MIA: Library: Mary Beard, Woman as a Force in History, 1946
Woman as a Force in History. Mary Beard 1946
Everybody’s Interest: Man and Woman
FATEFULLY interlocked with all the visible, vocal, and revolutionary upheavals which, in our own time, have been ripping open and transforming great societies inherited from the nineteenth century and its long past are the relations between men and women. Even underground movements for counter-revolutions, revolutions against revolutions, take vitality from these relations. Thrust into the global violence which marks our age is the dynamism of women who, with men, have set the world on fire and helped to frame plans for its reconstruction.
In the war of propaganda accompanying this war of arms, women have been intransigent combatants. Their old roles of intriguing and spying have been reenacted. Millions of women have been devoting their energies for many years to feeding, clothing, and equipping with munitions the men who fight on land, from the air, on the seas, and beneath the seas. Without the enlistment of women by conscription or their voluntary support, these bitter international contests for military dominance could not have gone forward on such a scale to their fates in the morrow. As in the beginning of organized warfare, back in the aeons of unrecorded history, so in its latest forms the sanction of women is deemed essential to its terrific force.
The competition among the revolutionists for mastery in the human world has been emphatically marked by a competition in conceptions of sex relations. Three views of perfection in these relations have been struggling for victory in this rivalry.
One is the view that the “woman’s problem,” a definition respecting woman’s place in society satisfactory to herself, can only be solved by complete equality with men, and that the equality can only be established under Communism. A second view is that woman must find her greatest happiness and contribute most to the State by limiting her ambitions to domesticity and still more narrowly to child-bearing, in order that the population rate may be high enough to keep a given nation secure against crowded societies on its borders, and strong enough within for aggressive action when desired against neighbors or more distant communities; this is the ideology of Fascism. The third view is that woman must have the right to choose her way of life even to the point of self-centered interests; this is one among the ideologies of Democracy.
The first of the titanic revolutions of this twentieth century was launched on its course by V. 1. Lenin and his wife, Nadejda Krupskaya, in 1917, after the Russian Czar had been dethroned in the midst of the first world war of this time. These two Russians had long been revolutionists and long associated in agitations for a communist uprising. Both had been exiled to Siberia and in Siberia they were married. Both had been outlawed after they left Siberia and had been compelled to carry on their propaganda beyond, if sometimes close to, the borders of Russia. When Lenin got the reins of government in his hands, with the backing of the Russian Bolsheviki, Krupskaya helped to drive home the issue of woman’s rights as the significance of this revolution, for women. She had been a steadfast and zealous advocate of sex equality.
Lenin knew, as well as Krupskaya knew, that, without the ardent support of women, the communist revolt would have a brief career if any career at all. And to win their support full recognition of their “right” to full participation in the Communist regime was immediately given. Of this fact Lenin reminded women-at-large in September, 1919, during his speech delivered at the Fourth Moscow City Conference of Non-Party Women. “The Soviet government has applied democracy to a greater extent than any other country,” he claimed, “even the most advanced, by the fact that in its laws not the slightest hint of any inferiority of woman is left. I repeat, not a single state and no democratic legislation has done even half of what the Soviet government did for women in the very first months of its existence.”
In a conversation with Klara Zetkin, indomitable German Socialist, Lenin elaborated the doctrine that “real freedom for women is possible only through Communism.” Women must appreciate this and throw their energy into the Bolshevik revolution, he insisted. “The Communist women’s movement must itself be a mass movement, a part of the general mass movement ... . There can be no real mass movement without women ... . Unless millions of women are with us we cannot exercise the proletarian dictatorship, cannot construct on Communist lines. We must find out our way to them, we must study and try to find that way.” For the “proletarian dictatorship!”
In Krupskaya’s introduction to a pamphlet by Lenin on Women and Society, the double power of women’s revolutionary agitation and the communist theory of its underlying imperative were brought out. Krupskaya said: “Ever since the beginning of Soviet rule, equal rights for women have been an object of interest not only for women, but for men as well – young men, Red Army men. I remember how surprised Mirbach, the German Ambassador, was, when, while paying an official call to Lenin in 1918, he saw one of the Red Army men who acted as Lenin’s guard sitting at a table reading a book. He wanted to know what the book was and asked to have the title translated. It turned out that the guard was reading a translation of Woman and Socialism by [August] Bebel, a former leader of the Social-Democratic party in the German Reichstag.” This book carried the gospel, derived from Karl Marx, that woman, enslaved by capitalism, must free herself by helping to set up a dictatorship of workers.
Imbued with this doctrine and envisaging utopia, Russian women in great numbers agitated and organized at home and abroad for its realization. They procured positions in Russia with the secret police and both judged and punished opponents of the Communist party. After German troops started to invade Russia in 1941 under the direction of the Nazis, women who were not members of the Communist party rushed like members of the party to defend their country. Then together Communist women and non-party women engaged in all phases of the armed combat with their mutual foe. Russian women became guerrillas fighting from ambushes. They fought from the air in bombing planes. They fought in tanks. They fought wherever they were needed or could, by arms and by political action. They helped to open new battlefields, to make Russia the supreme power in Europe and Asia. “Hey, Slavs, in vain the depths of hell threaten!” cried Stana Tomashevich, a fiery leader in the Russian push down into the Balkans. But the women who helped to spread revolutionary fire in neighboring and distant countries overrun by German troops, and among peoples more or less amenable for other reasons to the gospel according to Marx, Bebel, Lenin, Krupskaya, Zetkin, and eventually according to Stalin, were mainly, perhaps wholly, Communists.
Whatever the destiny of this revolution may be, it can be assumed that the question of man and woman relations will remain at the center of interest , among all the people whom it affects. If the number of women in the population continues to exceed by far the number of men long after the war has stopped or declined into small local conflicts, special problems pertaining to this interest will arise in Russia and in her satellite States. At all events the rights of women to self-expression, to political positions, to paid employments, to education, and to personal liberties in respect of marriage, parenthood, or extra-legal or legalized sexual relations with men – all such issues will be matters of general concern, despite declarations of “equality” that may appear in constitutions. To no small extent the course of civilization in such areas will depend upon decisions as to the relations of men and women. How much and what kinds of liberty will women demand? How much of it can men or women in general actually have under a system of dictatorship, whatever its type? That far-reaching changes are likely to come is already foreshadowed in the new legislation on marriage relations and motherhood adopted by the Russian government in 1944.
It was within a short time after the Bolsheviks got possession of the Russian government that the second type of revolution burst forth in Europe and Asia. This occurred in Italy about 1920, in Germany some ten years later, in Japan in 1935, and in Spain in 1936. The explosion was set off in Europe by Benito Mussolini, repeated by Adolf Hitler with the addition of organized anti-Semitism, and widened to Spain under the rebellion of Francisco Franco against the Spanish republic. All these revolutions had dictatorship as their objective. All represented in part efforts to check the spread of communism. All were intensely anti-democratic. In Italy and Spain the revolutions were called Fascist. In Germany the name National Socialism was given to the movement directed by the “Fuhrer,” Hitler. Whatever the name, whatever the slight deviations in the patterns of these revolutions, all confronted the necessity of winning the approval of women and the active aid of women, in sufficient numbers at least, to provide the sanction essential to success on the home front and in aggression abroad.
Mussolini met this vital problem in various ways. He commanded women and girls to organize supporting units in some 4,000 communities, on the models of men’s units in those communities, to carry “all the obligations of those who fight for the party.” For enthusiastic and competent work of this kind, women were “honored” as partners of Fascist men. At public ceremonies, moreover, mothers whose sons were conscripted for the business of fighting were lined up and “invited” to kiss the cannon already used or to be used in the execution of Italy’s imperial program in Ethiopia. Believing or hoping that Mussolini and his armed followers could really halt the revolution creeping up from below, innumerable women of the upper social levels, some of whom had been radicals like Mussolini in former days, gave him their hearts, their jewels, the use of their minds, and their voices for singing his praises. The halo around the head of Mussolini in the heyday of his glamour was the gift of women as well as of men who saw in him their people’s hero.
In a volume on Italian Women, Past and Present, issued in Rome, Professor Maria Castellani explained her allegiance to Fascism. She said: “Fascism recognizes women as a part of the life force of the country, laying down a division of duties between the two sexes, without putting obstacles in the way of those women who by their intellectual gifts can reach the highest positions.”
Women turned to Fascism as a protection against Bolshevism. Under the Corporative Constitution they got the equal right with men to become members of trade associations. They directed sections of the Fascist party. They held positions in the legal profession, reopened for them by Fascism as in keeping with long Italian tradition. They also occupied positions on university staffs as teachers of medicine and obstetrics, mathematics and physics, natural science, and philosophy, as Italian women had done in former times.
Capable Italian women speakers and writers represented Mussolini’s aims as truly righteous. Usually they were charming members of their sex. They were clever diplomats. Several of them came to the United States where, in private conversations with influential persons and in speeches addressed to audiences for popular edification, they praised the man, at an hour when the balance between revolution and counter-revolution in Italy was quivering and in a place whence financial and “moral” aid might come to steady it.
An arduous exponent of Fascism was Margherita Sarfatti, an intimate friend of Mussolini and his official biographer. During her propagandistic tour of the United States she wrote for metropolitan dailies and women’s magazines such as the Pictorial Review, on the women behind Mussolini. In the New York Herald Tribune of November 12, 1933, under the headline, “Italy is jealously guarding its women; it is giving them education, protecting their jobs, sponsoring fashions that will improve their health,” she said: “Back of it all is the realization that women hold the key to Italy’s future.... Woman! Woman! Everybody talks about her.” In what way? Mainly as mother of a race looking toward imperial expansion.
The visiting Italian women who sought to interpret Mussolini to Americans were given a “good press” by American women journalists. They also had the assistance of American women newspaper correspondents who had been favorably impressed by Mussolini during their interviews with him and wrote him up genially for the American public.
Native American women and women born in Italy or stiff in close contact with things Italian helped to build up Mussolini as the great new Caesar whom he aspired to resemble. They raised money for him directly or sent him their rings and other ornaments of gold. In 1933, while crossing the Atlantic in a plane was still a remarkable feat and while the World’s Fair was being held at Chicago, Mussolini dispatched Balbo and a convoy of flying ships to the United States to impress all the people of this country with his majesty. Many mothers of Italian origin lifted their infants in their arms to the soaring armada as if to dedicate their offspring to the service of their hero.
When in 1936 General Francisco Franco applied fascist philosophy in opening his revolutionary war on the Spanish Republic, he appealed to and won the allegiance of those Spanish women whose temperaments and interests corresponded to those of the Italian women engaged in building up Mussolini’s “grandeur.”
Women of the patrician elite, hating the Republic and the insurgent democracy, fearing the radicals on the far left, not only rallied to Franco themselves; they took the lead in arraying on his side women of the other classes over whom they could exert influence. Women leaders appealed to the women of the religious orders, they raised money for Falangist armies, they marched in
processions, they did every kind of “women’s war work,” and at the end they joined in celebrating the victory of the military dictator, the Church, and the landlords over the Republic and its loyal supporters.
As in Russia, Italy, and Spain, so the revolution in Germany dominated by Adolf Hitler attained its full force through an alliance of men and women around the flag – in this case the swastika. In the beginning, when Roehm, Baumler, and other veterans of the first world war joined Hitler, likewise a veteran of that war, there
was lusty boasting by German men, so recently young soldiers in trenches, to the effect that a cyclopean masculine demonstration of force would show the world how raw brutality could play havoc with soft refinement. A men’s band (Mannerbund) was proclaimed as in process of seizing power in Germany – proclaimed in speeches, in books, and in egoistic male programs for action. But Hitler himself soon instigated a murderous purge of men of that species and perfected plans for mobilizing women to abet his dictatorship at home and aggression abroad.
Equally with Lenin, Mussolini, and Franco, Hitler understood the force of women as an imperative in achieving and establishing a revolution. This fact Goebbels recorded in his Diary on March 29, 1932, with reference to a meeting of party leaders at Berchtesgaden, assembled to plan propaganda for the coming political campaign. During their all-night session, a major event took place: “In the evening the Leader developed entirely new ideas over our attitude to woman. These ideas are of the highest importance for the next electoral campaign, for it is just in that field that we were hardest hit in the first elections.” Hitler’s new ideas were to preach that “Woman is the companion of man in work... . She has always been so and always will be... . Formerly in the furrows, now in the offices. Man is the organizer of life, woman is his organ for carrying out plans. This conception is modern and lifts us toweringly above all the deutschvolkische Ressentiment.”
To make his revolution thrive Hitler offered special rewards to the German women “of the blood” who were in a peculiar position in 1933 as members of a society that had been defeated in a frightful war. He assured such women, if unmarried, that he would provide them with husbands; and apparently they longed for husbands until they got them and found that they were soldiers primarily desirous of an eternal supply of soldiers. He also promised them shelter – at least a two-room apartment for family life – and many women, lacking even that small amount of shelter, closed their minds to the possibility that he was a dangerous demagogue, a charlatan, who could blast their hopes and ruin their country if given their aid and comfort.
Women had helped Hitler up every step of the ladder to his absolute dictatorship. When he was a penniless veteran, Helena Bechstein, wife of a rich piano maker in Berlin, supplied him with money for his organizing plans. She “mothered” the uncouth veteran of the late war, instilled in him a confidence in his own inherent genius, and introduced him to persons who could help him financially, politically, and socially. He called her “mother,” and relied on her for protection. Other women early contributed to his war chest. Among them was Frau Gertrud von Seidlitz, a manufacturer, who not only gave him money of her own but got more for him from her friends in Finland. “Little Doctor” Goebbels reported in his Vom Kaiserhof zur Reichskanzlei, a story of Hitler’s rise to power, that on January 11, 1932, “the Women’s Division (Frauenschaft) has undertaken the financing of our coming campaigns. Within the briefest time, it will get together 50,000 marks. With that we should be solvent again.”
Cosima Wagner increased his social acceptability by her personal favors. His popularity was enhanced by flaming feminine orators and writers who accepted his version of himself as a messenger of God to the German people. The votes of women were an important factor in his rise to political power. Organized in a woman’s fighting band (Frauenkampfbund), at the behest of Hitler, clamant women shouted that they were ready, in effect, to bleed and die if need be for their Fuhrer.
Guida Diehl, Hitler’s prime evangelist, pleaded with women to remember that “the true German woman is a fighter, and a fighter out of mother love"! She recalled to them their great ancestress, Brunhild, “the woman in armor,” heroine of the Nibelungenlied, who had taken up the blood revenge and was determined to pursue it to the end though it might slay all her kinsmen.
In her volume, Die Deutsche Frau und der National Sozialismus (The German Woman and National Socialism), Guida Diehl said in 1933: “Never did Hitler promise to the masses in his rousing speeches any material advantage whatever. On the contrary he pleaded with them to turn aside from every form of advantageseeking and serve the great thought: Honor, Freedom, Fatherland! In his success is shown the power of great divine truths... . For us women it was almost unendurable to see the weakness of manhood in the last decades. Therefore the outbreak of the War was, despite all the hardships, a great experience for us: the upheaval of 1914 was a powerful breaking through of heroic manhood. All the more fearful to us was the breakdown. Then we called to German men: ‘We implore you, German Men, among whom we have seen and admired so much heroic courage... . We long to see Men and Heroes who scorn fate... . Call us to every service, even to weapons!’ “
Guida Diehl’s ecstatic partisanship with Hitler and her incitement to violence were matched by many other women speakers and writers. Lydia Gottschewski marshaled her sex furiously on the side of militant men in 1934, in a book called Die Frau im Neuen Staat (Woman in the New State). “It is a curious fact,” she declared, “that pacifism ... is a mark of an age weak in faith, whereas the people of religious times have honored war as God’s rod of chastisement... . Only the age of enlightenment has wished to decide the great questions of world history at the table of diplomats... . As far as this fight [of masculine solidarity among the Nazis to arouse the war spirit among men] attacked the old feminism it was rightful and healthy.” And the utmost right, she went on to say, was to recover “the soul fight-readiness of the whole people” and fulfill the radiant promise that “heavy-lipped people will sing the holiest song.”
To this passionate movement of German men and women, some of the most influential feminists gave more than countenance: gave their frank support. Feminism in Germany had as its background the liberal ideals of the French Revolution: liberty, equality, and fraternity. It derived its spirit and its objective largely from that revolt against despotism. But after Napoleon turned the Revolution to imperialist power, German women in general joined German men in fighting the war of their liberation from his mastery. This experience had taught them the meaning of nationalism and in this lesson they had veered toward a worship of State power – of Statism. Thus the tradition was strong when the Nazis rewarmed it in their definition of a new German crisis and their design for meeting it.
It is true that German women were direct colleagues of German men in setting up the Weimar Republic at the end of the first world war. But for various reasons it collapsed and then the Nazis ordered all feminist organizations, such as the business and professional women’s federation, with their liberal bent, to disband by their own action or face suppression. They did disband, and the liberal movement was seriously weakened by the wedge driven between women “of the blood” and Jewish women who had hitherto been co-members of groups associated with that movement. Though women “of the blood” did not go over en masse by any means to Hitler and his party, though they suffered martyrdom, in large numbers, the desertion of the woman movement as a liberal movement or a socialist movement – it branched off in two directions – helped to shape German destiny.
This left the field wider open of course for Hitler’s contention, expressed in his address to women at Nurnberg, September 14, 1934, that “Woman has her battlefield. With each child that she brings to the nation, she fights her fight for the nation.” Such women as Sophie Rogge-Boemer, who called for the military training of women in the interest of recovering the old Nordic folk-rights, which made no discrimination in respect of sex and war and were in keeping with the Brunhildic tradition, were suppressed by Hitler and Goebbels in favor of women who devoted their strength and interest to child-bearing. Young women in large numbers responded enthusiastically to indoctrination on this point and entered the numerous maternity homes founded by the Nazis to promote this service, just as young men responded to indoctrination of the kind given to them. Undoubtedly countless girls who became mothers in this system were sheer victims, not volunteers. But this phase of woman’s part in the German revolution cannot be ignored on that ground.
Spectacular and utterly ruthless was a country doctor’s wife, Gertrud Scholtz Klink, who had been prominent in circles of feminists. She was. so successful as an organizer and “fighter” in spirit that she became one of the mightiest of the Nazis. Her blond hair and general personality, combined with her zealotry as a true Nazi, brought acclaim from Hitler, who called her the perfect type of German woman. By 1941 she was governing some thirty million German women and tightening her grip on some twenty million other women in lands occupied by German troops. The dictatorial authority of this “Lady Fuhrer uber Alles” was vividly described by Peter Engelmannn an article in The Living Age of October, 1940, and afterward condensed for publication in the Reader’s Digest. “Frau Klink,” wrote Engelmann, “rules the lives of women in all things. She tells them how many children they must have, and when; what they shall wear, what they shall cook, and how. What they shall say, laughing, to their husbands and sons marching to war. How they shall behave, smiling, when their men are killed. Hers is the responsibility for home spirit, the core of national morale.”
Engelmarm could speak with authority. He had been an editor of Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a leading German daily, before his flight from the Nazis on account of his “mixed” blood. He had watched the Women’s Front (Frauenfront) as it began to take form, and indeed had been offered a position as her publicity agent by Frau Klink, but this he refused. It was his opinion that the “chief agency of Gertrud Scholtz Klink’s power” was an “elite corps of 50,000 zealous Nazi women – the Frauenschaft.” Long after Engelmann had been driven into exile, Frau Klink continued to gather and exercise power until at last in April, 1945, with the end of Hitler and the Nazi dictatorship in sight, according to the press report she committed suicide in Constance.
With the rise of the Axis Powers in Europe, and especially after the outbreak of war seemed imminent in Europe, American women began to manifest their will to influence the shaping of American foreign policy. By the millions they accepted the major premise, advanced by advocates of a “strong” policy, that the triumph of those Powers in Europe would mean ultimate doom for the United States; that the European war was, therefore, at bottom “our war.” Women had long been prominent in the various organizations which carried on propaganda for the League of Nations. Many branded American neutrality even in time of war an evasion of moral responsibility. When the war clouds began to gather on the European horizon, those women concentrated on the advocacy of “collective security” – American participation in an international combination against aggressors.
When the war got under way in Europe in 1939, American women in huge numbers, through their national organizations and as members of special committees and associations, bent their energies to pressing for the adoption of national measures designed to supply the Powers aligned against the Axis with munitions and other sinews of war. Women were in the forefront of the agitations and activities directed to the repeal of the neutrality legislation, the enactment of the Lend-Lease law in 1941, and other bills, all called measures “short of war,” though calculated by many of their promoters to put the economic and material forces of the United States actually into the war against the Axis Powers.
Late in 1941 measures short of war merged into war on the part of the United States itself. Then American women by the millions voluntarily enlisted in the service of the war on the home front and on the distant battle fronts in the European and the Asiatic theaters. They were taken into the armed forces, placed in uniform, disciplined by officers of their own sex working under military and naval authorities, accorded official ranking, honored with decorations for bravery under fire, and granted compensation according to their respective gradations of service. To release men for fighting, thousands of uniformed women substituted as secretaries, clerks, and officials. With skill and courage women served as doctors and nurses in the battle areas and in war hospitals at home; and many were killed at the fronts while working near or under fire.
In all the drives to float war loans and to raise money in aid of the armed services, women assumed leadership and served in the ranks. They labored to uphold the morale of the services at home and abroad. They toured the war areas and fronts as entertainers of the men under arms. Though not called upon to take up arms themselves or serve as guerrillas, the fighting being outside their country, they engaged in nearly all other forms of war work performed by women whose countries lay in or near the war zones. American women by the millions entered the war-production plants and made possible the output of munitions and other war supplies on a scale that astounded the whole industrial world.
“It’s a Woman’s War, Too” was the title of a column run in the Sunday issues of The New York Times.
That all the activities, agitations, tumults, and dislocations connected with “women at war” had evoked immense political excitement became evident as the time for the presidential election of 1944 approached. Were the Roosevelt policies, domestic and foreign, to be endorsed or rejected at the polls ? And in terms of women’s interests, what new was to be demanded for them in politics? Such questions were posed in every forum of opinion, including the household and the street.
When the national campaign opened, politicians, male and female, understood that a new stage in the facts and opinions of the man-woman relationships had been reached; and politicians, who always have their cars to the ground, sensitively registered the seismic disturbances of the hour. Whether women were rejoicing in new adventures or felt frustrated by real or imagined grievances, they had the outcome of the election largely in their keeping, for they held in their hands the most votes – a number estimated at sixty or sixty-five per cent of the total voting power. And men, whether they felt cramped or free, knew this as a hard reality. But with what upshot? Would a feminine bloc appear and prove decisive in determining the results of the election, with all their implications for the fate and fortunes of the nation? Would voting women take their cue from men’s plans? Would they merely reflect, class and income-group alignments? Or would a serious number of voting women display indifference and remain away from the polls, letting their political power lapse?
At the conventions of both major parties women delegates were in attendance by the hundreds. Women held positions in an important committees, delivered keynote addresses, and shared in maneuvers behind the scenes. Women as women were recognized in platform pledges and acceptance speeches. With all the campaign committees and organizations, high and low, women were associated. Women were leaders and joiners in efforts to round up voters for their respective party tickets. Special appeals were made in platforms and campaign literature to interests regarded as “peculiarly feminine,” as well as those common to men and women. Throughout the land politicians, male and female, spread the cry: “Get out the women or we arc lost!”
When the ballots were counted, it was impossible to discover just where the weight of women’s influence had fallen or how their influence had been distributed. The American way of keeping political records did not permit such knowledge. But one thing was certain. While the majority accorded to President Roosevelt was relatively smaller than it had been in 1940, he was granted a fourth term, and his policies – foreign and domestic – received an overwhelming endorsement. Contrary to predictions of many army and navy officers in previous years, American women had not become pacifists. In the main they agreed with men: that the war must go on in full force until the enemies were crushed. And their active support was proclaimed indispensable.
The cataclysmic character of this segment of a century was registered widely and deeply in every phase of economic, intellectual, and moral life. Nothing like it, in scale and intensity, had ever taken place before in the history of humanity. Not even the collapse of the Roman Empire nor the eighteenth-century social earthquakes in America and Europe were comparable to this one. Economic and political dislocations affected the highest and lowest social levels of societies in all parts of the world. The demands upon life, blood, and property became almost universally despotic. The entire population of the earth was thrown into a revolutionary turmoil.
What was and is to be the significance of this upheaval for the relations of men and women? Any answer devised, if based on knowledge, depends upon probabilities difficult to discern or imagine. If the United States should return to an economy predominantly civilian, designed to serve civilian needs and interests primarily, and another crisis in unemployment occurred, what would happen to wage-earning and salaried women? If conscription were adopted as a permanent policy and national energies were dedicated to preparations for the contingencies of another world war, the relations of men and women, economic and marital, would certainly assume forms novel to American experience. In any case, the horizon of the future was scanned with anxiety.
Professedly, American men and women alike in general hoped for a return to civilian life, and this meant a heated debate in the United States over public policies to be adopted with reference to “equality of rights” in the distribution of employments, in the competition for places and rewards in economy and society. While it was recognized that women had met heavy obligations in war production and services, while men and women both took pride in the war work of women, the very featuring of women’s force and interest in the Global War reopened, in ways unprecedented, the old debate over women’s “place” in society and their significance in history. Indeed the close association of men and women in war industry and in war itself added intensity to the discussion of the man-woman relationships to be retained, reshaped, or revolutionized after the war. As always the future shadowed the present.
This was recognized by the War Department. When in 1944, under the authority of the United States Government, it issued its program and booklets of instruction for the education of soldiers at round-table forums, it included one manual sharpened as if by a razor edge to invite a pointed argument: “Do you want your wife to work after the war?” In this suggestion for a warriors’ discussion, one side was represented by the contention that times have changed, that it is good and fitting for women to work, that they are competent in all kinds of jobs, hanker after economic independence, and are likely to hang on to a cash nexus for dear life. On the other side the argument against this thesis maintained that woman’s place is in the home, that her function is child-bearing and rearing, and that men will not stand for her competition with returned veterans. Evidently the United States army felt that it could not omit from the “education” of the American soldier a reminder of woman’s existence in relation to his postwar life and employment.
While men under arms were being encouraged to think of women as competitors, civilians were invited to listen to radio broadcasts, roaring from day to day, week to week, month to month, allegations, declarations, findings, and contentions pertinent to man-woman issues. Through the air sociologists, economists, and reformers, men and women alike, sped their winged words into this verbal contest. By a simple movement of the fingers the great debate came to cabins far from towns, as it came to urban tenements and fine dwellings.
Into cottages and palaces news of the events registered in the great Global War penetrated on sheets of paper – with the daily newspapers, magazines, and books. In their columns and pages were materials dealing with the heroism of men and women amid the exigencies of killing and dying – the legend of war being renewed and intensified by stories of its fantastic current impacts. The vast world beyond the desk, the hearth, the filing case, the blackboard, the professorial chair, the store counter, and the plough or poultry yard was made so vibrant with life unknown in quiet places that the desire to see and be a part of that vaster world seized the minds of countless routineers. The spirit of unrest spread to little schoolhouses, as boys and girls of the most secluded mountain notches and desert wastes caught glimpses of a world they had never imagined to exist outside their story books of Christopher Columbus. The lurid sex pictures in the press heightened the emotions of adolescent youngsters and filled them with longing to break away from the mores of their customary surroundings and escape to the allurements of the cities, the seas, the places beyond the seas where life seemed so abundant in diversities and excitements.
Girls literally in hordes decided that they could live the life of adventure, and by hook or by crook they flocked to war agencies asking for chances to enjoy a run around. If flight to the cities or from the cities to adventures elsewhere could not be managed, they could find it romantically in village movie palaces where sex and war were deliriously united, and made even more delirious than pictures, by “The Voice” crooning to them and orchestras beating out for them the rhythms of emotional ecstasy, or calls to the wild.
Youths of both sexes still privileged to attend colleges were shaken by the repercussions of the Global War and its attendant rising debate over men and women in bounds or out of bounds. Every subject in the collegiate curriculum helped to foment this debate. The purposes of education itself received a more critical examination than ever before in American history. Should men and women be educated alike? Or differently? If alike, for what end? If differently, in what respects?
Many blunt-spoken men decried the whole discussion, while they augmented it by declaring that they, not women, belonged to a subject sex loaded down with family cares and the necessity of toiling long hours and years for wages or incomes from which they received little or nothing for their personal use. If men of this temper were inclined to be imaginative, they added that they might have been “great” if it had not been for their wives and dependents for whom they had to drudge. Or if endowed with dreams of genius they could see themselves as a Henry James, a Leonardo, or a John D. Rockefeller, save for lack of proper support by women dependent upon them or lack of insight on the part of wives unable to assist in raising them to such eminence. Yet, unlike aggrieved women, they could find no consolation in the thought that an amendment to the Constitution of the United States would dear away the barriers and bring their utopia into immediate realization.
In the march of time and of debate on this theme of man and woman, the immensely popular magazine Life undertook an affirmation, January 29, 1945, in a full-page editorial. Said the editors “Of all the social revolutions now abroad in the world, that of the [American] women is the least dynamic, the least predictable, the most aimless and divided – in short the most feminine.” A question was propounded: “Are American women still earning the world’s respect?” The editors answered the question in this fashion: “It may be doubted. As a class, they are today themselves the greatest obstacle to their own advancement... . They are simply ridiculous.”
Why? Enlightenment was offered by Life: “American women have forgotten how women helped to create America and brought their sex worldwide prestige.” The editors refrained from explaining that historians in general had failed to remind men and women about the work of the women who helped to create America. Without dwelling upon that history themselves, they resorted to quotations from Philip Wylie’s Generation of Vipers and Amram Scheinfeld’s Women and Men, two new books of the period.
According to Wylie, “Mom” has become a “jerk.” According to Scheinfeld, woman, a simple child of nature, has been allowed by man’s chivalry “rooted in his nature” to become as dependent as her natural disposition tends to make her. So men must exercise authority over women. How? “Draft them,” said Life, and “we may come to it yet.” Meanwhile it is “too bad that we can’t draft their grandmothers,” since living women are in such a bad state.
Many national women’s organizations had been urging conscription in some form for women. But many women might regard a draft as slavery and the editors of Life tried to meet that objection. “To intelligent women,” they went on, “a draft is not a move to enslave them. On the contrary, it would be a milestone in an age-long progress: their emancipation.” A short time afterward Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt issued a special call for a draft of women and proposed that all women up to the age of sixty-three be included in it.
Certainly the man-woman interest was being advertised everywhere, by means of every medium. Certainly all discussions of human affairs involved it, explicitly or implicitly.
Certainly special and ominous significance was given to the future of man-woman relationships by the mounting preponderance of women over men in Europe and the United States, as measured in numbers. Estimates were admittedly tentative in 1945 but y indicated that there were from eight to ten million more wo en than men in Soviet Russia; three million more women than men in Great Britain; approximately five women to three men in Germany; and in the neighborhood of a million more women than men in the United States. In any case the numerical superiority of women was large enough to arouse alarms and speculations as to its probable effects on the family and every other phase of sex relations in the years at hand.