Dora B. Montefiore, New Age December 1904

Women’s Interests

Mr. Alfred Marks’s Difficulty.

Source: New Age, p.778, 8 December 1904;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

I read Mr. Alfred Marks’s letter of November 24, and made a note at the time to write a short “par” in reply, but the Convention taking place as it did on the 25th and 26th, it seemed to me that it was of paramount importance to convey to country readers who could not be present some impressions of what took place at a series of meetings likely to prove of such vital and far-reaching importance, to women’s highest interests. A copy of THE NEW AGE (scored with peremptory blue pencillings all along Mr. Marks’s letter) which reached me early in the week, recalled me, however, to a sense of my neglected duty, and I hasten to apologise to all and sundry who may be awaiting my reply to Mr. Marks’s courteously worded “poser.” In the first place, it appears to me that Mr. Marks bases his arguments of a possible clash of wills after the declaration of the results of a poll in which a discontented minority felt a desire to appeal to the remedy of brute force on the assumption that, in the imaginary case cited (or in other similar cases), all, or, at least a very preponderating majority of women, would vote on one side. Surely the common-sense view of the matter would be that as women’s interests and women’s class and theological tendencies are as diverse and as various as are men’s, therefore their manner of expressing through the vote these various tendencies will be equally diverse. Let Mr. Marks try the experiment of discussing with women belonging to different classes and groups of interests this question of fiscal policy which convulses at present the thoughts and opinions of men; he will, as a result, find that there are women Free Traders, women Fair Traders, and women Protectionists, all, more or less able to give a reason for the faith that is in them. There is every presumption, therefore, that when the time comes for the disestablishment of Church and State (the test case which Mr. Marks mentions) we shall find (let us hope among the electorate) women defenders of the existing establishment, with women Nonconformists and women Rationalists, equally bent on its destruction.

An Underlying Fallacy.

I cannot help feeling, also, that Mr. Marks, when he comes to reconsider the “difficulty,” he has raised, as to the “placing of political power in the hands of non-combatants,” will perceive that he has based his “difficulty” on the fallacy that all men voters are combatants, and that all existing political and social institutions rest on the actual fisticuff power possessed by the upholders of such institutions. I would ask Mr. Marks in the friendliest spirit whether, in the possible event of an outbreak of civil war in consequence of a discontented minority of which he formed a part resorting to an appeal to arms, he would himself be prepared to defend his political convictions on the field of battle? I take it he would more probably content himself (as would the vast majority of men not trained to arms) with providing the financial sinews of war, and paying other men to act as targets – which is the main business of the rank and file of the present day. I myself, of course, as a woman non-combatant, should do the same as I imagine Mr. Marks doing; and I fancy our two individual cases would be fair samples of what would be the action of the main portion of the collectivity. The day has gone by for the knight and squire to don armour, and, leaving his “secluded womenfolk” at home, ride forth to defend his and their faiths and ambitions. The knights, the squires, the retainers, and their women folk of the present day all pay, directly or indirectly, King’s taxes, and they expect in return a more or less efficient supply of fighting men to act as khaki targets, and defend the faiths and ambitions of the payers. That is to say, the men-payers get that defence under existing conditions; the women-payers get nothing, and try and look pleasant over it. I, personally, have no objection to paying my share towards Imperial taxation, but I like to get some sort of value for my money ! I object, in exchange for good coin of the realm, to receive Brodrickian Army Schemes, which are really not worth the paper on which they are printed. If the time ever comes when the opinions of the minority to which I belong demand an appeal to dynamite and Gatling guns, I trust I should be able to do my duty to those opinions (although a life-long non-combatant) by subscribing my humble share towards paying Oyama, Kuroki, and Togo to hurry up with their newest Army Corps and first-class line of battleships to defend them. As I said before, I have an old-fashioned prejudice in favour of getting the best value for my money; and Japan is certainly at the present moment making the best display in “the season’s novelties” in the toy soldier line.

The Public Meeting at the Women’s Convention.

There were two or three excellent speeches made at the Saturday public meeting of the Women’s Convention. It was held on Saturday afternoon, so that working men and women might have an opportunity of attending; but, if working women are to be attracted in large numbers, some East End Hall must in the future be chosen, and the meeting must be better advertised among working-class organisations. I wish large numbers of working women had been there to hear the very astute and sensible advice given by Mr. Yoxall, M.P., to political workers in favour of the women’s emancipation Bill, now before Parliament. He tried to show them how useless it was merely to be in favour of Woman Suffrage without working for it by every means in our power. He told how long and devious were the windings of Parliamentary procedure; how members needed not only convincing but reminding that their constituents needed and demanded earnestly certain reforms. That we must be concise and united in our demand, not vague, unpractical, and uncertain. That Parliamentary liberties were won step by step by a slow process of evolution, not in large and overpowering instalments. The measure now before the House, as Mrs. Elmy pointed out in her speech the day before, is one of practical politics, and when passed will enfranchise all women now on the Parliamentary register as municipal voters. That register includes in Scotland and Ireland the lodger, and service franchise, and, if has been calculated, would give throughout the United, Kingdom about one in every six adult women a vote. This, of course, means that a percentage of working women would vote, just as a percentage of working men do now. Mr. Yoxall concluded his speech by saying he could not understand how any man who had passed through the various phases of life, who remembered a mother, who cherished the recollection of a sweetheart, who worked side by side with a wife, who was proud of a daughter, could refuse such a measure of Justice as of the removal of sex disabilities. If any man was found still opposing such removal, it surely argued either that his relations with members of the other sex had been singularly unfortunate, or that he was unworthy of having any relations with them whatsoever.