War and the Sexes
THE first year of the war was nearing its close when a middle-aged American woman, visiting in my home, said to me, ‘Nowhere will the war bring about a more radical change, more unexpected changes, than in the relations between the sexes. What way out will be found by the millions of women who more than ever must give up all hope of realizing their longing for love and children?’
A few months later I had with me another American woman, — this time a young girl, — who put the same question, only with the alteration natural to her age. ‘What will become of all us young girls who formerly could reasonably expect to marry, but who now see our chances infinitely diminished?’
Millions of older women are wondering, like the first one, for the sake of the younger ones; millions of younger ones are wondering for their own sakes.
The answer can only be this: —
After the war, woman’s prospects, from the point of view of her natural duty — motherhood — will be dark indeed.
The number of women who will have to dismiss all thought of marriage — already far too large — is destined to become much larger still. The number of those who lead immoral lives and are childless, or who bear illegitimate children, will therefore increase. Others, from a sense of patriotic duty to which appeal has already been made, may marry invalids. How many of these will be disappointed in their most justified wishes for happiness! Those women who have chosen among the men who are rejected from military service quite often have defective children. The possibilities for millions of women who are now at the most favorable age for marriage decrease steadily, for with every day that goes by the number of young men who might return from the war without severe bodily or mental injuries grows less and less — not to mention the millions who will never return. And, lastly, the higher the development of women, the more they chafe under the ‘patriotic’ mandate to bear many children to replace the nation’s losses. For they know that, from the point of view of their personal development as well as that of the race, fewer but better children are to be preferred.
If, therefore, the future is dark for the women of the warring countries, is not the present much darker? Apart from all the women who, directly or indirectly, have been killed by the war before ever becoming wives or mothers, there are all those who have borne children during the horrors of war — children that died soon after birth; there are those who have been separated from children whom they will probably never recover; there are those who bear the children of the invading enemy. Added to these is the host of women who have lost their fathers and children; all the widows, all the homeless, that war has created. Any one who considers this carefully must admit that it is not only the flower of the nation that is blighted by war. No; war has the same effect on the tree of the race as the act of mischievous boys who girdle the trunks of birch trees in the spring, when the sap is flowing.
A considerable number of plans have already been suggested in Europe to relieve the abnormal sex-conditions, which have, of course, met with much formidable opposition.
Some one in London has conceived the idea of founding a ‘society for the marrying of wounded heroes’ — an appeal to woman’s self-sacrifice and patriotism to make the lives of these men bearable and to propagate children who will inherit their fathers’ qualities of heroism. These wives, who would, in most cases, have to become the supporters of their families, would, therefore, be paid a man’s wages and would, in many cases, also be given a stipend to facilitate their marriage. Moreover, in order to insure suitable mating, it is suggested that recourse be had to selective committees of clergymen and physicians; it is evidently not proposed to let the parties themselves choose. Women who are physically strong will be expected to marry men who need to be carried or pushed in a chair. Blind men, who can still at least enjoy good food, wall be married to good cooks, and so forth.
It seems impossible to believe the statement that the society already has hundreds of thousands of female members. Can it be possible that women are willing to offer themselves for such a pitiful purpose — where love is quite out of the question?
In Germany some one has suggested that the government give invalids an opportunity to own their homes. This would enable the heroes of the war to found families — for it is to be expected that thousands of heroic women who are widowed by the war will remarry these invalids. Another thoughtful German has suggested that the government open a marriage department, partly to further early marriages, partly in order to help young men make suitable acquaintances. The young men who survive the war, he thinks, will not have time for the social life that formerly gave them opportunities for becoming acquainted.
At the beginning of the war, before any one suspected either its length or the number of its victims, a German feminist wrote an article decidedly consoling to the German women, pointing out that the greatest percentage of marriages in Germany took place after the War of 1870. This was, however, the result of the great economic boom that this war brought Germany. It gave the young men of between twenty and thirty the chance that they otherwise too often lack, of having a family. The same authoress predicted the duplication of this state of affairs as the result of German victory in the present war; but after twenty months of desperate struggle, such an optimistic view can hardly be sustained. The capital accumulated by the prosperity of the last decades is quickly disappearing. The future of every country is being more deeply mortgaged with every hour that passes. The graves that are now being filled with the bodies of youths of sixteen and seventeen are growing in number. It is not strange, therefore, that here and there the idea of polygamy, which already had its advocates in Germany before the war, should now be considered as tenable from the standpoint of race-hygiene. Those men who return sound from the war know for a fact that young Germans puremindedly and seriously consider this idea from patriotic reasons.
And the same idea has been openly expressed by an Indian prince studying sociology and ethnology in Oxford. He points out that even before the war England had 1,200,000 more women than men; and with the present losses of young men between the ages of twenty and thirty, he estimates that every fourth woman in England must remain unmarried. Similar conditions must naturally follow in other countries. Of course, from the point of view of race-hygiene, only those men who are physically, psychically, and morally sound should be allowed to marry two wives. Love must, of course, be sacrificed for the sake of patriotism; and women (this prince believes) will sooner make this compromise than remain single for life. From the standpoint of the race, to be sure, such marriages are infinitely to be preferred to invalid marriages; but it does not seem probable at present that any state will formally adopt this idea. It is probable, however, that there will actually be a state of polygamy such as existed after the Thirty Years’ War. The increase of population will, therefore, probably be greater than a condition of strict monogamy would permit. But it is unlikely that many unmarried self-supporting women will replace marriage with free love. The question is, whether these women will want to become mothers; and if so, whether the community will lend dignity and responsibility to such form of matriarchal law.
In most countries where these questions have been seriously considered, very rational means have been found for increasing the birth-rate. In Germany, for instance, they have done away with the law preventing women with children from becoming teachers, as well as the difficulties attending military marriages, and the red tape attending the remarriage of the divorced; and they have also increased the salaries of the official class.
A question that is causing great anxiety in Germany is the danger to maternity in the increase and spreading of contagious diseases during the war. Another source of anxiety lies in the disastrous effect of nervous shock and life at the battle-front on the potential fatherhood of the race. For these reasons, many women who marry men returning from the war are destined to remain childless.
First in the sphere of literature, then in that of social work, and finally from the point of view of race-hygiene, people everywhere during the last few decades have been considering the problem of the unmarried mother and her child. All those who, for humanitarian and social reasons, urged the care and protection of the community for these mothers and their children were considered apostles of immorality. This was the case, for instance, with the German women, who, ten years ago, formed a society for the protection of motherhood — a society that the woman’s movement in Germany refused to recognize. The first year of the war, however, brought about a radical change in the attitude of the opposition. The war had the advantage of making it possible for a great number of engaged couples, who had a long period of waiting before them, to marry. Often, to be sure, they were separated immediately; often they never saw each other again; but the young wife or widow, in case she became a mother, had at least that happiness left her. And the race was increased by what science now considers the most valuable human product, the children of young lovers. In England the percentage of marriages in 1915 increased enormously, and two-thirds of these marriages were war marriages.
But war marriages have not always been possible; a great many soldiers left only a sweetheart at home. When later on in the course of the war the soldiers were given a furlough in the interest of the race, no difference was made between the married and the unmarried; and in the homes now opened in every country for the care of poor women during their confinements, no difference is made between married and unmarried mothers, just as no difference is made in corresponding homes for legitimate and illegitimate children. Thanks to these precautions, the birthrate in Germany has not fallen as much as was feared. The fact that the battlefields swallow up millions of lives makes the birth-rate a national question and revolutionizes ideas of sexual morality. Everything is now looked upon in a Spartan spirit as being a matter of the State. All these facilities for military marriages are being made because the State expects the men to propagate themselves before they die. It is to ensure a good crop of soldiers for the year 1935 that Joffre has, to the greatest possible degree, given the French soldiers four days’ leave with free journeys home. It has been proposed in France to tax the unmarried and childless and to reduce the taxes of those who are married or have many children; and similar measures will probably be taken in the other warring countries.
What was formerly considered a sin — loveless marriages contracted simply for the purpose of having offspring — will perhaps, from the national point of view, come to be considered a duty hereafter. The bearing of children outside of marriage, and perhaps other deviations from the ideal of monogamy, will be practiced openly after the war to a far greater extent than was done secretly by people of Europe before the war. Twenty months of war have already dealt heavier blows to the foundations of ‘Holy Marriage’ than all the ‘apostles of immorality’ were able to compass. That all new forms of sex-relation will not be officially sanctioned is self-evident, but they may have the sanction of custom; and this, in some cases, means more than the approval of the State.
When the German ‘Society for the Protection of Motherhood ’ celebrated its tenth anniversary in 1915, Helena Stocker was able to show that the protection of motherhood, which, ten years ago, was almost considered indecent, had become the watchword of the day. The ‘ Society for the Protection of Motherhood,’ the German ‘Society for the Increase of Population,’ and another for the protection and growth of the race, all met in October, 1915. And for each of them the principal question was, how to diminish the mortality of infants, and how best to extend the protection of motherhood. For financial aid during confinement and illness, nursing premiums, and so on, they now turn to the State. The idea that I have so long advocated, that mothers should be considered the servants of the State, has already been taken up in Germany. And no difference is made between married and unmarried mothers.
Another moral question that was previously discussed—that of birthprevention — has come up again during the war. In East Prussia the question has been discussed as to whether the law against abortion should be suspended for those women who fell victims to the Russian soldiers. And in France, where many women have, with great suffering, borne the children of their enemies, some people still advocate preventive measures; some one even suggested killing these children, in order to ensure the purity of the race. Surely one cannot go further from the ideals of Christian morality! And though these suggestions have been rejected, the mere fact that they have been discussed proved what this whole war has so clearly shown: that the religion of Europe is no longer that of Christianity but that of nationalism, and that everything that is considered good for the nation is assumed to be right.
The question for the future will be whether patriotism will have become to such a degree a religion to women that they will be willing to sacrifice their idea of love — which, to the more advanced modern woman, had also become a religion — and marry for the convenience of the State. In the relations between the sexes love had for many women become so sacred that they were willing to sacrifice their joy in possessing a home and children, so as to remain true to the ideal of love they were unable to realize.
The gift of adaptability that the war has shown woman to possess in every other sphere will probably help most women to adapt themselves to new matrimonial conditions. Light women have, during the war, been satisfied with any lover chance brought along; they have easily replaced their husbands with others. To them, therefore, love is not a question of the heart, as it is to refined and true women. The same is the case with prosaic, earth-bound women, who will no doubt be satisfied to marry according to arrangement.
But one thing is certain, and that is that after the war very many women simply will not have the strength to undertake the duties of marriage, — at least, not if they are to have large families. Even before the war, many women found the fourfold duties of a wife — to help support the family, to bear and care for children, to be the companion of her husband, and to care for the home — too much of an undertaking. After this war, millions of women will have to become the supporters of their families, even if their invalided husbands are able to contribute. Many women will have to be nurses to the husbands whom the war has returned to them a wreck. With the new taxes, the burden of making both ends meet will be greatly increased. Through the loss of the male members of the family, women have become the sole supporters of the old and helpless of the family. Many of these, to be sure, will not have been able to survive the sufferings and deprivations of the war, but those who are left will be dependent on the arm of a single woman. In some cases, no doubt, women will have become physically and psychically stronger through the work and sacrifices war has brought on them. Many imaginary illnesses will have disappeared, but such cases are, no doubt, comparatively few compared to those where women’s health has been ruined by the sorrow and tribulations of war. Therefore they will have to spare themselves in some sphere. And the only possible sphere will be that in which the state will expect most of them: motherhood.
I have never agreed with those feminists who claim that the one way in which the married woman proves her worth is by her ability to earn a livelihood. Her ability to bear and educate her children and build a home is so handicapped by her leaving her home to procure a livelihood that the only way to solve the problem would be to consider her motherhood a state service, and reward it accordingly. In America, one state has already begun to give a ‘Mothers’ Pension’ to poor mothers, so that they will be relieved of the duty of supporting the family during the tender years of the child, and will be able to devote themselves instead to the duties of upbringing.
But this ideal way of solving the problem of motherhood and self-support was very distant even before the war, and though now, in the interest of the birth-rate, there is a good deal of talk about different means of helping mothers, when peace comes the people will have to shoulder the mountain of war debt, and there will be hardly any funds left in Europe with which to help women. Therefore, this ideal solution of the problem will be postponed to a still more distant future. Among the nations so heavily oppressed by the war, it will inevitably be necessary to count on a far greater number of women having to become self-supporting than formerly. This will bring about very radical changes in the community, in economic conditions, in family life, and in the increase of population. Family life, during the next generations, will be more sober, more prosaic. The death of so many men will, to a certain extent, do away with competition between the sexes, but also with marriage. The number of illegitimate children will increase, but they will be better cared for. On the whole, the increase of population will be hindered by woman’s inability both to bear and provide for children, and to those who look upon woman as the producer of soldiers, this will seem a misfortune. To those, however, who look upon the matter in a more human way, it will, on the contrary, become a condition for future development that women resolutely refuse mass production of children, and more consistently seek to improve the quality of humanity, while they, at the same time, try more energetically to procure the right to have a share in dictating the politics on which the lives of their sons and daughters are so dependent.
Women were aiming at this already before the war. The more capitalistically organized the productions of a country are, the smaller the birth-rate. This fact had already begun to create what the eminent sociologist, Goldscheid, terms Human Economy. In an excellent pamphlet, The Woman Question and Human Economy, he shows that the woman’s movement must centre round human economy. When woman, as a producer of humanity, becomes conscious of herself, she will rise up against the unfruitful fruitfulness that has been her lot. She will no longer bear a great number of children, half of whom die for lack of vitality or because the parents have not the means to bring them up, and the other half of whom are quickly decimated by an industrialism that takes account only of the quantity produced, not of the human material involved. She will no longer bear sons to be used up for war; and when the majority of women revolt against the abuses that they have been subjected to, then even men will be forced to resort to human economy to replace the present waste in the field of labor, and, preëminently, in the field of war. Goldscheid wrote this before the war.
If women, after the war, willingly comply with the wish for ‘national child-bearing,’ and ‘patriotically’ support this competition, they do not deserve anything better than that their sons twenty years hence shall fill new trenches! Let us hope that they will not be willing!
If, for national reasons, woman should become untrue to the highest instincts of her nature, which lead her to give the race only children of love, she will sink so deep that neither the right to vote nor any other rights will be able to help her. Warning voices have already been heard pointing out that, from a biological point of view (that is, the transmission of hereditary traits), love is necessary. My intuition in this respect seems therefore to be verified. What love means to spiritual happiness every one knows who is truly loved. It may be selfish to think of one’s self; but for the good of the race, one may well wish that the women of the generation out of which every fourth must remain single, will sooner bear this sacrifice than submit to bear loveless children for the sake of the nation. The more advanced youth of the Latin countries had already begun to embrace the idealism of the Germanic races, and to reject the old custom of marriages arranged by parents. Among the Germans and English, as well as other Germanic peoples, popular opinion had gone so far as to regard the mariage de convenance as a lower form of marriage. To return to this form would seem a sin to all emancipated souls, even if the temptation came in the disguise of ‘national welfare.’ The degradation of sexual morals that follows every war will be of little consequence compared to this lowering of our sex-ethics which have taken thousands of years to develop.
Camp life and long sojourns in conquered towns always lower the morals of otherwise pureminded men. Has not this war given proof enough of the degree to which the vicious elements of these vast armies can go, in spite of all discipline? In the long run, however, women’s sacrifice of herself to the supposed needs of her country would be more detrimental to the race than these lapses, which, during the war, have already caused so many diseases and other unfortunate consequences.
It is to be noted here that many of the psychic disturbances due to the war are partly attributed to the arresting of normal sex-conditions. A German neurologist, for instance, thinks that the psychic epidemics which cause people to create, believe, and spread the wildest and most unreasonable rumors, are partly due to the unbalanced mental condition caused by an unnaturally arrested family life. It seems more likely, however, that a critical consideration of impressions and reports is made impossible through the absence of that reasoned restraint that in normal times keeps the imagination and judgment of the educated within certain bounds. This unbalanced state of mind is shown by a new category of crimes that have come up since the war, in which women play an unusually large rôle. They help to set afloat false and scandalous rumors — for instance, that another woman, during her husband’s absence, has taken a lover. There are such cases, and they often lead to tragic results on the husband’s return. Yet the whole affair may not infrequently have started in another woman’s unbalanced imagination. And, when they are driven to bay, such scandal-mongers often declare that they were impelled by some inexplicable mysterious power. It is not unusual, for instance, for women to tell their relatives sorrowful and quite unfounded news from the front. These psychic manifestations remind me of another form of false witness that was common during the witch-trials that flourished during the hysterical condition after the Thirty Years’ War. That the German women throw flowers, cigarettes, chocolate, and the like, to prisoners of war may, in some cases, be attributed to compassion, but often also to a form of sentimentality which sometimes shows itself in a cruder way. The fact that a German woman was imprisoned for suggesting to a Russian prisoner that they marry on his release goes to prove that neither flirtation nor love is restricted by racetheories.
Abel Hermant speaks of the ‘woman who does not know that there is war in Europe.’ They are found in every country, and comprise a nation in themselves, just as the mothers do. The members of the first-mentioned class have, at all times, proved very inimical to any uplifting influences, but that they may have good sides that come to the fore in times of war is indisputable.
The war has destroyed millions of homes. It has shattered happiness beyond all belief. It has spoiled innumerable lives, and yet we must remember that it has also made unforeseen happiness possible. The literature of the war is full of stories of the heroic women who have braved every danger in order to be able to follow or become united with their lovers. It also tells of unions that have been sundered, and of anguished doubt that has become crushing certainty. Even in the love-life of the community, war brought some slight compensation with its incalculable evil. It has sometimes appeared as the deliverer as well as the enslaver.
The war has called forth a new and pathetic phenomenon in the nation of mothers. From many of these one has heard the cry, ‘ My son is dead — give me another.’ They have heard of some homeless soldier, whom, without knowing him, they have overwhelmed with presents, even offering him a home. It is natural that many pathetic and comical discoveries have been made when the two have finally met. Such is also the case when many of the unmarried women, both young and old, meet their ‘ war-sons.’ A small refined woman may discover that her war-son is a coarse brutal fellow; or the reverse may be the case. A young man who entertains romantic ideas about the woman he corresponded with, may return to find her an ugly old maid, or a young girl may find her war-friend to be a serious, elderly man. In many cases, however, these new relationships have been a source of harmless joy.
The fact that many little war-children have been adopted by mothers who have lost their own children, or by women who have never known what motherhood means, shows one of the ways in which women have been able to glean some sweetness from the bitterness of war. But how meagre, how artificial are these joys compared to all the natural, life-giving, promising human relationships that have been crushed under the iron hoofs of the black horse of War!