Review of Reviews

No, Sir! Women Won’t Be Men

A reply to Benge Atlee’s “Should Women Be Men”

CONSTANCE KERR SISSONS October 15 1934
Review of Reviews

No, Sir! Women Won’t Be Men

A reply to Benge Atlee’s “Should Women Be Men”

CONSTANCE KERR SISSONS October 15 1934

No, Sir! Women Won’t Be Men

A reply to Benge Atlee’s “Should Women Be Men”

CONSTANCE KERR SISSONS

YE EDITOR surely does not err when he predicts stormy weather as a result of Doctor Atlee’s grandiose article: "Should Women Be Men?” May one forestall the expected tumult by an attempt to pour oil on the about-to-be-troubled waters? And who better equipped to apply the lubrication than a widow-woman like myself, with an inexhaustible cruse at her disposal?

We women are standing up bravely under the shock of finding that Dr. Atlee, selfappointed spokesman for his sex, neither honors nor respects us. The gilt he has plastered ujxrn our imperfectly carved features luckily serves to obscure the sardonic grin with which we greet the love, pity land madness he showers upon us at those times when the moon is just a little bit offcolor. Inferior souls that we are! Our tlnvarted egos—assisted by a keen sense of humor —just naturally perceive that some one is on the horns of a dilemma; and that this some one is not Woman—it is MAN.

For man has never accepted the improved status of woman. It is man, not woman, who eternally fusses about it. Woman herself is serene and confident. All the world lies before her. Her opportunities are boundless. But, like any other creature, she dislikes misrepresentation.

Within the last fortnight I have returned from two months sojourn on the continent of Europe, from the fjords of Norway to the Bay of Naples. Thus I obtained more than a passing glance at the women of eight countries and the sight was agreeable, encouraging. Of this, more anon.

Why should man (for he does!) measure woman’s ambitions by his own? Has it ever occurred to Dr. Atlee that women in any appreciable number do not hanker to become M.P.’s, or Senatoresses, or parsons, or judges? If they did—bless his heart!—the House of Commons, the Red Chamber, the Churches and the Courts would eventually stand by. In fact, on this very day that Dr. Atlee’s article appears, the news dispatches include an item to the effect that the United Church of Canada is about to rule on the principle of admitting women to ordination. At the moment there seems to be a fair chance that a Regina church may welcome its wished-for lady incumbent.

In all my life, however, I have met only two women who really yearned to occupy a pulpit. The first was invited to preach in so many churches that she had no time to regret having no pulpit of her own. The second had a room in my house while she studied at Knox College, Toronto, swept up the entire curriculum, and heat every man in the i divinity course to a frazzle, winning a $1,200 travelling scholarship. Now she will probably have a chance to deliver some of the sermons I used to hear her rehearsing as she paced to and fro in her room.

Women in larger numbers have coveted medical degrees and university appointments. Need one recount their achieve! merits? Into the fields long open to them —teaching, clerical and secretarial positions, design, music, art, handcrafts—they continue to flock. And even the surliest of men critics have in recent years declared that women are pec uliarly equipped by nature to excel in novel writing and in various forms of journalism. Other groups of pursuits have more recently felt the influence of woman's superior imaginative power. In nearly every large city you will now find a woman at the very top of the tree -as to ability and income where photography, or interior decorating, or really de luxe publicity work and advertising are in question. Women cannot accomplish everything in a day. But what they have done since the beginning of the century leaves no doubt whatever that, in those situations in which the unmarried woman still receives less pay than

her unmarried brother, the discrepancy will eventually disappear.

Life is Never Dull

"^TOW A WORD as to the unsettling, devastating “handicap” that girls undergo when matrimony overtakes them. In the first place, the woman who is overtaken is not often one who is animated by a soaring ambition in the outside world. She is a teacher perhaps, a stenographer, a saleswoman, and her intelligence enables her to discern that there is a thrillingly neic field of usefulness and endeavor ahead of her in the sphere of home-making and motherhood. In nine cases out of ten, she takes to it like a duck to water—and let who will say that her efforts? are not improving home conditions and child care at a rapid rate of progression.

If she does her own work, she is presented with quantities of new problems to solve— and with new problems to solve, life is never dull. If she hires labor and has time on her hands, and is (as Dr. Atlee suggests) really well educated—then at last she has leisure for those hundred-and-one projects that used for ever to be pushed into the background of her mind and life. There are literally thousands of outlets for her energy ; and no woman who would have amounted to a row of pins in outside competition, is in the remotest danger of “surrendering to the powers of darkness,” viz., Eternal Bridge.

Nor is her contact with the outer woild severed in the degree that this pessimist suggests. She finds herself able to enrich her former interests by the new experiences life has bestowed upon her. In any case, from the age at which she most commonly marries until her period of productivity is over, there is but a span of ten, or possibly fifteen years. Should domestic cares press unduly upon the wife during all this period, she still has by far her best years before her; and the fact that certain of her ambitions may have, so to speak, lain fallow during the heat and stress of the day, in no sense impairs their fecundity for the future.

Among women, as among men, you find a few misfits and malcontents in every walk of life. But does that prove anything?

Ixx>k for a minute at the other side of the picture. When no biological urge is strong enough to oust the ambitious dreams of certain women, they remain single. But are women alone in this? Hundreds of eagerly desirous men similarly renounce the claims of sex. We in Canada have but to look about among our most prominent men to find outstanding examples. And there is this difference: Compared with bachelors, the spinster of any age can make a far more charming and homelike milieu for herself, wherever she may be. There is no more delightful atmosphere than that created by an elderly woman, cultured, alert, with a lifetime of intelligent effort behind her. Nor does she at her retirement, nor at any juncture of her careei, content herself with “the Junior League sort of thing.” She reads, she travels, she entertains.

In the holiday season, Europe is literally alive with self-supporting, ardent women tourists, revelling in the scenic beauties, scanning European history, and treasures of art and antiquity. Is it any wonder that women in general are better conversationalists than men, or that they are so much better informed, and so much more profoundly in earnest as to self-improvement and the development of taste and talent? Ask any registrar whether it is men or women who fill the roll in extension classes, technical, academic, or religious. Yet. just visit any movie house—more than half the spectators are men! About once a year I enter a variety show in mid-afternoon to find that over three-quarters of the audience

are men. The question immediately arises: Are these the unemployed? And, if so, how have they the price of this entertainment?

Successful Women'a

NOW, TO QUESTION one or two of Dr.

Atlee’s direct statements. He asserts that women are the first to go when jobs are cut down. But is this so? On Tuesday afternoons, I forsake my Küche and, my Kinder no longer requiring my personal supervision, 1 betake myself to an anteroom of my Kirche, where I foregather with a lot of other industrious hens, who seemingly are unconscious that their wings are clipped. (Incidentally, we do such a vast amount of work that the Kirche could ill spare our efforts—a fact abundantly acknowledged by the powers that be). However, I was about to say that our undynamic gossip at these meetings during the depression, frequently disclosed the fact that our daughters were doing very much better than our sons— were more likely to be holding their jobs, or in receipt of better remuneration. Speakers on social welfare committees at these same gatherings were apt to dwell on another indubitable fact, namely, that many of the Ix>orer families were being held together solely by the earnings of the wife or daughters.

Dr. Atlee betrays an utter ignorance of the principles of philology when he implies that the meanings of words must ever hold by their original significance. Take “chivalry” for instance—a quality, by the way, which he rather conspicuously disclaims—does anyone in our time associate “chivalry” with “horsemanship?” For the rest, I had rather be “feminine” than “virile”; and, as between “manly” and “womanly,” “womanly” is good enough for me!

But, as does Dr. Atlee, let us wander for awhile in Europe. The earnings of a daughter paid my passage there and back, as well as her own entire expenses. We shared a cabin with a Spanish-American widow who had made a business success in New York. In Italy we were on the lookout for signs of II Duce’s high-handed dealings with his feminine compatriots, but we concluded that the extent to which Italian women have been ousted from their positions had been exaggerated in the press. Possibly, in beginning at the lower rungs of the social ladder, Papa Mussolini has shown sense. Women in inferior positions have doubtless been just as glad to many the men who are lured or stampeded into matrimony by Fascist tactics. As is well known, Il Duce had not personally favored matrimony during his earlier career, but before the advent of his third child he took the important step that he now so strongly enjoins upon Young Italy.

Italian womankind betrays none of that sense of frustration that Dr. Atlee might expect to see upon its countenance. Possibly few signor inas had been touched by Promethean fires. For the rest—business as usual, in pension, kitchen, shop, and whatnot. Amalfi’s most fashionable hotel owns a manageress-proprietress. The best private pension in Rome is run by three cultured elderly sisters and their niece. In Florence, our hotel was commanded by a woman with a mere figurehead for a husband; and in that city we bought art prints and leather, raffia and embroideries, from women vendors. The most autocratic lady cashier I ever saw in my life, inhabited a Florence department store. Venice was in no way different. An uncommon number of apparently idle men haunted the Lido beaches.

In Austria, and in Norway and Denmark, we discerned no tragic shadow on feminine brows; nor in the mere glimpses we had of Portugal, Spain and France. As for Holland, perhaps we built unduly on the personality of the Dutch Jewess who shared our cabin

on the Scandinavian cruise. She was in business in Amsterdam and, judging from the cut of her clothes and the money she had at her command, she was no mean executive.

As to Englishwomen, we found them in authority, even in hotel offices! While American and Canadian women were everywhere, eager “foi to see and for to admire.” Our cabin-mate on the return trip was a Colorado lady who had been all round the world—a teacher of agriculture in Denver schools. She had kept her eyes open in the interests of her pupils, and questioned us earnestly as to conditions in the Channel Islands, which we had visited.

European Women Not Slaves

THE “hard, cold fact” that, under Herr i Hitler, woman is being “forced willy! nilly” back to “slaveiy,” was somehow not borne in upon us during our stay in Germany. Shops and cafés, and beauty parlors and beer gardens seem still to be largely staffed by gills. There are assuredly more stout, contented Frauleins whizzing around Munich, for instance, on up-to-date bicycles, than there are wheelswomen in the whole of Canada. The sight at rush periods is simply an eyeopener and, I ask you, where are these German women off to, at business hours, if not to work?

Some of us can recollect the time when a I terrific alarm was sounded because woman took to the bicycling craze of the ’90’s. Columns upon columns were published to argue that her reproductive functions were being endangered, and improper ideas fostered by her apparel and the unladylike gyrations of her legs! And that brings me to the one point in Dr. Atlee’s article which, being too utterly unjust, made the rest of his outpourings worthy of attention.—his alle! gation that “the average woman is totally unfit to bring up children.” How often have I we been harangued on the lack of “preparation for motherhood” by men who would roar with mirth at the mere idea that the boy needs any “preparation” whatever for fatherhood? Yet it is my considered and honest opinion that, when paternity overtakes the average man, he falls down just a little bit more in the discharge of his peculiar j parental duties, than does his wife. But -what is far, far worse —the lack of any real masculine responsibility toward the coming generation too often results in sterile marriages; for, “while sterility in man accounts for seventeen to twenty-five per cent” of these, “almost the entire proportion of sterility in woman is imposed upon her by her husband.” This was the plain dictum, some years since, of one of Dr. Atlee’s distinguished male confrères. And Dr. Atlee himself remarks that these evils are upon the increase.

So, it’s a man’s world, my sisters! The earth blooms for man. Man’s all-powerful hand controls its far horizons . . . You can afford to laugh at this nonsense for you know that, slowly but surely, woman is winning through to her goal. Her own peculiar interests are being regarded more seriously by all institutions—by churches, and hospitals, and libraries. Even by universities, which admit young women in scores to the degree of Bachelor of Household Science. Two vital things remain—and they will come. A recognition by the State of the debt owing to the housewife and homemaker; and a scheme of budgetting that will legally entitle women who toil in private homes, to their just share of the family income.

There may be women who feel that they must virtually become men to achieve their ends. If so—but I doubt it—these ladies are concealing the fact with extraordinary success, and a duplicity that could safely be described as “virile.”