrack needs to be relieved from dulness by the presence and participation of elderly ladies is the crowning vision of sensibility.
"Qui veut faire l'ange fait la bête," said Pascal; and the Michigan angel is a danger signal. The sentimental and chivalrous attitude of American men reacts alarmingly when they are brought face to face with the actual terms and visible consequences of woman's enfranchisement. There exists a world-wide and age-long belief that what women want they get. They must want it hard enough and long enough to make their desire operative. It is the listless and preoccupied unconcern of their own sex which bars their progress. But men will fall into a flutter of admiration because a woman runs a successful dairy-farm, or becomes the mayor of a little town; and they will look aghast upon such commonplace headlines as these in their morning paper: "Women Confess Selling Votes"; "Chicago Women Arrested for Election Frauds";—as if there had not always been, and would not always be, a percentage of unscrupulous voters in every electorate. No sane woman believes that women, as a body, will vote more honestly than men; but no sane man believes that they will vote less honestly. They are neither the "gateway to hell," as Tertullian pointed out, nor the builders of Sir Rabindranath Tagore's "spiritual civilization." They are neither the repositories of wisdom, nor the final word of folly.
It was unwise and unfair to turn a searchlight upon the first woman in Congress, and exhibit to a gaping world her perfectly natural limitations. Such limitations are common in our legislative bodies, and excite no particular comment. They are as inherent in the average man as in the average woman. They in no way affect the question of enfranchisement. Give as much and ask no more. Give no more and ask as much. This is the watchword of equality.
"God help women when they have only their rights!" exclaimed a brilliant American lawyer; but it is in the "only" that all savour lies. Rights and privileges are incompatible. Emancipation implies the sacrifice of immunity, the acceptance of obligation. It heralds the reign of sober and disillusioning experience. Women, as M. Faguet reminds us, are only the equals of men; a truth which was simply phrased in the old Cornish adage, "Lads are as good as wenches when they are washed."