The Rebel At large

First Steps

THEY lived all together in a wretched suburb. Theodosia said that was one reason why they were so class-conscious. The men all worked in factories owned by one company, and having one common oppressor they made common cause to resist it, standing together as one man.

Their houses had been built by the company and were, therefore, of a uniform ugliness, arranged in parallel rows so close together that there was little room for flowers in front or vegetables in the rear.

Yet Theociosia began by giving them flowers seeds. And she talked to them of the beauty of living noble and complete lives in the most ignoble and incomplete environment.

They accepted the seeds and they listened to her with no outward contempt or discourtesy. They saw that she believed all she said, and perhaps they saw too that she was not quite a fool. She was merely too young to know any better.

When she saw that flowers refused to grow in such soil and that the seeds of her beautiful philosophy fell likewise on stony ground, she spent a few hours in hopeless despair and then looked about her for some other lever with which to lift humanity.

She bought books on sociology and sent to Washington for labor reports. She made frequent visits to the wretched suburb and sought to become really acquainted with them. She won the children's hearts first, and from them she learned much. She sat on doorsteps and talked to the fathers of the children while they smoked their evening pipes, not arrogantly as one who would teach, but rather as one who would learn. She discussed politics with them and child labor laws and trade unionism. She wiped dishes in stuffy kitchens while more than once some careworn, illiterate woman explained to her the process by which she had arrived at conclusions which the most eminent sociologists are only beginning to reach. When you begin to grow discouraged over the condition of women; when to you "her present is an agony and her future a despair," go and talk (or rather listen) to the wives of working men. Discuss with them the most vital problems that touch their lives and the life of the race. Afterward; though woman's present will still be an agony to you, her future will not be a despair.

After a while Theodosia reached some conclusions of her own. The only way to elevate the race is to elevate woman. The way to elevate woman is to set her free. She found out afterward that a good many other people have reached the same conclusion, but at first she experienced the joy of a discoverer.

She spoke of her discovery to a man who seemed fond of discussing social theories with her. She had met him only a few weeks before, but he had called on her several times. He too had been an enthusiast in his early youth, he said. (He was twenty-seven now and world-weary.)

"I am becoming a mere automaton," he told her–she had already classified him as belonging to the species money-making-machine. "It is a long time since I had even thought of these things."

And she felt even sorrier for him than she had felt for the men who worked so hard all day and at night, while they smoked their pipes, laid plans for the betterment of their class.

"You will outgrow this enthusiasm," the man had said, "but while it lasts I envy you. It is the best part of life. Indeed, it is like a renewal of my youth only to talk with you." She had noticed that even the thought of altruism improved him. His eyes lost their cold, calculating look while they talked, and glowed with a fire that was not of the intellect merely, but of the heart. It gave her a glimpse of the man he might have been if the Juggernaut of commercialism had not caught and crushed him into a rut from which he was not strong enough to escape.

That was before she mentioned to him her new conclusion that nothing but the complete emancipation of woman can redeem the race. There came another change in him then–a change that only puzzled her at first. He had been perfectly courteous before. Now he looked her over as if she were a bale of merchandise, the value of which he was calculating. He asked what she meant by the emancipation of woman, but instead of trying to understand the theories she set forth, he interrupted her with other questions, becoming more and more personal. She tried desperately to change the subject, and finally succeeded, but he moved his chair a little nearer and fastened his eyes on her with a look that frightened her. She felt a horrible impression that the man was turning to a beast before her eyes. When at last he told her goodbye he held her hand too long and tried to hold it longer.

She went to her room and cried. Then she wrote to her dearest friend and told her all about it.

"The worst of it is," she ended, "that I hate him. It is a fearful thing to hate. It is like a black pall over everything. I loved everybody before, but I'm afraid I never can again." It was long afterward that she learned to think of such men as some of "our little blind babies, mankind."

She went out and mailed the letter at once. She felt the need of sympathy. Her friend always laughed at her altruistic schemes, but she was a man-hater and would sympathize with her in this latest woe.

She not only sympathized; she gave advice.

"You poor little shorn lamb," she wrote, "the sooner you recognize the fact that man is woman's natural enemy the better it will be for you. This is the rule that has no exceptions. You doubtless think that married men are exceptions, at least so far as their own wives are concerned, but they are not. A man protects his wife as a dog protects a bone–from other dogs, not from himself.

Man is woman's natural enemy. We must keep a little fence built around us all the time and we must stand on guard perpetually. If there is any spot in our armor that seems vulnerable any man who perceives it will attack it. If you would read Brann's Iconoclast (that volume of mine you picked up one day and considered so very shocking) you would know that there is an impression abroad among men who consider themselves intelligent that women like that sort of thing. 'She likes best the male she is compelled to watch,' Brann says, speaking not of any special woman of his acquaintance, but of all womankind. And again, 'tho' she be pure as a vestal virgin of Rome's best days, she secretly despises the man with whom she does not have to stand just a little bit on the defensive.' Considering the indisputable fact that men and women have been reared together in co-educational families for a few thousand years it seems strange that men are still so ignorant.

"All men are alike. They judge you by their own evil thoughts. They think the only liberty women want is the liberty to be as filthy as themselves. Fools! Can't they see that any woman has that liberty now who wishes to take it? If you wish to avoid insult, Dearie, never mention the emancipation of woman to any man unless he is past ninety and your own grandfather.

"The trouble with you is that you believe in everybody. It is better not to believe in anybody. Then you won't be disappointed. Seriously, Theodosia, it isn't any use trying to help humanity. The men aren't worth saving and the women and children can't be saved so long as there are any men in the world...."

If this letter had come promptly it might have demolished Theodosia's already wavering faith in mankind. But it was delayed in the mails, and before it reached her she had already found her way to a "dingy upper room" where every week there assembled a little band of men who certainly were exceptions to some of the sweeping rules laid down by her friend. Men whose avowed object was the emancipation of all the oppressed of earth–including woman. Men who called each other "Comrade" and spoke to her as to one of themselves, with no introduction save the brotherliness in their eyes. Men with whom she could work shoulder to shoulder for the betterment of the race with no thought of fences or armor. If there were among them any wolves in sheep's clothing, she had not yet discovered the fact. She described them all to her friend in glowing terms.

"I wish you could meet them," she wrote. "It is an entirely new and delightful experience. I took two or three girls with me once, but they made fun of their clothes and the way they talk, so I shall not ask them to go again. But I believe you have sufficient intelligence to appreciate them. I am glad you are coming so soon to visit me. You can meet all of them....."

"My dear deluded Theodosia," her friend replied, "your faith in humanity is both pathetic and ludicrous. I know you will spurn my advice, nevertheless I offer it for what it is worth. Keep an eye on those people you believe in. No matter how brotherly they seem they will bear watching.

"And I can't resist giving you another bit of advice – or rather a suggestion. If you must waste your time and talents on humanity, why waste any on the least worthy half of it? Men have had supreme control of every department of social activity for thousands of years. If they aren't satisfied with their condition they have only themselves to blame. Why should you waste the best years of your life trying to help them? Even if you should succeed in doing more for them than they can do for themselves you will never get any thanks for it. Why don't you take up the woman question? It is at least worth working for.

"I have no sympathy whatever with the women who are forever demanding equality with men. I don't want to be on an equality with any man I have ever seen, and if any of them want to be my equals they must come up to my level. I shall not descend to theirs. Nevertheless, if I had your enthusiasm and faith in humankind, I would try to do something to secure justice for woman.

"Women of all classes, from the queen on her throne to the humblest washerwoman, are more or less under the heel of man – but the woman who's under the heel of the man with the hoe probably has the hardest time of it. Do you know that in this state, and a good many others, a man can collect his wife's wages, just as a master could collect his slaves' wages before the war. He can sell all of his wife's clothing–there was actually a case of that sort in our town and the poor woman went to bed and stayed there until her neighbors learned of her plight and sent her some clothes.

"A man can, and often does, sell the sewing machine–his wife's only means of supporting herself and her children–and squanders the money on whiskey and other women. But that is not the worst. In thirty-seven states of the union a married mother has no right to her own children. Her husband can take the child from her breast and send it to a baby farm, or anywhere else, if he pays the cost of its maintenance. If he dies before it is born he can will it to his own relatives or any one else and they can come and take it from her. In one such case the baby was taken to China.

"If the mother in such a case had an ounce of courage and energy she would arm herself with revolvers and bowie-knives and proceed to maintain her natural rights. Most women are such spiritless creatures. They seem made to be trampled under foot. Whenever I come across some saintly creature who is assiduously cultivating the 'slave virtues,' meekness, patience, obedience, resignation (and yet expecting freeborn Americans to treat her as an equal) I feel more contempt for her than for anything else on earth – except dudes.

"However, if a woman marries and expects to live peaceably with her husband she must cultivate some of the slave-virtues. I admit that. I have heard of men – very extraordinary men who do not wish their wives to be slaves, but I don't think I have ever seen any of them.

"You say the economic system is to blame. We are learning to make 'the system' the scapegoat for all the iniquities of man; just as our fathers blamed the orthodox devil for their own faults. The system! It was men who established the system. It is men who uphold the system with ballot and bayonet. It is men who shape ah our laws, customs and institutions for their own pleasure and convenience (not for their own good – they don't know how to do that). It is men who deprive us of every figment of justice, of all power over the conditions that are producing a degenerate race, and then they mock us with the lie that 'there never was a man but was what a woman made him.' It is men who kill the three hundred thousand women who die each year in the ranks of the common prostitutes–murdered by inches. It is men who betray the three hundred thousand girls who must take the places of the slain.' It is men–but I must 'calm myself,' as my sister often advises me to do. You are the only one I ever write to on this subject. I know you understand, even if you do not share, my righteous wrath.

"Of course there is no remedy for these evils. So long as there are men in the world women will be their slaves. Some of us who are stronger or more fortunate than others can live one-sided intellectual lives and pretend to be happy. I think we are better off than any of the others, but I want children. Not the sort of children most women have–born of slavish submission and uncontrolled passion. The mark of the beast is on their faces from the time they open their baby eyes to the light. And people have grown so accustomed to this monstrous wrong that they cannot see. They cannot understand.

"There is only one thing worth living for worth working for – and that is the emancipation of woman. The only reason why I don't work for it is because I have no hope. Women never can be freed....." To this Theodosia answered:

".... I do understand your righteous wrath, but I am very glad to say that I do not share your pessimism. The most that you say is entirely true, but it is not the whole truth. Why do you always assume that all men are alike? It would be just as reasonable to assume that all women are alike, yet there are doubtless women in your own town who could not understand your lofty ideals any more than a Hoottentot could understand Plato.

"I have taken up the woman question, dear. I am working now for all humanity – men, women and children. It seems to me that their interests are identical. I hold that the only way in which women can be freed is by abolishing their economic dependence on men. The basis of all slavery is the slave's dependence on the master for the means of life. So long as women are dependent on men for their bread and butter they can not be free.

"You say that men are to blame for the system and all its wrongs. Suppose you are right, is it any reason why we shouldn't help them right those wrongs? Suppose you saw a lot of little blind children playing with matches and setting their clothing on fire. Would you sit down and fold your hands and say they had no one but themselves to blame for their condition?

"The woman who cultivates the slave virtues is the fittest to survive in a state of slavery. That is why she has survived. I think it was in Tyler's Anthropology that I came across the interesting statement that in a certain stage of savagery the women are killed and eaten as soon as they begin to grow old. The author of the book drew from this fact the interesting conclusion that the women who showed criminal tendencies were probably killed and eaten, too; which would account for the fact that to this day there are fewer women criminals than men. I drew the further conclusion that the women who were rebellious–who did not submit themselves to their husbands as the laws of every man-ruled tribe and nation command, were also killed and eaten, or otherwise discouraged. When you consider what women are today you can not doubt that. The women who practised the slave virtues were the ones who survived and bequeathed those virtues to their descendants. In fact the slave virtues are sometimes spoken of this day as 'feminine virtues.'

"It is true that men are what women make them, though it is unfair to throw on us the whole onus of responsibility for man's degeneracy until we have had a chance to make ourselves what we want to be and also to make his environment, from babyhood to manhood, all that it should be. The men of Turkey are what the women make them, but no one thinks of blaming the women in that case, because they are hedged in by palpable and impassable veils and harem walls. Our hedges are not so gross, but they are none the less real.

"The people who argue against the complete freedom of woman ignore the fact that the countries where women are most submissive are the decadent nations. Yet they know that it is so and that it cannot be otherwise. Such women cannot produce great men.

"Just now press and pulpit and college presidents are wailing and gnashing their teeth over the 'shameful record of the divorce courts.' It is shameful. I know of nothing more shameful under high heaven; but at the same time it is the most hope-inspiring sign of the times.

"There are two ways in which the divorce evil can be cured. One way is to give women perfect freedom and equal access with all earth's children to all the earth's resources. When man is no longer woman's economic superior; when it is not necessary for any woman to sell herself for a home–or for anything else; you know that the only way a man can win a woman will be by making himself so agreeable that she just naturally falls in love with him. And the only way he can keep her will be by continuing to make himself agreeable all his life. Maybe you think that will be a hard task for the average man, but I am not sure of that. When a woman once loves a man enough to marry him she generally overlooks a great many little faults – and sometimes some big ones. The unreasonable and exacting wives are usually the ones who marry from some other motive than love. When all marriages are founded on love; divorce will disappear as naturally as yellow fever disappeared from Havana when the cause was removed.

There is only one other way in which we can eradicate divorce in this country. That is by killing off all the American women, or colonizing them on some distant island, and importing women from Turkey or China to take their place. That would not wholly eradicate divorce; but it would come nearer it than anything else ever can while this system lasts. Of course, it would put an end to progress, but so would any of the various methods that are proposed of tying down the safety valve – if they succeeded. When American women cease to rebel and become satisfied with slavery, America will take her place among the stagnant and decaying peoples.

"However, it seems unlikely that the established order can ever get the safety valve tied down. The experience of the European nations where divorce is prohibited seems to indicate that such effort is as futile as it is absurd. When women must form indissoluble marriages of convenience they proceed to form other ties of preference. I think I hear you saying that if they had sufficient courage they would rebel openly against the marriages of convenience. They assuredly would, but they can't help being weak, slavish creatures. And so they choose the well-trodden ways of cowardice and hypocrisy instead of the rugged path of revolt. It is so much safer to be a hypocrite than to be a rebel.

"I am inclined to think that we will adept the first method of solving the divorce problem–the only sane method. Already I hear the rumble of the coming revolution – a revolution not of blood and bullets, but of ideas and ballots. The revolution that shall break every yoke and let the oppressed go free.

"Then when women are free and happy their children will be free and happy. If men only knew how much they miss of the joy of life because of the misery of their mothers–but they don't know and never can.

"When the darkness of ignorance has been lifted from the human mind, when want or the fear of want is no longer the nightmare of the masses, when all men are brothers and all women are sisters, the race will move higher. I do not prophesy perfection; but it is not unreasonable to hope that human beings may at least be as happy as the birds of the air, and as virtuous as the beasts of the field. I am not speaking cynically, but seriously, when I say that that will be a great improvement over their present condition. Sometimes I even dare to dream of perfect harmony and happiness for mankind in the Earthly Paradise. It may be that the dream will come true, but I shall not see it...." With this hope we may as well end the story, for it is pleasanter than any subsequent event in the lives of the people herein described.