WOMEN'S WILD OATS
ESSAYS ON THE RE-FIXING OF MORAL STANDARDS
C. GASQUOINE HARTLEY
Author of "The Truth About Woman," "Motherhood and the Relationships of the Sexes," etc.
"For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead."—PROV. ii. 18.
NEW YORK FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1920, by FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
All Rights Reserved
To MY HUSBAND AND MY SON
PAGE INTRODUCTORY 7
THE PROSPERITY OF FOOLS 19
THE COVENANT OF GOD 52
THAT WHICH IS WANTING 81
"GIVE, GIVE!" 113
IF A CHILD COULD CHOOSE? 150
FORESEEING EVIL 192
WOMEN'S WILD OATS
"To the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet."—Prov. xxvii. 7.
The sudden collapse of the war left us in a daze. After the years of inhuman strain it was hard to ease off tension to the almost forgotten conditions of peace. I recall that ever to be remembered day, November 11th, 1918—Victory Day. In the early hours before noon I was in London, and my young son was with me. Everywhere was an atmosphere of anxiety, an unusual stillness. Men in little groups of two and three stood here and there, soldiers in larger numbers loitered or walked slowly along the pavements; girls and women waited at the doors of business houses and shops, where inside nobody seemed attending to the few customers. Everyone was waiting; there was an expectancy so great and so stirring that ordinary life had stopped. The last hour seemed endless in its slow passing. I do not remember ever to have experienced the same anxious tension, which was felt so strongly by us all that, in a way I cannot explain, we seemed to gain liberation from ourselves, and, losing individuality, were brought to share a universal impulse. The colossal importance of that hour made itself felt.
Then at last the peace guns sounded. We knew the armistice had been signed: Germany had accepted the terms offered by the Allies. The fear of utter misery was lifted: the war was over. The streets filled as if by magic, sellers of newspapers appeared, nobody knew from where, and were besieged. As the news spread, a delirium of enthusiasm caught the people. There never was such a day, and there never can be such a day again. From noon onwards in ever increasing numbers the streets were thronged with people. Strangers who had never set eyes on one another before rejoiced together as sisters and brothers. Heedless of rain, and mud, and slush, Londoners turned the city into a carnival of joy. Then as the hours advanced the fun grew wilder. People linked hands and danced, and—maddest of all—indulged in wild "ring of roses" around lamp-posts and in the centers of the great thoroughfares. From the Strand and into the West End and beyond was one packed concourse of people, a never-ending stream spread from pavement to pavement across the way, in processions, in pairs, in groups, in taxi-cabs, on the top of taxi-cabs, in and on and all over motor-omnibuses, hanging to the backs of cabs, on great munition lorries—everywhere clustering and hanging like swarming flies. There were soldiers, crowds of Dominion boys, young officers and privates, old men and young men from civil life, and thousands upon thousands of women and girls of every age and representative of every class.
It was the women that I noticed most: they were wilder than the men, making more noise, cheering, shouting and singing themselves hoarse, dancing and romping themselves tired. Quite undisguisedly the soldiers were led by them. It was Woman's Carnival as well as Victory Night.
It is very hard to find words to speak of what I felt. The universal gladness was intoxicating, and yet, none the less, as I watched and noted, the scene was a spectacle that for me at least, was shot strangely with apprehension, almost with pain, certainly with anger and regrets, with aspects unaccountably sad. I witnessed many incidents I am tempted to record, but events passed so quickly, and I do not wish to generalize rashly. One thing I noticed was the great number of women and girl smokers. The woman without a cigarette was almost the exception. There was no attempt at concealment. But what impressed me was the way of holding and smoking the cigarette with an awkwardness that proclaimed the novice. Quite plainly the majority of these girls were smoking not at all because they desired to smoke, but for a lark. A little thing, you will say, very harmless, and possibly you are right, and yet it is the straw which reveals the direction of the wind.
In all the riotous merriment there seemed to lurk the urgency of unsatisfied wants. These instabilities and shadows did not darken the whole prospect, it may be that they intensified the pageant; London was, indeed, very wonderful that evening. Yet all the foolish and ugly incidents, petty and grave alike, of which I could not fail to be aware, came to me with an effort of challenge as something not to be ignored, but steadily to be inquired into, as an imperative call for effort and courage, a spur once again to take up my pen and write to warn women.
My thoughts turned back over the last long four-and-a-half years—years of struggle, of violent disorders, anxiety and pain. That time was finished. Thanks to our dead! Honor to our great dead! The spectacle before me became wider and richer and deeper, more charged with hope and promise....
Bang! Laughter and harsh screaming as a rocket shot up starring the dark evening heavens with its clustering balls of colors. In many parts of the city, long obscured, lamps were lighted; row upon row of little electric globes of white and red and blue appeared, and the unaccustomed blaze infected the revelers. It gave a fresh impetus to shouting; it was like removing the curtain from some great, long-darkened mirror. The fun grew boisterous. At this corner there were cheers for the Prime Minister, at the next for Foch and Haig, and Beatty and the Grand Fleet, and for France and America. Numbers did not know what exactly they cheered; it did not matter, it gave an excuse for noise. Much noise was needed to keep up the revel and convince everyone that everybody was happy.
Unceasingly the violent merry-making went on. Hoot! and an immense motor-wagon, crowded with singing girls, blowing hooters, wildly waving flags, and followed by a trail of taxi-cabs like a gigantic wobbling tail, each one laden with ten, twenty, and even more soldiers, charged down a side street and urged its right of way brutally through the crowd.
It seemed to me that the whole spirit and quality of the reveling was summarized. A rabble of distractions sought to sway me hither and thither. Now, I watched a company of girls dancing with young officers to the accompaniment of a barrel organ, then a group singing, and another group playing some round game that I did not know; now it was some Tommies surrounded by a group of screaming girls. In one group a woman was carrying a baby, and a tiny child dragged at the hand of another girl, crying drearily, and no one noticed. Boys were kicking about boardings that had been torn from the statues in Trafalgar Square. The noise became more and more deafening.
Did anyone realize at all the colossal importance of that day? This hour of supreme thanksgiving, the most glorious of all days in the history of the world, was passing in a delirium of waste. For there was no joy, only a great pretense and noise.
In this medley the sense of the present tended to disappear. Victory Night, by some fantastic transformation, to me became terrible with menace. All the jostling, excited people, and especially the disheveled women and the crowds of rioting girls, appeared as tormented puppets, moving and capering, not at all from will and desire of their own, but agitated violently and incessantly by some hidden hand, forced into playing parts they did not want to play, saying words they had no wish to speak, cutting antics for which they had no aptitude or liking. Cruelties lurked everywhere, waiting in the confused mummery. Reality was being left and with it the practical grasp of those powerful simplicities that alone can guide life through confusion. I felt this with stinging certainty. Everyone seemed playing a part, goaded with the urgency of seeking an escape from themselves.
But must life always go on in the same way? Surely our great dead point us through all these pretenses into the future? Dead compelling hands, insisting with irritable gestures that this failure of life should cease, and cease forever.
A thousand serried problems seemed to be pressing on me at once. My young son was angry at my sadness, but it was the biting consciousness of his presence that ruled my mood. This world was his world; this England his England; this London was his London and that of all children. It was for them that the failure mattered. So I thought, tormented, tortured with pain and impatience.
Leaving the Strand, we turned down one of the narrow streets near to the Savoy Hotel, I forget which one it was, and walked to the Embankment. We came out not far from Charing Cross Bridge and looked down over the long sweep of the water. The evening sky was a dull gray, almost black, but the rain had ceased to fall, and just then above us there was a break as if the absent moon was working to cut the clouds adrift. A kind of luminous darkness closed around us. It was beautiful. The massed buildings rose a blurred outline between the river and the sky like great beasts crouching and ready to spring, while through the steel-black circlings of the bridge row after row of lights sparkled and glowed, and blurs of color, amber to warm orange, splashed upon the river. On the other side, behind us, the big hotels all were lighted, and the unaccustomed illumination appeared to give too full a flood of light to be quite real. Ever and anon rockets shot up into the gray and fell in burning rain, and every color was reflected in diminishing shades, above in that one luminous patch of sky, and below in the pallid, rippled water. Yes, the scene was beautiful, perfect as a dream-city one could desire; all the elements "composed" in the painter's sense, and in arrogance of soul I felt that the beautiful effect had been arranged for me: that it was like a faultless piece of scene-painting, only there is no artist who could paint it.
I watched in silence as my son talked at my side. Here there was almost no noise; reports of motors and the harsh clang of shouting echoed, but in the distance. After the crowds we had left, the wide roadway appeared deserted, and the quiet made it easy for me to urge myself past my despair. One moment at least I had in which I was conscious again of a spirit and quality in life; the immense forces working on while the city rioted its victory. But it all goes so slowly—not fast enough!
The night became darker, the gray rift in the clouds narrowed and closed, a few great drops of rain fell heavily. Around us the air blew chill, the trees, whose points stood out jet black among the sweeping line of the still shrouded Embankment lamps, murmured with innumerable angry voices as the wind cut through them, the bitter wind that rises before rain. My mood shivered under the loneliness that marks the end of all perfect things.
Afterwards we walked up Villiers Street to the Strand Station, and witnessed a little longer the riot of pretended joy. Now, the fun had grown more boisterous, or so it appeared to me in contrast with the quiet we had left. A seething mass—women and girls and soldiers linked arms in arms charged down the street, blocking the station entrances, shouting, beating rattles and tins for drums, making the most deafening noise. Must we go on past or through them all? Yes, and it was for me a necessary lesson, perhaps, for trying to snatch too much for myself by getting away—and forgetting. I had wanted to shirk, now I was forced back to attention.
How clearly I recall that crowd! It took much time to get our train, and, as we waited, almost unconsciously I began to take mental notes of what I saw. Soon my interest was fastened. I observed individuals with quickened attention from the very sharpness of my disillusionment. Incidents burnt themselves into my memory, not in themselves of great importance, but surely significant. I was being dragged back face to face with many questions difficult to solve. What impressed me sharply was the unhappy faces of almost all those wildly excited girls. To my fancy each one was hiding from herself, and hiding also from everyone else. One girl, in particular, I remember, a lank figure, brightly dressed and her head adorned by a wreathed Union Jack, whirling lean arms in an ecstasy of irritability, her shrill voice mounting from scream note to scream note. A sickness of soul cried from her restless over-taxed body. She was but one unit of a whole rowdy company. Even this night was used by them to grab at something to fool men—to smother God in their hearts. Just a play, a pretense, yes, a pretense of power, especially that; they had no thought beyond excitement, and that to me seemed only the first step. I could not believe that the new freedom, the new England would be made by such women. Their make-believe merriment, all this riotous celebrating of the world's stupendous Victory—what, after all, was it? And for me the desolate answer "Waste!" rang out from the unceasing noise.
"Surely this squandering of Woman's gift, this failure of herself must cease now that peace has come!" The cry broke wordless from me. I understood the reality of my fear. I knew the peril to the future. It is the problem of unstable woman, clamorous and devouring, that cries aloud for solution.
THE PROSPERITY OF FOOLS
WHICH TREATS OF WAR WORKERS, AND THE CHANGES THAT HAVE COME IN WOMEN'S IDEALS
"The turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them."—Prov. i. 32.
I have lying upon my study table, on the chairs and even spreading over upon the floor, a heaped-up litter of documents. Board of Trade inquiries, Government reports, newspaper cuttings, recent books, articles from the reviews and popular magazines—all dealing, in one manner or another, with women's labor and their position as workers in the immediate past and in the future. Woman, eternally surprising, has established her power in new fields.
During the five war years a revolution has taken place in the industrial position of women. But the war was not the cause of the revolution. It only afforded an opportunity for forces to display themselves which already were in action. It hurried women forward, running at top speed, along paths where before their feet had slowly walked. War hastened the action of forces existing already. The wage-earning woman came in with the forties with the factory system, and every year she has increased in numbers, but during the five years of war her ranks have gained an enormous influx; moreover, a different class of girls and women have come to seek different kinds of work. And what marks the permanent importance of this is that a change of occupations has brought with it a startling change of behavior and outlook.
Just as the militarist has regarded war, not as a means of preventing the enslavement of peoples and their subjection to foreign rule, but rather as in itself a source of virtue and blessing, of progress and civilization; so too the feminist teachers have told us, not that the entrance of women into munition works was necessary to enable our country to arm for its terrible war, but have hailed the successive appearances of women in factories, foundries, and railway-stations as in itself a great step forward; as a goal long strived for that has been gained. What has been going on is a continuance of the process by which women are led more and more to escape from any specialization of function and are brought into competition with men in every kind of occupation. Now, let us be clear about it: this is a process which makes the excitement and experience and possible good of the individual woman outweigh in importance the safeguarding of the perpetual stream of man. A confusion of values has led women astray. Being a woman is a handicap. For the true carrying out of the duties of the wife and mother physical and mental quiet and sound nerves are needed. The industrial field has become the ideal place of action for the feminists, who persistently romanticize the independent commercial or industrial career, trampling heedlessly on the wisdom of the past, bent on living their own little lives and all that kind of egoistic futility; holding up as admirable cheap achievements in the hell of modern competitive, beggar-your-fellow-worker, sell-at-a-profit industrialism; blackening as sacrifice, as a limiting of character, woman's service to her husband and her children, her work in the home and in the nursery.
I tell you women everywhere among us are being starved of sacrifice and service. Sacrifice lives in the soul of a woman, and not alone in the separate spirit of the individual woman to whom it is communicated only through a losing of herself, which marks her union with the greatest powers of life. It is, I think, one of the most destroying tragedies of our industrial society that women are denied this sustenance in a fixed and regulated unison of sacrifice, are forced away from service to life, excited to do violence to their deepest instinct, by engaging in the deadly and futile rivalry, where the greatest successfulness must bring to them the greatest destruction.
There has been much happening to bring fear. Something has gone wrong with the women of this land. In saying this, I am not forgetting the splendidness of their work; what I complain of is that their womanly vision has failed. In France, as is evident to all, the attitude of women has been very different. The French women also worked hard during the war to save their country, but they did not as our women have done, like war-work for its own sake. They never transferred their affections from their homes to the factories of war, they were too certain of themselves, too content with their power as women to do anything so foolish. What is the explanation of this profound difference in attitude? Why has the vision of English women failed? That is the question to which we have to try to find an answer.
The great part played by women coming forward during the war to take the place of men called to the army is disclosed in a White Paper recently issued by the Board of Trade. Over a million and a half women offered their services, in addition to those already employed.[23:1] The increase has been the highest in the occupations in which comparatively few women were engaged before the war. In April, 1918, 701,000 women were working on munitions and 774,000 in other industrial government employment. A disturbing fact revealed (called, I note, in the Report an interesting point!) is the number of women who have been engaged in hard, laboring work. Before the war when the public discovered women doing very hard work, it excited indignation and pity. The women chain-makers of Craddock Heath, to cite one example, were accorded general commiseration. But during the war our feelings on the question would seem to have undergone a somewhat sudden transformation; a complete turn-round has taken place in our attitude. Heavy work done by women—foundry work, for instance, demanding great expenditure of physical strength[24:1] has excited admiration and become an important factor of the industrial situation. A glamour of patriotic war service, added to the lure of high wages, has been thrown like a cloak of romance over such exhibitions of female power. They became victories of female will over female weakness.
Certainly in many cases the work done was quite unsuitable for women. The employment of married women during long days of tiring work had inevitable results. Babies were neglected or births were deliberately prevented. This spendthrift folly will have to be paid for in the future.
Not that I believe that all apparently hard work to be on an equality of unfitness for women. Country work is generally healthful; though hard work it is restful to the nerves. Every kind of nerve-racking work as in factories, heavy weight-lifting, long standing, and the tending of machinery without any kind of human interest, must be detrimental to women. Certain employments, consecrated by custom as comparatively womanly, yet, in their nerve-exhausting details mean ill-health. Take, for an instance, the average shop-girl, or machine worker, with her whitened face, dragging steps and flattened figure: does she not show plainly that she is anaemic and wanting in vitality? On the other hand, to my eye the lift attendants on the tubes, the charming conductresses of the 'buses seem healthy, though their work has been done only recently by women. I would make the influence of an occupation on woman's health—considering first and as most important her primary biological function as a potential mother—the test of its womanliness. But the health of women will never be protected while we are content to accept the valuations and suffer the defilements of this commercial age.
Only this morning I have been reading the newly issued Report of the War Cabinet Committee on Women in Industry, a large book of 340 pages, packed with information, in particular as to "the increased employment of women owing to the development of automatic machinery." What I read fills me with dismay and indignation. I was not prepared—and I thought I was prepared for anything—for such blindness of outlook.
To prove this, let me quote directly from the Report. The Committee urges rightly the importance to the health of the workers of good food, clothing and domestic comfort, and the necessity of good wages to maintain this standard. But why are these improved conditions recommended? Listen to what is said:
Properly nourished women have a much greater reserve of energy than they have usually been credited with, and under suitable conditions they can properly and advantageously be employed upon more arduous occupation than has been considered desirable in the past, even when these involve considerable activity and physical strain....
And a little further:
It is desirable that women's wide employment should be made permanent.
In another passage the Committee report that on piece work a woman will always beat a man. And again further on: On mass production she will come first every time.... Men will never stand the monotony of a fast repetition job like women; they will not stand by a machine pressing all their lives, but a woman will.[27:1]
Nothing that I can say, or any writer could say, could be more vividly condemning than are these passages. They have filled me with so deep a protest that really I can hardly trust myself to write any comment. This is the ideal now set before us for the industrial woman "to stand by a machine pressing all her life." I ask, Is it for this that the sons of these women have died? Marriage is spoken of as "one of women's industrial drawbacks," "it makes her less ambitious and enterprising."
Now, I do not wish to be unfair. The questions involved are, I know, immense and many-sided. There can be no easy dismissal of this valuable Report in condemnation. Mrs. Sidney Webb's minority Report[28:1] in particular is valuable; and in many ways the findings of the Committee are excellent. Everyone must agree with the wise recommendations as to the reduction of the hours of work and better conditions of labor. They are in advance of anything hitherto proposed. The popular formula of "equal pay for equal work" or more correctly "equal value," is accepted. If women are to do men's work, obviously they ought to be paid men's wages. Other very commendable recommendations concern pensions for widowed, deserted or necessitous mothers (I should add unmarried mothers). State payment is advised for the entire cost of the lying-in-period as the only way to ensure births under satisfactory conditions to the child and the mother. All this is just and good. If the state desires women to remain in industrial occupations, it is some gain that help should be given them, when for a few weeks they go from the factory to do their own work and bear children. Yet, after all, is there not something ridiculous, yes, and also disgraceful, in such a compromise. We leave a woman "to stand by a machine pressing all her life" (a work of monotony, so nerve-exhausting and soul-deadening that no man will do it), and then we pay her a small sum to enable her to bear an enfeebled child. Afterwards we send her back to the factory and open State creches and nursery-schools to rid her of the responsibilities and joys of bringing up her child. Such miserable makeshifts for fitting motherhood could be acceptable only in an industrially ruled society, where the simple belief would seem to be that a woman can do everything that men won't do—and their own work as well.
Let us be honest. Do we care for the cherishing of children? Do we want to preserve the health and help mothers? Are we really concerned with the prevention of our high infantile death-rate, with all the futile suffering without any sense of purpose or compensation that it must entail to children and to mothers? Let us pray to care more passionately, to see a vision of motherhood such as will force us to act differently; a vision which, as when the mists clear away among the mountains, will show a wide world lit by the sun. It would not then be difficult for us to know what to do; we should decide unhesitatingly as to the mother in industry, that she ought not to be there.
Many facts combine in acclaiming our indifference; all of which show our distressing inability to take a wide view of social problems with our commercially blinded eyes. We look at everything, even the nation's children, through spectacles of gold. I cannot wonder at our endless sicknesses and crime.
A small paper-backed book is now lying upon my desk. It is an inquiry most carefully made by the Minister of Reconstruction into the conditions of juvenile employment during the war, and, to me at any rate, it is pitiless in its revelation of our failure in this period of stress in knowing how to live.
It would be difficult, indeed, to find a more complete condemnation of what we have been allowing to go on in our factories and workshops. The Report reveals an intolerable neglect, a reckless betrayal of young lives that not even the emergency of war can sanction.[31:1]
Mark what the report tells us:
Unless those most competent to judge are mistaken, in the generation which entered industry between 1914 and 1918 vitality has been lowered, morale undermined, and training neglected....
For three years numbers of young persons have been exposed to almost every influence which could impair health, undermine character and unfit them, both in body and mind, for regular industry and intelligent citizenship.
And this passage also:
From the point of view of the community, the adolescent worker is a potential parent and a potential citizen ... there is no doubt whatever what course of action should be prescribed by consideration for the interests of the nation. It would be to subordinate the employment of young persons for their immediate utility to their preparation for more effective work as men and women.... The danger is not that there may, in the present, be too few adolescent laborers, but that there may be too many, and that as a result there may in the future be too few healthy and well trained adult workers and intelligent citizens.
The profit-seeking employer, the patriotic maker of munitions, considers output: he does not think of the girls' or the boys' future, of the adult employment for which they are being prepared, or not prepared, or if the occupation leads, as so often is the case, to a blank wall. No kind of concern is shown of the degree in which the occupation enlarges the interests of the growing minds, or fritters them away and leaves for a later use nothing but a dead machine, capable only of spasmodic excitement; does not think of the effect of long hours or of large wages and their consequent premature freedom from home restraints on character.
The last mentioned evil has been greatly accentuated by the absence of soldier fathers. The indictable offenses committed by the young have increased markedly during the war, and surely we are responsible for this lapse of children into crime.
We have permitted heavy and nerve-exhausting work to be done in just the years when the adolescent was making the always difficult passage of the boy to the man, of the girl to the woman. And for this reason their suppressed, not-understood, thwarted instincts have broken out in unpleasing and often dangerous ways. Is it any wonder if in such circumstances boys turn to petty robberies and other unsocial acts, while girls display some of the less estimable characteristics of the prostitute?
Our ideal is to ignore sex in industry; to deny the strong and necessary separations that nature's wisdom places as barriers between boy and girl, between man and woman. We make our sons and daughters compete in education and in industry. No doubt education and industry are ill-fitted for males, but at any rate they were intended for males. Intellectually inferior to the boy or the man, the girl or woman is not. She is exasperatingly observant, often understands character with unconsidered quickness, feels spontaneously; but it does not follow that there is any value for her in the collection of dead facts, stored by abstract-minded professors—all the futile things we call education, which show in every direction the most coarse lack of understanding of the needs of the child and of life. And the girl suffers more than the boy, for the girl-student does as she is told much more conscientiously than boys. Similarly in industry: tapping or pushing at a machine until she taps or pushes on in her dreams; all the more monotonous kinds of machine-tending will wear feminine nerves, naturally more irritable than those of men, more than the same work will wear the male nerves. Not that I believe in subordinating the worker of either sex to the machine. What I want to prevent is the same stupid sacrifice of girls and women in industry as has been permitted in the case of boys and men. There has been in our commercialized society no kind of effective tradition for the care and guidance of adolescent workers, and, there is no escaping from the condemning proofs of our neglect: there has been, and, indeed, is still going on, in many directions a vast range of betrayal and baseness in the way we have shirked our duties to the young. As the writer, from whose Report I have quoted, says, with a rather grim irony: "a strain has been put on the character of young persons which might have corrupted the integrity of a Washington and have undermined the energy of Samuel Smiles."
The war is over, and with it the special and pressing need for women's and girls' work, but the consequences of the war period are far, indeed, from nearing their end. Following all the industrial confusion of the war, we are now facing the certainty of wide-spread unemployment among women and girls. We have condemned thousands of them to unemployment with the same thoughtlessness with which they were called into industry; and in the less skilled ranges of employment, the always existing competition between men and women and boys and girls is certain to be fiercely accentuated.
It is officially stated that the number of women and girls who took out-of-work donation policies during the period between the Armistice and February 14th was 633,318. Of these the large majority 630,874 were civilians, while 2444 belonged to the forces. Thousands of women and girls who during the war proved themselves most capable at engineering and wood-work are now ruled out of those occupations. There was a girl of twenty, for instance, at Loughborough who showed real genius at gauge-making, work that required accuracy to the ten thousandth part of an inch. Although she took to the work only during the war, she became so good that instead of being sent to a factory she was kept to instruct others. This is the type of girl who now has to seek other employment. There can be no question of the difficulties of the situation.
Many workers are holding out to get the same level of work and pay as they have left. Strongest of all is the aversion shown to domestic work: many girls who have been engaged on munitions during the war have thrown up their unemployment pay rather than again enter domestic service. Factory work has bitten into girl's lives; they do not want to do any other kind of work.
Visit one of the Women's Employment Exchanges, if you would wish to get to know these girls. The Exchange is usually a hall or large room where busy clerks are at work at long tables. At some Exchanges as many as 2000 to 2500 women and girls will be on the books. Once a week they receive their out-of-work pay; every alternate day they have to visit the Exchange to see what jobs are vacant. You may watch them pass in long queues from one table to another. A few of the women will probably carry babies, but the great majority will be young girls, showily dressed. You will hear the discordant murmur of their voices broken often by sharp giggles. The moving lines seem to go on and on unendingly. At one table the girls sign the register, at another they learn of vacancies. Some of the girls fail to go to the second table. An attendant, if you ask the cause, will tell you this is a frequent occurrence. The girls are punctilious in signing the register, which they must do to obtain the unemployment dole, but they are less particular about finding the work which will bring it to an end. At present they are content with the enjoyments of the streets and picture palaces. I have, on many different occasions, spoken to these workers: one case I may quote as typical of many. She was young, about twenty, I should think, and incredibly self-confident. Before the war she had been a tailor's needle hand earning 16s. a week; for the last two years she was inspecting fuses at a wage of 45s. a week. What was she now going to do? Neither she nor any of the other women to whom I have spoken seemed to have any clear realization of the fact that the change-over from war to peace industries by munition factories, with the return of many thousands of men, was bound to result in a serious excess supply of woman labor. I remember it was then, while I talked to this girl, that the first great suspicion stole into my heart. We have heard so much of the splendid conduct of the women and the wonderful way in which they have done the work of men, but the facts stand up stark. Women have had a good time. Now, they are going to struggle to keep it. These girls are vastly more rebellious than any women were five years ago.[38:1]
Look at the girl-workers you may see everywhere in such numbers to-day; they are of all ages and they belong to all classes of society. Watch them as they fight for an entrance into motor omnibuses and trams, as they crowd the station platforms. See them parading the streets in their unemployed hours; they are the companions of every soldier; they crowd the cinemas, music-halls, and theaters. Who has altered the fashions about every three months? and this has been going on in war time. Why, the munition workers and the forty-shilling-a-week girls. No longer was finery always bought out of men's earnings, but out of their own; put on to give some man a treat or to fire the envy of other girls. The factory girl has taken to silk stockings and fine lingerie and the lady to Balbriggan and calico.
The vast change that has come into the daily lives of women, possibly, in no direction is more startling than it has been in this matter of dress. Many shops which are near the factories where munition girls have been employed have organized war-clubs, in which, on payment of a small weekly sum, the girls could buy articles of attire far in advance even of their high wages. Shops festooned with furs of every description, where coats costing ten, twenty, and even thirty and more guineas, were frequently bought; shops whose windows were a clutter of tissue-like crepe-de-chine underclothes and blouses; boot-clubs and jewelry-clubs, these last, garish establishments, secure in the glamour of irresistible imitations—all have urged to extravagance and a madness for ornament.
The West-end tradesmen and the shareholders of the big drapery shops have been chuckling and rubbing their hands. Dividends have sprung up to a figure they have never before reached. Never before has so much money been wasted on adornment.
Our young women have little thought beyond the present use of what they buy. But I believe that much of this extravagance—the delight in self-gratification which finds other expression in jazzing, in sweet-eating, in card playing, smoking and similar pleasures—is not so much the outcome of the thoughtlessness of youth as a way of escape from Self, a misdirected effort toward safety, unconscious no doubt, but terribly real.
Notice these girls. You will see them best in a walk down Oxford street or in Leicester Square, where, snared by each displayed window, they hover and cluster like wasps drawn to a trap of sweet food. All the biggest shops in London are devoted to women's clothes. Do you realize that? And it is not only that they are the biggest, but there are more of them than any other half a dozen trades put together—the only exception being the drink trade. During the war their number has multiplied, indeed in some districts shops have sprung up like mushrooms in the night.
There is a much deeper importance in this question of dress than usually is allowed. Irresponsible spending does encourage irresponsible living.
Almost everyone has at one time or another thought of some reform they would wish to be made in the society in which they live. Now, if I could have my choice as to any one reform I would choose to be done, it would be to make it illegal for a tradesman to display for sale any kind of wearing apparel, dress goods or articles connected with a woman's toilet, either in shop windows or inside the shops. Nothing must be shown to any customer until it is asked for. I do really believe this simple reform would do more to emancipate women, and, through their emancipation, to liberate men, than any other reform. We pray in our churches "lead us not into temptation," and everywhere we permit in our shops the display of goods to tempt the young and the foolish.
An orgy of adornment has been claiming a veritable sacrifice of comfort and health, possibly even of life. All-night vigils in search of bargains are frequent at the bi-annual sale-festivals. Policemen have to restrain the ardent votaries, as they press forward and struggle and fight to obtain entrance to certain shops, like caged animals fighting for food. Fashions are followed passionately and with little variety. Dark heads and golden heads have the hair bobbed or dressed in the same way, with the same plastered side-curls, and adorned with hats alarmingly alike, weighted with queer and polychrome ornaments of beads, wool, tassels, and I know not what, while the face beneath shows one color of yellowish white, the result of the excessive and unskillful use of cheap powder. In the snow and slush of the spring, I have seen girls dressed in a way fit only for the hottest indoor room. The gauze silk-stockings offering no protection to the tortured feet even when the boots and shoes were made of more than paper stoutness; while the fashionable woolen wrap, even the fur collar or coat could not counterbalance the danger to health from blouses, low-necked and fashioned of stuff scarcely thicker than cobwebs. Here and there the many girls, beautiful in quiet uniforms, have served to throw into sharper contrast the absurdities of the dress of their sisters.
I ask myself how this taste for spending money on dress and ornament—a taste very little different from the instinct which causes savages to adorn their half-naked bodies with feathers, beads and shells—is to be satisfied when women's wages fall? There would seem to be nothing too useless or too expensive for girls to buy. Work has failed in teaching them the simple lesson that not only is it wrong to waste money, but it is wrong to waste labor for the gratification of whims. We are having the need for economy preached and shouted at us from every quarter. Surely it is right to think about this wild spending on adornment, and give at least a few glances to the future.
What is likely to happen now when the full years of war change to empty years of peace? No longer able to spend in the way to which their high wages have made them accustomed, girls will seek to get presents from men; they will want excitement and the dress and pleasures to satisfy that need, also to hold the envy of their friends. This must lead to prostitution. The weaker sort of girl will prefer to sell her body rather than go back to a humdrum life of drudgery in back-kitchens. It is well that we should remember that, if women are to suffer through men's passions, men will suffer no less from women's greed.
I desire to be quite fair. Almost all girls, I think, are better looking since 1914, more confident, more brightly attractive; sometimes they are deliriously gay, more often cheaply aggressive and noisy. Yet, at other times, they seem deadened and slow in response. None of them are shy. Their eyes say things that are hard to read; they exhibit no end of energy, but there is a curious kind of contradiction—a confusion and difficult defiance, with much nervous weakness. I can find no steadfast happiness.
I would ask my readers, as often I have asked myself, a question: Have these modern girls not lost much of the tender, waiting, indefiniteness of youth? I have seen so many among them who, to me at least, appear at odds with the world, and their passionate, unbalanced and over-excited natures. Their faces at sixteen, fifteen, and even at fourteen years, already are old, with hard confidence showing in the bold gaze, but no happiness. How many bear an expression of almost tired disappointment, a disappointment, not of the senses, but of the soul. And this expression is so common. To my eyes, girls far more and far oftener look alike now than formerly they did. So often they seem acting, struggling almost against something in themselves; something they don't understand that draws them into many bewildered actions. Can't you see, they are all so unconsciously dissatisfied, so unable to possess themselves in peace, that nothing they do matters? You will, I am sure, deny this statement. You will tell me again of the splendid work done by these girls and young women, you will speak of their recognition as citizens of the State, of how life has opened to them, and of the new liberty they have gained in so many directions. I do not mind. I care nothing for the liberty in outside things that leaves the soul in chains. I tell you they are dissatisfied because the soul of woman is crushed, unable to come up from its dark hiding, and breathe the sun and light to see that life is good. Why cannot the old faith come back? Why cannot it come back?
It is, of course, easy to write of these evils, the difficult thing is to find a remedy. Many attempts are being made; much discussion is taking place about the future position of women in industry; training is being given to adolescent girls; even schools for wives have been formed. The newly established Ministry of Health has wide schemes for maternity and child welfare. Never was so much expended to right things that are wrong. Yet, I cannot think the remedies offered are likely to be satisfactory.
Let me here pause for a moment to compare my view of the true remedy for the present unsatisfactoriness of women's lives, and the consequent wastage of baby lives, with those remedies now so commonly put forward by the reformers. I assert that women are trying in vain to transfer their affection from babies to machines, and to take care of their babies, if they have them, in the few hours left over after days seriously devoted to business. I will test the results in a way fairer to my opponents than to myself, comparing the effects of their method at its best with my system in circumstances little favorable to human life.
Bradford is a wealthy town: spending some L40,000 annually on the care of infants in a total population of 300,000. Its institutions and arrangements for this purpose are famous; its infant department, its graded municipal milk, its free-feeding for expectant mothers—all are as nearly perfect as is possible; and the men who have developed and direct its municipal system of protection for infants are well known for their ability and enthusiasm. The birth-rate is as low as Malthusians could desire. But all its care is but an attempt to lessen evils brought about by a wrong system; for the mothers of Bradford are not in their homes, but in woolen factories.
County Roscommon is a poor district in Ireland, with a primitive and superstitious population of agriculturists; the birth-rate is very high, and there is practically no public provision for the safeguarding of infant life. But its backward ignorant mothers tend and feed their babies after the manner of the earliest ages.
The infant death-rate is 135 in Bradford, and 35 in Roscommon.
You will see what I wish to make plain. Those whom I criticize are dealing with symptoms instead of working to remove the real cause of the disease. They work hard and achieve little. Of course their efforts are praiseworthy, and, under present conditions, frightfully necessary. But they are just about as lastingly useful as trying to mend a badly broken china cup at home with cheap cement. You know what happens: as soon as you succeed in getting two pieces to stick together another piece tumbles away, and, at last, if by excessive patience the work gets done and the cup is mended, the first shock of hot water makes all the pieces again fall apart. It is a solution that gives great opportunity of employment, one indeed that goes on forever; perhaps that is why it fascinates the child-like minds of the feminists. I want something very different.
I want a tradition of life to hand on to our daughters and to their daughters. We need a strongly deepened sense of womanly responsibility, wide-spread and universally accepted; an up-to-date sense, if you like that term. I have no fears of change. I would re-fix our moral standards more fearlessly than many who think me old-fashioned. But what I want to insist upon is this: The standard of conduct must be fixed for women. Our children want something settled, not everything left uncertain. Our morals (I do not mean our sexual morals only, but our whole ethical and social conduct) has become like a skein of wool that has been unraveled by a puppy. We want a firm broad way in which it is good and possible for all of us to walk without hurting one another, not the horrid scramble that to-day we accept as life.
The modern conception of personal rights is essentially individualistic, and has arisen only under industrial values of life; the result of its further application as a social criterion for women, must logically be exactly what it has been in the experience of the past century: a bitter and brutal struggle for self-aggrandizement, with the failures remorselessly crushed underfoot, and the very idea of a fixed common responsibility and common good for all forgotten or denied. My plea for women is, therefore, based not upon the notion of equal rights, but rather upon that of equal duties. Moral equality means equality in the will to serve—not self, but all. And the practical correlative of this conception must be a social organization which secures equalities of opportunity for service to women and men. The only rights I desire to claim for my sex are those necessary to the discharge of its own duties; the fulfillment of the instinctive maternal craving; the realization of the deepest impulses of a woman's nature.
The pitiless war of every individual against his, or her, fellow waged with gold or with steel, can never make life other than mean and empty. Women and men must learn again to regard themselves as part of a mightier whole, one of the human race, and, as we feel in moments of deeper insight, of the universe, which is a unity in spite of all the discords it contains.
It follows from this, that I am not greatly concerned with what any individual woman, or group of women, can do, or cannot do, should be encouraged to do, or be restrained from doing, in competition with men and with each other, but rather what is most right and worth while for all women, as women, to do. I do not want freedom for each woman to do what she wants.
You see, in my view of life, such freedom can lead only to a more degraded slavery. And because I am certain about this, I do not desire success for women in the blind struggle based on the doctrine (so fundamentally untrue in my opinion) of personal rights. A doctrine which results inevitably in separations, in hatreds, in disorders and struggling one with another. Unity of ideals and of conduct becomes impossible. The general life is driven about in this way or the other, directed by this purpose or by that, but always by individualistic principles, and not to serve the good of all, but by each person for his own, or her own, ends. How can order come out of such a way of life? Do you think you are going to improve things in the old selfish ways. I tell you the result can be nothing but a further failure of vision. The mountain heights become obscured by the mists going up from the damp valleys, and the soul loses its way.
[23:1] The statistics show the situation up to April, 1918.
[24:1] The words I have italicized are not mine, but are quoted from the Report.
[27:1] It is worth noting that, as far as I know, no word of protest has been made by women against these statements. The Report, since I wrote this chapter, has been widely commented on in the daily papers, in some of the weeklies, and in all the suffrage papers, but these passages have been passed over. Surely this is very significant.
[28:1] Since published by the Fabian Society as a small book.
[31:1] An excellent article on the Report, entitled "Demobilization of Juvenile Workers," by Miss L. B. Hutchins, appeared in the Contemporary Review, February, 1919.
[38:1] Since writing this, the Government, backed by the Labor Party, has passed its Pre-war Practices (Restoration) Bill, which will exclude women from many of the trades which they have entered during the war; trades in which they have done skilled work and received high wages. On August 15, The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Bill, after a promising early career, went by default.
THE COVENANT OF GOD
WAR MARRIAGES AND ROMANTIC LOVE, WHICH CONTRASTS THE ENGLISH IDEAL OF PERSONAL HAPPINESS IN MARRIAGE WITH THAT HELD BY THE JEWS OF MARRIAGE AS A RACIAL DUTY.
"Which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God."—Prov. ii. 17.
A few weeks ago I read a book about a war-marriage, entitled the "Wife of a Hero"; it was not a good novel, but the situation it presented was of great interest. We witness the manifold conflicts resulting from a marriage entered into in haste and under superficial emotions, between a war-hero and the more complicated type of modern woman—the woman of brains and nerves, fastidious, intellectually passionate and at the same time swayed by a sensuality, which is neither acknowledged nor understood. Hence this woman's marriage with a man, who, sufficiently a hero to die magnificently (as a matter of truth he does not die and returns in the end to receive the Victoria Cross, but it was believed he was dead) was quite unfitted to live decently. You see, his ideals did not get any further than his vanity. In his view a woman—whether wife or mistress, it did not signify which she was—was only a chattel, an object to give enjoyment to him, in fact, a prostitute. He did not know he felt this, could not know it, in fact. It would have needed a revolution of his character to turn his vision to something other than himself. Neither did the wife realize her egoism, an egoism more agreeable certainly than was his, because on a less crude plane, but equally reprehensible, as spiritually barren and limited to Self as was that of the man.
Now, Miss Netta Syrett, the writer of the book, seems to be unaware of such a failure on the woman's part. All the blame is shoveled on to the hero, all the sympathy wrapped like a thick woolen cloud about the heroine. Miss Syrett is a great feminist. As we should expect, the marriage is broken in the Divorce Court. The returned and invalided hero, decorated with his Victoria Cross, seeks happiness with an earlier love, and a marriage is made of a frankly sensual character. Meanwhile the heroine finds a spiritual mate in the person of an old friend, and a second marriage is made. We are led to believe that all the wrong is set right. Now, I doubt this. I believe the cause which brought the first marriage to such painful disaster was not dependent only on the evident unsuitability of the partners to live with one another; the grossness of the man and the believed refinement of the woman need not necessarily have failed in finding happiness in union. No, the cause of failure was deeper, within themselves, dependent on the blind egoism of both the husband and the wife and their wrong understanding of the institution of marriage. I do not think that in either case the second marriages were likely to be much happier than the first marriage.
The love-story of to-day differs in one essential way from the love-story of yesterday. Yesterday's love story always ended with marriage bells; to-day's, which is a far harder love-story to write, begins with them. Earlier authors, in short, shirked the real problem of marriage, they ended where they should have begun. For the main difficulties do not lie in the period of falling in love, in the courtship or the honeymoon, but in the preservation of love after these passionate preliminaries are over.
Now, I would like to be able to say that the modern love-story affords a sure sign of a change that has taken place in our attitude towards marriage. I am not, however, at all certain. We talk a great deal, I fear, that is all. The innumerable tragedies of marriage among us to-day are witness to our failure; they have a far closer connection than often is recognized with the romantic and vulgar poverty of our point of view.
Our romances are slightly vulgar. Vulgarity is a sign of confusion and weakness of spirit. We still far too much associate romance with courtship and not with marriage; that is one reason English marriages so often are unhappy. "Thank God that our love-time is ended!" cried a north country bride on the day that marriage terminated her long engagement.
Now, I do not know whether this delightful story is true, but it does illustrate the attitude of many ordinary couples, whose love adventure ends at the very hour it should begin. Every true marriage ought to be a succession of courtships.
Love is not walking round a rose-garden in the sunshine; it's living together, growing together. And the honeymoon is as trifling as the hors d'oeuvre in comparison with wedded-love, and as unable to satisfy the deep needs of women and men. Falling in love, wooing, and honeymooning are a short and easy episode, but marriage is long and always difficult. And the finding and maintaining happiness is a definite achievement and not an accident, for it is beyond accident. It is the result of a steadfast ideal and a diligent cultivation.
Marriage has not escaped the general disturbances of the past five years. The causes are many and obvious. Man is generally guided, not directly by the automatic instincts, working through the lower nerve centers, but rather by ideas acting in the higher nerve centers of his brain. Instincts with him are not instinctive, but are checked and supervised by intelligence. Only when a great shock, a sudden fear or joy, occurs does the instinctive working replace the consciously planned action: the man or the woman find themselves speaking in an unaccustomed voice, saying what they did not know they would say; doing unaccustomed things, which they had never intended to do, sometimes they lose control of their body—they rage, their speech descends to inarticulate cries. Then the old system of instinctive response to the outer world, which generally is inactive and so imperceptibly becomes disused, becomes by the sudden generation of excessive emotion stocked with energy, so that it exceeds in power the energy of which the intelligence makes use. Impulses leap into being, and very often there is a sudden response to adventure and more primitive actions.
This is what the War did in many departments of life. Normal control, conventional standards, old careful habits of conduct, were broken through at a time of excessive emotionalism. The many hasty marriages were a sign of the nervous condition of the times. The customary criticisms of reason were not heard, or not until the emotional storm had subsided. This is, of course, a condition not infrequent in marriage; but now it was exaggerated; such marriages may not, unfortunately, bear the scrutiny of minds restored to sobriety.
We have called these war marriages real romances. But are they? What does the husband know of the girl he has taken to be one with his own flesh? What does she know of him? Never have they had one real talk, never stood the test of a quarrel, never passed unexciting days with one another.
I want to labor that point. The most frequent causes of trouble in marriage are born of the daily fret of common living, of minor habits, of omissions and stupidities. Romantics may protest, but what most strains and tears our love are just trifles, so insignificant that rarely is their adverse action even noticed.
The safe and right consideration in any relationship that is to last into marriage is not only—are our persons agreeable to each other? But, can we live together and continue to love one another? It needs a lot of grit and a lot of duty to keep in love with daily life. But war turned men into heroes, while women thought the war was going to be so fine they could do anything to help; they wanted their share, each one to have a stake for herself, and the easiest way to gain this was the ownership of a soldier-lover. It prevented the feeling of "being left out." A new friendliness sprang up between the sexes. Advances were made, perfectly natural, but quite unusual; and the men in khaki and in blue found themselves diligently pursued, and it must be owned they liked it.
Thus many men have taken girls for wives who are everything they don't want their wives to be. There is no fitness of disposition and character, no unity of ideals, no passionate surrender of the Self in devotion, no fixed purpose of duty, no harmony in tastes or outlook. Such love must come to disaster; it is like a damp squib, it is never properly alight and fades out swiftly in noisy splutters. Then, when the first desire goes, no friend but an enemy is discovered.
A man falls in love very readily, and girls have used, quite unconsciously sometimes, very consciously in some cases, the man's undisciplined impulses for his own subjection. I need not recall incidents that all among us must have witnessed. I do not wish to pass any censure upon women. The sensualist within most of us is stronger than we women admit, and the primitive fact forces us to take risks, sending us headlong into a thousand dangers.
Can we ever find perfect love? Is it not like exercise of the body? You can develop it to a certain point, but not beyond without danger and very slowly with continued patient work. Do we not need exercise of the soul? I do not know. Often I feel I know nothing. To some men and women it is all simple enough, a woman is just a woman and a man is a man. The trouble begins when any woman becomes the one desired woman and any man the one desired man.
There is gain and development in this selective tendency of Love—and yet, if I am right, there is terrible danger lurking in the application of this egoistic spiritual view.
It is, little as we may believe it, this search for personal spiritual happiness that often so greatly endangers marriage. Searching always for this perfect mate, we must find a partner corresponding in every respect to our ideal. The man in Mr. Hardy's novel, "The Well Beloved," spent forty years in trying to do this, and his ultimate failure is typical of the experience of most of us. Fools and blind, we neither understand nor seek the cause of our failure. We are like little lost dogs searching for a master. We seek without ceasing some pilot passion to which we can surrender our heavy burden of freedom. The dry-rot destruction of this individualistic age has worm-eaten into marriage; we have sought to drown pain and the exhaustion of our souls, to fill emptiness with pleasure, to place the personal good in marriage above the racial duty, to forget responsibility, to arrogate for the unimportant Self, and, in so doing, inevitably we have turned away from essential things. Can't you see that we are so terribly tired of this search for something that we never find? Our adventures are the tricks of the child to cloud our eyes to our own emptiness and pain.
Marriage is not a religion to us: it is a sport.
I say this quite deliberately. I am sure we know better how to engage a servant, how to buy a house, how to set up in business—how, indeed, to do every unimportant thing in life better than we know how to choose a partner in marriage. We require a character with our cook or our butler, we engage an expert to test the drains of our house, we study and work, and pass examinations to prepare ourselves for business, but in marriage we take no such sensible precautions, we even pride ourselves that we do not take them.
We speak of falling in love and we do fall. There really is something ludicrous in our attitude. We English are everlasting children in an everlasting nursery; we so fiercely refuse seriousness towards the fundamental emotions. The conventions are sacred; nothing else matters. We stand for purity, which means with women ignorance, and with men silence and discretion.
Men and women of our earlier England were more natural. Our novelists then frankly said that every girl looked with special interest on a well-formed man. There was no conviction marking this as improper, "the baser side of love." We have grown more and more distorted and demagnetized from the natural needs of our nature. We try to cast discredit on our appetites and the body. We have lost the old firm tradition of marriage and its duties, and we have succeeded in putting nothing fixed in its place.
Now, I resent the romantic idea that marriage should be a hazardous mystery—at least to the woman. The more shrewdly girls can judge men and men can judge girls (not by mere talking and abstract discussion of sex problems, there has been too much of that kind of futility), but the more calmly the young lovers can find agreement with each other, the more simply they can accept the facts of marriage, the more chance there will be of permanency of affection.
The conventions of to-day are false, are bound up with concealments or with an equally untruthful openness. It does not, however, follow from this that mere destruction of the conventions will be enough; that everyone's unguided ignorance will lead to success and freedom. The laissez faire system is as false in the realm of marriage as it is in industry and economics. While equally false, as I have tried to show, is the too spiritual view of marriage that love can be found only in perfect harmony of character between the wife and the husband, and is independent of duty. It is true that love differs from lust in its deeper insight into the personality, deeper interest in the character, as opposed to the inexpressive smooth outline and "unbrained" physical beauty of the body. But character and intellect may be studied and loved as self-centeredly, as much with a view to the enjoyment of mental excitement, as the body itself. A wider distinction must be drawn before we can find guidance.
Let us look now at a different, older and, as I think, much finer ideal of marriage, for by this means we may find out more clearly how very far we have wandered from happiness and freedom in marriage in our search for those very things.
It is the Jewish ideal of marriage that I wish to bring before you. And I would say first that the remarks I am offering are not gathered only from what I have read and been told by others. I have learnt them from my own experience, unconsciously and slowly, and even against my will. My marriage with a Jew has taught me the wide separation between the Jewish ideal of marriage and that which I had accepted: I cannot even try to say how much I have gained and learnt.
The English ideal of marriage is concerned with rights and the individual, the Jewish ideal is concerned with service and the race. Their theory of marriage is one of religious duty, and has much less to do with the accomplishments of passion; I think that is why Jewish marriages are so happy.
Modern writers on the Jewish point of view (such as Achad-ha-Am and Melamed) are agreed that the morality of the Jews is a collective rather than an individual morality, aiming at race preservation rather than individual development, practice rather than faith, the continuance and improvement of life rather than spiritual recompense. Consequently, wherever Jewish traditions retain their hold, the begetting and care of children must necessarily occupy the most important portion of life. Thus marriage is regarded as a duty to be undertaken by all, not as a pleasure to be indulged in or to be left dependent on the individual will. It is a sacred duty of parents to arrange a marriage for every child; marriage and the life of the home is still deeply religious; Jewish mothers do not go out to work in factories, they are more concerned with the service of the home than with anything outside of the home. They are very old-fashioned, and they are very happy: they consider barrenness the greatest possible misfortune.
Do you see the contrast I am trying to establish? The essence of the romantic ideal of marriage is at bottom an insupportable egoism—the seeking of happiness by the all too insistent Self—the forgetting of the ultimate values of life.
There are other modes of thought for Jewish women. The expression of her own individuality is not a matter to which she can attach supreme importance; rather is she unconsciously finding an escape from this burdening consciousness of individuality by ever seeking identification with her husband, with her children, with her home, with her own people and with God. She possesses the inestimable good of being bound by a great tradition. It is ever thus with those who are conscious of a sufficient inner life: the modern cry for individual freedom is but one result among many of the poverty of our lives.
The Westernized Jews, it is true, are more or less tainted with the errors of industrial communities. It is, of course, where the early marriages of the ghettoes prevail, where the married woman religiously covers her own hair with a wig immediately after marriage, where marriage, as I have said, is regarded as a duty, and love, therefore, is not considered to be of overwhelming importance, that the full difference between Jewish and Gentile traditions is seen.
This difference is partly due directly to religious influences. Christianity considers marriage as a concession to human wickedness and the continuance of the race a doubtful benefit. "A remedy for sin" as the English Prayer Book states with such delightful frankness. When I remember this Christian view of marriage, I am not surprised at the corruptions into which we have fallen; it is an atmosphere rich for the development of industrial values. The Jews have never fallen into this hateful denial of life. Judaism still considers it a command of God to increase and multiply: the unmarried life, not the married life, is regarded as sinful. The ascetic view of marriage, as well as the romantic view that love is everything, are both anti-Jewish.
The Jews, and, I think, even more strongly the women, can never be individualists. I must again emphasize this fact, for everything else depends upon it. Never can the Jewish wife and mother come to seek personal pleasure as the chief aim in marriage, or delight greatly in expressing her own individuality in spiritual union. She is not absorbed by her own joy or engrossed by her own sorrow. She is content to be married, and accepts any disadvantages that come from that state; she believes in her husband, in her children, and even if these fail her, she believes in her race, her religion, and the inheritance of her people: this gives her a center of gravity outside of herself. For thousands of years Jewish women have been taught the value of service; the dedication of the Self to an ideal. At the same time, they have been held firm to the realities of marriage by their worship. These two influences will, I believe, forever make it impossible for Jewish women in any numbers to accept the egoistic view of marriage and the duties of women that has been set up in England, as also in other European lands and in America, indeed wherever Self-assertion has been admitted as the ruling principle of life.
For these reasons the Jewess, with her special attitude toward marriage and to life, offers a picture of the deepest significance for the study of all industrial races. That is why I turn to her in the hope of making plain to us Western women our mistakes. She, in my opinion, can show us the path wherein alone in future we can find happiness.
The Jewish women have inherited the most perfect feminist ideal that as yet the world has known; an ideal of service within the home of which full life she is the high-priestess; an ideal turning to foolishness the false values of this industrial age. And this ideal of service, shared by all, gives to the most unlearned Jewish woman the priceless knowledge of an eternal truth: a truth that has to be learnt by each one among us before we can find happiness—that only by losing ourselves can we find the Self that is eternal. The Jewish woman learns this truth by living it.
The deep reasons of life lie beyond the realm of individual advantage. The Jewish spirit, pursuing its ends deliberately and wisely, demands of women and of men two different devotions. It asks of women devotion to men, to their children, to their homes; of men, devotion to ideals. Jewish women do not wait to ask if men are worthy, their thought is of service. They understand that in each devotion lies an equal glory, an equal joy, and an equal honor in the sight of God and of man.
There is so much more I would like to say. I would wish to show you something at least of the success with which religion among the Jews has been turned to domestic uses. No detail of the home life is left unhallowed. Even the poorest Jewish home is saved by its ceremonies from the degrading indifference to decency and tenderness, which is the terrible feature of the industrial homes of poverty. The sanctity of the home is an affectionate tradition linking the Jews through the ages with a golden chain. The purity of home life has fought and triumphed over all the unsanitary conditions of ghetto life.
I wish that the limits of my space allowed me to write in detail of these beautiful and happy services. The lighting of the Sabbath candles, the joyous festivals so attractive to our children, all are used to consecrate the daily life. The dietary laws may be said to be a religion of the kitchen. The description of the Virtuous Woman, from the book of Proverbs—the woman who "looks well to the ways of her household," whose clothing are "strength and majesty," who "laugheth at the time to come"—is appropriately read on Friday evenings by the master of the house to exalt the perpetual provident, charitable and joyous house-mistress. A true Jewish home must always be a beautiful place, because its duties are fixed by tradition and hallowed, by the symbols of God's dealing with His people in the past.
Abundant evidence is forthcoming of the honor that was always paid by the Jewish husband to his wife. His duties toward her are set forth in detail in the usual form of the Ketubah. In the body of that instrument he binds himself to work for her, and to honor her, to support and maintain her. The Talmudic sayings on this subject of the honor in which the wife is held and the husband's dependence on her are numerous. Let me quote one or two: "Who is rich? He whose wife's actions are comely. Who is happy? He whose wife is modest and gentle." Again: "A man's happiness is all of his wife's creation"; and yet again: "God's presence dwells in a pure and loving home." "Be not cruel or discourteous to your wife," said a first century teacher, "if you thrust her from you with your left hand, draw her back to you with your right hand." Another says: "A man should always be careful lest he vex his wife: for as her tears come easily, the vexation put upon her comes near to God." A seventeenth century writer states: "Never quarrel with your wife"; this is not to be done even "if she asks for too much money."
Such passages extend in an unbroken series through all medieval Jewish literature. But if the Jewish wife was held in honor by the Jewish husband, it was because of the very practical virtues of the Jewish way of living. The home life was everywhere serene and lovely, and if the Jew retained any virtue at all, he displayed it in the home. The father was the religious teacher of his family, and this duty necessarily increased his domesticity. He took greater interest in his children because it was his task to teach them the law, and his devotion to his wife was directly dependent on his service to the family. One of the Rabbis, on this question of the Jewish husband ill-treating his wife, said in framing his regulations "This is a thing not done in Israel."
I would ask you to note that the woman does not become a nonentity by reason of her limitation to a definite sphere of action within the home. Such a view is entirely absent among the Jews. The rule over the home-life held through the centuries by the Jewish wife is far more real in its results of power than the so-called equality claimed by a modern woman, acting under the influence of industrial ideals. What is significant (and ought to teach us if we can be taught) is the fact that such power is held by women in right of their position as wives and mothers; it is never extended to young girls or to unmarried women on account of their attraction and sexual power over men, in the way to which we have become accustomed. That is unknown, at least, in connection with marriage. The Jew understands that there are other ways of loving than falling in love. Power is held universally by the house mistress—the mother, whose desires through life are a law unto her husband and her children.
All Jewish literature is filled with examples of reverence expressed towards mothers who are "the teachers of all virtue." In the moral law the command to fear the mother—that is to treat her with respect, is placed even before the duty of fearing the father (Lev. xix. 8). Enduring evidence remains of the spiritual status of mothers. When the Prophet of Exiles wishes to depict God as the Comforter of his people, he says "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you" (Is. lxvi. 13). When the Psalmist describes his utter woe, he laments, "As one mourning for his mother, I was bowed down with grief."
Perhaps, now as we see the mother taken as the one sufficient symbol of Jehovah's dealing with his people, the mourning for her presence being the completest expression of grief, we can come to understand something of the Jewish ideal of marriage and of the high honor, because of this ideal, in which women were held.
It should be plain enough now why English marriages so often are unhappy. The immense failure of marriage to-day arises from the confusion of our minds and our chaotic desires so that we have no firm ideal, no fixed standard of conduct either for the wife or for the husband. Every couple starts anew and alone, and the way is too difficult for solitary experiments.
The existence of many standards, of what ought to be done and what ought not to be done, the liberty permitted to the husband, the liberty permitted to the wife, if the wife shall continue her work or profession or remain at home dependent on the husband's earnings, whether the marriage shall be fruitful or sterile—these are but a few of the questions left undecided. And thus to leave unguided each wife and each husband, with their own idea of what is good to do and what is evil, makes for narrowness and waste of effort; while further, our inability to set up a standard of right and wrong conduct—of ideals to strive after—leaves vacant room for false ideals of every kind. These empty places of the mind have been occupied by the ravings of advanced people. The harm has been incredibly active in the consciousness of the young. We have put before their imagination nothing worthy of contemplation, therefore they easily sink downward attracted by what is base.
Then we suggest economic changes. But the evil is not economic. No evils are fundamentally economic. The structure of society is the unforeseen result of the conflicting desires and capacities of the individuals who comprise the society. A false view of marriage, a false view of the relative values of life and money, of service and liberty, of happiness and duty, is not dependent on economic conditions. Yet, let us not forget that this is the age of the gadding mind and the grabbing hand. We tend to value everything by what it brings in to us, in feelings if not in more tangible results.
You will see what this must mean. I am brought back to our wrong ideals; I have no new remedy to give; I can only again insist upon this truth: A preoccupation with a desire for love does not, and never can, result in happiness. But the personal (or perhaps my meaning will be clearer by saying the egoistic) view of love has assumed such gigantic proportion in our minds to-day that we accept these selfish desires as a safe basis for permanent happiness. Marriage has ceased to be a discipline; it has become an experiment.
The romantic view of love as the basis of marriage is, of course, the essence of the English habit of life; as we have seen, it focuses desire on personal adventures and personal needs. Romance necessarily leads to license, and not license of the body alone finding expression in more or less gross immoralities, for there is a spiritual license far more dangerous because so much more seductive. Appetite for adventure, for an excitement that is mainly mental is a condition that is quite as dangerous to marriage and much more common than the unfaithfulness that leads to the divorce courts.
I would appeal to the young, to each young girl, who to-day is questioning the future. Many of you have passed through a supremely heroic period of your lives; now you are waiting. You want to do right, and it is so difficult, for everyone seems to be at a loose end of desire. Perhaps some among you will ask me: "What can I do?" My answer is this: Fix your ideal. Do not make the child's mistake and think that the desirable thing is to do just what you like. You can never find freedom or happiness in that way. Hold firm in your hearts that no gain of personal liberty counts as happiness to women. Treasure your womanly qualities—your sweetness, your gentleness, your shyness, your unlimited capacity for devotion, guard these as your greatest possession. Do not acknowledge your poverty by failing to honor yourself. Be the establishers of a revived feminist idealism, the founders of a new tradition of womanly service. It is for you to fix the type that will one day give woman her real freedom; one day—but not yet.
In these times of uncertainty there is great danger. Every woman should be asked at the moment to believe in simple things; in her home, her children, her husband, and her country. The only hope is in unity, and for unity you must have discipline, and for discipline, for the present, at least, you must accept authority. Much, incalculably much, depends upon the young. The generation to which I belong is passing, we have to hand on to you who are younger the torch of life.
With more courage to face truth, you should have a surer ideal than we have found. When this comes, there will be less sentimentality but much deeper feeling about marriage. I have tried to show you a different ideal, and picture for you the Jewish home, where the exalted esteem in which women are held is the outcome of their attitude to marriage and the Jewish way of life: it is an ideal that depends directly upon duty and a religious view of marriage.
To-day we need a new consciousness of our social and racial responsibilities, the idea of handing down at least as much as we have received. Let the young women of England learn as a great new faith that the sons and daughters they bear are not their children and the children of their husbands only, but the sons and daughters of England—the inheritors of all the fine traditions of our race. Let us spread the new romance of Love's responsibility to Life; let us honor ideals of self-dedication to our husbands, understanding their dependence upon us, to our homes, to our sons and our daughters, to our race, its great ones and their deeds; our moral obligations to all children even before they are born.
It is women, and they alone, who can save marriage; they hold all life in their hands. Never before in the world has the opportunity been so vast; it is a fearful thing to find oneself among realities. To you, who to-day are young, negligence no longer is possible. Listen to what I tell you: those heroes who have died for this England of ours cry to you for children to hold their memories and make their lives everlasting.
Let us take seriously what the politicians have said without meaning it: let us make an England fit for heroes to be born in, able to mold a character of heroism in each of its children: not, as at present, an England so tainted with mean self-assertion that the dedication of a wife to her husband, of a mother to her children, counts as a sacrifice of her personality.[80:1]
[80:1] In order to guard myself from possible misunderstanding, I would wish to give the following explanation: the chief section of this essay on Marriage is devoted to praise of the Jewish ideal of marriage as a religious duty. It does not profess to examine the detailed working out of the ideal in connection with the definite regulations of traditional Judaism. That working out is, naturally, to the modern mind more or less faulty. It is as an ideal that I give it: an ideal of service and dedication that I want to be carried into English marriage, and to serve the needs of our national life. I would, however, make it clear that the detailed proposals put forward by me in the essays that follow have no connection with Judaism: no one of them could possibly be considered to have any such connection, except the proposal for facilitated divorce, but my proposal in that particular connection (as will be seen in the next essay) is hedged by restrictions, suggested by present-day circumstances.
THAT WHICH IS WANTING:
A CHAPTER WHICH ADVOCATES FREE DIVORCE
"That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered."—Ecc. i. 15.
I am well aware that there will be many among my readers who, having gone so far in my book and agreed more or less with my point of view, must here fall into disagreement with me. This essay upholding free divorce, and the three that follow, the first one recommending regulation and firm action in suppressing prostitution as the only way to stay the spread of venereal diseases; the second essay on the illegitimately born child, where I differ in one important matter from the accepted view of what is chiefly needed to protect these unhappy children; and, even more, the proposal I make in the last essay, where I plead for an open recognition of honorable sexual partnerships outside of marriage—this half of my book will be disapproved of, very probably disliked, and my views more or less violently disputed. It will be said that what I advocate now is in direct opposition to my ideal of marriage being a religious duty, which demands the consecration of women to the service of the family and the home. This, however, is not so: if I have been understood at all, it should be evident that the opposition is not there.
I care little for our existing and chaotic forms of morality; what I desire is to create a new reality, the value of which consists in that it provides wider possibilities of decent and honorable conduct. We have to brave moral danger in trying to attain a higher moral reality. To me what seems the first necessity is to face things as they are, and not to go on eternally pretending that our world is what it is not.
Our vague-minded lax society has to pull itself together, has to reconsider and administer and formulate a more helpful system of regulations; has to learn to express again its united will in some better way than "go as you please," or fail. What is wanted is a new honesty to create standards of conduct, which will fix the every day indispensable duties, that, after all, make up the total of life. We have but a choice between the danger of falling deeper into confusion and dishonesty or the danger of awakening to a clearer and more difficult consciousness. Now, I do not believe it is moral to regulate life by fear, considering only the desire to remain undisturbed of those who are decayed and petrified. I do not know if I make my meaning clear. As our habit, we ignore or minimize all sex difficulties as much as we can; we hesitate and compromise and bungle over every reform because we are afraid of what may happen if we probe down to the real bottom of what needs to be done. We have neither the courage of our bodies or of our souls. This is why so often our attitude becomes false and our thoughts entangled, so that our moral life is corrupt with concealments and deceptions. Now, I am not content with the compromise which sanctions every form of sexual sin so long as the conventions are respected and the sin hidden—all the rottenness going on beneath the respectable structure of our society. I want as far as is possible to emancipate our lives from such slavery; to make less easy the hypocrisy which law and custom sanction; to gain freedom from a sham morality and the pretense of a righteousness that we do not maintain. It is a necessary step, for me at least, on the way to any kind of improvement. More and more I am convinced that we shall have to make a violent and very conscious effort to get clear of dishonesty.
That is why I am advocating, as a first most necessary reform, simpler and more decent facilities of divorce. I plead for a greater breadth of toleration, with a more honest facing of the facts, because I have known in my experience the degradation, the falsity and the absurdities that are going on to-day; the deceptions into which everyone is driven who is unfortunate enough to have to seek relief, under the present disgraceful divorce laws, from a marriage that has failed. There are conditions which degrade and embitter and make honorable conduct very difficult.
A great number of people, regarding marriage as a mystical and, therefore, unbreakable sacrament, object to divorce under any circumstances whatever. This is the case in Catholic countries, such, for instance, as Spain, the land I know and love so well. Such an attitude I can understand and respect, though I do not consider it a practical proposition, and know, moreover, that indissoluble marriage, in some ways, works very harmfully. It prevents hasty marriage. In Spain marriage is regarded as the gravest and most momentous step in life; but this caution does not altogether work out for good in the way one might expect.
I recall a conversation with a Spanish friend on this question. We were speaking of the great numbers of young Spaniards who did not marry. I asked my friend the reason of this. He answered: "You see we have no divorce in this land as you have in England, that makes us afraid now we have begun to think, we hesitate and hesitate, then we take a mistress while we are deciding, but it is easier and less binding to live like that, and we keep going on and put off marrying, sometimes put it off until it is too late." In Spain the illegitimate birth-rate is the highest of any country in Europe.
We must accept, then, that indissoluble marriage fails in practice, and the society which enforces it commits self-injury by setting up a standard of conduct impossible to maintain; and further, one that acts in deterring the more thoughtful from marriage and leaves the protected institution to the more reckless, who do not consider consequences.
Now, when once we do accept this, admit the principle of divorce and acknowledge that in certain circumstances the bond of marriage may be severed, at once the aspect of the question changes: it becomes a matter of practical adjustment, so that what is needed is decision and regulation of the conditions under which divorce should be allowed, so that they may meet best the needs of men and women in the society and, at the time, in which they live. I am very anxious to show the difference between the practical and the conventional attitude toward this problem. It is to be wished that this question of divorce could be approached free from the falseness of the old prejudices of religious intolerance and of sentimentality.
The great and pressing need of reform is being widely discussed at the present time. I note with a mixture of amazement and fear that practically in every argument the opinion universally held appears to be that the relief given should be as limited as possible; it is still being taken for granted that free divorce in this country is neither attainable nor desirable, and, indeed, that any extension of the grounds of divorce would act against the sanctity of marriage. I say I note this attitude with fear, because it seems to me that the triumph of prejudice and ignorance here is a most serious symptom of the degradation of our moral outlook and the poverty of our faith in the institution of marriage.
"Divorce is relief from misfortune, not a crime," to quote from the admirable statute book of Norway, a saying which should be one of universal application in divorce. And this relief must be granted, not merely as an act of justice to the individual; it is called for equally in the interests of society.
The moral code of any society ought to meet the needs of its members. But the needs change as time goes on, and moral codes must then also change or they become worn-out and useless. That society which is unwilling to modify its laws to fit new conditions drives its members into defiance of the law and acts directly as a cause of immorality. It were well to remember this as we come to question our laws of divorce. There can be no possible doubt that as the law stands at present it does not meet the needs of those people who claim its relief; while further, the most superficial knowledge of the situation proves how harmfully and immorally the law acts.
It is, of course, very much better that marriage should be as permanent as possible, and any society is obviously justified in bringing any moral pressure to bear to make people realize the seriousness of the relationship and the importance of keeping it permanent when possible. But it is certainly no part of the right or duty of society to use force to compel people to remain in the marriage relationship, when it becomes so repugnant to them that the conditions of the marriage cannot be continued. All that society has the right then to demand is that all the obligations which have been assumed shall be honorably fulfilled. But a relationship registered in mistake or under delusion should be subject to revision, and, with certain safeguards, to dissolution, otherwise the standard of morality is degraded and marriage itself is brought to contempt, and can be used, as indeed too often it is, as a cloak of protection for every kind of immorality.
But it is just here that the religious objector to divorce-reform steps in. Marriage, he declares, is not only a social institution, it is a sacrament of the Church, "Those whom God has joined together no man may put asunder," therefore divorce must be made as difficult as possible. As I have said before, I can respect the view that rejects divorce and regards the marriage bond as indissoluble, but I can have nothing but contempt for this attitude of weak and shuffling compromise. Much has been said on the matter, therefore I say little. I shall not attempt to urge the causes for which divorce should, or should not, be granted; for, as will appear directly, I want a much simpler and more radical reform: also I hold it folly to try to convince the self-blinded. I only ask the reader to make sure that he (or perhaps more probably she) really believes that the partners in the marriages that come to the divorce courts were joined by God, and is willing to follow the argument to its logical conclusion. Are they willing, for instance, to say that a woman or a man may not put aside the marriage if one of the two is a lunatic, or a hopeless drunkard, or an habitual criminal, or a degenerate, or the victim of a disease which can be communicated to the offspring? Are they willing to go with our ecclesiastical advisers, who seek to maintain marriages, which may be the cause of perpetuating disease and crime; the bringing into the world of the children of drunkards, of epileptics, of syphilitics and of lunatics?