Dora B. Montefiore, New Age January 1903

Women’s Interests

The Curse of Cybele.

Source: New Age, p.26-7, 8 January 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

What gives, from a democratic standpoint, the value to Mr. Stead’s journalistic work is that he possesses the power of offering in a popular form his sugar-coated pills of wholesome thought, which in any other disguise would be rejected by people whose mental digestion has been seriously impaired by a long continued surfeit of “literature” of the “Tit-Bits” and “Answers” quality. In Our Midst, The latest publication from Mowbray House, is perhaps a supreme instance of the successful sugar-coating of a pill which John Bull will have to take sooner or later, but which, up till now, he has only taken under extreme compulsion, and with many a wry face. Callicrates, the Prime Minister of a country in the centre of South Africa, where Matriarchal customs still prevail, is travelling through modern England, and taking full and outspoken notes on all he sees and hears. Before landing on the shore of England he was totally uninitiated into the benefits of Western civilisation, and much which custom and tradition have sanctified for us, seems to him senseless, worthless, and hypocritical. “Hence” as he writes to his Queen, Dione, to study the institutions of the English is like wandering in a maze, in which there sign-posts all pointing in the opposite direction to that which you should go.” Mr. Stead has caused each letter or chapter to be appropriately illustrated, with the hope of further tempting those who will not read a pamphlet, or an educational article, to glance at the letter-press, which explains the illustrations. Particularly interesting are the reproductions of the statues of Cybele, the Divine Mother, and of one of the Amazonian frontier guards of Xanthia. The chapter dealing with the legislative and governmental customs of the English is illustrated with a portrait of the Chief Counsellor of the King, with his chariot (what a pity Callicrates did not come across another portrait of the same Chief Counsellor on the links, striking the resilient ball), and of the Great Council Hall of the English, in which no woman may sit. Summing up his account of England, which is supposed to be governed by Representatives selected by a majority of the people, Callicrates ends with a bewildered outburst, warning Dione not to imagine therefore that the majority can make what laws it pleases: “Those who think this know little of the marvellous ingenuity of the English people, which is displayed in nothing so much as in the subtle contrivances by which all government can be paralysed, Sometimes, when I have meditated long upon this strange spectacle, the thought has occurred to me that the Divine Mother, angered by the exclusion of the mothers of England from all share in the government of the land, has placed a worm in the brain of the dominant male, so that while he monopolises all power, he is paralysed in its exercise.”

The Abasement of Women.

Though this theme of England’s abasement of her women runs like a thread through all the letters, and Callicrates is constantly contrasting the results of the Matriarchate and of the Patriarchate, one letter is devoted entirely to the subject, and an illustration is given of the women garbage pickers in London, busied at their revolting but enforced work. Women among us, he points out, are degraded both in their supreme profession of Motherhood, which though extolled by lip-worship as an ideal, is ruthlessly trampled under foot in the reality.

“But what else can be expected,” says the bewildered South African enquirer, “as the result of having taught for centuries that Woman was the gate of Hell, and that the instinct by which the Divine Mother has implanted in all her daughters, part of her own creative power, was the token of perdition, a curse inherited at the Fall?” A neat little bit of satire is where Callicrates recounts that “always upon enquiry, I found that ‘essentially unwomanly’ is the formula describing the occupations which are most highly paid ..... The stronger man with the lighter work receives the highest wages, while the weaker woman with the harder work receives the lowest wage. Such is the justice of the English!” My women readers might do some good “spade-work” by buying half a dozen copies of In Our Midst, and lending them to those among their friends whose minds are lying fallow, or choked with the weeds of self-complacent patriotism.

An Open Letter.

I would not wish to appear lacking in interest by neglecting a word of reply to the very courteously expressed “Open Lette” addressed to me in last week’s NEW AGE by Miss Beeby; but I find it would be impossible and unprofitable to discuss the subject in detail in the pages of a newspaper, first, because her sanction of morality and mine differ radically (Miss Beeby’s, I gather, being superimposed by an outside power, mine being deep-seated in the needs and the upward evolution of the race). And secondly, because I desired only to enunciate the principle which should guide our conduct in the restraining of the worst criminal tendencies, not to advocate wholesale mutilation of adults, as Miss Beeby seems to understand. To one point in her remarks I will, however, reply: which is, that “many thinkers now hold that evil and good tendencies are by no means transmitted with the certainty formerly believed in.” I would point out that breeders of race-horses and of stock do not seem to have modified or changed their course of action in their selection of dams and sires in consequence of this unproved theory. On the contrary, the unsound, the vicious tempered, and the buck-jumper are rigidly excluded from the breeder’s stable and paddock. Should we, as a conscious community do less, where higher interests are concerned?