Not long ago I exchanged notes with a thirtyish female television producer in Toronto about the hazards of being a spinster in Canada. “The most tedious part of it,” she said, “is forever being forced to parry that impertinent question, Why isn’t an attractive woman like you married?’ When I say it’s because I don’t want to get married they look at me as though I had two heads.”
I sympathized. I live in England, a nation of individualists, where the intrusive personal question is taboo and where the spinster is permitted to flourish with the other eccentrics. But in Canada. I find, the woman who chooses to be single and independent is at once a freak in the circus to be examined, questioned and pitied, and a dangerous insurgent who is hated by the entire social order.
Wives: cheap servants
The independent woman, of course, menaces most societies. Whether she is single or not. once she takes full economic responsibility for her life and her future she achieves freedom in practice and the economic order based on her vassalage collapses. It is pointless to argue that Western societies are not founded on the unpaid labor of women. Early this year, in Australia. Mr. Justice Medemens. giving judgment in a suit for alienation of affections, said that in law a wife “can only be valued as a servant" and that in assessing damages “you have to regard the loss of a wife only as the loss of a servant” but that “generally speaking the wife is cheaper than a housekeeper who must be paid."
Exactly how much cheaper she is was proved in May by Colin Smith, director of the Oxford University Institute for Research into Agricultural Economics. Smith compiled a carefully documented report based on the cost to the community of institutional services. This showed that every housewife in Britain contributed a bare
minimum of five hundred and seventy pounds worth of unpaid work to the national income. The economy of the country would be wrecked, he said, if servants had to he hired to do it. “What’s Smith trying to do?” demanded an angry male columnist the day after the report was published. “Ruin the home life of this country or start a major revolution?”
Obviously a woman of intelligence and ability will hesitate before assuming this parasitic role of domestic drudge. In Canada, however, her hesitation is made particularly painful by reason of the peculiar position she occupies. The expanding industrial economy encourages her to be educated and to adopt a profession. But its dependence on mass production drives her toward conformity and marriage. For this role she is set up on a pedestal and idolized as something less or more than human (a dish, a doll, a goddess) and enjoined by a ceaseless barrage of advertising and propaganda to be a combination of perfect sex symbol, perfect hostess, perfect housekeeper and perfect mother. The penalty for failure, she is often told (and often discovers) is loss of her husband, her pride and her source of income.
With the odds stacked so heavily against her. a young woman who does not require the support of a man is inclined to postpone entering this formidable contest. She soon discovers, however, that delay is costly. To fail as a wife is not nearly so bad as to fail to become one. For this crime the women's magazines will brand her as a social deviate and even a mental cripple. For example, a recently published article in a Canadian women’s magazine gave immaturity as a leading reason why the woman “armored in independence” did not marry. She was probably prey, this article said, to “some serious personality problem and the author advised her "to cultivate adult insight and self-understanding”
contitii.ed Ofl page 44
MARJORIE EARL IS A WINNIPEG-BORN FREE-LANCE WRITER WHO NOW LIVES IN BRITAIN. SHE IS A REGULAR CONTRIBUTOR IO MACLEANS.
For the sake of argument
continued from page 8
“Men demand virtue in single women but lewdness delights them’’
and to give up her search for Mr. Right and the “delusion of a high ideal in love” because it is "likely to exclude all possibility of marriage.” Men, this author thought, could not live up to such ideals, nor should they he expected to.
I doubt that there’s an intelligent single woman in Canada today who has not developed enough self-understanding to know that she has a serious personality problem. She’s divided against herself and at war with the customs of the country and she knows it. But she cannot help wondering why the search for Mr. Right should be condemned and whether it is immaturity or adult insight that makes her aware that it is her armor of independence and this alone that permits her the luxury of less ignoble sentiments than those expressed in the article just referred to. Certainly it is not that she cherishes a “delusion of a high ideal in love." Working with men on a basis of equality she finds them quite dilferent from the mythical men depicted in those same women s magazines. She is soon likely to lose all ideals and overthrow all delusions.
She may respect her male colleagues professionally but emotionally she often finds them disgusting. Having themselves fallen for their expedient, man-made concept of helpless femininity, they are arrogant and aggressive in their sex relationships while at the same time they persistently degrade them. They demand virtue and propriety in women but take
a childish delight in all forms of lewdness. They seriously recommend chastity to their unmarried female friends as the surest way to land a man, while at the same time proffering her unlimited opportunities to be licentious.
Once a woman’s confidence in the superiority of the male is shaken her personality problem becomes even more serious. She cannot be simple and direct.
If she wants to marry, she is repeatedly told by all the advice peddlers, she must close her eyes to male pretensions and play a game that is both fatuous and degrading. Feigning wide-eyed innocence she must tell a man he is wonderful while treating him like a child. In his book, Divorce Won’t Help, for instance. Dr. E. Bergler insists that it is a woman’s job “to manage her husband, that fourflushing baby dressed in adult clothing who has never outgrown the nursery and is called man.” In 1942, Dorothy Dix told a correspondent that to be successful at the game of love a woman must play up to the little boy in a man. One had only to look at the gold-diggers, she said, with their millionaire sugar-daddies, to see that they always treated their men as though they were five and not so bright at that. “It’s sure-fire tactics," she concluded.
The independent career woman can play this game successfully for a time. But sooner or later the façade cracks, she reveals what she knows and her potential suitor, unable to endure the challenge, runs like a rabbit. "A man seeks the gift of self." continues the Canadian article of advice to the single. "Part of his chosen point of view is that a woman shall need him. If a woman is too sclfsufficient. he senses this and his romantic need is unfulfilled.”
But is the word “romantic" one that ought properly to be included in an article that makes much of maturity and
Who is it?
She walked out on the most famous French - Canadian family to go and play in France. Turn to page 52 to find out who she is today.
adult insight? And is his need really romantic? Is it not rather a need to dominate and control, neither of which is possible with a self-sufficient woman? Her needs are not economic, like those of most women. They are primarily social and biological and to satisfy them might place a greater strain on his character and manhood than his upbringing in Canadian society had made possible. For example, the American doctor who recently decided to deduct fines from his wife's allowance for such sins as failing to wake him in the morning and to
have his coffee ready when he was dressed would have to merit these services of love if there was no exchange of money involved. Viewed in a purely economic light it is easy to understand why the marriage rate among career women is twenty-three percent lower and the divorce rate thirteen percent higher than among their more submissive and domesticated sisters.
Sooner or later the working woman counts the high cost of her freedom. “It was then, as I sat in my dreary bedsitting room, that I realized I was never
going to marry,” said Dame Edith Sitwell recently, recalling her forty-sixth birthday. “The truth made me feel bitterly lonely but it was also a kind of blessed release; I could now turn my back on the past and fulfill myself as a writer." Once arrived at this anguished decision, the single woman in England is not pestered to justify it and she can also find solace in stimulating intellectual activity. But not so in Canada.
In Canada the single woman is forever being told that it is bad for her to be too much alone. Solitude, she finds, is
anathema to Canadians; so much so that, as Graham Hutton remarks in Midwest at Noon, “the man or woman who treasures privacy, silence and the pleasures of contemplation must be a person up to no good." Intellectual pursuits give the single woman cold comfort; Canada's cultural attainment is minimal and she is constantly urged to leave culture alone or she will further diminish her chances of marriage. Serious thinking, she is told, is the prerogative of men.
Socially, her life is hopeless. Unmatched at Canadian parties, where careful pairing and uniformity are as much the rule as the ultimate segregation of the sexes, she soon finds herself adrift. In the kitchen, she blushes or laughs uncomfortably at the crude jokes of the men in whose company she has sought release from the boredom of conversation about children in the living room. Her host secretly condemns her for listening to the jokes and her hostess for going into the kitchen in the first place. If she's attractive, well paid and well dressed and cannot therefore be reasonably pitied, her friends ceaselessly promote strict chastity as the most marketable of her assets, at the same time questioning her about her private life and watching her with narrow severity. This, suggests M. S. Burt in These Feminized United States, probably stems from envy. Burt believes that the revered American wife and mother (indistinguishable from the Canadian) secretly longs to come down oil her pedestal "where man, that bifurcated radish in trousers, has placed her."
A new trap coming
My unmarried friend in the television trade and I were in agreement on most of these points. But we also agreed that we were not being strictly truthful when we claimed that we do not want to be married. We do. Gladly would we love a man so mature that he can treat us as an equal without loss of pride or, in Simone de Beauvoir’s words, "an adult living out a big moment of his life and not a little boy putting on airs.” We know that such men exist but alas, they are too few. particularly in Canada where the God of Success has joined hands with the Goddess of Sex to encourage aggression at the expense of self-understanding and interior life.
It would be intoxicating to be able to predict a change for the better but. on the contrary, it would appear that nature is preparing a new trap for the disciples of technocracy and mass production. If there is no war. all single women will be able to find husbands twenty-five years from now. But there is not likely to beany growth in maturity; only a reversal of the present balance of power.
At present nature provides more boy babies than girls (106 to 100) because boys are constitutionally more delicate. Science, however, has defeated nature: the boys are now being kept alive. In twenty-five years, predicts Dr. Ffrangcon Roberts, half a million men in Britain (and an equivalent number in North America) will be unable to find wives. "Into the moral consequences I need not enter," says Roberts. "It may be observed that men do not tolerate enforced celibacy as well as women. The contest for mates may become as fierce as it was to our cave-dwelling ancestors. Boys now in their cradles will crack one another's skulls like stags.”
Let them. Until there is something more mature and understanding inside those skulls they may be cracking them in vain: millions of women who value dignity and integrity in either sex may still refuse to be the spoils of combat. ★
Who is it? on page 44
Denise Pelletier, who played Cecile in the Plouffe Family TV series until she left to join the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde on a tour that included a season in Paris.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.