Dora B. Montefiore 1909

The Position of Women in the Socialist Movement


Source: The Position of Women in the Socialist Movement, 1909, pp.16, pp.14, (8,252 words);
Published: London: Twentieth Century Press;
Transcription: Ted Crawford.
HTML Markup: Brian Reid.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


It has often been said that the twentieth century will be the century of women; and this means, of course, to us Social-Democratic women, that women, as well as men, will be called upon to play a conscious part in the struggle that will only come to an end when the world has been gained for the workers. Already this consciousness is growing among the working women, whom capitalism has forced from their homes in order to exploit their cheap labour, and so increase the profit of the employers; and working women are showing themselves as rebellious, and sometimes more class-conscious, than are working men. The members of the Women’s Circles of the S.D.P. are beginning to realise the fact that very little English Socialist literature expresses their side of the struggle; and they resent the bourgeois view taken by Mr. Belfort Bax in those “Socialist Essays,” in which he explains his outlook on the woman question. I hope, therefore, in this pamphlet, to voice the aspirations of Socialist women in regard to the part they are to play in bringing about the social and economic revolution which will eventually give every man, woman, and child access to the means of life.

The first fact to which I wish to draw attention is that this question of the position of women in the Socialist movement is not merely a national question, but an international one, and it can only fairly be studied from an international basis. In criticising, therefore, the actual position of women, it is not only the ridiculous, contradictory, and often illogical law of England that must be studied and quoted, but we must trace the origin of the laws and conditions that have affected everywhere woman’s position, and we must keep in touch with modern legislation on the Continent and in our colonies, if we desire really to discover the reasons of our present disabilities, and the basis of our revolutionary demands. Our German comrade, Bebel, wrote very fully on this subject some years ago in his book, “Woman: Past, Present, and Future”; and as this work has been translated into English, and published at the democratic price of a shilling, every Socialist woman who has time to read a book of over two hundred and fifty pages should make a point of studying Bebel’s work. It will awaken and stimulate thought, and open out many by-ways of study and inquiry, which will help to develop consciousness.

As, however, biological and sociological studies have advanced rapidly since Bebel wrote his book on Woman, there are to be found now in the writings of modern scientists interpretations of the past, and forecasts for the future, which are necessarily not contained in August Bebel’s writings. The present pamphlet may be useful, therefore, to English Socialist women as a signpost in the direction of modern study of the subject, and as indicating the advance of women in recent years along democratic lines.

What International Social-Democracy Offers Women

When we look round on the movements of the day, we find that there is no political party in any civilised country that is offering women what Social-Democracy is offering them. The Conservatives, who are content to leave things as they are, will not touch the unjust marriage laws, the unfair educational monopoly, the complex social injustices, all of which weigh more heavily on the mass of women than on the mass of men. All they have to offer our sex is the granting of the political vote to a comparatively few propertied women, who will use it in the interests of the propertied class, and its already carefully conserved privileges.

The decadent and discredited Liberals and Radicals dare not initiate in any country legislation which will put an end to the economic exploitation of women, and they refuse to include them in any measure of political reform.

The Social-Democratic Party, both in England and on the Continent, places on its programme full economic, social and political freedom for both men and women, and in one country of Europe, Finland, this Party, having succeeded, with the help of the Radicals, in gaining full political freedom for all its women, is working actively both in and out of Parliament for the Social Revolution.

The Position of Some English Comrades Towards Women’s Complete Enfranchisement

It would seem, however, that in England, in spite of programmes and propaganda, there are in the Socialist ranks men, such as Mr. Belfort Bax, who fail to see the drift of a real, class-conscious Social-Democratic movement, in which no room can be found for a dependent, semi-enslaved and unrepresented class or sex; and his followers have forgotten, or perhaps have never known, that any system of slavery, whole or partial, is as demoralising for the masters as for the slaves; they appear to us women to be interpreting Socialism from the standpoint of masculinity, instead of from the standpoint of humanity. If this were not so, Mr. Belfort Bax could hardly write in one of his “Essays in Socialism”: “The grievances that women labour under as women resolve themselves into three:-

“1. Technical cruelty besides adultery in order to obtain divorce.

“2. Lack of franchise (although without it, women succeed in getting nearly every law framed and administered in their favour).

“3. That one or two callings are closed to them.

“These are the burdens under which divine Womanhood, with a big W, is groaning.”

Working women know very well that there are other burdens and grievances under which they as women suffer more than do men. In times of unemployment, the pregnant or suckling mother, who has either to starve at home or to do heavy and ill-paid work outside the home, suffers more than does the unemployed man. The widow or deserted wife of the proletarian, or the working woman with a sick or disabled husband, endures a prolonged purgatory of starvation, overwork, overcrowding, and too often insult and bullying from the officials of the Poor Law authorities, such as no man could wrestle through. The working woman is more sweated, more despised, more downtrodden in the last resort than is the working man, because, though under capitalism the working man is the wage-slave, yet his wife is the slave of the slave; and if our gospel of Socialism is to be fruitfully preached, we must kindle a spark in the gloom of the soul of enslaved motherhood, so that she may be able to bring forth intellectually free children, and teach them the gospel of discontent and of rebellion!

Dr. Frances Elizabeth Hoggan writes in regard to legislation in England on the subject of women: “Other nations have gone astray in this particular and that; the unrepresented sex is everywhere at a legal disadvantage, but in no civilised country in the world are such barbarous enactments still to be found on the Statute-book as those which determine the legal position of wives and mothers in this boasted free England of ours.”

These are weighty and rebellious words; and I would wish every Socialist working woman to feel as rebelliously on this subject as does her middle-class sister.

Refutation of Some of Mr. Bax’s Statements about Women

Now, what Mr. Belfort Bax appears to assume, and indeed, sets out to prove, is that women are by their nature so physically, psychically, and intellectually inferior to men, that they must not, even under the Socialism in which he professes to believe, share the equality for which men .are struggling. In his article, “Female Suffrage,” he classes women by implication with inferior races, children, and even dumb animals. “There is justice, for that matter, for all living beings, animal as well as human, but it does not consist in giving them the franchise. I think it clear, therefore, that we are justified in debarring any order of persons from the franchise, if they, as an order, indicate an inferiority based on an organic difference which is likely to make their cooperation in politics or administrative life, a danger or disadvantage to the community as a whole.”

Further on in the same essay he states that the distinction between the sexes involves both, “general inferiority on the part of the woman, and inferiority in certain directions.” The special points of inferiority in our sex which he emphasises are the smaller and less convoluted brain, the special tendency of women to hysteria, and their inability to accomplish anything original or worthy in the realms of “science, philosophy, political practice, in invention, in the fine arts (painting, poetry, music).”

As these points, insisted upon by Mr. Belfort Bax, have never yet, I believe, been challenged in a Socialist pamphlet, I will, therefore, deal with them seriatim, so that women comrades may have the opportunity of comparing the conclusions of Mr. Belfort Bax with those of other writers and of scientists.

Mr. Bax refers to the researches of Bischoff and Rudinger as proving that the female brain is not merely absolutely smaller than that of the man, but also relatively smaller. As opposed to this statement, Dr. Boyd states that at the age of six months the absolute weight of brain has doubled in girls, and nearly doubled in boys. At seven years it has quadrupled in girls, and before fourteen it has quadrupled in boys. The girl’s brain ceases to grow at twenty, the man’s reaches maximum at thirty. Havelock Ellis writes: “In making comparisons of male and female brains, individual variations are very considerable”; but he adds, when writing of comparisons of the frontal lobes: “It is no longer possible to accept the opinion that the frontal lobes are defective in women.”

Broca examined 360 brains, with the result that he concluded that, the whole cerebral hemisphere being taken as 1,000, the proportion of the frontal lobe in man is 427, and in woman it is 431. Crichton-Browne corroborates this result.

Eberstallen, after examining 270 brains, declares it is doubtful whether the occipital lobe is larger or smaller in either sex, but proves that the cerebellum is relatively larger in the woman.

To sum up, I once more quote Mr. Havelock Ellis: “Men possess no relative superiority of brain mass.” And he also tells how Broca, in 1861, thought at first that women were less intelligent; but, with riper knowledge, his opinion changed.

As regards Mr. Bax’s assertions that women show a special tendency to hysteria, Charcot, the eminent French specialist in nerve diseases, teaches that hysteria is essentially a psychic disease, and states that among his cases there is one man to every two women. He conclusively shows that, although the word hysteria is derived from the Greek word signifying womb, the Ancients were wrong in connecting the symptoms of the disease with that organ; these symptoms are the result of neurasthenia, and of suggestibility, from which morbid conditions both men and women can suffer.

As regards relative sensitiveness to pain, Professor Jastro Macdonald found with an algometer, an instrument of his own invention, applied to the temples, that girls and women were at times more sensitive to pain than boys and men. Mr. Bax has based many of his so-called scientific facts telling against women on the data collected by Lombroso and Ferrero in their book, “The Female Criminal,” a work now scientifically discredited, as far as facts about normal women are concerned. In searching for general facts about men, one does not restrict one’s studies to data concerning criminals, inebriates, and pathological specimens. When Mr. Bax taunts women with never having done anything noteworthy in science, he must surely have forgotten Mary Somerville and Madame Curie; and when we recollect that what is generally offered to women as education is not only contemptible but often pernicious to the intellect, the marvel is that women, in spite of this heavy handicap, ever manage to develop normally.

Buckle, the historian, knew this when he wrote: “The remarkable rapidity with which women think is obscured by that miserable, that contemptible, that preposterous thing called their education, in which valuable things are carefully kept from them, and trifling things continually taught to them, until their fine and nimble minds are too often irretrievably injured.” He held that women’s deductive process of reasoning from ideas to facts was just as necessary to the progress of knowledge as man’s, more general inductive method of inquiry, proceeding as it does from facts to ideas; and in summing up his pleas for better and more general education for women, he writes: “Therefore it is that those who are most anxious that the boundaries of knowledge should be enlarged ought to be most eager that the influence of women should be increased, in order that every resource of the human mind may be at once, and quickly, brought into play. For you may rely upon it that the time is approaching when all those resources will be needed, and will be taxed even to the utmost. We shall soon have on our hands work far more arduous than any we have yet accomplished; and we shall be encountered, by difficulties, the removal of which will require every sort of help and every variety of power.”

It pleases me to think that these words, written some fifty years ago, may be finding their application now in our immediate struggle to replace Capitalism by Socialism; for there is no doubt in that struggle we shall require “every sort of help and every variety of power.”

Is It a Sex Oppression or a Class Oppression?

After refuting the incorrect generalisations of Mr. Bax as regards that half of the human race which, as a Socialist, accepting the International Socialist programme, he should be striving to place in social, economic and political equality with the other half, I shall now treat the question of whether the actual disabilities of women are the result of a sex oppression or of a class oppression, because I hold that the clearing up of this point will help Social-Democratic women very largely in their conscious struggle for equality.

I have already pointed out that later scientific knowledge has made Bebel’s work on women somewhat out of date. The same may be said in a still greater degree of John Stuart Mill’s “Subjection of Women,” which preceded Bebel’s book; for, as Professor Ward points out in his “Pure Sociology” (1903): “When John Stuart Mill used this expression as the title of his book, he had only the philosopher’s penetration into a great truth. He had comparatively little light from anthropology, and scarcely any from biology. Its true meaning, therefore, as a phase of the history of man, as something impossible to the so-called “brute-creation,” and as a pure product of human reason untempered by altruistic sentiments, was for the most part lost to him.” But the more narrowly this question of the position of women in historic times is looked at, the more clearly the facts stand out that women’s present subjection is only the decaying remnant of the dominance of might over a slave and serf class. It is the frankness of Aristotle who, in criticising Socrates as an advocate of “the community of wives and children, and other property,” writes his candid but cynical opinion of slaves in general, that puts the clue into our hands. For him, slaves were an eternal institution; he could not see how the race was going to be run without them, just as the capitalist to-day does not see how the world is to be run without wage-slaves—more especially without politically-unrepresented wage-slaves. “Hence,” Aristotle writes, “wherever there are two classes of persons, and the one is as far inferior to the other as the body to the soul, or a beast to a man—and this is the condition of all those whose function is mere physical service, and who are incapable of anything better—those persons are natural slaves . For the natural slave is one who is qualified to be, and therefore in fact is, the property of another.” What better definition could be given of the position of the woman in unsettled and barbarous times? Her function was one of mere physical service, her master provided for her as a “natural slave.” “But to resume,” writes Aristotle, “the associations of male and female, master and slave, constitute the primary form of household; and Hesiod was right when he wrote: ‘Get thee first home and wife and ox to plough withal.’” Neither Hesiod nor Moses, I feel convinced, meant any insult to wives as wives, when they coupled them with the ox; they simply chronicled them as among the chattel-slaves of some patriarchal husbandman. Our very word family, which we English people consider as sacred, is derived from the Latin word famulus, a slave; for the Roman householder (who held sway in Rome, many years after Hesiod and Aristotle laid down the lines of family life in Greece) founded his authority on his little band of household slaves, among whom were included his wife and children.

Two more. quotations from Aristotle to prove that there was no sex animus in the attitude of these crude old patriarchs, but merely the calm superiority of the strong over the weak. “Thus we must suppose that what the poet (Sophocles) says of woman, `Silence is woman’s crown,’ is applicable to all the subject classes.” And, again, when writing of the necessity of inculcating the duties of citizenship: “It is essential to educate our women and children with constant reference to this policy, if indeed the virtue of the women and children is of any importance in its bearing upon the virtue of the State.”

I must now point out that it is not (with rare exceptions) the cultured and educated man of to-day who is a follower of Hesiod and of Aristotle where women are concerned, but it is the still prejudiced and unintellectual Parliamentary representative at Westminster, or the interjector at a meeting in Hyde Park who fears—just as the middle-class mistress of the household fears—that the last set of slaves is going to be emancipated. The one shouts: “Who is going to darn my socks and cook my dinner?” And the other sobs: “What about the servant question?” No! my women friends and comrades, the agitation that is going on among women at present is no conflict of sex, for there are quite as many women as there are men who would wish to restrict the function of other women to one of “mere physical service,” and who would deny that other women are capable of anything better. Why should we women continue to beat the air by separating ourselves from the great body of insurgent slaves? Why stultify ourselves by taking up the misleading “Yellow Press” cry of the “conflict of sex”? Let us look deeper into the gulf from which we are emerging, and let us face what this statement of Aristotle’s about “the condition of all those whose function is mere physical service” means, and reckon up what it really amounts to. Woman has been the most convenient and cheapest slave that man has ever possessed. He has taught her in the past to believe so thoroughly that her function is mere physical service that she has faithfully instilled the belief into her daughters and granddaughters; so that women, not men, are the worst enemies to-day of the intellectual, economic and social emancipation of women! Two or three thousand years ago, when Greek men were dreaming and recording great intellectual and spiritual dreams, their women were, according to the chronicling of the Greeks themselves, “accustomed to live cowed and in obscurity.” In Xenophon’s remarkable tract on domestic economy he describes the husband, Isomachus, attempting the education in wifely duties of his child-wife of fifteen. The wife remarks in reply to his attempts to fathom the depths of her childish ignorance: “My duty, as my mother told me, is to be chaste.” (Observe, the only duty taught the girl who was leaving her home was in relation to one physical function.) The husband then attempts to lay down some simple rules for the child-wife’s guidance, so that she might become in time a useful domestic and economic help; but there is not in the whole dialogue the merest hint of any intellectual requirement. He advises his wife to take exercise by folding up and putting by her clothes, for Greek wives were not accustomed to take walking exercise in the open air. He compares Greek women in general to those handicraftsmen who earn their livelihood sitting, and are thus injured in body—a thing much despised by the Greeks. In a word, he desired an efficient and faithful slave; and the poor little undeveloped girl became, no doubt, in time just what her master required, in the same way as did all the other undeveloped slaves, whether male or female, of that period.

But times have changed since then; chattel-slaves and serfs have been done away with; education of sorts is given to all boys and girls of a nation, and no wife nowadays is socially and legally enslaved as was the child-wife of Isomachus. But economic slavery still degrades our civilisation, and it is as economic slaves that the majority of women share to-day the bondage of the masses of men. The conditions among savage races to-day teach us what were the exact conditions of women in primitive times; for, as Karl Marx observes, “The American Indians furnish the key to our European social conditions.” To illustrate this point, Lubbock tells us that among the natives of Australia young men value a wife principally for her services as a slave.” Moerenhaut writes that a Maori of New Zealand, when giving his daughter in marriage, says: “If you are not satisfied with her, sell her, kill her, eat her; you are absolute master of her.” The Kaffir woman performs all the hardest labour, and is called “her husband’s ox.” The Kaffir husband remarks, “She has been bought, and must therefore labour.”

Herbert Spencer writes: “The status of women among any people, and the habitual behaviour to them, indicate with approximate truth the average power of the altruistic sentiments; and the indication thus yielded tells against the character of primitive man.” As the altruistic sentiments have strengthened in the race the position of woman has improved; but it is observable that even in modern times there is a recurrence among men of a low moral type, of a tendency to treat women as chattel or sex-slaves. Napoleon, in his “Memorial of St. Helena,” wrote: “Woman is given to man to bring forth children. Woman is our property; we are not hers, for she gives us children, and man does not give any to her. She is therefore his property, as the tree is that of the gardener.”

These old, ingrained ideas of sex and class dominance have helped to enslave women industrially to a degree that is more degrading than is the industrial slavery of men; and no reform, no amelioration, no palliation of existing conditions can be of any real help to the woman who seeks free and equal conditions with men. Nothing but a social and economic revolution, in which women themselves take a conscious and active part, can make for their complete emancipation. For this reason, we militant women strongly protest against the idea that Socialism can be given to us by men. This is as false and as deluding an idea as ever kept back a great movement. Socialism given to us women would be only an added slavery. It is in working for our own emancipation that we shall gain that inner freedom, that sense of striking off our own chains, that really frees the individual. He or she who would be free must himself or herself strike the blow. To return to the consideration of the legal position of the woman of to-day: the women who possess property, and have that property settled on them by socially-made property laws, are entirely removed from the economic slavery; they, with the men who possess land and capital (and are able therewith to enslave economically their fellow men and women), are the privileged, the masters, the slave-owners of to-day. And what of the women, economic slaves, who are content to remain what Aristotle calls “natural slaves”? As regards the position of the economically enslaved wife, possessing no private means of her own, I cannot put her case under the present law in more concrete language than has already been done by Mr. Belfort Bax, who is opposed (like the man of Hyde Park and the man of Westminster) to the emancipation of the entire slave class. “The woman,” he writes, “possesses the monopoly of what is, if not a primary, at least a secondary necessity of life to the majority of men—the means of sexual satisfaction, her body; for allowing him access to which the law entitles her to demand a rent and dues in the shape of food, clothes, shelter.” Food, clothes, shelter, are what the chattel-slave was always granted, and it was to the interest of the slave-owner not to grant less, or the efficiency of the slave might have been endangered; therefore, as long as the wage-slaves and the wife-slaves of the present day do not revolt against existing conditions they will never get anything more assured than food, clothes, shelter. Many will get less, as witness the unemployed, the deserted wives, the tens of thousands of wives who not only receive no “rent for the husband’s access to their bodies, to which the law entitles them,” but have instead to earn their own living, and often to support the husband and his children. But, says Aristotle in his wisdom, “this is the condition of all those whose function is mere physical service, and who are incapable of anything better; these persons are natural slaves.” There is the answer, my friends, to the misleading cry, “The conflict of sex!” Just as you cannot make people virtuous by Act of Parliament, so you cannot make them free by Act of Parliament. Women and the proletariat must become free in spirit, must first feel and know their actual degradation, and must then realise that they are capable of something better than mere physical service before the fetters of economic and social slavery can drop from their souls and bodies.

Prostitution

Having now explained to Socialist women, through the mouth of a lawyer, what is the present real underlying condition of English legal marriage—or, in other words, of legalised prostitution—I will treat briefly the question of the sex prostitution of women in general, whether outside or inside State regulation. Our protest as Socialists is that every form of sex prostitution is undemocratic—in other words, it forces one set of individuals to degrade and sell themselves in order to earn their bread from another set of individuals. Socialism, which will give access of all to the means of life, will free sex from the economic clutch which, at present strangles, perverts, and enthralls it. It is only right that the wife, “secluded in the home,” and who believes herself to be of almost different clay from her sister in the street, should learn to understand that our protest, as Social-Democrats, against prostitution (whether in or outside marriage) is an essentially economic one. We stand for freeing all slaves, even the economic slaves of sex, whether their chains are forged by a lawyer in blind worship of property, or by State regulations showing class bias. Mr. Bax scoffs at the idea that “it is a revolting injustice to subject public women to sanitary measures”; but that this is not the opinion of many Continental Socialists I can personally aver. When being shown round the towns of Copenhagen and Stockholm by Continental comrades, the houses were pointed out to me where the unfortunate among women had to submit weekly to these degrading examinations; and the opinion was expressed that as Social-Democracy grew in power in these Scandinavian countries it would force public opinion to do away with the whole enslaving system of State regulation and inspection, and eventually remove the economic necessity for prostitution. That the whole question is a class question, and presses more especially on the poor and unprivileged, is proved by a remark in one of the London daily papers, published at the time of the campaign carried on in India and England against the Cantonment Regulations: “What are the women making all the row about? No high-born lady will ever be put to any inconvenience by such a law.” We Socialist women feel that, in spite of Mr. Bax’s sneer, the “revolting injustice” of such regulations is just because no high-born lady is ever likely to be inconvenienced by such laws. To sum up what should be our attitude as Social-Democrats towards this question of prostitution, I will quote the words of the American sociologist, Dr. Elsie Parsons, who in her book, “The Family,” writes:

“Now, it is unnecessary to more than point out that modern democracy is as incompatible with prostitution as with slavery. Our toleration of prostitution is a survival of clan morality, and taboo upon discussion of the subject is largely responsible for our failure to realise its clash with modern points of view. The argument is brief. If we desire monogamy we must condemn prostitution, but we must necessarily condemn male as well as female prostitutes. If, on the other hand, we do not condemn promiscuity in men, it must be on the ground that their nature is radically unadapted to monogamy and that monogamy is undesirable. In this case we should not discriminate against the women necessary to the gratification of men’s polygynous instincts. If the social stigma were taken off the prostitute, if she were no longer a segregated person, prostitution might then become, in the sense of a division of labour, more consistent with a democratic point of view. It would, nevertheless, be untrue to democracy in its large meaning, i.e., equal opportunities for the total development of man or Woman.”

Women as Wage and Domestic Slaves

No thinking person can, of course, defend the present position of women in industry or in the home. The capitalist’s principal reason for employing women, whether married or single, is that their labour is dirt-cheap, and can be used to keep down the average wage of men. When we come to inquire into the reasons of women’s labour being so cheap, we find these reasons are complex, and depend, to a certain extent, on women’s traditional and legal position in the home. Mainly, however, they arise from lack of organisation; the fact that women are newcomers in the industrial field, and the fact that child-bearing interferes with women’s continuous periods of wage-earning (so that a woman who has learnt a trade or occupation as a girl takes it up again at a disadvantage if forced back into the ranks of wage-earners after a period of domestic life and child-bearing); and, finally, the tacit assumption on the part of society—including, of course, women themselves—that a woman should be content to live on less than a man, whatever the economic value of her work may be. That this last idea still prevails in the minds even of those who should be teaching an exactly opposite doctrine is proved by the writer of a recent Fabian Tract, who states that, “Whilst the present competitive system of employment by competing private enterprises prevails, the industrial minimum wage must conform to three conditions: (a) It must be lower for women than for men; (b) all men must have the same minimum wage, and all women the same minimum wage; (c) the man’s wage must be enough to support a family, and the woman’s to support a single independent adult.” What the writer should have pointed out is, that under present conditions a large and ever-increasing number of women have to support others on their earnings, and therefore need the same minimum wage as does the married working man or the bachelor working man. Further, that even in the rare case of a woman having no one dependent on her, it would be a cruel and insolent assumption to say that she was bound to live on less than the man who might be doing the same sort of work. Both men and women have, under existing conditions, to earn sufficient to make provision against sickness, old age, or lack of employment. Moreover, a Socialist should always, when writing on any suggested reforms to the present industrial system (such, for instance, as a minimum wage), bear in mind and impress upon his readers the fact that from the Socialist’s point of view reforms should only be advocated if they tend to improve the standard of living of all workers, in order that better physical and intellectual development of the race may render easier our task of Socialist propaganda. Reforms must be stepping-stones towards the realisation of our object, not compromises which will, in effect, help to extend the lease of life of the present economic form of society. Any suggested legislation that tends to keep women in perpetual industrial and domestic inferiority would be one of the worst forms of “palliatives” to the present capitalist system. As regards the employment at all of married women as wage-earners outside the home, under the present system it would appear that the only reasonable restriction we can make is that no married woman should be allowed to be employed to undersell the work of men; and for all unorganised work, such as charing, washing, daily domestic work, etc., there should be a legal minimum wage of not less than sixpence an hour. I should like to remind my readers that our present rulers do not look upon domestic work as an occupation; for in the census returns of England and Wales of 1901-5, 717,000 wives are placed in the same group as two million odd other women, who are all classed as “unoccupied persons.” It would seem, therefore, that those who govern us look upon child nurture, training and care, the manifold and never-ending duties of a housewife, caterer, accountant and manager as “no occupation.” Only when a woman is paid by the capitalists for labour outside the home does she become an “occupied person.” To what depths, under capitalism, have the “sacred duties” of wife and mother fallen when they are thus cynically flouted and despised by our rulers! Mr. John Burns has, we are told, schemes on hand for making the employment of married women outside the home more difficult. Will the Right Honourable gentleman propose at the same time to raise domestic duties and child-bearing in the eyes of the public by giving State Maintenance to child-bearing, and suckling women, whom he shuts out of paid employment, and who otherwise, under existing conditions, if they cannot work, must starve?

The Evolution of the Woman under Socialism

Having now pointed out the special disabilities under which the mass of women suffer in a competitive and capitalist form of society, I desire now to state briefly our aspirations—as women working inside the Socialist movement—for future progress and development. In order to secure this progress and development, much, very much, will depend on Socialist mothers of the present day giving right thought and right teaching to their boys and girls. What I mean is that they must, above all, teach that Equality is not something that can be given, it must be deserved and won; and that women will conquer their equality with men just as soon as they are inwardly freed from the feeling of inequality or sex dependence, and not one hour earlier. Mothers who are themselves conscious of the revolutionary change in conditions which will come about when men and women are economically free, must begin to ask themselves, “Are we bringing up our girls prepared for this change, prepared to take their lives and their sex choice into their own hands, with a greater sense of personal responsibility than was necessary under the rule of ‘thou shalt’ and ‘thou shalt not’?” As long as a child is young we make certain rules of conduct and of behaviour. As it steps from childhood into youth we relax personal rule, and having pointed out certain guiding principles, we allow the child choice. This is just what is happening to women now. They are, and they will be ever more and more, taking upon themselves responsibility in life and in sex choice. We mothers must teach them that as regards the word “honour,” for instance, there must be no two meanings, no two values. At present the word honour for women means sex chastity; for men it means integrity, uprightness. George Gissing writes: “Women, when they are frail, are so in great measure because they have not been instructed in the matter of choice, nor taught the art of selection, nor the meaning of responsibility. Wilfulness they may know, but not too many are acquainted with will.” Carteret writes: “Between men and men the only distinction is the artificial inequality of conditions. Between men and women it is enforced inequality of development. Woman’s education is the exclusive development of one side of her nature, whereas the object of man’s is to bring out an all-round creature.” A great teacher once wrote: “When educating boys and girls, the usual formula is to teach boys to be brave and girls pure. But whereas bravery is more or less the natural characteristic of the boy, and purity of the girl, what should be the teaching is that boys should be pure and girls brave.” In Whitman’s “Democratic Vistas” he writes: “I have sometimes thought that the sole avenue and means to a reconstructed society depended primarily on a new birth, elevation, expansion and invigoration of women.” This means, in other words, that if the people are to obtain freedom and access to the means of life they must be born of free and not of slave mothers. The Greeks used to have a proverb: “If you give your child to be educated by a slave, you will have two slaves in the place of one.” This is what has been going on for generations; women have been, and still are, legally, economically, socially and politically enslaved; and, as a consequence, have not been able to realise that “new birth, elevation, expansion, and invigoration” which Whitman foresees as being so necessary for the mothers of the race. As men set such store by political freedom, and have not hesitated to wade through oceans of blood in order to obtain Constitutions in which they would possess the political vote, women cannot help feeling that there must be a political and real value in the possession of such a vote.

They therefore demand, as a first instalment towards the realisation of democratic power, votes for all women and all men. With this weapon in their hand, Socialist women can stand side by side with their men comrades, and demand full economic and social freedom, and the establishment in the near future of a Co-operative Commonwealth. As to the suitability or non-suitability of women to help forward this reconstruction of society, Whitman and Ibsen, who are world-renowned thinkers and writers, seem to think them suitable; Mr. Belfort Bax and some of his friends seem to believe the opposite.

This difference of opinion does not apparently prevail on the Continent; for, by a large majority, the last International Congress at Stuttgart called upon Social-Democratic organisations in every country to agitate continuously for votes for all women and all men. It is, I believe, in the struggle for these political, social and economic rights that women will shake off the old ignorances, old prejudices, and old taboos which they share, unfortunately, with men, and will emerge conscious of their real power and destiny, as creators, with men, of a new economic and social form of society. In the melting-pot of revolution, and in the future re-statement of values and of moral sanctions, many existing institutions founded on patriarchal, feudal, and capitalistic serfdom will go to the wall.

Havelock Ellis writes “The dominant type of marriage is, like prostitution, founded on economic considerations. The woman often marries chiefly to earn her living. Here, too, we may expect profound modifications. We have long sought to preserve our social balance by placing an unreasonable license in one scale, an equal unreasonable abstinence in the other; the economic independence of women, tending to render both extremes unnecessary, can alone place the sexual relationships on a sound and free basis. Economic independence will restore to sexual selection its due weight in human development.”

And again, “As long as maternity under certain conditions is practically counted as a criminal act, it cannot be said that the feminine element in life has yet been restored to due honour.”

Professor Lester F. Ward, the American sociologist, quotes a remark of Winiarsky: “What would happen if women should acquire economic independence it may be difficult to predict, but it is easy to see that prostitution would practically cease. It would seem that there would then exist a demand without a supply, but in practice there would only remain the general fact that the sexes demand each other, and there can be no doubt that they would find ways of supplying this mutual demand. It could scarcely fail to produce a profound revolution in marriage institutions.”

The French writer Flaubert sums up an indictment of the treatment of women in the past: “It is because in the past women, for property reasons, have been identified with narrow aims, with circumscribed economical conditions, that their influence has been perverted, the aspirations of their souls have been crushed, and their powers as a reasoning being stunted.”

It is just because we Socialist women hold that the only really logical way to work for the full emancipation of women is to induce as many women as possible to come into the Socialist movement that the Social-Democratic Women’s Educational Committee have requested me to write this pamphlet, setting forth our ideals and aspirations. Socialism for all men and women is our goal, but there are certain stepping-stones to be crossed before we can reach that goal. We Socialist women hold that we shall be more ready for social and economic freedom if we can first obtain with men full political freedom; we will then immediately begin with men the work of social and economic enfranchisement of the race, and in the conscious struggle for freedom we will learn, through the use of the vote, and eligibility to Parliament, to work out our Socialistic salvation.

Give all women the vote, and they will strike off the rusty chains that hold them still in marriage as the property of the man; give them the vote, and they will help to get maintenance for their children, and will force Capitalism to respect pregnant and nursing mothers, will insist upon laws being passed against the adulteration of food, will see to it that women are tried by their peers, will remove the disabilities against children born out of wedlock, [1] and will learn, by refusing to undersell men in the labour market, the real comradeship of labour.

I have come to believe, after somewhat full experience of serving with men on administrative bodies and on political committees, reinforced with long talks with the earnest women Finnish Members of Parliament, who are doing real legislative work in the Finnish Diet and on Parliamentary Commissions, that what really differentiates the way of looking at public questions of men and of women is that men are still obsessed with “property” considerations in the solving of these questions, while women come to these problems with minds tinged with the more elemental instinct of the value of life in its various phases. A woman Socialist M.P. told me of the moral shock caused to the feelings of the twenty-three women members of the Finnish Diet when they found that the same legal penalty attached to the burning of a hay-rick as to the forcible seduction of a young girl. She told me, almost pathetically, of the irritation of the men members who desired to bring in some purely political question, and were annoyed at the time taken up in discussing the subject of raising the age of consent. As another illustration of a similar difference in outlook between men and women, I point to the fact that under purely masculine administration we have a highly organised and efficient brigade for the saving of property in case of fire; but we have no similar brigade or department for the saving of human life from starvation, neglect, bad or insanitary conditions, or from the thousand-and-one unforeseen mischances and misfortunes to which the life and well-being of the individual in a highly civilised community are hourly exposed. I am convinced that if we had the woman, the mother element, represented in legislation we should have a Board or Department for Life and Life Culture, just as we have now a Naval, a Military, and a Post Office Department. Thus should we put a stop to the present terrible waste in infant life; thus should we study how the existing unfit should be dealt with and the numbers of future unfit be scientifically reduced to a minimum; thus should we prevent able-bodied men and women from being reduced by weeks and months of enforced unemployment to physical and moral wrecks; thus should we learn to provide education for the children of the nation, not in order to form cheap human tools for capitalistic exploitation, but in order to develop the best, the most free, and the happiest potentialities of every citizen. We Socialist women, if we are true to ourselves and our ideals, have before us the supremely vital task of bringing to birth that new order which the thought of Socialist men has generated. Thought, imagination, and enthusiasm are necessary for the propagating of any new gospel; and women, as they have always been to the front when propaganda was needed, will not fail now when that propaganda is for the first time the scientific and evolutionary teaching that in a socialistically organised community the struggle for life will be removed from the material plane of the struggle for material access to the means of life to that higher plane, where the necessities of life being free to all, the race can, for the first time, commence consciously its struggle for the higher life. Such an ideal, once grasped by women, cannot fail to awaken their enthusiasm and their imagination.

Professor Lester Ward, in his recapitulation of the past and present forces that have worked, and are working, in the evolution of woman from serf to free citizen, writes: “A single glance at the last two centuries of the historic period, compared with the centuries that preceded them, shows such an immense change in woman’s condition as to suggest that the vast downward curve has more than reached the lowest point, and that the ordinates have begun to shorten. We find ourselves confronted by a great ‘ricorse’, and the cyclic form already clearly impresses itself upon the mind. Not only this, but a closer scrutiny reveals the fact that the curve does not lie wholly in the same plane, and that the figure has three dimensions. In other words, it is not a cycle or circle, but a spiral, and the end will never meet and restore a true gynecocracy. With the completion of a revolution both man and woman will find themselves on a far higher plane, and in a stage that, for want of a better term, may be Called gynandrocratic, a stage in which both man and woman shall be free to rule themselves.” When that higher plane and stage are reached the Co-operative Commonwealth will be firmly established, and the free individual in the socialised community will be working consciously for the higher life of the human race.

DORA B. MONTEFIORE.

Notes

1.  To prove that women when they possess the political vote interest themselves in the question of the injustice of Society towards children born out of wedlock I quote the following from the “Lyttleton Times” (New Zealand) of April 30th, 1906. The Women’s National Council passed a resolution “that in view of the hardships annually imposed upon many innocent children by the condition of illegitimacy and the absolute uselessness as a deterrent from immorality of legal disabilities inflicted upon these children, it is high time that all such legal disqualifications were removed. That, considering (a) the great mortality among illegitimate children, (b) the neglected condition of many of them, who help to swell the ranks of the criminal and deceased, the Council proposes: (1) that the State should make generous provision for the maintenance, supervision and education of all such children; (2) that parents should be obliged to contribute according to their means to the support of their children; (3) that these children, where paternity is proved, shall possess an equal legal status with those born in wedlock, and shall be registered in the name of the father.”