May and June 1938 November 2012

Women Must Weep

As war brewed in Europe, the British novelist responded to a letter urging “daughters of educated men” to join in opposition to the conflict. Her surprising retort called for fair wages for women—not just to advance equality, but to hasten the fighting’s end.
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Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

One does not like to leave unanswered so remarkable a letter as yours—a letter perhaps unique in the history of human correspondence, since when before has an educated man asked a woman how, in her opinion, can war be prevented? …

Both the Army and the Navy are closed to our sex. Nor, again, are we allowed to be members of the Stock Exchange. Thus we cannot use either the pressure of force or the pressure of money. We cannot preach sermons or negotiate treaties. Then again, although it is true that we can write articles or send letters to the press, the control of the press … is entirely in the hands of your sex …

There is [a] way in which [women can help the anti-war cause]. And that is by earning their own livings; by continuing to earn those livings while the war is in progress. History is at hand to assure us that this method has a psychological influence, a strong dissuasive force upon war-makers. In the last war the daughters of workingmen proved it by showing that they could do their brother’s work in his absence. They thus roused his jealousy and his anxiety lest his place should have been filled in his absence, and provided him with a strong incentive to end the war.

It follows that an Outsider must make it her business to press for a living wage in all the professions now open to her sex; further, she must create new professions in which she can earn the right to an independent opinion.

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