I was, the other day, at a meeting here in Richmond of an Equal Suffrage League—the first considerable association of the kind ever formed in Virginia, and now only a few months old. Virginia, if the dearest of the states, is also the most conservative. Her men are chivalric, her women domestic; since the eighteenth century no heavy wave of immigration has touched her shores. She has no large cities, she has a lovely country, wood and field and flood, she has great memories. She makes progress, too, but her eyes are apt to turn to the past. More “advanced” communities will hardly understand the shock of surprise, of more or less indignant incredulity, with which Richmond received the intimation that within her walls were women who wished votes—that is, voices—for women! In the three months since the birth of the infant society the town has grown decidedly interested, but it does not invade the nursery, and I am sure it thinks the baby born for no good end. Probably the child will be hanged before it attains majority.
The meeting of which I speak, and which is in my mind because it was only yesterday, and because, too, I think it typical of what is occurring in a hundred quiet places removed from the central current of ideas, this meeting was held in a small, old-time parlor rented by the League for the nursery of their Idea. Over the chimney-piece and the open fire hangs a time-yellowed engraving of Pocohontas wedding John Rolfe. On the opposite wall is Columbus Demonstrating the Theory of the New World. There are the old gilt candelabra, with swinging prisms, that most of us have in our parlors, and there are some pieces of china from Monticello. The author of the Declaration of Independence helped himself to sugar out of that sugar-bowl. Outside the window is the street up and down which once marched the armies of Lee and of Stonewall Jackson, up which once marched the army of Grant.
There were present perhaps twenty-five women. The League is larger than that, but for one reason or another many could not attend. It was late in the afternoon, and the room not brightly lit. In one place there would be a glow from the fire, in another, shadow. A few of the women were young, one or two were elderly, but the most were in the middle of life, moving with the moving hours across that high plateau of sun and shade. All sat in a circle around the room, in the firelight and the shadow. There were reports—a hundred and odd dollars in the treasury, so many pamphlets distributed, so many new members; then, business over, here and there, out of the red-brown shadow, a woman spoke, diffidently, keeping her seat, somewhat confused, for in the South we are not used to woman’s speaking—not, certainly, on the present subject.
For all the Indian maiden over the mantel-shelf, and the Genoese admiral on the wall, and the china that had been Jefferson’s, the scene, in that twilight hour, looked like an interior by Rembrandt. It had, that small gathering in the old-fashioned parlor, a simplicity, a homeliness, a pathos, a touching and spiritual and, yes, a rugged beauty! It was like a Rembrandt, and it was like a Millet. It was a lovingly touched, a shadowed picture of the beginning of things. There was music, too, — Beethoven, perhaps, — and under all there was a sense of the quiet Earth.
This small Richmond meeting is mentioned only because it is typical of many. In this tenth year of the twentieth century, throughout the length and breadth of the land, assemblies such as this are frequent. What is their innermost meaning, what is the soul of them? How is to be defined the general movement of which each is but a tiny facet? What will a hundred years from now have to say of it? What will a thousand years? This morning’s paper states that to most men it but discovers “a vague, feministic discontent.” Other men, and some women also, have been found to christen the Idea—there is an Idea embodied in the movement—to christen the Idea “trivial, — harmful, — absurd and ridiculous.” I wonder—I wonder! Will a hundred years hence, will a thousand years, echo those epithets?
And no golden thing was ever brought to the King’s storehouse but men said, “It is worthless.” But the King accepted it.
It is cheerfully granted that here and there, through the length and breadth of the Idea, things occur to touch the sense of humor. It is good to laugh.
Now and then is heard an exquisite absurdity, but even that absurdity usually bubbles forth from a clear well of feeling—right feeling. And often enough it has for neighbor a master-stroke of pathos, a cry from the heart, startlingly sincere. Sometimes—not often—an ugly thing is seen or heard. Women are not angels But, believe me, more frequently than that jarring note, comes an echo from the future of a divinely lovely chord. Purity—fortitude—altruistic love. The individual, the group, the society, the nation, the race that strikes, and holds, that chord, has found the dominant. By them will be built the vast symphony of the future.
Trivial? Only they find it so who, did they think upon such subjects at all, would find trivial, tedious, and degrading, all physical, all evolutionary processes—Hunger, Love, Nutrition, Reproduction, the first vague flowing together of two unicellular organisms into one, the immortal chain of the germ-plasm, the warp and woof of male and female elements, the flying shuttle of organic law, the alternation and rhythm of the universe, and that tremendous upward spiral that, as slowly and as surely as the coral insects, we do spend our days in building!
Retrograde and sinister? They who find it so are without the historic sense, and in the world of ideas are constitutionally myopic. They are not aware of the stream of tendency. They themselves would walk like the crab, backward; and force the same regression upon the whole wide, onward-spinning earth. Or, say they, “We would stand still” — and do not know that nothing ever stands still. There is progression and there is regression, but there is never immobility. They say, “We will stay where we are, in these still waters,” and do not see that it is a land-locked pool from which the billows have fled!
A piece of foolishness to be dismissed by a caricature? There were no humorous journals at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. They were all in the Inquisition. But had there been, then to-day some American collector might have among his treasures a colored print of a foolish Genoese sailor trying to prove to his betters that there were two roads to the Indies. Or, had such publications flourished under Catherine de Medici, there might survive, in the collector’s portfolio, some bright young man’s idea of that lunatic of a potter who burned his household furniture to feed the dying fire of his furnace. Had they always flourished he might have no end of treasures!
Turn a leaf. How easy to caricature was that young monk nailing his thesis to a church door in Wittenberg! Turn another. A shepherd girl dreaming on the hills above Domrémy. How bewitchingly Dutch the artist has made it—with cabbage for lilies! And so on through the portfolio, which must be a large one if it is to hold every caricature of a noble man, a noble woman, or a noble cause, — from the caricature of the Crucifixion on the wall of the Pædagogium in Rome to the latest page of the latest American Journal of Humor! Do you not know that the higher the Idea the more certain the pillory or the stocks? Ridicule is a weapon that any fool can pick up. Indeed it is the only weapon that can be at once rotten and effective.
Yes; very “funny” things happen, — things to make one die of healthful laughter, — but the movement of which they are the refreshing concomitants, the Woman Movement, is not “funny.” In all the darting motion of this dynamic age it is most significant, most vital, most important. It is in the van. Were its units all but indifferent, yet go forward it must, for behind it is the life-force, the stream of tendency, the evolutionary will. Before that cosmic tide, man or woman is as stubble and as straw. On we go because we must. But the units in the van are not indifferent. Each, to the extent of its puny might, wills to go with the tide, and, just to that extent, is a clearer-eyed unit than its brother or its sister somewhere in the rear, who is buffeting the tide. For they in the very van, like Columbus on the poop of the Santa Maria, know that the waste of seas is not forever.
The Woman Movement did not begin to-day, or last night, or yesterday, or the day before yesterday. It began an uncertain number of millions of years ago. It began when first a primitive, asexual organism slipped almost unawares into a sexual method of reproduction. It began when the union of two cells, hitherto undifferentiated, gave way to the union of two cells gradually, very, very gradually, differentiated. It began when the Masculine Movement began. They began together. Which was the more important cell? God knows! It is true that the female cell retained more of the nutritive, constructive, developing, and staying power of the asexual parent. The biologist will tell you that under certain circumstances, on certain planes of the great stairway of animal life, the ovum can, and does, develop by its own internal powers. It can continue its growth, bringing forth itself in a daughter form, and that without male coöperation. Very rarely the sperm undertakes a like development, but it never comes to anything. As organic life mounts the stairway, that power goes to sleep. The vertebrate must have a father as well as a mother. But the mother remains the more “natural,” the more nutritive, the more constructive, the nearer to the womb of all things. The father apparently—for the contention is not proved—is the larger carrier of the factors that make for variability. He is the more disruptive, destructive, energetic. The male inclines to the dynamic, the female to the static aspect, and dynamics and statics are but opposite balances of the evolutionary scales.
The male element—the female element! In the world of protoplasm, in the world behind protoplasm, how absurd to say, “This is inferior. — This is superior.” These are equal. Not like, but equivalent. Two branches sprung from one root, unfathomably deep. Each, in that reproduction which is but discontinuous growth, hands on an inheritance woven of two. There are present, in the mysterious nuclei, in the undying germ-plasm, both lines of descent. Everyman has in him Everywoman, and Everywoman Everyman. On the biological plane the Feminine Movement and the Masculine Movement have the same weight, no more and no less. They are co-partners, co-heirs, yoked bearers of life. On that plane the woman has no need to say, “You wrong me”; no need to ask, “Is this justice?” no need to assert, “I am your equal.” Here all Nature is her advocate. Omne vivum ex ovo.
What of the two Movements upon the plane of human history? Woman is, to-day, crying for recognition of equality with Man. Her cry implies one of two things—her actual inequality, or Man’s denial of her equality. Let us, once for all, mean equality—equivalence—equal value, and not similarity—identity—the same thing. Man and Woman are not identical; were they so, the words “sexual dimorphism,” “gender,” “sex,” would not occur in the dictionaries. The etymology of the word “sex” is uncertain, but it is thought to come from the verb secare, to cut. A trace of it is apparent in “distinct, distinction.”
What are then the more salient distinctions between the two branches of humanity? Woman bears the human race. Let women, let biologists, physicians, and educators, testify as to what that means. Man, without that function to perform, uses in other ways the energy saved. Where the woman builds, brings forth, and nourishes a human creature, he builds a bridge, a fortress, a cathedral. She bears a poet: he writes the poetry; a musician: e composes the opera; a conqueror: he goes forth to conquer; a daughter: she in her turn will build, bring forth, nourish, rear through childhood a human creature. If she never mates, then, obedient to the spirit of the hive, she will, like the worker-bee, help—in how many ways, God who watches only knows! So much for the functional difference.
What of the morphological—the difference in structure? We need no dissertation here. Physical man is stronger than physical woman. His limbs are better sustaining columns; owing to the position and nature of the organs contained within the pelvis of the woman, erect stature is easier to him; his foot is of stronger make, he has the advantage in lung capacity, there are more red corpuscles in his blood, he has a longer reach of arm and a wider grasp of hand, very much greater muscular force, and all the advantages on the physical and individual side to be gained by the absence of the characteristic functions of the woman. He is, in short, the stronger animal. Man is aware of it, and so is Woman.
What of the brain? In the larger frame, its mass is something greater than in the smaller. Relatively to body-weight, the brain of woman is a little larger than the brain of man. It is as rich in convolutions as is the man’s. Why should it not be? Her mother gave one half, her father gave the other half. Behind those two stand two men and two women; behind those four, four men and four women; behind that eight, eight men and eight women; behind that sixteen, sixteen men and sixteen women; behind that thirty-two—no use to go on with the wondrous House that Jack (and Jill) Built! Is she deficient in mental power? Then her forbears, men and women, were so. Did she inherit only from the women? Then we are again eighteenth-century Ovists, claiming almost the entire credit for the distaff side, and that despite the fact that often a daughter has her father’s eyes!
No: we are not Ovists, though verily there are many who yet linger in the opposite school of the Animalculists! No: the male and female cells, the mother and the father, the man and the woman, two halves of one whole, differentiated elements of one stock, come together; and again, for a moment of time, there is unity. And from that unity again springs differentiation—differentiation of function, and therefore the containing walls of that function; differentiation of bodily structure, and therefore emotional differentiation; and therefore, to some extent, intellectual differentiation. Differentiation is unity multiplied by division, to the end that unity’s work may be better done. The sexes are two halves of one whole, and the material is homogenous. Nor is the whole like a wedding-cake—where the batter is the same, truly, but only one side has the golden ring and the lucky sixpence. Nature abhors violent and unrelated contrasts. Unrelation, indeed, does not exist in her province—nor in any other. Suppose, on the whole, we agree with the very many great men who, from the dawn of Aryan civilization to the present day, have poured oblation to the mind of the mother of the Aryan race.
A Being breathing thoughtful breath,
A Traveller between life and death;
The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength and skill;
A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
To warn, to comfort and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright
With something of angelic light
There are more of such men than you would think until you look into the matter. Suppose we agree with a few ancient and many modern thinkers, that much of the man is due to his mother. Suppose we agree that women are mentally capable. And suppose we stop what the Negroes call “miration”—this wonderful “miration”—over the fact that there has been no woman Homer, no woman Dante, no woman Shakespeare, Molière, Michael Angelo, Rubens, Beethoven, Wagner, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Aristotle, Bacon, Kant, and so on. Very frankly there has not.
We have our own honor roll, but it is nothing like so imposing. True, every one of those men had a mother, without whose care he would not have written, painted, made music, or speculated on the universe. True motherhood in itself is something of a poem, something of a picture, something of a musical composition, and of quite quintessential importance in the scheme of life. True, women have had at best a most scattering education; often, none at all; oftener, one that is quite worthless. True, with a better showing we might have done better. True, ignorance, superstition, ecclesiasticism, militarism, Mrs. Grundy, and Saint Paul, have combined somewhat to blight feminine ambition. True, with freedom and education we may yet out-Sappho Sappho. Caroline Herschel was a fair astronomer. In France there lives to-day the woman who, co-worker with her husband, proved the divisibility of the atom. A Nobel prize went this year to a woman. True, all this, and more; and yet we agree that probably men will continue to write the best poems, paint the best pictures, make the best music, accomplish the most in science and invention, lead in philosophy. Their ability along these lines is greater, and the reason is as deep as are the foundations of life. The kinetic side of woman is subordinated in the individual, that it may reappear in the species. The reproductive sacrifice is hers, not the man’s.
The energy of the male, not sluiced away as is hers, overflows in art, in music, in poem and drama, in architecture, in scientific thought, in philosophical speculation. The trouble is that it does not often enough overflow in those ways. Violence, unscrupulous scheming, rough-shod climbing after power, lust, intemperance, crime, economic free-bootery—masculine energy outweighted by morals! No. Man will remain the more dynamic, woman the more static. He will discover, invent, adorn, draw aside inch by inch the veil from the face of knowledge, build the ship, build the sea-wall, the lighthouse, the museum, and the temple. As with the birds, he has the richer song, the more brilliant plumage. She will conserve the species; she will instruct the youth of both sexes, and to a large extent the reins of administration will fall into her hands. One generation of practical training, and as administrator she will be the equal of man; two generations, and she will be his superior.
Women make able sovereigns. The wisdom of Pericles was largely the wisdom of Aspasia. Elizabeth of England will balance Charles the Fifth, Catherine the Second balance Frederick the Great, Victoria equal Franz Joseph. The list of great sovereigns is long. The list of women who have been the power behind the throne is long; the list of able consorts and regents is long, and the list of women who have influenced the king’s ministers is long. Here is native ability, innate power; and, like murder, it will out. There is really no reason to suppose that in a democracy a woman would not do well as a town-councilor, as a member of the board of health, or even, at a pinch, as a mayor. Maternal instinct is a curious thing. It is ratherlike nature in that it can care, with a whole-souled intensity, for one little honey-bee winging its way toward a clover blossom; and also, by a simple act of expansion, for all the bees in the hive, and all the clover in the field.
What of the moral distinction? What of it, father, husband, son, brother, lover, friend, neighbor, fellow citizen? What is the distinction, and is the feminine still the weaker side? What of the village women? What of the women in the farmhouses? What of the mass of women in the cities? What of the comfortable mothers of the American people, the happy wives, the fortunate daughters? What of the congregations in the churches? What of the charitable associations? What of the associations of nurses, the settlement-workers, the Red Cross? What of the workers over all the land for social reform? What of the teachers, three hundred and odd thousand in the United States? What of the workers in libraries? What of the writers, an army of them? What of the two thousand journalists, the seventy-four thousand bookkeepers, the eighty-five thousand office-clerks, the eighty-six thousand stenographers? And what of other legions of working women? What of the girls in service? What of the telegraph and telephone girls, the women in printing establishments, in shops, in restaurants, in theatres, at the pit-brow, in mills, in factories, and in sweat-shops? Without strength of arm, without a voice that is counted, underpaid, underfed, exploited at every turn, tempted upon every side, disfranchised, held in ignorance—what of the mass of working women?
There are perhaps twenty-five million women in the United States—over five million of them wage-earning. There are more wage-earning women in this country to-day than there were men, women, and children in the day of the Declaration of Independence. What does it mean to say that, of the adult population of a country, one moiety furnishes to the prisons ninety-four and one-half per cent of the inmates, and the other moiety five and one-half per cent? What is the meaning of the enormous discrepancy shown by the drink statistics? The prostitutes? Yes; but to the making of one harlot there go, as a minimum, two rakehells. The silly, the common, the frivolous, the selfish, the dishonest, the unscrupulous, the adventuress? All exist, and in large numbers. We hope to reduce them. But we think that even there, were statistics available, the feminine hemisphere might be found less heavily shaded than the masculine. We think that that is, fairly, the opinion of the world.
It would seem that there is an inference to be drawn from two simple facts. First: the militarist, the employer of cheap and of child labor, the bribed politician, the contemner of education, the liquor interest, the brothel interest, every interest that sets its face against reform, from reform of the milk-supply to disarmament of nations, is opposed to the political liberty of woman. Second: the biologist, the political economist, the statesman, the sociologist, the eugenist, the physician, the educator, the student, and the moralist, are to be found, in ever-increasing number, advocates of her enfranchisement.
Distinctions of sex exist—naturally. They play an enormous part in life. But the sexes are but the two arms of Life, and Life is ambidextrous. And unless the hands work together, the potter will have an ill-shaped vessel. He will break Human Life into shards, and turn to work with other clay. Essential inequality! That is a Mumbo Jumbo mask, which, when held by a masculine hand, is used to hide the face of a very human reluctance to share power. When a woman’s hand raises the fetish thing, — she knows not what she does.
Once, long ago, I stood with an old friend before a window open to the summer night. “What a beautiful moon!” I said. “Oh, my dear” she answered, “if you could have seen the moon before the war!”
It is, apparently, the same moon: as large, as round, as silver, now as then. The difference lies in what it shines upon. The moon shone then upon a country yet heavily wooded; upon a country very largely agricultural, upon a people very fairly simple. She shone upon thirty millions of people; to-night she shines upon ninety millions; a few years, and her beams will fall upon double that number; a few more, and she will gaze upon a crowded continent; to her a seething plain like India or like China. Before the war she looked upon farmhouse and village, and throughout the length and breadth of the land upon but one city as large as is Baltimore to-day. To-night upon how many abandoned farms does she look, upon how many deserted villages, upon how many great cities. Babylons and Ninevehs of the Occident! Upon how many mill towns, mining towns, railroad towns!
Where is the old-time village, the sanest and sweetest of political units? The houses are there, the river is there, the everlasting hills are there, there are people there, more people than of old. And yet it is gone, the self-contained village of our memory—there is hardly a trace upon the air of the syringa fragrance. The trains thunder through the telegraph ticks and ticks, the city papers are distributed, the saloon invites, the cheap news-stall outspreads its poisonous wares, there are glances toward a certain street, narrow, indefinably sinister, the bent laborer goes by, the housewife comes to her door and stands, looking out.
“Is not John coming home, and how is he coming home? Where is young John? Tempted or tempter, where is he? And where” — oh, much, much to the point! — “where is Mary? It is dark. Why does she not come home?”
In the old days there was small harm in the moonlit village streets. It was pleasant to hear the young folks’ voices, coming home from church, from reading-society, from spelling-bee, from tableaux, from parties where nothing stronger than lemonade was handed, and where they only played at Beggar-my-Neighbor. It is different now. The streets are gas-lit, and other amusements are provided. And in that doorway the woman stands and stands—a woman? say rather there is one great heartache standing there! They for whom she waits are the younger girl and boy. What of the elder children? They have gone to the city.
“Oh!” says some one, “here is exaggeration. There is so much pleasant and wholesome life, sweet and sane, and bright with promise!” Oh, we hasten to agree, there is! That segment is the rainbow cast across a darkened heaven. It is, we trust in God, a sample cut from the whole great web of the future! But how large, after all, is the sample we have in hand? and is it not time that we wove more rapidly the web that shall match it? How many after all, among us are quite safe, fortunate, happy, content that the world and that the less wise, less happy, shall remain as they are? How many among us are endangered, oppressed, exploited, ruined, lost through ignorance in the maze; tied by greed to a million whirring wheels; bound by a vitiated inheritance to that utter gargoyle, that nightmare monster, decadence; chained by their own wrongdoing to all the hateful fruit of evil; unfortunate, unhappy, and most miserably unwise? Are they in this latter category vastly in the minority? Are they? Are they?
No. The moon shines to-night upon conditions, possibilities, dangers, hopes, struggles, and warfare gigantically greater than ever before. Moreover the contest grows. To the clash of bodies succeeds the clash of intellects; to the war of the cranes and pygmies, the war of the Titans. Heretofore, arithmetical progression; now and hereafter, geometrical progression.
We have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge. Instinctive growth has become conscious growth. Conscious growth is in slow process of becoming rational growth. Above, below, around the crystal sphere of the rational, immeasurably screams the spiritual. Not even these concentric rings, these spheres within spheres, are detached and unrelated. As there are protoplasmic bridges between the living cells, so there are passages from one of these to another. Near descendants of pithecanthrope erectus are among us; the cave-man is here, narrow-skulled, the savage, the barbarian, the semi-civilized, the man and woman, goblin-haunted, of the Middle Ages. Nor, from earliest times, have there lacked traversers of the gossamer bridges from the sphere above to the sphere below. Retrospective thought names them “men in advance of their day.” They are the great, dramatic figures, they are the cosmic adventurers. Usually they are stoned, or burned, or crucified. Enslaved or done to death upon that lower sphere, when this at last rises, melts, into the next higher, they are tolerated. Another lift and coalescence and they are deified; another, to the sphere from which they came, and they are recognized. To-day happy are we that we recognized many who, long ago, came over the hair-like bridges from the higher to the lower. We recognize many, but not all. There are a number to whose estate we have not come. We are happy too, that if we have a growing pity we have also a growing distaste for the ape and satyr; the savage, lustful and greedy, the barbarian with his war-cries and his idols; the semi-civilized with his insistence upon remaining semi-civilized; and the mediæval mind, fine at times but narrower than the needle-eye. They trouble us; if the tragedy of it all were not too deep for such a word as tedium, we might say that they bore us. A good dog, — most dogs are good, — a sensible horse, are both pleasanter and more improving company.
What of the travelers among us to-day from the land of to-morrow? For just so surely as the spirit of the past is in presence, so surely is also the spirit of the future. The near past is represented, and the near future; the far past, and the far future. The far, far past comes not; it would terrify us if it did. And the far, far future comes not yet; it would blind us with its glory, too utterly confound and humble us with its holy might. Nor could it breathe in this mephitic air. Slowly, slowly, as the great body of evil is reduced to carbon dioxid, — as the brute past sinks, as Humanity, now in the darkness with the roots of things, pushes above the soil, blades like the wheat, like the hyacinth, springs like the oak, like the palm, — matters will improve. Then, ah, then will the visants come, the seraphs from afar!
What has this to do with woman? Much, oh, much! What has woman to do with this? More than you think, my friend, more than you think! For woman is half of humanity, and, broadly speaking, the altruistic half.
I am a woman, and I have faith in women. I know their weaknesses. We are hearing a good deal about these just now; we are likely to hear more. I know that they are inaccurate—but not often so as bookkeepers. I know that they are credulous—many of them. On the other hand, there are among them few false prophets. And credulity is the very thing in which they are improving. They are not half so credulous as they were; indeed, it is not too much to say that a fair proportion of them are growing critical. Inconsequent? Well, perhaps a certain number, and along certain lines. I have never seen much inconsequence when they were in earnest. It is a word that cannot possibly be applied to womanhood in the round. I know that many of them wear murdered birds in their hats, and I wish they didn’t. I doubt if they do so much longer. I know that they play bridge—some of them. But there is little gambling, I should say, and an enormous number of women scarcely know one card from another. I don’t think they gossip as much as they did; there are more interesting things to talk about.
I have heard the amazing accusation that they are lawless. (The lawlessness of women! Just heavens! Where are the statistics? What of her extraordinary respect for her policeman—any policeman—her pastor, and her lawyer?) I know they have, many of them, a sinuous, an indirect way of approaching and of obtaining the object or the end which they desire. It is a grave fault—perhaps their gravest. But, in the name of God, who is responsible for it? To-day, from half the pulpits of the land, by the press, by whom not, woman is told, “Continue as you are! Pursue the methods you were forced to use when you were the cowering mate of a savage half as strong again as you! Do as you did when you were Elizabeth of Hungary, and your lord demanded what you carried gathered in your apron. Say as you said then, ‘Roses,’ although, in fact, it is bread for the poor! Do as you did when you were Godiva of Coventry. Petition; and however degrading a price your lord exacts for the lifted tax, pay it! Beg; and if refused, manœuvre!” It is not improbable that the phrase which, in the next few years, will become most distasteful to a naturally self-respecting and straightforward woman—and there are hundreds of thousands of such—will be the phrase “indirect influence.” She is in train to hear it from many lips It means, Make me comfortable, and I will see what I can do about it.
Immorality? There are prostitutes, there are immoral women. There will come some rain-washed, star-spangled night when there will be vastly fewer of these. The great mass of womankind is pure. Divorce? After all, not many women are divorced, and of those who are, a great number may be held quite guiltless of wrong-doing. The remedy for divorce lies in education and in more careful marriage laws. Just so long as in the training of the child we blink every basic fact of life; just so long as we split temperance, chastity, right-living, into two standards, attempting with brute blindness to divide the indivisible and to make of Eternal Law a double-faced Janus, one aspect toward the man, another toward the woman; just so long as hordes of the Unfit hurl themselves, en masse, into marriage; just so long as these things obtain will there be needed a wide exit from that estate. It should be a high and sacred Temple of Life, entered only by true, warm, and mutual love, by reverent regard for the human life that the man is to kindle and the woman is to bear. To the ignorant, to the rash and weak, to the most miserable, to the Unfit, it has become the Pit of the Inquisition. Discourage, with all the wisdom of which we are capable, the mating of the Unfit; encourage far, far more than we do now encourage, the mating of the Fit! So will we bring aid to the anxious millions of the future—to the children of the vast, blue hall in Maeterlinck’s Blue Bird, the Unborn Children. They wait in the unearthly light, the Unborn Children, each attending his summons, each with some symbol of what he is to do or to become in that Life toward which he is voyaging. Time opens the door. “You—and you—and you!” — “Wait, Father Time, wait until I get my father’s birthday gift—the disease I am to carry with me always! But when he sees the grandchildren I shall give him—“ “Wait, wait, Father Time, until I find the jug marked Old Bourbon!” — “I can’t come any quicker, sir. I’m lame. Mother worked overtime—ten hours and a half, and nine looms to mind.” And out they troop, the Condemned.
Verily, womanhood is not without blemish; nor is manhood. Imperfect, frail, and tarnished, are they both. But as surely as I sit here in this sunny window, writing these words, Woman has on her side the Future. She is willing to rest her case with the Unborn, in the vast, blue hall, undulating with light, sapphire as the sea or as the Madonna’s robe. “I was weak, my children—weak and ignorant. I was a stupid mother. I did not know just how to go about things—it was all so new. But was I not wright to make the fight? It was for the right kind of a home for you—and that you should have strong bodies and clear eyes and a right spirit. O my daughters, was I not right to develop myself, to make them give me education, to make them give me liberty? How could I use my powers until I had trained them? How could I even find that I had them until I tried? Where could I try but in the place of trial? Where could I get my training but in the arena of life? There is none other provided. Yea, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus. I fought that you might be fair and chaste and strong and free and wise, and I conquered! — O my sons! it was for you, too, that I fought. They say that in the long, long past, I brought you in my arms, a sacrifice to Moloch; that upon the Ganges I gave you to the river, a sacrifice to the crocodile. I know not; my life has been very long; I have done wild things. But oh, a million times more often have I been the sacrifice! I have been the scapegoat of the world. But when I fought at last, it was for you, too, that I fought. I fought that you might be fair and chaste and strong and free and wise, and I conquered! For I would be the mother, not of Death, but of Life; not of slaves, but of heroes.”
Will she not have recognition in the vast, blue halls? Yea, verily, she will! And not she alone, the Mother, — the vital point of this matter, the central figure among women, the one almost solely important to Nature, however it may be with the End whom Nature serves, — but those others will be welcomed, the women who have never married, who have only helped other people’s children, who have only served. They, too, reproduce in their own way, but their children are ideas, — brain children. Brain children are of great consequence in the future, but they do not fill the human arms. Thus it is the unmarried women are good soldiers in the Woman’s War. They are stanch legionaries; they make a strong color-guard. But the bearer of the colors is Nature’s masterpiece, and the colors are—One says they are one thing, and one says they are another. To this man the banner seems blood-red, to another it is a washed-out white, a third sees a mere flag of revolt, a fourth, somewhat wiser, the eagles of human progress. One cries, “An uprising of the Helots!” Another smiles, “Psha! A sleazy piece of cambric! Vague feministic discontent.” A spirit, in act to cross from a higher sphere, might pause to mark the approaching army; might say, “I see the ensign—and it is a babe in arms.”
The future—the future! What will be the religion of the future? It will be—the Future. Why, how mad are we with our Shintoism, with our ancestor-worship! binding our feet because our great-grandmothers bound theirs, pouring our minds into the mediæval mould, into the eighteenth-century mould, long after candle-moulds have been discarded in favor of electric light!
What is ancestor-worship? It is worship of what we were, — we—we—we who tread the earth to-day! What is worship of posterity? It is worship of what we may become—worship of the many-whorled flower potential in the daisy of the field; of the deep and glowing rose potential in the stem; of the rustless wheat, of the finer form, of the nobler mind, of the woman wonderful as the Venus of Melos; of the man a demi-god, a Prometheus Unbound; of the child—ah, what birthday gifts may we not bring the child in that future that we—we—we shall still tread this Earth! Beyond that fair estate of the future, what far and fair futures yet; what vistas, what grandeurs, what harmonies, what growth!
Religion! What is religion? Faith, — the theologian will tell you, — and Works. Neither has much to do with the past. You can believe that a thing happened in the past, but you can hardly exercise faith toward the past. Faith is the worker at the loom of the moment, the weaver of the future into the present. We live by faith, backed with memory. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. Faith without Works is dead. And Works? How is it possible to work for the past? And Hope? How is it possible to hope for the past? And Love? It is possible to love the past. There was much in it that was lovable. But it is more helpful to love the future! We are sweeping out of the realm of brute force into the realm of intellectual force; out of the arid and dead lands of Egoism into the fair country of Altruism. One day, one great Sunday of the World, to the sound of deeper, richer, more golden-tongued bells than ever we heard in our loveliest dream, Altruism will wake to conscious unity with the Absolute—which is God.
Between us and that day lie many battlefields—ages of battlefields. There will be defeats and victories. The defeats lie nearer to us; beyond them is the zone of victory. Even to-day in the fight for the Unborn Babe the allied forces are large. Men are fighting, boldly and well. Women are fighting; more and more and yet more of women. But their arms are antiquated. If they had even an old smooth-bore musket or a Revolutionary flint-lock! but they haven’t any weapon at all—not what a man would call a weapon. They have a thing called “indirect influence,” the indirection of which is extreme indeed. It has been claimed that they are furnished with an ancient arque-buse called “Virtual representation.” Virtual representation? There is no such thing in the field of law, nor, I should imagine, in any other field. The elector is directly represented by the man he sends to the legislature. An army corps “virtually represented” on the battlefield, sounds somehow like something out of Alice in Wonderland. The arm the women want is the standard one of tested efficiency. It is called the Ballot.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.