Lena Morrow Lewis

The Sex and Woman Questions

Source: The Masses, December, 1911;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for marxists.org in 2002.

THE tendency of some people to confound the woman question with the sex question evidences a lack of a scientific knowledge and appreciation of the fundamental principles of the two problems.

There may be a relation between the two, but they are by no means synonymous. Sex is a characteristic of the man as well as the woman and a discussion of it involves both male and female. If the theory of Prof. Lester F. Ward, a sociologist of international reputation be correct, the term THE SEX more properly belongs to man than to woman.

The theory of Prof. Ward is, that the female, principle is the basis, the stock of the race, and that the female, the woman is THE RACE. The male is simply an evolution in the course of nature for the purpose of differentiation, and in the strict biological sense, MAN is the SEX.

But in the world of social and human activities, the position and relation of man and woman is just the reverse. Nor can we credit the difference between the biological position and the popular and general view of woman's place in society to the vagaries of the human mind. An idea or opinion, a viewpoint so thoroughly established as this one must have some justification for its existence, some reason for being or it never could have endured so long. Biological facts cannot be overthrown, but mental viewpoints are largely affected and determined by the economic processes in life, and if we probe deep enough we will find a material basis or ground for all social and mental concepts.

From whence then arises this persistent tendency to confound the woman question with the sex question?

The introduction and establishment of the institution of private property completely changed the status of woman in society. The right of private property carries with it the opportunity to acquire wealth and the desire to transmit the same to future generations. This new economic regime very materially changed the family relation, the father became the head of the household. In order that man may know absolutely who were his own heirs, monogamy became necessary, at least for the woman. The control of the sex power of woman, the disposition on the part of society to regulate the maternal functions, had its origin in the instinctive desire to preserve the institution of private property.

From the position as head of the family or tribe, with the full right to live the life of a human being, woman passed to a limited sphere determined largely by her maternal functions. MARRIAGE BECAME THE ALL-IMPORTANT OBJECT IN WOMAN'S LIFE. Our language evidences this when we use the expression "Man and wife." The word wife only implies a specific relation with one man and is the measure of the woman's existence. No one ever thinks of speaking of a married couple as "Husband and Woman." Woman's position or social status is largely determined by her sex and the importance of controlling said function arose as a necessity for safeguarding and preserving the institution of private property. This disposition to control the sex of woman was further evidenced in the attitude of society toward woman when she attempts to step out into new lines of activity. When the pioneer woman suffrage workers began their work for equal rights the most popular argument brought against them was that they were "immoral women." Only a short time ago we celebrated the centennial anniversary of the birth of the man who first admitted women as clerks in his store in the State of Maine. This man was boycotted and the women employed by him were considered by "respectable" people of that day as "bad" women. Every effort on the part of women to break away from the narrow life determined by her sex or maternal functions is met by bitter opposition.

If the control or regulation of the sex relations of woman grows out of the demands of the institution of private property then it logically follows that the passing of the said institution will remove this necessity and the new order of society enables woman to live the life of a complete human being. Whatever regulation or control of the sex relations society may inaugurate or establish in the system that follows capitalism, will be determined by the economic and social demands of the people at that time. The new economic system toward which we are rapidly passing will develop such social relations as will make for the preservation and progress of society. The ethics of capitalism will disappear with the passing of the institution of private property.

The Co-operative Commonwealth will give us a new and a higher standard of morality.