Dora B. Montefiore New Age June 1905

Women’s Interests

Socialism and Women


Source: New Age, pp. 362-363, 8 June 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.


I have another book to notice this week – a translation and republication of Professor Enrico Ferri’s Socialism and Positive Science; with an Introduction by Mr. J. Ramsay MacDonald. It is, I believe, the first of a series of books on Socialism, published by the Independent Labour Party, and though originally written in Italian (from which a very excellent translation was published some years ago in America) it has now been translated into English through the French by Miss Harvey. It was as a text-book belonging to a student at Ruskin Hall that I first made the acquaintance of this work, and read in it with astonishment the following passage: “Utopian Socialism has left as a mental habit, even, with the most convinced followers of Marxian Socialism, the affirmation of certain equalities – the equality of the two sexes for example – which cannot be sustained in any manner. After the scientific researches of MM. Lombroso and Ferrero, the physiological and psychological inferiority of woman compared with man cannot be denied. But if it is scientifically certain that woman represents an inferior degree of biological evolution, and that she is placed, even by her physio-psychical characteristics between the child and the adult male, it does not follow from this that the Socialist conclusions in what concerns the woman question are false.” In another passage Signor Ferri states that “all the physio-psychical characteristics of women are the result of her great biological function – maternity.” The editor, in his introduction, though criticising some of Ferri’s assertions and inferences, makes no reference to these absurdly unscientific statements regarding half the human race; it is allowable, therefore, to presume he is in agreement on these points with the Italian writer, whose work he is recommending to members of the I.L.P. and others.

A Refutation by Mr. J.M. Robertson.

In the Reformer of December, 1901, a scientific writer, and a sociologist well able to undertake the task – Mr. J.M. Robertson – had already stigmatised these passages from Ferri’s book which I have quoted above as “medievally unscientific”; and had devoted an article (under the title, of “Socialism and Women”), to their refutation. In this article Mr. Robertson shows how Ferri has fallen into the old pitfall of construing the word equality as meaning “alikeness,” and so has merely darkened counsel. “After recognising that no two men are concretely alike he proceeds to assume the existence of an abstract yet completely measurable man and of an abstract yet completely measurable woman, and then to assert, that the woman is ‘inferior’ to the man, when he cannot even pretend to have demonstrated anything save that they – the abstractions – are not alike. Out of the mass of endlessly varying men and women he constructs an imaginary man and woman, and concerning them he professes to have established a biological proposition. This, I affirm with his own downrightness, is not a scientific proceeding, and I sincerely trust it is not to become part of the propaganda of scientific Socialism.” Further on the critic writes: “If any of women’s mental processes are specifically consequent on their sex, structure or function, in a sense in which none of men’s functions are consequent on their sex structure and function, then men and women are of different species. They have not merely a different degree of psychic faculty; they have a radically different psychic life, and all gradation is out of the question. To call the one inferior to the other is like calling vision inferior to hearing.” The whole article is full of excellent points, notably when the writer shows up “masculine logic” as set forth by Professor, Ferri: “There are no women of genius: .... women of genius usually have masculine faces'; to such reasoning can the scientific man come in a medieval mood.” Though the editor of this volume, which is to go out, amongst the rank and file of Socialists as propaganda for a certain philosophy of life, may be on some points in agreement with that philosophy, it can surely hardly have escaped his notice that these blots of medieval thinking and arguing had been so severely and thoroughly dealt with by a distinguished English critic; and with the view of making the work of greater educational value, a reference to this criticism might have been added to the introduction.

“The Yellow Trafalgar.”

Mr. Arnold White, in the Sunday Sun of June 4th, sounds, under this titillating title, a clarion note in the ears of “sedentary Britons.” With much that Mr. Arnold White writes, we women, who have no direct power in altering the effete conditions he complains of, should be in agreement. He bids us, as Britons, take stock of our own chances of gaining a similar victory, should events combine to test in a similar way the stamina of the Empire. He reminds us that: “Physical and moral degeneration are the results of inferior and insufficient diet, lack of milk, insanitary dwellings, coal-smoke, bad habits formed as an escape from sorrow, and excessive luxury. The bad influence of our decadent physique is not confined to the slums. Decay of health and neglect of education in duty to the State is accompanied by public corruption.” With the whole of this indictment I am in most thorough agreement, and my only regret is that as a woman, who can diagnose the social disease and conceive the means of possible cure, I have no power to help choose those legislators who would honestly devote themselves to the work of social and economic regeneration. I may remind Mr. Arnold White, however, that while men are talking, writing, and pigeon-holing Reports of Royal Commissions on Physical Deterioration, women, in their humble and necessarily subservient way, are acting. I know from poor mothers that there are parts of London where, immediately the birth of a child in one of the poorer streets is registered, a lady, sent by a Committee of Women, calls on the mother to inquire how she is feeding the child, whether with the breast or artificially; if the latter a card with instructions for the best form of artificial feeding, and with warnings against giving starchy foods to an infant under six months, is hung up in the room; and the child is visited from time to time to see if further help or advice is needed. This is practical work, and it is attacking the physical degeneration evil at its root. How much more could be done in the same direction if these same women who have the will had the power also!

A Word of Warning.

There is a passage in Mr. Arnold White’s article which it appears to me requires a word of warning from women. The passage I refer to is headed “Disease in the fighting Services,” in which he gives statistics of what he characterises as the “preventible disease,” which costs the British army 1,330 a day, or a sum which would maintain 8,500 efficient and healthy soldiers for one year.” If Mr. Arnold White means “preventible” in the sense that young soldiers should be taught to respect their bodies and their health, and to cultivate self-control in the place of licence, then we women are with him. But if he means that disease, should be made “preventible” at the expense of women, and their self-respect and bodily health, then (directly powerless as we are) we declare war on this point to the bitter end. I refer my readers who may wish to learn more, on this subject so vital to the solidarity of women, to a little book called The Queen’s Daughters, to which Mrs. Josephine Butler and Mr. Henry J. Wilson, M.P., have written prefaces. It was published by Morgan and Scott, Paternoster Buildings, in 1897, and can be obtained from the British Committee of the Federation for the Abolition of the State Regulation of Vice, 17, Tothill Street, Westminster.

DORA B. MONTEFIORE.