What’s the Matter With American Women?

December 1 1908

What’s the Matter With American Women?

December 1 1908

What’s the Matter With American Women?

Dr. Andrew MacPhail in Spectator

IT is luxurious idleness alone which appeals to the American woman. In literature and life this is the clue to her actions.

It is an eternal law—at least it has been a law since the beginning of created things —that an organ, an animal or a species cannot exist independently of its function. Life and growth are bound up with work, and we have not yet grown so mighty that we have emancipated ourselves from the dominion of this law.

The primitive functions of the woman were to prepare food and clothing, to care for her mate and the offspring which she had assisted in producing. In course of time, and for reasons largely beyond her control, these obligations have become less incumbent upon her. With one exception, they have been usurped by the male or placed in the hands of hirelings. In the progress of civilization and by the division of labor the food is purchased partially or wholly prepared, as the advertisements boast.

In America this industrial change has been remarkably rapid, and there are women living in idleness to-day who in their youth were accustomed to take a sheaf from the field and prepare the evening meal from it before the night fell.

Every advance in that industrial development of which we are boasting continually makes for the destruction of the family. Originally each family was more or less self-contained and mutually supporting. The man procured food from the forest, from the sea or from the soil, and he was aided in these occupations by his boys, who became competent at a very early age. The woman dressed the skins, made them into garments and prepared the food for eating. In later times she carded the wool, spun the yarn wove the cloth and fashioned it into clothing, and there are men yet living who look back with yearning to a family life in which these occupations were the chief concern.

At an early age the girl, too, was initiated

into these mysteries. She was self-supporting from her childhood, and, indeed, added to the wealth and comfort of the family. The child, instead of being a burden, was an asset. Both male and female were efficient members of the community, and there was an honored place for even the maiden aunt, made honorable by her usefulness.

Into this community of families comes the manufacturer with his machinery, and his love of money, and his formulas about efficiency, saving of labor, industrial progress and commercial development. Every turn of his wheels disintegrates the family by destroying its multifarious occupations.

The butter, which used to be churned in the dairy, kept cool by an overhanging willow tree, is now made in a factory. The sheep which the children tended upon the hillside are gone, and with them the occupations of carding, spinning and weaving which made the long winter evenings too short for the work to be done. The larder is stored day by day from the grocer’s wagon, and those delectable times are vanished in which the woman-kind gathered the apple and the berry, and preserved them in shining rows, not for this year alone, but for next year and the year after.

The country has grown rich, but the family is destroyed. There is money and idleness for the women of the well-to-do ; idleness alone for the women of the poor. For the daughters of the poor there is the refuge of the factory and its sisters—the slum and the street. For the daughters of the rich there is nothing but idleness, and both classes are more unhappy than when they lived in trees.

The care of the offspring has been handed over to male and female hirelings—physicians and nurses—and thus a wide outlet for the physical and mental activity of the woman has been effectually stopped. Deprived of the care of her children, the woman suffers a diminution of her affection, and it is replaced by a noisy sentimentalism which is equally disastrous for mother, child and husband.

It is the maternal instinct running riot. It exhausts itself upon the infant, and none remains for the growing child to whom it might be of some value. The American mother is famous for the care of her infant and the neglect of her child.

We have seen that women have handed over their function of preparing food to the cook, the making of clothing to the tailor, the care of their children to the physician. If these substitutes were females the case would not be so anomalous ; but, on the contrary, they are males, and I believe that all women now recognize the superiority of the man-cook, the man-tailor and man-midwife.

The man and the women are complementary the one to the other. In so far as the woman acquires the qualities and characteristics of the man she becomes to that extent futile, as futile as the man who has acquired the quality of effeminacy. No matter how effeminate a man becomes, he can never be so adorable as a woman. He will always be an amateur in that role, and the woman has him beaten at the start.

Reduced by a power not her own to a condition of idleness, her case is a most unhappy one, and her manifold activities in the street, in places of entertainment, and finally in the divorce court, are merely blind strivings to free herself from an intolerable ennui.

Her life is one of rivalry for appearance and position. The struggle exhausts her energy and all other means at her disposal. Her mind becomes warped and her ambition distorted. Eternal restlessness is her portion, a dislike of any discipline, a hatred of any law save that which her own whim, will, or desire imposes. To impose this law upon others becomes her constant occupation.

The most oppressive burden which a woman is called upon to endure is that anomaly amongst created beings—the wearing of clothes. In the state of nature it is ordained that the female shall go quietly, filie male is the gaudy, strutting creature.

But in the race to which we belong it is« the woman who is glorious ; and this burden of splendor, falling upon an organism, which is unqualified for the task, breaks it down hopelessly and renders it unfit for the performance of its-proper function.

The possession of splendid apparel in-

volves the necessity for its display, and out of that arises vanity, jealousy, rivalry and all uncharitableness. This is the genesis of the thing which is known as society. To the American man there is something mysterious about this society, and his womenkina alone are supposed to understand it. He is in reality a simple-minded person, and his women have entered into a conspiracy against him by which they shall live in idleness, and he shall “labor and toil, and rob, and steal, and bring all to his love.”

The mark of social distinction in primitive communities is idleness on the part of the woman. One mark of poverty is that women are obliged to work. Brought up in an old-fashioned way, the American man thinks that he has extracted himself from poverty when he has succeeded in keeping his womenkind free from the necessity of work. Speaking generally, this is the aim of the “American woman”—to live a life of luxurious idleness.

. The next anomaly under which we labor is that we are compelled to live in houses, and have not yet become convinced what the proper form of habitation is. The American man is himself without taste. The possession of taste is the prerogative of the woman. Accordingly she is the one who deals with the architect and decorator, and she is supposed to understand all matters pertaining to architecture, decoration, and furnishing in virtue of her femininity alone.

When it comes to a question of building a “home” as if a home could be built with hands—the rich, free woman, to demonstrate her equality with the rich woman of older communities, must have a house which resembles “the stately homes of England,” or a villa which vies in beauty with the abode of a “merchant prince” of mediaeval Florence ; or, to demonstrate the catholicity which exists in a free country, she will probably achieve a combination of both, with certain features added, which belong exclusively to a cathedral or a fortress.

There yet remains one function which is in the exclusive possession of the woman, and no means have been discovered up to the present time by which it can be better performed. That is the part she plays in the propagation of the species. Deprived of this excuse for existence, the female of the human race becomes entirely a parasite. And yet in respect of this remaining function there is some evidence that the “Ameri-

can woman" is not dein 7 her best, that she is following the example of that unprofitable servant who wrapper up his one talent in a napkin. It is quit possible that this indisposition to exercise a natural function is not due to recalcitrancy, but to an instinct that the species is not \\ rth reproducing.

But the plea which tie “American woman” put forward is ti e less cynical one that the quality of offspring is more important than quantity.

Professor Karl Pearsc Ï has shown from his investigations into the inheritance of tuberculosis that the earlier members of a large family are more apt m inherit disease than those who are born later, and that, therefore, the limitation oi families to two children, which now appears to be the desirable number, is increasing the percentage of persons with weak constitutions.

This is Nature’s method of dealing with the fictitious law of primogeniture. Human ingenuity is powerless in face of the mysterious laws by which reproduction is governed; and created beings invariably get the worst of it when they set themselves in opposition to those laws. But, fortunately or unfortunately, a diminishing birth rate is confined only to those societies which we are accustomed to think of as highly civilized. The phenomenon is not new.

An instinct fails when it ceases to be exercised. When women in the progress of civilization abandoned the practise of living in trees for the comfort of a cave, it may be well imagined that they quickly forgot the nice art of tree keeping.

Similarly those who live in “flats” no longer retain a remembrance of the days when they dwelt in houses, and the house as a habitation has become as extinct for them as the cave.

The instinct for propagating the species is no exception to this law, and in time the female of this type will become sexless in all but form, which is now so firmly fixed that we may not expect any fundamental alteration.

And yet a variation in type is appearing. The “American woman” retains her girlhood until comparatively late in life, and then suddenly, to her grief and rage, falls into a condition of senility which no devices serve long to postpone.

Indeed, the expression “married girls” is commonly employed in those periodicals which concern themselves with her doings.

And the proof that this instinct is failing is found in the remedy which is offered—that the nature of it be taught in schools from books on physiology.

Self-reliance is the most deadly gift which the female of this race can possess ; and yet the girl who is destined to develop into an “American woman” is taught from her earliest years to be assertive of her opinions, insistent upon her rights, and clamorous for a consideration which can only be given ungrudgingly when it is least demanded.

And so she goes through life with squared shoulders and set face, alert for “any insult to her womanhood.” The American man, loving peace, desiring to be left to his employments and devices, pretends to acquiesce, and so leaves her in the enjoyment of the fool’s paradise which she has created for herself.

The woman differs only in degree from the rest of creative beings. Her natural resources, those by which she will prevail, are gentleness, long suffering, kindness. When she abandons these she does not necessarily, in the present state of civilization, lose her life. She merely becomes an “American woman.” In striving for her “rights” the American woman has lost her influence and has given us a new reading of the old fable of the bone and its shadow.

The “American woman” thinks the American man is as good as he is because she loves him so much. She is so selfsatisfied that she thinks every one must love her and must continue to love her, entirely irrespective of the conduct which she may choose to indulge in. A husband who should cease to love so glorious a creature must be a fool whose love is not worth striving to retain.

The influence of woman is the subject of all verse, and is best expressed by the word “charm.” And what is charm? Certain things it is not. It is not excessive talkativeness, nor that distortion of the countenance in public places which is called laughter. Not intellectual attainment nor the artistic temperament assures its possession. It does not necessarily lie in the physical beauty of a symmetrical musculature. Teeth and eyes and hair are mere epidermal modifications. Charm is' everything which the “American woman” thinks it is not. Charm lies in what a woman is, not in what she does, nor in how she looks.

The American women—all women— should turn upon the “American woman," as judges and executioners, with cold, deliberate indignation, in such virgin fury as the workers in the hive display towards the great, idle, sugary-mouthed drones unconscious of the melliferous walls.

And, happily, there is evidence that the people are tired of the farce. This revulsion of feeling is led by the really educated women who are willing to confess that even they themselves have missed the mark, and

that their humbler sisters have chosen the better part.

For the ignoran: and newly rich the educated women hav : nothing but scorn : for those who would, emancipate themselves from the law they have infinite compassion. The woman who i. happy is she who obeys the law of kindness, who goes quietly. Her husband yields hei benevolence. His heart doth safely trust n her, and her children call her blessed. rfhe woman who will prevail is the effeminate woman who overcomes man by the force of continual quietness.