Adam and Eye--and Andrew

THE other day I attended a luncheon at the Civic Centre. It had been planned in the interest of law enforcement, which in this instance, as in most others, meant enforcement of the Volstead Act. This luncheon was not intended as a woman’s affair, but was open to the general public; and men would have been even more welcome than women, since it is, on the whole, the men rather than the women who need to be convinced that the necessity for enforcing this particular act is imperative. But of an audience of between fifty and sixty only two were men. I scrutinized them carefully. They were not clergymen or newspaper men; from their expressions I hardly judged them to be Volstead enthusiasts, and so I concluded that they were just husbands.

Their faces showed complete uninterest tinged with hostility as we listened to the various speeches, most of which were more or less openly triumphing. Almost every speaker recapitulated the history of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and described the Prohibition Amendment as woman’s great political achievement — a statement which is at least partly true. It is certain that this is the first time in the history of any known civilization that the women of a nation, working together, have promulgated a far-reaching law to which the men as a whole are more or less opposed. The thrill felt by the women at the luncheon as they realized — some of them, perhaps, for the first time — the enormous political power of women working .as a group was obviously not shared by the men.

Perceiving this, it seemed to me that I perceived also the underlying reason why the relatively unimportant question of ‘to drink or not to drink’ has suddenly resolved itself into the paramount issue in America to-day — an issue all discussion of which is characterized by a bitterness scarcely transcended by that of the slavery discussions before the Civil War. That this increasing bitterness results from a clash between very powerful forces, no one, I think, wall deny, although he may not be prepared to define their alignment. To my mind it is not simply a case of Reformers versus the Rest of Us, or Puritans versus Pagans, as at first sight may appear. The division is less complex than this, but more ominous. It is, quite simply, a clash between women as a group and men as a group, and the reason for the clash is as old as Eden and as new as the Nineteenth Amendment.

The history of civilization is also in no slight measure the history of the relationship between the sexes. In the beginning, so diverse were the activities of men and women that there could be no more antagonism between them than between Fiji Islanders and Eskimos, who are not even aware of each other’s existence. Later, when man finally began to attain mastery over the fullness of the earth, and the struggle to live became less all-absorbing, the supremacy of purely physical strength began to wane and sex antagonism gradually developed. For some time we have been conscious of its undercurrent below the surface relationship, but now, I think, it is manifesting itself openly for the first time in history and its first act is to hoist man with a petard constructed by himself.

For a sufficient number of generations women had it drilled into the innermost recesses of their conscious and subconscious minds — by men — that self-sacrifice, principally for the sake of husbands and sons, was not only the station in life, as we say in the Catechism, to which they had been called by God, but also the highest ideal to which they could attain. Even so recently as thirty years ago literature was crammed with heroines whose sole claim to be thus described lay in their powers of self-denial and renunciation. It is hardly exaggeration to say that woman was taught — again by men — that the world’s path to its goal lay over her prostrate form.

When the absurdity of this idea at last percolated through society, woman, emerging from the background of which she had so long been a part, brought with her the best of the old way of thought—a thorough comprehension of the necessity, power, and beauty of self-denial. Society no longer considered so admirable a quality ideal for women only, but showed a growing tendency to set it up as a standard for men.

If self-denial on woman’s part was good for the world, self-denial on the part of both men and women must be twice as good. At any rate this assumption sounded logical to the women, and the men with some slight reluctance agreed. Eventually America turned herself into a huge psychological laboratory to see how the theory worked out in practice.

For a year or two after the war it seemed that the woman’s solution was correct. Drunkenness, and the crime and disease attendant thereon, markedly decreased, but before the women could say, ‘I told you so,’ something happened. With very little warning a reaction set in, so violent and so complete that to-day we are confronted with a state of affairs which is little short of appalling. I think it is fair to say that this reaction was principally among the men, who, as a group, were never whole-heartedly enthusiastic over Prohibition. Self-denial is at best a negative virtue, and the psychological make-up of man desires something more positive as his ideal. This reaction to an ideal too uninteresting or too imponderable for his continued loyalty brought the ever-mounting wave of sex antagonism to a climax, and for the first time men and women openly confront each other across the line of sex. That women as a whole are either actively or passively for Prohibition, while men either actively or passively are against it, is abundantly proved when we consider the undeniable fact that, if men ardently upheld and strove for the enforcement of the Volstead Act in the same proportion as do women, Prohibition would for some time have been a well-established fact.

The W. C. T. U. is correct, then, when it says that if the Eighteenth Amendment is to be enforced it must be done by the women, aided by the clergy (the only great masculine group which has been especially trained to the woman’s ideal of self-denial). Such enforcement can be brought about only at the price of ever-increasing bitterness. Bad as conditions are now, I believe that this clash on Prohibition may be only a skirmish in a sex war which will probably be bloodless, — except incidentally, — but which nevertheless may prove subversive of civilization, old style.

Since men and women are alike necessary to each other and to the world, it is difficult at first glance to see why sex antagonism should ever have arisen and still more difficult to understand why it should have developed its present intensity. A little thought, however, soon shows us that through the ages the ideals which urged forward men and women were not the same. Just as women, from time immemorial, have been trained to selfdenial, so men have been taught to regard personal liberty as their most precious attribute. Now we are discovering that the two are not necessarily compatible; and the clash is not only between men and women, but between the two different ideals toward which the two groups have struggled for uncounted generations.

What the end will be, who can say? Unfortunately there seems little common ground between the two sides. The increasing similarity between the sexes of which we have heard so much is after all a recent and superficial growth. The ideal self-denial which is almost a sex trait in woman is a recent development in man, and while he can, on occasion, sacrifice himself with the best woman who ever lived or died for others, yet when it comes to the little self-denials of every day he violently reacts and reverts to the old and hardly won ideal of personal liberty.

In spite of her much discussed freedom, equal in every respect to man’s, so used is woman to sacrificing her personal liberty to the welfare, first, of the family (and as long as there are families this sacrifice must be made), second, of the community, that she is utterly out of sympathy with the attitude of man. She cannot even understand it. Where the average man sincerely feels that denying him his right to take it or let it alone strikes at the very root of a liberty which in past ages has been dearly bought, woman can only see that man in order to avoid denying himself what she considers a very trivial gratification is willing to connive at almost any crime.

Under the conditions of the present day, physical strength no longer counts as in past ages. Differences of opinion are settled by ballot boxes more often than by bayonets. Thus woman’s power to control modern life so nearly matches man’s that to me it looks as if the irresistible force of woman’s desire to protect humanity even against itself had encountered the immovable obstacle of man’s inherent objection to being protected. Out of the resulting chaos, who can tell what new social system may evolve?