THE Michigan magistrate who gave orders that a stalwart male angel presiding over the gateway of a cemetery should be recast in feminine mould may have been an erring theologian and a doubtful art-critic; but that he was a sound-hearted American no one can deny. He was not thinking of Azrael the mighty who had garnered that little harvest of death; or of Michael, great leader of the ‘fighting seraphim,’ whose blade
Squadrons at once;
or of Gabriel the messenger. Holy Writ was as remote from his mental vision as was Paradise Lost. He was thinking very properly of the ‘angel in the house,’ and this feminine ideal was affronted by the robust outlines, no less than by the robust virtues, associated with the heavenly host. Cowley’s soothing compromise, which was designed as a compliment to a lady, and which, instead of unsexing angels, endowed them with a double line of potencies, —
is not easily expressed in art. The very gallant Michigan gentleman simplified the situation by eliminating the masculine element. He registered his profession of faith in the perfectibility of women.
It is awkward to be relegated to the angelic class, and to feel that one does not fit. Intelligent feminists sometimes say that chivalry—that inextinguishable point of view which has for centuries survived its own death-notices — is more disheartening than contempt. Chivalry is essentially protective. It is rooted in the consciousness of superior strength. It is expansively generous and scrimpingly just. It will not assure to women a fair field and no favors, which is the salvation of all humanity; but it will protect them from the consequences of their own deeds, and that way lies perdition. Down through the ages we see the working of its will. Rome denied to women all civic rights, but allowed them many privileges. They were not permitted to make any legal contract. They were not permitted to bequeath their own fortunes, or — ordinarily—to give testimony in court. But they might plead ignorance of the law, ‘as a ground for dissolving an obligation ’ — which, if often convenient, was always demoralizing. Being somewhat contemptuously absolved from the oath of allegiance in the Middle Ages, they were as a consequence immune from outlawry. On the other hand, the severity with which they were punished for certain crimes which were supposed to come easy to them — poisoning, husbandmurder, witchcraft (King Jamie was not the only wiseacre who marveled that there should be twenty witches to one warlock) — is evidence of fear on the legislators’ part. The very oldest laws, the very oldest axioms which antedate all laws, betray this uneasy sense of insecurity. ‘Day and night must women be held by their protectors in a state of dependence,’ says Manu, the Hindu Noah, who took no female with him in his miraculously preserved boat, but was content with his own safety, and trusted the propagation of the species to the care and ingenuity of the gods.
In our day and in our country women are gaining their rights (I use the word ‘ rights ’ because, though its definition be disputed, everyone knows what it implies) slowly and haltingly. They have a hard time winning the franchise in certain states. They have a hard time making their way in the professions, although a great deal of courtesy is shown them by professional men. They have a hard time making their way in the trades, where the unions block their progress. They have a very small share of political patronage, and few good positions in the civil service. Whether the best interests of the country will be advanced or retarded by a complete recognition of their claims — which implies giving them an even chance with men — is a point on which no one can speak with authority. The absence of data leaves room only for surmise. Women are striving to gain this ‘even chance’ for their own sakes, which is lawful and reasonable. Their public utterances, it is true, dwell pointedly on the regeneration of the world. This also is lawful and reasonable. Public utterances have always dwelt on the regeneration of the world, since the apple was eaten and Paradise closed its gates.
Meanwhile American chivalry, a strong article and equal to anything Europe ever produced, clings passionately and persistently to its inward vision. Ellen Key speaks casually of ‘the vices which men call woman’s nature.’ If Swedish gentlemen permit themselves this form of speech, it finds no echo in our loyal land. Two things an American hates to do — hold a woman accountable for her misdeeds, and punish her accordingly. When Governor Craig of North Carolina set aside the death-sentence which had been passed upon a murderess and committed her to prison for life, he gave to the public this plain and comprehensive statement. ‘There is no escape from the conclusion that Ida Bell Warren is guilty of murder, deliberate and premeditated. Germany executed the woman spy; England did not. The action of the military Governor of Belgium was condemned by the conscience of the world. The killing of this woman would send a shiver through North Carolina.’
Apart from the fact that Edith Cavell was not a spy, and that her offense was one which has seldom in the world’s history been so cruelly punished, Governor Craig’s words deserve attention. He has explicitly exempted a woman, because she is a woman, from the penalty which would have been incurred by a man. Incidentally he was compelled to commute the death-sentence of her confederate, as it was hardly possible to send the murderous wife to prison, and her murderous accomplice to the chair. That the execution of Mrs. Warren would have sent a ‘shiver’ through North Carolina is doubtless true. The governor had received countless letters and telegrams protesting against the infliction of the death-penalty on a woman.
One of the reasons which has been urged for the total abolition of this penalty is the reluctance of juries to convict women of crimes punishable by death. The number of wives who murder their husbands and of girls who murder their lovers, is a menace to society. Our sympathetic tolerance for these crimes passionnés, the sensational scenes in court, and the prompt acquittals which follow, are a menace to law and justice. Better that their perpetrators should be sent to prison and suffer a few years of corrective discipline, until soft-hearted sentimentalists circulate petitions and secure their pardon and release.
The right to be judged as men are judged is perhaps the only form of equality which feminists fail to demand. Their attitude to their own errata is well expressed in the solemn warning addressed by Mr. Louis Untermeyer’s Eve to the Almighty,—
The right to be punished is not and has never been a popular prerogative with either sex. There was, indeed, a London sugar-baker who was sentenced in the year 1816 to be whipped and imprisoned for vagabondage. He served his term; but, whether from clemency or from oversight, the whipping was never administered. When released, he promptly brought action against the prison authorities because he had not been whipped, ‘according to the statute,’ and he won his case. Whether or not the whipping went with the verdict is not stated; but it was a curious joke to play with the grim realities of British law.
American women are no such sticklers for a code. They acquiesce in their frequent immunity from punishment, and are correspondingly, and very naturally, indignant when they find themselves no longer immune. There was a pathetic ring in the explanation offered a few years ago by Mayor Harrison of Chicago, whose policemen were accused of brutality to women strikers and pickets. ‘ When the women do anything in violation of the law,’ said the mayor to a delegation of citizens, ‘the police arrest them. And then, instead of going along quietly as men prisoners would, the women sit down on the sidewalks. What else can the policemen do but lift them up?’
If men ‘go along quietly,’ it is because custom, not choice, has bowed their necks to the yoke of order and equity. They break the law without being prepared to defy it. The lawlessness of women may be due as much to their exclusion from citizenship, —
as to the lenity shown them by men — a lenity which they stand ever ready to abuse. We have only to imagine what would have happened to a group of men who had chosen to air a grievance by picketing the White House — the speed with which they would have been arrested, fined, dispersed, and forgotten — to realize the nature of the tolerance granted to women. For months these female pickets were unmolested. Money was subscribed to purchase for them umbrellas and overshoes. The President, whom they were affronting, sent them out coffee on cold mornings. It was only when their utterances became treasonable, when they undertook to assure our Russian visitors that Mr. Wilson and Mr. Root were deceiving Russia, and to entreat these puzzled gentlemen to help them free our nation, that their sport was suppressed, and they became liable to arrest and imprisonment. Since then they have solaced themselves by vigorous protests against ill-usage, and by pronouncing ‘Kaiser Wilson’ (who runs a close race with Mr. Roosevelt in the advocacy of woman suffrage) to be an antiquated product of the ‘feudal south.'
Much censure has been passed upon the unreasonable violence of these women. The great body of American suffragists has repudiated their action, and the anti-suffragists have used them to point stern morals and adorn vivacious tales. But was it quite fair to permit them in the beginning a liberty which would not have been accorded to men, and which led inevitably to license? Were they not treated as parents sometimes treat children, allowing them to use bad language, because, ‘ if you pay no attention to them, they will stop it of their own accord’; and then, when they do not stop it, punishing them for misbehaving before company? When a sympathetic gentleman wrote to a not very sympathetic paper to say that the second Liberty Loan would be more popular if Washington would ‘call off the dogs of war on women.’ he turned a flashlight upon the fathomless gulf which sentimentality has dug between the sexes. No one would dream of calling policemen and magistrates ‘ dogs of war’ because they arrested and punished men for similar offenses. Men are citizens. They enjoy every right which a free government can give, and they incur every penalty which law can justly inflict.
Agitators, we are told, are always sure of their market; but sometimes they have to go far afield to seek it. When Mrs. Pankhurst found her occupation gone in Great Britain, where women have become constructive patriots, and part of ‘ England’s Effort,’she braved the sea, and from Australia came a plaintive cry that she was buzzing in the streets of Adelaide, within the prohibited area. At the same time a moan from India betrayed the presence of Mrs. Annie Besant, who was offering her especial blend of theosophy and treason to the scandalized natives of Madras. In vain the Madras government explained to her that she was welcome to preach theosophy until the skies fell, but that she must leave out the treason. The unaccommodating lady refused the concession, saying that her theosophic campaign and her political campaign were necessarily interchangeable. In vain the authorities murmured polite requests that she would ‘move on.’ In vain the authorities of Adelaide made the same pathetic appeal to Mrs. Pankhurst. In the end, Mrs. Pankhurst was arrested, and — familiar words — ‘resisted arrest’; and Mrs. Besant was expelled from Madras, as she had formerly been expelled from Bombay. Great India and great Australia strove to be tolerant to their unwelcome guests; but the old song,—
As how he wished they would go away,
adequately expressed the situation.
While Mrs. Besant was doing her little best to harass the Orient, that astute Oriental, Sir Rabindranath Tagore, was preparing a ‘Parting Wish for the Women of America,’and bearing well in mind the sort of thing he would naturally be expected to say. The skill with which he modified and popularized an alien point of view revealed the seasoned lecturer. He told his readers that ‘ God has sent women to love the world,’and to build up a ‘spiritual civilization.’ He condoled with them because they were ‘passing through great sufferings in this callous age.’ His heart bled for them, seeing that their hearts ‘are broken every day, and victims are snatched from their arms to be thrown under the car of material progress.’ The occidental sentiment which regards man simply as an offspring, and a fatherless offspring at that (no woman, says Olive Schreiner, could look upon a battlefield without thinking ‘So many mothers’ sons!’), comes as naturally to Sir Rabindranath as if he were to the manner born. He is content to see the passion and pain, the sorrow and heroism of men, as reflections mirrored in a woman’s soul. The ingenious gentlemen who dramatize biblical narratives for the American stage, and who are hampered at every step by the obtrusive masculinity of the East, might find a sympathetic supporter in this accomplished and accommodating Hindu.
The story of Joseph and his Brethren, for example, is perhaps the best tale ever told the world — a tale of adventure on a heroic scale, with conflicting human emotions to give it poignancy and power. It deals with pastoral simplicities, with the splendors of court, and with the ‘high finance’ which turned a free landholding people into tenantry of the crown. It is a story of men, the only lady introduced being a disedifying dea ex machina, whose popularity in Italian art has perhaps blinded us to the brevity of her biblical rôle. But when this most dramatic narrative was cast into dramatic form, Joseph’s splendid loyalty to his master, his cold and vigorous chastity, was nullified by giving him an Egyptian sweetheart. Lawful marriage with this young lady being his sole solicitude, the advances of Potiphar’s wife were less of a temptation than an intrusion. The key-note of the noble old tale was destroyed, to assure to woman her proper place as the guardian of man’s integrity.
Still more radical is the treatment accorded to the parable of the ‘Prodigal Son,’ which has been expanded into a pageant play, and acted with a hardy realism permitted only to the strictly ethical drama. The scriptural setting of the story has been preserved, but its patriarchal character has been sacrificed to modern sentiment which refuses to be interested in the relation of father and son. Therefore we behold the prodigal equipped with a mother and a trustful female cousin, who, between them, put the poor old gentleman out of commission, reducing him to his proper level of purveyor-inordinary to the household. It is the prodigal’s mother who bids her reluctant husband give their willful son his portion. It is the prodigal’s mother who watches for him from the housetop and silences the voice of censure. It is the prodigal’s mother who welcomes his return and persuades father and brother to receive him into favor. The whole duty of man in that Syrian household is to obey the impelling word of woman and bestow bags of gold, blessings, and fraternal affection according to her will.
The expansion of the maternal sentiment until it embraces, or seeks to embrace, humanity, is the vision of the emotional, as opposed to the intellectual, feminist. ‘The Mother State of which we dream ’ offers no attraction to many plain and practical workers for the franchise, and is a veritable nightmare to others. ‘Woman,’ writes an enthusiast in the Forum, ‘means to be, not simply the mother of the individual, but of society, of the state with its man-made institutions, of art and science, of religion and morals. All life, physical and spiritual, personal and social, needs to be mothered.’
Needs to be mothered! When men proffer this welter of sentiment in the name of women, how is it possible to say convincingly that the girl student standing at the gates of knowledge is as humble-hearted as the boy; that she does not mean to mother medicine, or architecture, or biology, any more than the girl in the banker’s office means to mother finance? If her hopes for the future are founded on the belief that fresh opportunities will meet a sure response, she does not, if she be sane, measure her untried powers by any unknown scale of valuation. She does not consider the advantages which will accrue to medicine, architecture, or biology by her entrance — as a woman — into any one of these fields. Their need for her maternal ministrations concerns her less than her need for the magnificent heritage they present. It has been said that the craving for material profit is not instinctive in women. If it is not instinctive, it will be acquired, because every legitimate incentive has its place in the progress of the world. The demand that women shall be paid men’s wages for men’s work may represent a desire for justice rather than a desire for gain; but money fairly earned is sweet to the hand and heart. An open field, an even start, no handicap, no favors, and the same goal for all. This is the worker’s dream of paradise. Women know that lack of citizenship is a handicap. Self-love prompts them to overrate their imposed and underrate their inherent disabilities. ‘ Whenever you see a woman getting a high salary, make up your mind that she is giving twice the value received,’ writes an angry correspondent to the Survey; and this pretension paralyzes effort. To be satisfied with ourselves is to be at the end of our usefulness.
M. Emile Faguet, that most radical and least sentimental of French feminists, would open wide to women every door of which man holds the key. He would give them every legal right and burden which they are physically fitted to enjoy and to endure. He is as unvexed by doubts as he is uncheered by illusions. He has no more fear of the downfall of existing institutions than he has hopes for the regeneration of the world. The equality of men and women, as he sees it, lies, not in their strength, but in t heir weakness, not in their intelligence, but in their stupidity, not in their virtues, but in their perverseness. Yet there is no taint of pessimism in his rational refusal to be optimistic. No man sees more clearly, or recognizes more justly, the art with which his countrywomen have cemented and upheld a social state at once flexible and orderly, enjoyable and heroic. That they have been the allies, not the dictators and not the inspiration, of men in building this fine fabric of civilization, is also plain to his mind. Allies and equals he holds them, but nothing more. ‘ La femme est parfaitement l’égale de l’homme, mais elle n’est que son égale.’
Naturally to such a man the attitude of Americans toward women is as unsympathetic as is the attitude of Dahomeyans. He does not condemn it (possibly he does not condemn the Dahomeyans, seeing that the civic and social ideals of France and of Dahomey are in no wise comparable); but he explains with careful emphasis that the Frenchwoman, unlike her American sister, is not, and does not desire to be, 'un objet sacro-saint .’ The reverence for women in the United States he assumes to be a national trait, a national point of view, a sort of national institution among a proud and patriotic people. ‘L’idolâtrie de la femme est une chose américaine par excellence.’
The superlative complacency of American women is largely due to the oratorical adulation of American men, — an adulation that has no more substantiality than has the foam on beer. I have heard a candidate for office tell his female audience that men are weak and women are strong, that men are foolish and women are wise, that men are shallow and women are deep, that men are submissive tools whom women, the leaders of the race, must instruct to vote for him. He did not believe a word that he said, and his hearers did not believe that he believed it, yet the grossness of his flattery kept pace with the hypocrisy of his self-depreciation. The few men present wore an attitude of dejection, not unlike that of the little boy in Punch who has been told that he is made of
And puppy dogs’ tails,
and can ‘hardly believe it.’
What Mr. Roosevelt calls the ‘lunatic fringe’ of every movement is painfully obtrusive in the great and noble reform which seeks fair play for women. The ‘ full habit of speech’ is never more regrettable than when the cause is so good that it needs but temperate championing.
‘Without the aid of women England could not carry on this war,’said Mr. Asquith — an obvious statement, no doubt, but simple, truthful, and worthy to be spoken. Why should the New Republic, in an article bearing the singularly ill-mannered title, ‘Thank You For Nothing!’ heap scorn upon these words? Why should its writer make the angry assertion that the British Empire had been ‘ deprived of two generations of women’s leadership,’ because only a world’s war can drill a new idea into a statesman’s head? The war has drilled a great many new ideas into all our heads. Mr. Asquith’s cranium is probably not more perforated with them than is Mr. Wilson’s. But ‘leadership’ is a large word. It is not what men are asking, and it is not what women are offering, even at this stage of the game. Partnership is as far as ambition on the one side and obligation on the other are prepared to go; and a clear understanding of this truth has accomplished great results.
Therefore, when we are told that the women of to-day are ‘giving their vitality to an anæmic world,’ we wonder if the speaker has read a newspaper for the past three years and a half. The passionate cruelty and the passionate heroism of men have stained the earth with blood, red blood poured out inextinguishably to wrong and right this ‘anæmic world,’which never since it came from its Maker’s hand has seen such shame and glory. There are some who still believe that this blood would never have been spilled had women shared in the citizenship of nations; but the reasons they advance in support of an undemonstrable theory show an easy ignorance of events.
‘ War will pass,’ says Olive Schreiner, ‘when intellectual culture and activity have made possible to the female an equal share in the control and government of modern national life.’ And why? Because ‘arbitration and compensation will naturally occur to her as cheaper and simpler methods of bridging the gaps in national relationship.’
Strange that this idea never occurred to man! Strange that no delegate at The Hague should have perceived so straight a path to peace! Strange that when Germany struck her longplanned, long-prepared blow, this cheap and simple measure failed to stay her hand! War will pass when injustice passes. Never before that day, unless hope leaves the world.
That any civilized people should bar women from the practice of law is to the last degree unfair and unreasonable. There can never be an adequate cause for such an injurious exclusion. There is in fact no cause at all, only an arbitrary decision on the part of those who have the authority to decide. Yet nothing is less worth while than to speculate dizzily on the part women are going to play in any field from which they are at present debarred. They may be ready to burnish up ‘the rusty old social organism,’ and make it shine like new; but this is not the work which lies immediately at hand. A suffragist who believes that the world needs house-cleaning has made the somewhat terrifying statement that when English women enter the law courts they will sweep away all ’ legal frippery,’all the ‘accumulated dust and rubbish of centuries.’ Latin terms, flowing gowns and wigs, silly staves and worn-out symbols, all must go, and with them must go the antiquated processes which confuse and retard justice. The women barristers of the future will scorn to have ‘legal natures like Portia’s,’ basing their claims on quibbles and subterfuges. They will cut all Gordian knots. They will deal with naked simplicities.
References to Portia are a bit disquieting. Her law was stage law, good enough for the drama, which has always enjoyed a jurisprudence of its own. We had best leave her out of any serious discussion. But why should the admission of women to the bar result in a volcanic upheaval? Women have practiced medicine for years, and have not revolutionized it. Painstaking service has been their contribution to their chosen field rather than any brilliant display of originality. It is reasonable to suppose that their advance will be resolute and beneficial. If they ever condescended to their profession, they do so no longer. If they ever talked about belonging to ‘the class of real people,’ they have relinquished such flowers of rhetoric. If they earnestly desire the franchise, it is because they see in it justice to themselves, not the torch which will enlighten the world.
Only the agitator, the visionary, and the sentimentalist choose to deal with illusions rather than with realities, and are more concerned with the influence they are going to exert than with the service they are going to render. A prominent and very feminine feminist has predicted with touching simplicity that ‘the dullness which inheres in both domestic and social affairs when they are carried on by men alone, will no longer be a necessary attribute of public life when gracious and gray-haired women become a part of it.’
This is early Victorian. It is Coventry Patmore dallying with the sweets of suffrage. And it presupposes a condition of which we had not been even remotely aware. Granted that domesticity palls quickly on the solitary male. Housekeeping seldom attracts him. The tea-table and the friendly cat fail to arrest his roving tendencies. Granted that some men are polite enough to say that they do not enjoy social events in which women take no part. They have by no means abandoned such pastimes. On the contrary, they cling to them with an assiduity suggestive of relish. When they assert, however, that they would have a much better time if women were present, no one is rude enough to contradict them. But public life! The arena in which whirling ambition sweeps human souls as an autumn wind sweeps leaves; which resounds with the shouts of the conquerors and the groans of the conquered; which is degraded by treachery and ennobled by achievement; that this field of adventure, this heated racetrack needs to be relieved from dullness by the presence and participation of elderly ladies is the crowning vision of sensibility.
We are accustomed to hear what women would do in the civic world if they had the opportunity. We are accustomed to hear what the loss of their ‘leadership’ has cost the human race. We have been told by an American suffragist that Miss Susan B. Anthony would have made a better executive than Abraham Lincoln, and that Miss Jane Addams might fill the presidential chair more successfully than any of her male contemporaries. Such flights of fancy are the natural outcome of woman’s exclusion from political life. Only grim experience can teach realities to adult or to child. There is nothing like a heavy crop of failures to enrich the soil of human endeavor. The realm of the untried holds no impossibilities. But to be able to believe that politicians are dull without the enlivening coöperation of ‘gracious and grayhaired women,’ is far more wonderful than to be able to believe that such women would make better presidents than men. In the one case we are dealing with theories, in the other, encountering facts.
‘Qui veut faire I’ange fait la bête,’said Pascal; and the Michigan angel is a dangerous social symbol. The chivalric and sentimental attitude of American men reacts alarmingly when they are brought face to face with the actual terms and inevitable consequences of woman’s enfranchisement. There exists a world-wide and age-long belief that what women want they get. They must want it well enough and long enough to make their desire operative. It is the listless and preoccupied unconcern of their own sex which bars their progress. But men will fall into a flutter of admiration because a little Florida town has a woman mayor (the town of Aldeburgh in England had a woman mayor ten years ago), and they will look aghast upon such headlines as these in their morning paper: ‘Women Confess Selling Votes.’ ‘ Chicago Women Arrested for Election Frauds,’ as if there had not always been, and would not always be, a percentage of unscrupulous voters in every electorate. No sane woman believes that women, as a body, will vote more honestly than men; but no sane man believes that they will vote less honestly. They are neither the ‘gateway to Hell,’ as Tertullian pointed out, nor the builders of Sir Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘spiritual civilization.’ They are neither the repositories of wisdom, nor the final word of folly.
It was hardly fair to focus X-rays upon the only woman in Congress, and exhibit to a gaping world her native and elemental limitations. Such qualities are common in our legislative bodies, and excite no particular comment. They are as inherent in the ‘ordinary man,’ for whom Mr. Wilson says America was created, as in the ordinary woman. They in no way affect the question of enfranchisement. Give as much and ask no more. Give no more and ask as much. This is the watch-word of equality.
‘God help women when they have only their rights! ’ exclaimed a brilliant American lawyer; but it is in the ‘only’ that all savor lies. Rights and privileges are incompatible. Emancipation implies the sacrifice of immunity, the acceptance of obligation. It heralds the reign of sober and disillusioning experience. Women, as M. Faguet reminds us, are only the equals of men; a truth which was more simply phrased in the old Cornish adage, ‘Lads are as good as wenches when they are washed.’