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Title: Marriage as a Trade
Author: Hamilton, Cicely
Language: English
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                      Marriage as a Trade


                            CICELY HAMILTON

                     AUTHOR OF “DIANA OF DOBSON’S”

                       [Illustration: Colophon]

                               NEW YORK

                       MOFFAT, YARD AND COMPANY


                          COPYRIGHT, 1909, BY

                       MOFFAT, YARD AND COMPANY

                               New York

                         _All Rights Reserved_

                      THE QUINN & BODEN CO. PRESS
                        RAHWAY, N. J., U. S. A.


The only excuse for this book is the lack of books on the subject with
which it deals—the trade aspect of marriage. That is to say, wifehood
and motherhood considered as a means of livelihood for women.

I shall not deny for an instant that there are aspects of matrimony
other than the trade aspect; but upon these there is no lack of a very
plentiful literature—the love of man and woman has been written about
since humanity acquired the art of writing.

The love of man and woman is, no doubt, a thing of infinite importance;
but also of infinite importance is the manner in which woman earns her
bread and the economic conditions under which she enters the family and
propagates the race. Thus an inquiry into the circumstances under which
the wife and mother plies her trade seems to me quite as necessary
and justifiable as an inquiry into the conditions of other and less
important industries—such as mining or cotton-spinning. It will not be
disputed that the manner in which a human being earns his livelihood
tends to mould and influence his character—to warp or to improve it.
The man who works amidst brutalizing surroundings is apt to become
brutal; the man from whom intelligence is demanded is apt to exercise
it. Particular trades tend to develop particular types; the boy who
becomes a soldier will not turn out in all respects the man he would
have been had he decided to enter a stockbroker’s office. In the same
way the trade of marriage tends to produce its own particular type, and
my contention is that woman, as we know her, is largely the product of
the conditions imposed upon her by her staple industry.

I am not of those who are entirely satisfied with woman as she is; on
the contrary, I consider that we are greatly in need of improvement,
mental, physical and moral. And it is because I desire such
improvement—not only in our own interests but in that of the race in
general—that I desire to see an alteration in the conditions of our
staple industry. I have no intention of attacking the institution of
marriage in itself—the life companionship of man and woman; I merely
wish to point out that there are certain grave disadvantages attaching
to that institution as it exists to-day. These disadvantages I believe
to be largely unnecessary and avoidable; but at present they are very
the mental, physical and moral development of women.



The sense of curiosity is, as a rule, aroused in us only by the
unfamiliar and the unexpected. What custom and long usage has made
familiar we do not trouble to inquire into but accept without comment
or investigation; confusing the actual with the inevitable, and
deciding, slothfully enough, that the thing that is, is likewise the
thing that was and is to be. In nothing is this inert and slothful
attitude of mind more marked than in the common, unquestioning
acceptance of the illogical and unsatisfactory position occupied by
women. And it is the prevalence of that attitude of mind which is
the only justification for a book which purports to be nothing more
than the attempt of an unscientific woman to explain, honestly and
as far as her limitations permit, the why and wherefore of some of
the disadvantages under which she and her sisters exist—the reason
why their place in the world into which they were born is often so
desperately and unnecessarily uncomfortable.

I had better, at the outset, define the word “woman” as I understand
and use it, since it is apt to convey two distinct and differing
impressions, according to the sex of the hearer. My conception of woman
is inevitably the feminine conception; a thing so entirely unlike the
masculine conception of woman that it is eminently needful to define
the term and make my meaning clear; lest, when I speak of woman in
my own tongue, my reader, being male, translate the expression, with
confusion as the result.

By a woman, then, I understand an individual human being whose life
is her own concern; whose worth, in my eyes (worth being an entirely
personal matter) is in no way advanced or detracted from by the
accident of marriage; who does not rise in my estimation by reason of a
purely physical capacity for bearing children, or sink in my estimation
through a lack of that capacity. I am quite aware, of course, that her
life, in many cases, will have been moulded to a great extent by the
responsibilities of marriage and the care of children; just as I am
aware that the lives of most of the men with whom I am acquainted have
been moulded to a great extent by the trade or profession by which they
earn their bread. But my judgment of her and appreciation of her are
a personal judgment and appreciation, having nothing to do with her
actual or potential relations, sexual or maternal, with other people.
In short, I never think of her either as a wife or as a mother—I
separate the woman from her attributes. To me she is an entity in
herself; and if, on meeting her for the first time, I inquire whether
or no she is married, it is only because I wish to know whether I am to
address her as Mrs. or Miss.

That, frankly and as nearly as I can define it, is my attitude towards
my own sex; an attitude which, it is almost needless to say, I should
not insist upon if I did not believe that it was fairly typical and
that the majority of women, if they analyzed their feelings on the
subject, would find that they regarded each other in much the same way.

It is hardly necessary to point out that the mental attitude of the
average man towards woman is something quite different from this. It
is a mental attitude reminding one of that of the bewildered person
who could not see the wood for the trees. To him the accidental factor
in woman’s life is the all-important and his conception of her has
never got beyond her attributes—and certain only of these. As far
as I can make out, he looks upon her as something having a definite
and necessary physical relation to man; without that definite and
necessary relation she is, as the cant phrase goes “incomplete.” That
is to say, she is not woman at all—until man has made her so. Until
the moment when he takes her in hand she is merely the raw material of
womanhood—the undeveloped and unfinished article.

Without sharing in the smallest degree this estimate of her own
destiny, any fair-minded woman must admit its advantages from the point
of view of the male—must sympathize with the pleasurable sense of
importance, creative power, even of artistry, which such a conviction
must impart. To take the imperfect and undeveloped creature and, with
a kiss upon her lips and a ring upon her finger, to make of her a
woman, perfect and complete—surely a prerogative almost divine in its
magnificence, most admirable, most enviable!

It is this consciousness, expressed or unexpressed, (frequently the
former) of his own supreme importance in her destiny that colours every
thought and action of man towards woman. Having assumed that she is
incomplete without him, he draws the quite permissible conclusion that
she exists only for the purpose of attaining to completeness through
him—and that where she does not so attain to it, the unfortunate
creature is, for all practical purposes, non-existent. To him womanhood
is summed up in one of its attributes—wifehood, or its unlegalized
equivalent. Language bears the stamp of the idea that woman is a wife,
actually, or in embryo. To most men—perhaps to all—the girl is some
man’s wife that is to be; the married woman some man’s wife that is;
the widow some man’s wife that was; the spinster some man’s wife that
should have been—a damaged article, unfit for use, unsuitable.
Therefore a negligible quantity.

I have convinced myself, by personal observation and inquiry, that
my description of the male attitude in this respect is in no way
exaggerated. It has, for instance, fallen to my lot, over and over
again, to discuss with men—most of them distinctly above the average
in intelligence—questions affecting the welfare and conditions of
women. And over and over again, after listening to their views for five
minutes or so, I have broken in upon them and pulled them up with the
remark that they were narrowing down the subject under discussion—that
what they were considering was not the claim of women in general, but
the claim of a particular class—the class of wives and mothers. I may
add that the remark has invariably been received with an expression of
extreme astonishment. And is it not on record that Henley once dashed
across a manuscript the terse pronouncement, “I take no interest in
childless women”? Comprehensive; and indicating a confusion in the
author’s mind between the terms woman and breeding-machine. Did it
occur to him, I wonder, that the poor objects of his scorn might
venture to take some interest in themselves? Probably he did not credit
them with so much presumption.

The above has, I hope, explained in how far my idea of woman differs
from male ideas on the same subject and has also made it clear that I
do not look upon women as persons whose destiny it is to be married.
On the contrary, I hold, and hold very strongly, that the narrowing
down of woman’s hopes and ambitions to the sole pursuit and sphere of
marriage is one of the principal causes of the various disabilities,
economic and otherwise, under which she labours to-day. And I hold,
also, that this concentration of all her hopes and ambitions on the
one object was, to a great extent, the result of artificial pressure,
of unsound economic and social conditions—conditions which forced her
energy into one channel, by the simple expedient of depriving it of
every other outlet, and made marriage practically compulsory.

To say the least of it, marriage is no more essentially necessary to
woman than to man—one would imagine that it was rather the other way
about. There are a good many drawbacks attached to the fulfilment of
a woman’s destiny; in an unfettered state of existence it is possible
that they might weigh more heavily with her than they can do at
present—being balanced, and more than balanced, by artificial means.
I am inclined to think that they would. The institution of marriage by
capture, for instance, has puzzled many inquirers into the habits of
primitive man. It is often, I believe, regarded as symbolic; but why
should it not point to a real reluctance to be reduced to permanent
servitude on the part of primitive woman—a reluctance comprehensible
enough, since, primitive woman’s wants being few and easily supplied by
herself, there was no need for her to exchange possession of her person
for the means of existence?

It is Nietzsche, if I remember rightly, who has delivered himself of
the momentous opinion that everything in woman is a riddle, and that
the answer to the riddle is child-bearing. Child-bearing certainly
explains some qualities in woman—for instance, her comparative
fastidiousness in sexual relations—but not all. If it did, there
would be no riddle—yet Nietzsche admits that one exists. Nor is
he alone in his estimate of the “mysterious” nature of woman; her
unfathomable and erratic character, her peculiar aptitude for appearing
“uncertain, coy, and hard to please,” has been insisted upon time after
time—insisted upon alike as a charm and a deficiency. A charm because
of its unexpected, a deficiency because of its unreasonable, quality.
Woman, in short, is not only a wife and mother, but a thoroughly
incomprehensible wife and mother.

Now it seems to me that a very simple explanation of this mystery which
perpetually envelops our conduct and impulses can be found in the fact
that the fundamental natural laws which govern them have never been
ascertained or honestly sought for. Or rather—since the fundamental
natural laws which govern us are the same large and simple laws which
govern other animals, man included—though they have been ascertained,
the masculine intellect has steadfastly and stubbornly refused to admit
that they can possibly apply to us in the same degree as to every other
living being. As a substitute for these laws, he suggests explanations
of his own—for the most part flattering to himself. He believes,
apparently, that we live in a world apart, governed by curious customs
and regulations of our own—customs and regulations which “have no
fellow in the universe.” Once the first principle of natural law was
recognized as applying to us, we should cease to be so unfathomable,
erratic, and unexpected to the wiseacres and poets who spend their
time in judging us by rule of thumb, and expressing amazement at the
unaccountable and contradictory results.

I do not know whether it is essentially impossible for man to
approach us in the scientific spirit, but it has not yet been done.
(To approach motherhood or marriage in the scientific spirit is, of
course, not in the least the same thing.) His attitude towards us
has been by turns—and sometimes all at once—adoring, contemptuous,
sentimental, and savage—anything, in short, but open-minded and
deductive. The result being that different classes, generations, and
peoples have worked out their separate and impressionistic estimates
of woman’s meaning in the scheme of things—the said estimates
frequently clashing with those of other classes, generations, and
people. The Mahometan, for instance, after careful observation from
his point of view, decided that she was flesh without a soul, and to
be treated accordingly; the troubadour seems to have found in her a
spiritual incentive to aspiration in deed and song. The early Fathers
of the Church, who were in the habit of giving troubled and nervous
consideration to the subject, denounced her, at spasmodic intervals,
as sin personified. What the modern man understands by woman I have
already explained; and he further expects his theory to materialize and
embody itself in a being who combines the divergent qualities of an
inspiration and a good general servant. He is often disappointed.

All these are rule of thumb definitions, based on insufficient
knowledge and inquiry, which, each in its turn, has been accepted,
acted upon, and found wanting. Each of the generations and classes
mentioned—and many more beside—has worked out its own theory of
woman’s orbit (round man); and has subsequently found itself in the
position of the painstaking astronomer who, after having mapped the
pathway of a newly-discovered heavenly body to his own satisfaction,
suddenly finds his calculations upset, and the heavenly body swerving
off through space towards some hitherto unexpected centre of
attraction. The theory of the early Fathers was upset before it was
enunciated—for sin personified had wept at the foot of the Cross, and
men adored her for it. The modern angel with the cookery-book under
her wing has expressed an open and pronounced dislike to domestic
service, and cheerfully discards her wings to fight her way into the
liberal professions. And those who hold fast to the Nietzschean theory
that motherhood is the secret and justification of woman’s existence,
must be somewhat bewildered by latter-day episcopal lamentations
over the unwillingness of woman to undergo the pains and penalties
of childbirth, and by the reported intention of an American State
Legislature to stimulate a declining birth-rate by the payment of
one dollar for each child born. One feels that the strength of an
instinct that has, in an appreciable number of cases, to be stimulated
by the offer of four shillings and twopence must have been somewhat
overestimated. No wonder woman is a mystery in her unreliability; she
has broken every law of her existence, and does so day by day.

As a matter of fact, the various explanations which have been given
for woman’s existence can be narrowed down to two—her husband and her
child. Male humanity has wobbled between two convictions—the one,
that she exists for the entire benefit of contemporary mankind; the
other, that she exists for the entire benefit of the next generation.
The latter is at present the favourite. One consideration only male
humanity has firmly refused to entertain—that she exists in any degree
whatsoever for the benefit of herself. In consequence, woman is the
one animal from whom he demands that it shall deviate from, and act in
defiance of, the first law of nature—self-preservation.

It seems baldly ridiculous, of course, to state in so many words that
that first and iron law applies to women as well as to men, birds, and
beetles. No one in cold blood or cold ink would contradict the obvious
statement; but all the same, I maintain that I am perfectly justified
in asserting that the average man does mentally and unconsciously
except the mass of women from the workings of that universal law.

To give a simple and familiar instance. Year by year there crops up in
the daily newspapers a grumbling and sometimes acrid correspondence
on the subject of the incursion of women into a paid labour market
formerly monopolized by their brothers. (The unpaid labour market, of
course, has always been open to them.) The tone taken by the objector
is instructive and always the same. It is pointed out to us that we are
working for less than a fair wage; that we are taking the bread out
of the mouths of men; that we are filching the earnings of a possible
husband and thereby lessening, or totally destroying, our chances of

The first objection is, of course, legitimate, and is shared by the
women to whom it applies; from the others one can only infer that it is
an impertinence in a woman to be hungry, and that, in the opinion of a
large number of persons who write to the newspapers, the human female
is a creature capable of living on air and the hopes of a possible
husband. The principle that it is impolite to mention a certain organ
of the body which requires to be replenished two or three times a
day is, in the case of a woman, carried so far that it is considered
impolite of her even to possess that organ; and as a substitute for the
wages wherewith she buys food to fill it, she is offered the lifting
of a hat and the resignation of a seat in a tramcar. She rejects the
offer, obeys the first law of nature, and is rebuked for it—the human
male, bred in the conviction that she lives for him alone, standing
aghast. Some day he will discover that woman does not support life only
in order to obtain a husband, but frequently obtains a husband only in
order to support life.

The above is, to my mind, a clear and familiar instance of the manner
in which man is accustomed to take for granted our exemption from a
law from which there is no exemption. It matters not whether or no
he believes, in so many words, that we need not eat in order that we
may not die; the point is, that he acts as if he believed it. (The
extreme reluctance of local authorities to spend any of the money at
their disposal on unemployed women is a case in point. It would be
ridiculous to ascribe it to animosity towards the women themselves—it
must arise, therefore, from a conviction that the need of the foodless
woman is not so pressing as the need of the foodless man.) And it is
because I have so often come in contact with the state of mind that
makes such delusions possible, that I have thought it necessary to
insist on the fact that self-preservation is the first law of our
being. The purpose of race-preservation, which is commonly supposed
to be the excuse for our existence, is, and must be, secondary and
derivative; it is quite impossible for a woman to bring children into
the world unless she has first obtained the means of supporting her own
life. How to eat, how to maintain existence, is the problem that has
confronted woman, as well as man, since the ages dawned for her. Other
needs and desires may come later; but the first call of life is for the
means of supporting it.

To support life it is necessary to have access to the fruits of the
earth, either directly—as in the case of the agriculturist—or
indirectly, and through a process of exchange as the price of work
done in other directions. And in this process of exchange woman,
as compared with her male fellow-worker, has always been at a
disadvantage. The latter, even where direct access to the earth was
denied to him, has usually been granted some measure of choice as to
the manner in which he would pay for the necessities the earth produced
for him—that is to say, he was permitted to select the trade by which
he earned his livelihood. From woman, who has always been far more
completely excluded from direct access to the necessities of life, who
has often been barred, both by law and by custom, from the possession
of property, one form of payment was demanded, and one only. It was
demanded of her that she should enkindle and satisfy the desire of the
male, who would thereupon admit her to such share of the property he
possessed or earned as should seem good to him. In other words, she
exchanged, by the ordinary process of barter, possession of her person
for the means of existence.

Whether such a state of things is natural or unnatural I do not pretend
to say; but it is, I understand, peculiar to women, having no exact
counterpart amongst the females of other species. Its existence, at
any rate, justifies us in regarding marriage as essentially (from the
woman’s point of view) a commercial or trade undertaking. By marriage
she earned her bread; and as the instinct of self-preservation drove
man forth to hunt, to till the soil, to dig beneath it—to cultivate
his muscles and his brain so that he might get the better of nature and
his rivals—so brute necessity and the instinct of self-preservation
in woman urged and enjoined on her the cultivation of those narrow and
particular qualities of mind and body whereby desire might be excited
and her wage obtained.

A man who was also a poet has thoughtfully explained that

    “Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart,
      ’Tis woman’s whole existence.”

(It must be very pleasant to be a man and to entertain that
conviction.) Translated into feminine and vulgar prose, the effusion
runs something like this—

The housekeeping trade is the only one open to us—so we enter the
housekeeping trade in order to live. This is not always quite the same
as entering the housekeeping trade in order to love.

No one can imagine that it is the same who has ever heard one haggard,
underpaid girl cry to another, in a burst of bitter confidence—

“I would marry any one, to get out of this.”

Which, if one comes to think of it, is hard on “any one.”


If I am right in my view that marriage for woman has always been not
only a trade, but a trade that is practically compulsory, I have at
the same time furnished an explanation of the reason why women, as a
rule, are so much less romantic than men where sexual attraction is
concerned. Where the man can be single-hearted, the woman necessarily
is double-motived. It is, of course, the element of commerce and
compulsion that accounts for this difference of attitude; an impulse
that may have to be discouraged, nurtured or simulated to order—that
is, at any rate, expected, for commercial or social reasons to put
in an appearance as a matter of course and at the right and proper
moment—can never have the same vigor, energy and beauty as an impulse
that is unfettered and unforced.

More than once in my life I have been struck by the beauty of a man’s
honest conception and ideal of love and marriage—a conception and
ideal which one comes across in unexpected and unlikely persons and
which is by no means confined to those whose years are still few in
number and whose hearts are still hot within them. Only a few weeks ago
I heard an elderly gentleman of scientific attainments talk something
which, but for its sincerity, would have seemed to me sheer sentimental
balderdash concerning the relations of men and women. And from other
equally respectable gentlemen I have heard opinions that were beautiful
as well as honest on the relations of the sexes, of a kind that no
woman, being alone with another woman, would ever venture to utter.
For we see the thing differently. I am not so foolish as to imagine
that theory and practice in this or any other matter are in the habit
of walking hand in hand; I know that for men the word love has two
different meanings, and therefore I should be sorry to have to affirm
on oath that the various gentlemen who have, at various times, favoured
me with their views on the marriage question have one and all lived up
to their convictions; but at least their conception of the love and
duty owed by man and woman to each other was a high one, honourable,
not wanting in reverence, not wanting in romance. Over and over again
I have heard women unreticent enough upon the same subject; but, when
they spoke their hearts, the picturesque touch—the flash and fire of
romance—was never nearly so strong and sometimes altogether absent.

And I have never seen love—the sheer passionate and personal
delight in and worship of a being of the other sex—so vividly and
uncontrollably expressed on the face of a woman as on the face of a
man. I have with me, as one of the things not to be forgotten, the
memory of a cheap foreign hotel where, two or three years back, a
little Cockney clerk was making holiday in worshipful attendance on the
girl he was engaged to. At table I used to watch him, being very sure
that he had no eyes for me; and once or twice I had the impulse that
I should like to speak to him and thank him for what he had shown me.
I have seen women in love time after time, but none in whom the fire
burned as it burned in him—consumedly. I used to hope his Cockney
goddess would have understanding at least to reverence the holy thing
that passed the love of women....

How should it be otherwise—this difference in the attitude of man
and woman in their relations to each other? To make them see and
feel more alike in the matter, the conditions under which they live
and bargain must be made more alike. With even the average man love
and marriage may be something of a high adventure, entered upon
whole-heartedly and because he so desires. With the average woman it
is not a high adventure—except in so far as adventure means risk—but
a destiny or necessity. If not a monetary necessity, then a social.
(How many children, I wonder, are born each year merely because their
mothers were afraid of being called old maids? One can imagine no
more inadequate reason for bringing a human being into the world.)
The fact that her destiny, when he arrives, may be all that her heart
desires and deserves does not prevent him from being the thing that,
from her earliest years, she had, for quite other reasons, regarded as
inevitable. Quite consciously and from childhood the “not impossible
he” is looked upon, not simply as an end desirable in himself, but
as a means of subsistence. The marriageable man may seek his elective
affinity until he find her; the task of the marriageable woman is
infinitely more complicated, since her elective affinity has usually to
be combined with her bread and butter. The two do not always grow in
the same place.

What is the real, natural and unbiased attitude of woman towards love
and marriage, it is perfectly impossible for even a woman to guess
at under present conditions, and it will continue to be impossible
for just so long as the natural instincts of her sex are inextricably
interwoven with, thwarted and deflected by, commercial considerations.
When—if ever—the day of woman’s complete social and economic
independence dawns upon her, when she finds herself free and upright
in a new world where no artificial pressure is brought to bear upon
her natural inclinations or disinclinations, then, and then only, will
it be possible to untwist a tangled skein and judge to what extent
and what precise degree she is swayed by those impulses, sexual and
maternal, which are now, to the exclusion of every other factor,
presumed to dominate her existence. And not only to dominate, but to
justify it. (A presumption, by the way, which seems to ignore the
fact—incompatible, surely, with the theory of “incompleteness”—that
celibacy irks the woman less than it does the man.)

What, one wonders, would be the immediate result if the day of
independence and freedom from old restrictions were to dawn suddenly
and at once? Would it be to produce, at first and for a time, a
rapid growth amongst all classes of women of that indifference to,
and almost scorn of, marriage which is so marked a characteristic of
the—alas, small—class who can support themselves in comfort by work
which is congenial to them? Perhaps—for a time, until the revulsion
was over and things righted themselves. (I realize, of course, that
it is quite impossible for a male reader to accept the assertion
that any one woman, much less any class of women, however small its
numbers, can be indifferent to or scornful of marriage—which would be
tantamount to admitting that she could be indifferent to, or scornful
of, himself.—What follows, therefore, can only appear to him as an
ineffectual attempt on the part of an embittered spinster to explain
that the grapes are sour; and he is courteously requested to skip to
the end of the chapter. It would be lost labour on my part to seek
to disturb his deep-rooted conviction that all women who earn decent
incomes in intelligent and interesting ways are too facially unpleasant
to be placed at the head of a dinner-table. I shall not attempt
to disturb that conviction; I make it a rule never to attempt the
impossible.) This new-born attitude of open indifference and contempt,
while perhaps appearing strained and unnatural, is, it seems to me, a
natural one enough for women whose daily lives have falsified every
tradition in which they were born and bred.

For the tradition handed down from generations to those girl children
who now are women grown was, with exceptions few and far between, the
one tradition of marriage—marriage as inevitable as lessons and far
more inevitable than death. Ordering dinner and keeping house: that
we knew well, and from our babyhood was all the future had to give to
us. For the boys there would be other things; wherefore our small
hearts bore a secret grudge against Almighty God that He had not
made us boys—since their long thoughts were our long thoughts, and
together we wallowed in cannibals and waxed clamorous over engines. For
them, being boys, there might be cannibals and engines in the world
beyond; but for us—oh, the flat sameness of it!—was nothing but a
husband, ordering dinner and keeping house. Therefore we dreamed of a
settler for a husband, and of assisting him to shoot savages with a
double-barrelled gun. So might the round of household duties be varied
and most pleasantly enlivened.

Perhaps it was the stolid companionship of the doll, perhaps the
constant repetition of the formula “when you have children of your
own” that precluded any idea of shirking the husband and tackling the
savage off our own bat. For I cannot remember that we ever shirked
him. We selected his profession with an eye to our own interests; he
was at various times a missionary, a sailor and a circus-rider; but
from the first we recognized that he was unavoidable. We planned our
lives and knew that he was lurking vaguely in the background to upset
our best-laid calculations. We were still very young, I think, when we
realized that his shadowy personality was an actual, active factor in
our lives; that it was because of him and his surmised desires that
our turbulent inclinations were thwarted and compressed into narrow
channels, and that we were tamed and curbed as the boys were never
tamed and curbed. When that which the boys might do with impunity
was forbidden to us as a sin of the first water, we knew that it was
because he would not like it. The thought was not so consciously
expressed, perhaps; but it was there and lived with us. So we grew up
under his influence, presuming his wishes, and we learned, because
of him, to say, “I can’t,” where our brothers said, “I can,” and to
believe, as we had been taught, that all things, save a very few (such
as ordering dinner and keeping house) were not for us because we were
not men. (Yet we had our long, long thoughts—we had them, too!) That
was one thing that he desired we should believe; and another was that
only through him could we attain to satisfaction and achievement; that
our every desire that was not centred upon him and upon his children
would be barren and bitter as Dead Sea ashes in the mouth. We believed
that for a long time....

And he was certain to come: the only question was, when? When he came
we should fall in love with him, of course—and he would kiss us—and
there would be a wedding....

Some of us—and those not a few—started life equipped for it after
this fashion; creatures of circumstance who waited to be fallen in
love with. That was indeed all; we stood and waited—on approval. And
then came life itself and rent our mother’s theories to tatters. For
we discovered—those of us, that is, who were driven out to work that
we might eat—we discovered very swiftly that what we had been told
was the impossible was the thing we had to do. That and no other. So
we accomplished it, in fear and trembling, only because we had to; and
with that first achievement of the impossible the horizon widened with
a rush, and the implanted, hampering faith in our own poor parasitic
uselessness began to wither at the root and die. We had learned to say,
“I can.” And as we went on, at first with fear and then with joy, from
impossibility to impossibility, we looked upon the world with new eyes.

To no man, I think, can the world be quite as wonderful as it is to
the woman now alive who has fought free. Those who come after her will
enter by right of birth upon what she attains by right of conquest;
therefore, neither to them will it be the same. The things that to
her brother are common and handed down, to her are new possessions,
treasured because she herself has won them and no other for her. It may
well be that she attaches undue importance to these; it could scarcely
be otherwise. Her traditions have fallen away from her, her standard
of values is gone. The old gods have passed away from her, and as yet
the new gods have spoken with no very certain voice. The world to her
is in the experimental stage. She grew to womanhood weighed down by the
conviction that life held only one thing for her; and she stretches out
her hands to find that it holds many. She grew to womanhood weighed
down by the conviction that her place in the scheme of things was the
place of a parasite; and she knows (for necessity has taught her) that
she has feet which need no support. She is young in the enjoyment of
her new powers and has a pleasure that is childish in the use of them.
By force of circumstances her faith has been wrested from her and the
articles of her new creed have yet to be tested by experience—her own.
Her sphere—whatever it may prove to be—no one but herself can define
for her. Authority to her is a broken reed. Has she not heard and read
solemn disquisitions by men of science on the essential limitations of
woman’s nature and the consequent impossibility of activity in this or
that direction?—knowing, all the while, that what they swear to her
she cannot do she does, is doing day by day!

Some day, no doubt, the pendulum will adjust itself and swing true; a
generation brought up to a wider horizon as a matter of course will
look around it with undazzled eyes and set to work to reconstruct the
fundamental from the ruins of what was once esteemed so. But in the
meantime the new is—new; the independence that was to be as Dead Sea
ashes in our mouth tastes very sweet indeed; and the unsheltered
life that we were taught to shrink from means the fighting of a good

Selfishness, perhaps—all selfishness—this pleasure in ourselves and
in the late growth of that which our training had denied us. But then,
from our point of view, the sin and crime of woman in the past has been
a selflessness which was ignoble because involuntary. Our creed may be
vague as yet, but one article thereof is fixed: there is no merit in a
sacrifice which is compulsory, no virtue in a gift which is not a gift
but a tribute.


I have insisted so strongly upon what I believe to be the attitude
towards life of the independent woman mainly with the object of
proving my assertion that there are other faculties in our nature
besides those which have hitherto been forced under a hothouse system
of cultivation—sex and motherhood. It is quite possible that a woman
thinking, feeling and living in a manner I have described may be dubbed
unsexed; but even if she be what is technically termed unsexed, it does
not follow therefore that she is either unnatural or unwomanly. Sex is
only one of the ingredients of the natural woman—an ingredient which
has assumed undue and exaggerated proportions in her life owing to the
fact that it has for many generations furnished her with the means of

In sexual matters it would appear that the whole trend and tendency of
man’s relations to woman has been to make refusal impossible and to
cut off every avenue of escape from the gratification of his desire.
His motive in concentrating all her energy upon the trade of marriage
was to deny it any other outlet. The original motive was doubtless
strengthened, as time went on, by an objection to allowing her to come
into economic competition with him; but this was probably a secondary
or derivative cause of his persistent refusal to allow her new spheres
of activity, having its primary root in the consciousness that economic
independence would bring with it the power of refusal.

The uncompromising and rather brutal attitude which man has
consistently adopted towards the spinster is, to my mind, a
confirmation of this theory. (The corresponding attitude of the married
woman towards her unmarried sister I take to be merely servile and
imitative.) It was not only that the creature was chaste and therefore
inhuman. That would have justified neglect and contempt on his part,
but not the active dislike he always appears to have entertained for
her. That active and somewhat savage dislike must have had its origin
in the consciousness that the perpetual virgin was a witness, however
reluctantly, to the unpalatable fact that sexual intercourse was not
for every woman an absolute necessity; and this uneasy consciousness
on his part accounts for the systematic manner in which he placed
the spinster outside the pale of a chivalry, upon which, from her
unprotected position, one would have expected her to have an especial

If it be granted that marriage is, as I have called it, essentially a
trade on the part of woman—the exchange of her person for the means
of subsistence—it is legitimate to inquire into the manner in which
that trade is carried on, and to compare the position of the worker in
the matrimonial with the position of the worker in any other market.
Which brings us at once to the fact—arising from the compulsory
nature of the profession—that it is carried on under disadvantages
unknown and unfelt by those who earn their living by other methods.
For the regulations governing compulsory service—the institution of
slavery and the like—are always framed, not in the interests of the
worker, but in the interests of those who impose his work upon him.
The regulations governing exchange and barter in the marriage market,
therefore, are necessarily framed in the interests of the employer—the

The position is this. Marriage, with its accompaniments and
consequences—the ordering of a man’s house, the bearing and rearing
of his children—has, by the long consent of ages, been established
as practically the only means whereby woman, with honesty and honour,
shall earn her daily bread. Her every attempt to enter any other
profession has been greeted at first with scorn and opposition; her
sole outlook was to be dependence upon man. Yet the one trade to which
she is destined, the one means of earning her bread to which she is
confined, she may not openly profess. No other worker stands on the
same footing. The man who has his bread to earn, with hands, or brains,
or tools, goes out to seek for the work to which he is trained; his
livelihood depending on it, he offers his skill and services without
shame or thought of reproach. But with woman it is not so; she is
expected to express unwillingness for the very work for which she has
been taught and trained. She has been brought up in the belief that
her profession is marriage and motherhood; yet though poverty may be
pressing upon her—though she may be faced with actual lack of the
necessities of life—she must not openly express her desire to enter
that profession, and earn her bread in the only way for which she is
fitted. She must stand aside and wait—indefinitely; and attain to her
destined livelihood by appearing to despise it.

That, of course, is the outcome of something more than a convention
imposed on her by man; nature, from the beginning, has made her
more fastidious and reluctant than the male. But with this natural
fastidiousness and reluctance the commercialism imposed upon her by
her economic needs is constantly at clash and at conflict, urging
her to get her bread as best she can in the only market open to her.
Theoretically—since by her wares she lives—she has a perfect right to
cry those wares and seek to push them to the best advantage. That is to
say, she has a perfect right to seek, with frankness and with openness,
the man who, in her judgment, can most fittingly provide her with the
means of support.

This freedom of bargaining to the best advantage, permitted as a matter
of course to every other worker, is denied to her. It is, of course,
claimed and exercised by the prostitute class—a class which has pushed
to its logical conclusion the principle that woman exists by virtue of
a wage paid her in return for the possession of her person; but it is
interesting to note that the “unfortunate” enters the open market with
the hand of the law extended threateningly above her head. The fact
is curious if inquired into: since the theory that woman should live
by physical attraction of the opposite sex has never been seriously
denied, but rather insisted upon, by men, upon what principle is
solicitation, or open offer of such attraction, made a legal offence?
(Not because the woman is a danger to the community, since the male
sensualist is an equal source of danger.) Only, apparently, because
the advance comes from the wrong side. I speak under correction, but
cannot, unaided, light upon any other explanation; and mine seems to
be borne out by the fact that, in other ranks of life, custom, like
the above-mentioned law, strenuously represses any open advance on the
part of the woman. So emphatic, indeed, is this unwritten law, that
one cannot help suspecting that it was needful it should be emphatic,
lest woman, adapting herself to her economic position, should take the
initiative in a matter on which her livelihood depended, and deprive
her employer not only of the pleasure of the chase, but of the illusion
that their common bargain was as much a matter of romance and volition
on her part as on his.

As a matter of fact, that law that the first advances must come from
the side of the man is, as was only to be expected, broken and broken
every day; sometimes directly, but far more often indirectly. The woman
bent on matrimony is constantly on the alert to evade its workings,
conscious that in her attempt to do so she can nearly always count on
the ready, if unspoken, co-operation of her sisters. This statement
is, I know, in flat contravention of the firmly-rooted masculine
belief that one woman regards another as an enemy to be depreciated
consistently in masculine eyes, and that women spend their lives in
one long struggle to gratify an uncontrollable desire for admiration at
each other’s expense. (I have myself been told by a man that he would
never be so foolishly discourteous as to praise one woman in another’s
hearing. I, on my part, desirous also of being wisely courteous, did
not attempt to shake the magnificent belief in his own importance to
me which the statement betrayed.) Admiration is a very real passion
in some women, as it is a very real passion in some men; but what, in
women, is often mistaken for it is ambition, a desire to get on and
achieve success in life in the only way in which it is open to a woman
to achieve it—through the favour of man. Which is only another way
of saying what I have insisted on before—that a good many feminine
actions which are commonly and superficially attributed to sexual
impulse have their root in the commercial instinct.

It is because women, consciously or unconsciously, recognize the
commercial nature of the undertaking that they interest themselves so
strongly in the business of match-making, other than their own. Men
have admitted that interest, of course—the thing is too self-evident
to be denied—and, as their manner is, attributed it to an exuberant
sexuality which overflows on to its surroundings; steadfastly declining
to take into account the “professional” element in its composition,
since that would necessarily imply the existence of an _esprit de
corps_ amongst women.

I myself cannot doubt that there does exist a spirit of practical, if
largely unconscious, trade unionism in a class engaged in extracting,
under many difficulties and by devious ways, its livelihood from
the employer, man. (I need scarcely point out that man, like every
other wage-payer, has done his level best and utmost to suppress the
spirit of combination, and encourage distrust and division, amongst
the wage-earners in the matrimonial market; and that the trade of
marriage, owing to the isolation of the workers, has offered unexampled
opportunities for such suppression of unity and encouragement of
distrust and division.) But, in spite of this, women in general
recognize the economic necessity of marriage for each other, and in
a spirit of instinctive comradeship seek to forward it by every
means in their power. There must be something extraordinarily and
unnaturally contemptible about a woman who, her own bargain made and
means of livelihood secured, will not help another to secure hers; and
it is that motive, and not a rapturous content in their own unclouded
destiny, not an unhesitating conviction that their lot has fallen in
a fair ground, which makes of so many married women industrious and
confirmed match-makers. What has been termed the “huge conspiracy
of married women” is, in fact, nothing but a huge trade union whose
members recognize the right of others to their bread. To my mind,
one of the best proofs of the reality of this spirit of unconscious
trade unionism among women is the existence of that other feminine
conspiracy of silence which surrounds the man at whom a woman, for
purely mercenary reasons, is making a “dead set.” In such a case, the
only women who will interfere and warn the intended victim will be his
own relatives—a mother or a sister; others, while under no delusions
as to the interested nature of the motives by which the pursuer is
actuated, will hold their tongues, and even go so far as to offer
facilities for the chase. They realize that their fellow has a right to
her chance—that she must follow her trade as best she can, and would
no more dream of giving her away than the average decent workman would
dream of going to an employer and informing him that one of his mates
was not up to his job and should, therefore, be discharged. In these
emergencies a man must look to a man for help; the sympathies of the
practical and unromantic sex will be on the other side.

I shall not deny, of course, that there is active and bitter
competition amongst women for the favour not only of particular men,
but of men in general; but, from what I have said already, it will
be gathered that I consider that competition to be largely economic
and artificial. Where it is economic, it is produced by the same
cause which produces active and bitter competition in other branches
of industry—the overcrowding of the labour market. Where it is
artificial, as distinct from purely economic, it is produced by the
compulsory concentration of energy on one particular object, and the
lack of facilities for dispersing that energy in other directions. It
is not the woman with an interest in life who spends her whole time in
competing with her otherwise unoccupied sisters for the smiles of a


Marriage being to them not only a trade, but a necessity, it
must follow as the night the day that the acquirement of certain
characteristics—the characteristics required by an average man in an
average wife—has been rendered inevitable for women in general. There
have, of course, always been certain exceptional men who have admired
and desired certain exceptional and eccentric qualities in their wives;
but in estimating a girl’s chances of pleasing—on which depended
her chances of success or a comfortable livelihood—these exceptions
naturally, were taken into but small account, and no specialization in
their tastes and desires was allowed for in her training. The aim and
object of that training was to make her approximate to the standard of
womanhood set up by the largest number of men; since the more widely
she was admired the better were her chances of striking a satisfactory
bargain. The taste and requirements of the average man of her class
having been definitely ascertained, her training and education was
carried on on the principle of cultivating those qualities which he
was likely to admire, and repressing with an iron hand those qualities
to which he was likely to take objection; in short, she was fitted for
her trade by the discouragement of individuality and eccentricity and
the persistent moulding of her whole nature into the form which the
ordinary husband would desire it to take. Her education, unlike her
brothers’, was not directed towards self-development and the bringing
out of natural capabilities, but towards pleasing some one else—was
not for her own benefit, but for that of another person.

No one has better expressed the essential difference between the
education of men and women than Mr. John Burns in a speech delivered
to the “Children of the State” at the North Surrey District School
on February 13, 1909. Addressing the boys the President of the Local
Government Board said, “I want you to be happy craftsmen, because you
are trained to be healthy men.” Addressing the girls he is reported to
have used the following words—

“To keep house, cook, nurse and delight in making others happy is your
mission, duty and livelihood.”

The boys are to be happy themselves; the girls are to make others
happy. No doubt Mr. Burns spoke sincerely; but is he not one of the
“others”? And it is well to note that the “making of others happy”
is not put before the girls as an ideal, but as a duty and means of
livelihood. They are to be self-sacrificing as a matter of business—a
commercial necessity. It is because man realizes that self-sacrifice in
woman is not a matter of free-will, but of necessity, that he gives her
so little thanks for it. Her duty and means of livelihood is to make
others happy—in other words, to please him.

Whether she was trained to be useful or useless that was the object of
her up-bringing. Men in one class of society would be likely to require
wives able to do rough house or field work; so to do rough house or
field work she was trained. Men in another class of society would be
likely to require of their wives an appearance of helpless fragility;
and girls in that particular class were educated to be incapable of
sustained bodily effort.

It is this fact—that their training was a training not in their own,
but in some one else’s requirements—which, to my thinking, makes
women so infinitely more interesting to watch and to analyze than men.
Interesting, I mean, in the sense of exciting. Practically every woman
I know has two distinct natures: a real and an acquired; that which she
has by right of birth and heritage, and that which she has been taught
she ought to have—and often thinks that she has attained to. And it is
quite impossible even for another woman, conscious of the same division
of forces in herself, to forecast which of these two conflicting
temperaments will come uppermost at a given moment.

The average man is a straightforward and simple-minded creature
compared to the average woman, merely because he has been allowed to
develop much more on his own natural lines. He has only one centre of
gravity; the woman has two. To put it in plain English, he usually
knows what he wants; she, much more often than not, does not know
anything of the kind. She is under the impression that she wants
certain things which she has been told from her earliest childhood,
and is being told all the time, are the things she ought to want. That
is as far as she can go with certainty. This also can be said with
certainty: that her first requirement, whether she knows it or not, is
the liberty to discover what she really does require.

Once a man’s character is known and understood it can usually be
predicted with a fair degree of accuracy how he will act in any
particular crisis or emergency—say, under stress of strong emotion or
temptation. With his sister on the other hand you can never foresee
at what point artificiality will break down and nature take command;
which makes it infinitely more difficult, however well you know
her, to predict her course of action under the same circumstances.
The woman whose whole existence, from early dawn to dewy eve, is
regulated by a standard of manners imposed upon her from without, by
a standard of morals imposed upon her from without, whose ideals are
purely artificial and equally reflected, will suddenly, and at an
unexpected moment, reveal another and fundamental side of her nature
of which she herself has probably lived in entire ignorance. And on
the other hand—so ingrained in us all has artificiality become—a
woman of the independent type, with a moral standard and ideals of
her own setting up, may, when the current of her life is swept out of
its ordinary course by emergency or strong emotion, take refuge, just
as suddenly and unexpectedly, in words and actions that are palpably
unnatural to her and inspired by an instilled idea of what, under the
circumstances, a properly constituted woman ought to say or do. Faced
with a difficulty through which her own experience does not serve to
guide her, she falls back on convention and expresses the thoughts of
others in the stilted language that convention has put into her mouth.
I have known this happen more than once, and seen a real human being
of flesh and blood suddenly and unconsciously transformed into one of
those curious creatures, invented by male writers and called women for
lack of any other name, whose sins and whose virtues alike are the
sins and virtues considered by male writers to be suitable and becoming
to the opposite sex.

For generation after generation the lives of women of even the
slightest intelligence and individuality must have been one long and
constant struggle between the forces of nature endeavouring to induce
in them that variety which is another word for progress and their own
enforced strivings to approximate to a single monotonous type—the
type of the standard and ideal set up for them by man, which was the
standard and ideal of his own comfort and enjoyment. However squarely
uncompromising the characteristics of any given woman, the only vacant
space for her occupation was round, and into the round hole she had to
go. Were her soul the soul of a pirate, it had to be encased in a body
which pursued the peaceful avocation of a cook. Even when she kicked
over the traces and gave respectability the go-by, she could only do so
after one particular and foregone fashion—a fashion encouraged if not
openly approved by man. The male sinner might go to the devil in any
way he chose; for her there was only one road to the nethermost hell,
and, dependent even in this, she needed a man to set her feet upon the
path. Her vices, like her virtues, were forced and stereotyped. They
sprang from the same root; vice, with her, was simply an excess of
virtue. Vicious or virtuous, matron or outcast, she was made and not

There must be many attributes and characteristics of the general run of
women which are not really the attributes and characteristics of their
sex, but of their class—a class persistently set apart for the duties
of sexual attraction, house-ordering and the bearing of children. And
the particular qualities that, in the eyes of man, fitted them for the
fulfilment of these particular duties, generation after generation of
women, whatever their natural temperament and inclination, have sought
to acquire—or if not the actual qualities themselves, at least an
outward semblance of them. Without some semblance of those qualities
life would be barred to them.

There are very few women in whom one cannot, now and again, trace
the line of cleavage between real and acquired, natural and class,
characteristics. The same thing, of course, holds good of men, but
in a far less degree since, many vocations being open to them, they
tend naturally and on the whole to fall into the class for which
temperament and inclinations fit them. A man with a taste for an open
air life does not as a rule become a chartered accountant, a student
does not take up deep-sea fishing as a suitable profession. But with
women the endeavour to approximate to a single type has always been
compulsory. It is ridiculous to suppose that nature, who never makes
two blades of grass alike, desired to turn out indefinite millions of
women all cut to the regulation pattern of wifehood: that is to say,
all home-loving, charming, submissive, industrious, unintelligent,
tidy, possessed with a desire to please, well-dressed, jealous of their
own sex, self-sacrificing, cowardly, filled with a burning desire for
maternity, endowed with a talent for cooking, narrowly uninterested in
the world outside their own gates, and capable of sinking their own
identity and interests in the interests and identity of a husband. I
imagine that very few women naturally unite in their single persons
these characteristics of the class wife; but, having been relegated
from birth upwards to the class wife, they had to set to work, with or
against the grain, to acquire some semblance of those that they knew
were lacking.

There being no question of a line of least resistance for woman, it
is fairly obvious that the necessity (in many instances) of making a
silk purse out of a sow’s ear and instilling the qualities of tidiness,
love of home, cowardice, unintelligence, etc., etc., into persons who
were born with quite other capacities and defects must have resulted
in a pitiable waste of good material, sacrificed upon the altar of a
domesticity arranged in the interests of the husband. But infinitely
worse in its effect upon womanhood in general was the insincerity
which, in many cases, was the prime lesson and result of a girl’s
education and upbringing. I do not mean, of course, that the generality
of girls were consciously, of set purpose, and in so many words taught
to be insincere; but it seems fairly certain to me that generations of
mothers have tacitly instructed their daughters to assume virtues (or
the reverse) which they had not.

It could not be otherwise. Success in the marriage-market demanded
certain qualifications; and, as a matter of economic and social
necessity, if those qualifications were lacking, their counterfeit
presentment was assumed. When helplessness and fragility were the
fashion amongst wives, the girl child who was naturally as plucky as
her brothers was schooled into an affected and false timidity. Men were
understood to admire and reverence the maternal instinct in women; so
the girl who had no especial interest in children affected a mechanical
delight in, petted, fondled and made much of them. (I myself have seen
this done on more than one occasion; of course in the presence of men.)
And—worst and most treacherous insincerity of all—since men were
understood to dislike clever women, the girl who had brains, capacity,
intellect, sought to conceal, denied possession of them, so that her
future husband might enjoy, unchallenged, the pleasurable conviction of
her mental inferiority to himself.

Of all the wrongs that have been inflicted upon woman there has been
none like unto this—the enforced arrest of her mental growth—and none
which bears more bitter and eloquent testimony to the complete and
essential servility of her position. For her the eleventh commandment
was an insult—“Thou shalt not think”; and the most iniquitous
condition of her marriage bargain this—that her husband, from the
height of his self-satisfaction, should be permitted to esteem her a

It was not only that, from one generation to another, woman was without
encouragement to use her higher mental qualities—that her life was
lacking in the stimulus of emulation so far as they were concerned,
that her own particular trade made very few demands upon them. As if
these things in themselves were not discouragement enough, she was
directly forbidden to cultivate the small share of intellect she was
understood to possess. Science was closed to her and art degraded to
a series of “parlor tricks.” It was not enough that she should be
debarred from material possessions; from possessions that were not
material, from the things of the spirit, she must be debarred as well.
Nothing more plainly illustrates the fact that man has always regarded
her as existing not for herself and for her own benefit, but for his
use and pleasure solely. His use for her was the gratification of his
own desire, the menial services she rendered without payment; his
pleasure was in her flesh, not in her spirit; therefore the things of
the spirit were not for her.

One wonders what it has meant for the race—this persistent desire of
the man to despise his wife, this economic need of countless women
to arrest their mental growth? It has amounted to this—that one of
the principal qualifications for motherhood has been a low standard
of intelligence. We hear a very great deal about the beauty and
sanctity of motherhood; we might, for a change, hear something about
the degradation thereof—which has been very real. To stunt one’s
brain in order that one may bear a son does not seem to me a process
essentially sacred or noble in itself; yet millions of mothers have
instructed their daughters in foolishness so that they, in their turn,
might please, marry and bear children. Most of those daughters, no
doubt—humanity being in the main slothful and indifferent—endured the
process with equanimity; but there must always have been some, and
those not the least worthy, who suffered piteously under the systematic
thwarting of definite instincts and vague ambitions. In every
generation there must have been women who desired life at first hand,
and in whom the crushing of initiative and inquiry and the substitution
of servile for independent qualities, must have caused infinite misery.
In every generation there must have been women who had something to
give to those who lived outside the narrowing walls of their home; and
who were not permitted to give it. They soured and stifled; but they
were not permitted to give it.

But, after all, the suffering of individual women under the law of
imposed stupidity is a very small thing compared with the effect of
that law upon humanity as a whole. The sex which reserved to itself
the luxury of thinking appears to have been somewhat neglectful of
its advantages in that respect, since it failed to draw the obvious
conclusion that sons were the sons of their mothers as well as of
their fathers. Yet it is a commonplace that exceptional men are born
of exceptional women—that is to say, of women in whom the natural
instinct towards self-expansion and self-expression is too strong to be
crushed and thwarted out of existence by the law of imposed stupidity.

That law has reacted inevitably upon those who framed and imposed it;
since it is truth and not a jest that the mission in life of many women
has been to suckle fools—of both sexes. Women have been trained to be
unintelligent breeding-machines until they have become unintelligent
breeding-machines—how unintelligent witness the infant death-rate
from improper feeding. Judging by that and other things, the process
of transforming the natural woman into flesh without informing spirit
would appear, in a good many instance, to have been attended by a fair
amount of success. In some classes she still breeds brainlessly. That
is what she is there for, not to think of the consequences. Has she
not been expressly forbidden to think? If she is a failure as a wife
and mother, it is because she is nothing else. And those of us who are
now alive might be better men and women, seeing more light where now
we strive and slip in darkness, if our fathers had not insisted so
strongly and so steadfastly upon their right to despise the women they
made their wives—who were our mothers.

I have said that this condemnation to intellectual barrenness is the
strongest proof of the essential servility of woman’s position in the
eyes of man, and I repeat that statement. It cannot be repeated too
often. So long as you deprive a human being of the right to make use
of its own mental property, so long do you keep that human being in
a state of serfdom. You may disguise the fact even from yourself by
an outward show of deference and respect, the lifting of a hat or the
ceding of a pathway; but the fact remains. Wherever and whenever man
has desired to degrade his fellow and tread him under foot, he has
denied him, first of all, the right to think, the means of education
and inquiry. Every despotism since the world began has recognized
that it can only work in secret—that its ways must not be known. No
material tyranny can hope to establish itself firmly and for long
unless it has at its disposal the means to establish also a tyranny
that is spiritual and intellectual. When you hold a man’s mind in
thrall you can do what you will with his body; you possess it and not
he. Always those who desired power over their fellows have found it a
sheer necessity to possess their bodies through their souls; and for
this reason, when you have stripped a man of everything except his
soul, you have to go on and strip him of that too, lest, having it
left to him, he ask questions, ponder the answers and revolt. In all
ages the aim of despotism, small or great, material or intellectual,
has been to keep its subjects in ignorance and darkness; since, in all
ages, discontent and rebellion have come with the spread of knowledge,
light and understanding. So soon as a human being is intelligent enough
to doubt, and frame the question, “Why is this?” he can no longer be
satisfied with the answer, “Because I wish it.” That is an answer which
inevitably provokes the rejoinder, “But I do not”—which is the essence
and foundation of heresy and high treason.

Those in high places—that is to say, those who desired power over
others—have, as a condition of their existence in high places, fought
steadfastly against the spread of the means of enlightenment. No
right has been more bitterly denied than the right of a man to think
honestly and to communicate his thoughts to his fellows. Persons who
claimed that right have been at various times (and for the edification
of other persons who might be tempted to go and do likewise) stoned,
devoured by wild beasts, excommunicated, shut up in dungeons, burned at
the stake and hanged, drawn, and quartered. In spite, however, of these
drastic penalties—and other lesser ones too numerous to mention—there
has always been a section of humanity which has stubbornly persisted,
even at the risk of roasting or dismemberment, in thinking its own
thoughts on some particular subject and saying what they were. To
persons of this frame of mind it probably did not much matter how soon
they had done with an existence which they had to look at through other
people’s eyes and talk about in suitable phrases arranged for them by
other people. So they risked the penalty and said what they wanted to.
The history of the world has been a succession of demands, more or less
spasmodic, more or less insistent, on the part of subjected classes,
nations and sects, to be allowed to see things in their own way and
with an eye to their own interests, spiritual or material. Which is why
a free press and a free pulpit have often seemed worth dying for.

Wherever civilization exists various classes, sects and nations of men
have, one by one, claimed the right to that examination of things for
themselves which is called education. They have never attained to it
without opposition; and one of the most frequent and specious forms
of that opposition is embodied in the argument that education would
not only be useless to them, but would unfit them for their duties.
No doubt this argument was often put forward in all honesty as the
outcome of a conviction that was none the less sincere because it was
prompted by self-interest. That conviction had its roots in the common
and widespread inability to realize the actual human identity of other
persons—in the habit of summing them up and estimating them in the
light only of the salient (and often superficial) characteristics which
affect ourselves. I can best explain what I mean by saying that to many
of us the word “clerk” does not summon up the mental representation of
an actual man who spends some of his time writing, but of something in
the shape of a man that is continuously occupied in driving a pen. In
other words, we lose sight of the man himself in one of his attributes;
and the same with a miner, a sailor, etc. Thus to the persons in high
places who opposed the education of the agricultural labourer, the
agricultural labourer was not an actual man, but a hoe or a harrow in
human shape; and they were quite honestly and logically unable to see
what this animated implement of agricultural toil could want with the
inside of a book. Practically, however, they were denying humanity to
the labourer and sinking his identity in one particular quality—the
physical capacity for field-work.

This, as I have explained elsewhere, is the manner in which woman, as a
rule, is still regarded—not as a human being with certain physical and
mental qualities which enable her to bring children into the world and
cook a dinner, but as a breeding-machine and the necessary adjunct to a
frying-pan. So regarded, independence of thought and anything beyond a
very limited degree of mental cultivation are unnecessary to her, even
harmful, since they might possibly result in the acquirement of other
attributes quite out of place in the adjunct to a frying-pan.


With the advance of civilization one subject class after another has
risen in revolt, more or less violent, more or less peaceful, and
asserted its right to inquire, to think in its own way—that is to
say, it has asserted its humanity. But it is a proof of my statement
that woman has never been regarded as fully human, that the successive
classes of men who have, in turn, asserted their own humanity have
totally forgotten to assert hers, have left her, whatever her rank, in
a class apart, and continued to treat her as a domestic animal whose
needs were only the needs of a domestic animal.

The aristocratic instinct is by no means confined to those born in
the purple. (Some of the most startlingly aristocratic sentiments I
have ever heard came from the lips of persons believed by themselves
to entertain ultra-democratic ideas.) The sense of power over others
is just as attractive to the many as it is to the few; and thus it
has happened that men, in every class, have taken a pleasure in the
dependence and subjection of their womenfolk, and, lest their power
over them should be undermined, have refused to their womenfolk
the right to think for themselves. The essential cruelty of that
refusal they disguised from themselves by explaining that women could
not think even if they tried. We have all heard the definition of
woman—episcopal, I think—as a creature who cannot reason and pokes
the fire from the top.

This disbelief in the existence of reasoning powers in woman is still,
it seems to me, a very real thing—at least, I have run up against it
a good many times in the course of my life, and I do not suppose that
I am an exception in that respect. And the really interesting thing
about this contemptuous attitude of mind is that it has led to the
adoption, by those who maintain it, of a very curious subterfuge. It
is, of course, quite impossible to deny that a woman’s mind does go
through certain processes which control and inspire her actions and
conclusions— sometimes very swiftly and effectively; but to these
mental processes, which in men are called reason, they give, in woman,
the title of intuition.

Now the word “intuition,” when used in connection with woman, conveys
to the average male mind a meaning closely akin to that of the word
instinct—as opposed to reason. (In this insistence on the instinctive
character of our mental processes the average man is, of course,
quite consistent; since he imagines that we exist only for the
gratification of two instincts, the sexual and the maternal, it does
not seem unreasonable on his part to conclude that we also think by
instinct.) I am certain that I am right as to this masculine habit of
confusing intuition with instinct; since on every occasion on which I
have been more or less politely—but always firmly—informed that I
had no intellect, but could console myself for the deficiency by the
reflection that I possessed the usual feminine quality of intuition, I
have made a point of bringing the person who made the remark to book by
insisting upon an exact definition of the term. In every single case
within my own experience the exact definition—as I have been careful
to point out—has been not insight, but instinct. Our mental processes,
in short, are supposed to be on the same level as the mental process
which starts the newly-hatched gosling on its waddle to the nearest
pond. We are supposed to know what we want without knowing why we want
it—just like the gosling, which does not make a bee-line for the
water because it has carefully examined its feet, discovered that they
are webbed, and drawn the inference that webbed feet are suitable for
progress in water.

This question of the intuitive or instinctive powers of woman is one
that has always interested me extremely; and as soon as I realized
that my mind was supposed to work in a different way from a man’s
mind, and that I was supposed to arrive at conclusions by a series of
disconnected and frog-like jumps, I promptly set to work to discover
if that was really the case by the simple expedient of examining the
manner in which I did arrive at conclusions. I believe that (on certain
subjects, at any rate) I think more rapidly than most people—which
does not mean, of course, that I think more correctly. It does mean,
however, that I very often have to explain to other people the process
by which I have arrived at my conclusions (which might otherwise appear
intuitive); therefore I may be called a good subject for investigation.
I can honestly say that I have never been at a loss for such an
explanation. I can trace the progress of my thought, step by step, just
as a man can trace his. I may reason wrongly, but I do not reason in
hops. And I have yet to meet the woman who does. I have met many women
who were in the habit of coming to conclusions that were altogether
ridiculous and illogical; but they were conclusions—drawn from
insufficient data—and not guesses. No sane human being regulates—or
does not regulate—its life, as we are supposed to do, by a series of
vague and uncontrolled guesses.

I imagine that the idea that women do so control their lives must
have had its origin in the fact that men and women usually turn their
mental energy into entirely different channels. On subjects that are
familiar to us we think quickly, and acquire a mental dexterity akin
to the manual dexterity of a skilled artisan. But the subjects upon
which women exercise this mental dexterity are not, as a rule, the same
as those upon which men exercise theirs; the latter have usually left
narrow social and domestic matters alone, and it is in narrow social
and domestic matters that we are accustomed to think quickly. We are
swifter than they are, of course, at drawing the small inferences
from which we judge what a man will like or dislike; but then, for
generations the business of our lives has been to find out what a man
will like or dislike, and it would be rather extraordinary if we had
not, in the course of ages, acquired in it a measure of that rapid
skill which in any other business would be called mechanical, but in
ours is called intuitive.

This theory of intuition or instinct, then, I take, as I have already
said, to be in the nature of a subterfuge on the part of the male—a
sop to his conscience, and a plausible excuse for assuming that we have
not the intelligence which (if it were once admitted that we possessed
it) we should have the right to cultivate by independent thinking. But
to admit the right of a human being to independent thinking is also to
admit something else far more important and unpleasant—his right to
sit in judgment upon you. That right every despotism that ever existed
has steadily denied to its subjects; therefore, there is nothing
extraordinary in the fact that man has steadily denied it to woman.
He has always preferred that she should be too ignorant to sit in
judgment upon him, punishing her with ostracism if she was rash enough
to attempt to dispel her own ignorance. One of her highest virtues, in
his eyes, was a childish and undeveloped quality about which he threw
a halo of romance when he called it by the name of innocence. So far
has this insistence on ignorance or innocence in a wife been carried,
that even in these days many women who marry young have but a very
vague idea of what they are doing; while certain risks attaching to the
estate of marriage are, in some ranks of life at any rate, sedulously
concealed from them as things which it is unfit for them to know.

It is a subject that is both difficult and unpleasant to touch upon;
but while it will always be unpleasant, it ought not to be difficult,
and I should be false to my beliefs if I apologized for touching upon
it. Women, like men, when they enter upon a calling, have a perfect
right to know exactly what are the dangers and drawbacks attached
to their calling; you do not, when you turn a man into a pottery or
a dynamite factory, sedulously conceal from him the fact that there
are such things as lead-poisoning or combustion. On the contrary, you
warn him—as women are seldom warned. I have been astonished at the
number of women I have met who seem to have hardly more than a vague
inkling—and some not even that—of the tangible, physical consequence
of loose living.

I have not the faintest intention of inditing a sermon on masculine
morals. If the average man chooses to dispense with morals as
we understand them, that is his affair and a matter for his own
conscience; if he is so constituted physically that he cannot live
as we do, and has practically no choice in the matter, that is his
misfortune. But I do say this: that the average woman has a perfect
right to know what are the results of loose living in so far as those
results may affect her and her children. If marriage is a trade we
ought to know its risks—concerning which there exists a conspiracy of
silence. Is the cause to which I have alluded ever mentioned, except in
technical publications, in connection with the infant death-rate?

Those of us who have discovered that there are risks attaching to the
profession of marriage other than the natural ones of childbirth, have
very often made the discovery by accident—which ought not to be. I
made the discovery in that way myself while I was still very young—by
the idle opening of a book which, because it was a book, was a thing
to be opened and looked into. I was puzzled at first, and then the
thing stared me in the face—a simple matter of bald statement and
statistics. I remember the thought which flashed into my mind—we are
told we have got to be married, but we are never told _that_! It was my
first conscious revolt against the compulsory nature of the trade of


This insistent and deliberate stunting of woman’s intellectual growth
is, as I have already stated, the best proof of her essentially
servile position in the household; and that being the case, it is not
to be wondered at that her code of honour and morals is essentially
a servile code. That is to say, its origin and guiding motive is the
well-being, moral and material, of some one else. Like her stupidity
woman’s morality has been imposed on her, and to a great extent is not
morality at all, in the proper sense of the word, but a code of manners
formulated in the interests of her master.

I wish to make it clear that when I speak of morality in this
connection I am not using the word in the narrow sense in which it is
sometimes employed. By a standard of morality I mean a rule of life
which we adopt as a guide to our conduct, and endeavour, more or less
successfully, to apply to every action—to our dealings with others as
well as to our dealings with our own hearts.

I cannot better explain what I mean by the essential servility of
woman’s code of morals than by quoting Milton’s well-known line—

  “He for God only; she for God in him.”

That one brief verse condenses into a nutshell the difference in
the moral position of the two sexes—expresses boldly, simply,
straightforwardly, the man’s belief that he had the right to divert
and distort the moral impulse and growth in woman to serve his own
convenience. No priesthood has ever made a claim more arrogant than
this claim of man to stand between woman and her God, and divert the
spiritual forces of her nature into the channel that served him best.
The real superiority of man consists in this: that he is free to obey
his conscience and to serve his God—if it be in him so to do. Woman
is not. She can serve Him only at second hand—can obey His commands
not directly but only by obeying the will of the man who stands between
her and the Highest, and who has arrogated to himself not merely the
material control of her person and her property, but the spiritual
control of her conscience.

This is no fanciful piece of imagery. There are laws still in
existence—laws of an earlier age—which prove how complete has been
this moral control which we are only now shaking off, since they
presume a man’s entire responsibility for the actions of his wife,
be those actions good or ill. That a woman at her husband’s bidding
should bend her conscience to his will as a reed bends; that, because
he desired it of her, she should break and defy every commandment
of God and man; this seemed to our forefathers a natural thing, and
a course of action befitting her station and place in life. So far
from blaming, they condoned it in her and have expressed that view
of the matter in their law—sometimes with awkward and annoying
results for a later generation. Woman, until she began to feel in
herself the stirrings of independence—woman, when she was just the
wife-and-mother-and-nothing-else, the domestic animal—seems to me to
have been a creature whom you could not have described as being either
moral or immoral. She was just unmoral. Whether she did good or evil
was not, as far as her own individuality went, of very much account
since the standard set up for her was not of her own setting up; it had
been erected for the comfort and well-being of her master. Her virtues
were second-hand virtues, instilled into her for the convenience of
another; and she did what was right in his eyes, not in her own, after
the manner of a child. Therefore she was neither moral nor immoral, but
servile. The motive which guided and impelled her from childhood was
a low one—the desire (disinterestedly or for her own advantage) of
pleasing some one else. (To make others happy, as Mr. Burns expresses
it.) The desire to please being the motive power of her existence,
her code of honour and ethics was founded not on thought, conviction
or even natural impulse, but on observation of the likes and dislikes
of those she had to please. Hence its extraordinary and inconsistent
character, its obvious artificiality and the manifest traces it bears
of having been imposed upon her from without. For instance, no natural
ethical code emanating from within could have summed up woman’s virtue
in _a_ virtue—physical purity. That confusion of one virtue with
virtue in general was certainly of masculine origin arising from the
masculine habit of thinking of woman only in connection with her
relations to himself. To other aspects of her life and character man
was indifferent—they hardly existed for him. And of masculine origin,
too, was that extraordinary article of the code by which it was laid
down that a woman’s “honour” was, to all intents and purposes, a matter
of chance—a thing which she only possessed because no unkind fate had
thrown her in the way of a man sufficiently brutal to deprive her of it
by force. Her honour, in short, was not a moral but a physical quality.

One sees, of course, the advantage from the male point of view, of
this peculiar provision of the code. In a world where the pickpocket
class had the upper hand a somewhat similar regulation would, no doubt,
be in force; and it would be enacted, by a custom stronger than law,
that to have one’s pocket picked was in itself a disgrace which must
on no account be cried aloud upon the housetops or communicated to
the police. To reveal and publish the fact that your purse had been
snatched from you by force would be to make yourself a mark of scorn
and for hissing, to bring upon yourself an obloquy far greater than
that accorded to the active partner in the transaction, whose doings
would be greeted with a shrug of the shoulders and the explanation
that pickpockets are pickpockets, and will never be anything but what
nature has made them; and, after all, you must have dangled the purse
temptingly before his eyes. Under these circumstances, with the thief
at liberty to ply his trade, the fact that you had money in your pocket
would be, strictly speaking, an accident; and, to make the parallel
complete, the lack of your money—the fact that it had been taken
from you even against your will—would have to be accounted a black
disgrace, leaving a lasting smear upon your whole life. That, it seems
to me, is the exact position with regard to what is commonly termed a
woman’s “honour.” I should prefer to put it that a woman has no honour;
only an accident.

In such a world as I have described—a world run in the interest of the
light-fingered class—the average and decent man would find it just as
easy and just as difficult to take legal proceedings against the person
who had violently deprived him of his purse as the average and decent
woman would now find it were she to take legal proceedings against the
man who had violently deprived her of her honour. Nominally, of course,
justice would afford him a fair hearing and the process of law would be
at his disposal; actually he would make himself a target for contempt
and scorn, and the very men who tried his case, with every desire to be
unbiassed, would be prejudiced against him because he had not hidden
his disgrace in silence. In most cases the effect of such a public
opinion would be to make him hold his tongue, and practically by his
silence become an abettor and accomplice in the offence wrought upon
himself and by which he himself had suffered. He might, if his mould
were sensitive, choose the river rather than exposure—as women have
done before now.

Honour, as I understand it, is not physical or accidental; is not even
reputation, which is a species of reflection of honour in the minds of
others; it is a state of mind resulting from a voluntary and conscious
adherence to certain rules of life and conduct. As such it is entirely
your own possession and a creation, a thing of which no one can rob
you but yourself; it is at no man’s mercy but your own. It is because
woman, as a rule, has not possessed the power of giving voluntary and
conscious adherence to rules of life and conduct, because the rules of
life and conduct which she follows have been framed in the interests
of others and forced upon her in the interests of others—that she has
been denied any other than a purely physical and accidental “honour.”

One’s mind goes back to two children in the school-room pondering
seriously and in the light of their own unaided logic the puzzling
story of Lucrece—much expurgated and newly acquired during the course
of a Roman history lesson. The expurgated Roman history book had made
it clear that she was a woman greatly to be admired; we sat with
knitted brows and argued why. Something had been done to her—we were
vague as to the nature of the something, but had gathered from the
hurried manner of our instructress that here was a subject on which
you must not ask for precise information. Our ignorance baffled and
aggrieved us since fuller knowledge might have thrown light upon an
otherwise incomprehensible case. Something had been done to her by a
wicked man and against her will—so much we knew. She had tried all
she could to prevent it, but he was the stronger—the expurgated Roman
history had said, “By force.” Therefore, whatever had happened was not
her fault. Yet the next morning she had sent posthaste for her husband
and her father, told them all about it and stabbed herself to the heart
before their eyes! Try as we would to sympathize with this paragon of
Roman virtue, the action seemed inconsequent. It implied remorse where
remorse was not only unnecessary but impossible. If she had stabbed
Sextus Tarquinius, or if Sextus Tarquinius had stabbed himself in a fit
of repentance for his own mysterious ill-doing.... But why needlessly
distress your family by descending into an early grave because some one
else had been mysteriously wicked while you yourself had done no harm
at all? Our sense of logic and justice was shaken to its foundations.
The verdict of admiration recorded in the history book stared us in the
face, conflicting with our own conclusions; and it was our reverence
for the written word alone that prevented the open and outspoken
judgment, “She was silly.”

So two small persons, to whom sex was still a matter of garments,
seriously troubled by their own inability to appreciate a virtue held
up to them for reverence, with views as yet level and unwarped on the
subject of justice, and still in complete ignorance of the “economic”
law that the cost of sin, like the cost of taxation, is always shifted
on to the shoulders of those least able to bear or to resent it.

The key to the curious and inferior position of woman with regard
to breaches, voluntary or involuntary, of the moral law is to be
found in this right of the strongest to avoid payment. It is a right
that is recognized and openly acted upon in the world of business
and of property, that has to be considered and taken into account
by financiers and statesmen in the collection of revenue and the
imposition of taxes. It is the general exercise of this right that
makes the incidence of taxation a study for experts. Roughly its result
is, the weakest pays. Tax the business man and he will set to work to
send up prices, collecting his additional toll in farthings, pence and
shillings from his customers, or to save it by cutting down the wages
of his employees. Tax the landlord, and he sends up rents—perhaps in
the slums. The stronger the position of the capitalist, the more easily
does he avoid payment. If his position is so strong that he is an
actual monopolist he can avoid it with complete ease, simply taking the
amount required from the pockets of those who are unable to refuse his
demands, handing it over to the powers that be and paying himself for
his trouble in doing so.

The incidence of blame in offences against the code which regulates
the sexual relations of men and women is governed by laws similar to
those which govern the incidence of taxation. The stronger party to
the offence, taking advantage of his strength, has refused to pay;
has simply and squarely declined to take his share of the mutual
punishment, and has shifted a double portion thereof on the shoulders
of the weaker party. So far as I can see that is the real and only
reason for the preferential treatment of man under the moral code—a
preferential treatment insisted upon by Adam in the garden of Eden
when he anxiously explained to the Deity that the woman was to blame,
and insisted upon ever since by his descendants. Is it not Adam who
sniggers over spicy stories at his club, retails them to the wife of
his bosom and then gives vent to manly and generous indignation at
the expense of the spinster who repeats them at third hand? while
the extreme reluctance of a purely male electorate to raise what is
termed the age of consent in girls is perhaps the most striking example
of this tendency of the stronger to shift the responsibility of his
misdeeds on to any shoulders but his own,—even on to the shoulders of
a child.

Palpable and obvious hardship dealt out by men to women is usually
defended, if not explained, by that more or less vague reference to
natural law, which is again an attempt to shift responsibility; and
I have heard the position of woman as scapegoat for the sins of the
man justified by her greater importance to the race as the mother of
the next generation. This position of trust and responsibility, it is
urged, makes her fall more blameworthy in itself, since her offence
is not only an offence against her own person. One would feel more
inclined to give ear to this explanation if it could be proved that
it was only in the case of actual infractions of the moral code that
the male was in the habit of availing himself of his opportunities of
shifting the blame that should be his on to the back of the weaker
vessel. But it is not. Why, for instance, when a man who has been
engaged to a woman changes his mind and throws her over against her
will should the woman be regarded as to some extent humiliated and
disgraced by the action of another person, an action over which she
has had no control whatever, which has, in fact, been performed
against her express desire? Yet in such circumstances the woman who
has been left in the lurch is supposed to suffer, quite apart from
the damage to her affection, a sort of moral damage and disgrace from
the heartlessness or fickleness of another person—the man to whom
she has been engaged; and this moral damage is, I believe, taken into
account in actions for breach of promise of marriage (where there is
no question of seduction). In these instances of fickleness on the
side of the one party to the engagement, there is no suggestion of
guilt or offence in the other party—the woman; yet the consequences
of guilt and offence have been transferred to her shoulders, simply,
it seems to me, because the guilty and offending party, being the
stronger, declined to bear them himself. And woman’s code of honour and
morals being essentially a servile code, designed for the benefit of
those in authority over her, she accepts the position without protest
and takes shame to herself for the fault of another person. The first
provision of a wider code—a code drawn up by herself—must be that
she will only accept responsibility for her own actions. Until she
has taken her stand on that principle she cannot hope for a freedom
that is real, even a material freedom. At present her position, in
this respect, is analogous to that of the mediæval whipping-boy or
those slaves of antiquity who were liable to be put to death for the
sins of their masters—a position entirely incompatible with the most
elementary ideas of liberty and justice. The chaste and virtuous
Lucrece whose untimely fate so distraught our youthful brains was not
so much the victim of one man’s evil passions and wrong-doing as of
her own servile code of morals; she was (if she ever existed) a slave
of undoubted and heroic virtue—but certainly a slave and not a free
woman, accountable for her own acts and her own acts alone.

As a matter of fact, if we come to look into them closely, we find
that the virtues that have been enjoined upon woman for generations
are practically all servile virtues—the virtues a man desires in and
enjoins upon those whom he wishes to hold in subjection. Honour, in the
proper sense of the word, truth-telling, independence of thought and
action, self-reliance and courage are the qualities of a free people;
and, because they are the qualities of a free people, they have not
been required of her. Submission, suppleness, coaxing manners, a desire
to please and ingratiate, tact and a capacity for hard work for which
no definite return is to be expected are the qualities encouraged in
a servile or subject race by those in authority over them; and it
is precisely these qualities which have been required of woman. The
ordinary male ideal of a mother is a servile ideal—a person who waits
on others, gives way to others, drudges for others, and only lives
for the convenience of others. The ordinary male ideal of a wife is a
servile ideal—a person with less brains than himself, who is pleasant
to look at, makes him comfortable at home and respects his authority.
And it is the unfortunate fact that she is expected to live down to
this ideal—and very often does—which accounts for that frequent
phenomenon, the rapid mental deterioration of the woman who has
fulfilled her destiny and attained to a completeness that is synonymous
with stagnation.

It is obvious that marriage—the companionship of two reasonable human
beings—ought not, under natural conditions, to have a stupefying
effect upon one of the parties to the arrangement; and, as far as I
can see, where the woman is recognized as a responsible human being
with an individuality and interests of her own, and with a right to her
own opinion, it does not have that effect. The professional woman—a
class which I know fairly well—is not, as a rule, less interesting
and individual after marriage than before it, simply because she
does not usually marry the type of man who would expect her to swamp
her own ideas and personality in his; and the working woman of
another class, who, as the manager and financier of the household,
is obliged to keep her wits sharp, is often an extremely interesting
person with a shrewd and characteristic outlook on life. It is the
woman of the “comfortable” class, with narrow duties and a few petty
responsibilities, who now-a-days most readily conforms to the servile
type of manners and morals set up for her admiration and imitation,
sinks into a nonentity or a busybody, and does her best to gratify and
justify her husband’s predilection for regarding her mental capacity
with contempt.


One peculiarity of the trade at which so many women earn their
livelihood I have, as yet, hardly touched upon. It is this: that
however arduous and exacting the labour that trade entails—and the
rough manual work of most households is done by women—it is not
paid except by a wage of subsistence. There may be exceptions, of
course, but, as a general rule, the work done by the wife and mother
in the home is paid for merely by supplying her with the necessaries
of existence—food, lodging, and clothing. She is fed and lodged on
the same principle as a horse is fed and lodged—so that she may do
her work, her cooking, her cleaning, her sewing, and the tending and
rearing of her children. She may do it very well or she may do it very
badly; but beyond food, lodging, and a certain amount of clothing,
she can claim no wage for it. In short, her work in the home is not
recognized either by the State or by the individual citizen (except in
occasional instances) as work which has any commercial value.

There must, of course, be some reason why such intrinsically important
work as the rearing of children and ministering to the comfort of the
community should be held in such poor esteem that it is paid for at the
lowest possible rate—subsistence rate. (Which means, of course, that
wages in that particular branch of work have been forced just as low
as they can go, since human beings cannot continue to exist without
the means of supporting life.) And the principal reason for this state
of things I take to be the compulsory nature of the trade. Given a
sufficiently large number of persons destined and educated from birth
for one particular calling, with no choice at all in the matter, and
with every other calling and means of livelihood sternly barred to
them, and you have all the conditions necessary for the forcing down of
wages to the lowest possible point to which they will go—subsistence
point. In that calling labour will be as cheap as the heart of the
employer could desire; and incidentally it will tend to become what
ill-paid labour always tends to become—inefficient. Exactly the
same condition of affairs would prevail in any other trade—mining or
boiler-making, for instance—if immense numbers of boys were brought
up to be miners or boiler-makers, and informed that whatever their
needs or desires, or whatever the state of the labour market in these
particular callings, they could not turn their abilities into any other
direction. Under those circumstances miners and boiler-makers would
probably work for their keep and nothing more, as the ordinary wife has
to do.

I shall be told, of course, that the position of a husband is not that
of an ordinary employer of labour, and that the financial relations
of a man and his wife are complicated by considerations of affection
and mutual interest which make it quite impossible to estimate the
exact wage-earning value of the wife’s services in the household, or
the price which she receives for them in other things than money. Even
if, for the sake of argument, this be admitted as a general rule, it
does not invalidate my point, which is that the compulsory nature of
woman’s principal trade is quite sufficient, in itself, to account
for the fact that the workers in that trade are not deemed worthy of
anything more than a wage of subsistence. Considerations of sentiment
and affection may help to keep her direct monetary remuneration down;
but to bring it down in the first instance nothing more was needed than
compulsory overcrowding of the “domestic service” market.

That the wage of subsistence—the board, lodging, and clothing—dealt
out to a married woman is often board, lodging, and clothing on a
very liberal and comfortable scale, does not alter the fact that it
is essentially a wage of subsistence, regulated by the idea of what
is necessary for subsistence in the particular class to which she may
happen to belong. The plutocrat who wishes his wife to entertain cannot
habitually feed her on fish and chips from round the corner, or renew
her wardrobe in an old-clothes shop. But she does not get twelve-course
dinners and dresses from the Rue de la Paix because she has earned them
by extra attention to her duties as a wife and mother, but because
they are necessary qualifications for the place in his household which
her husband wishes her to take—because, without them, she could not
fulfil the duties that he requires of her. The monetary reward of
wifehood and motherhood depends entirely on the life, the good luck
and the good nature of another person; the strictest attention to duty
on the part of a wife and mother is of no avail without that. The
really hard labour of housework and rearing children is done in those
households where the wage of subsistence is lowest; and the women who
receive most money from their husbands are precisely those who pass on
the typical duties of a wife and mother to other persons—housekeepers,
cooks, nurses, and governesses. Excellence in the trade is no guarantee
of reward, which is purely a matter of luck; work, however hard, will
not bring about that measure of independence, more or less comparative,
which is attained by successful work in other trades. Dependence,
in short, is the essence of wifehood as generally understood by the
masculine mind.

Under normal and favourable conditions, then, a married woman without
private means of her own obtains a wage of subsistence for the
fulfilment of the duties required of her in her husband’s household.
Under unfavourable (but not very abnormal) conditions she does not
even obtain that. In the case of the large army of married women who
support idle or invalid husbands by paid labour outside the home, the
additional work inside the home is carried on gratis, and without a
suggestion of payment of any kind.

I am inclined to believe that the principle that payment should be
made for domestic service rendered does not really enter into the
question of a wife’s wages; that those wages (of subsistence) are paid
simply for the possession of her person, and that the other arts and
accomplishments she may possess are not supposed to have any exchange
value. At any rate, a mistress, from whom the domestic arts are not
expected, is often just as expensively kept as a wife—which seems to
point to my conclusion. What Mr. John Burns has called a woman’s “duty
and livelihood” is, in the strict sense of the term, not her livelihood
at all. Her livelihood, as an ordinary wife, is a precarious dependence
upon another person’s life; should that other person die, she could
not support herself and her children by remaining in “woman’s
sphere”—cooking, tending the house, and looking after her young
family. That sort of work having no commercial value, she and her young
family would very shortly starve. The profession of the prostitute is a
livelihood; the profession of the wife and mother is not. A woman can
support her children by prostitution; she cannot do so by performing
the duties ordinarily associated with motherhood.

That marriage has another side than the economic I should be the last
to deny, as I should be the last to deny that there are many households
in which subjection and dependence in the wife are not desired by her
husband—households in which there is a sharing of material, as well
as of intellectual, interests. But that does not alter the fact that
the position of a great many other married women is simply that of an
unpaid domestic servant on the premises of a husband. The services
that, rendered by another, would command payment, or at least thanks,
from her are expected as a matter of course. They are supposed to be
natural to her; she is no more to be paid for them than she is to be
paid for breathing or feeling hungry. (One wonders why it should be
“natural” in woman to do so many disagreeable things. Does the average
man really believe that she has an instinctive and unquenchable craving
for all the unpleasant and unremunerative jobs? Or is that only a
polite way of expressing his deeply-rooted conviction that when once
she has got a husband she ought to be so thoroughly happy that a little
dirty work more or less really cannot matter to her?)

It may be argued that in the greater number of cases marriage, for
the husband, means the additional labour and expense of supporting a
wife and children; and that this added labour and expense is expected
from him as a matter of course, and that neither does he receive any
thanks for it. Quite so; but, as I pointed out at the beginning of
this book, marriage is a voluntary matter on the part of a man. He
does not earn his living by it; he is under no necessity to undertake
its duties and responsibilities should he prefer not to do so. He has
other interests in life and no social stigma attaches to him if he does
not take to himself a wife and beget children. He enters the marriage
state because he wishes to enter it, and is prepared to make certain
necessary sacrifices in order to maintain a wife and family; whereas
the position of the woman is very different. She very often enters the
married state because she has to—because more lucrative trades are
barred to her, because to remain unmarried will be to confess failure.
This state of things in itself gives the man an advantage, and enables
him to ensure (not necessarily consciously) that his share of the
bargain shall be advantageous to himself—to ensure, in short, that he
gets his money’s worth. With his wife, on the other hand, it has often
been a case of take it or leave it; since she knows that, if she does
leave it, she will not be able to strike any more advantageous bargain

These being the conditions under which, consciously or unconsciously,
the average wife strikes her bargain, it follows that in the ensuing
division of labour she generally gets the worst of the transaction, the
duties assigned to her being those which her husband would prefer not
to perform. They are handed over to her as a matter of course, and
on the assumption that they enter into what is commonly known as her
“sphere.” And it is this principle—that woman’s work is the kind of
work which man prefers not to do—which regulates and defines not only
the labour of a woman in her own household, but the labour of women

I am quite aware that this principle is not openly admitted in
assigning to woman her share of the world’s work—that, on the
contrary, the results of its application are explained away on the
theory that there is a “natural” division of labour between the two
sexes. But when one comes to examine that theory, dispassionately
and without prejudice, one finds that it does not hold water—or
very little—since the estimate of woman’s “natural” work is such
an exceedingly variable quantity. One nation, people, or class,
will esteem it “natural” in woman to perform certain duties which,
in another nation, people, or class, are entirely left to men—so
much so, that woman’s sphere, like morality, seems to be defined by
considerations “purely geographical.” Unless we grasp the underlying
principle that woman’s “natural” labour in any given community is
the form of labour which the men of that community do not care to
undertake, her share in the world’s work must appear to be regulated by
sheer and arbitrary chance.


As soon as one comes to examine this subject of the “natural” sphere
of woman and woman’s work with anything like an open mind, one
discovers that in at least nine cases out of ten the word “suitable” or
“artificial” must be substituted for the word “natural.” There are only
two kinds of work natural to any human being: the labour by which, in
fulfilment of the curse laid upon Adam, he needs to earn his bread; and
what may be called the artistic or spontaneous labour which he puts of
his own free will into his hobbies, his pleasures, and his interests.
In some cases the two kinds—the bread-winning and the artistic or
spontaneous form of labour—can be combined; and those who can so
combine them, be they rich or poor, are the fortunate ones of the
earth. To a person in actual need of the means of supporting existence
any form of labour by which he or she can earn or obtain those means
of existence is a perfectly natural one. A sufficiently hungry
coal-heaver would do his best to hemstitch a silk pocket-handkerchief
for the price of a meal, and a sufficiently hungry woman would wrestle
with a coal-heaver’s job for the same consideration. In neither case
could the action of the sufficiently hungry person be called unnatural;
on the contrary, it would be prompted by the first and most urgent of
natural laws—the law of self-preservation, which would over-ride any
considerations of unsuitability. It does not, of course, follow from
this example that certain forms of labour are not more suitable to
women in general, and others not more suitable to men in general; all I
wish to insist on is that suitable and natural are not interchangeable
terms, and that what may be suitable at one place and under one set of
conditions may not be suitable in another place and under another set
of conditions.

The care of young children seems to be a department of labour so
suitable to women that one may venture to assume that it is natural
to a good many of them, though not by any means to all. (Not the
least serious result of compulsory marriage has been the compulsory
motherhood of women in whom the maternal instinct is slight—of whom
there are many.) I do not mean that men should necessarily be excluded
altogether from the tending of children; in many men the sense of
fatherhood is very strong, in spite of the discouragement it receives
under present conditions. If that discouragement were removed the
paternal instinct might manifest itself in a more personal care of
children; but on the whole one imagines that such personal care of
children will always come more easily to woman. On the other hand,
as most men are stronger muscularly than women, those departments of
labour which require the exertion of considerable muscular strength
must, under ordinary circumstances, naturally be monopolized by man.
But between these two extremes there lies what may be called a neutral
or debatable ground of labour requiring the exercise of qualities
which are the exclusive property of neither sex. It is in this
neutral field that the law to which I have alluded above comes into
operation—the law under which the activities of women are confined
to those departments of the labour market into which men do not
care, or actively object, to enter. Thus, if there were no question
of economic competition, it seems to me that the invasion by woman of
these departments of the labour market which were formerly monopolized
by men would be bound to awaken a certain amount of opposition; since
her consequent desertion of the dull, unpleasant, and monotonous tasks
assigned to her, might mean that these tasks would have to be performed
by those who had hitherto escaped the necessity by shifting it on to
her shoulders. Hence a natural and comprehensible resentment.

The average and unthinking man who passes his existence in a modern
civilized town, if he were asked upon what principle the work of
the world were shared between the men and the women who inhabit it,
would very probably reply, in his average and unthinking way, that
the idea underlying the division of labour between the sexes was the
idea of sparing woman the hard bodily toil for which she was unfitted
by her lack of physical strength. If that really were the principle
upon which the division of labour was made, it is clear that the
ordinary male clerk ought at once to change places with the ordinary
housemaid or charwoman, the ordinary ticket-collector with the
ordinary laundress. The physical labour of holding a pen or collecting
tickets is infinitely less than the physical labour of carrying coals
upstairs, scrubbing a floor, or wringing out a dirty garment. There
is no particular or inevitable reason why such changes should not be
made—and no further away than France housemaid’s duties are very
commonly performed by men. Clerking, the duties of a ticket-collector,
laundry-work and housework are all situated upon that neutral ground
of labour to which I have alluded above; they are forms of work which
do not call for the exercise of qualities peculiar to either sex, and
which, therefore, can be equally well performed by persons of either

To take another instance. In most civilized countries the rougher
branches of agriculture are looked upon as work which is unsuited to
women, because making too heavy demands upon their strength. Amongst
primitive and semicivilized peoples, on the other hand, the tilling
of the soil is often left entirely to women; while the dweller in
towns—who usually has most to say about these matters—would probably
be astonished if he realized how largely women’s work is employed, even
in Europe, in the rougher processes of agriculture. (Within less than a
twenty-four hours’ journey from London I have seen a woman yoked to a
plough.) In certain small communities on the Breton coast I understand
that the work of agriculture is carried on entirely by the women of the
community; the men—fishermen by trade—occupying themselves during
the long periods of enforced idleness between the fishing seasons by
dressmaking for the household, and other forms of sewing. I have before
me, as I write, a specimen of the needlework of one of these Breton
fishermen: a penwiper, neatly cut and sewn, and quaintly ornamented
with a design in yellow thread—the sort of trifle that we should
regard as an essentially feminine production. To me such a division
of labour does not seem in the least “unnatural.” Having regard to
the circumstances, I can well understand that the man who took needle
and scissors to produce my penwiper—and who had his fill of stormy
and open air toil at other times—should prefer to set his hand to a
restful occupation which would keep him in his home, rather than to the
plough or the spade, which would take him out of it.

In the beginning of things, labour seems to have been divided between
the sexes on a fairly simple plan. Man did most of the hunting and most
of the fighting; and woman, only joining in the hunting and fighting
if necessity arose, did all the rest. In savage tribes which have
suddenly come under the domination of a civilized race—a domination
which usually means not only the cessation of tribal warfare, but a
rapid decrease in the raw material of the chase—the male, debarred
from the exercise of his former avocations, frequently refuses to
do anything at all. Deprived of the only work proper to man, and
disinclined, at first, to undertake the work he considers proper to
woman, he is apt to fold his hands and exist in idleness on what is, to
all intents and purposes, the slave-labour of his female belongings.
The distaste of certain South African races for what we esteem men’s
work is well known, and has had political consequences before now;
and it is said that in some primitive American tribes a man would
consider that he demeaned himself by undertaking such strictly feminine
work as the hewing and carrying of wood. (One is led to the conclusion
that the idea of woman as a wife-and-mother-and-nothing-else must be
of comparatively modern growth. “Natural” man did not think of her in
that light at all; he had so many other uses for her. Or, perhaps, one
might put it that his definition of the duties of a wife and mother was

The early arts and the first processes of manufacture are supposed to
have originated with that half of the human race which is now denied
invention and initiative—arising naturally out of her more complicated
duties and more settled habits of living. Woman was certainly, and all
unknown to herself, the civilizing agent in the primitive community.
The hut, clearing, or cave where she tended the hearth and carried on
her rude industries, and whither her man returned from his roaming
expeditions, was the germ and nucleus of the city where her descendants
now dwell.

It was not until the world grew more crowded, less of a place to
fight in, less of a place to hunt in, that man began to consider
other means and take to other ways of earning his living—to dig and
to engage in manufactures. In other words, he began to invade the
sphere of woman (it is as well to remember this), and to parcel out
and divide the industries hitherto monopolized by her. This process
of parcelling out and division was carried out in accordance with the
principle already mentioned—that woman was to keep those trades which
men did not care to embark upon; and, roughly speaking, his preference
in the matter has always been for those callings and professions
which ensured him, in addition to his livelihood, and, if possible, a
prospect of advancement, a certain amount of variety in his existence,
and a certain amount of intercourse with his fellows. His tendency,
therefore, has been to annex those trades which afforded him the
desired amount of variety, intercourse, and prospect of advancement,
and to leave to woman the monotonous, prospectless, and isolated
callings—callings which were usually connected with the home; and
that tendency seems to have continued with very little check until
the beginning of the revolution in our social and industrial system
which was brought about by the introduction of machinery—a revolution
which, incidentally and amongst other things, is changing almost beyond
recognition the institution known as the home, modifying the relations
of the sexes, and completely altering the position of woman by forcing
her, whether she likes it or not, to stand on her own feet.

I have dwelt at some length upon this tendency in the dominant
sex—the outcome of no deliberate selfishness, but of the natural and
instinctive human impulse to take the line of least resistance and get
what one wants in the easiest way—because it seems to me to afford the
only reasonable explanation of the customary hard and fast division of
labour between an ordinary man and an ordinary wife. Fundamentally, I
can see no reason why it should be the duty of the wife, rather than
of the husband, to clean doorsteps, scrub floors, and do the family
cooking. Men are just as capable as women of performing all these
duties. They can clean doorsteps and scrub floors just as well as
women; they can cook just as well as women, sometimes better. Why,
then, should it be assumed that it is the natural thing for a married
woman to take over these particular departments of work, and that when
a bride undertakes to love, honour, and obey her husband, she also
undertakes to scrub his floors and fry his steaks? The answer to that
question seems to be, not that it is natural for a woman to like a form
of labour which is usually monotonous and without prospect, but that
it is quite natural for a man to dislike it—and therefore leave it to
some one else.

One of the best examples, in a small way, of the tendency I have been
speaking of I got not long ago from a friend of mine, a woman of the
working-class. I happened to be one of an audience she was addressing,
when she suddenly put to it the unexpected question—“Why does the
father carve the joint in rich people’s houses, when in poor people’s
houses it is the mother who carves it?” One, at least, of her audience
was entirely at a loss for an answer to the conundrum until it was
duly furnished by the speaker—running as follows: “In rich people’s
houses the father carves the joint, because there is always enough
to go round and the carver can help himself to the tit-bits. In poor
people’s houses the mother carves the joint, because there mayn’t be
always enough to go round and the carver gets the last helping.” I have
no doubt that her explanation of the two customs is correct. Where the
labour of carving is a pleasant duty, likely to bring its reward, it is
performed by the head of the household; where it is an unpleasant duty,
incurring penalty in the place of reward, the head of the household
decides to pass it on to some one else. I do not mean that he decides
it after due and selfish deliberation—he simply obeys a natural
unthinking impulse.

It will be urged, of course, that motherhood and the care of children
being the central point and fundamental interest in a woman’s life,
the domestic duties and arts spring naturally from that central point
and group themselves around it; and that this, and not any question of
masculine likes and dislikes in the matter, is the real reason why, all
over the world, certain forms of labour, some of them of a drudging and
unpleasant nature, are thrust upon her—by the decree of Providence,
and not by the will of her husband.

I am always suspicious of those decrees of Providence which run
parallel to the interests of persons who have taken it upon themselves
to expound Providential wisdom; and, as I have already explained, I
am inclined to doubt that there exists in every woman an overpowering
maternal instinct which swamps all other interests and desires. But
even if, for the sake of argument, the universality of an overpowering
maternal instinct be admitted, it is legitimate to point out that
housework and its unpaid drudgery is not only performed in the
interests of children. It is performed in childless households; it
is expected, as a matter of course, by fathers from their daughters,
by brothers from their sisters. It is performed, in short, in the
interests of the man quite as much as in the interests of the
child—perhaps more, since, in a busy household, the child, so far
from being the central point and pivot of an establishment, is often
attended to only incidentally, and in the time that can be snatched
from other duties. Further, in the numerous households where husband
and wife alike go out to work—perhaps at the same form of labour, as
is the case in many factory districts—the woman on returning home
(after working all day, just as her husband does, to contribute her
share to the weekly expenses necessary for the support of household and
children) has to cook, clean, sew, etc., in the time which her husband
can employ as he chooses. In such instances the wife has taken her
share in what are usually considered the typical duties of a husband,
and it would be only reasonable to suppose that, in the consequent
rearrangement of the domestic economy, the husband, as a matter of
course, would take his share in the typical duties of a wife. In some
cases, no doubt, he does; but as a general rule the household duties
are left to the woman, in exactly the same manner as they would be left
to her if she did not leave her house to work for a wage. And they
are left to her simply because her husband considers them tiresome or
unpleasant, and therefore declines to perform them.

I have laid stress on the conditions under which woman’s work as a
wife, mother, and housekeeper is usually carried on, because it seems
to me that the influence of those conditions has extended far beyond
that narrow circle of the home to which, until comparatively lately,
her energies have been confined. It was within the four walls of the
home that man learned to look upon her as a being whose share of work
was always the unpleasant share, and whose wages were the lowest wages
that could possibly be given. And—which is far worse—she learned to
look upon herself in the same light, as a creature from whom much must
be demanded and to whom little must be given. Small wonder, then, with
that age-long tradition behind her, that when she is forced out into
the world, unorganized and unprepared, she finds it hard to get even a
living wage for the work of her head and hands—and that when you speak
of a sweated you mean a woman’s trade.

There is, so far as I can see, only one way in which woman can make
herself more valued, and free herself from the necessity of performing
duties for which she gets neither thanks nor payment. She must do as
men have always done in such a situation—shirk the duties.


There is one element in the relations between man and wife to which, as
yet, I have hardly referred. I mean that element which is known as the
exercise of protection by the stronger over the weaker—by the man over
the woman. In considering the rewards of wifehood, great or small, it
cannot, of course, be passed over without examination, since it seems
to be assumed that a man pays his wife for services unpaid in other
ways by defending her against perils, physical or otherwise.

Now there can be no doubt that in former ages and all over the
world—as in certain regions of the world to-day—this physical
protection of the weaker by the stronger, of the woman by the man, was
a thing that really counted in marriage. The women of a savage tribe
which was constantly at war with surrounding savage tribes, would have
to rely on the strength and skill in warfare of their men to deliver
them from capture or death. In such a primitive state of affairs every
man might be called upon at any moment to exercise in his own person
duties of defence and protection which the average man now delegates
to the paid soldier and the paid policeman. In the beginning of things
the head of every family possessed the right of private war and private
justice, and it was on his success in both these fields of activity
that the lives and the welfare of his womenfolk and children would very
largely depend. It was only by virtue of his strength that he could
maintain possession of his property in goods or in human flesh. It was
by virtue of his superior strength that he reduced woman to subjection,
and in return, and as a form of payment for her toil, defended her
from the attacks of others. So arose and originated the idea of the
physical protection necessarily meted out by husband to wife; an idea
real enough in the beginning. Circumstances alter cases; but they often
take a long time to alter ideas, and this particular one continues to
flourish luxuriantly in places where the order of things that gave it
birth has passed into the forgotten. One still hears people talk as if
a clerk or a greengrocer’s assistant, married in a suburban chapel and
going to Cliftonville for his honeymoon, undertook thereby to shelter
his better half from heaven knows what of vague and mysterious peril.
From other times and other manners, beginning with the days when a
stone axe formed a necessary part of a bridegroom’s wedding garment,
into places where moral force has fought the worst of its bitter battle
with physical force, into days when private war is called murder and
the streets are policed, there has come down the superstition that the
ordinary civilized man performs doughty feats of protection for the
benefit of the ordinary civilized wife. And it seems to be accepted
that that element of protection is a natural and unavoidable element in
the relations of married man and woman—even of married man and woman
living in a suburban flat.

Once upon a time it was a natural and unavoidable element in
the relations of every married couple; just as it was natural
and unavoidable, once upon a time, that the unwarlike and
commercially-minded burghers of a mediæval city should bargain
with a neighbouring and predatory baron to keep at bay—for a
consideration—other barons no less predatory but a little less
neighbouring. That sort of arrangement, I believe, was fairly common
in the Middle Ages when predatory barons were in a position which
enabled them to bend the law to their own liking, and when the obvious
thing for honest and peaceable men to do was to set a thief to catch
a thief. A recognized institution in its day, this particular form of
protection passed with the growth of a central authority, with the
suppression of private warfare and the substitution of a national for
a tribal ideal. Instead of paying blackmail to a brigand, the city, in
its later days, organized a police force of its own and contributed
its share towards the upkeep of a national army. And the overlord
vanished because, his duties having been taken away from him, there was
nothing left for him to do. Much the same sort of thing has happened in
other directions; increasing civilization has left other than barons
without the duties that formerly appertained to their position. Like
the protective functions of the overlord, the protective functions of
the husband have been centralized and nationalized, regulated by the
community and delegated to the soldier and the policeman. Where stable
government exists the number of men who offer up their lives each
year in actual defence of their own hearths and their own wives is, I
imagine, small; so small that I do not suppose the insurance companies
take much account of it in estimating their risks. I have not the least
intention of casting any reflection upon the courage of the average
civilized husband or inferring that he is not willing to offer up his
life in defence of his better half if called upon to do so; I merely
state the obvious fact that he is not very often called upon to make
the sacrifice. Even in those countries where universal military service
is established, the duty of defending the national (not the individual)
hearth and home falls last upon men who are married and have a family
to support; it is the young, unmarried men who are called upon to form
the first line of defence and defiance. And in ordinary every-day
life it is the strong arm of the law and not the strong arm of the
individual husband which secures a woman from hurt and molestation.
If it were not so the unprotected spinster would be in a truly piteous
plight. As a matter of fact, she usually finds that the ordinary
constable is quite adequate for all her requirements in the protective

Closely allied to this idea of individual masculine protection is
that other, and still more vaguely nebulous, idea of chivalry or
preferential treatment of women in general by men in general. Which
necessitates an inquiry into what the average modern man really means
when he talks of chivalry in this connection.

Frankly, it does not seem to me that he means very much. My own
experience leads me to define chivalry—not the real thing, but the
term as it is commonly used, say, in the public press—to define
chivalry as a form, not of respect for an equal, but of condescension
to an inferior; a condescension which expresses itself in certain rules
of behaviour where non-essentials are involved. In very few really
essential matters between man and woman is the chivalric principle
allowed to get so much as a hearing; in practically all such matters
it is, as I have already pointed out, an understood thing that woman
gets the worst of the bargain, does the unpleasant work in the common
division of labour, and, when blame is in question, sits down under the
lion’s share of it. In return for this attitude on her part—which,
if voluntary, would be really chivalrous, but being involuntary is
merely servile—man undertakes to regulate his conduct towards her by
certain particular forms of outward deference. His attitude, so far
as one can gather is something like this: as long as you refrain from
coming into competition with us, as long as you will allow us to look
down upon you, as long as you are content to regard yourselves not only
as our dependents, but as persons sent into the world to minister to
our comforts and our pleasures, so long shall our outward behaviour
towards you be framed in a particular code of manners which secures
you preferential treatment in unimportant matters. But, in order to
secure this preferential treatment in unimportant matters, you must put
no strain upon our courtesy, and you must defer to our wishes in more
important things; you must not trespass upon the domain that we have
reserved for our own use, you must not infringe the rules which have
been laid down for your guidance and whose aim is to secure our own

In other words what is commonly known as “chivalry” is not a
spontaneous virtue or impulse on the part of modern man, but the form
in which he pays his debt for value received from woman. Directly she
fails to fulfil her own important share of the bargain, he considers
himself at liberty to refuse payment; at least, one must conclude so
from the frequency with which the “independent” woman of to-day is
threatened with the extinction of chivalry if she continued to assert
herself in a manner which may be consistent with her own desires, but
which is not consistent with the desires of average male humanity.
Looked at in that light, the preferential code of manners, which is all
that is usually understood by chivalry, bears distinct resemblance to
the sugar that attempts to veil the flavour of a pill or the jam that
does its best to conceal the noxiousness of a lurking powder. By a
simple process of exchange and barter outward deference on the one side
is given in payment for real deference and subjection on the other;
and, that being the case, it is quite open to woman to look into the
terms of her bargain, reconsider them, and ask herself whether she is
not paying too high a price for value received. For, with every respect
for courtesy, the opening of a door and the lifting of a hat, however
reverential, are among the small things of life.

It will no doubt be objected that chivalry is something infinitely
greater than what I have called outward forms of deference. I agree
that that is not the true meaning of the word; but I maintain that, in
general practice, the virtue of chivalry, in so far as it enters into
the daily lives of most women, amounts to outward forms of deference
and little more. As soon as we come to essentials, we realize that
the counteracting principle will inevitably be brought into play—the
principle that the woman must always be sacrificed to the interests of
the man.

There are, of course, exceptions to that rule—and noble ones. It is
written that in common danger of death the stronger must think first,
not of his own life, but of the lives of those weaker and dependent
upon him; and whatever other laws a man might break with impudence and
impunity, he would very certainly be ashamed to confess to a breach of
this particular commandment. One respects such habitual obedience as
fine and finely disciplined; but it is not decrying it to point out
that not every man is called upon to exercise it and that the form of
chivalry cultivated by most is necessarily of a less strenuous type.
And into chivalry of the less strenuous type the idea of self-sacrifice
in essentials does not as a rule enter, since it is, as I have already
shown, in the nature of a reward or payment for self-sacrifice in

I am quite aware that there are a great many women of the upper and
middle classes—women, for the most part, who lead a leisured and
comfortable existence—who attach an inordinately high value to outward
forms of deference from the men with whom they come in contact.
Considering their training and education, and the trend of their whole
lives, it is perhaps only natural that they should. The aim of that
training and education has been, as I have shown, not to develop their
individuality and capacities, but to make themselves and their actions
pleasing to the men with whom they may happen to come in contact; and,
that being so, approval from the men with whom they may happen to come
in contact is naturally a thing of the utmost importance to them. To
lack it is to lack the whole reward of a well-spent life. By women with
this narrow outlook on the world superficial courtesies and superficial
deference are interpreted to mean approval and, therefore, success in
pleasing—almost the only form of success open to them. Further, the
lives of such women are usually sheltered, and thus they do not have
very much opportunity of realizing that the meed of ceremony to which
they are accustomed is largely a tribute paid, not to themselves or to
their womanhood, but to the particular leisured class to which they
happen to belong.

Whatever the reason, it is certain that many women of the “comfortable”
class do cling desperately and rather pathetically to the idea of
their little privileges in this respect; I have over and over again
heard such women oppose efforts to better their own position and that
of others simply on the ground that “men would not treat us in the
same way—there would be no chivalry, they would not be polite to
us any longer.” Apparently the good souls are under the impression
that no man is ever polite to a person he does not despise; and this
sort of argument shows how completely those who use it have learned
to substitute the shadow for the reality and dissociate what is
commonly called chivalry from respect. To them masculine courtesy is
an expression not of reverence for women, but of more or less kindly
contempt for them—and they are quite content that it should be so.
Personally, this attitude—an attitude of voluntary abasement assumed
in order that man may know the pleasure of condescension—is the only
thing that ever makes me ashamed of being a woman; since it is the
outward and visible expression of an inward servility that has eaten
and destroyed a soul.


Modern chivalry, then, has been narrowed down, if not in theory, at
any rate in practice, to a code of deferential behaviour affecting
such matters and contingencies as the opening of doors, the lifting of
hats, and the handing of teacups; but not touching or affecting the
pre-eminence and predominance of man in the more important interests of
life. At its best, such a code of behaviour is a meritorious attempt to
atone for advantage in essentials by self-abnegation in non-essentials;
at its worst, it is simply an expression of condescension.

That there is a chivalry which means something other and more than
this—which is based upon the idea, not of condescension, but of real
respect for women—I shall not deny; but it is comparatively rare—for
the simple reason that the qualities encouraged and fostered in the
ordinary woman are not the sort of qualities which command respect.
They may have other merits, but that one they lack. For, be it noted,
respect is a tribute to be commanded; not a reward to be won by
supplication, by abasement, or compliance with the wishes of others. We
do not necessarily like what we respect—for instance, the strength,
the skill, and the resources of an enemy; and we do not necessarily
respect in other people qualities which, in our own interests, we
should like them to possess—qualities of subservience, submission,
and timidity, which we are quite willing to make use of even while we
despise them.

This latter attitude, it seems to me, is the attitude of man to woman.
For generations the training of woman has been directed towards the
encouragement in her of certain qualities and characteristics—such
as subservience, narrowness of mind, stupidity—all of them designed
to promote the comfort and well-being of her owner, but none of them
calculated to arouse in him a sensation of esteem. One may be kind to a
person who is subservient, narrow-minded, and stupid; but one does not
respect that person. It is no reproach whatever to a man to say that
he does not respect women so long as he believes (and is encouraged
to believe) that their only interests in life are the interests
represented in a newspaper by the page entitled, _Woman’s World_,
or the _Sphere of Woman_—a page dealing with face-powder, frilled
nightgowns, and anchovy toast. No sane and intelligent man could feel
any real respect for a woman whose world was summed up in these things.
If the face-powder were applied with discretion and the directions on
the subject of anchovy toast carried out with caution, he might find
her an ornament as well as a convenience in his home; but it would be
impossible for him to respect her, because she would not be, in the
proper sense of the word, respectable. If he encourages the type, it is
not because he respects it.

It may, of course, be urged that woman’s claim to reverence and respect
is based on far higher and surer ground than mere intelligence, or
even character—on the fulfilment of her duties as wife and mother.
Personally, I fail to see that any very great measure of respect or
reverence is dealt out to her on this or any other ground—except,
perhaps, now and again on paper; and even if it were, I should not,
under present conditions, consider it justified. As long as the
fulfilment of those duties is not a purely voluntary action on the
part of woman, it gives her no claim upon any one’s respect. Heroism
under pressure is not heroism at all; and there is, to my mind, nothing
the least exalted or noble in bringing up children, cooking chops,
and cleaning doorsteps merely because very few other ways of earning
a decent living happen to be open to you. And so long as marriage and
motherhood are not matters of perfectly free choice on the part of the
majority of women, so long will the performance of the duties incurred
by marriage and motherhood, however onerous and however important,
constitute no particular title to respect.

In so far as men do respect women, and not despise them, it seems
to me that they respect them for exactly those qualities which they
esteem in each other—and which, paradoxically enough, are for the
most part exactly those qualities which they have done their best to
erase and eradicate from the feminine character. The characteristics
which make a man or a woman “respectable” are not the characteristics
of subserviency and servility; on the contrary, those particular
characteristics, even when encouraged for interested reasons, are
rightly and naturally regarded with contempt. They may be more
comfortable to live with—man evidently thinks so—but, comfortable
or not, they are despised instinctively. They have their reward, no
doubt; but that reward is not reverence and respect—since reverence
and respect must be commanded, not coaxed or cringed for. A woman
who insists on flinging aside the traditions of her early training,
standing on her own feet, fighting her own battle, and doing that which
is right in her own eyes, may not get from man anything more than
respect, but, in the long run, she will certainly get that. It may be
given grudgingly, but it will be given, all the same; since courage and
independence of thought are qualities respectable in themselves. And,
on the other hand, and however much he may desire to do so, it is, I
should say, quite impossible for any thinking man to entertain a real
reverence and esteem for a section of humanity which he believes to
exist solely in order to perform certain animal functions connected
with, and necessary to, the reproduction of the race. After all, it is
not upon the performance of a purely animal function that a human being
should found his or her title to respect; if woman is reverenced only
because she reproduces her kind, a still higher meed of reverence is
due to the rabbit.

And in this connection it is interesting to note that the mediæval
institution of chivalry, with its exalted, if narrow, ideal of
reverence for, and service of, womanhood, took its rise and flourished
in times when the housekeeping and child-bearing trade was not the
only occupation open to women; when, on the contrary, they had, in the
religious life, an alternative career, equally honoured with, if not
more honoured than, marriage; and when it was not considered essential
to the happiness and well-being of every individual woman to pair off,
after the fashion of the animals going into the ark. Whatever the
defects and drawbacks of conventual life, it stood for the principle,
denied before and since, that woman had an existence of her own apart
from man, a soul to be saved apart from man. It was a flat defiance of
the theory that she came into the world only to marry and reproduce her
kind; it acknowledged and admitted the importance of her individual
life and conduct; in short, it recognized her as something besides
a wife and a mother, and gave her other claims to respect than that
capacity for reproduction which she shared with the lower animals.
Further, by making celibacy an honourable instead of a despised estate,
it must have achieved an important result from an economic point of
view; it must have lessened the congestion in the marriage market by
lessening the number of women who regarded spinsterhood as the last
word in failure. It enhanced the value of the wife and mother by making
it not only possible, but easy, for her to become something else. It
opened up a career to an ambitious woman; since, in the heyday of the
Church, the head of a great community of nuns was something more than
a recluse—a power in the land, an administrator of estates. None of
these things, of course, were in the minds of those who instituted the
celibate, conventual life as a refuge from the world; they were its
unforeseen results, but none the less real because unforeseen. They
followed on the institution of the conventual life for woman because it
represented the only organized attempt ever made to free her from the
necessity of compulsory marriage and child-bearing.

I have no bias, religious or otherwise, in favour of the conventual
life, which, as hitherto practised, is no doubt open to objection on
many grounds; but it seems to me that any institution or system which
admits or implies a reason for woman’s existence other than sexual
intercourse and the reproduction of her kind must tend inevitably to
raise the position not only of the celibate woman, but, indirectly, of
the wife and mother. In its palmy days, when it was a factor not only
in the spiritual life of a religious body, but in the temporal life of
the State, the convent, with all its defects, must have stood for the
advancement of women; and if it had never come into existence, I very
much doubt whether the injunctions laid upon knighthood would have
included respect for and service of womanhood.

The upheaval which we term the Reformation, whatever its other merits,
was distinctly anti-feminist in its tendencies. Where it did not sweep
the convent away altogether, it narrowed its scope and sapped its
influence; and, being anti-feminist, evolved no new system to take
the place of that which it had swept away. The necessity of replacing
the monk by the schoolmaster was recognized, but not the necessity
of replacing the nun by the schoolmistress; the purely physical and
reproductive idea of woman being once again uppermost, the need for
training her mind no longer existed. The masterful women of the
Renaissance had few successors; and John Knox, with his _Monstrous
Regiment of Women_, but the mouthpiece of an age which was setting
vigorously to work to discourage individuality and originality in the
weaker sex by condemning deviations from the common type to be burnt as

This favourite pastime of witch-burning has not, I think, been
sufficiently taken into account in estimating the reason for the
low standard of intelligence attained by women at a time when
men were making considerable progress in social and intellectual
fields. The general impression appears to be that only old, ugly,
and decrepit hags fell victims to popular superstition or the
ingenuity of the witch-finder; but, as a matter of fact, when the
craze for witch-finding was at its height, any sort of peculiarity,
even beauty of an unusual and arresting type, seems to have been
sufficient to expose a woman to the suspicion of secret dealings
with the Prince of Darkness. At first sight it seems curious (since
the religious element in a people is usually the feminine element)
that the Prince of Darkness should have confined his dealings almost
exclusively to women—it has been estimated that wizards were done
to death in the proportion of one to several thousand witches; but
on further consideration one inclines to the belief that the fury of
witch-burning by which our ancestors were possessed must have been
prompted by motives other than purely devotional. In all probability
those motives were largely unconscious; but the rage of persecution
against the witch has so much in common with the customary masculine
policy of repressing, at any cost, all deviations from the type of
wife-and-mother-and-nothing-else, that one cannot help the suspicion
that it was more or less unconsciously inspired by that policy.


So far as I have treated of the various influences which have been
brought to bear upon women with the object of fitting them for the
trade to which the male half of humanity desired to confine them; and I
have, I hope, made it clear that, to a certain extent, these influences
have defeated their own ends by discouraging the intelligence which
ought to be a necessary qualification for motherhood, even if it is not
a necessary qualification for wifehood. It remains to be considered
what effect this peculiar training for one particular and peculiar
trade has had upon woman’s activity in those departments of the world’s
work which are not connected with marriage and motherhood, how it has
acted upon her capacity for wage-earning and bread-winning on her own
account, how it has affected her power of achievement in every other
direction; what, in short, has been its effect upon woman in the life
that she leads apart from man. (I must ask the male reader to be good
enough to assume, even if he cannot honestly believe, that woman can,
and occasionally does, lead a life apart from man.)

And one notes, to begin with, that the customary training, or lack of
training, for marriage tends almost inevitably to induce that habit and
attitude of mind which is known as amateurishness. And particularly, I
should say, in the large class of society, which we describe roughly as
the middle class; where the uncertainty with regard to the position,
profession and consequent manner of living of the probable husband
is so great as to make a thorough and businesslike training for the
future nearly an impossibility. The element of chance—an element
which plays such a very large part in the life, at any rate, of the
average married woman—may upset all calculations based on the probable
occupation and requirements of the husband, render carefully acquired
accomplishments useless or unnecessary, and call for the acquirement
of others hitherto unwanted and even undreamed of. Two sisters brought
up in exactly the same surroundings and educated in exactly the same
manner may marry, the one a flourishing professional or city man, who
expects her to dress well, talk well, give good dinners and generally
entertain his friends; the other a man whose work lies on the frontier
of civilization where she will find it necessary to learn something of
the management of horses and to manufacture her own soap and candles.
While a third sister in the same family may never marry at all, but
pass her life in furnished apartments, being waited on by landladies.
These may be extreme, but they are not very unusual instances of the
large part taken by sheer chance in the direction of a woman’s life
and the consequent impossibility of mapping out and preparing for the
future. Hence a lack of thoroughness and an attitude towards life of
helplessness and what I have called amateurishness. (The corresponding
male attitude is found in the unskilled labourer of the “odd job”
type.) Hence also the common feminine habit of neglecting more solid
attainments in order to concentrate the energies on an endeavour to be
outwardly attractive.

This concentration of energy on personal adornment, usually attributed
to vanity or overflowing sexuality, is, so far as I can see, largely
the outcome of a sound business instinct. For, be it remembered,
that the one solid fact upon which an ordinary marriageable girl has
to build the edifice of her life is the fact that men are sensitive
to, and swayed by, that quality in woman which is called personal
charm. What else her future husband will demand of her is more or
less guess-work—nothing upon which to raise a solid foundation of
preparation for his requirements and her own. He may require her to sit
at the head of his table and talk fashionable gossip to his friends;
he may require her to saddle horses and boil soap; the only thing she
can be fairly certain of is that he will require her to fulfil his
idea of personal attractiveness. As a matter of business then, and not
purely from vanity, she specializes in personal attractiveness; and
the care, the time and the thoroughness which many women devote to
their own adornment, the choosing of their dresses and the curling of
their hair is thoroughly professional and a complete contrast to their
amateurishness in other respects.

The cultivation of personal charm, sometimes to the neglect of more
solid and valuable attainments, is the more natural, because, as I have
already pointed out, the material rewards of wifehood and motherhood
have no connection at all with excellence in the performance of the
duties of wifehood and motherhood—the wage paid to a married woman
being merely a wage for the possession of her person. That being the
case, the one branch of woman’s work which is likely to bring her a
material reward in the shape of an economically desirable husband is
cultivation of a pleasing exterior and attractive manners; and to this
branch of work she usually, when bent on marriage, applies herself in
the proper professional spirit. A sensible, middle-class mother may
insist on her daughter receiving adequate instruction in the drudgery
of household work and cookery; but if the daughter should be fortunate
enough to marry well such instruction will be practically wasted,
since the scrubbing, the stewing, the frying and the making of beds,
will inevitably be deputed to others. And the sensible, middle-class
mother is quite aware that her daughter’s chance of marrying well and
shirking disagreeable duties does not depend on the excellent manner
in which she performs those duties, but on the quality of her personal
attractions. The cultivation of her personal attractions, therefore, is
really a more important and serious business for the girl who desires
to marry than the acquirement of domestic accomplishments, which may,
or may not, be useful in her after life, and which in themselves are
unlikely to secure her the needful husband. This state of things is
frankly recognized in the upper or wealthier ranks of society. There
the typical domestic arts find practically no place in a girl’s scheme
of training, which is directed solely towards the end of making her
personally attractive and therefore desirable. Which means, of course,
that those women who are in a position to do so concentrate their
energies on the cultivation of those particular outward qualities by
which alone they can hope to satisfy their ambition, their need for
comfort, luxury, etc., or their desire to bring children into the
world. They recognize that however much man may profess to admire
the domestic and maternal qualities in woman, it is not that side of
her which arouses in him the desire for possession, and that the most
effective means of arousing that desire for possession is personal
charm. We have been told that every woman is at heart a rake; it would,
I think, be more correct to say that every woman who desires to attract
some member of the opposite sex so that she may marry and bear children
must, whatever she is at heart, be something of a rake on the surface.

With girls of the working-class, of course, a certain amount of
training in domestic work is usually gone through, since it is obvious
that domestic work will be required of them in after life; but even in
the humblest ranks of society the rule holds good that it is personal
attractiveness and not skill in the duties required of a wife and
mother which make a girl sought after and admired by the opposite sex.
Consequently even working-class wives and mothers, women who have
no chance of deputing their duties to paid servants, are frequently
nothing but amateurs at their trade—which they have only acquired
incidentally. In practically all ranks of society the real expert in
housekeeping or the care and management of infants is the “unattached”
woman who works in other people’s houses and attends to other people’s
children. She is the professional who knows her business and earns her
living by it; the wife and mother, as often as not, being merely the

Human nature, and especially male human nature, being what it is, I do
not know whether it is possible or even desirable that this state of
things should be altered. My object in calling attention to it is not
to suggest alteration (I have none to suggest), but simply to point
out that women who are brought up in the expectation of marriage and
nothing but marriage are almost of necessity imbued with that spirit of
amateurishness which makes for inefficiency; and that this spirit has
to be taken into account in estimating their difficulties where they
have to turn their attention to other trades than marriage.

There are several other respects in which the marriage tradition (by
which I mean the practical identification during many generations of
womanhood with wifehood and motherhood) acts as a drag and a hindrance
to the woman who, married or unmarried and with or against her will,
has been swept out of the sacred and narrow sphere of home to compete
for a wage in the open market. (Be it remembered that she is now
numbered not by hundreds or thousands, but by millions.) As I have
already pointed out, the trade of marriage is, by its very nature, an
isolated trade, permitting of practically no organization or common
action amongst the workers; and consequently the marriage-trained woman
(and nearly all women are marriage-trained—or perhaps it would be more
correct to say marriage expectant) enters industrial or commercial life
with no tradition of such organization and common action behind her.

I do not think that the average man realizes how much the average woman
is handicapped by the lack of this tradition, nor does he usually
trouble to investigate the causes of his own undoubted superiority
in the matter of combination and all that combination implies. In
accordance with his usual custom of explaining the shortcomings of
womanhood by an inferiority that is inherent and not artificial and
induced, he assumes that women cannot combine for industrial and other
purposes because it is “natural” for them to be jealous and distrustful
of one another. (This assumption is, of course, an indirect compliment
to himself, since the jealousy and distrust of women for each other
is understood to be inspired solely by their overpowering desire to
attract the admiration of the opposite sex.)

This simple and—to man—flattering explanation of woman’s inferiority
in this respect completely fails to take into account the fact that
the art of combination for a common purpose has been induced in one
half of humanity by influences which have not been brought to bear
upon the other half. I do not suppose that even the firmest and most
hardened believer in woman’s essential disloyalty, treachery and
incapacity for common action, would venture to maintain that if all
the men of past generations had been compelled to earn their living at
isolated forms of labour—say, as lighthouse-keepers or shepherds in
mountainous districts— the faculty of united action for common ends
would be very highly developed amongst them. As I have already tried to
show, in the division of labour between the two sexes man has almost
invariably reserved for himself (having the power to do so, and because
he considered them preferable) those particular occupations which
brought him into frequent contact with his fellows, which entailed
meeting others and working side by side with them; and this frequent
contact with his fellows was, in itself, a form of education which has
been largely denied to the other half of humanity. Woman’s intercourse
with her kind has been much more limited in extent, and very often
purely and narrowly social in character. Until comparatively recent
years it was unusual for women to form one of a large body of persons
working under similar conditions and conscious of similar interests. It
is scarcely to be wondered at that the modern system of industrialism
with its imperative need for co-operation and common effort should
have found her—thanks to her training—unprepared and entirely at a

It must be remembered also that the generality and mass of women have
never come under the direct influence of two of the most potent factors
in the social education and evolution of man as we know him—war and
politics. However de-civilizing an agency war may appear to-day, it
has not been without its civilizing influence, since it was through
the necessity of standing side by side for purposes of offence and
defence that man first learned the art of combining for a common end,
and acquired the virtues, at first purely military, that, in course
of time and under different circumstances, were to develop into civic
virtues. The camp was the state in embryo, the soldier the citizen in
embryo, and the military tradition the collective and social tradition
of organization for a common purpose and common interests. In the face
of a common peril, such as war, men readily forget their differences
and work shoulder to shoulder. Hence an appeal to the fears or the
warlike spirit of a discontented people is the instinctive refuge of
a government in difficulties, since there is no means so effective
for producing at least a passing phase of unity amongst the jarring
elements of a nation.

Woman, so far as one can judge, is, when occasion arises, just as much
influenced by that necessity of common action in a common danger which
first produced unity of effort and public spirit in man; but for her,
as a rule, occasion has not arisen. Now and again under exceptional
circumstances, such as a desperate and hard-fought siege, she has shown
that the sense of peril acts upon her in exactly the same way as it
acts upon her brethren; but the actual waging of battle has not often,
even in the most turbulent of ages, entered into her life to teach her
(along with other and less desirable lessons) the lesson of united
effort and subordination of individual interest to the common weal.

The exclusion of woman from the arena of politics has barred to
her another method of acquiring the art of combination and the
strength that inevitably springs from it; an exclusion based upon
the deep-rooted masculine conviction that she exists not for her own
benefit and advantage, but for the comfort and convenience of man.
Granted that she came into the world for that purpose only, the right
of effective combination in her own interests is clearly unnecessary
and undesirable, since it might possibly lead to results not altogether
conducive to the comfort and convenience of man. The masculine attitude
in this matter seems quite logical.


The above are not the only respects in which the peculiar training
for, or expectation of, marriage acts disadvantageously upon woman
as soon as she steps outside the walls of the home to earn her bread
by other means than household work and the bearing and rearing of
children. I have already pointed out that the wage she receives for
her work as a wife and mother is the lowest that she can receive—a
wage of subsistence only; and I believe that the exceedingly low rate
at which her services inside the home are valued has had a great deal
to do with the exceedingly low value placed upon her services outside
the home. Because her work as a wife and mother was rewarded only by
a wage of subsistence, it was assumed that no other form of work she
undertook was worthy of a higher reward; because the only trade that
was at one time open to her was paid at the lowest possible rate, it
was assumed that in every other trade into which she gradually forced
her way she must also be paid at the lowest possible rate. The custom
of considering her work as worthless (from an economic point of view)
originated in the home, but it has followed her out into the world.
Since the important painful and laborious toil incurred by marriage and
motherhood was not deemed worthy of any but the lowest possible wage,
it was only natural that other duties, often far less toilsome and
important, should also be deemed unworthy of anything much in the way
of remuneration.

It is very commonly assumed, of course, that the far higher rate of
wage paid to a man is based on the idea that he has, or probably will
have, a wife and children for whom he is bound to make provision.
If this were really the case, a widow left with a young family to
support by her labour, or even the mother of an illegitimate child,
would be paid for her work on the same basis as a man is paid for
performing similar duties. It is hardly needful to state that the
mother of fatherless children is not, as a rule, paid more highly than
her unmarried sister. Nor is the theory that the “unattached” woman
has only herself to support, and does not contribute to the needs of
others, borne out by facts. I believe that in all ranks of society
there is a pronounced disposition on the part of the family to regard
the income, earned or unearned, of its female members as something in
the nature of common property—the income, earned or unearned, of its
male members as much more of an individual possession. Wives who work
for a wage in factories, workshops, etc., usually devote the whole of
their earnings to the upkeep of the home; their husbands very commonly
only a part. Where sons and daughters of the same family go out to
work and live under one roof, it is customary for the girls to put
practically the entire amount of their wage into the common domestic
fund, while their brothers, from quite early years, pay a fixed sum to
cover the expenses of their board and lodging, retaining, as a matter
of course, the rest of their earnings for their own individual use.
And, so far as my observation goes, the same rule holds good in the
upper and middle classes. In the case of any monetary difficulty, any
need of financial help, the appeal, in the first instance, is nearly
always made to those women of the family who are understood to be in
a position to respond to it; it is tacitly assumed that they must be
the first to suffer and sacrifice themselves, the men of the family
being appealed to only when the women are unable or unwilling to meet
the demand. My experience may be unusual, but I have met very few
working-women of any class who, earning a decent livelihood at their
trade or profession, were not called upon to share their livelihood
with others.

It is not, therefore, on the ground that she has no one but herself
to support that a woman is almost invariably paid at a rate far lower
than the wage which would be given to a man for the performance of
the same work. A good many causes have combined to bring about the
sweating of women customary in most, if not all, departments of the
labour market; but it seems to me that not the least of those causes
is the long-established usage of regarding the work of a wife in the
home as valueless from the economic point of view—a thing to be
paid for (if paid for at all) by occasional gushes of sentiment.
Woman and wife being, according to masculine ideas, interchangeable
terms, it follows that, since the labour of a wife is valueless from
the economic point of view, the labour of any woman is valueless.
Naturally enough, this persistent undervaluing of her services has had
its effect upon woman herself; having been taught for generations that
she must expect nothing but the lowest possible wage for her work, she
finds considerable difficulty in realizing that it is worth more—and
undersells her male competitor. Thereupon angry objections on the part
of the male competitor, who fails to realize that cheap female labour
is one of the inevitable results of the complete acceptance by woman of
the tradition of her own inferiority to himself.

One wonders what sort of generation of women that would be which grew
from childhood to maturity unhampered and unhindered by the tradition
of its own essential inferiority to the male half of humanity. Such
a generation, at present, is a matter of pure guesswork; at least, I
have never yet known the woman, however independent, self-reliant,
indulged, or admired, who was not in some way affected by that
tradition—consciously or unconsciously. Even those of us who have
never known what it was to have a man to lean on, who have had to
fight our way through the world as the average male fights his, and
(since things are made infinitely easier for him) under disadvantages
unknown to the average man—even we find ourselves, unaccountably and
at unexpected moments, acting in accordance with the belief in which
we were reared, and deferring to the established tradition of inherent
masculine superiority; deferring to it after a fashion that, being
realized, is amusing to ourselves.

The effect of this attitude of the two sexes towards each other—an
attitude of inherent and essential superiority on the one side, of
inherent and essential inferiority on the other—is nearly always
apparent when men and women work together at the same trade. (Apparent,
at least, to the women; the men, one concludes, do not really grasp the
system by which they benefit.) What I refer to is the ordered, tacit,
but usually quite conscious endeavour on the part of women who work
side by side with men to defer to a superiority, real or supposed, on
the part of their male colleagues. Thus a woman will not only decline
to call attention to a blunder or oversight on the part of a male
fellow-worker, but she will, if possible, cover up his mistake, even if
she suffer by it, and, at any rate, will try to give him the impression
that it has escaped her notice; and this under circumstances where no
sort of injury to the blunderer would be involved, and which would not
prevent her from calling prompt attention to a similar slip if made by
a colleague of her own sex.

I have not the slightest doubt that this tendency on the part of
the working or business woman to pass over in silence the errors or
mistakes of the working or business man is attributed by the latter
(if, indeed, he notices it at all) to some mysterious operation of
the sexual instinct; while the lack of a similar palliative attitude
towards the errors and mistakes of a comrade of her own sex is, I
should imagine, attributed to the natural, inevitable, and incorrigible
“cattiness” of one woman towards another—the belief in such a natural,
inevitable, and incorrigible “cattiness” being a comfortable article
of the masculine faith.

The practice, it seems to me, can be explained without having recourse
to the all-pervading sexual instinct (usually understood to regulate
every action performed by women, from the buttoning of boots to the
swallowing of cough-drops). A similar practice, which can hardly
have originated in the sexual instinct, obtains amongst male persons
conscious of inferiority and desirous of standing well with their
superiors. Junior clerks are in the habit of preserving a discreet
silence with regard to errors of judgment traceable to employers,
managers, and heads of firms; and the understrapper who wishes to get
on in the world seldom makes a point of calling public attention to
the shortcomings of foremen and others who are set in authority over
him. On the contrary, he is usually—and wisely—tender towards their
failings; and in the same way women are frequently tender towards the
failings of those who, by virtue of sex and not of position, they
believe to be set in authority over them. The attitude in this respect
of working-woman to working-man is, as often as not, the attitude of
a subordinate, and in itself an acknowledgment of inferiority; it has
about it that tinge of servility which enjoins the turning of a blind
eye to the faults of a superior.

I do not mean that the practice of condoning masculine slips is always
prompted by an unthinking and servile compliance; on the contrary, it
is very general amongst the increasing class of women who have learned
to consider themselves as good as their masters—no less general, I
should say, than amongst those who accept feminine inferiority to
the male as a decree of nature. In their case the tenderness shown
to masculine failings, the desire to save the masculine “face,” is
usually quite conscious—I myself have heard it frankly discussed,
analyzed, and commented upon, time after time, by women whose
occupations brought them into daily contact with men. And as the
result of such frank discussion, analysis, and comment, I am inclined
to believe that on the whole the motives which, in this particular
class of women, induce extra consideration for the failings of a male
fellow-worker are motives which, in man himself, would probably be
described as chivalrous. Those of us who rub shoulders day after day
with the ordinary man are perfectly well aware that the ordinary man
(however much and however kindly he may seek to conceal the fact from
us) regards us as his inferiors in mental capacity; and that hence he
feels a peculiar and not unnatural soreness at having his errors and
failings either exposed to us or exposed by us. To be shown up before
your inferior brings with it, to most people, a sense of degradation;
to be shown up by your inferior makes the sense of degradation yet more
keenly unpleasant.

Most women who have had to pit their brain against the brain of the
ordinary man have learned to realize—sometimes with amusement,
sometimes, perhaps, with a measure of exultation—that the ordinary
man’s very belief in their essential inferiority has placed in their
hands a weapon whose edge is infinitely keener than any that he
possesses to use against them. It is just because she is regarded as
his inferior that it is in the power of a woman to humiliate a man
by the simple process of getting the better of him or holding his
weaknesses up to contempt. When we quarrel or argue with an average
man we know perfectly well that the vantage of the ground is ours; we
know perfectly well that defeat, for us, will not bring humiliation
in its train; that our antagonist, imbued with the conviction of his
own intense and inherent natural superiority, will take his victory
as a matter of course, and think it no disgrace to us that we have
been routed by a higher intelligence than our own. We have not much to
lose by defeat, we are not degraded by it—because we are the weaker
side. With a man who gets the worst of it in a contest with a woman
the case is quite different; since he suffers, in addition to actual
defeat, all the humiliation of the stronger when beaten by the weaker,
of the superior routed by the inferior force. With him defeat is not
only defeat, but ignominy; his vanity is wounded and his prestige
lowered. That being the case, the often expressed dislike of the
clever woman—that is to say, of the woman who possesses the power to
humiliate—is comprehensible enough.

It is, I think, because so many women realize how bitterly the ordinary
man resents and suffers under defeat by an inferior that they humour
and are tolerant of his somewhat galling attitude of what has been
called—I think by Mr. Bernard Shaw—intellectual condescension. They
realize that the punishment which it is in their power to inflict
on the offender would be out of all proportion to the unintentional
offence—infinitely harder and sharper than it deserves. It is for this
reason, I believe, that a woman, unless she is really stirred to strong
indignation and consequent loss of self-control, will seldom attempt to
“show up” a man or drive him into a corner with unanswerable argument.
Under far less provocation she would probably “show up” or corner a
woman; not because she bears a natural grudge against her own sex, but
because her victory over one of her own sex is a victory over an equal,
and does not necessarily involve wounded self-esteem and humiliation on
the part of the vanquished. The same decent instinct which prevents a
man from striking her with his clenched fist prevents her from striking
too hard at his self-esteem.

As far as my experience goes, this need of humouring the belief of
the average man in his own essential intellectual superiority is—
though not without its amusing side—a constant source of worry and
petty hindrance to the woman who has to earn her living by any form
of brain-work which brings her into contact with men. It means, of
course, that she puts a drag on her natural capacities, and attempts to
appear less efficient than she really is; it means that ideas which one
man would reveal frankly to another, suggestions which one man would
make openly to another, have by her to be wrapped up, hinted at, and
brought into operation by devious ways—lest the “predominant partner”
should take alarm at the possibility of being guided and prompted
by an inferior intelligence. The only remedy for such a tiresome
and unnecessary state of things seems to be the recognition by the
“predominant partner” of the fact that the human female is not entirely
composed of sex (inferior to his own); that the brain is not a sexual
organ; and that there is a neutral ground of intelligence (from which
sex and its considerations are excluded) where man and woman can meet
and hold intercourse, mutually unhampered by etiquette and respect for
a vulnerable masculine dignity.


In dealing with the training for marriage, I pointed out that the
qualities which make for success in the matrimonial market have
little or no connection with the qualities required for the efficient
performance of what is supposed to be the life-work of woman—the
care of home, of husband and of children. I pointed out that the
characteristics which are likely to obtain for a girl a desirable
husband are not the same characteristics which will have to be brought
into play if the husband, when he is obtained, is to find in her a
desirable wife from the domestic point of view; and that, as a general
rule, she is promoted to what should be the important and responsible
position of wife and mother on the strength of attainments which have
nothing to do with her fitness for the duties of that position.

The habit of judging a woman entirely by externals—appearance, dress,
and manners—is not confined to the man who is in search of a wife.
(“Judging” is, perhaps, the wrong phrase to use—it is, rather, a habit
of resigning judgment so as to fall completely under the influence of
externals.) It is very general amongst all classes of male employers,
and its result is, it seems to me, a serious bar to efficiency in
women’s work. It pays better in the marriage market to be attractive
than to be efficient, and in a somewhat lesser degree the same rule
holds good in certain other departments of women’s labour.

To a certain degree, of course, a man’s fitness for any particular work
is judged by externals; but never to the same degree as a woman’s.
Further, the judgment passed upon a man who is chosen to fill a
vacancy because his prospective employer “likes the look of him” has
some relation to the qualities which will be required of him in the
execution of the duties he will be called upon to perform—it is not
biased by irrelevant considerations of sex. A merchant will like the
looks of a clerk who has the outward appearance of being smart, well
mannered, well educated, and intelligent; an employer who wishes to
engage a man for work which involves the carrying of heavy sacks will
like the looks of a man who is possessed of muscular arms and a pair of
broad shoulders. In each case he is favourably influenced by the man’s
externals because they seem to him to indicate the qualities which he
requires in his prospective employé.

The number of men who could engage a young woman to work under them
on this purely commercial and unemotional basis is, I should say,
comparatively limited. I do not mean, of course, that the element of
sexual attraction enters consciously into the calculations of the
ordinary male employer when engaging a woman, but it certainly enters
unconsciously into the calculations of a good many. A man who says
that he likes the looks of a girl whom he has engaged to fill the
position of typist or cashier, does not usually mean at all the same
thing that he means when he says that he likes the looks of his new
porter or junior clerk: he does not mean that the girl strikes him as
appearing particularly fitted for the duties of typist or cashier—more
alert, more intelligent, or more experienced than her unsuccessful
competitors for the post—but that she has the precise shape of nose,
the exact shade of hair, or the particular variety of smile or manner
that he admires and finds pleasing. That is to say, he is influenced in
engaging her by considerations unconnected with her probable fitness
for the duties of her post, since a straight nose, auburn hair, or
an engaging smile have no necessary connection with proficiency in
typewriting or accounts.

I am not insisting on this intrusion of the sexual element into the
business relations of men and women in any fault-finding spirit; I
call attention to it merely in order to show that the conditions
under which women obtain their bread in the labour market are not
precisely the same as the conditions under which men obtain theirs.
The intrusion of the sexual element into commercial relations may be
not only unavoidable, but defensible and desirable, on other than
commercial grounds; but it must be admitted that it does not tend to
encourage efficiency, and the necessary discouragement of efficiency
should be taken into account in estimating the value of woman’s
work in many departments of the labour market. I do not know whether
the consciousness that they are liable to be promoted or degraded
in business matters for reasons which have nothing to do with their
business merits or demerits is humiliating or the reverse to the
majority of women, but I do know that it is humiliating to some. (Not
only to those who are deficient in good looks; I have frequently
heard it resented by those whom the system favoured.) There is, too,
a certain amount of irritating uncertainty about the working of the
system, one man’s taste in feminine looks varying from that of his
next-door neighbour.

As in marriage, so in other departments of the labour market, the
result of this tendency to appraise a woman on the strength of
externals alone has been the intellectual deterioration of the
good-looking girl. I should be very sorry to have to maintain that
the good-looking girl is necessarily born less intelligent than her
plainer sister; but I do not think that it can be denied that it is
made extremely easy for her to become so. The conspicuously attractive
girl who enters a trade or business usually takes a very short time to
find out that her advancement depends more on her conspicuous personal
attractions than on the steady work and strict attendance to business
which has to be rendered by the woman less bountifully endowed by
nature. Hence she has every inducement to be less thorough in her work,
less intelligent, less reliable, and less trustworthy. The deep-rooted
masculine conviction that brains and repulsiveness invariably go
together in woman has this much justification in fact—the unattractive
girl has to rely on her work and intelligence for advancement and
livelihood, and, therefore, is not exposed to the temptation to allow
her brains to run to seed as unnecessary. There is plenty of proof that
the temptation is often resisted by the woman born beautiful; but she
is exposed to it all the same, and is not to be over blamed when she

There is one other disadvantage under which women’s work in the paid
labour market is apt to suffer—a disadvantage from which men’s work is
exempt, and which is directly traceable to the idea that marriage is
woman’s only trade. I alluded to it in an earlier chapter when I spoke
of the common masculine attitude on the subject of feminine competition
and the common masculine conviction that woman can somehow manage to
exist without the means of supporting existence. One result of the
assumption that every woman is provided with the necessaries of life by
a husband, father, or other male relative is that the atmosphere which
surrounds the working-woman is considerably more chilling than that
which surrounds the working-man. His right to work is recognized; hers
is not. He is more or less helped, stimulated, and encouraged to work;
she is not. On the contrary, her entry into the paid labour market
is often discouraged and resented. The difference is, perhaps, most
clearly marked in those middle-class families where sons and daughters
alike have no expectation of independence by inheritance, but where
money, time, and energy are spent in the anxious endeavour to train and
find suitable openings for the sons, and the daughters left to shift
for themselves and find openings as they can. The young man begins his
life in an atmosphere of encouragement and help; the young woman in
one of discouragement, or, at best, of indifference. Her brother’s
work is recognized as something essentially important; hers despised as
something essentially unimportant—even although it brings her in her
bread. Efforts are made to stimulate his energy, his desire to succeed;
no such efforts are made to stimulate hers.... And it is something, in
starting work, to feel that you are engaged on work that matters.


There is one field for the activities of women upon which as yet I have
not touched. It is a field where they come into direct competition with
the activities of men; from which, moreover, they have not always been
so completely and so jealously excluded as they have been from other
spheres of the world’s work. I mean the field of art and literature.

Let it be admitted, at once and without hesitation, that women have not
made much of a mark in art and literature; that whatever we may achieve
in the future we have given little of achievement to the past. Women
artists of the first rank in whatever medium—in words, in music, in
colour, in form—there have been none; and of the second rank and of
the third rank but few—a very few. Let it be admitted that there has
come down to us a goodly heritage of the wisdom, the aspiration and
inspiration of our fathers, and that of the wisdom, the aspiration and
the inspiration of our mothers (for some they must have had) there has
come down to us practically nothing. Art, as we know it, is a masculine
product, wrought by the hands and conceived by the brains of men; the
works of art that have forced themselves into the enduring life of the
world have been shaped, written, builded, painted by men. They have
achieved and we have imitated—on the whole, pitifully. Let that be
admitted; and then let it also be admitted that it could hardly have
been otherwise, and that the wonder is that woman has wrought in art
not so little, but so much.

For when one comes to consider the conditions under which successive
generations of women have lived such narrow life as was permitted to
them, have realized such narrow ambitions as they were permitted to
entertain, one begins to understand that it would have been something
of a miracle if there had arisen amongst them thinkers and artists
worthy to walk with the giants who have left their impress on the
race. One begins to understand that it would be difficult to devise a
better means of crushing out of the human system the individuality,
the sincerity and the freedom of thought and expression, which is the
very breath and inspiration of art, than the age-long training of
woman for compulsory marriage and the compulsory duties thereof. For
the qualities man has hitherto demanded and obtained in the woman he
delights to honour (and incidentally to subdue) have been qualities
incompatible with success in, or even with understanding of, art.

It is better, perhaps, to pause here and explain; since one is always
liable to misinterpretation, and in the minds of many the term “artist”
is synonymous with a person having a tendency towards what is called
free love. Let me explain, then, that by marriage, in this connection,
I mean not only the estate of matrimony, but its unlegalized
equivalent. As far as art is concerned, the deadening influences
brought to bear upon the mistress are practically the same as those
brought to bear upon the wife. (Both, for instance, are required to be
attractive rather than sincere.) It is not, of course, actual sexual
intercourse, legalized or the reverse, which renders a woman incapable
of great creative art; it is the servile attitude of mind and soul
induced in her by the influences brought to bear on her in order to fit
her for the compulsory trade of marriage or its unsanctified equivalent.

In earlier chapters I have dealt with these influences at considerable
length, striven to show exactly what they are and pointed out that
their aim was to induce the girl who would eventually become a woman
to conform to one particular and uniform type—the type admired and
sought after by the largest number of men. Hence the crushing out
of individuality, the elimination of the characteristics that make
for variety and the development of the imitative at the expense of
the creative qualities. From generation to generation the imperative
necessity of earning her livelihood in the only trade that was not
barred to her—of making for herself a place in the world not by
the grace of God but by the favour of man—has been a ceaseless
and unrelenting factor in the process of weeding out the artistic
products of woman’s nature. The deliberate stunting and repression
of her intellectual faculties, the setting up for her admiration and
imitation of the ideal of the “silly angel,” have all contributed
to make of her not only a domestic animal, more or less sleek and
ornamental, but a Philistine as well. Silly angels may, from the male
point of view, be desirable and even adorable creatures; but one would
not entrust them with the building of temples or the writing of great
books. (Personally, I would not entrust them with the bringing up of
children; but that is another matter.)

Art that is vital demands freedom of thought and expression, wide
liberty of outlook and unhampered liberty of communication. And what
freedom of thought and expression can be expected from a section of
humanity which has not even a moral standard of its own, and adds to
every “thou shalt not” in its law the saving and unspoken clause,
“unless my master shall desire it of me.” A man’s body may be enslaved
and subdued and the faculties of the thinker and the artist still be
left alive in him; but they have never been known to survive when
once his mind has been subdued and brought down to utter subjection.
Epictetus came of a race that had known freedom; and the nameless man
who, by the waters of Babylon, poured out his passion in a torrent of
hatred and desire, wore no chains on his soul when he remembered Zion.

It is the systematic concentration of woman’s energies upon the
acquirement of the particular qualities which are to procure her
a means of livelihood by procuring her the favour of man that has
deprived her, steadily and systematically, of the power of creation
and artistic achievement; so much so that the commonly accepted
ideals of what is known as a womanly woman are about as compatible
with the ideals of an artist as oil is compatible with water. The
methods of the one are repressive of self-development, calculated to
ingratiate, bound by convention, servile; the methods of the other
are self-assertive, experimental and untrammelled. The perfected type
of wife-and-mother-and-nothing-else sees life only through another’s
eyes; the artist through his own. Of a system designed to foster and
encourage the creative instinct in human beings one might safely
predict that it would have to be the exact opposite of the system still
in force for the conversion of the natural woman into the conventional
wife and mother.

For the first and fundamental quality which such a system would aim
at cultivating would be sincerity; which is not in itself art, but
the foundation whereon art is laid. Without it, greatness in art or
literature is impossible; and for this reason greatness in art or
literature has hitherto been impossible to woman. The tendency and
purpose of her whole training has been the repression of individuality
and the inducement of artificiality; and even in the comparatively few
instances where she recognizes what her training has done for her,
when she realizes the poor thing it has made of her, and sets to work,
deliberately and of firm resolve, to counteract its effects upon her
life and character, it may take her the best part of a lifetime to
struggle free of her chains. She does not know what she really needs,
since from childhood upwards the natural bent of her inclinations
has been twisted and thwarted; her only guide is what she has been
told she ought to need. And thus she may waste years in attempting to
draw inspiration from a form of love which it is not in her to feel,
or from a passion for maternity which has no power to stir her to

This, at least, can safely be said: that any woman who has attained
to even a small measure of success in literature or art has done so
by discarding, consciously or unconsciously, the traditions in which
she was reared, by turning her back upon the conventional ideals of
dependence that were held up for her admiration in her youth.


In dealing with this problem of the inferior place hitherto occupied
by woman in literature and art, let me admit, frankly and at once,
that I have none of the qualifications of a critic. Of the technique
of any branch of creative art I know practically nothing; nor can I
say that I have any great measure of curiosity concerning it. I must
confess to being one of that large mass of unenlightened persons who
judge of works of art simply and solely by the effect such works of
art produce upon themselves, who, where they are stirred to pleasure,
to reverence, or to laughter, are content to enjoy, to be reverent,
or to laugh, without too close inquiry as to the means whereby their
emotions are produced, with still less inquiry as to whether such
means be legitimate or the reverse. I speak, therefore, not from the
standpoint of the instructed critic, but from that of the public, more
or less impressionable, more or less uneducated, upon whom the artist
works; and it follows that when I speak of woman’s inferiority to man
in creative art I mean, not her inferiority in technique (whereon I am
not competent to express opinion), but her incapacity to arouse in the
ordinary human being such emotions of wonder, delight, and sorrow as
men who have the requisite skill in creative art have power to arouse.
I have thought it necessary to explain thus much lest my point of
view be misunderstood, and I be credited with an attempt to usurp the
functions of the trained critic.

Speaking, then, as one of the common herd—the public—I ask myself
why it is that as a rule woman’s art leaves me cold, woman’s
literature unconvinced, dissatisfied, and even irritated? And the
only answer I can find is that they are artificial; that they are not
a representation of life or beauty seen by a woman’s eyes, but an
attempt to render life or beauty as man desires that a woman should
see and render it. The attempt is unconscious, no doubt; but it is
there—thwarting, destroying, and annulling.

Perhaps it is necessary to be a woman oneself in order to understand
how weak, false, and insincere is the customary feminine attempt at
creative art. I do not think that a man can understand how bad most of
our work in art and literature really is, for the simple reason that
he cannot see the lie in it. He believes, for instance, that we are
such creatures as we represent ourselves to be in most of the books we
write; we only try to believe it. Wherein is all the difference between
a blunder and a lie. We cannot even draw ourselves, our passions and
emotions—because we are accustomed to look at ourselves, our passions
and emotions, not with our own eyes, but through the spectacles with
which he has provided us. When we come to portray our own hearts, it
would seem that they are almost as much of a mystery to ourselves
as they are to him; but then we are not striving to portray our own
hearts, but to describe beings who shall be something like what we have
been taught women ought to be (and to account for their actions by
motives which we have been told ought to actuate them). Because we have
been told that we are creatures existing only for love and maternity,
we draw creatures existing only for love and maternity—and call them
women. It is perfectly natural that men should draw such creatures;
they could not very well draw anything else, for they see them like
that. Their portraits are honest, if lop-sided; ours are lop-sided
without being honest—the result of an attempt to see ourselves through
another’s eyes.

The point of view is everything. An artist is not to be blamed for
his natural limitations, for his inability to see beyond his range of
vision; but I am inclined to think that he ought to be execrated when
he proceeds to stunt his powers by imposing unnatural limitations on
himself. A man afflicted with a colour-blindness which leads him to
turn out a portrait of me resplendent in beetroot hair and eyes of a
vivid green cannot help himself. As he sees me, so he paints me; the
effect may be curious, but the thing itself is sincere. But that is no
reason why artists endowed with normal vision should bind themselves
down to slavish imitation of his peculiar colour-scheme. In the same
way a person who is convinced that woman is a form of animated doll
whereof the mechanism, when pressed on the right spot, squeaks out
the two ejaculations of, “I love you,” and “Oh, my dear baby,” has
a perfect right to describe her in those terms; but no woman has the
right so to describe herself.

For countless generations the thoughts, the energies, and aspirations
of woman have been concentrated upon love and maternity; yet how many
are the works of art in which she has immortalized either passion which
have endured because they were stamped with the impress of her own
individuality and experience? For all that love is her whole existence,
no woman has ever sung of love as man has sung of it, has painted it,
has embodied it in drama. And of her attitude towards maternity what
has she told us in her art? Practically nothing that is illuminating,
that is not obvious, that has not been already said for her—usually
much better than she herself can say it. As a matter of fact, her
description of her emotions when she is in love or bears children is
not, as a rule, a first-hand description; it is a more or less careful,
more or less intelligent copy of the masculine conception of her
emotions under those particular circumstances. Thus the business-like
aspect of love in woman, the social or commercial necessity for sexual
intercourse is usually ignored by an imitative feminine art—because it
is lacking in man, and is, therefore, not really grasped by him. When
he becomes aware of it he dislikes it—and draws a Becky Sharp (who has
the secret sympathy of every woman not an heiress in her own right—if
also the openly-expressed contempt).

Women who have treated of maternity in books or pictures have usually
handled it in exactly the same spirit in which it is commonly handled
by men—from what may be termed the conventional or Raphaelesque point
of view. That is to say, they treat it from the superficial point
of view of the outsider, the person who has no actual experience of
the subject; yet even the most acid and confirmed of spinsters has
an inside view of maternity unattainable by the most sympathetic and
intuitive of men—since it has once been a possibility in her life.
Yet from woman’s art and woman’s literature what does one learn of the
essential difference between the masculine and feminine fashion of
regarding that closest of all relations—the relation of mother and

I do not feel that I myself am qualified to define and describe that
difference. It will have to be defined and described by a woman who has
had experience of maternity; but at least I know that the difference
exists. Men are capable of being both reverent and ribald on the
subject of maternity; I have never met a woman who was either. (I have,
of course, met one or two women who adopted the reverent pose; but in
all such cases which have come within my experience it has been an
undoubted pose, a more or less unconscious imitation of the reverent
attitude in the men—usually husbands—with whom they came in contact.)
For us the bearing of children is a matter far too serious to be
treated with ribaldry; while as regards the lack of extreme reverence,
it seems to me that it is impossible for any human being to revere—in
the proper sense of the word—the performance by him or herself of a
physical function. No doubt it will be objected that maternity has not
only a physical aspect; to which I can only reply that it appears to
be the purely physical aspect thereof which calls forth reverence and
admiration in man. The typical duties of a mother to her children are
often performed, as efficiently and as tenderly as any mother could
perform them, by an aunt or a nurse; but they have never, when so
performed, called forth the flood of idealism and admiration which has
been lavished upon the purely physical relationship of mother and child
as typified by a woman suckling her offspring. The sight of a mother so
engaged has meant inspiration to a good many men; I may be wrong, but I
do not imagine that it will ever mean real inspiration to any woman.

My own opinion—which I put forth in all diffidence, as one of
the uninitiated—is, that while women, left to themselves, have
considerably less reverence than men have for the physical aspect
of maternity, they have a good deal more respect for its other
aspects. Thus I have several times asked women whom I knew from the
circumstances of their lives to have been exposed to temptation whether
the thought that they might some day bear a child had not been a
conscious and not merely an instinctive factor in their resistance
to temptation and the restraint they had put upon their passions and
emotions; and the reply has usually been in the affirmative. I do not
know whether such a deliberate attitude towards the responsibilities
of motherhood is general, but it seems to me essentially feminine,
implying, as it does, the consciousness that it is not enough to bear
a child, but that the child must be born of a clean body and come in
contact with a clean mind—that the actual bringing of a new life into
the world is only a small part of motherhood. It is the circumstances
under which the child is born and the circumstances under which it is
reared to which women attach infinitely more importance than men are
apt to do; but, of course, where child-bearing is compulsory—and until
very lately it has been practically compulsory upon all classes of
wives—such an instinct does not get free play.

A good many times in my life I have heard the practice of passing
the death sentence for the common crime of infanticide discussed by
women, sometimes in an assemblage convened for the purpose, but more
often where the subject has come up by chance. And I have always been
struck by the attitude of the women who have discussed it—an attitude
which, judged by the conventional or Raphaelesque standard, might
be described as typically unfeminine and unmaternal—since their
sympathies were invariably and unreservedly on the side of the erring
mother, and I cannot remember having heard a single woman’s voice
raised in defence of the right to its life of the unwanted child. On
the contrary, mothers of families, devoted to their own children and
discharging their duties to them in a manner beyond reproach, have, in
my hearing, not only pitied, but justified, the unfortunate creatures
who, goaded by fear of shame and want of money, destroy the little life
they themselves have given. That attitude seems to me to show that
women recognize the comparative slightness of the mere physical tie,
and that to them it is the other factors in the relationship of mother
and child which really count—factors which have practically no chance
of being brought into play in the case of the unwanted child.

It is eminently characteristic of the servile, and therefore imitative,
quality of women’s literature that the unwanted child—other than
the illegitimate—has played practically no part in it. As long
as child-bearing was an involuntary consequence of a compulsory
trade—as, to a great extent, it still is—there must have been
innumerable women who, year after year, bore children whom they did
not desire to bear; who suffered the discomforts of pregnancy and the
pangs of childbirth not that they might rejoice when a man was born
into the world, but that a fresh and unwelcome burden might be added to
their lives. And how unwelcome was that burden in many cases is proved
by the voluntary and deliberate restriction of the modern family! Yet
no woman, so far as I know, has ever taken up pen to write with truth
and insight of this, the really tragic element in the life of countless
wives—simply because man, not understanding, has never treated of
it, because, in his ignorance, he has laid it down that woman finds
instinctive and unending joy in the involuntary reproduction of her
kind. One sees the advantage of such a comfortable belief to a husband
disinclined to self-control.


If I have dwelt at some length upon woman’s failure to achieve
greatness in art and literature, it is because its art and literature
reflect the inward life of a people, and the puny, trammelled and
almost entirely imitative art of woman is a faithful reflection of the
artificial habit and attitude of mind induced in her by the training
for the married state, or its equivalent outside the law. As I have
already said, the wonder is—when the tendency of that training is
taken into account—not that she has done so little, but that she has
done so much; for it must be borne in mind that as long as sexual
love and maternity are in the slightest degree compulsory upon woman
they can never prove to her the source of inspiration which they have
so often proved to man. It is freedom and unfettered desire, not
inevitable duty or the prospect of monetary gain, which awakens the
creative instinct in humanity. The commercial element has always been
incompatible with effective expression in art; no stockbroker, however
exultant, has burst into lyric rhapsody over a rise in Home Rails, no
grocer lifted up a psalm of praise because his till was full. It is
because her love has always been her livelihood that woman has never
been inspired by it as man has been inspired. And it is just because
it is so business-like that her interest in love is often so keen.
For instance, her customary appreciation of a book or a work of art
dealing with love, and nothing but love, is the outcome of something
more than sentiment and overpowering consciousness of sex. To her a
woman in love is not only a woman swayed by emotion, but a human being
engaged in carving for herself a career or securing for herself a means
of livelihood. Her interest in a love story is, therefore, much more
complex than a man’s interest therein, and the appreciation which she
brings to it is of a very different quality.

Love and maternity, then, have failed because of their compulsory
character to inspire woman to artistic achievement; and from
other sources of inspiration she has, as a rule, been debarred
systematically. One hears, over and over again, of the artist who is
inspired by the spirit of his time, who gives effective expression to
the life and ideals of his time; and one remembers that man has always
desired that woman should be debarred from contact with the life and
spirit of the world in which she lived and moved and had her being, has
always desired that she should drift and stagnate in a backwater of
existence. The inspiration that springs from the sense of community,
of fellowship, from enthusiasm for great interests shared with others
was not to be for her; she was denied part or lot or interest in the
making of contemporary history and to the passions enkindled by it
she must be a stranger. Art has always responded to the uprush of
a genuine popular enthusiasm, has embodied, shaped and moulded the
ideas tossed about from mind to mind, and from man to man in a period
of national effervescence and progress. The men who have left behind
them an enduring name in the annals of art and literature were not
unconscious of the life around them, were often enough caught up in
the swirl of contemporary interests, and played an eager part in that
making of contemporary history which we call politics. How many works
of art do we not owe to the civic consciousness, to a man’s pride in
his own place, his desire to be worthy of it, his sense of comradeship
and his glory in communal service? In every city worthy of the name, in
every city that is anything more than an enlarged manufacturing slum,
there stands, in brick or stone, some witness to the force and reality
of the communal impulse in art. It was an impulse that seldom reached
woman; who stood apart from the communal life, who knew not the service
that brings with it sense of fellowship, who had not so much as a place
to be proud of. Even to-day a woman takes her husband’s nationality,
and the place that was her own is hers no longer. She has drawn no
inspiration from the thought that she is a citizen of no mean city.

We think of Milton as a poet; but to the men of his time he was
something else. Twenty years of his life were given to politics and
statecraft, and his verse is the product not only of his own genius,
but of the national spirit of Puritanism—which was the desire to
establish the kingdom of God upon earth. Dante, to us, is the man who
ascended into heaven and descended into hell and wrote of what he saw;
but it was not for these things, but for his partisanship of a losing
cause, that he ate the bread of a stranger and found it salt. Few, if
any, of the great ones of all time have stood apart in spirit from
their own world with its hopes and its seething discontents; they spoke
of it because they lived in it, loved it and wondered at it. It is
significant that one of the few women whose written words have stood
the test of centuries—St. Teresa—was one whose aspirations were not
narrowed to the duties of a husband’s dwelling, who was passionately
conscious of her part in the life of a great community, who made
herself a power in the public life of the day—a woman capable of
organization and able to bend men and systems to an indomitable will.

My meaning, I hope, will not be misinterpreted or narrowed. I do not
look upon the British House of Commons or the American House of
Representatives, as at present instituted, as a likely forcing-ground
for poets or composers; nor do I consider that no human being is
qualified to produce a decent novel or paint a decent picture until his
name is included in the electoral register. I have endeavoured to make
it clear that it is not the letter of political life, but the spirit
of a conscious communal life which kindles enthusiasm, arouses the
desire of service and awakens art; that, as far as art is concerned,
the important point is participation in ideas, not in elections. When
women are informed that they cannot think publicly, or, as the cant
phrase goes, think imperially, it should be borne in mind that public
or imperial ideas have usually been labelled, “For men only.”

There is, so far as I can see, no reason to suppose that the minds
of women are naturally less accessible than the minds of men to the
influence of what has been termed the crowd spirit. Such subordinate
share as they have been permitted to take in the communal life of the
various sects and churches they have availed themselves of to the
full; at least they have understood the meaning of the term Communion
of Saints. And the few women whose high birth has qualified them for
the responsibilities of practical statesmanship, the guidance and
governance of nations, have usually grasped their responsibilities with
capability and understanding. Public spirit has been manifested in
these exceptions to masculine rule as surely as it was manifested in
the dreadful, hopeful crowd that once went marching to Versailles; and
it has been written that if the men of the Paris Commune had espoused
their cause with the desperate courage of the women, that cause had not
been lost.


My object in writing so far has been to set forth reasons for my belief
that woman, as we know her to-day, is largely a manufactured product;
that the particular qualities which are supposed to be inherent in
her and characteristic of her sex are often enough nothing more than
the characteristics of a repressed class and the entirely artificial
result of her surroundings and training. I have tried to show that,
given such surroundings and training, the ordinary or womanly woman was
the kind of development to be expected; that even if it be the will
of Providence that she should occupy the lower seat, man has actively
assisted Providence by a resolute discouragement of her attempts
to move out of it; and that it is impossible to say whether her
typical virtues and her typical defects are inherent and inevitable,
or induced and artificial, until she has been placed amidst other
surroundings and subjected to the influence and test of a different
system of education. Until such an experiment has been tried no really
authoritative conclusion is possible; one can only make deductions and
point to probabilities.

If, after four or five generations of freer choice and wider life,
woman still persists in confining her steps to the narrow grooves where
they have hitherto been compelled to walk; if she claims no life of
her own, if she has no interests outside her home, if love, marriage
and maternity is still her all in all; if she is still, in spite of
equal education, of emulation and respect, the inferior of man in
brain capacity and mental independence; if she still evinces a marked
preference for disagreeable and monotonous forms of labour, for which
she is paid at the lowest possible rate; if she still attaches higher
value to the lifting of a top hat than to the liberty to direct her
own life; if she is still untouched by public spirit, still unable to
produce an art and a literature that is individual and sincere; if she
is still servile, imitative, pliant—then, when those four or five
generations have passed, the male half of humanity will have a perfect
right to declare that woman is what he has always believed and desired
her to be, that she is the chattel, the domestic animal, the matron or
the mistress, that her subjection is a subjection enjoined by natural
law, that her inferiority to himself is an ordained and inevitable
inferiority. Then he will have that right; but not till then.

Some of us believe and hope with confidence that, given such wider life
and freer choice, he would have to admit himself mistaken, would have
to confess that the limitations once confining us were, for the most
part, of his own invention. And we base that belief and very confident
hope on the knowledge that there are in us, and in our sisters, many
qualities which we are not supposed to possess and which once were
unsuspected by ourselves; and on the certainty that the needs and
circumstances of modern life are encouraging, whether or no we will it,
the development of a side of our nature which we have heretofore been
strictly forbidden to develop—the side that comes in contact with the
world. Economic pressure and the law of self-preservation produced the
“womanly woman”; now, from the “womanly woman” economic pressure and
the law of self-preservation are producing a new type. It is no use for
a bland and fatuous conservatism to repeat the parrot cry anent the
sphere of woman being the home; we could not listen to its chirpings
even if we would. For our stomachs are more insistent than any parrot
cry, and they inform us that the sphere of woman, like the sphere of
man, is the place where daily bread can be obtained.

There was a certain amount of truth in the formula once, in days when
our social and industrial system was run on more primitive lines, when
the factory was not, and the home was a place of trade and business
as well as a place to live in. But the modern civilized home is, as a
rule, and to all intents and purposes, only the shell of what it was
before that revolution in industrial methods which began about the
middle of the eighteenth century.

The alteration in the status and scope of the home is best and most
clearly typified by the divided life led by the modern trader,
manufacturer or man of business; who, in the morning, arises, swallows
his breakfast and goes forth to his shop, his factory or his office;
and, his day’s work done, returns to the suburban residence which
it is the duty of his wife to look after, either personally or by
superintendence of the labour of servants. His place of business and
his place of rest and recreation are separate institutions, situated
miles apart; the only connection between the two is the fact that he
spends a certain portion of the day in each, and that one provides
the money for the upkeep of the other. But his ancestor, if in the
same line of business, had his place of money-making and his place of
rest under the same roof, and both were comprehended in the meaning
of the term “home.” The primitive form of shop, though in gradual
and inevitable process of extinction, is still plentiful enough in
villages, in country towns and even in the by-streets of cities.
It takes the shape of a ground-floor apartment in the proprietor’s
dwelling-house, provided with a counter upon which the customer raps,
with a more or less patient persistence, with the object of arousing
the attention of some member of the hitherto invisible household.
Eventually, in response to the summons, a man, woman or child emerges
from behind the curtained door which separates the family place of
business from the family sitting-room, and proceeds to purvey the
needful string, matches or newspapers. In such an establishment no
outside labour is engaged, the business is carried on under the same
roof as the home and forms an integral part of the duties of the
home; it is a family affair giving a certain amount of employment
to members of the family. And when, owing to the erection round the
corner of a plateglass-windowed establishment run on more business-like
and attractive lines, it fails and has to put up its shutters, those
members of the family who have been dependent on it for a livelihood
will have to seek that livelihood elsewhere. The boy who has been
accustomed to help his parents in looking after the shop, running
errands and delivering orders, will have to turn to a trade, if he is
to be sure of his bread; the girl who has been fulfilling duties of the
same kind will have to enter domestic service, a factory or a shop in
which she is a paid assistant. In other words, she, like her brother,
will be driven out of the home because the home can no longer support
her; and it can no longer support her because its scope has been
narrowed. Formerly it had its bread-winning as well as its domestic
side; now, as an inevitable consequence of the growth of collective
industry, of specialization and centralization, the bread-winning or
productive side has been absorbed, and nothing remains but the domestic
or unproductive. And in the event of the failure of such a family
business as I have described, the head of the household, however firmly
convinced he might be that the true and only sphere of woman is the
home, would probably do his level best to obtain for his daughter a
situation and means of livelihood outside her proper sphere.

As an example of the tendency of the home to split up into departments
I have instanced the familiar process of the disappearance of a small
retail business, simply because it is familiar, and a case where we
can see the tendency at work beneath our own eyes. But, as a matter
of fact, the division of what was formerly the home into unproductive
and productive departments, into domestic work and work outside the
house, has been far less thorough and complete in the retail trade than
in other spheres of labour. The factory, which has absorbed industry
after industry formerly carried on in the house, is a comparatively
modern institution; so is the bake-house. Weaving and spinning were
once domestic trades; so was brewing. Not so very long ago it was usual
enough for the housewife, however well-to-do, to have all her washing
done in her own home; not so very long ago she made her own pickles and
her own jam. When the average household was largely self-supporting,
producing food for its own consumption, and linen for its own wearing,
it gave employment to many more persons than can be employed in it
to-day. The women’s industries of a former date have, for the most
part, been swallowed by the factory. They were never industries at
which she earned much money; so far as the members of a family were
concerned they were rewarded with nothing more than the customary wage
of subsistence; but—and this is the real point—they were industries
at which woman not only earned her wage of subsistence, but indirectly
a profit for her employer, the head of the household—the husband or

The displacement of labour which followed the adoption of machinery
in crafts and manufactures formerly carried on by hand affected the
conditions of women’s work just as it affected the work of men.
Factories and workshops took the place of home industries; the small
trader and the master-craftsman fell under the domination first of the
big employer and later of the limited liability company. It was cheaper
to produce goods in large quantities by the aid of machinery than in
small quantities by hand; so the “little man” who ran his own business
with the aid of his own family, being without capital to expend on
the purchase of machinery, was apt to find competition too much for
him and descend to the position of a wage-earner. For woman the
serious fact was that under the new system of collective industry and
production on a large scale her particular sphere, the home, ceased to
be self-supporting, since its products were under-sold by the products
of the factory. Jam and pickles could be produced more cheaply in a
factory furnished with vats than in a kitchen supplied with saucepans;
it was more economical to buy bread than to bake it, because the most
economical way of baking was to bake it in the mass. A man might esteem
the accomplishment of pickle-making or linen-weaving as an excellent
thing in woman; but unless expense was really no object he would not
encourage his wife and daughters to excel in these particular arts,
since it was cheaper to buy sheets and bottled onions round the corner
than to purchase the raw material and set the female members of his
family to work upon it. In the redistribution of labour which followed
upon the new order of things man, not for the first time, had invaded
the sacred sphere of woman and annexed a share thereof.

The natural and inevitable result of this new and improved state of
things was that woman deprived of the productive industries at which
she had formerly earned her keep and something over for her employer,
was no longer a source of monetary profit to that employer. On the
contrary, so far as money went and so long as she remained in the
home, she was often a distinct loss. Instead of baking bread for her
husband or father, her husband or father had to expend his money on
buying bread for her to eat; she no longer wove the material for other
people’s garments; on the contrary the material for her own had to be
obtained at the draper’s. The position, for man, was a serious one; for
be it remembered, he could not lower the wages of his domestic animal.
These had always been fixed, whatever work she did, at the lowest
possible rate—subsistence rate; so that even when her work ceased to
be profitable her wages could not be made to go any lower—there was
nowhere lower for them to go. One’s daughter had to be fed, clothed and
lodged even if the narrowed scope of the home provided her with no more
lucrative employment than dusting china dogs on the mantelpiece.

Under these circumstances the daughters of a household found
themselves, often enough, face to face with a divided duty: the duty of
earning their keep, which would necessitate emergence from the home,
and the duty of remaining inside the sacred sphere—and confining
their energies to china dogs. Left to themselves the more energetic
and ambitious would naturally adopt the first alternative, the more
slothful and timid as naturally adopt the second; but they were not
always left to themselves, nor were their own desires and predilections
the sole factor in their respective decisions. The views of the head
of the household, who now got little or no return for the outlay he
incurred in supporting them, had also to be taken into consideration;
and his views were usually influenced by the calls made upon his purse.
Theoretically he might hold fast to the belief that woman’s sphere was
the home and nothing but the home. Actually he might object to the
monetary outlay incurred if that belief was acted upon. The father
of five strapping girls (all hungry several times a day), who might
or might not succeed in inducing five desirable husbands to bear the
expense of their support, would probably discover that, even if home
was the sphere of woman, there were times when she was better out of
it. It is a curious fact that when women are blamed for intruding into
departments of the labour market hitherto reserved for men, the abuse
which is freely showered upon the intruders is in no wise poured forth
upon the male persons appertaining to the said intruders—who have
presumably neglected to provide the funds necessary to enable their
female relations to pass a blameless, if unremunerative, existence
making cakes for home consumption, or producing masterpieces in
Berlin wool-work. The different treatment meted out to the guilty
parties in this respect seems to be another example of the practice
of apportioning blame only to the person least able to resent it.
It is quite natural that man should refuse to support healthy and
able-bodied females; but he must not turn round and be nasty when, as a
direct consequence of his refusal, the healthy and able-bodied females
endeavour to support themselves.

For good or for evil a good many millions of us have been forced out of
the environment which we once believed to be proper to our sex; and to
our new environment we have to adapt ourselves—if we are to survive.
Work in the factory or in the office, work which brings us into
contact with the outside world, calls for the exercise of qualities
and attainments which we had no need of before, for the abandonment
of habits and ideas which can only hamper our progress in our changed
surroundings. Our forefathers—those, at any rate, of the upper and
middle class—admired fragility of health in woman; and, in order to
please them, our foremothers fell in with the idea and appealed to
the masculine sense of chivalry by habitual indulgence in complaints
known as swoons and vapours. Persons subject to these tiresome and
inconvenient diseases would stand a very poor chance of regular and
well-paid employment as teachers, sanitary inspectors, journalists and
typists; so teachers, sanitary inspectors, journalists and typists
have repressed the tendency to swoons and vapours. In these classes an
actual uncertainty prevails as to the nature of vapours, and swooning
is practically a lost art. Instead of applying their energies to the
cultivation of these attractive complaints, working and professional
women are inclined to encourage a condition of rude bodily health which
stands them in good stead in their work, and is, therefore, a valuable
commercial asset.

Just as we have been forced by contact with the outside world to
cultivate not weakness but health, so by the same contact we have been
forced to cultivate not folly but intelligence. The silly angel may
be a success in the home; she is not a success in trade or business.
Man may desire to clasp her and kiss her and call her his own; but
there are moments when he tires of seeing her make hay of his accounts
and correspondence. His natural predilection for her type may, and
often does, induce him to give her the preference over her fellows in
business matters; but he usually ends by admitting that, for certain
purposes at least, the human being with brains is preferable to the
seraph without them. It has been borne in upon the modern woman that
it pays her to have brains—even although they must be handled very
cautiously for fear of wounding the susceptibilities of her master.
She learned that lesson not in her own sphere, but in the world
outside it; and it is a lesson that has already had far-reaching
consequences. Having, in the first instance, acquired a modicum of
intelligence because she had to, she is now acquiring it in larger
quantities because she likes it. The trades which do not require the
qualification of stupidity are counteracting the effect upon her of the
trade which did—the compulsory trade of marriage.


If the division of the home, and the inevitable consequences that
followed on that division, had done nothing more than teach some of us
to value our health and respect our brains we should have very good
cause to bless the break-up of that over-estimated institution. But,
as a matter of fact, our contact with the wider world is doing a great
deal more for us than that. It is testing our powers in new directions;
it is bringing new interests into our lives; it is teaching us how very
like we are unto our brothers—given similar environment; and, most
important of all, it is sweeping away with a steady hand that distrust
and ignorance of each other which was alike the curse and the natural
result of age-long isolation in the home and immemorial training in the
service, not of each other, but only of our masters.

It may be true that women in general once disliked and meanly despised
each other. At any rate, man has always desired that it should be
true; so, the aim and object of woman’s life being the gratification of
his desires, such mutual dislike and contempt was no doubt cultivated
and affected by her. But if it was true once, it is not true now;
except, maybe, amongst the silly angel class—a class already growing
rarer, and soon, one hopes, to be well on the way to extinction. The
working-woman, the woman with wider interests than her mother’s, in
learning to respect herself is learning to respect her counterpart—the
human being, like unto herself, who, under the same disadvantages,
fights the same battle as her own. And recognizing the heaviness, the
unfairness of those disadvantages, she recognizes the bond of common
interest that unites her to her sister. In short, for the first time in
her history she is becoming actively class-conscious.

We speak best of that which we have seen with our own eyes and heard
with our own ears; therefore I make no excuse for obtruding my personal
experiences in this connection. For many years the women who came
into my life intimately and closely were, with few exceptions, women
who had to work—journalists, artists, typists, dressmakers, clerks;
practically all of them dependent on their own work and practically all
of them poor—some bitterly poor. And that class, because I know it so
well, I have learned to respect. It is a class which has few pleasures
in life, because it has so little money to spend on them; which, as a
rule, works harder than a man would work in the same position, because
its pay is less; which is not unexposed to temptation, but holds
temptation as a thing to be resisted; yet which is tolerant to those
who fail under it, knowing the excuse to be made for them. The woman
belonging to that class does not turn away from the sinner who walks
the street with a painted face; likely enough she remembers that she,
too, was brought up to believe that the awakening of sexual desire must
be her means of livelihood, and she knows that, if she had not cast
that belief behind her, she, too, when need pressed upon her, might
have walked the streets for hire. Wherefore she is more inclined to say
to herself, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” She has learned to
know men as the sheltered woman seldom knows them; to know more of
the good in them, more of the ill; she has met and talked with them
without compliment and without ceremony; has taken orders from and been
rebuked by them; has been to them fellow-worker and sometimes friend;
has sometimes met and fought the brute in them. In the same way she
has worked with women and learned to know them; and the result of her
experience is, that she has lost any natural distrust of her own sex
which she may once have possessed; has come to rely upon her own sex
for the help which she herself is willing enough to render. The sense
of a common interest, the realization of common disabilities, have
forced her into class-consciousness and partisanship of her class.
I know many women of the type I have described—women who have gone
through the mill, some married, some unmarried. And of them all I know
hardly one whose life is not affected, to an appreciable extent, by the
sense of fellowship with her sisters.

The average man, it seems to me, fails utterly to realize how strong
this sense of fellowship, of trade unionism, can be in us; he has (as
I have already pointed out) explained away its manifestations in the
match-making industry by accounting for them on other grounds. He has
forgotten that it was a woman who, for the sake, not of a man, but of
another woman, went out into a strange land, saying: “Whither thou
goest I will go; thy people shall be my people and thy God my God.” To
him, one imagines, that saying must always have been a dark one; to us
there seems nothing strange in it.

A friend of my own (who will forgive me for repeating her confidence)
told me the other day of a happening in her life that, to my mind,
exactly illustrates the awakening of class-consciousness amongst women.
It was the careless speech of a man, addressed to her while she was
still a very young girl, to the effect that all women over fifty should
be shot. The words were lightly spoken, of course, and were probably
intended half as a compliment to her manifest youth; certainly they
were not intended as an insult. But their effect was to rouse in her
a sense of insult and something akin to a passion of resentment that
she and her like should only be supposed to exist so long as they were
pleasing, only so long as they possessed the power of awakening sexual
desire. She took them as an insult to herself because they were an
insult to women in general; and, lightly spoken as they were they made
upon her an impression which helped to mould her life.

I give my friend’s experience because it seems to me to be typical;
because amongst women of my own class I know others who have felt the
same rush of anger at the revelation of a similar attitude towards the
sex they belong to; who have raged inwardly as they recognized that
character, worth, intellect were held valueless in woman, that nothing
counted in her but the one capacity—the power of awaking desire. That
is an attitude which we who have become conscious of our class resent
with all our souls; since we realize that to that attitude on the
part of man, to compliance with it on the part of woman, we owe the
degradation of our class.

Most important of all, the knowledge of each other and the custom and
necessity of working side by side in numbers is bringing with it the
consciousness of a new power—the power of organization. It is a power
that we have hitherto lacked, not because we were born without the
seed of it in our souls, but because our fenced-in, isolated lives
have given small opportunity for its growth and development. And it
is a power which we are now acquiring because we have been forced to
recognize the need of it, because we can no longer do without it. It
is being borne in on us that if we are to have fair play, if our wages
are to rise above subsistence point, if we are to be anything more
than hewers of wood, drawers of water, and unthinking reproducers of
our kind, we have to stand together; that if we are to have any share
of our own in the world into which we were born, if our part in it is
to be anything more than that of the beggar with outstretched hand
awaiting the crumbs that fall from another’s table, we have to work
together. And it is work in the mill, the factory, the office that is
teaching us the lesson of public spirit, of combination for a common
purpose—a lesson that was never taught us in the home where we once
lived narrowly apart.


IF what I have written has any truth in it, I have shown that we have
good grounds for believing that the degradation of woman’s position and
the inferiority of woman’s capacities are chiefly due to the compulsory
restriction of her energies and ambitions to the uncertain livelihood
and ill-paid trade of marriage. I have shown that the trade is ill
paid simply because it is largely compulsory; that, in accordance with
economic law, the wife and mother will be held cheap for just so long
as she is a drug in the market. I have shown how the unsatisfactory
position of the wife and mother, the unsatisfactory training to which
she has been subjected from her childhood up, affects the earning and
productive powers of woman in those other occupations which the change
in social and industrial conditions has forced her to adopt; and I
have shown how the new influences engendered by her new surroundings
are gradually and inevitably counteracting the peculiar habit of
mind acquired in the narrow precincts of the home. It remains to be
considered how far these influences are reaching and affecting the life
of the home itself—how far they are likely to improve the position not
only of the woman who earns her own wage and directs her own life, but
of the woman who has no means of augmenting the low remuneration which
is at present considered sufficient for the duties of a wife and mother.

I suppose that in the recent history of woman nothing is more striking
than the enormous improvement that has taken place in the social
position of the spinster. In many ranks of life the lack of a husband
is no longer a reproach; and some of us are even proud of the fact
that we have fought our way in the world without aid from any man’s
arm. At any rate, we no longer feel it necessary to apologize for our
existence; and when we are assured that we have lost the best that
life has to offer us, we are not unduly cast down. (I am speaking,
of course, of the independent woman with an interest in life and
in herself; not of the poor, mateless product of tradition that
we exist only to awaken desire in man. There are still many such,
no doubt—the victims of a servile training. On whom may God have
mercy—man having no use for them and they none for themselves!) By
sheer force of self-assertion we have lifted ourselves from the dust
where we once crawled as worms and not women; we no longer wither on
the virgin thorn—we flourish on it; and ungarnished though we be with
olive-boughs, we are not ashamed when we meet with our enemies in the

So far as I can see, nothing like the same improvement has taken place
in recent years in the position of the average married woman. So far
as I can see, the average husband, actual or to be, still entertains
the conviction that the word helpmeet, being interpreted, means second
fiddle; and acts in accordance with that honest conviction. He still
feels that it is the duty of his wife to respect him on the ground
that he did not happen to be born a woman; he still considers it
desirable that the mother of his children should not be over wise. He
still clings to the idea that a wife is a creature to be patronized;
with kindness, of course—patted on the head, not thumped—but still
patronized. While he is yet unmated his dream of the coming affinity
still takes the shape of some one smaller than himself who asks him
questions while he strokes her hair. On the whole, therefore, he
tends to avoid marriage with those women who are not fit subjects for
patronage—who, be it noted, also tend to avoid marriage with him; and
thus, in the natural order of things, the average wife is the person
who is willing to submit to be patronized. I do not mean that there are
not many exceptions to this rule, but they are exceptions. And it is
obvious that human beings, men, or women, who consider themselves fit
subjects for patronage are not those who make for progress or possess
any very great power of improving their own status.

Myself I have not the least doubt that such improvement as has already
been affected in the status of the wife and mother has originated
outside herself, and is, to a great extent, the work of the formerly
contemned spinster. I do not mean that the spinster has always laboured
to that end intentionally; I mean, rather, that as she improves her
own position, as she takes advantage of its greater freedom, its less
restricted opportunities, its possibilities of pleasing herself and
directing her own life, she inevitably, by awaking her envy, drags
after her the married woman who once despised her and whose eyes she
has opened to the disadvantages of her own dependent situation. It is
the independent woman with an income, earned or unearned, at her own
disposal, with the right to turn her energies into whatever channel
may seem good to her, who is steadily destroying the prestige of
marriage; and the prestige of marriage has hitherto been an important
factor in the eagerness of women for matrimony. Once it has gone,
once it makes absolutely no difference to the esteem in which a woman
is held, whether she is called Mrs. or whether she is called Miss, a
new inducement will have to be found, at any rate for the woman who
is not obliged to look upon marriage as a means of providing her with
bread and butter. Such women will require some additional advantage
to replace the social prestige to which they no longer attach any
value—that is to say, as a condition of becoming wives and mothers,
they will require their status to be raised; and their action in
raising their own status will tend to raise the status of married women
in general.

Not very long ago, in one of the columns which a daily paper was
devoting to animated correspondence dealing with the rights and wrongs
of an agitation carried on by women, I came across a brief contribution
to the discussion which furnished me with considerable food for
thought. It was a letter written by a palpably infuriated gentleman,
who denounced the agitation in question as the outcome of the unmarried
woman’s jealousy of the privileges of her married sister. This very
masculine view of the controversy had never struck me before; and,
being a new idea to me, I sat down to consider whether it was in any
way justified by facts.

The first step, naturally, was to ascertain what were the special
privileges which were supposed to arouse in those deprived of them a
sense of maddened envy. On this point I did not rely solely on my own
conclusions; I consulted, at various times, interested friends, married
and unmarried; with the result that I have ascertained the privileges
of the married woman to be, at the outside, three in number. (About two
of them there is no doubt; the third is already being invaded, and can
no longer be esteemed the exclusive property of the matron.) They are
as follows—

1. The right to wear on the third finger of the left hand a gold ring
of approved but somewhat monotonous pattern.

2. The right to walk in to dinner in advance of women unfurnished with
a gold ring of the approved, monotonous pattern.

3. The right of the wife and mother to peruse openly and in the
drawing-room certain forms of literature—such as French novels of an
erotic type—which the ordinary unmarried woman is supposed to read
only in the seclusion of her bedroom.

I cannot honestly say that any one of these blessings arouses in me a
spasm of uncontrollable envy, a mad desire to share in it at any cost.
As a matter of fact, I have—like many of my unmarried friends—annexed
one of the above matrimonial privileges, if not in deed, at any rate
potentially and in thought. I have never yet felt the desire to study
French novels of an erotic type; but if I ever do feel it, I shall have
no hesitation whatever in perusing them in public—even on the top of a

One does not imagine that the mere wearing of a plain gold ring
would in itself awaken perfervid enthusiasm in any woman of ordinary
intelligence; nor does one imagine that any woman of ordinary
intelligence would be greatly elated or abashed by entering a
dining-room first or seventh—provided, of course, that the table
was furnished with enough food to go round. One feels that these
temptations are hardly glittering enough to entice reluctant woman into
marriage. That there has been a social pressure which has impelled her
into it I have not denied! on the contrary, I have affirmed it. But
that social pressure has not taken the form of a passionate desire for
one or two small and formal distinctions, but of a fear of spinsterhood
with its accompaniments, scorn and confession of failure in your trade.
And as spinsterhood grows more enviable, so does the fear of it grow

It may be objected that in my brief list of the matron’s privileges
I have omitted the most important of them all—motherhood. I have
done so deliberately and for two reasons—because under any system of
more or less compulsory marriage there must always be an appreciable
number of wives who look upon motherhood rather as a burden than as a
privilege; and because motherhood does not appertain exclusively to the
married state. There is such a thing as an illegitimate birth-rate.

I myself am far from desiring that the wife and mother should not
possess privileges; it seems to me that the work of a woman who brings
up children decently, creditably, and honourably is of such immense
importance that it ought to be suitably rewarded. (That, of course,
is a very different thing from admitting that a person who has gone
through a ceremony which entitles her to hold sexual intercourse with
another person is thereby entitled to consider herself my superior.)
But I am very certain that it never will be suitably rewarded until
it is undertaken freely and without pressure, and until the wife and
mother herself summons up courage to insist on adequate payment for
her services. It may not be necessary that that payment should be
made in actual money; but, in whatever form it is made, it must be of
a more satisfactory and substantial nature than the present so-called
privileges of the married woman, involving an all-round improvement
in her status. And that all-round improvement she will demand—and
get—only when it is borne in upon her that her unmarried sisters have
placed themselves in a position to get out of life a great deal more
than she is permitted to get out of it. When she realizes that fact to
the full she will go on strike—and good luck to her!

Meanwhile, it seems to me that there is something more than a little
pathetic in the small airs of superiority which are still affected
by the average unintelligent matron towards her husbandless sister.
Personally I always feel tender towards these little manifestations of
the right to look down on the “incomplete,” the unconsciously servile
imitation of the masculine attitude in this respect. You watch the
dull lives that so many of these married women lead, you realize the
artificial limitations placed upon their powers, you pity them for the
sapping of individuality which is the inevitable result of repression
of their own and unquestioning acceptance of other people’s opinions,
for the cramping of their interests, perhaps for the necessity of
cultivating the animal side of their natures—and you do not grudge
them such small compensations as comes their way. It will be better
for them and for their children when they realize in what this fancied
superiority of the married woman consists; but meanwhile let them enjoy

Only a little while past I met a perfect example of this tendency
on the part of a married woman to plume herself on marriage as
a virtue—or rather, I met her again. She had been my friend
once—several years ago—and I had liked her for her intelligence, her
humour, her individual outlook on life. We knew each other well for
some months; then we were separated, and she wrote to me that she was
getting married; and with her marriage she gave up professional work
and passed out of my life. I heard little and saw nothing of her for
years, until she wrote that she was staying near me and would like us
to meet again. I went, and she told me what her life had been since
she married. It was a story that I can only call foul—of insult,
brutality, and degradation. What sickened me about it was the part
that remained unspoken—the thought that the woman I once knew, clean,
high-minded, and self-respecting, should have consented to stand for
so long in the relation of wife to such a man as she described. One
could see what contact with him had done for her; it had dragged her
down morally and spiritually; the pitch had defiled her. She had,
I knew, a small income of her own—sufficient to live upon without
having recourse to her husband—so I urged her bluntly to leave him.
She refused, crying feebly; made the usual rejoinder of weak-minded
married women run into a corner—that I was not married myself and
could not understand; and spent another hour bewailing her lot with
tears. I saw that her courage and character had been sapped out of her,
that it was no use appealing to what she no longer possessed, and that
all she asked was sympathy of the type that listens with an occasional
pat on the shoulder or soothing stroke on the arm; so I gave of it, in
silence, as well as I could. At the end of a good hour she dried her
tears, and declared that she was selfish to talk about nothing but
herself, that she must hear my news and what I had been doing. I did
not like to refuse, for I thought it better to turn her thoughts away
from her troubles, if only for a little; besides, she had liked me
genuinely once, and I think her interest in me was still genuine. But
as I complied and talked to her about myself, I felt miserably ashamed.
For, as it happened, I was very happy then—happier, in some ways,
than I had ever been in my life, since, almost for the first time in
my life, I had learned the meaning of good luck. I thought of all the
kindness, the friendliness, the consideration that was being shown to
me—I thought of my work and my pleasure in it—of my interest in work
done with others and the sense of comradeship it brings. And I thought
how the poor soul who had wept her handkerchief into a rag must realize
the contrast of our two lives, must feel how unjust it was that one
woman should have so little and another have so much. So, as I say, I
felt ashamed, and talked on, conscious of mental discomfort, until I
saw her looking at me thoughtfully, as if she were about to speak. I
stopped to hear what she had to say; and it was this—

“I suppose you will never marry now?”

For a moment I did not see the real purport of the question, and I dare
say I looked astonished as I answered that it was most unlikely, and I
had no thought of it. She surveyed me steadily, to make sure that I was
speaking the truth; then, having apparently convinced herself that I
was, she sighed.

“It is a pity. Every woman ought to get married. Your life isn’t
complete without it. It is an experience....”

Those, as far as I remember, were the exact words she used. (There
is no danger that she will ever read them.) They left me dumb; their
unconscious irony was so pathetic and so dreadful. Marriage an
experience—it had been one for her! And “your life isn’t complete
without it.” This from a woman whose husband had threatened to knock
pieces out of her with a poker! The situation seemed to me beyond
tears and beyond laughter—the poor, insulted, bullied thing, finding
her one source of pride in the fact that she had experienced sexual
intercourse. If there had been a child I could have understood; but
there had, I think, never been a child—at any rate, there was not one
living. If there had been, I believe I should have said to her what
was in my mind—for the child’s sake; I should have hated to think of
it growing up in that atmosphere, in its mother’s squalid faith in
the essential glory of animalism. But as there was no child, and as
she was so dulled, so broken, I said nothing. It was all she had—the
consciousness that she, from her vantage-ground of completeness and
experience, had the right to look down on me—on one of the unmarried,
a woman who “could not understand.” It was her one ewe-lamb of petty
consolation; and I had not the heart to try and take it from her.


My intention in writing this book has not been to inveigh against the
institution of marriage, the life companionship of man and woman; all
that I have inveighed against has been the largely compulsory character
of that institution—as far as one-half of humanity is concerned—the
sweated trade element in it, and the glorification of certain qualities
and certain episodes and experiences of life at the expense of all the
others. I believe—because I have seen it in the working—that the
companionship in marriage of self-respecting man and self-respecting
woman is a very perfect thing; but I also believe that, under present
conditions, it is not easy for self-respecting woman to find a mate
with whom she can live on the terms demanded by her self-respect.
Hence a distinct tendency on her part to avoid marriage. Those women
who look at the matter in this light are those who, while not denying
that matrimony may be an excellent thing in itself, realize that there
are some excellent things which may be bought too dear. That is the
position of a good many of us in these latter days. If we are more or
less politely incredulous when we are informed that we are leading an
unnatural existence, it is not because we have no passions, but because
life to us means a great deal more than one of its possible episodes.
If we decline to listen with becoming reverence to disquisitions on the
broadening effect of motherhood upon our lives, the deep and miraculous
understanding that it brings into our hearts, it is not because we
are contemptuous of maternity, but because we have met so many silly
persons who brought babies into the world and remained just as silly
as they were before. We are quite aware, too, that it is, for the most
part, women of our own unmated class, and, likely enough, of our own
way of thinking, who spend their days in teaching bungling mothers how
to rear the children who would otherwise only come into the world in
order to afford employment to the undertaker by going out of it. (A
considerable proportion of the infant population of this country would
be in a parlous state if the “superfluous women” thereof were suddenly
caught up into the air and dumped _en bloc_ in the Sahara.)

And in this connection I feel it necessary to state that I have
hitherto sought in vain in real life for that familiar figure in
fiction—the unmarried woman whose withered existence is passed in
ceaseless and embittered craving for the possession of a child of
her own. The sufferings of this unfortunate creature, as depicted
by masculine writers, have several times brought me to the verge of
tears; it is difficult to believe that they are entirely the result of
vivid masculine imagination; but honesty compels me to admit that I
have never discovered their counterpart in life, in spite of the fact
that my way has led me amongst spinsters of all ages. Young unmarried
women have told me frankly that they would like to bear a child; a
very few elderly unmarried women have told me that they would have
preferred to marry; and quite a number of married women have told me
that they should have done better for themselves by remaining single.
I have known wives who desired maternity as anxiously as others
desired to avoid it; but the spinster whose days are passed in gloomy
contemplation of her lack of olive-branches I have not yet met. I
started by believing in her, just as I started by believing that the
world held nothing for me but marriage and reproduction of my kind.
Later on I discovered that there were more things in heaven and earth
than marriage and reproduction of my kind, and I have no reason to
suppose that I am the only woman who has made that discovery.

The women I have known who lamented their single state as a real evil
have been actuated in their dislike of it by mixed motives. A desire to
bear children has, perhaps, been one; but it has always been interwoven
with the desire to improve their position socially or commercially, and
the corresponding fear of failure or poverty implied by spinsterhood.
So far as my experience goes, the only women who fret passionately at
the lack of children of their own are married women whose husbands are
desirous of children.

I should be the last to deny that many unmarried women have the sense
of maternity strongly developed; but the sense of maternity, as I see
it, is not completely dependent on the accidents of marriage and
child-birth. As I have already said, I believe it is not the physical
side of maternity—the side which appeals so strongly to men—which
appeals most strongly to women; and from the other, and, to me,
infinitely more beautiful side, no unmarried woman is necessarily
debarred. The spinster who devotes herself to permanent lamentation
over her lack of descendants must (if she exists) be a person who has
never risen above the male conception of motherhood as a physical and
instinctive process. Some of the best mothers I have met have never
borne a child; but one does not imagine that it will be counted to them
for unrighteousness that the children who rise up and call them blessed
are not their own. Nor is it childhood alone which enkindles the sense
of maternity in women; the truest mother I know is one who enwraps with
her love a “child” who came into the world before she was thought of.

After all, there is a kinship that is not that of the flesh, and
some of us are very little the children of our parents. The people
who have framed and influenced the conditions under which we live,
whose thoughts have moulded our lives, have also had a share in
our making. It is possible that descendants of Homer walk the earth
to-day—very worthy persons whose existence is of no particular moment
to any but themselves. Shakespeare was married I know, and I believe
he was the father of a family; but of how many that family consisted,
what were their names and what became of them all, I have never even
troubled to inquire. Did Goethe leave descendants, or did he not? I
frankly confess that I don’t know, simply because I have never had
the slightest curiosity on the subject. But Faust has been part of my
life. It matters very little to the world at large what became of the
children whom Jean Jacques Rousseau handed over to the tender mercies
of a foundling hospital; but there are very few people alive to-day to
whom it does not matter that the current of the world’s striving was
turned into a new channel by the spiritual sons of Rousseau—the men
who made the French Revolution. Reproduction is not everything; the
men and women who have striven to shorten the hours of child-labour
have often been possessed of a keener sense of responsibility and
tenderness, a keener sense of fatherhood and motherhood, than the
parents whose children they sought to protect. If I were one of those
who have so striven, I should consider that the help I had given to the
world was no less worthy of honour and commendation than that of the
paterfamilias who marches a family of fourteen to church on Sundays.
If humanity had only been created in order to reproduce its kind, we
might still be dodging cave-bears in the intervals of grubbing up roots
with our nails. It is not only the children who matter: there is the
world into which they are born. Every human being who influences for
the better, however slightly, the conditions under which he lives is
doing something for those who come after; and thus, it seems to me,
that those women who are proving by their lives that marriage is not
a necessity for them, that maternity is not a necessity for them,
are preparing a heritage of fuller humanity for the daughters of
others—who will be daughters of their own in the spirit, if not in
the flesh. The home of the future will be more of an abiding-place and
less of a prison because they have made it obvious that, so far as many
women are concerned, the home can be done without; and if the marriage
of the future is what it ought to be—a voluntary contract on both
sides—it will be because they have proved the right of every woman to
refuse it if she will, by demonstrating that there are other means of
earning a livelihood than bearing children and keeping house. It is
the woman without a husband to support her, the woman who has no home
but such as she makes for herself by her own efforts, who is forcing a
reluctant masculine generation to realize that she is something more
than the breeding factor of the race. By her very existence she is
altering the male conception of her sex.

According to latter-day notions, to speak in praise of celibacy in
man or in woman is tantamount to committing the crime of high treason
against the race. Other centuries—some of them with social systems
quite as scientific as our own—have not been of that way of thinking;
and one is half inclined to suspect that the modern dislike of the
celibate has its root in the natural annoyance of an over-sexed and
mentally lax generation at receiving ocular demonstration of the fact
that the animal passions can be kept under control. It saves such
a lot of trouble to assume at once that they cannot be kept under
control; so, in place of the priest, we have the medicine man, whose
business it is to make pathological excuses for original sin. Myself
I have a good deal of respect for the celibate; not because he has no
children, but because he is capable of self-control—which is a thing
respectable in itself.

At the same time, I do not advocate celibacy except for persons whom it
suits; but I do not see why persons whom it does suit should be ashamed
of acknowledging the fact. I am inclined to think that they are more
numerous than is commonly supposed, and I will admit frankly that I am
exceedingly glad that it seems, in these latter days, to suit so many
women. I am glad, not because the single life appears to me essentially
better than the married, but because I believe that the conditions of
marriage, as they affect women, can only be improved by the women who
do without marriage—and do without it gladly. Other generations have
realized that particular duties could best be performed by persons
without engrossing domestic interests; and I believe that the wives
and mothers of this generation require the aid of women unhampered by
such interests—women who will eventually raise the value of the wife
and mother in the eyes of the husband and father by making it clear
to him that she did not enter the married state solely because there
was nothing else for her to do, and that his child was not born simply
because its mother had no other way of earning a living. There are
women married every day, there are children born every day, for no
better reasons than these.


And the husband and father? What does he stand to gain or lose by that
gradual readjustment of the conditions inside the home which must
inevitably follow on the improvement of woman’s position outside the
home, the recognition of her right to an alternative career and the
consequent discovery that she can be put to other uses than sexual
attraction and maternity? How will he be affected by the fact that
marriage has become a voluntary trade?

So far as one can see, he stands to lose something of his comfortable
pride in his sex, his aristocratic pleasure in the accident of his
birth, his aristocratic consciousness that deference is due to him
merely because he was born in the masculine purple. The woman who has
established her claim to humanity will no longer submit herself to
the law of imposed stupidity; so the belief in her inherent idiocy
will have to go, along with the belief in his own inherent wisdom.
No longer will he take his daily enjoyment in despising the wife of
his bosom—because nature has decreed that she shall be the wife of
his bosom and not the husband of some one else’s. There will be a
readjustment of the wage-scale, too—a readjustment of the conditions
of labour. With better conditions available outside the home, the
wife and mother—no longer under the impression that it is a sin to
think and a shame to be single—will decline to work inside the home
for a wage that can go no lower, will decline to take all the dirty,
monotonous and unpleasant work merely because her husband prefers to
get out of it. She will agree that it is quite natural that he should
dislike such dirty, monotonous or unpleasant toil; but she will point
out to him that it is also quite natural that she should dislike it.
And one imagines that they will come to a compromise. So far, under
a non-compulsory marriage system, he would stand to lose; but on the
other hand he would stand to gain—greatly.

He could be reasonably sure that his wife married him because she
wanted to marry him, not because no other trade was open to her, not
because she was afraid of being jeered and sneered at as an old maid.
That in itself would be an advantage substantial enough to outweigh
some loss of sex dignity. For it would be only his sense of sex dignity
that would be impaired; his sense of personal dignity would be enhanced
by the knowledge that he was a matter not of necessity but of choice.
His wife’s attitude towards him would be a good deal less complimentary
to his class, but a good deal more complimentary to himself. The
attitude of the girl who would “marry any one to get out of this” is by
no means complimentary to her future husband.

The fact that, under a voluntary system of marriage, he would have to
pay, either in money or some equivalent of money, for work which he now
gets done for nothing—and despises accordingly—would also bring with
it a compensatory advantage. Woman’s work in the home is often enough
inefficient simply because it is sweated; there is a point at which
cheap labour tends to become inefficient, and therefore the reverse
of cheap; and that point appears to have been reached in a good many
existing homes.

There is, it seems to me, another respect in which man, as well as
woman, would eventually be the gainer by the recognition of woman’s
right to humanity on her own account. The custom of regarding one
half of the race as sent into the world to excite desire in the other
half does not appear to be of real advantage to either moiety, in
that it has produced the over-sexed man and the over-sexed woman, the
attitude of mind which sneers at self-control. Such an attitude the
establishment of marriage for woman upon a purely voluntary basis ought
to go far to correct; since it is hardly conceivable that women, who
have other careers open to them and by whom ignorance is no longer
esteemed as a merit, will consent to run quite unnecessary risks from
which their unmarried sisters are exempt. When the intending wife and
mother no longer considers it her duty to be innocent and complacent,
the intending husband and father will learn, from sheer necessity,
to see more virtue in self-restraint. With results beneficial to the
race—and incidentally to himself. Humanity would seem to have paid
rather a heavy price for the feminine habit of turning a blind eye to
evil which it dignifies by the name of innocence.

I have sufficient faith in my brethren to be in no wise alarmed
by dismal prophecies of their rapid moral deterioration when our
helplessness and general silliness no longer make a pathetic appeal
to their sense of pity and authority. No doubt the consciousness of
superiority is favourable to the cultivation of certain virtues—the
virtues of the patron; just as the consciousness of inferiority is
favourable to the cultivation of certain other virtues—the virtues of
the patronized. But I will not do my brother the injustice of believing
that the virtues of the patron are the only ones he possesses; on the
contrary, I have found him to be possessed of many others, have seen
him just to an equal, courteous and considerate to those whom he had
no reason to pity or despise. When the ordinary man and the ordinary
wife no longer stand towards each other in the attitude of patron and
patronized the virtues of both will need overhauling—that is all.

Nor does one see how the advancement of marriage to the position of a
voluntary trade can work for anything but good upon the children born
of marriage. Motherhood can be sacred only when it is voluntary, when
the child is desired by a woman who feels herself fit to bear and to
rear it; the child who is born because of his mother’s inability to
earn her bread by any trade but marriage, because of his mother’s fear
of the social disgrace of spinsterhood, has no real place in the world.
He comes into it simply because the woman who gives him life was less
capable or less courageous than her sisters; and it is not for such
reasons that a man should be born.

And I fail to see that a future generation will be in any way injured
because the mothers of that generation are no longer required to please
their husbands by stunting and narrowing such brains as they were
born with, because ignorance and silliness are no longer considered
essential qualifications for the duties of wifehood and motherhood. The
recognition of woman’s complete humanity, apart from husband or lover,
must mean inevitably the recognition of her right to develop every side
of that humanity, the mental and moral as well as the physical and
sexual; and inevitably and insensibly the old aristocratic masculine
cruelty which, because she was an inferior, imposed stupidity upon her
and made lack of intelligence a preliminary condition of motherhood,
will become a thing of the past. Nor will a man be less fitted to fight
the battle of life with honour and advantage to himself, because he was
not born the son of a fool.

The male half of creation is still apt to talk (if not quite so
confidently as of yore) as if the instinct and desire for maternity
were the one overpowering factor in our lives. It may be so as regards
the majority of us, though the shrinkage of the birth-rate in so far as
it is attributable to women would seem to point the other way; but as
I have shown it is impossible to be certain on the point until other
instincts and desires have been given fair play. Under a voluntary
system of marriage they would be given fair play; in a world where a
woman might make what she would of her own life, might interest herself
in what seemed good to her, she would hardly bear a child unless she
desired to bear it. That is to say she would bear a child not just
because it was the right thing for her to do—since there would be a
great many other right things for her to do—but because the maternal
instinct was so strong in her that it overpowered other interests,
desires or ambitions, because she felt in her the longing to give birth
to a son of whom she had need. And such a son would come into a world
where his place was made ready for him; being welcome, and a hundred
times welcome, because he was loved before he was conceived.

Nor does one imagine that such a son, when he grew of an age to
understand, would think the less of his mother because he knew that
he was no accident in her life, but a choice; because he learned that
his birth was something more than a necessary and inevitable incident
in her compulsory trade. One does not imagine that he would reverence
her the less because he saw in her not only the breeding factor in
the family, but a being in all respects as human as himself, who had
suffered for him and suffered of her own free will; nor that he would
be less grateful to her because she, having the unquestioned right to
hold life from him, had chosen instead to give it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes

Obvious typographical errors have been silently corrected. Variations
in hyphenation, spelling and punctuation remain unchanged.

In the Preface “largely unnecessary and unavoidable” has been changed
to “largely unnecessary and avoidable”

The multiple repeats of the title before the title page have been

Italics are represented thus _italic_.

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