Dora B. Montefiore, New Age August 1904
Source: New Age, p. 524, 18 August 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
“Take no thought for the morrow” is an axiom abhorrent, no doubt, to up-to-date journalism; therefore, with London empty, with nothing but desultory closured debates to chronicle, and with the impending scatter next week to grouse-moor, seaside, and Continent, it is well to provide for the “silly season,” and the intellectual capacities of holiday-makers. At such times, what is it that seems to appeal more irresistibly than anything else to the average Anglo-Saxon male mind; what is it that stimulates spasmodically his summer slackness of wit, cheers and revives his waning chivalry, and points him out, in a word, as a superman among the races of the world, more than his “penchant” for “Aunt Sally” shies, his proneness and delight in fixing up “woman” on a broomstick, and hurtling at her the sticks and stones of his distinguished masculine wit? As regularly, therefore as August comes round, some serious subject is started in the daily Press, such as “How to be happy though a wealthy bachelor,” “A little widow is a dangerous thing,” or “Has woman more brains than the vivisected rabbit?” etc., etc. This year a genius hit on the happy thought of getting the experienced editor of Truth to “have a first shy”; and after he had with skilled hand thrown his first sixpenny missile at the new “Aunt Sally,” known under the name of “Is woman free?” the small fry of journalism rushed in with their halfpenny missiles, and the holiday fun began. A good resounding blow was aimed at the head of the new effigy by a well-worn but useful cudgel wielded by the author of Pigs in Clover. “Is woman free?” he seem to exclaim; what a delightful, funny, inspiring old Aunt Sally! And what a capital bundle of sticks I can find for her all ready to my hand! Is woman free when she has vowed obedience at the marriage altar? Whack, whack! Why, of course not. “The greater the freedom, the greater the misuse....” Ah! Here’s a fine thick stick that ought to make an impression; it’s old-fashioned, no doubt, but always valuable to clinch an argument. Now for a good aim right between the eyes! “There is no doubt women require corporal punishment. They are the rank and file in the army of humanity, and discipline is essential to their well-being.” So whack, whack, whack! Did I hear someone say it isn’t a very intellectual game that I am playing? Oh! intellectuality be blowed! Even the superman must feel slack sometimes, and cease to be a hero in the eyes of his valet – I mean, his wife! Here is a pseudo-scientific stick that will make a dint somewhere; it doesn’t matter that it has been cracked in the middle by someone “who really knows”; the man in the street won’t notice the crack, and if I throw it carefully it will sound all right. So here goes for another whack! “There are ranks in the vast army of humanity, and physically, mentally – it is also possible morally – the female is below the male, even as the child is below the woman.” What, didn’t that make any impression at all? Why, the old dummy is harder-headed than I thought. Never mind, all the other fellows are standing round and cheering, so I must be playing the game well! “Personally, I am strongly in favour of flogging! ....” Ah! here’s a nice little notched stick. “The ready boot, the manly fist, drives the argument dramatically home.” How’s that umpire? Isn’t it time for a drink?
And so the giddy, graceful game goes on, and woman’s impassive effigy rings with the blows dealt by the missiles aimed during August days by her “physical, mental, and moral superiors,” who have, no doubt, at one time in their lives squirmed, and wriggled, and sought humbly for favours from woman the unattainable; but who, immediately the fetters of the marriage vow have made the unattainable a matter of every day, are prompt in the expression of their thinly veiled admiration for “the ready boot and manly fist....” But lo! a mystery, at which even the small fry of supermen gape and gasp! For the wooden, homely features of the domestic divinity, the man-battered “Aunt Sally,” slowly change before their superior eyes, and harden into the lines of the all-knowing sphinx; whilst the erstwhile dumb and outraged lips fashion themselves for speech; and low sweet tones, which we have been told are an excellent thing in women, issue from the now transformed effigy.
“Nero,” it cooes forth, “fiddled whilst Rome burned, and the men of England make merry at the expense of their women slaves at the very moment when those slaves are learning how to strike off their fetters. The ‘Is woman free game’ was excellent sport once, my masters, when the world was young, and before sanctions were questions, and the authorities placed in the lumber room. But since someone has whispered; ‘He who enslaves is as much a slave as his victim'; and, further, ‘That he who denies liberty to others can never himself know what freedom means'; we have begun to see through things, and our intellectual freedom is the forerunner of our full emancipation. Yes, we have seen you, our masters, as you really are; not, perhaps, as you would wish to appear. We have watched you through our Oriental grating in your Holy or Holies at Westminster, and we have mused over the reason that you alone should be allowed to legislate for, and bind us – you who, where you should appear greatest and wisest, only appear small to us in your after-dinner somnolencies, foolish, incompetent wasters of time and of great opportunities. Yes, we have watched, and mused, and sat at your tables in the homes where, as you delicately remind us, ‘you pay the rent'; and we have asked ourselves again and again: Why, why? And we have sought in vain for a satisfying answer. But now we have heard that in another country, where dwell men and women of our race, woman is free, and women children are born into the world free; and by that sign we know also – we women who so long have been your holiday butt – that we before long shall also be free! We read and learn all we can of that ‘White Woman’s Land,’ and we dream (for dreams are free) that the freedom those women have obtained – the freedom of equal and honoured partnership with men – will some day be the lot of our daughters; and that they may then be able to teach their sons (the sons born of free mothers) a better game than that of which you are now so fond. Meanwhile, we advise all the women who can to leave this old country, where their bondage has become a byword to the scoffers, and to go out to those new lands, which need clear heads, and warm hearts, and ready intelligences – the White Woman’s Lands of Australia and of New Zealand – and there to found their homes, and enter the Parliaments, which welcome women, and pay them, as they do men, for working in the public cause of the commonweal, and for helping to uphold free institutions. There, perhaps, they may prove themselves worthy of a better fate than that of being pelted to make a superman’s holiday.”
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.