Woman and the Professions

We are always reading in the papers about one of these ‘firsts’ — the first woman lawyer or mayor or veterinary surgeon or geometrician, or the first woman expert in some other strange male occupation. This shows either that male occupations are not very difficult, or that women can do the same as men if they once set themselves to — neither of which is a very important discovery. I believe that even I, if I had started in time, could have learned to be a lawyer or a locksmith; but the interesting thing is precisely that I have not done so, that I work in a different medium from those who have, and that there are so many possibilities and activities open to each one of us. But women do not find it interesting to do something different from men; it seems to them more romantic to do the same as men. In so far as they do this from the need to earn money I have nothing to say; for each of us wants to live. But I protest that they act like this from a set idea, and maybe you think me reactionary.

Man is — from innate foolishness — a specialist; once he gets his teeth into his job or his passion, he looks neither to the right nor to the left; his destiny is to become an expert, be it in bacteriology or the production of leather goods or literary history. His mind has a tendency to devour one thing and leave all the rest; he is interested only in his own bit of the world (and perhaps in politics besides), and that is why he now and then achieves something immense in his own field — just because of this narrow, one-sided, boyish, and passionate absorption. Now, if there were only men in the world, the desolation would be simply awful for innumerable reasons, but among others because the world would contain only experts who had nothing to say to each other. Each would be thinking of his own job and would not even be able to understand the experts in other subjects; for specialization is uncompanionable, noncult ural, frankly unsociable; it would mean definite isolation or restriction or differentiation of species. I grant you that a rabbit is interested in green stuff, but he is not interested in a giraffe or an eagle, because he has nothing in common with them. Your true locksmith is interested in castles, but not in archæologists or lyric poets, because he, too, has nothing in common with them. So much for men’s occupations.

Woman — from some innate waywardness— is a universal, many-sided soul, not given to intense application, but full of surprising interests. You would be oddly put out if a lady were to tell you that she is not in the least interested in music or literature, or that she does n’t know what boxing is; she has to be interested in everything, to know something about everything, to be able to meet each one of our interests, and it is a sad thing if she has no more wit than to talk to a lyric poet about free trade or to an airman about Central European politics. You expect from a woman the many-sidedness and sociability which link you up with the ordinary currents of social life. It lies with her to help correct the one-sidedness of your profession, to carry herself and you beyond the narrow limits of your professional interests — in a word, to conserve social culture, or rather the sociability of culture, in the midst of you narrow and hardened specialists.

I mentioned that your true locksmith is interested in castles but not in archæologists or lyric poets; well, it is quite accurate to say that his wife is less interested in castles, but more in the archæologists or poets who may happen to live in the same street, and that she tells her locksmith husband between the soup and the meat that the arcæologist’s wife is going to have a baby, and that the poet is up to his eyes in debt; all this breaks through the narrow limits of the marital locksmithery and builds a bridge between his workshop and the world. You see, woman has something in common with everything that is going on around her; you are a witness how instinctively she understands her cultural and social vocation; just think what a universal interest she takes each morning in a more or less wide circle of human life around her. When all is said and done, it is an honorable and important profession, for which man is not too serious but too narrow-minded.

This is a definite division of labor: the man goes out to earn the living; he is a specialist, an inventor, a business man, or something else practical; then he comes home and his wife tells him all the news, everything she has heard, what the neighbors are doing, and all the rest of it. If the woman becomes a specialist, an inventor, or something practical, who will link her up with the universal interests of the world, and what will become of us?

Yes, what will become of us? For don’t forget that the so-called woman’s question is of vital concern to men’s interests.