THE TRAGEDY OF WOMAN'S EMANCIPATION

THE TRAGEDY OF WOMAN'S EMANCIPATION

I BEGIN with an admission: Regardless of all political and economic  theories, treating of the fundamental differences between various groups  within the human race, regardless of class and race distinctions,  regardless of all artificial boundary lines between woman's rights and  man's rights, I hold that there is a point where these differentiations  may meet and grow into one perfect whole.

With this I do not mean to propose a peace treaty. The general  social antagonism which has taken hold of our entire public life today,  brought about through the force of opposing and contradictory interests,  will crumble to pieces when the reorganization of our social life,  based upon the principles of economic justice, shall have become a  reality.

Peace or harmony between the sexes and individuals does not  necessarily depend on a superficial equalization of human beings; nor  does it call for the elimination of individual traits and peculiarities.  The problem that confronts us today, and which the nearest future is to  solve, is how to be one's self and yet in oneness with others, to feel  deeply with all human beings and still retain one's own characteristic  qualities. This seems to me to be the basis upon which the mass and the  individual, the true democrat and the true individuality, man and woman,  can meet without antagonism and opposition. The motto should not be:  Forgive one another; rather, Understand one another. The oft-quoted  sentence of Madame de Staël: "To understand everything means to forgive  everything," has never particularly appealed to me; it has the odor of  the confessional; to forgive one's fellow-being conveys the idea of  pharisaical superiority. To understand one's fellow-being suffices. The  admission partly represents the fundamental aspect of my views on the  emancipation of woman and its effect upon the entire sex.

Emancipation should make it possible for woman to be human in the  truest sense. Everything within her that craves assertion and activity  should reach its fullest expression; all artificial barriers should be  broken, and the road towards greater freedom cleared of every trace of  centuries of submission and slavery.

This was the original aim of the movement for woman's emancipation.  But the results so far achieved have isolated woman and have robbed her  of the fountain springs of that happiness which is so essential to her.  Merely external emancipation has made of the modern woman an artificial  being, who reminds one of the products of French arboriculture with its  arabesque trees and shrubs, pyramids, wheels, and wreaths; anything,  except the forms which would be reached by the expression of her own  inner qualities. Such artificially grown plants of the female sex are to  be found in large numbers, especially in the so-called intellectual  sphere of our life.

Liberty and equality for woman! What hopes and aspirations these  words awakened when they were first uttered by some of the noblest and  bravest souls of those days. The sun in all his light and glory was to  rise upon a new world; in this world woman was to be free to direct her  own destiny--an aim certainly worthy of the great enthusiasm, courage,  perseverance, and ceaseless effort of the tremendous host of pioneer men  and women, who staked everything against a world of prejudice and  ignorance.

My hopes also move towards that goal, but I hold that the  emancipation of woman, as interpreted and practically applied today, has  failed to reach that great end. Now, woman is confronted with the  necessity of emancipating herself from emancipation, if she really  desires to be free. This may sound paradoxical, but is, nevertheless,  only too true.

What has she achieved through her emancipation? Equal suffrage in a  few States. Has that purified our political life, as many well-meaning  advocates predicted? Certainly not. Incidentally, it is really time that  persons with plain, sound judgment should cease to talk about  corruption in politics in a boarding school tone. Corruption of politics  has nothing to do with the morals, or the laxity of morals, of various  political personalities. Its cause is altogether a material one.  Politics is the reflex of the business and industrial world, the mottos  of which are: "To take is more blessed than to give"; "buy cheap and  sell dear"; "one soiled hand washes the other." There is no hope even  that woman, with her right to vote, will ever purify politics.

Emancipation has brought woman economic equality with man; that is,  she can choose her own profession and trade; but as her past and present  physical training has not equipped her with the necessary strength to  compete with man, she is often compelled to exhaust all her energy, use  up her vitality, and strain every nerve in order to reach the market  value. Very few ever succeed, for it is a fact that women teachers,  doctors, lawyers, architects, and engineers are neither met with the  same confidence as their male colleagues, nor receive equal  remuneration. And those that do reach that enticing equality, generally  do so at the expense of their physical and psychical well-being. As to  the great mass of working girls and women, how much independence is  gained if the narrowness and lack of freedom of the home is exchanged  for the narrowness and lack of freedom of the factory, sweat-shop,  department store, or office? In addition is the burden which is laid on  many women of looking after a "home, sweet home" --cold, dreary,  disorderly, uninviting--after a day's hard work. Glorious independence!  No wonder that hundreds of girls are so willing to accept the first  offer of marriage, sick and tired of their "independence" behind the  counter, at the sewing or typewriting machine. They are just as ready to  marry as girls of the middle class, who long to throw off the yoke of  parental supremacy. A so-called independence which 1eads only to earning  the merest subsistence is not so enticing, not so ideal, that one could  expect woman to sacrifice everything for it. Our highly praised  independence is, after all, but a slow process of dulling and stifling  woman's nature, her love instinct, and her mother instinct.

Nevertheless, the position of the working girl is far more natural  and human than that of her seemingly more fortunate sister in the more  cultured professional walks of life teachers, physicians, lawyers,  engineers, etc., who have to make a dignified, proper appearance, while  the inner life is growing empty and dead.

The narrowness of the existing conception of woman's independence  and emancipation; the dread of love for a man who is not her social  equal; the fear that love will rob her of her freedom and independence;  the horror that love or the joy of motherhood will only hinder her in  the full exercise of her profession--all these together make of the  emancipated modern woman a compulsory vestal, before whom life, with its  great clarifying sorrows and its deep, entrancing joys, rolls on  without touching or gripping her soul.

Emancipation, as understood by the majority of its adherents and  exponents, is of too narrow a scope to permit the boundless love and  ecstasy contained in the deep emotion of the true woman, sweetheart,  mother, in freedom.

The tragedy of the self-supporting or economically free woman does  not lie in too many, but in too few experiences. True, she surpasses her  sister of past generations in knowledge of the world and human nature;  it is just because of this that she feels deeply the lack of life's  essence, which alone can enrich the human soul, and without which the  majority of women have become mere professional automatons.

That such a state of affairs was bound to come was foreseen by those  who realized that, in the domain of ethics, there still remained many  decaying ruins of the time of the undisputed superiority of man; ruins  that are still considered useful. And, what is more important, a goodly  number of the emancipated are unable to get along without them. Every  movement that aims at the destruction of existing institutions and the  replacement thereof with something more advanced, more perfect, has  followers who in theory stand for the most radical ideas, but who,  nevertheless, in their every-day practice, are like the average  Philistine, feigning respectability and clamoring for the good opinion  of their opponents. There are, for example, Socialists, and even  Anarchists, who stand for the idea that property is robbery, yet who  will grow indignant if anyone owe them the value of a half-dozen pins.

The same Philistine can be found in the movement for woman's  emancipation. Yellow journalists and milk-and-water litterateurs have  painted pictures of the emancipated woman that make the hair of the good  citizen and his dull companion stand up on end. Every member of the  woman's rights movement was pictured as a George Sand in her absolute  disregard of morality. Nothing was sacred to her. She had no respect for  the ideal relation between man and woman. In short, emancipation stood  only for a reckless life of lust and sin; regardless of society,  religion, and morality. The exponents of woman's rights were highly  indignant at such misrepresentation, and, lacking humor, they exerted  all their energy to prove that they were not at all as bad as they were  painted, but the very reverse. Of course, as long as woman was the slave  of man, she could not be good and pure, but now that she was free and  independent she would prove how good she could be and that her influence  would have a purifying effect on all institutions in society. True, the  movement for woman's rights has broken many old fetters, but it has  also forged new ones. The great movement of true  emancipation  has not met with a great race of women who could look liberty in the  face. Their narrow, Puritanical vision banished man, as a disturber and  doubtful character, out of their eniotional life. Man was not to be  tolerated at any price, except perhaps as the father of a child, since a  child could not very well come to life without a father. Fortunately,  the most rigid Puritans never will be strong enough to kill the innate  craving for motherhood. But woman's freedom is closely allied with man's  freedom, and many of my so-called emancipated sisters seem to overlook  the fact that a child born in freedom needs the love and devotion of  each human being about him, man as well as woman. Unfortunately, it is  this narrow conception of human relations that has brought about a great  tragedy in the lives of the modern man and woman.

About fifteen years ago appeared a work from the pen of the brilliant Norwegian Laura Marholm, called Woman, a Character Study.  She was one of the first to call attention to the emptiness and  narrowness of the existing conception of woman's emancipation, and its  tragic effect upon the inner life of woman. In her work Laura Marholm  speaks of the fate of several gifted women of international fame: the  genius Eleonora Duse; the great mathematician and writer Sonya  Kovalevskaia; the artist and poet nature Marie Bashkirtzeff, who died so  young. Through each description of the lives of these women of such  extraordinary mentality runs a marked trail of unsatisfied craving for a  full, rounded, complete, and beautiful life, and the unrest and  loneliness resulting from the lack of it. Through these masterly  psychological sketches one cannot help but see that the higher the  mental development of woman, the less possible it is for her to meet a  congenial mate who will see in her, not only sex, but also the human  being, the friend, the comrade and strong individuality, who cannot and  ought not lose a single trait of her character.

The average man with his self-sufficiency, his ridiculously superior  airs of patronage towards the female sex, is an impossibility for woman  as depicted in the Character Study  by Laura Marholm. Equally  impossible for her is the man who can see in her nothing more than her  mentality and her genius, and who fails to awaken her woman nature.

A rich intellect and a fine soul are usually considered necessary  attributes of a deep and beautiful personality. In the case of the  modern woman, these attributes serve as a hindrance to the complete  assertion of her being. For over a hundred years the old form of  marriage, based on the Bible, "till death doth part," has been denounced  as an institution that stands for the sovereignty of the man over the  woman, of her complete submission to his whims and commands, and  absolute dependence on his name and support. Time and again it has been  conclusively proved that the old matrimonial relation restricted woman  to the function of man's servant and the bearer of his children. And yet  we find many emancipated women who prefer marriage, with all its  deficiencies, to the narrowness of an unmarried life: narrow and  unendurable because of the chains of moral and social prejudice that  cramp and bind her nature.

The explanation of such inconsistency on the part of many advanced  women is to be found in the fact that they never truly understood the  meaning of emancipation. They thought that all that was needed was  independence from external tyrannies; the internal tyrants, far more  harmful to life and growth--ethical and social conventions--were left to  take care of themselves; and they have taken care of themselves. They  seem to get along as beautifully in the heads and hearts of the most  active exponents of woman's emancipation, as in the heads and hearts of  our grandmothers.

These internal tyrants, whether they be in the form of public  opinion or what will mother say, or brother, father, aunt, or relative  of any sort; what will Mrs. Grundy, Mr. Comstock, the employer, the  Board of Education say? All these busybodies, moral detectives, jailers  of the human spirit, what will they say? Until woman has learned to defy  them all, to stand firmly on her own ground and to insist upon her own  unrestricted freedom, to listen to the voice of her nature, whether it  call for life's greatest treasure, love for a man, or her most glorious  privilege, the right to give birth to a child, she cannot call herself  emancipated. How many emancipated women are brave enough to acknowledge  that the voice of love is calling, wildly beating against their breasts,  demanding to be heard, to be satisfied.

The French writer Jean Reibrach, in one of his novels, New  Beauty, attempts to picture the ideal, beautiful, emancipated woman.  This ideal is embodied in a young girl, a physician. She talks very  cleverly and wisely of how to feed infants; she is kind, and administers  medicines free to poor mothers. She converses with a young man of her  acquaintance about the sanitary conditions of the future, and how  various bacilli and germs shall be exterminated by the use of stone  walls and floors, and by the doing away with rugs and hangings. She is,  of course, very plainly and practically dressed, mostly in black. The  young man, who, at their first meeting, was overawed by the wisdom of  his emancipated friend, gradually learns to understand her, and  recognizes one fine day that he loves her. They are young, and she is  kind and beautiful, and though always in rigid attire, her appearance is  softened by a spotlessly clean white collar and cuffs. One would expect  that he would tell her of his love, but he is not one to commit  romantic absurdities. Poetry and the enthusiasm of love cover their  blushing faces before the pure beauty of the lady. He silences the voice  of his nature, and remains correct. She, too, is always exact, always  rational, always well behaved. I fear if they had formed a union, the  young man would have risked freezing to death. I must confess that I can  see nothing beautiful in this new beauty, who is as cold as the stone  walls and floors she dreams of.  Rather would I have the love songs of  romantic ages, rather Don Juan and Madame Venus, rather an elopement by  ladder and rope on a moonlight night, followed by the father's curse,  mother's moans, and the moral comments of neighbors, than correctness  and propriety measured by yardsticks. If love does not know how to give  and take without restrictions, it is not love, but a transaction that  never fails to lay stress on a plus and a minus.

The greatest shortcoming of the emancipation of the present day lies  in its artificial stiffness and its narrow respectabilities, which  produce an emptiness in woman's soul that will not let her drink from  the fountain of life. I once remarked that there seemed to be a deeper  relationship between the old-fashioned mother and hostess, ever on the  alert for the happiness of her little ones and the comfort of those she  loved, and the truly new woman, than between the latter and her average  emancipated sister. The disciples of emancipation pure and simple  declared me a heathen, fit only for the stake. Their blind zeal did not  let them see that my comparison between the old and the new was merely  to prove that a goodly number of our grandmothers had more blood in  their veins, far more humor and wit, and certainly a greater amount of  naturalness, kind-heartedness, and simplicity, than the majority of our  emancipated professional women who fill the colleges, halls of learning,  and various offices. This does not mean a wish to return to the past,  nor does it condemn woman to her old sphere, the kitchen and the  nursery.

Salvation lies in an energetic march onward towards a brighter and  clearer future. We are in need of unhampered growth out of old  traditions and habits. The movement for woman's emancipation has so far  made but the first step in that direction It is to be hoped that it will  gather strength to make another. The right to vote, or equal civil  rights, may be good demands, but true emancipation begins neither at the  polls nor in courts. It begins in woman's soul. History tells us that  every oppressed class gained true liberation from its masters through  its own efforts. It is necessary that woman learn that Iesson, that she  realize that her freedom will reach as far as her power to achieve her  freedom reaches. It is, therefore, far more important for her to begin  with her inner regeneration, to cut loose from the weight of prejudices,  traditions, and customs. The demand for equal rights in every vocation  of life is just and fair; but, after all, the most vital right is the  right to love and be loved. Indeed, if partial emancipation is to become  a complete and true emancipation of woman, it will have to do away with  the ridiculous notion that to be loved, to be sweetheart and mother, is  synonymous with being slave or subordinate. It will have to do away  with the absurd notion of the dualism of the sexes, or that man and  woman represent two antagonistic worlds.

Pettiness separates; breadth unites.  Let us be broad and big.  Let  us not overlook vital things because of the bulk of trifles confronting  us.  A true conception of the relation of the sexes will not admit of  conqueror and conquered; it knows of but one great thing: to give of  one's self boundlessly, in order to find one's self richer, deeper,  better.  That alone can fill the emptiness, and transform the tragedy of  woman's emancipation into joy, limitless joy.

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