Woman-One Word More


WHATEVER else the Suffragettes have done, they have made many of us heartily weary of being women. Every one is talking about us; no one is content to leave us alone. Some solution of the ‘woman question’ is an ingredient in every panacea offered to the contemporary world. We are praised for qualities we are ashamed of having, and blamed for things we never did. It is really no wonder that we long for our ‘rights’; we are so used to being put off with either injustice or mercy. Even the Presidential campaign, as it turns out, does not leave us quite out of the lime-light. It must be very easy, in comparison, to be a man. A man may have duties as a citizen, as a husband, as a father; but no one particularizes his duties as a mere male. Being a woman, on the contrary, has apparently a code of its own; and women of entirely different races, temperaments, and circumstances, must somehow agree upon it. Some of us who are busy living up to our personal fates would cravenly beg the Zeit-Geist to take care of it all. But that, we are told, is the unpardonable Laodicean sin.

So that when a writer in this Atlantic takes to quoting and upholding one Dr. Groddeck of Baden-Baden in his strictures on our sex, we turn uncomfortably to listen. It cannot be said that this writer makes the rough places plain. Her counsel of perfection would be uncommonly difficult to follow. All of us must agree that we are told here some very true things; but the true things are often made to lead to odd conclusions.

Honestly, and in all soberness, we must wish to know what we, as a sex, are to do with our destiny — since obviously it is in a bad way, and something must be done with it. But it is hard to reconcile some of these ex cathedra pronouncements. How, for example, does woman manage at once to lack the creative power and to be the repository of creative force? ‘Woman cannot worship an Idea’ — she can only, apparently, be it. Is she then an unconscious thing, an image erected in the world by a careful deity (like the ring-streaked wands of Jacob), that man, by contemplating her, may produce more perfectly? Not even that, precisely; for 'she controls the quality of posterity,’ by the wise initial choice of her mate, by her devotion to her offspring, by the excellent education that she is enabled (by virtue of a smattering of knowledge) to give her children. ‘She is par excellence the lover, man the doer’ — yet ‘she must choose her husband as unamorously as possible’; bearing it in mind, probably, that inasmuch as ‘it is only after marriage that a woman can love,’ it would be too silly to be guided by love in the first place.

As for man: ‘ he loves his wife as the symbol of the All,’ ‘an impersonality that compels his allegiance.’ (Je n’y crois guère, madame!) That is why it is not always, according to this author, a sign of moral greatness for a man to be faithful to his wife. When he is narrow-minded, it is all very well; but when he is high-minded and growing in personality, we are told, it becomes a great effort for him to remain faithful. A proper fidelity to the All does suggest, certainly, the ‘imperfectly monogamous’ hero of scientific fable. But one is not sure that is the turn the author meant to take.

Then comes the ageing protest against race-suicide — coupled bewilderingly with the injunction to mothers not to create children too lavishly, since not quantity but quality is what we need. Would it not have been more civil to credit the hesitating mother, in the first place, with preferring quality to quantity? Can any one affirm positively that this is not the purpose which underlies ‘inverted murder’? Especially as we are explicitly told that it is only single and childless women who decry the general duties of motherhood!

Oh, for the lost art of logic! —as lost, one sometimes feels to-day, as if it had been the peculiar property of the Etruscans.

Out of this tangle, like a skein of worsted in the kitten’s clutch, comes one loose thread that we can lay our hands on. Dr. Groddeck speaks out loud and clear. ‘“On this feeling of personality rests a man’s sense of duty, his energy, his capability, for sacrifice, his worship of the Idea. Without this worship of the Idea, which has always created all the deeds of man, everything is lost that has been won. Every great beautiful thing in life is the work of the man; it is the work of personality in man, and that will remain so, for only a human being who possesses personality can do creative work, and woman has no personality.“’

I do not know at first-hand the writings of Dr. Groddeck; but I incline to believe that he does not mean that statement to be entirely flattering to our sex. In the hands of his commentator, however, it becomes flattering — thus. ‘Woman is not a personality; she is a symbol.’ A symbol of what? Of the harmony of the universe, which man looks upon as his goal. And we are told, furthermore, that woman ‘overhears godlikeness’ (a curious process!), and that she is ‘near the heart of divinity . . . verily a mother of God.’ ‘Ut puto, Dcus fio’ — as a certain Roman emperor notoriously remarked.

Now, most of us will individually accept canonization — with thanks; but very few of us feel up to being deified. And certainly not many of us are going to take that Icarus flight without personality as it is here defined. If we do not need personality — which alone, we are told, enables man to create great and beautiful things, to do his duty, to exhibit energy, and to sacrifice himself (all sufficiently important acts) — then either we really are already as gods, or we are committed eternally to a lower moral plane than men. No quibbling will help us out. We know that we are not as gods; and very few of us believe— outside of Germany, at least — that we are eternally committed to a lower moral plane than men. The only way out is to say that women are not really human beings at all — and even biology, though here invoked afresh, does not say that. We cannot solve it by accepting Islam, for Islam is merciful, and in denying woman a soul relieves her of all the dreadful duties that having a soul involves. No: we are adjured to do our duty, to create beautifully, to sacrifice ourselves to the good of the race — all of them things that we have just been told only personality will enable human beings to do.

Personality, the wonder-worker! — and we have it not. It is a belief that monks and pagans have shared. To this day, there is an echo of it in any cynical Frenchman’s comments on le sexe. Soberly speaking, it does not much matter, if you deny woman’s personality, whether you consider her the mouthpiece of God or of the Devil: the infallible Pythia, or one of the lustrous shapes that beset Saint Anthony. If it were true, it would be a melancholy business. Luckily Science, the dark discourager, has not discouraged us in this. For who will say that the accident of chromosomes, which controls sex at the instant of conception, puts into the odd number that predestines the female so fundamental a significance? It is over-mystical to pretend that it does. Ahriman has his mysticism as well as Ahura Mazda — but if there must be magic, let it be white, not black.

And yet it may well be that the wrong-headedness is only wrong-wordcdness, after all. Miss Anderson’s paper does summon confusedly for us a vision of woman, half prophetess, half bond-slave, sitting, reverend and meek, at the hearth of bewildered man. Perhaps our writer means that woman should be a nice balance between Godiva and Artemis. Perhaps she only means that we should re-read the Germania and, on top of that, the Divine Comedy.

The vision is, I fancy, too mystical for our present purposes; the verbs, essentially, too little in the indicative mood. The address we are to go to might have been given by Mrs. Nickleby. But in these days of sentimental materialism it is good for woman to be told both that she has divine significance, and that her powers are in some ways less than man’s. We are in danger of forgetting both. And for logic: be sure that in the end we shall be taught the complicated truth by life, which is logic in the raw.