A HALF-GROWN man is of course a tyrant. And so it has come about that the rule of Man in the world has for many ages meant the serfdom of Woman.
Far back in History, at a time when in the early societies the thought of inequality had hardly arisen, it would appear that the female in her own way--as sole authenticator of birth and parentage, as guardian of the household, as inventress of agriculture and the peaceful arts, as priestess or prophetess or sharer in the councils of the tribe--was as powerful as man in his, and sometimes even more so. But from thence, down to to-day, what centuries of repression, of slavehood, of dumbness and obscurity have been her lot!
There is much to show that the greed of Private Property was the old Serpent which brought about the fall of our first parents; for as this sentiment--the chief incentive to modern Civilisation--rose and spread with a kind of contagion over the advancing
races of mankind, the human Male, bitten by it, not only claimed possession of everything he could lay hands upon, but ended by enslaving and appropriating his own mate, his second self--reducing her also to a mere chattel, a slave and a plaything.
Certainly it is curious that, with whatever occasional exceptions, the periods of man's ascendancy have been the periods of so much sadness and degradation of women. He, all through, more and more calmly assuming that it must be her province to live and work for him; shutting her more and more into the seclusion of the boudoir and the harem, or down to the drudgery of the hearth; confining her body, her mind; playing always upon her sex-nature, accentuating always that--as though she were indeed nought else but sex; yet furious if her feelings were not always obedient to his desire; arrogating to himself a masculine licence, yet revenging the least unfaithfulness on her part by casting her out into the scorned life of the prostitute; and granting her more and more but one choice in life--to be a free woman, and to die, unsexed, in the gutter; or for creature-comforts and a good name to sell herself, soul and body, into life-long bondage. While she, more and more, has accepted as inevitable the situation; and moved, sad-eyed, to
her patient and uncomplaining work, to the narrow sphere and petty details of household labor and life, of patience and self-effacement, of tenderness and love, little noticed and less understood; or twisted herself into a ridiculous mime of fashion and frivolity, if so she might find a use for her empty head, and some favor with her lord; her own real impulses and character, her own talents and genius, all the while smothered away and blighted, her brain dwarfed, and her outlook on the world marred by falsity and ignorance.
Such, or something like it, has been the fate of woman through the centuries. And if, like man, she had been light-armed for her own defence, it might have been possible to say it was her own fault that she allowed all this to take place; but when we remember that she all the while has had to bear the great and speechless burden of Sex--to be herself the ark and cradle of the Race down the ages--then we may perhaps understand what a tragedy it has all been. For the fulfilment of sex is a relief and a condensation to the Man. He goes his way, and, so to speak, thinks no more about it. But to the Woman it is the culmination of her life, her profound and secret mission to humanity, of incomparable import and delicacy.
It is difficult, of course, for men to understand
the depth and sacredness of the mother-feeling in woman--its joys and hopes, its leaden weight of cares and anxieties. The burden of pregnancy and gestation, the deep inner solicitude and despondency, the fears that all may not be well, the indrawing and absorption of her life into the life of the child, the increasing effort to attend to anything else, to care for anything else; her willingness even to die if only the child may be born safe: these are things which man--except it be occasionally in his rôle as artist or inventor--does but faintly imagine. Then, later on, the dedication to the young life or lives, the years of daylong and nightlong labor and forethought, in which the very thought of self is effaced, of tender service for which there is no recognition, nor ever will or can be--except in the far future; the sacrifice of personal interests and expansions in the ever-narrowing round of domestic duty; and in the end the sad wonderment and grievous unfulfilled yearning as one by one the growing boy and girl push their way into the world and disavow their home-ties and dependence; the sundering of heartstrings even as the navel-cord had to be sundered before: for these things, too, Woman can hope but little sympathy and understanding from the other sex.
But this fact, of man's non-perception of it, does
not make the tragedy less. Far back out of the brows of Greek goddess, and Sibyll, and Norse and German seeress and prophetess, over all this petty civilisation look the grand untamed eyes of a primal woman the equal and the mate of man; and in sad plight should we be if we might not already, lighting up the horizon from East and West and South and North, discern the answering looks of those new corners who, as the period of women's enslavement is passing away, send glances of recognition across the ages to their elder sisters.
After all, and underneath all the falsities of this period, may we not say that there is a deep and permanent relation between the sexes, which must inevitably assert itself again?
To this relation the physiological differences perhaps afford the key. In woman--modern science has shown--the more fundamental and primitive nervous centres, and the great sympathetic and vaso-motor system of nerves generally, are developed to a greater extent than in man; in woman the whole structure and life rallies more closely arid obviously round the sexual function than in man; and, as a general rule, in the evolution of the human race, as well as of the lower races, the female is less subject to variation and is more constant to and conservative of the type of the
race than the male. 1 40 With these physiological differences are naturally allied the facts that, of the two, Woman is the more primitive, the more intuitive, the more emotional. If not so large and cosmic in her scope, the great unconscious processes of Nature lie somehow nearer to her; to her, sex is a deep and sacred instinct, carrying with it a sense of natural purity; nor does she often experience that divorce between the sentiment of Love and the physical passion which is so common with men, and which causes them to be aware of a grossness and a conflict in their own natures; she is, or should be, the interpreter of Love to man, and in some degree his guide in sexual matters. More, since she keeps to the great lines of evolution and is less biassed and influenced by the momentary currents of the day; since her life is bound up with the life of the child; since in a way she is nearer the child herself, and nearer to the savage; it is to her that Man, after his excursions and wanderings, mental and physical, continually tends to return as to his primitive home and resting-place, to restore his balance, to find his centre of life, and to draw stores of energy and inspiration for fresh conquests of the outer world. "In women men find beings who have not wandered so far as they have from the typical life of earth's
creatures; women are for men the human embodiments of the restful responsiveness of Nature. To every man, as Michelet has put it, the woman whom he loves is as the Earth was to her legendary son; he has but to fall down and kiss her breast and he is strong again." 1
If it be true that by natural and physiological right Woman stands in some such primitive relationship to Man, then we may expect this relationship to emerge again into clear and reasonable light in course of time; though it does not of course follow that a relationship founded on physiological distinctions is absolutely permanent--since these latter may themselves vary to some degree. That a more natural and sensible relation of some kind between the sexes is actually coming to birth, few who care to read the signs of the times can well doubt. For the moment, however, and by way of parenthesis before looking to the future, we have to consider a little more in detail the present position of women under civilisation. Not that the consideration will be altogether gracious and satisfactory, but that it may--we are fain to hope--afford us some hints for the future.
It was perhaps not altogether unnatural that
[paragraph continues] Man's craze for property and individual ownership should have culminated in the enslavement of woman--his most precious and beloved object. But the consequence of this absurdity was a whole series of other absurdities. What between insincere flattery and rose-water adorations on the one hand, and serfdom and neglect on the other, woman was, as Havelock Ellis says, treated as "a cross between an angel and an idiot." And after a time, adapting herself to the treatment, she really became something between an angel and an idiot--a bundle of weak and flabby sentiments, combined with a wholly undeveloped brain. Moreover by being continually specialised and specialised in the sexual and domestic direction, she lost touch with the actual world, and grew, one may say, into a separate species from man--so that in the later civilisations the males and females, except when the sex-attraction has compelled them as it were to come together, have been wont to congregate in separate herds, and talk languages each unintelligible to the other. Says the author of the Woman's Question: "I admit there is no room for pharisaical self-laudation here. The bawling mass of mankind on a race-course or the stock-exchange is degrading enough in all conscience. Yet this even is hardly so painful as the sight which meets our eyes
between three and four in the afternoon in any fashionable London street. Hundreds of women--mere dolls--gazing intently into shop-windows at various bits of coloured ribbon. . . . Perhaps nothing is more disheartening than this, except the mob of women in these very same streets between twelve and one at night."
The 'lady,' the household drudge, and the prostitute, are the three main types of woman resulting in our modern civilisation from the process of the past-and it is hard to know which is the most wretched, which is the most wronged, and which is the most unlike that which in her own heart every true woman would desire to be.
In some sense the 'lady' of the period which is just beginning to pass away is the most characteristic product of Commercialism. The sense of Private Property, arising and joining with the "angel and idiot" theory, turned Woman more and more--especially of course among the possessing classes--into an emblem of possession--a mere doll, an empty idol, a brag of the man's exclusive right in the sex--till at last, as her vain splendors increased and her real usefulness diminished, she ultimated into the 'perfect lady.' But let every woman who piques and preens herself to the fulfilment of this ideal in her own person, remember what is the cost
and what is the meaning of her quest: the covert enslavement to, and the covert contempt of Man.
The instinct of helpful personal service is so strong in women, and such a deep-rooted part of their natures, that to be treated as a mere target for other people's worship and service--especially when this is tainted with insincerity--must be most obnoxious to them. To think that women still exist by hundreds and hundreds of thousands, women with hearts and hands formed for love and helpfulness, who are brought up as 'ladies' and have to spend their lives listening to the idiotic platitudes of the Middle-class Man, and "waited upon" by wage-bought domestics, is enough to make one shudder. The modern 'gentleman' is bad enough, but the 'lady' of bourgeois-dom, literally "crucified twixt a smile and whimper," prostituted to a life which in her heart she hates--with its petty ideals, its narrow horizon, and its empty honors--is indeed a pitiful spectacle.
In Baronial times the household centred round the Hall, where the baron sat supreme; to-day it centres round the room where the lady reigns. The "with" is withdrawn from the withdrawing-room, and that apartment has become the most important of all. Yet there is an effect of mockery in the homage paid to the new sovereign; and, as far as
her rule is actual, a doubt whether she is really qualified yet for the position. The contrast between the two societies, the Feudal and the Commercial, is not inaptly represented by this domestic change. The former society was rude and rough, but generous and straightforward; the latter is polished and nice, but full of littleness and finesse. The Drawing-room, with its feeble manners and effects of curtains and embroidery, gives its tone to our lives now-a-days. But we look forward to a time when this room also will cease to be the centre of the house, and another--perhaps the Common-room--will take its place.
Below a certain level in society--the distinctively commercial--there are no drawing-rooms. Among the working masses, where the woman is of indispensable importance in daily life, and is not sequestered as an idol, there is no room specially set apart for her worship-a curious change takes place in her nominal position, and whereas in the supernal sphere she sits in state and has her tea and bread and butter brought to her by obsequious males, in the cottage the men take their ease and are served by the women. The customs of the cottage, however, are rooted in a natural division of labor by which the man undertakes the outdoor, and the woman the indoor work; and there is, I
think, quite as much real respect shown to her here as in the drawing-room.
In the cottage, nevertheless, the unfortunate one falls into the second pit that is prepared for her--that of the household drudge; and here she leads a life which, if it has more honesty and reality in it than that of the lady,' is one of abject slavery. Few men again realise, or trouble themselves to realise, what a life this of the working house-wife is. They are accustomed to look upon their own employment, whatever it may be, as 'work' (perhaps because it brings with it 'wages'); the woman's they regard as a kind of pastime. They forget what monotonous drudgery it really means, and yet what incessant forethought and care; they forget that the woman has no eight hours day, that her work is always staring her in the face, and waiting for her, even on into the night; that the body is wearied, and the mind narrowed down, "scratched to death by rats and mice" in a perpetual round of petty cares. For not only does civilisation and multifarious invention (including smoke) make the burden of domestic life immensely complex, but the point is that each housewife has to sustain this burden to herself in lonely effort. What a sight, in any of our great towns, to enter into the cottages or tenements which form the
endless rows of suburban streets, and to find in each one a working wife struggling alone in semi-darkness and seclusion with the toils of an entire separate household--with meals to be planned and provided, with bread to be baked, clothes to be washed and mended, children to be kept in order, a husband to be humored, and a house to be swept and dusted; herself wearied and worried, debilitated with confinement and want of fresh air, and low-spirited for want of change and society! How futile! and how dreary!
There remains the third alternative for women; nor can it be wondered at that some deliberately choose a life of prostitution as their only escape from the existence of the lady or the drudge. Yet what a choice it is! On the one hand is the caged Woman, and on the other hand is the free: and which to choose? "How can there be a doubt," says one, "surely freedom is always best." Then there falls a hush. "Ah!" says society, pointing with its finger, "but a free Woman!"
And yet is it possible for Woman ever to be worthy her name, unless she is free?
To-day, or up to to-day, just as the wage-worker has had no means of livelihood except by the sale of his bodily labor, so woman has had no means of livelihood except by the surrender of her bodily sex.
[paragraph continues] She could dispose of it to one man for life, and have in return the respect of society and the caged existence of the lady or the drudge, or she could sell it night by night and be a "free woman," scorned of the world and portioned to die in the gutter. In either case (if she really thinks about the matter at all) she must lose her self-respect, What a choice, what a frightful choice!--and this has been the fate of Woman for how long?
If, as a consequence of all this, woman has gone down hill, there is no doubt that man has gravitated too. (Or was it really that Jack fell down first, and "Jill came tumbling after"?) Anyhow I think that nothing can be more clear--and this I believe should be taken as the basis of any discussion on the relation of the sexes--than that whatever injures the one sex injures the other; and that whatever defects or partialities may be found in the one must from the nature of the case be tallied by corresponding defects and partialities in the other. The two halves of the human race are complementary, and it is useless for one to attempt to glorify itself at the expense of the other. As in Olive Schreiner's allegory of Woman ("Three Dreams in a Desert"), man and woman are bound together by a vital band, and the one cannot move a step in advance of the other.
If we were called upon to characterise these mutual defects (inbred partly by the false property relation) we should be inclined to say they were brutality and conceit on the one hand, and finesse and subtlety on the other. Man, as owner, has tended to become arrogant and callous and egotistic; woman, as the owned, slavish and crafty and unreal.
As a matter of fact, and allowing that sweeping generalisations of this kind are open to a good many exceptions, we do find (at any rate in the British Isles) a most wonderful and celestial indifference to anything but their own affairs amongst the 'lords of creation,' an indifference so ingrained and constitutional that it is rarely conscious of itself, and which assumes quite easily and naturally that the weaker sex exists for the purpose of playing the foil, so to speak, to the chief actor in life's drama. Nor does the fact that this indifference is tempered, from time to time, by a little gallantry afford much consolation--as may be imagined--to the woman who perceives that the gallantry is inspired by nothing more than a passing sex-desire.
On the other hand Jill has come tumbling after pretty quickly, and has tumbled to the conclusion that though she cannot sway her lord by force, she may easily make use of him by craft. Finesse,
developed through scores of generations 50, combined with the skilful use of the glamor belonging to her sex, have given her an extraordinary faculty of carrying out her own purposes, often through the most difficult passes, without ever exposing her hand. Possibly the knowledge of this forms one reason why women distrust each other so much more than men distrust each other. Certainly one of the rarest of God's creatures is a truly undesigning female, but--when dowered with intellect such as might seem to justify it in being designing--one of the most admirable and beautiful!
Looking a little deeper, and below the superficial contrast which an unsatisfactory relation between the sexes has doubtless created, one seems to discern some of those more vital and deep-rooted differentiations spoken of on an earlier page. It is a commonly received opinion that woman tends more to intuition and man to logic; 1 and certainly the male mind seems better able to deal with abstractions and generalisations, and the female mind with the personal and the detailed and the concrete. And while this difference may be in part attributable to the artificial confinement of women to the domestic
sphere, there is probably something more organic in it than that. At any rate it gives to Woman some of her best qualities--a quick and immediate perception, appreciation of character, tact, and a kind of artistic sense in the ordering of her own life, so that you do not see the tags and unraveled ends which appear in man's conduct. While the man is blundering about, fighting with himself, hesitating, doubting, weighing, trying vainly to co-ordinate all the elements of his nature, the woman (often no doubt in a smaller sphere) moves serene and prompt to her ends. Her actions are characterised by grace and finality; she is more at unity with herself; and she has the inestimable advantage of living in the world of persons--which may well seem so much more important and full of interest than that of things.
On the other hand, this want of the power of generalisation has made it difficult for woman (at any rate up to to-day) to emerge from a small circle of interests, and to look at things from the point of view of public advantage and good. While her, sympathies for individuals are keen and quick, abstract and general ideas such as those of justice, Truth, and the like have been difficult of appreciation to her; and her deficiency in logic has made it almost impossible to act upon her through the
brain. A man, if he is on the wrong tack, can be argued with; but with a woman of this type, if her motives are nefarious, there is no means of changing them by appeal to her reason, or to the general sense of justice and Right--and unless controlled by the stronger sway of a determined personal will (of a man) her career is liable to be pretty bad.
Generally it will be admitted, as we are dealing with points of mental and moral difference between the sexes, Man has developed the more active, and Woman the more passive qualities; and it is pretty obvious, here too, that this difference is not only due to centuries of social inequality and of property-marriage, but roots back in some degree to the very nature of their respective sexual functions. That there are permanent complementary distinctions between the male and female, dating first perhaps from sex, and thence spreading over the whole natures, physical, mental and moral, of each, no one can reasonably doubt. These distinctions have however, we contend, been strangely accentuated and exaggerated during the historic period--till at last a point of maximum divergence and absolute misunderstanding has been reached. But that point is behind us now.
40:1 For other points of difference see Appendix. 40
41:1 Man and Woman, by Havelock Ellis. Contemporary Science Series, p. 371,
50:1 Physiologically speaking a certain excess of affectability and excitability in women over men seems to be distinctly traceable.