Woman--One Word Most
THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB
IN the August Atlantic an article entitled ‘Woman’ probably attracted the attention of every reader answering to that name. In the Contributors’ Club appeared a comment upon it which, though more comprehensible than the article, still left one bewildered by much analogy and analysis. These two processes beset us behind and before, whatever subject we discuss. Cleverly handled as they are by Miss Anderson and Contributor, we humbly submit that neither writer analyzed according to the Century Dictionary, or any other daily guide to the common wayfaring mind. If Miss Anderson or her German backer, Dr. Groddeck, had given us a definition of personality, we might understand them better, but the only attempt at it reminds one of a saying of Alcott’s. On the occasion of one of his floating discourses, a downright auditor demanded that he define some word or term that he had used, to which the sweetly nonplussed philosopher replied: ‘ Mr. ——, we may confine, but not define.’ Miss Anderson not only fails to define personality, but even to confine it — except in confining it to man. It is no definition to say, ‘that curious katabolic thing, personality’; it makes one feel as if one had started for the gate and run his head against a particularly bumpy stone wall.
What is ‘katabolic’? We dash for a dictionary and lug the ‘k’ to the light, only to be kindly referred to ' catabolic.’ It looks more harmless beginning with ‘cat,’ but presents an uncomfortable family likeness to ‘cataleptic.’ We chase the ‘cats’ and read: ‘catabolic—relating to catabolism.’ You see, it gets gentler the more you stroke it. Finally we learn what catabolism is: —
‘ In physiology that phase of metabolism which consists in a downward series of changes in which complex bodies are broken down with the setting free of energy into simpler and simpler waste bodies. (M. Foster.) ’
Does this mean that personality, ‘that katabolic thing,’ is a downward series of changes by which a complex body (which man undoubtedly is) is broken down by setting free his energy (we were assured that he is by nature a perfect dynamo of energy) into a simpler and simpler waste body? We judge that a completely simplified waste body must be a corpse.
Thus refreshed, we tackle the next phrase concerning personality — ‘a quality or state of being peculiar to himself (we devoutly hope it is), the natural outcome of his inherent nature and training. This dynamic force has been man’s strongest asset.’ Now, we started with man’s energy as his great dynamic asset — and it was energy that developed ‘the katabolic thing’ which is now his strongest asset. Is the ‘katabolic thing’ chasing its own tail? Of course it has a perfect right to do it, but it appears to be a peculiarly vicious circle.
Having painfully acquired the information that this strange ‘thing’ is something or somebody which, or who, is going to pieces just as fast as it can (the asset of a physiological bankrupt), we are told that, with this most valuable asset, man has accomplished ‘the entire mechanism of things done in the world.’ He is undeniably a wonder, then—woman should bo forever abashed in his presence. But she need not be envious, for she has a complaint almost as bad, the antithesis of his. She is ‘anabolic in her habits of body, different in her disposition,’ and to her ‘this fact and feeling of personality is foreign.’ One would think that this deprivation must be her most valuable asset.
But let us pursue ‘anabolic’ to its lair. We discover first that anabolism is the equivalent of assimilation, and then we remember that in our eagerness to grasp ‘ the katabolic thing’ we almost overlooked the meek little quotation giving ‘dissimilation’ as the synonym of catabolism. It so much resembles ‘dissimulation’ that we look twice to make sure, not unprepared to accept that word as an apt substitute. But dissimilation?—why, of course — the opposite of assimilation, conveying a vague, unpleasant suggestion of indigestion. We put this idea down firmly, and return to study anabolism — ‘ascending metabolic processes whereby a substance is transformed into another more complex, more highly organized, more energetic.’ Aha! here we discover a perfectly satisfactory explanation of why women are the mothers of men, ‘those katabolic things.’
Well, now do we know what personality or non-personality is? Not I, for one. So far as I have a nebulous theory of what it does n’t mean, I fail to see why it is n’t a human ‘thing,’ as likely to develop in some women as in some men, and to be undeveloped in some other men and women, Defend us from the generalizer! The scientific fact-finder, after years of study, correlation of thousands upon thousands of details, may be justified in striking an average and calling it a general law, but when it comes to the psychological analysis of humanity, the dogmatic generalizer is dealing with such imponderable complexities and unknown quantities that he had best beware of glitteralities.
So far as one can make out this proud masculine monopoly, ‘ personality,’ woman is not missing much without it, but one agrees with Contributor that if one has any heart-burning on the subject, it is no consolation to be called ‘a symbol’ —‘a power working through man to accomplish what she will.’ The facts seem to be contrary to this irradiating theory.
Having been battled and shuttled between Biology and Idealism all through the article, one is in doubt on which level to approach this bomb; but we think that it must be admitted that, in the biological sense, man stands for the creative force more than woman, and therefore he works through woman to accomplish what he will. Miss Anderson does not wish to prove inferiority or superiority in woman, and if her statement, ‘Both are superior; both are complete,’ means both together are superior and complete, it is the one indisputable statement in the article, but rather ambiguous in form, and merely by the way, whereas it should be the crux of the whole matter.
The author says that so long as the woman movement tries to prove that ‘woman is equal or superior to man’ it will fail. The woman movement as a whole is not trying to prove any such thing. The equal of man is an utterly different proposition — equality does not spell identity. The woman movement is not taking man’s stride, distancing him on his own road, and turning to fling in his face, ‘Now who’s superior? ’ It is aiming to persuade him (some of it I grant aims to force him) to permit woman to walk at his side, where we have been told that she was placed by the Divine creative power.
Miss Anderson and her learned German Doctor say that man alone creates in life. In the creation of life we know that neither alone can bring to being the tiniest atom, and it is a legitimate argument for equality of rights, duties, and endowments, not identity in them. Granting that biologically, as I have said, man more than woman stands for the active creative force, it is a waste of time, gray matter, and good black ink to argue which is the greater part.
Why the antis — anti-suffragists, anti-feminists, anti-modernists — balk so at the word ‘rights,’ in relation to woman’s new needs, it is hard to see. But we waive the question as to whether the ballot, or equal pay for equal work, be a right, a privilege, or a concession, it matters not to the present point. Miss Anderson puts Rights in scornful italics, and asks, what has any one to do with rights? Well, if man had not called the franchise and economic justice by that name, woman would not be asking for them in that name. Then Miss Anderson comes down with heavy emphasis on woman’s duties. The advocates of all the claims for women are perfectly willing to call them duties: nor do they hesitate because they are told that woman already has more of them than she can properly fulfill; or worse, that she rebels against those that she was created to fulfill. As to adding duties like voting or municipal housekeeping to the women now working overtime at their private duty, we recognize the fundamental truth of the common saying, ‘When you want a thing done, go to the busiest man you know.’ As to the shirkers of duty, we would apply to them Miss Anderson’s own remark on the real uprooting of an evil being beyond the ballot, and would say that the remedy is ‘within the woman,’ and that the right, privilege, or duty of voting is as likely to help as to hinder her reform; at the worst the effect would be nil.
The Eternal Feminine is certainly growing tiresome, because of the misplaced accent on the Feminine. If women had not attended so strictly to their ‘natural duties,’they might have had time to express themselves on the Eternal Masculine — surely as eternal in her life as she is in his.
It is amusingly pertinent, after reading Contributor’s comment, to catch the first words of the next contribution, ‘Stars and Stockings,’ for the Palmist Lady’s remark to her client sums up the real facts of the eternally threshing controversy, — ‘You have a composite hand, my dear.’ Just so, — be it man or woman,— each is a composite hand, and no two of the same composition. ‘Personalities’ or ‘symbols’ of a cloud of ancestors, with free will and election both working hard, and new influences and environment cropping up hourly. Such heterogeneous ‘ Compositae’ as the human family are pretty nearly incapable of classification. The world’s aim to-day in religion, in international policies, even in ‘new party’ politics, is to emphasize likeness and minimize difference. In society, civics, and ethics, treat the feminine as human first , and nature will keep alive that element of her which must be eternal. The one word most needed is, Woman is Human.