Feminism in Peace and War
THE THREAT OF THE MATRIARCHATE
It is possible that if the European War had been averted the history of Feminism would have made far different reading--say fifty years hence. The militant suffragettes of England had degenerated from something like real politicians into mere neurasthenics and not only had lost what little chance they seemed for a time to have of being taken seriously by the British Government, but had very nearly alienated the many thousands of women without the ranks that were wavering in the balance. This was their most serious mistake, for the chief handicap of the militants had been that too few women were disposed toward suffrage, or even interested. The history of the world shows that when any large body of people in a community want anything long enough and hard enough, and go after it with practical methods, they obtain it in one form or another. But the women of Britain as well as the awakening women of other nations east and west of the Atlantic, were so disgusted and alarmed by this persisting lack of self-control in embryonic politicians of their sex that they voted silently to preserve their sanity under the existing régime. It has formed one of the secret sources of the strength of the antis, that fear of the complete demoralization of their sex if freed from the immemorial restraints imposed by man.
This attitude of mind does not argue a very distinguished order of reasoning powers or of clear thinking; but then not too many men, in spite of their centuries of uninterrupted opportunity, face innovations or radical reforms with unerring foresight. There is a strong conservative instinct in the average man or woman, born of the hereditary fear of life, that prompts them to cling to old standards, or, if too intelligent to look inhospitably upon progress, to move very slowly. Both types are the brakes and wheel-horses necessary to a stable civilization, but history, even current history in the newspapers, would be dull reading if there were no adventurous spirits willing to do battle for new ideas. The militant women of England would have accomplished wonders if their nervous systems had not broken down under the prolonged strain.
It is probable that after this war is over the women of the belligerent nations will be given the franchise by the weary men that are left, if they choose to insist upon it. They have shown the same bravery, endurance, self-sacrifice, resource, and grim determination as the men. In every war, it may be argued, women have displayed the same spirit and the same qualities, proving that they needed but the touchstone of opportunity to reveal the splendor of their endowment, but treated by man, as soon as peace was restored, as the same old inferior annex.
This is true enough, but the point of difference is that never, prior to the Great War, was such an enormous body of women awake after the lethargic submission of centuries, and clamoring for their rights. Never before have millions of women been supporting themselves; never before had they even contemplated organization and the direct political attack. Of course the women of Europe, exalted and worked half to death, have, with the exception of a few irrepressibles, put all idea of self-aggrandizement aside for the moment; but this idea had grown too big and too dominant to be dismissed for good and all, with last year's fashions and the memory of delicate plats prepared by chefs now serving valiantly within the lines. The big idea, the master desire, the obsession, if you like, is merely taking an enforced rest, and there is persistent speculation as to what the thinking and the energetic women of Europe will do when this war is over, and how far men will help or hinder them.
I have written upon this question in its bearings upon the women of France more fully in another chapter; but it may be stated here that such important feminists as Madame Vérone, the eminent avocat, and Mlle. Valentine Thompson, the youngest but one of the ablest of the leaders, while doing everything to help and nothing to embarrass their Government, never permit the question to recede wholly to the background. Mlle. Thompson argues that the men in authority should not be permitted for a moment to forget, not the services of women in this terrible chapter of France's destiny, for that is a matter of course, as ever, but the marked capabilities women have shown when suddenly thrust into positions of authority. In certain invaded towns the wives of imprisoned or executed Mayors have taken their place almost automatically and served with a capacity unrelated to sex. In some of these towns women have managed the destinies of the people since the first month of the war, understanding them as no man has ever done, and working harder than most men are ever willing to work. Thousands have, under the spur, developed unsuspected capacities, energies, endurance, above all genuine executive abilities. That these women should be swept back into private life by the selfishness of men when the killing business is over, is, to Mlle. Thompson's mind, unthinkable. In her newspaper, La Vie Feminine, she gives weekly instances of the resourcefulness and devotion of French womanhood, and although the women of her country have never taken as kindly to the idea of demanding the franchise as those of certain other nations, still it is more than possible that she will make many converts before the war is over.
These are not to be "suffrage" chapters. There is no doubt in my mind that the women of all nations will have the franchise eventually, if only because it is ridiculous that they should be permitted to work like men (often supporting husbands, fathers, brothers) and not be permitted all the privileges of men. Man, who grows more enlightened every year--often sorely against his will--must appreciate this anomaly in due course, and by degrees will surrender the franchise as freely to women as he has to negroes and imbeciles. When women have received the vote for which they have fought and bled, they will use it with just about the same proportion of conscientiousness and enthusiasm as busy men do. One line in the credo might have been written of human nature A.D. 1914-1917: "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be."
But while suffrage and feminism are related, they are far from identical. Suffrage is but a milestone in feminism, which may be described as the more or less concerted sweep of women from the backwaters into the broad central stream of life. Having for untold centuries given men to the world they now want the world from men. There is no question in the progressive minds of both sexes that, outside of the ever-recurrent war zones, they should hereafter divide the great privileges of life and civilization in equal shares with men.
Several times before in the history of the world comparatively large numbers of women have made themselves felt, claiming certain equal rights with the governing sex. But their ambitions were generally confined to founding religious orders, obtaining admission to the universities, or to playing the intellectual game in the social preserves. In the wonderful thirteenth century women rivaled men in learning and accomplishments, in vigor of mind and decision of character. But this is the first time that millions of them have been out in the world "on their own," invading almost every field of work, for centuries sacrosanct to man. There is even a boiler-maker in the United States who worked her way up in poor-boy fashion and now attends conventions of boiler-makers on equal terms. In tens of thousands of cases women have made good, in the arts, professions, trades, businesses, clerical positions, and even in agriculture and cattle raising. They are brilliant aviators, yachtsmen, automobile drivers, showing failure of nerve more rarely than men, although, as they are not engaged in these pursuits in equal numbers perhaps that is not a fair statement. Suffice it to say that as far as they have gone they have asked for no quarter. It is quite true that in certain of the arts, notably music, they have never equaled men, and it has been held against them that all the great chefs are men. Here it is quite justifiable to take refuge in the venerable axiom, "Rome was not made in a day." It is not what they have failed to accomplish with their grinding disabilities but the amazing number of things in which they have shown themselves the equal if not the superior of men. Whether their success is to be permanent, or whether they have done wisely in invading man's domain so generally, are questions to be attacked later when considering the biological differences between men and women. The most interesting problem relating to women that confronts us at present is the effect of the European War on the whole status of woman.
If the war ends before this nation is engulfed we shall at least keep our men, and the males of this country are so far in excess of the females that it is odd so many American women should be driven to self-support. In Great Britain the women have long outnumbered the men; it was estimated before the war that there were some three hundred thousand spinsters for whom no husbands were available. After the war there will be at best something like a proportion of one whole man to three women (confining these unwelcome prophecies to people of marriageable age); and the other afflicted countries, with the possible exception of Russia, will show a similar dislocation of the normal balance. The acute question will be repopulation--with a view to another trial of military supremacy a generation hence!--and all sorts of expedients are being suggested, from polygamy to artificial fertilization. It may be that the whole future of woman as well as of civilization after this war is over depends upon whether she concludes to serve the State or herself.
While in France in the summer of 1916, I heard childless women say: "Would that I had six sons to give to France!" I heard unmarried women say: "Thank heaven I never married!" I heard bitterness expressed by bereft mothers, terror and despair by others when the curtain had rung down and they could relax the proud and smiling front they presented to the world. Not one would have had her son shirk his duty, nor asked for compromise with the enemy, but all prayed for the war to end. It is true that these men at the front are heroes in the eyes of their women, worshiped by the majority when they come home briefly as permissionnaires, and it is also true that France is an old military nation and that the brain-cells of its women are full of ancestral memories of war. But never before have women done as much thinking for themselves as they are doing to-day, as they had done for some fifteen or twenty years before the war. That war has now lasted almost three years. During this long and terrible period there has been scarcely a woman in France, as in Britain, Russia, Italy, Germany, who has not done her share behind the lines, working, at her self-appointed tasks or at those imposed by the Government, for months on end without a day of rest. They have had contacts that never would have approached them otherwise, they have been obliged to think for themselves, for thousands of helpless poor, for the men at the Front. The Frenchwomen particularly have forced men to deal with them as human beings and respect them as such, dissipating in some measure those mists of sex through which the Frenchman loves to stalk in search of the elusive and highly-sophisticated quarry. As long as a woman was sexually attractive she could never hope to meet man on an equal footing, no matter how entrancing he might find her mental qualities. She must play hide-and-seek, exercise finesse, seduction, keep the flag of sex flying ever on the ramparts. It is doubtful if Frenchmen will change in this respect, but it is more than doubtful if women do not.
There is hardly any doubt that if this war lasts long enough women for the first time in the history of civilization will have it in their power to seize one at least of the world's reins. But will they do it--I am now speaking of women in mass, not of the advanced thinkers, or of women of the world who have so recently ascertained that there is a special joy in being free of the tyranny of sex, a tyranny that emanated no less from within than without.
It is to be imagined that all the men who are fighting in this most trying of all wars are heroes in the eyes of European women--as well they may be--and that those who survive are likely to be regarded with a passionate admiration not unmixed with awe. The traditional weakness of women where men are concerned (which after all is but a cunning device of Nature) may swamp their great opportunity. They may fight over the surviving males like dogs over a bone, marry with sensations of profound gratitude (or patriotic fervor) the armless, the legless, the blind, the terrible face mutilés, and drop forever out of the ranks of Woman as differentiated from the ranks of mere women. What has hampered the cause of Woman in Great Britain and Europe so far is the quite remarkable valuation put upon the male by the female. This is partly temperamental, partly female preponderance, but it is even more deeply rooted in those vanished centuries during which man proclaimed and maintained his superiority. Circumstances helped him for thousands of years, and he has been taken by the physically weaker and child-bearing sex at his own estimate. It is difficult for American women to appreciate this almost servile attitude of even British women to mere man. One of the finest things about the militant woman, one by which she scored most heavily, was her flinging off of this tradition and displaying a shining armor of indifference toward man as man. This startled the men almost as much as the window smashing, and made other women, living out their little lives under the frowns and smiles of the dominant male, think and ponder, wonder if their small rewards amounted to half as much as the untasted pleasures of power and independence.
It is always a sign of weakness to give one side of a picture and blithely ignore the other. Therefore, let me hasten to add that it is a well-known fact that Mrs. Pankhurst had borne and reared six children before she took up the moribund cause of suffrage; and that after a season's careful investigation in London at the height of the militant movement I concluded that never in the world had so many unattractive females been banded together in any one cause. Even the young girls I heard speaking on street corners, mounted on boxes, looked gray, dingy, sexless. Of course there were many handsome, even lovely, women,--like Mrs. Cavendish-Bentinck and Lady Hall, for instance--interested in "the movement," contributing funds, and giving it a certain moral support; but when it came to the window smashers, the jail seekers, the hunger-strikers, the real martyrs of that extraordinary minor chapter of England's history, there was only one good-looking woman in the entire army--Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence--and militant extravagances soon became too much for her. There were intelligent women galore, women of the aristocracy born with a certain style, and showing their breeding even on the soap-box, but sexually attractive women never, and even the youngest seemed to have been born without the bloom of youth. The significance of this, however, works both ways. If men did not want them, at least there was something both noble and pitiful in their willingness to sacrifice those dreams and hopes which are the common heritage of the lovely and the plain, the old and the young, the Circe and the Amazon, to the ultimate freedom of those millions of their sisters lulled or helpless in the enchanted net of sex.
It is doubtful if even the militants can revert to their former singleness of purpose; after many months, possibly years, of devotion to duty, serving State and man, the effacement of self, appreciation of the naked fact that the integrity of their country matters more than anything else on earth, they may be quite unable to rebound to their old fanatical attitude toward suffrage as the one important issue of the Twentieth Century. Even the very considerable number of those women that have reached an appearance which would eliminate them from the contest over such men as are left may be so chastened by the hideous sufferings they have witnessed or heard of daily, so moved by the astounding endurance and grim valor of man (who nearest approaches to godhood in time of war) that they will have lost the disposition to tear from him the few compensations the new era of peace can offer. If that is the case, if women at the end of the war are soft, completely rehabilitated in that femininity, or femaleness, which was their original endowment from Nature, the whole great movement will subside, and the work must begin over again by unborn women and their accumulated grievances some fifty years hence.
Nothing is more sure than that Nature will take advantage of the lull to make a desperate attempt to recover her lost ground. Progressive women, and before the war their ranks were recruited daily, were one of the most momentous results of the forces of the higher civilization, an evolution that in Nature's eye represented a lamentable divergence from type. Here is woman, with all her physical disabilities, become man's rival in all of the arts, save music, and in nearly all of the productive walks of life, as well as in a large percentage of the professional and executive; intellectually the equal if not the superior of the average man--who in these days, poor devil, is born a specialist--and making a bold bid for political equality.
It has been a magnificent accomplishment, and it has marked one of the most brilliant and picturesque milestones in human progress. It seems incredible that woman, in spite of the tremendous pressure that Nature will put upon her, may revert weakly to type. The most powerful of all the forces working for Nature and against feminism will be the quite brutal and obscene naturalness of war, and the gross familiarity of civilization with it for so long a period. There is reversion to type with a vengeance! The ablest of the male inheritors of the accumulated wisdom and experiences and civilizing influences of the ages were in power prior to August 1914, and not one of them nor all combined had the foresight to circumvent, or the diplomatic ingenuity to keep in leash the panting Hun. They are settling their scores, A.D. 1914-1917, by brute fighting. There has been some brain work during this war so far, but a long sight more brute work. As it was in the beginning, etc.
And the women, giving every waking hour to ameliorating the lot of the defenders of their hearth and their honor, or nursing the wounded in hospital, have been stark up against the physical side: whether making bombs in factories, bandages or uniforms, washing gaping wounds, preparing shattered bodies for burial, or listening to the horrid tales of men and women home on leave.
The European woman, in spite of her exalted pitch, is living a more or less mechanical life at present. Even where she has revealed unsuspected creative ability, as soon as her particular task is mapped she subsides into routine. As a rule she is quite automatically and naturally performing those services and duties for which Nature so elaborately equipped her, ministering to man almost exclusively, even when temporarily filling his place in the factory and the tram-car. Dienen! Dienen! is the motto of one and all of these Kundrys, whether they realize it or not, and it is on the cards that they may never again wish to somersault back to that mental attitude where they would dominate not serve.
On the other hand civilization may for once prove stronger than Nature. Thinking women--and there are a few hundred thousands of them--may emerge from this hideous reversion of Europe to barbarism with an utter contempt for man. They may despise the men of affairs for muddling Europe into the most terrible war in history, in the very midst of the greatest civilization of which there is any record. They may experience a secret but profound revulsion from the men wallowing in blood and filth for months on end, living only to kill. The fact that the poor men can't help it does not alter the case. The women can't help it either. Women have grown very fastidious. The sensual women and the quite unimaginative women will not be affected, but how about the others? And only men of the finest grain survive a long period of war with the artificial habits of civilization strong upon them.
The end of this war may mark a conclusive revulsion of the present generation of European women from men that may last until they have passed the productive age. Instead of softening, disintegrating back to type, they may be insensibly hardening inside a mould that will eventually cast them forth a more definite third sex than any that threatened before the war. Woman, blind victim of the race as she has been for centuries, seldom in these days loves without an illusion of the senses or of the imagination. She has ceased, in the wider avenues of life, lined as they are with the opulent wares of twentieth century civilization, to be merely the burden-bearing and reproductive sex. Life has taught her the inestimable value of illusions, and the more practical she becomes, the more she cherishes this divine gift. It is possible that man has forfeited his power to cast a glamour over all but the meanest types of women. If that should be the case women will ask: Why settle down and keep house for the tiresome creatures, study their whims, and meekly subside into the second place, or be eternally on the alert for equal rights? As for children? Let the state suffer for its mistakes. Why bring more children into the world to be blown to pieces on the field of battle, or a burden to their women throughout interminable years? No! For a generation at least the world shall be ours, and then it may limp along with a depleted population or go to the dogs.
Few, no doubt, will reason it out as elaborately as this or be so consciously ruthless, but a large enough number are likely enough to bring the light of their logic to bear upon the opportunity, and a still larger number to feel an obscure sense of revolt against man for his failure to uphold civilization against the Prussian anachronism, combined with a more definite desire for personal liberty. And both of these divisions of their sex are likely to alter the course of history--far more radically than has ever happened before at the close of any fighting period. Even the much depended upon maternal instinct may subside, partly under the horrors of field hospitals where so many mother's sons are ghastly wrecks, partly under a heavy landslide of disgust that the sex that has ruled the world should apparently be so helpless against so obscene a fate.
They will reflect that if women are weak (comparatively) physically, there is all the more hope they may develop into giants mentally; one of man's handicaps being that his more highly vitalized body with its coercive demands, is ever waging war with a consistent and complete development of the mind. And in these days, when the science of the body is so thoroughly understood, any woman, unless afflicted with an organic disease, is able to keep her brain constantly supplied with red unpoisoned blood, and may wax in mental powers (there being no natural physical deteriorations in the brain as in the body) so long as life lasts.
Certainly these women will say: We could have done no worse than these chess players of Europe and we might have done better. Assuredly if we grasp and hold the reins of the world there will never be another war. We are not, in the first place, as greedy as men; we will divide the world up in strict accordance with race, and let every nation have its own place in the sun. Commercial greed has no place in our make-up, and with the hideous examples of history it will never obtain entrance.
How often has it been the cynical pleasure of mere ministers of state to use kings as pawns? Well, we despise the game. Also, we shall have no kings, and republics are loth to make war. Our instincts are humanitarian. We should like to see all the world as happy as that lovely countryside of Northeastern France before August 1914. We at least recognize that the human mind is as yet imperfectly developed; and if, instead of setting the world back periodically, and drenching mankind in misery, we would have all men and women as happy as human nature will permit, we should devote our abilities, uninterrupted by war, to solving the problem of poverty (the acutest evidence of man's failure), and to fostering the talents of millions of men and women that to-day constitute a part of the wastage of Earth. Of course, being mortal, we shall make mistakes, give way, no doubt, to racial jealousies, and personal ambitions; but our eyes have been opened wide by this war and it is impossible that we should make the terrible mistakes we inevitably would have made had we obtained power before we had seen and read its hideous revelations--day after day, month after month, year after year! It is true that men have made these resolutions many times, but men have too much of the sort of blood that goes to the head, and their lust for money is even greater than their lust for power.
Now, this may sound fantastic but it is indisputably probable. Much has been said of the patriotic exaltation of young women during war and just after its close, which leads them to marry almost any one in order to give a son to the state, or even to dispense with the legal formality. But although I heard a great deal of that sort of talk during the first months of the war I don't hear so much of it now. Nor did I hear anything like as much of it in France as I expected. To quote one woman of great intelligence with whom I talked many times, and who is one of the Government's chosen aids; she said one day, "It was a terrible distress to me that I had only one child, and I consulted every specialist in France. Now I am thankful that I did have but one son to come home to me with a gangrene wound, and then, after months of battling for his life, to insist upon going back to the Front and exposing it every day. I used to feel sad, too, that Valentine Thompson" (who is not only beautiful but an Amazon in physique) "did not marry and be happy like other girls, instead of becoming a public character and working at first one scheme or another for the amelioration of the lot of woman. Now, I am thankful that she never married. Her father is too old to go to war and she has neither husband nor son to agonize over. Far better she live the life of usefulness she does than deliberately take upon herself the common burdens of women." No Frenchwoman could be more patriotic than the one who made this speech to me, and if she had had many sons she would have girded them all for war, but she had suffered too much herself and she saw too much suffering among her friends daily, not to hate the accursed institution of war, and wish that as many women could be spared its brutal impositions as possible.
Nobody has ever accused me of being a Pacifist. Personally, I think that every self-respecting nation on the globe should have risen in 1914 and assisted the Allies to blast Prussia off the face of the Earth, but after this war is over if the best brains in these nations do not at once get to work and police the world against future wars, it will be a matter for regret that they were not all on the German ship when she foundered.
It is to be remembered that woman has, in her subconscious brain-cells, ancestral memories of the Matriarchate. It is interesting to quote in this connection what Patrick Geddes and G. Arthur Thompson have to say on the mooted question of the Mother-Age:
"Prehistoric history is hazardous, but there is a good case to be made out for a Mother-Age. This has been reconstructed from fossils in the folk lore of agriculture and housewifery, in old customs, ceremonies, festivals, games; in myths and fairy tales and age-worn words.
"Professor Karl Pierson finds in the study of witchcraft some of the fossils that point back to the Matriarchate. In the older traditions 'the witch resumes her old position as the wise-woman, the medicine woman, the leader of the people, the priestess.' 'We have accordingly to look upon the witch as essentially the degraded form of the old priestess, cunning in the knowledge of herbs and medicine, jealous of the rights and of the goddess she serves, and preserving in spells and incantations such wisdom as early civilization possessed.'
"The witch's weather wisdom is congruent with the fact that women were the earliest agriculturists; her knowledge of herbs with that of the ancient medicine women; her diablerie with that of the ancient group relations of the sexes so different from what we call marriage to-day; her nocturnal dances with the ancient choruses of marriage-ripe maidens. The authority and magic circle kept by the broom are those of the hearth and floor in her primeval roundhut; and her distaff and pitchfork, her caldron, her cat and dog, are all in keeping with the rôle of woman in the Mother-Age.
"But there is another way, and that certainly not less reliable, by which we can arrive at some understanding of the Mother-Age, and how it naturally came about, namely, by a study of our 'contemporary ancestors,' of people who linger on the matriarchal level. Such people, as well as others on the still lower nomad stage of civilization, are to be found at this day in Australia.
"While the purely nomad stage lasted, little progress could be made, because the possessions of a group were limited by the carrying powers of its members. But in a favorite forest spot a long halt was possible, the mothers were able to drop their babies and give a larger part of their attention to food-getting. As before, the forest products--roots and fruits--were gathered in, but more time and ingenuity were expended in making them palatable and in storing them for future use. The plants in the neighborhood, which were useful for food or for their healing properties, were tended and kept free of weeds, and by and by seeds of them were sown in cleared ground within easy reach of the camp. Animals gathered about the rich food area, and were at first tolerated--certain negro tribes to-day keep hens about their huts, though they eat neither them nor their eggs--and later encouraged as a stable source of food-supply. The group was anchored to one spot by its increasing possessions; and thus home-making, gardening, medicine, the domestication of animals and even agriculture, were fairly begun. Not only were all these activities in the hands of women, but to them, too, were necessarily left the care and training of the young.
"The men meanwhile went away on warlike expeditions against other groups, and on long hunting and fishing excursions, from which they returned with their spoils from time to time, to be welcomed by the women with dancing and feasting. Hunting and war were their only occupations, and the time between expeditions was spent in resting and in interminable palavers and dances, which we may perhaps look upon as the beginnings of parliaments and music halls.
"Whether this picture be accurate in detail or not there is at any rate a considerable body of evidence pointing to the 'Matriarchate' as a period during which women began medicine, the domestication of the smaller animals, the cultivation of vegetables, flax and corn, the use of the distaff, the spindle, the broom, the fire-rake and the pitchfork.
"In the Mother-Age the inheritance of property passed through the mother; the woman gave the children her own name; husband and father were in the background--often far from individualized; the brother and uncle were much more important; the woman was the depository of custom, lore, and religious tradition; she was, at least, the nominal head of the family, and she had a large influence in tribal affairs."
For some years past certain progressive women have shown signs of a reversion to the matriarchal state--or shall we say a disposition to revive it? In spite of human progress we travel more or less in circles, a truth of which the present war and its reversions is the most uncompromising example.
In the married state, for instance, these women have retained their own name, not even being addressed as Mrs., that after all is a polite variation of the Spanish "de," which does not by any means indicate noble birth alone, women after marriage proudly announcing themselves as legally possessed. For instance a girl whose name has been Elena Lopez writes herself after marriage Elena Lopez de Morena, the "de" in this case standing for "property of." It will be some time before the women of Spain travel far on the Northern road toward pride in sex deliverance, but with us, and in Britain, the custom is growing prevalent.
Then there is the hyphen marriage, more common still, in which the woman retains her own name, but condescends to annex the man's. Once in a way a man will prefix his wife's name to his own, and there is one on record who prefixed his own to his wife's. But any woman may have her opinion of him.
So far as I have been able to ascertain these marriages are quite as successful as the average; and if the woman has a career on hand--and she generally has--she pursues it unhampered. The grandmother or aunt takes charge of the children, if there are any, while she is at her duties without the home, and so far, the husband has been permitted the compensation of endowing the children with his name.
The reversion to the prehistoric matriarchate can hardly be complete in these days, but there are many significant straws that indicate the rising of a new wind blown by ancient instincts. To look upon them as shockingly advanced or abnormal is an evidence of conservatism that does not reach quite far enough into the past.
A still more significant sign of the times (in the sense of linking past with present) is the ever-increasing number of women doctors and their success. Men for the most part have ceased to sneer or even to be more than humanly jealous, often speaking in terms of the warmest admiration not only of their skill but of their conscientiousness and power of endurance. When I went to live in Munich (1903) a woman surgeon was just beginning to practice. This, to Germany, was an innovation with a vengeance, and the German male is the least tolerant of female encroachment within his historic preserves. The men practitioners threw every possible obstacle in her way, and with no particular finesse. But nothing could daunt her, and two or three years later she was riding round in her car--a striking red one--while the major number of her rivals were still dependent upon the ambling cab-horse, directed off and on by a fat driver who was normally asleep. Jealousy, however, for the most part had merged into admiration; for your average male, of whatever race, is not only philosophical but bows to success; she was both recognized and called in for consultation. Hang on! Hang on! should be the motto of all women determined to make their mark in what is still a man's world. Life never has denied her prizes to courage and persistence backed by ability.
A curious instance of man's inevitable recognition of the places of responsibility women more and more are taking is in the new reading of the Income Tax papers for 1917. Heretofore only married men were exempted taxation on the first $4000 but from now on, apparently, women who are also "heads of families" are likewise favored. As thousands of women are supporting their aged parents, their brothers while studying, their children and even their husbands, who for one reason or other are unequal to the family strain, this exemption should have been made coincidentally with the imposing of the tax. But men are slow to see and slower still to act where women are concerned.
As we all know, women have invaded practically every art, trade, and industry, but--aside from the arts, for occasionally Nature is so impartial in her bestowal of genius that art is accepted as sexless--in no walk of life has woman been so uniformly successful as in medicine. This is highly significant in view of the fact that they invented and practiced it in the dawn of history, while man was too rudimentary to do anything but fight and fill the larder. It would seem that the biological differences between the male and the female which are so often the cause of woman's failure in many spheres preëmpted throughout long centuries by man, is in her case counteracted not only by her ancestral inheritance, but by the high moral element without which no doctor or surgeon can long stand the exactions and strain of his terrible profession. No woman goes blithely into surgery or medicine merely to have a career or to make a living, although ten thousand girls to her one will essay to write, or paint, or clerk, or cultivate her bit of voice, with barely a thought expended upon her fitness or the obligations involved.
But the woman who deliberately enters the profession of healing has, almost invariably, a certain nobility of mind, a lack of personal selfishness, and a power of devotion to the race quite unknown to the average woman, even the woman of genius when seeking a career.
During the Great War there have been few women doctors at the Front, but hundreds of women nurses, and they have been as intrepid and useful as their rivals in sex. They alone, by their previous experience of human suffering, bad enough at best, were in a measure prepared for the horrors of war and the impotence of men laid low. But that will not restore any lost illusions, for they took masculine courage for granted with their mothers' milk, and they cannot fail to be imbued to the marrow with a bitter sense of waste and futility, of the monstrous sacrifice of the best blood of their generation.
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