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WOMEN AND THE SUFFRAGE: A REPLY.
ln the July number of this Review, Lady Lovat quotes various writers, ancient and modern, in support of her skilful defence of what she calls the old-fashioned side of the Women's Suffrage question. And indeed she has a wide range of choice, for probably there have been more theories advanced on this and kindred subjects than on any other in the world. To judge from folklore sayings and proverbs alone, women seem to have been the victims from the earliest times of the first crude efforts of the savage intelligence to make a large generalization out of a small and very narrow experience, and of the fatal facility that first enabled people to conceive of a great multitude of various human beings as one simple abstract personality, governed by easily attainable mechanical laws and called "Woman." "Woman" in the abstract has indeed been the "Aunt Sally" of the world's childhood, pelted by many missiles.
And age does not seem to stale the infinite variety of this exercise of the imagination. Since the days of Solomon's Proverbs to those of Ruskin's ---»'/.,'. and Lilies these generalizations have been and still are the stock in trade of imaginative writers. Time has brought one change, however. In old days the subject was considered a simple one, and certain well-worn maxims were thought sufficient to meet all needs. Now everybody who is anylwdy is bound to have a different interpretation of "Woman" and her place in the scheme of things. Thus to those who take such speculation and theorizing seriously, the world is full of confusion and contradiction on this subject. But to anyone who is interested in the growth of thought and understanding among individuals or nations, the interest is mainly a psychological
one, for it may be safely presumed that these theories reveal more of the mental calibre and nature of the theorist than of the unfortunate human beings who, since the world began, have been ceaselessly vivisected, with varying degrees of success. by everybody who is trying to be intellectual. Thus, when Solomon says that women's value is above rubies, whilst the Kaffirs decree a wife is worth ten cows, we are not so much struck with the truth or wisdom of either pronouncement as with the difference of the point of view between Solomon and the Kaffirs. And when we hear that some Eastern nations believe women to have no souls, whilst a council of the Church decided by a small majority that they may really hope for a humble share of man's privilege of immortality, a woman may perhaps be pardoned if she thinks less of her own no doubt remote chances of salvation, than of that precious and enlightening sense of humor that seems to have been denied to so many learned and law-making assemblies of men. Souls are not thought so important in this generation, and we are allowed to possess them in peace; but when some men say women have inferior brain capacity, we can always comfort ourselves with the thought that so little do they believe this that they find it necessary to protect themselves legally and artificially from women's competition. As Mill said long ago, you do not have to make laws to prevent people without muscles being blacksmiths. The people who want to restrict women because they are inferior mentally are really those who believe no such comfortable doctrine, but are. in simple English, afraid of their competition. .Tnst in the same way the men Trade Unionists who say women can never be as skilled as men, say it because they do not want them to be employed, whilst thd masters who say they are neater and quicker are those who want to employ them. Schopenhauer, no doubt, had some good spiteful human reason for proclaiming that women were an "undersized, broad-hipped, narrowshouldered, short-legged race." Lndy Lovat may argue as the result of her experience that women's souls abhor the abstract . Against that dictum we must set the undoubted fact that some university professors affirm that women excel in mathematics and logic. But all these are simply matters of personal opinion and belief. lt is certainly amusing to see that Solomon was more progressive in his views about women than Ruskin, and that his ideal lady could at all events speak with her enemy in the gate, while Ruskin's could only sit at home and arrange things, "entering into no contest." But these theories are too vague and random to be of any value except as they throw light on the character of the theorist. Ruskin's ideal of women was, of course, sentimental and impossible. What woman is there in the world, be she never so old-fashioned, who enters into no contest? And may Heaven defend us from people, men or women, who spend their lives in "sweet ordering, arrangement, decision." lndeed, it is that sort of thing that makes a great many of the world's worst fights, because, however ideal and womanly it may be, other people will not always stand being "sweetly ordered and arranged." Lady Lovat quotes Ruskin's saying that women should rule and not fight, and one is tempted to think how strange it was that Ruskin did not seem to know that, everywhere and in every sphere, physical, mental and spiritual, it is the hardest fighters who, in the end, rule,
and must rule. Because the hardest fighters are simply those who are most in touch with the Divine Force.
As a refutation of the claims of women to political life, Lady Lovat quotes a very romantic speech of Portia's in the Merchant of Venice; but it is difficult to see that it has any bearing on the case, as even men have belittled themselves and called women their "ladies and queens," and other extravagant things, on similar occasions, when they were in love (especially in plays), and the rhapsodies of these ecstatic moments cannot be seriously debated as a basis for legislation.
ln discussing the question of Women's Suffrage, it is not with Ruskin's Early Victorian ladies we have to deal, "women who enter into no contest," "who are protected from all danger and temptation," "whose great function is praise." Nor is it with the heroines of history or fiction. Portia would have been most certainly just as blatantly in love with Bassanio if she had been a plural voter or a member of the Council of Ten. The serious charge brought by Lady Lovat against modern women is that they are, like Shylock, insisting on their pound of flesh (the suffrage) and willing to pay a great price for it, the sacrifice of their present ideal position of influence and happiness, and especially their "highest prerogative of educating children." Also, oddly enough, she points to the medical profession as one of the splendid privileges due to the old order, a profession that has been forced open within the last fifty years by the unremitting and much opposed efforts of Women's Rights women. As to the Education question, Lady Lovat quotes Plato in support of the view that to draw out the Divine lmage in a human being is a greater work than the making of a beautiful statue. This is no doubt true, but there are few who would venture to assert that a man or woman of genins, an artist or a thinker, could not be as useful an instrument to awaken the Divine lmage in another person's soul as an ordinary domestic person immersed in trivialities. Influence is no question of time. No women of any class really educate their children, they provide teachers for them or send them to school. Their own influence is confined for the most part to what they are and what they know—the real source of all power. if anyone wishes to have influence, let her not forget Maeterlinck's fable about the man in the lighthouse, who gave away the oil in his lamp to the poor, and thus lost his power to save great ships from destruction. And it is one of the enduring happinesses of life that everything we learn and every strength we gain makes our lamp burn brighter and thus enables us to help other people. if women are going to be great educators they must not shut themselves out from any human activity, for all inventive and creative activity is not only good for men, it is good in itself; in fact, it is the condition of full human development and right doing. The idea that one power crowds out another in the human mind is surely based on a very false conception of the working of the laws that make evolution by a gradual widening of mental outlook, and the receding :>f horizons before a determined effort of the will. Women who wilfully detach themselves from the energies and struggle and fight of the living world around them to pursue an ideal of the gracious seclusion of the family, and the sanctifying influence of passive existence, will too soon find that they have nothing to give their children, and that the young will go elsewhere for the generous inspirations of courage and heroic living. But nobody can escape the battle in the end. And nobody should.
"The garden and the cloister" (quoted from John Morley by Lady Lovat) are no doubt necessary and delightful for us all, but so are "the dust and burning sun and shouting of the days of conflict" to every human being, man or woman, who believes in the high destinies of the human soul, but more especially to those who would be the means to awaken the Divine image of heroism and power and hardly won wisdom in the soul of a child.
Love, Lady Lovat says, is the special prerogative of woman. But there are no special prerogatives. The world as God made it is free to us all. It is useless to tell women that the active life is the special prerogative of men; as useless as it would be to tell men that love is the special prerogative of women. These things are not so, simply because the Power that maue the world did not make them so. In every contest since the beginning of history women have struggled and fought and suffered. ln every great national movement, where these movements have come into the sphere of bloodshed and death, as in France, in Russia, in ltaly, women have suffered and struggled and died in large numbers, and proved to the world a thousand times over by their deeds their possession of the heroic qualities of the active life.
As to love, surely it Is a universal principle not to be narrowed down to any one section of humanity. Those who do not believe in the special prerogatives of sex can comfort themselves with the comprehensiveness of the ancient conception, "God is Love." Lady Lovat allows that "Love is the fulfilling of the law"; love is "the only, the eternal foundation of the training of our race to humanity." lf these things are true, surely this Divine Principle, being her special prerogative, would prove nothing but the superiority of the spiritually enlightened woman's soul over the darkened soul of man. But this is not so; the sun shines on the good and evil and on the just and unjust, and the great vivifying and purifying forces are the birthright of every human soul, irrespective of all accidents or "prerogatives of sex."
Now as to the present happy position and influence of women which is said to be threatened by their approaching emancipation, Lady Lovat thinks that what she considers the present ideal relations of men and women, and especially the private influence of women over men, are in danger. By all means let us render unto Ceesar the things that are Caesar's, but it is as well to remember that there are some things that are outside his jurisdiction. And our private relations to one another are not settled by the House of Commons, but by the deep working laws of our own natures. Lady Lovat thinks that men should reverence women and keep them on pedestals far removed from the contests and difficulties that go to make up life. But women are human beings and not meant to live on pedestals; their place is in the midst of contest and difficulty, and there are some of us, men as well as women, who do not admire or revere or even tolerate the type of character produced by this St. Simon Stylites attitude towards life, in man or woman. Anyhow, the doubtful privilege of a column is only possible for the favored few of a leisured class. The mass of the female population have no time to dream of the very brittle influence which they are supposed to hide under a veil of weakness. They are not posing on pedestals, they are struggling and fighting through their lives, trying to earn their livings honestly and hold their heads above water in that world where there is no pity nor help for those who go under. If I venture to doubt Lady Lovat's generalizations of the great influence of politics on pri
vate life, i am also very far from sharing her opinion of the powerlessness of political forces to work out their results in the nearly allied world of industry. These forces are not so helpless as politicians would have us believe.
If Gladstone really thought that the "terrible woes of this darkened world" could not be effectually dealt with by the State, why did he elect to spend his whole life as a statesman? Surely in face of the many importunate problems that surround us, if he had really seen a more excellent way he would have taken it. Let us take courage. The Franchise is not a new and insidious method of overturning the lives and traditions and sentiments of the rich. it is not even a question of one political party against another. It is simply a means by which the mass of women in the professional and industrial worlds can defend their interests and their right to work. Practically, working men do not, as Lady Lovat thinks, contest inch by inch the idea that piece-work rates should be the same for women as for men, because they do not like being undercut, and the sympathy of working men for the suffrage movement is very much on the grounds of the indirect influence of political status on wages. They realize in a way that the leisured classes cannot, that it is the present outcast position of working women that forces them to pull down the rate for everybody by accepting such very low pay. And, apart even from wages, never before in the history of this country have women had more need of political power to protect themselves against injurious legislation. At this moment over 100,000 women are being threatened by Parliament with the abolition of their employment. We are told that a day will be given by the Government to the discussion of Clause 20 of the Licensing Bill. It is by a subclause of this clause that the fate of these women will be decided. lt seems that in a couple of hours' talk by unrepresentative legislators they will be deprived of their occupations, their incomes and their reputations, through no fault of their own, but simply because of their helpless unenfranchised position.
The President of the Local Government Board says openly that one of the great remedies for unemployment is the enormous curtailing of the work of women. This ingenious method of robbing Peter to pay Paul has no doubt its charm for a Government that depends for its very existence on Paul's votes, and has nothing to hope for or fear from Peter. Attempts are being constantly made to turn women out of their trades and livelihoods, whether it is the barmaids, the circus riders and acrobats, the pltrow women, the married women of Lancashire (73,000), the married teachers, or the Cradley Heath chainmakers. Sometimes these things are done quietly, as in the case of trades like printers or florists. Here a simple application of the Factory Acts is enough to turn the women out of work, as the minute regulation of hours is quite impossible where the manipulation of perishable flowers is concerned, or where work has to be done at night, as in the printing trade.
The outlook is dark indeed for all working women, because the women's labor market is already overcrowded, and every displacement of labor simply adds to the competition in the lesser skilled trades, and, by making the supply of workers so much greater than the demand, brings down the already low rate of wages for all concerned. The franchise is a crying need to guard the interests of those who have to take part in the industrial struggle. lt is easy to laugh at unmarried women for being faddists, and married women for being influenced
by their husbands, but whether they are faddists or weak-minded people, if they are workers, they have need of the protection of the franchise, for they will have to fight their way in the world. Men are not disfranchised because they are faddists or because their wives influence them unduly. And Lady Lovat herself insists strongly on the tremendous influence of women over their husbands. indeed, if a free mind were to be t\ qualification of voting, one imagines the electorate of this country would be reduced by a considerable number. ln considering the question of adult suffrage, Lady Lovat says there are more women than men in this country. At first sight it seems a very odd contention to an ordinary mind used to democratic theories, that because a section of the populace are in the majority, that is a reason why they should not be represented in Parliament . The idea that all women would band together and vote against all men is absurd and inconceivable. Even in the present struggle for the suffrage, which you would think has been made entirely a sex question, by the exclusion of a whole sex, men and women have not been driven into opposite camps. There are plenty of men on the women's side, and doubtless many women who see no evil in the present state of things. The sentimental and speculative aspect of this subject has had its full share of attention; but one would like to appeal to those intellectual people to whom the franchise is naturally rather a matter for philosophic discussion than a vital need, as it is to the working classes, for the sake of theories and traditions, not to range themselves on the side of those forces that are making life so difficult and so squalid to millions of the poorest workers of this country.
ln the course of a speech made by Mrs. Humphry Ward in proposing tho