Dora B. Montefiore, New Age April 1903
Source: New Age, p.250-1, 16 April 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
A fact that should inspire acute and purposeful reflection on the part of women is that when a sex-question, or a problem of sex ethics is presented in the columns of a newspaper from the purely masculine standpoint, every facility is given for its presentation to the public; and the Press will comment on it, and allow others to comment on it, from that same masculine standpoint. If, however, a member of the community wishes to throw light on the problem under discussion from the woman’s point of view (and, be it remembered, every sex problem if it is to be sanely discussed must be presented from the three points of view of the man, of the woman, and of the race), if, I say, anyone is rash enough to attempt to publish in the public Press a thoughtful pronouncement from the woman’s point of view, such pronouncement is suppressed, or garbled, or stigmatised as likely to be injurious to the paper to which it is offered. A case in point, which arouses this train of reflections, is the recent pronouncement of President Roosevelt, from the purely masculine standpoint, anent the social obligation of men and women to increase and multiply, and replenish the earth; and the comments of the New York World and of other newspapers (also from a purely masculine standpoint) on that pronouncement. Says President Roosevelt, in his letter to Mrs. John Van Vorst “Women do not recognise that the greatest thing for a woman is to be a good wife and mother.” The New York World says ditto, and adds: “Those to whom the joy of children is denied, are, as the President says, to be pitied.” All this is no doubt excellent practical wisdom from the point of view of the Imperialist, and of the land-grabber, to whom territory without population is of no value, Also for the Government, which requires unlimited “Brodricks,” whether under-size or under-age; and unlimited superfluous females, driven by the relentless exigencies of an age of competition to offer themselves for shipment to South Africa, with the ultimate aim of swamping by numbers the Dutch Community — it is useful to encourage with Presidential approval women who are inclined to be backward in child-bearing duties. But when a woman steps into the controversial arena, and asks leave to state in a journal devoted to the discussion of higher ethics the woman’s point of view in this question, her contribution to the discussion is refused with the implied intimation that only the man’s side, as voiced by President Roosevelt, will be acceptable in the public Press, unless any woman will oblige the company by writing to support the Presidential views.
Lady Florence Dixie is the woman who has ventured to put the other side of the question in so far as it differs from President Roosevelt, and she has been compelled to publish her reply in pamphlet. The pith of what she has to say lies in the second paragraph of the pamphlet, and is to the effect that: “As the companionship of men and women is necessary to human happiness, and the division of the sexes unnatural, society should and must face marriage as the condition enabling young men and women to live together, but, at the same time, not as a licence to unduly propagate the species. Malthus, while grasping the evil of over-reproduction, suggested the panacea of late marriage. Therein I think he erred, because youth is the period when young men and women must long for each other’s company, and late marriage is productive of that hideous and cowardly act on man’s part, and degrading and pernicious one on woman’s part, of prostitution. Men and women can marry early without overburdening both themselves and society with large families. This is a fact which can no longer be disputed by anyone, and it is an economic necessity for the abolition of poverty as well. It is useless to frame ameliorative social laws without facing the question of over-production, and the Socialist who refuses to take this important item into his programme will find himself baulked when be tries to regenerate society.” Further on she writes: “Quality, not quantity, should be our aim, and health and perfection our goal.” In other words, Motherhood must become conscious; and science, which is being pressed on all sides into the service of man, must be called to our aid, with the object of ennobling, improving, and beautifying the human race.
After all, may it not be possible that woman, who is coming daily more and more under the influence of education, of enlightenment, and of ideas, may be evolving an ideal of her own, of what Mr. Shaw calls “The womanly woman” an ideal in which the bearing of children into a world so manifestly mismanaged, as it is at present by pure masculine rule, does not play a large part? May she not be beginning to feel a hopelessness, a dim horror of pessimism come over her, as she thinks of the futility of bringing children into a world where they are bound, under the stress of actual economic conditions, to die, according to Dr. Playfair’s estimate, “at the rate of fifty-five per cent. under the age of five years, amongst the working classes, as against eighteen per cent. in the upper classes"? Perchance she is beginning to feel the direct antagonism that exists between conscious maternity and the devilry of war; is slowly realising the grotesqueness of creating, cherishing, watching over with a thousand motherly hopes and fears a young life, until it comes to man’s estate; and then some day reading the few ghastly lines which tell of that young life, maimed — perhaps destroyed — by cunningly prepared, swift, flying bullets, or tearing fragments of shell, because two rival Governments have quarrelled, or because one country covets another country’s gold mines. I shall hope to write more fully on this subject next week, for it cannot be fairly treated in the short space of a column; but will conclude now by quoting, in answer to those who would still force on woman this crushing sacrifice both of herself and of her offspring in fulfilment of a past barbarous ideal, the words of Mr. Shaw, written twelve years ago, but which are perhaps not yet so valued by women as they should be. “Now, of all the idealist abominations that make Society pestiferous, I doubt if there be any so mean as that of forcing self-sacrifice on a woman, under pretence that she likes it; and if she ventures to contradict the pretence declaring her no true woman.”
DORA B. MONTEFIORE