Transcriber's note: The few spelling mistakes found in this text were left intact.
THE BUSINESS OF BEING A WOMAN
IDA M. TARBELL
Associate Editor of the "American Magazine" Author of "Life of Abraham Lincoln" "History of the Standard Oil Co." "He Knew Lincoln," etc.
New York The MacMillan Company New York . Boston . Chicago Dallas . San Francisco Macmillan & Co., Limited London . Bombay . Calcutta Melbourne The Macmillan Co. of Canada, Ltd. Toronto Norwood Press J.S. Cushing Co.—Berwick & Smith Co. Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
E.I.T. AND C.C.T.
The object of this little volume is to call attention to a certain distrust, which the author feels in the modern woman, of the significance and dignity of the work laid upon her by Nature and by society. Its ideas are the result of a long, if somewhat desultory, observation of the professional, political, and domestic activities of women in this country and in France. These observations have led to certain definite opinions as to those phases of the woman question most in need of emphasis to-day.
A great problem of human life is to preserve faith in and zest for everyday activities. The universal easily becomes the vulgar and the burdensome. The highest civilization is that in which the largest number sense, and are so placed as to realize, the dignity and the beauty of the common experiences and obligations.
* * * * *
The courtesy of the publishers of the American Magazine, in permitting the use here of chapters which have appeared in that periodical, is gratefully acknowledged.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. THE UNEASY WOMAN 1
II. ON THE IMITATION OF MAN 30
III. THE BUSINESS OF BEING A WOMAN 53
IV. THE SOCIALIZATION OF THE HOME 84
V. THE WOMAN AND HER RAIMENT 109
VI. THE WOMAN AND DEMOCRACY 142
VII. THE HOMELESS DAUGHTER 164
VIII. THE CHILDLESS WOMAN AND THE FRIENDLESS CHILD 190
IX. ON THE ENNOBLING OF THE WOMAN'S BUSINESS 216
THE BUSINESS OF BEING A WOMAN
The Uneasy Woman
The most conspicuous occupation of the American woman of to-day, dressing herself aside, is self-discussion. It is a disquieting phenomenon. Chronic self-discussion argues chronic ferment of mind, and ferment of mind is a serious handicap to both happiness and efficiency. Nor is self-discussion the only exhibit of restlessness the American woman gives. To an unaccustomed observer she seems always to be running about on the face of things with no other purpose than to put in her time. He points to the triviality of the things in which she can immerse herself—her fantastic and ever-changing raiment, the welter of lectures and other culture schemes which she supports, the eagerness with which she transports herself to the ends of the earth—as marks of a spirit not at home with itself, and certainly not convinced that it is going in any particular direction or that it is committed to any particular worth-while task.
Perhaps the most disturbing side of the phenomenon is that it is coincident with the emancipation of woman. At a time when she is freer than at any other period of the world's history—save perhaps at one period in ancient Egypt—she is apparently more uneasy.
Those who do not like the exhibit are inclined to treat her as if she were a new historical type. The reassuring fact is, that ferment of mind is no newer thing in woman than in man. It is a human ailment. Its attacks, however, have always been unwelcome. Society distrusts uneasiness in sacred quarters; that is, in her established and privileged works. They are the best mankind has to show for itself. At least they are the things for which the race has slaved longest and which so far have best resisted attack. We would like to pride ourselves that they were permanent, that we had settled some things. And hence society resents a restless woman. And this is logical enough.
Embroiled as man is in an eternal effort to conquer, understand, and reduce to order both nature and his fellows, it is imperative that he have some secure spot where his head is not in danger, his heart is not harassed. Woman, by virtue of the business nature assigns her, has always been theoretically the maker and keeper of this necessary place of peace. But she has rarely made it and kept it with full content. Eve was a revoltee, so was Medea. In every century they have appeared, restless Amazons, protesting and remolding. Out of their uneasy souls have come the varying changes in the woman's world which distinguish the ages.
Society has not liked it—was there to be no quiet anywhere? It is poor understanding that does not appreciate John Adams' parry of his wife Abigail's list of grievances, which she declared the Continental Congress must relieve if it would avoid a woman's rebellion. Under the stress of the Revolution children, apprentices, schools, colleges, Indians, and negroes had all become insolent and turbulent, he told her. What was to become of the country if women, "the most numerous and powerful tribe in the world," grew discontented?
Now this world-old restlessness of the women has a sound and a tragic cause. Nature lays a compelling hand on her. Unless she obeys freely and fully she must pay in unrest and vagaries. For the normal woman the fulfillment of life is the making of the thing we best describe as a home—which means a mate, children, friends, with all the radiating obligations, joys, burdens, these relations imply.
This is nature's plan for her; but the home has got to be founded inside the imperfect thing we call society. And these two, nature and society, are continually getting into each other's way, wrecking each other's plans, frustrating each other's schemes. The woman almost never is able to adjust her life so as fully to satisfy both. She is between two fires. Euripides understood this when he put into Medea's mouth a cry as modern as any that Ibsen has conceived:—
Of all things upon earth that grow, A herb most bruised is woman. We must pay Our store of gold, hoarded for that one day, To buy us some man's love; and lo, they bring A master of our flesh! There comes the sting Of the whole shame. And then the jeopardy, For good or ill, what shall that master be; 'Tis magic she must have or prophecy— Home never taught her that—how best to guide Toward peace this thing that sleepeth at her side. And she who, laboring long, shall find some way Whereby her lord may bear with her, nor fray His yoke too fiercely, blessed is the breath That woman draws!
Medea's difficulty was that which is oftenest in the way of a woman carrying her business in life to a satisfactory completion—false mating. It is not a difficulty peculiar to woman. Man knows it as often. It is the heaviest curse society brings on human beings—the most fertile cause of apathy, agony, and failure. If the woman's cry is more poignant under it than the man's, it is because the machine which holds them both allows him a wider sweep, more interests outside of their immediate alliance. "A man, when he is vexed at home," complains Medea, "can go out and find relief among his friends or acquaintances, but we women have none to look at but him."
And when it is impossible longer to "look" at him, what shall she do! Tell her woe to the world, seek a soporific, repudiate the scheme of things, or from the vantage point of her failure turn to the untried relations of her life, call upon her unused powers?
From the beginning of time she has tried each and all of these methods of meeting her purely human woe. At times the women of whole peoples have sunk into apathy, their business reduced to its dullest, grossest forms. Again, whole groups have taken themselves out of the partnership which both Nature and Society have ordered. The Amazons refused to recognize man as an equal and mated simply that they might rear more women like themselves. Here the tables were turned and the boy baby turned out—not to the wolves, but to man! The convent has always been a favorite way of escape.
It has never been a majority of women who for a great length of time have shirked this problem by any one of these methods. By individuals and by groups woman has always been seeking to develop the business of life to such proportions, to so diversify, refine, and broaden it that no half failure or utter failure of its fundamental relations would swamp her, leave her comfortless, or prevent her working out that family which she knew to be her part in the scheme of things. It is from her conscious attempt to make the best of things when they are proved bad, that there has come the uneasiness which trails along her path from Eve to Mrs. Pankhurst.
When great changes have come in the social system, her quest has responded to them, taken its color and direction from them. The peculiar forms of uneasiness in the American woman of to-day come naturally enough from the Revolution of 1776. That movement upset theoretically everything which had been expected of her before. Theoretically, it broke down the division fences which had kept her in sets and groups. She was no longer to be a woman of class; she was a woman of the people. This was striking at the very underpinning of femininity, as the world knew it. Theoretically, too, her ears were no longer to be closed to all ideas save those of her church or party,—a new thing, freedom of speech, was abroad,—her lips were opened with man's. Moreover, her business of family building was modified, as well as her attitude towards life. The necessity of all women educating themselves that they might be able to educate their children was an obligation on the face of the new undertaking. Another revolutionary duty put upon her was—paying her way. There can be no real democracy where there is parasitism. She must achieve conscious independence whether in or out of the family. Unquestionably there came with the Revolution a vision of a new woman—a woman from whom all of the willfulness and frivolity and helplessness of the "Lady" of the old regime should be stripped, while all her qualities of gentleness and charm should be preserved. The old-world lady was to be merged into a woman strong, capable, severely beautiful, a creature who had all of the virtues and none of the follies of femininity.
It was strong yeast they put into the pot in '76.
A fresh leaven in a people can never be distributed evenly. Moreover, the mass to which it is applied is never homogeneous. There are spots so hard no yeast can move them; there are others so light the yeast burns them out. Taken as a whole, the change is labored and painful. So our new notions worked on women. There were groups which resented and refused them, became reactionary at the stating of them. There were those which grew grave and troubled under them, shrinking from the portentous upheaval they felt in their touch, yet sensing that they must be accepted. There were still others where the notion frothed and foamed, turning up unexpected ideas, revealing depths of dissatisfaction, of desire, of unsuspected powers in woman that startled the staid old world. It was in these quarters that there was produced the uneasy woman typical of the day.
Her ferment went to the bottom of things this time. Not since the age of the Amazon had a body of women broken more utterly with things as they are. And like the Amazon, the revolt was against man and his pretensions.
It was no unorganized revolt. It was deliberate. It presented her case in a carefully prepared List of Grievances, and an eloquent Declaration of Sentiments both adopted in a strictly parliamentary way, and made the basis of an organized revolt, which has gone on systematically ever since. The essence of her complaint, as embodied in the above expression, is that man is a conscious tyrant holding woman an unwilling captive—cutting her off from the things in life which really matter: education, freedom of speech, the ballot; that she can never be his equal until she does the same things her tyrant does, studies the book he studies, practices the trades and professions he practices, works with him in government.
The inference from all this is that the Business of Being a Woman, as it has been conducted heretofore by society, is of less importance than the Business of Being a Man, and that the time has come to enter his world and prove her equality.
There are certain assumptions in her program which will bear examination. Is man the calculating tyrant the modern uneasy woman charges? Are her fetters due only to his unfair domination? Or is she suffering from the generally bungling way things go in the world? And is not man a victim as well as she—caught in the same trap? Moreover, is woman never a tyrant? One of the first answers to her original revolt came from the most eminent woman of the day, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and it was called "Pink and White Tyranny!" "I have seen a collection of medieval English poems," says Chesterton, "in which the section headed 'Poems of Domestic Life' consisted entirely (literally entirely) of the complaints of husbands bullied by their wives."
Again, will doing the same things a man does work as well in stifling her unrest as she fancies it has in man's case? If a woman's temperamental and intellectual operations were identical with a man's, there would be hope of success,—but they are not. She is a different being. Whether she is better or worse, stronger or weaker, primary or secondary, is not the question. She is different.
And she tries to ease a world-old human curse by imitating the occupations, points of views, and methods of a radically different being. Can she realize her quest in this way? Generally speaking, nothing is more wasteful in human operations than following a course which is not native and spontaneous, not according to the law of the being.
If she demonstrates her points, successfully copies man's activities, can she impress her program on any great body of women? The mass of women believe in their task. Its importance is not capable of argument in their minds. Nor do they see themselves dwarfed by their business. They know instinctively that under no other circumstances can such ripeness and such wisdom be developed, that nowhere else is the full nature called upon, nowhere else are there such intricate, delicate, and intimate forces in play, calling and testing them.
To bear and to rear, to feel the dependence of man and child—the necessity for themselves—to know that upon them depend the health, the character, the happiness, the future of certain human beings—to see themselves laying and preserving the foundations of so imposing a thing as a family—to build so that this family shall become a strong stone in the state—to feel themselves through this family perpetuating and perfecting church, society, republic,—this is their destiny,—this is worth while. They may not be able to state it, but all their instincts and experiences convince them of the supreme and eternal value of their place in the world. They dare not tamper with it. Their opposition to the militant program badly and even cruelly expressed at times has at bottom, as an opposition always has, the principle of preservation. It is not bigotry or vanity or a petty notion of their own spheres which has kept the majority of women from lending themselves to the radical wing of the woman's movement. It is fear to destroy a greater thing which they possess. The fear of change is not an irrational thing—the fear of change is founded on the risk of losing what you have, on the certainty of losing much temporarily at least. It sees the cost, the ugly and long period of transition.
Moreover, respect for your calling brings patience with its burden and its limitations. The change you desire you work for conservatively, if at all. The women who opposed the first movement for women's rights in this country might deplore the laws that gave a man the power to beat his wife—but as a matter of fact few men did beat their wives, and popular opinion was a powerful weapon. They might deplore the laws of property—but few of them were deeply touched by them. The husband, the child, the home, the social circle, the church, these things were infinitely more interesting and important to them than diplomas, rights to work, rights to property, rights to vote. All the sentiments in the revolting women's program seemed trivial, cold, profitless beside the realities of life as they dreamed them and struggled to realize them.
It is this same intuitive loyalty to her Business of Being a Woman, her unwillingness to have it tampered with, that is to-day the great obstacle to our Uneasy Woman putting her program of relief into force. And it is the effort to move this mass which she derides as inert that leads to much of the overemphasis in her program and her methods. If she is to attract attention, she must be extreme. The campaigner is like the actor—he must exaggerate to get his effect over the footlights. Moreover, there are natures like that of the actor who could not play Othello unless his whole body was blackened. Nor is the extravagance of the methods, which the militant lady follows to put over her program, so foreign to her nature as it may seem. The suffragette adapts to her needs a form of feminine coquetry as old as the world. To defy and denounce the male has always been one of woman's most successful provocative ways!
However much certain of the assumptions in her program may seem to be against its success, there is much for it. It gives her a scapegoat—an outside, personal, attackable cause for the limitations and defeats she suffers. And there is no greater consolation than fixing blame. It is half a cure in itself to know or to think you know the cause of your difficulties. Moreover, it gives her a scapegoat against whom it is easy to make up a case. She knows him too well, much better than he knows her, much better than she knows herself; at least her knowledge of him is better formulated. And she has this advantage: custom makes it cowardly for a man to attempt to demonstrate that woman is a tyrant—it laughs and applauds woman's attempt to fix the charge on man.
It gives her a definite program of relief. To attack life as man does: to secure the same kind of training, enter a trade or profession where she can support herself, mingle with the crowd as he does, get into politics—that she assumes to be the practical way of curing the inferiority of position and of powers which she is willing to admit, even willing to demonstrate. That a man's life may not be altogether satisfactory, she declines to believe. The uneasy woman has always taken it for granted that man is happier than woman. It is an assumption which is at least discussible.
Her program, too, has the immense advantage of including all that the new order of things in this country, instituted by the Revolution, made imperative for women—the schooling, the liberty of action, the independent pocket book. Because she has formulated these notions so definitely and has hammered on them so hard, the militant woman frequently claims that they originated with her, that she is the cause of the great development in educational opportunities, in freedom to work and to circulate, in the increasing willingness to face the facts of life and speak the truth. This claim she should drop. She is rather the logical result of these notions, their extreme expression. She has, however, had an enormous influence in keeping them alive in the great slow-moving mass of women, where the fate of new ideas rests and where they are always tried out with extreme caution. Without her the vision of enlarging and liberalizing their own particular business to meet the needs of the New Democracy which so exalted the women of the Revolution, would not to-day be as nearly realized as it is. To speak slightingly of her part in the women's movement is uncomprehending. She was then, and always has been, a tragic figure, this woman in the front of the woman's movement—driven by a great unrest, sacrificing old ideals to attain new, losing herself in a frantic and frequently blind struggle, often putting back her cause by the sad illustration she was of the price that must be paid to attain a result. Certainly no woman who to-day takes it as a matter of course that she should study what she chooses, go and come as she will, support herself unquestioned by trade, profession, or art, work in public or private, handle her own property, share her children on equal terms with her husband, receive a respectful attention on platform or before legislature, live freely in the world, should think with anything but reverence particularly of the early disturbers of convention and peace, for they were an essential element in the achievement.
The great strength of the radical program is now, as it has always been, the powerful appeal it makes to the serious young woman. Man and marriage are a trap—that is the essence the young woman draws from the campaign for woman's rights. All the vague terror which at times runs through a girl's dream of marriage, the sudden vision of probable agonies, of possible failure and death, become under the teachings of the militant woman so many realities. She sees herself a "slave," as the jargon has it, putting all her eggs into one basket with the certainty that some, perhaps all, will be broken.
The new gospel offers an escape from all that. She will be a "free" individual, not one "tied" to a man. The "drudgery" of the household she will exchange for what she conceives to be the broad and inspiring work which men are doing. For the narrow life of the family she will escape to the excitement and triumph of a "career." The Business of Being a Woman becomes something to be apologized for. All over the land there are women with children clamoring about them, apologizing for never having done anything! Women whose days are spent in trade and professions complacently congratulate themselves that they at least have lived. There were girls in the early days of the movement, as there no doubt are to-day, who prayed on their knees that they might escape the frightful isolation of marriage, might be free to "live" and to "work," to "know" and to "do."
What it was really all about they never knew until it was too late. That is, they examined neither the accusations nor the premises. They accepted them. Strong young natures are quick to accept charges of injustice. To them it is unnatural that life should be hampered, that it should be anything but radiant. Curing injustice, too, seems particularly easy to the young. It is simply a matter of finding a remedy and putting it into force! The young American woman of militant cast finds it is easy to believe that the Business of Being a Woman is slavery. She has her mother's pains and sacrifices and tears before her, and she resents them. She meets the theory on every hand that the distress she loathes is of man's doing, that it is for her to revolt, to enter his business, and so doing escape his tyranny, find a worth-while life for herself, and at the same time help "liberate" her sex.
And so for sixty years she has been working on this thesis. That she has not demonstrated it sufficiently to satisfy even herself is shown by the fact that she is still the most conspicuous of Uneasy Women. But that she has produced a type and an influential one is certain. Indeed, she may be said to have demonstrated sufficiently for practical purposes what there is for her in imitating the activities of man.
 DECLARATION OF SENTIMENTS
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they were accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.
The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man towards woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.
He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she has no voice.
He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men—both natives and foreigners.
Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.
He has made her, if married, in the eyes of the law, civilly dead.
He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.
He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master—the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.
He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes, and in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women—the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.
After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single, and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.
He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.
He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.
He allows her in Church, as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exception, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.
He has created a false sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.
He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.
He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.
ON THE IMITATION OF MAN
Fresh attacks on life, like chemical experiments, turn up unexpected by-products. The Uneasy Woman, driven by the thirst for greater freedom, and believing man's way of life will assuage it, lays siege to his kingdom. Some of the unexpected loot she has carried away still embarrasses her. Not a little, however, is of such undeniable advantage that she may fairly contend that its capture alone justifies her campaign.
Go to-day into many a woman's club house, into many a drawing-room or studio at, let us say, the afternoon tea hour, and what will you see? One or probably more women in mannish suits and boots calmly smoking cigarettes while they talk, and talk well, about things in which women are not supposed to be interested, but which it is apparent they understand.
Look the exhibit over. It is made, you at once recognize, by women of character, position, and sense. They have simply found certain masculine ways to their liking and adopted them. The probability is that if anybody should object to their habits, many of them would be as bewildered as are the great majority of Americans by the demonstration that "nice" women can smoke and think nothing of it!
The cigarette, the boot, and much of the talk are only by-products of the woman's invasion of the man's world. She did not set out to win these spoils. They came to her in the campaign!
The objects of her attack were things she considered more fundamental. She was dissatisfied with the way her brain was being trained, her time employed, her influence directed. "Give us the man's way," was her demand, "then we shall understand real things, can fill our days with important tasks, will count as human beings."
There was no uncertainty in her notion of how this was to be accomplished. A woman rarely feels uncertainty about methods. She instinctively sees a way and follows it with assurance. Half her irritation against man has always been that he is a spendthrift with time and talk. Madame Roland, sitting at her sewing table listening to the excited debate of the Revolutionists in her salon, mourned that though the ideas were many, the resulting measures were few. It is the woman's eternal complaint against discussion—nothing comes of it. In a country like our own, where reflection usually follows action, the woman's natural mental attitude is exaggerated. It is one reason why we have so few houses where there is anything like conversation, why with us the salon as an institution is out of question. The woman wants immediately to incorporate her ideas. She is not interested in turning them over, letting her mind play with them. She has no patience with other points of view than her own. They are wrong—therefore why consider them? She detests uncertainties—questions which cannot be settled. Only by man and the rare woman is it accepted that talk is a good enough end in itself.
The strength of woman's attack on man's life, apart from the essential soundness of the impulse which drove her to make it, lay then in its directness and practicality. She began by asking to be educated in the same way that man educated himself. Preferably she would enter his classroom, or if that was denied her, she would follow the "just-as-good" curriculum of the college founded for her. In the last sixty or seventy years tens of thousands of women have been students in American universities, colleges, and technical schools, taking there the same training as men. In the last twenty years the annual crescendo of numbers has been amazing; over ten thousand at the beginning of the period, over fifty-two thousand at the end. Over eight thousand degrees were given to women in 1910, nearly half as many as were given to men. Fully four fifths of these women students and graduates have worked side by side with men in schools which served both equally.
Here, then, is a great mass of experience from which it would seem that we ought to be able to say precisely how the intellects of the two sexes act and react under the stimulus of serious study, to decide definitely whether their attack on problems is the same, whether they come out the same. Nevertheless, he would be a rash observer who would pretend to lay down hard-and-fast generalizations. Assert whatever you will as to the mind of woman at work and some unimpeachable authority will rise up with experience that contradicts you. But the same may be said of the mind of man. The mind—per se—is a variable and disconcerting organ.
But admitting all this—certain generalizations, on the whole correct, may be made from our experience with coeducation.
One of the first of these is that at the start the woman takes her work more seriously than her masculine competitor. Fifty years ago there was special reason for this. The few who in those early days sought a man's education had something of the spirit of pioneers. They had set themselves a lofty task: to prove themselves the equal of man—to win privileges which they believed were maliciously denied their sex. The spirit with which they attacked their studies was illumined by the loftiness of their aim. The girl who enters college nowadays has rarely the opportunity to be either pioneer or martyr. She is doing what has come to be regarded as a matter of course. Nevertheless, to-day as then, in the coeducational institution she is more consciously on her mettle than the man.
Her attention, interest, respectfulness, docility, will be ahead of his. It will at once be apparent that she carries the larger stock of untaught knowledge. In the classroom she will usually outstep him in mathematics. It is an ideal subject for her, satisfying her talent for order, for making things "come out right." Her memory will serve her better. She can depend upon it to carry more exceptions to rules, more fantastic irregular verbs, more dates, more lists of kings and queens, battles and generals, and on the whole she will treat this sort of impedimenta with more respect. She will know less of abstract ideas, of philosophies and speculations. They will interest her less. The chances are that she will be less skillful with microscope and scalpel, though this is not certain. She will show less enthusiasm for technical problems, for machinery and engineering; more for social problems, particularly when it is a question of meeting them with preventives or remedies. In the first two or three years after entering college, she will almost invariably appear superior to the men of her age, more grown up, more interested, surer of herself, readier. Later you will find her on the whole less inclined to experiment with her gifts, to feel her wings, to make unexpected dashes into life. It begins to look as if he were the experimenter, she the conservator. And by the time she is a senior, look out! The chances are she will have less interest from now on with man's business and more with her own! In any case she will rarely develop as rapidly in his field from this point as he is doing.
He becomes assertive, confident, dominating; the male taking a male's place. He discovers that his intellectual processes are more scientific than hers, therefore he concludes they are superior. He finds he can outargue her, draw logical conclusions as she cannot. He can do anything with her but convince her, for she jumps the process, lands on her conclusion, and there she sits. Things are so because they are so. And the chances are she is right, in spite of the irregular way she got there. Something superior to reason enters into her operations—an intuition of truth akin to inspiration. In early ages women unusually endowed with this quality of perception were honored as seers. To-day they are recognized as counselors of prophetic wisdom. "If I had taken my wife's advice!" How often one hears it!
One most important fact has come out of our great coeducational experiment: The college cannot entirely rub feminity out and masculinity into a woman's brain. The woman's mind is still the woman's mind, although she is usually the last to recognize it. It is another proof of the eternal fact that Nature looks after her own good works!
But it takes more than a college course to make an efficient, flexible, and trustworthy organ from a mind, masculine or feminine. It must be applied to productive labor in competition with other trained minds, before you can decide what it is worth. Set the man-trained woman's mind at what is called man's business, let it be what you will—keeping a shop, practicing medicine or law, editing, running a factory—let her do it in what she considers to be a man's way, and with fidelity to her original theory that his way is more desirable than hers; that is, let her succeed in the task of making a man of herself—what about her?—what kind of a man does she become?
Here again there is ample experience to go on. For seventy years we have had them with us—the stern disciples of the militant program. Greater fidelity to a task than they show it would be impossible to find—a fidelity so unwavering that it is often painful. Their care for detail, for order, for exactness, is endless. Dignity, respect for their undertaking, devotion to professional etiquette they may be counted on to show in the highest degree. These are admirable qualities. They have led hundreds of women into independence and good service. Almost never, however, have they led one to the top. In free fields such as merchandising, editing, and manufacturing we have yet to produce a woman of the first caliber; that is, daring, experimenting, free from prejudice, with a vision of the future great enough to lead her to embody something of the future in her task.
In every profession we have scores of successful women—almost never a great woman, and yet the world is full of great women! That is, of women who understand, are familiar with the big sacrifices, appreciative of the fine things, far-seeing, prophetic. Why does this greatness so rarely find expression in their professional undertakings?
The answer is no doubt complex, but one factor is the general notion of the woman that if she succeeds she must suppress her natural emotions and meet the world with a surface as non-resilient as she conceives that of man to be in his dealings with the world. She is strengthened in this notion by hard necessity. No woman could live and respond as freely as her nature prompts to the calls on her sympathy which come in the contact with all conditions of life involved in practicing a trade or a profession. She must save herself. To do it she incases herself in an unnatural armor. For the normal, healthy woman this means the suppression of what is strongest in her nature, that power which differentiates her chiefly from man, her power of emotion, her "affectability" as the scientists call it. She must overcome her own nature, put it in bonds, cripple it, if she is to do her work. Here is a fundamental reason for the failure of woman to reach the first rank. She has sacrificed the most wonderful part of her endowment, that which when trained gives her vision, sharpens her intuitions, reveals the need and the true course. This superior affectability crushed, leaves her atrophied.
The common characterization of this atrophied woman is that she is "cold." It is the exact word. She is cold, also she is self-centered and intensely personal. Let a woman make success in a trade or profession her exclusive and sufficient ambition, and the result, though it may be brilliant, is repellent.
She gives to her task an altogether disproportionate place in her scheme of things. Life is not made by work, important as is work in life. Human nature has varied needs. It calls imperatively for a task, something to do with brain and hands—a productive something which fits the common good, without which the world would not be as orderly and as happy. Say what we will, it matters very little what the task is—if it contributes in some fashion to this superior orderliness and happiness. But it means more. It means leisure, pleasure, excitements; it means feeding of the taste, the curiosity, the emotions, the reflective powers; and it means love, love of the mate, the child, the friend, and neighbor. It means reverence for the scheme of things and one's place in it; worship of the author of it, religion.
But the woman sternly set to do a man's business, believing it better than the woman's, too often views life as made up of business. She throws her whole nature to the task. Her work is her child. She gives it the same exclusive passionate attention. She is as fiercely jealous of interference in it as she would be if it were a child. She resents suggestions and change. It is hers, a personal thing to which she clings as if it were a living being. That attitude is the chief reason why working with women in the development of great undertakings is as difficult as cooeperating with them in the rearing of a family. It is also a reason why they rarely rise to the first rank. They cannot get away from their undertakings sufficiently to see the big truths and movements which are always impersonal.
Brilliant and satisfying as her triumph may be to her personally, she frequently finds that it is resented by nature and by society. She finds that nature lays pitfalls for her, cracks the ice of her heart and sets it aflame, often for absurd and unworthy causes. She finds that the great mass of unconscious women commiserate or scorn her as one who has missed the fullness of life. She finds that society regards her as one who shirked the task of life, and who, therefore, should not be honored as the woman who has stood up to the common burden. When she senses this—which is not always—she treats it as prejudice. As a matter of fact, the antagonism of Nature and Society to the militant woman is less prejudice than self-defense. It is a protest against the wastefulness and sacrifice of her career. It is a right saving impulse to prevent perversion of the qualities and powers of women which are most needed in the world, those qualities and powers which differentiate her from man, which make for the variety, the fullness, the charm, and interest of life.
Moreover, Nature and Society must not permit her triumph to appear desirable to the young. They must be made to understand what her winnings have cost in lovely and desirable things. They must know that the unrest which drove her to the attempt is not necessarily satisfied by her triumph, that it is merely stifled and may break out at any time in vagaries and follies. They must be made to realize the essential barrenness of her triumph, its lack of the savor and tang of life, the multitude of makeshifts she must practice to recompense her for the lack of the great adventure of natural living.
And they see it, many of them, before they are out of college, and their militancy falls off like the cloak it generally is. The girl abandons her quest. In the early days she was likely to be treated as an apostate if, instead of following the "life work" she had picked out, she slipped back into matrimony. I can remember the dismay among certain militant friends when Alice Freeman married. "Our first college president," they groaned. "A woman who so vindicated the sex." It was like the grieving of Miss Anthony that Mrs. Stanton wasted so much time having babies!
The militant theory, as originally conceived, instead of increasing in favor, has declined. There is little likelihood now that any great number of women will ever regard it as a desirable working formula for more than a short period of their lives. But I am not saying that this theory is no longer influential. It is probable that in a modified form it was never more influential than it is to-day. For, while the Uneasy Woman has practically demonstrated that "making a man of herself" does not solve her problem, she has by no means given up the notion that the Business of Being a Woman is narrowing and unsatisfying. Nor has she ceased to consider man's life more desirable than woman's.
The present effort of the serious-minded to meet the case takes two general directions, natural enough outgrowths of the original militancy. The first of these is a frank advocacy of celibacy. "Celibacy is the aristocracy of the future," is the preaching of one European feminist. It is a modification of the scheme by which the medieval woman sought to escape unrest. Four hundred years ago a woman sought celibacy as an escape from sin; service and righteousness were her aim. To-day she adopts it to escape inferiority and servitude; superiority and freedom her aim.
The ranks of the woman celibates are not full. Many a candidate falls out by the way, confronted by something she had not reckoned with—the eternal command that she be a woman. She compromises—grudgingly. She will be a woman on condition that she is guaranteed economic freedom, opportunity for self-expressive work, political recognition. What this amounts to is that she does not see in the woman's life a satisfying and permanent end. There are various points at which she claims it fails. It is antagonistic to personal ambition. It makes a dependent of her. It leaves her in middle life without an occupation. It keeps her out of the great movements of her day—gives her no part in the solution of the ethical and economical problems which affect her and her children. She declares that she wants fuller participation in life, and by life she seems to mean the elaborate machinery by which human wants are supplied and human beings kept in something like order; the movements of the market place, of politics, and of government.
Now if there were not something in her contention, the Uneasy Woman would not be with us as she is to-day, more vociferous, more insistent than ever in the world's history. What is there in her case?
If the cultivation of individual tastes and talents to a useful, productive point is out of question in the woman's business, if it is not a part of it, something is weak in the scheme. Something is weak if the woman is or feels that she is not paying her way. Both are not only individual rights; they are individual duties.
Moreover, she is certainly right to be dissatisfied, if, after spending twenty-five years, more or less, she is to be left in middle life, her forces spent, without interests and obligations which will occupy brain and heart to the full, without important tasks which are the logical outcome of her experience and which she must carry on in order to complete that experience.
But what is the truth about it? What is the Business of Being a Woman? Is it something incompatible with free and joyous development of one's talents? Is there no place in it for economic independence? Has it no essential relation to the world's movements? Is it an episode which drains the forces and leaves a dreary wreck behind? Is it something that cannot be organized into a profession of dignity, and opportunity for service and for happiness?
THE BUSINESS OF BEING A WOMAN
Respect for the Creator of this world is basic among all civilized people. The longer one lives, the more thoroughly one realizes the soundness of this respect. The earth and its works are good. Most human conceptions are barred by strange inconsistencies. The man who praises the works of the Creator as all wise not infrequently treats His arrangement for carrying on the race as if it were unfit to be spoken of in polite society. Nowhere does the modern God-fearing man come nearer to sacrilege than in his attitude toward the divine plan for renewing life.
A strange mixture of sincerity and hypocrisy, self-flagellation and lust, aspiration and superstition, has gone into the making of this attitude. With the development of it we have nothing to do here. What does concern us is the effect of this profanity on the Business of Being a Woman.
The central fact of the woman's life—Nature's reason for her—is the child, his bearing and rearing. There is no escape from the divine order that her life must be built around this constraint, duty, or privilege, as she may please to consider it. But from the beginning to the end of life she is never permitted to treat it naturally and frankly. As a child accepting all that opens to her as a matter of course, she is steered away from it as if it were something evil. Her first essays at evasion and spying often come to her in connection with facts which are sacred and beautiful and which she is perfectly willing to accept as such if they were treated intelligently and reverently. If she could be kept from all knowledge of the procession of new life except as Nature reveals it to her, there would be reason in her treatment. But this is impossible. From babyhood she breathes the atmosphere of unnatural prejudices and misconceptions which envelop the fact.
Throughout her girlhood the atmosphere grows thicker. She finally faces the most perilous and beautiful of experiences with little more than the ideas which have come to her from the confidences of evil-minded servants, inquisitive and imaginative playmates, or the gossip she overhears in her mother's society. Every other matter of her life, serious and commonplace, has received careful attention, but here she has been obliged to feel her way and, worst of abominations, to feel it with an inner fear that she ought not to know or seek to know.
If there were no other reason for the modern woman's revolt against marriage, the usual attitude toward its central facts would be sufficient. The idea that celibacy for woman is "the aristocracy of the future" is soundly based if the Business of Being a Woman rests on a mystery so questionable that it cannot be frankly and truthfully explained by a girl's mother at the moment her interest and curiosity seeks satisfaction. That she gets on as well as she does, results, of course, from the essential soundness of the girl's nature, the armor of modesty, right instinct, and reverence with which she is endowed.
The direst result of ignorance or of distorted ideas of this tremendous matter of carrying on human life is that it leaves the girl unconscious of the supreme importance of her mate. So heedlessly and ignorantly is our mating done to-day that the huge machinery of Church and State and the tremendous power of public opinion combined have been insufficient to preserve to the institution of marriage anything like the stability it once had, or that it is desirable that it should have, if its full possibilities are to be realized. The immorality and inhumanity of compelling the obviously mismated to live together, grow on society. Divorce and separation are more and more tolerated. Yet little is done to prevent the hasty and ill-considered mating which is at the source of the trouble.
Rarely has a girl a sound and informed sense to guide her in accepting her companion. The corollary of this bad proposition is that she has no sufficient idea of the seriousness of her undertaking. She starts out as if on a lifelong joyous holiday, primarily devised for her personal happiness. And what is happiness in her mind? Certainly it is not a good to be conquered—a state of mind wrested from life by tackling and mastering its varied experiences, the end, not the beginning, of a great journey. Too often it is that of the modern Uneasy Woman—the attainment of something outside of herself. She visualizes it, as possessions, as ease, a "good time," opportunities for self-culture, the exclusive devotion of the mate to her. Rarely does she understand that happiness in her undertaking depends upon the wisdom and sense with which she conquers a succession of hard places—calling for readjustment of her ideas and sacrifice of her desires. All this she must discover for herself. She is like a voyager who starts out on a great sea with no other chart than a sailor's yarns, no other compass than curiosity.
The budget of axioms she brings to her guidance she has picked up helter-skelter. They are the crumbs gathered from the table of the Uneasy Woman, or worse, of the pharisaical and satisfied woman, from good and bad books, from newspaper exploitations of divorce and scandal, from sly gossip with girls whose budget of marital wisdom is as higgledy-piggledy as her own.
And a pathetically trivial budget it is:—
"He must tell her everything." "He must always pick up what she drops." "He must dress for dinner." "He must remember her birthday." That is, she begins her adventure with a set of hard-and-fast rules,—and nothing in this life causes more mischief than the effort to force upon another one's own rules!
That marriage gives the finest opportunity that life affords for practicing, not rules, but principles, she has never been taught. Flexibility, adaptation, fair-mindedness, the habit of supplementing the weakness of the one by the strength of the other, all the fine things upon which the beauty, durability, and growth of human relations depend,—these are what decide the future of her marriage. These she misses while she insists on her rules; and ruin is often the end. Study the causes back of divorces and separations, the brutal criminal causes aside, and one finds that usually they begin in trivial things,—an irritating habit or an offensive opinion persisted in on the one side and not endured philosophically on the other; a petty selfishness indulged on the one side and not accepted humorously on the other,—that is, the marriage is made or unmade by small, not great, things.
It is a lack of any serious consideration of the nature of the undertaking she is going into which permits her at the start to accept a false notion of her economic position. She agrees that she is being "supported"; she consents to accept what is given her; she even consents to ask for money. Men and society at large take her at her own valuation. Loose thinking by those who seek to influence public opinion has aggravated the trouble. They start with the idea that she is a parasite—does not pay her way. "Men hunt, fish, keep the cattle, or raise corn," says a popular writer, "for women to eat the game, the fish, the meat, and the corn." The inference is that the men alone render useful service. But neither man nor woman eats of these things until the woman has prepared them. The theory that the man who raises corn does a more important piece of work than the woman who makes it into bread is absurd. The theory that she does something more difficult and less interesting is equally absurd.
The practice of handing over the pay envelope at the end of the week to the woman, so common among laboring people, is a recognition of her equal economic function. It is a recognition that the venture of the two is common and that its success depends as much on the care and intelligence with which she spends the money as it does on the energy and steadiness with which he earns it. Whenever one or the other fails, trouble begins. The failure to understand this business side of the marriage relation almost inevitably produces humiliation and irritation. So serious has the strain become because of this false start that various devices have been suggested to repair it—Mr. Wells' "Paid Motherhood" is one; weekly wages as for a servant is another. Both notions encourage the primary mistake that the woman has not an equal economic place with the man in the marriage.
Marriage is a business as well as a sentimental partnership. But a business partnership brings grave practical responsibilities, and this, under our present system, the girl is rarely trained to face. She becomes a partner in an undertaking where her function is spending. The probability is she does not know a credit from a debit, has to learn to make out a check correctly, and has no conscience about the fundamental matter of living within the allowance which can be set aside for the family expenses. When this is true of her, she at once puts herself into the rank of an incompetent—she becomes an economic dependent. She has laid the foundation for becoming an Uneasy Woman.
It is common enough to hear women arguing that this close grappling with household economy is narrowing, not worthy of them. Why keeping track of the cost of eggs and butter and calculating how much your income will allow you to buy is any more narrowing than keeping track of the cost and quality of cotton or wool or iron and calculating how much a mill requires, it is hard to see. It is the same kind of a problem. Moreover, it has the added interest of being always an independent personal problem. Most men work under the deadening effect of impersonal routine. They do that which others have planned and for results in which they have no permanent share.
But the woman argues that her task has no relation to the state. Her failure to see that relation costs this country heavily. Her concern is with retail prices. If she does her work intelligently, she follows and studies every fluctuation of price in standards. She also knows whether she is receiving the proper quality and quantity; and yet so poorly have women discharged these obligations that dealers for years have been able to manipulate prices practically to please themselves, and as for quality and quantity we have the scandal of American woolen goods, of food adulteration, of false weights and measures. No one of these things could have come about in this country if woman had taken her business as a consumer with anything like the seriousness with which man takes his as a producer.
Her ignorance in handling the products of industry has helped the monopolistically inclined trust enormously. I can remember the day when the Beef Trust invaded a certain Middle Western town. The war on the old-time butchers of the village was open. "Buy of us," was the order, "or we'll fill the storage house so full that the legs of the steers will hang out of the windows, and we'll give away the meat." The women of the town had a prosperous club which might have resisted the tyranny which the members all deplored, but the club was busy that winter with the study of the Greek drama! They deplored the tyranny, but they bought the cut-rate meat—the old butchers fought to a finish, and the housekeepers are now paying higher prices for poorer meat and railing at the impotency of man in breaking up the Beef Trust!
If two years ago when the question of a higher duty on hosiery was before Congress any woman or club of women had come forward with carefully tabulated experiments, showing exactly the changes which have gone on of late years in the shape, color, and wearing quality of the 15-, 25-, and 50-cent stockings, the stockings of the poor, she would have rendered a genuine economic service. The women held mass meetings and prepared petitions instead, using on the one side the information the shopkeepers furnished, on the other that which the stocking manufacturers furnished. Agitation based upon anything but personal knowlledge is not a public service. It may be easily a grave public danger. The facts needed for fixing the hosiery duty the women should have furnished, for they buy the stockings.
If the Uneasy American Woman were really fulfilling her economic functions to-day, she would never allow a short pound of butter, a yard of adulterated woolen goods, to come into her home. She would never buy a ready-made garment which did not bear the label of the Consumer's League. She would recognize that she is a guardian of quality, honesty, and humanity in industry.
A persistent misconception of the nature and the possibilities of this practical side of the Business of Being a Woman runs through all present-day discussions of the changes in household economy. The woman no longer has a chance to pay her way, we are told, because it is really cheaper to buy bread than to bake it, to buy jam than to put it up. Of course, this is a part of the vicious notion that a woman only makes an economic return by the manual labor she does. The Uneasy Woman takes up the point and complains that she has nothing to do. But this release from certain kinds of labor once necessary, merely puts upon her the obligation to apply the ingenuity and imagination necessary to make her business meet the changes of an ever changing world. Because the conditions under which a household must be run now are not what they were fifty years ago is no proof that the woman no longer has here an important field of labor. There is more to the practical side of her business than preparing food for the family! It means, for one thing, the directing of its wants. The success of a household lies largely in its power of selection. To-day selection has given way to accumulation. The family becomes too often an incorporated company for getting things—with frightful results. The woman holds the only strong strategic position from which to war on this tendency, as well as on the habits of wastefulness which are making our national life increasingly hard and ugly. She is so positioned that she can cultivate and enforce simplicity and thrift, the two habits which make most for elegance and for satisfaction in the material things of life.
Whenever a woman does master this economic side of her business in a manner worthy of its importance, she establishes the most effective school for teaching thrift, quality, management, selection—all the factors in the economic problem. Such scientific household management is the rarest kind of a training school. And here we touch the most vital part in the Woman's Business—that of education.
Every home is perforce a good or bad educational center. It does its work in spite of every effort to shirk or supplement it. No teacher can entirely undo what it does, be that good or bad. The natural joyous opening of a child's mind depends on its first intimate relations. These are, as a rule, with the mother. It is the mother who "takes an interest," who oftenest decides whether the new mind shall open frankly and fearlessly. How she does her work, depends less upon her ability to answer questions than her effort not to discourage them; less upon her ability to lead authoritatively into great fields than her efforts to push the child ahead into those which attract him. To be responsive to his interests is the woman's greatest contribution to the child's development.
I remember a call once made on me by two little girls when our time was spent in an excited discussion of the parts of speech. They were living facts to them, as real as if their discovery had been printed that morning for the first time in the newspaper. I was interested to find who it was that had been able to keep their minds so naturally alive. I found that it came from the family habit of treating with respect whatever each child turned up. Nothing was slurred over as if it had no relation to life—not even the parts of speech! They were not asked or forced to load themselves up with baggage in which they soon discovered their parents had no interest. Everything was treated as if it had a permanent place in the scheme to which they were being introduced. It is only in some such relation that the natural bent of most children can flower, that they can come early to themselves. Where this warming, nourishing intimacy is wanting, where the child is turned over to schools to be put through the mass drill which numbers make imperative—it is impossible for the most intelligent teacher to do a great deal to help the child to his own. What the Uneasy Woman forgets is that no two children born were ever alike, and no two children who grow to manhood and womanhood will ever live the same life. The effort to make one child like another, to make him what his parents want, not what he is born to be, is one of the most cruel and wasteful in society. It is the woman's business to prevent this.
The Uneasy Woman tells you that this close attention to the child is too confining, too narrowing. "I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task," says Chesterton; "I will never pity her for its smallness." A woman never lived who did all she might have done to open the mind of her child for its great adventure. It is an exhaustless task. The woman who sees it knows she has need of all the education the college can give, all the experience and culture she can gather. She knows that the fuller her individual life, the broader her interests, the better for the child. She should be a person in his eyes. The real service of the "higher education," the freedom to take a part in whatever interests or stimulates her—lies in the fact that it fits her intellectually to be a companion worthy of a child. She should know that unless she does this thing for him he goes forth with his mind still in swaddling clothes, with the chances that it will not be released until relentless life tears off the bands.
The progress of society depends upon getting out of men and women an increasing amount of the powers with which they are born and which bad surroundings at the start blunt or stupefy. This is what all systems of education try to do, but the result of all systems of education depends upon the material that comes to the educator. Opening the mind of the child, that is the delicate task the state asks of the mother, and the quality of the future state depends upon the way she discharges this part of her business.
I think it is historically correct to say that the reason of the sudden and revolutionary change in the education of American women, which began with the nineteenth century and continued through it, was the realization that if we were to make real democrats, we must begin with the child, and if we began with the child, we must begin with the mother!
Everybody saw that unless the child learned by example and precept the great principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity, he was going to remain what by nature we all are,—imperious, demanding, and self-seeking. The whole scheme must fail if his education failed. It is not too much to say that the success of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution depended, in the minds of certain early Democrats, upon the woman. The doctrines of these great instruments would be worked out according to the way she played her part. Her serious responsibility came in the fact that her work was one that nobody could take off her hands. This responsibility required a preparation entirely different from that which had been hers. She must be given education and liberty. The woman saw this, and the story of her efforts to secure both, that she might meet the requirements, is one of the noblest in history. There was no doubt, then, as to the value of the tasks, no question as to their being worthy national obligations. It was a question of fitting herself for them.
But what has happened? In the process of preparing herself to discharge more adequately her task as a woman in a republic, her respect for the task has been weakened. In this process, which we call emancipation, she has in a sense lost sight of the purposes of emancipation. Interested in acquiring new tools, she has come to believe the tools more important than the thing for which she was to use them. She has found out that with education and freedom, pursuits of all sorts are open to her, and by following these pursuits she can preserve her personal liberty, avoid the grave responsibility, the almost inevitable sorrows and anxieties, which belong to family life. She can choose her friends and change them. She can travel, and gratify her tastes, satisfy her personal ambitions. The snare has been too great; the beauty and joy of free individual life have dulled the sober sense of national obligation. The result is that she is frequently failing to discharge satisfactorily some of the most imperative demands the nation makes upon her.
Take as an illustration the moral training of the child. The most essential obligation in a Woman's Business is establishing her household on a sound moral basis. If a child is anchored to basic principles, it is because his home is built on them. If he understands integrity as a man, it is usually because a woman has done her work well. If she has not done it well, it is probable that he will be a disturbance and a menace when he is turned over to society. Sending defective steel to a gunmaker is no more certain to result in unsafe guns than turning out boys who are shifty and tricky is to result in a corrupt and unhappy community.
Appalled by the seriousness of the task, or lured from it by the joys of liberty and education, the woman has too generally shifted it to other shoulders—shoulders which were waiting to help her work out the problem, but which could never be a substitute. She has turned over the child to the teacher, secular and religious, and fancied that he might be made a man of integrity by an elaborate system of teaching in a mass. Has this shifting of responsibility no relation to the general lowering of our commercial and political morality?
For years we have been bombarded with evidence of an appalling indifference to the moral quality of our commercial and political transactions. It is not too much to say that the revelations of corruption in our American cities, the use of town councils, State legislatures, and even of the Federal Government in the interests of private business, have discredited the democratic system throughout the world. It has given more material for those of other lands who despise democracy to sneer at us than anything that has yet happened in this land. And this has come about under the regime of the emancipated woman. Is she in no way responsible for it? If she had kept the early ideals of the woman's part in democracy as clearly before her eyes as she has kept some of her personal wants and needs, could there have been so disastrous a condition? Would she be the Uneasy Woman she is if she had kept faith with the ideals that forced her emancipation?—if she had not substituted for them dreams of personal ambition, happiness, and freedom!
The failure to fulfill your function in the scheme under which you live always produces unrest. Content of mind is usually in proportion to the service one renders in an undertaking he believes worth while. If our Uneasy Woman could grasp the full meaning of her place in this democracy, a place so essential that democracy must be overthrown unless she rises to it—a part which man is not equipped to play and which he ought not to be asked to play, would she not cease to apologize for herself—cease to look with envy on man's occupations? Would she not rise to her part and we not have at last the "new woman" of whom we have talked so long?
Learning, business careers, political and industrial activities—none of these things is more than incidental in the national task of woman. Her great task is to prepare the citizen. The citizen is not prepared by a training in practical politics. Something more fundamental is required. The meaning of honor and of the sanctity of one's word, the understanding of the principles of democracy and of the society in which we live, the love of humanity, and the desire to serve,—these are what make a good citizen. The tools for preparing herself to give this training are in the woman's hands. It calls for education, and the nation has provided it. It calls for freedom of movement and expression, and she has them. It calls for ability to organize, to discuss problems, to work for whatever changes are essential. She is developing this ability. It may be that it calls for the vote. I do not myself see this, but it is certain that she will have the vote as soon as not a majority, but an approximate half, not of men—but of women—feel the need of it.
What she has partially at least lost sight of is that education, freedom, organization, agitation, the suffrage, are but tools to an end. What she now needs is to formulate that end so nobly and clearly that the most ignorant woman may understand it. The failure to do this is leading her deeper and deeper into fruitless unrest. It is also dulling her sense of the necessity of keeping her business abreast with the times. At one particular and vital point this shows painfully, and that is her slowness in socializing her home.
THE SOCIALIZATION OF THE HOME
It is only by much junketing about that one comes to the full realization of what men and women in the main are doing in this country. One learns as he passes from town to town, through cities and across plains, that the general reason for industry everywhere is to get the means to build and support a home. Row upon row, street upon street, they run in every village you traverse. They dot the hills and valleys, they break up the mountain side.
Every night they draw to their shelter millions of men who have toiled since morning to earn the money to build and keep them running. All day they shelter millions of women who toil from dawn to dark to put meaning into them. To shelter two people and the children that come to them, to provide them a place in which to eat and sleep, is that the only function of these homes? If that were all, few homes would be built. When that becomes all, the home is no more! To furnish a body for a soul, that is the physical function of the home.
There are certain people who cry out that for a woman this undertaking has no meaning—that for her it is a cook stove and a dustpan, a childbed, and a man who regards her as his servant. One might with equal justice say that for the man it is made up of ten, twelve, or more hours, at the plow, the engine, the counter, or the pen for the sake of supporting a woman and children whom he rarely sees! Unhappily, there are such combinations; they are not homes! They are deplorable failures of people who have tried to make homes. To insist that they are anything else is to overlook the facts of life, to doubt the sanity of mankind which hopefully and courageously goes on building, building, building, sacrificing, binding itself forever and ever to what?—a shell? No, to the institution which its observation and experience tell it, is the one out of which men and women have gotten the most hope, dignity, and joy,—the place through which, whatever its failures and illusions, they get the fullest development and the opportunity to render the most useful social service.
It is this grounded conviction that the home takes first rank among social institutions which gives its tremendous seriousness to the Business of Being a Woman. She is the one who must sit always at its center, the one who holds a strategic position for dealing directly with its problems. Far from these problems being purely of a menial nature, as some would have us believe, they are of the most delicate social and spiritual import. A woman in reality is at the head of a social laboratory where all the problems are of primary, not secondary, importance, since they all deal directly with human life.
One of the most illuminating experiences of travel is visiting the great chateaux of France. One goes to see "historical monuments," the scenes of strange and tragic human experiences; he finds he is in somebody's private house, which by order of the government is opened to the public one day of the week! He probably will not realize this fully unless he suddenly opens a door, not intended to be opened, behind which he finds a mass of children's toys—go-carts and dolls, balls and tennis rackets—or stumbles into a room supposed to be locked where framed photographs, sofa cushions, and sewing tables abound!
To the average American it comes almost as a shock that these open homes are the logic of democracy. It is almost sure to set him thinking that after all the home, anybody's home, even one in such big contrast to this chateau as a two-story frame house, on Avenue A, in B-ville, has a relation to the public. He has touched a great social truth.
To socialize her home, that is the high undertaking a woman has on her hands if she is to get at the heart of her Business. And what do we mean by socialization? Is it other than to put the stamp of affectionate, intelligent human interest upon all the operations and the intercourse of the center she directs? To make a place in which the various members can live freely and draw to themselves those with whom they are sympathetic—a place in which there is spiritual and intellectual room for all to grow and be happy each in his own way?
I doubt if there is any problem in the Woman's Business which requires a higher grade of intelligence, and certainly none that requires broader sympathies, than this of giving to her home that quality of stimulation and joyousness which makes young and old seek it gladly and freely.
To do this requires money, freedom, time, and strength? No, what I mean does not depend upon these things. It is the notion that it does that often prevents its growth. For it is a spirit, an attitude of mind, and not a formula or a piece of machinery. As far as my observation goes it is quite, if not more likely, to be found in a three-room apartment, where a family is living on fifteen dollars a week, as in an East Central Park mansion! In these little families where love prevails—it usually does exist. It is the kind of an atmosphere in which a man prefers to smoke his pipe rather than go to the saloon; where the girl brings her young man home rather than walk with him. Mutual interest and affection is its note. Such homes do exist by the tens of thousands; even in New York City. It is not from them that girls go to brothels or boys to the Tombs.
Externally, these homes are often pretty bad to look at—overcrowded, disorderly, and noisy. Cleanliness, order, and space are good things, but it is a mistake to think that there is no virtue without them. There are more primary and essential things; things to which they should be added, but without which they are lifeless virtues. In one of Miss Loane's reports on the life of the English poor, she makes these truthful observations:—
One learns to understand how it is that the dirty, untidy young wife, who, when her husband returns hungry and tired from a long day's work, holds up a smilingly assured face to be kissed, exclaiming, "Gracious! if I hadn't forgot all about your tea!" and clatters together an extravagant and ill-chosen meal while she pours out a stream of cheerful and inconsequent chatter, is more loved, and dealt with more patiently, tenderly, and faithfully, than her clean and frugal neighbor, who has prepared a meal that ought to turn the author of Twenty Satisfying Suppers for Sixpence green with envy, but who expects her husband to be eternally grateful because "he could eat his dinner off the boards,"—when all that the poor man asks is to be allowed to walk over them unreproached.
Peace and good will may go with disorder and carelessness! They may fly order and thrift. They will fly them when order and thrift are held as the more desirable. A woman is often slow to learn that good housekeeping alone cannot produce a milieu in which family happiness thrives and to which people naturally gravitate. She looks at it as the fulfillment of the law—the end of her Business. It is the exaggerated place she gives it in the scheme of things, which brings disaster to her happiness and gives substance to the argument that woman's lot in life is fatal to her development. Housekeeping is only the shell of a Woman's Business. Women lose themselves in it as men lose themselves in shopkeeping, farming, editing. Knowing nothing but your work is one of the commonest human mistakes. Pitifully enough it is often a deliberate mistake—the only way or the easiest way one finds to quiet an unsatisfied heart. The undue place given good housekeeping in many a woman's scheme of life is the more tragic because it is a distortion of one of the finest things in the human experience—the satisfaction of doing a thing well. It is a satisfaction which the worker must have if he is to get joy from his labor. But labor is not for the sake of itself. It must have its human reason. You rejoice in a "deep-driven plow"—but if there was to be no harvest, your straight, full furrows would be little comfort. You rejoice to build a stanch and beautiful house, but if you knew it was to stand forever vacant, joy would go from your task. An end work must have. One does not keep house for its own sake. It is absorption in the process—the refusal to allow it to be forgotten or utilized freely, that makes the work barren. It is like becoming so absorbed in a beautiful frame that you are unconscious of the picture—unconscious that there is a picture. Things must serve their purpose if they are to convince of their beauty. Try living in a room with a wonderfully fitted fireplace; its mantel of exquisite design and workmanship, its fire irons masterpieces of art—and no heat from it! Note how utterly distasteful it all becomes. It is no longer beautiful because it does not do the work it was made beautiful to do.
One of the most repellent houses in which I have ever visited was one in which there was, from garret to cellar, so far as I discovered, not one article which was not of the period imitated, not one streak of color which was not "right." It was a masterpiece of correct furnishing, but it gave one a curious sense of limitation. One could not escape the scheme. The inelasticity of it hampered sociability—and there grew on one, too, a sense of unfitness. His clothes were an anachronism! They were the only thing which did not belong!
There is an old-fashioned adjective which describes better than any other this preoccupation with things, which so often prevents a woman's coming to an understanding of the heart of her Business. It is old maidish. It has often been the pathetic fate of single women to live alone. To minister to themselves becomes their occupation. The force of their natures turns to their belongings. If in straitened circumstances they give their souls to spotless floors; if rich, to flawless mahogany and china, to perfect household machinery. Wherever you find in woman this perversion—old maidish is perhaps the most accurate word for her—it is a sacrifice of the human to the material. A house without sweet human litter, without the trace of many varying tastes and occupations, without the trail of friends who perhaps have no sense of beauty but who love to give, without the scars of use, and the dust of running feet—what is it but a meatless shell!
This devotion to "things" may easily become a ghoulish passion. It is such that Ibsen hints at in the Master Builder, when he makes Aline Solness attribute her perpetual black, her somber eyes and smileless lips, not to the death of her two little boys which has come about through the burning of her home, that was a "dispensation of Providence" to which she "bows in submission," but to the destruction of the things which were "mine"—"All the old portraits were burnt upon the walls, and all the old silk dresses were burnt that had belonged to the family for generations and generations. And all mother's and grandmother's lace—that was burnt, too, and only think, the jewels too."
One of the most disastrous effects of this preocccupation with the things and the labors of the household is the killing of conversation. There is perhaps no more general weakness in the average American family than glumness! The silent newspaper-reading father, the worried watchful mother, the surly boy, the fretful girl, these are characters typical in both town and country. In one of Mrs. Daskam Bacon's lively tales, "Ardelia in Arcadia," the little heroine is transplanted from a lively, chattering, sweltering New York street to the maddening silence of an overworked farmer's table. She stands it as long as she can, then cries out, "For Gawd's sake, talk!"
One secret of the attraction for the young of the city over the country or small town is contact with those who talk. They are conscious of the exercise of a freedom they have never known—the freedom to say what rises to the lips. They experience the unknown joy of play of mind. According to their observation the tongue and mind are used only when needed for serious service: to keep them active, to allow them to perform whatever nimble feats their owners fancy—this is a revelation!
Free family talk is sometimes ruined by a mistaken effort to direct it according to some artificial notions of what conversation means. Conversation means free giving of what is uppermost in the mind. The more spontaneous it is the more interesting and genuine it is. It is this freedom which gives to the talk of the child its surprises and often its startling power to set one thinking. Holding talk to some severe standard of consistency, dignity, or subject is sure to stiffen and hamper it. There could have been nothing very free or joyful about talking according to a program as the ladies of the eighteenth-century salons were more or less inclined. Good conversation runs like water; nothing is foreign to it. "Farming is such an unintellectual subject," I heard a critical young woman say to her husband, whose tastes were bucolic. The young woman did not realize that one of the masterpieces of the greatest of the world's writers was on farming—most practical farming, too! That which relates to the life of each, interests each, concerns each—that is the material for conversation, if it is to be enjoyable or productive.
One of a woman's real difficulties in creating a free-speaking household is her natural tendency to regard opinions as personal. To differ is something she finds it difficult to tolerate. To her mind it is to be unfriendly. This propensity to give a personal turn to things is an expression of that intensity of nature which makes her, as Mr. Kipling has truthfully put it, "more deadly than the male!" She must be that—were she not, the race would dwindle. He would never sacrifice himself as she does for the preservation of the young! This necessity of concentrating her whole being on a little group makes her personal. The wise woman is she who recognizes that like all great forces this, too, has its weakness. Because a woman must be "more deadly than the male" in watching her offspring is no reason she should be so in guarding an opinion. Certainly if she is so, conversation is cut off at the root.