THE TRIUMPH OF MIDDLE-AGE
Certain doctors of England have gone on record as predicting a lamentable physical future for the army of women who are at present doing the heavy work of men, particularly in the munition factories. They say that the day-long tasks which involve incessant bending and standing and lifting of heavy weights will breed a terrible reaction when the war ends and these women are abruptly flung back into domestic life. There is almost no man's place in the industrial world that English women are not satisfactorily filling, with either muscle or brains, and the doctors apprehend a new problem in many thousand neurotics or otherwise broken-down women at the close of the war. Although this painful result of women's heroism would leave just that many women less to compete for the remaining men sound of wind and limb, still, if true, it raises the acute question: Are women the equal of men in all things? Their deliverance from the old marital fetish, and successful invasion of so many walks of life, have made such a noise in the world since woman took the bit between her teeth, more or less en masse, that the feministic pæan of triumph has almost smothered an occasional protest from those concerned with biology; but as a matter-of-fact statistics regarding the staying power of women in what for all the historic centuries have been regarded as avocations heaven-designed and with strict reference to the mental and physical equipment of man, are too contradictory to be of any value.
Therefore, the result of this prolonged strain on a healthy woman of a Northern race evidently predestined to be as public as their present accomplishment, will be awaited with the keenest interest, and no doubt will have an immense effect upon the future status of woman. She has her supreme opportunity, and if her nerves are equal to her nerve, her body to her spirit, if the same women are working at the severe tasks at the end of the war as during the first months of their exaltation, and instead of being wrecks are as hardened as the miserable city boys that have become wiry in the trenches--then, beyond all question woman will have come to her own and it will be for her, not for man, to say whether or not she shall subside and attend to the needs of the next generation.
Before I went to France in May 1916 I was inclined to believe that only a small percentage of women would stand the test; but since then I have seen hundreds of women at work in the munition factories of France. As I have told in another chapter, they had then been at work for some sixteen months, and, of poor physique in the beginning, were now strong healthy animals with no sign of breakdown. They were more satisfactory in every way than men, for they went home and slept all night, drank only the light wines of their country, smoked less, if at all, and had a more natural disposition toward cleanliness. Their bare muscular arms looked quite capable of laying a man prostrate if he came home and ordered them about, and their character and pride had developed in proportion.[F]
[F] Dr. Rosalie Morton, the leading woman doctor and surgeon of New York, who also studied this subject at first hand, agrees with me that the war tasks have improved the health of the European women.
It is not to be imagined, however, that the younger, at least, of these women will cling to those greasy jobs when the world is normal again and its tempered prodigals are spending money on the elegancies of life once more. And if they slump back into the sedentary life when men are ready to take up their old burdens, making artificial flowers, standing all day in the fetid atmosphere of crowded and noisy shops, stitching everlastingly at lingerie, there, it seems to me, lies the danger of breakdown. The life they lead now, arduous as it is, not only has developed their muscles, their lungs, the power to digest their food, but they are useful members of society on the grand scale, and to fall from any height is not conducive to the well-being of body or spirit. No doubt, when the sudden release comes, they will return to the lighter tasks with a sense of immense relief; but will it last? Will it be more than a momentary reaction to the habit of their own years and of the centuries behind, or will they gradually become aware (after they have rested and romped and enjoyed the old life in the old fashion when off duty) that with the inferior task they have become the inferior sex again. The wife, to be sure, will feel something more than her husband's equal, and the Frenchwoman never has felt herself the inferior in the matrimonial partnership. But how about the wage earners? Those that made ten to fifteen francs a day in the Usines de Guerre, and will now be making four or five? How about the girls who cannot marry because their families are no longer in a position to pay the dot, without which no French girl dreams of marrying? These girls not only have been extraordinarily (for Frenchwomen of their class) affluent during the long period of the war, but they order men about, and they are further upheld with the thought that they are helping their beloved France to conquer the enemy. They live on another plane, and life is apt to seem very mean and commonplace under the old conditions.
That these women are not masculinized is proved by the fact that many have borne children during the second year of the war, their tasks being made lighter until they are restored to full strength again. They invariably return as soon as possible, however. It may be, of course, that the young men and women of the lower bourgeoisie will forswear the dot, for it would be but one more old custom giving way to necessity. In that case the sincere, hardworking and not very humorous women of this class no doubt would find full compensation in the home, and promptly do her duty by the State. But I doubt if any other alternative will console any but the poorest intelligence or the naturally indolent--and perhaps Frenchwomen, unless good old-fashioned butterflies, have less laziness in their make-up than any other women under the sun.
The natural volatility of the race must also be taken into consideration. Stoical in their substratum, bubbling on the surface, it may be that these women who took up the burdens of men so bravely will shrug their shoulders and revert to pure femininity. Those past the age of allurement may fight like termagants for their lucrative jobs, their utter independence; but coquetry and the joy in life, or, to put it more plainly, the powerful passions of the French race, may do more to effect an automatic and permanent return to the old status than any authoritative act on the part of man.
The women of England are (or were) far more neurotic than the women of France, as they have fewer natural outlets. And the struggle for legal enfranchisement, involving, as it did, a sensationalism that affected even the non-combatants, did much to enhance this tendency, and it is interesting to speculate whether this war will make or finish them. Once more, personally, I believe it will make them, but as I was not able to go to London after my investigations in France were concluded and observe for myself I refuse to indulge in speculations. Time will show, and before very long.
No doubt, however, when the greater question of winning the war is settled, the question of sex equality will rage with a new violence, perhaps in some new form, among such bodies of women as are not so subject to the thrall of sex as to desert their new colors. It would seem that the lot of woman is ever to be on the defensive. Nature handicapped her at the start, giving man a tremendous advantage in his minimum relationship to reproduction, and circumstances (mainly perpetual warfare) postponed the development of her mental powers for centuries. Certainly nothing in the whole history of mankind is so startling as the abrupt awakening of woman and her demand for a position in the world equal to that of the dominant male.
I use the word abrupt, because in spite of the scattered instances of female prosiliency throughout history, and the long struggle beginning in the last century for the vote, or the individual determination to strive for some more distinguished fashion of coping with poverty than school-teaching or boarding-house keeping, the concerted awakening of the sex was almost as abrupt as the European War. Like many fires it smouldered long, and then burst into a menacing conflagration. But I do not for a moment apprehend that the conflagration will extinguish the complete glory of the male any more than it will cause a revulsion of nature in the born mother.
But may there not be a shuffling of the cards? Take the question of servant-girls for instance. Where there are two or more servants in a family their lot is far better than that of the factory girl. But it is quite a different matter with the maid-of-all-work, the household drudge, who is increasingly hard to find, partly because she, quite naturally, prefers the department store, or the factory, with its definite hours and better social status, partly because there is nothing in the "home" to offset her terrible loneliness but interminable hours of work. In England, where many people live in lodgings, fashionable and otherwise, and have all meals served in their rooms, it is a painful sight to see a slavey toiling up two or three flights of stairs--and four times a day. In the United States, the girls who come over from Scandinavia or Germany with roseate hopes soon lose their fresh color and look heavy and sullen if they find their level in the household where economy reigns.
Now, why has no one ever thought of men as "maids" of all work? On ocean liners it is the stewards that take care of the state-rooms, and they keep them like wax, and make the best bed known to civilization. The stewardesses in heavy weather attend to the prostrate of their sex, but otherwise do nothing but bring the morning tea, hook up, and receive tips. Men wait in the diningroom (as they do in all first-class hotels), and look out for the passengers on deck. Not the most militant suffragette but would be intensely annoyed to have stewardesses scurrying about on a heaving deck with the morning broth and rugs, or dancing attendance in a nauseous sea.
The truth of the matter is that there is a vast number of men of all races who are fit to be nothing but servants, and are so misplaced in other positions where habit or vanity has put them, that they fail far more constantly than women. All "men" are not real men by any means. They are not fitted to play a man's part in life, and many of the things they attempt are far better done by strong determined women, who have had the necessary advantages, and the character to ignore the handicap of sex.
I can conceive of a household where a well-trained man cooks, does the "wash," waits on the table, sweeps, and if the mistress has a young child, or is indolent and given to the rocking-chair and a novel-a-day, makes the beds without a wrinkle. He may lack ambition and initiative, the necessary amount of brains to carry him to success in any of the old masculine jobs, but he inherits the thoroughness of the ages that have trained him, and, if sober, rides the heavy waves of his job like a cork. I will venture to say that a man thus employed would finish his work before eight P.M. and spend an hour or two before bed-time with his girl or at his club.
Many a Jap in California does the amount of work I have described, and absorbs knowledge in and out of books during his hours of leisure. Sometimes they do more than I have indicated as possible for the white man. Energetic boys, who want to return to Japan as soon as possible, or, mayhap, buy a farm, make a hundred dollars a month by getting up at five in the morning to wash a certain number of stoops and sweep sidewalks, cook a breakfast and wash up the dinner dishes in one servantless household, the lunch dishes in another, clean up generally in another, cook the dinner, wait on the table, clean up in still another. As white men are stronger they could do even more, and support a wife in an intensive little flat where her work would be both light and spiritually remunerative. Domestic service would solve the terrible problem of life for thousands of men, and it would coincidentally release thousands of girls from the factory, the counter, and the exhausting misery of a "home" that never can be their own. At night he could feel like a householder and that he lived to some purpose. If he is inclined to complain that such a life is not "manly," let him reflect that as he is not first-rate anyhow, and never can compete with the fully equipped, he had best be philosophical and get what comfort out of life he can. Certainly the increased economic value of thousands of men, at present slaving as underpaid clerks and living in hall bedrooms, would thin the ranks of the most ancient of all industries, if, according to our ardent reformers, they are recruited from the ranks of the lonely servant-girl, the tired shop-girl, and the despairing factory hand.
For it is largely a question of muscle and biology.
I have stated elsewhere that I believe in equal suffrage, if only because women are the mothers of men and therefore their equals. But I think there are several times more reasons why American women at least should not overwork their bodies and brains and wear themselves out trying to be men, than why it is quite right and fitting they should walk up to the polls and cast a vote for men who more or less control their destinies.
To digress a moment: When it comes to the arts, that is quite another matter. If a woman finds herself with a talent (I refrain from such a big word as genius, as only posterity should presume to apply that term to any one's differentiation from his fellows), by all means let her work like a man, take a man's chances, make every necessary sacrifice to develop this blessed gift; not only because it is a duty but because the rewards are adequate. The artistic career, where the impulse is genuine, furnishes both in its rewards and in the exercise of the gift itself far more happiness, or even satisfaction, than husband, children, or home. The chief reason is that it is the supreme form of self-expression, the ego's apotheosis, the power to indulge in the highest order of spiritual pride, differentiation from the mass. These are brutal truths, and another truth is that happiness is the universal goal, whatever form it may take, and whatever form human hypocrisy may compel it to take, or even to deny. Scientific education has taught us not to sacrifice others too much in its pursuit. That branch of ancestral memory known as conscience has morbid reactions.
To create, to feel something spinning out of your brain, which you hardly realize is there until formulated on paper, for instance; the adventurous life involved in the exercise of any art, with its uncertainties, its varieties, its disappointments, its mistakes; the fight, the exaltations, the supreme satisfactions--all this is the very best life has to offer. And as art is as impartial as a microbic disease, women do achieve, individually, as much as men; sometimes more. If their bulk has not in the past been as great, the original handicaps, which women in general, aided by science and a more enlightened public, are fast shedding, alone were to blame. Certainly as many women as men in the United States are engaged in artistic careers; more, if one judged by the proportion in the magazines.
Although I always feel that a man, owing to the greater freedom of his life and mental inheritances, has more to tell me than most women have, and I therefore prefer men as writers, still I see very little difference in the quality of their work. Often, indeed, the magazine fiction (in America) of the women shows greater care in phrase and workmanship than that of the men (who are hurried and harried by expensive families), and often quite as much virility.
No one ever has found life a lake. Life is a stormy ocean at best, and if any woman with a real gift prefers to sink rather than struggle, or to float back to shore on a raft, she deserves neither sympathy nor respect. Women born with that little tract in their brain sown by Nature with bulbs of one of the arts, may conquer the world as proudly as men, although not as quickly, for they rouse in disappointed or apprehensive men the meanest form of sex jealousy; but if they have as much courage as talent, if they are willing to dedicate their lives, not their off hours, to the tending of their rich oasis in the general desert of mind, success is theirs. Biological differences between the sexes evaporate before these impersonal sexless gifts (or whims or inadvertencies) of conservative Nature.
Of course women have worked themselves to death in their passionate devotion to art. So have men. Women have starved to death in garrets, their fine efforts rejected by those that buy, and sell again to an uncertain public. So have men. The dreariest anecdotes of England and France, so rich in letters, are of great men-geniuses who died young for want of proper nourishment or recognition, or who struggled on to middle-age in a bitterness of spirit that corroded their high endowment. I do not recall that any first-rate women writers have died for want of recognition, possibly because until now they have been few and far between. The Brontës died young, but mainly because they lived in the midst of a damp old churchyard and inherited tubercular tendencies. The graves and old box tombs crowd the very walls of the parsonage, and are so thick you hardly can walk between them. I spent a month in the village of Haworth, but only one night in the village inn at the extreme end of the churchyard; I could read the inscriptions on the tombs from my windows.
Charlotte had immediate recognition even from such men as Thackeray, and if the greater Emily had to wait for Swinburne and posterity it was inherited consumption that carried her off in her youth. Although much has been made of their poverty I don't think they were so badly off for their times. The parsonage is a well-built stone house, their father had his salary, and the villagers told me that the three girls looked after the poor in hard winters, often supplying whole families with coal. Of course they led lives of a maddening monotony, but they were neither hungry nor bitter, and at least two of them developed a higher order of genius than was possible to the gifted Jane Austin in her smug life of middle-class plenty, and, to my mind, far more hampering restrictions.
Even if the Brontës had been sufficiently in advance of their times to "light out" and seek adventure and development in the great world, their low state of health would have kept them at home. So impressed was I with the (to a Californian) terrible pictures of poverty in which the Brontes were posed by their biographers that I grew up with the idea that one never could develop a gift or succeed in the higher manner unless one lived in a garret and half starved. I never had the courage to try the regimen, but so deep was the impression that I never have been able to work except in austere surroundings, and I have worked in most abominably uncomfortable quarters with an equanimity that was merely the result of the deathless insistence of an old impression sunk deep into a mind then plastic.
Let me hasten to add that many successful authors work in the most luxurious quarters imaginable. It is all a matter of temperament, or, it may be, of accident. Moreover this outer evidence of prosperity makes a subtle appeal to the snobbery of the world and to a certain order of critic, by no means to be despised. Socially and in the arts we Americans are the least democratic of people, partly because we are so damnably unsure of ourselves; and if I were beginning my career to-day I doubt if I should be so unbusiness-like as to take the lowly Brontes as a model.
If I have digressed for a moment from the main theme of this book it has been not only to show what the influence of such brave women as the Brontes has been on later generations of writers, but that biology must doff its hat at the tomb in Haworth Church. Their mental virility and fecundity equalled that of any man that has attained an equal eminence in letters, and they would have died young and suffered much if they never had written a line. They had not a constitution between the four of them and they spent their short lives surrounded by the dust and the corruption of death.
But when it comes to working like men for the sake of independence, of avoiding marriage, of "doing something," that is another matter. To my mind it is abominable that society is so constituted that women are forced to work (in times of peace) for their bread at tasks that are far too hard for them, that extract the sweetness from youth, and unfit them physically for what the vast majority of women want more than anything else in life--children. If they deliberately prefer independence to marriage, well and good, but surely we are growing civilized enough (and this war, in itself a plunge into the dark ages, has in quite unintentional ways advanced civilization, for never in the history of the world have so many brains been thinking) so to arrange the social machinery that if girls and young women are forced to work for their daily bread, and often the bread of others, at least it shall be under conditions, including double shifts, that will enable them, if the opportunity comes, as completely to enjoy all that home means as falls to the lot of their more fortunate sisters. Even those who launch out in life with no heavier need than their driving independence of spirit should be protected, for often they too, when worn in body and mind, realize that the independent life per se is a delusion, and that their completion as well as their ultimate happiness and economic security lies in a brood and a husband to support it.
There used to be volumes of indignation expended upon the American mother toiling in the home, at the wash-tub for hire, or trudging daily to some remunerative task, while her daughters, after a fair education, idly flirted, and danced, and read, and finally married. Now, although that modus operandi sounds vulgar and ungrateful it is, biologically speaking, quite as it should be. Girls of that age should be tended as carefully as young plants; and, for that matter, it would be well if women until they have passed the high-water mark of reproductivity should be protected as much as possible from severe physical and mental strain. If women ever are to compete with men on anything like an equal basis, it is when they are in their middle years, when Nature's handicaps are fairly outgrown, child-bearing and its intervening years of lassitude are over, as well as the recurrent carboniferous wastes and relaxations.
Why do farmers' wives look so much older than city women of the same age in comfortable circumstances? Not, we may be sure, because of exposure to the elements, or even the tragic loneliness that was theirs before the pervasion of the automobile. Women in city flats are lonely enough, but although those that have no children or "light housekeeping" lead such useless lives one wonders why they were born, they outlast the women of the small towns by many years because of the minimum strain on their bodies.[G]
[G] The French are far too clever to let the women in the munition factories injure themselves. They have double, treble, and even quadruple shifts.
As a matter of fact in the large cities where the struggle of life is superlative they outlast the men. About the time the children are grown, the husband, owing to the prolonged and terrific strain in competing with thousands of men as competent as himself, to keep his family in comfort, educate his children, pay the interest on his life insurance policy, often finds that some one of his organs is breaking down and preparing him for the only rest he will ever find time to take. Meanwhile his prospective widow (there is, by the way, no nation in the world so prolific of widows and barren of widowers as the United States) is preparing to embark on her new career as a club woman, or, if she foresees the collapse of the family income, of self-support.
And in nine cases out of ten, if she has the intelligence to make use of what a combination of average abilities and experience has developed in her, she succeeds, and permanently; for women do not go to pieces between forty and fifty as they did in the past. They have learned too much. Work and multifarious interests distract their mind, which formerly dwelt upon their failing youth, and when they sadly composed themselves in the belief that they had given the last of their vitality to the last of their children; to-day, instead of sitting down by the fireside and waiting to die, they enter resolutely upon their second youth, which is, all told, a good deal more satisfactory than the first.
Every healthy and courageous woman's second vitality is stronger and more enduring than her first. Not only has her body, assisted by modern science, settled down into an ordered routine that is impregnable to anything but accident, but her mind is delivered from the hopes and fears of the early sex impulses which so often sicken the cleverest of the younger women both in body and mind, filling the body with lassitude and the mind either with restless impatience or a complete indifference to anything but the tarrying prince. To blame them for this would be much like cursing Gibraltar for not getting out of the way in a storm. They are the tools of the race, the chosen mediums of Nature for the perpetuation of her beloved species. But the fact remains--that is to say, in the vast majority of girls. There is, as we all know, the hard-shell division of their sex who, even without a gift, infinitely prefer the single and independent life in their early youth, and only begin to show thin spots in their armor as they approach thirty, sometimes not until it is far too late. But if you will spend a few days walking through the department stores, for instance, of a large city and observing each of the young faces in turn behind the counters, it will be rarely that you will not feel reasonably certain that the secret thoughts of all that vast army circle persistently about some man, impinging or potential. And wherever you make your studies, from excursion boats to the hour of release at the gates of a factory, you must draw the same conclusion that sex reigns, that it is the most powerful factor in life and will be so long as Earth at least continues to spin. For that reason, no matter how persistently girls may work because they must or starve, it is the competent older women, long since outgrown the divine nonsense of youth, who are the more satisfactory workers. Girls, unless indifferently sexed, do not take naturally to work in their youth. Whether they have the intelligence to reason or not, they know that they were made for a different fate and they resent standing behind a counter all day long or speeding up machinery for a few dollars a week. Even the highly intelligent girls who find work on newspapers often look as if they were at the end of their endurance. It is doubtful if the world ever can run along without the work of women but the time will surely come when society will be so constituted that no woman in the first flush of her youth will be forced to squander it on the meager temporary reward, and forfeit her birthright. If she wants to, well and good. No one need be deeply concerned for those that launch out into life because they like it. Women in civilized countries are at liberty to make their own lives; that is the supreme privilege of democracy. But the victims of the propelling power of the world are greatly to be pitied and Society should come to their rescue. I know that the obvious answer to this is "Socialism." But before the rest of us can swallow Socialism it must spew out its present Socialists and get new ones. Socialists never open their mouths that they do not do their cause harm; and whatever virtues their doctrine may contain we are blinded to it at present. This war may solve the problem. If Socialism should be the inevitable outcome it would at least come from the top and so be sufferable.
It is all very well to do your duty by your sex and keep up the birth-rate, and there are compensations, no doubt of that, when the husband is amiable, the income adequate, and the children are dears and turn out well; but the second life is one's very own, the duty is to one's self, and, such is the ineradicable selfishness of human nature after long years of self-denial and devotion to others, there is a distinct, if reprehensible, satisfaction in being quite natural and self-centered. If, on the other hand, circumstances are such that the capable middle-aged woman, instead of living entirely for herself, in her clubs, in her increasing interest in public affairs, and her chosen work, finds herself with certain members of her family dependent upon her, she also derives from this fact an enormous satisfaction, for it enables her to prove that she can fill a man's place in the world, be quite as equal to her job.
Instead of breaking down, this woman, who has outlived the severest handicap of sex without parting with any of its lore, grows stronger and more poised every year, retaining (or regaining) her looks if she has the wisdom to keep her vanity alive; while the girl forced to spend her days on her feet behind a counter (we hear of seats for these girls but we never see them occupied), or slave in a factory (where there is no change of shift as in the munition factories of the European countries in war time), or work from morning until night as a general servant--"one in help"--wilts and withers, grows pasée, fanée, is liable to ultimate breakdown unless rescued by some man.
The expenditure of energy in these girls is enormous, especially if they combine with this devitalizing work an indulgence in their natural desire to play. Rapid child-bearing would not deplete them more; and it is an intensely ignorant or an intensely stupid or, in the United States, an exceptionally sensual woman who has a larger family than the husband can keep in comfort. Moreover, unless in the depths of poverty, each child means a period of rest, which is more than the girl behind the counter gets in her entire working period.
These women, forced by a faulty social structure to support themselves and carry heavy burdens, lack the intense metabolism of the male, his power to husband his stores of carbon (an organic exception which renders him indifferent to standing), and the superior quality of his muscle. Biologically men and women are different from crown to sole. It might be said that Nature fashioned man's body for warfare, and that if he grows soft during intervals of peace it is his own fault. Even so, unless in some way he has impaired his health, he has heretofore demonstrated that he can do far more work than women, and stand several times the strain, although his pluck may be no finer.
If one rejects this statement let him look about among his acquaintance at the men who have toiled hard to achieve an independence, and whose wives have toiled with them, either because they lived in communities where it was impossible to keep servants, or out of a mistaken sense of economy. The man looks fresh and his wife elderly and wrinkled and shapeless, even if she has reasonable health. It is quite different in real cities where life on a decent income (or salary) can be made very easy for the woman, as I have just pointed out; but I have noticed that in small towns or on the farm, even now, when these scattered families are no longer isolated as in the days when farmers' wives committed suicide or intoxicated themselves on tea leaves, the woman always looks far older than the man if "she has done her own work" during all the years of her youth and maturity. If she renounces housekeeping in disgust occasionally and moves to an hotel, she soon amazes her friends by looking ten years younger; and if her husband makes enough money to move to a city large enough to minimize the burdens of housekeeping and offer a reasonable amount of distraction, she recovers a certain measure of her youth, although still far from being at forty or fifty what she would have been if her earlier years had been relieved of all but the strains which Nature imposes upon every woman from princess to peasant.
It remains to be seen whether the extraordinary amount of work the European women are doing in the service of their country, and the marked improvement in their health and physique, marks a stride forward in the physical development of the sex, being the result of latent possibilities never drawn upon before, or is merely the result of will power and exaltation, and bound to exhibit its definite limit as soon as the necessity is withdrawn. The fact, of course, remains that the women of the farms and lower classes generally in France are almost painfully plain, and look hard and weather-beaten long before they are thirty, while the higher you mount the social scale in your researches the more the women of France, possessing little orthodox beauty, manage, with a combination of style, charm, sophistication, and grooming, to produce the effect not only of beauty but of a unique standard that makes the beauties of other nations commonplace by comparison.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that these girls and young women working in the Usines de Guerre, are better looking than they were before and shine with health. The whole point, I fancy, lies in the fact that they work under merciful masters and conditions. If they were used beyond their capacity they would look like their sisters on the farms, upon whom fathers and husbands have little mercy.
When girls in good circumstances become infected with the microbe of violent exercise and insist upon walking many miles a day, besides indulging for hours in games which permit no rest, they look like hags. Temporarily, of course. When they recover their common sense they recover their looks, for it is in their power to relax and recuperate. Men will walk twenty miles, take a cold shower, a good meal, a night's rest, and look as well as ever the next day--or at the end of the walk, for that matter. They can afford the waste. Women cannot. If women succeed in achieving hard unyielding muscles in the wrong place they suffer atrociously in childbirth; for Nature, who is as old-fashioned and inhospitable to modern ideas as a Tory statesman, takes a vicious pleasure in punishing one sex every time it succeeds in approaching the peculiar level of the other, or which diverges from the normal in any way. Note how many artists, who are nine-tenths temperament and one-tenth male, suffer; not only because they are beset with every sort of weakness that affects their social status, but because the struggle with life is too much for them unless they have real men behind them until their output is accepted by the public, and themselves with it.
Some day Society will be civilized enough to recognize the limitations and the helplessness of those who are artists first and men afterwards. But meanwhile we can only rely upon the sympathy and the understanding of the individual.
Far be it from me to advise that girls refrain from doing their part in the general work of the home, if servants are out of the question; that won't hurt them; but if some one must go out and support the family it would better be the mother or the maiden aunt.
Better still, a husband, if marriage is their goal and children the secret desire of their hearts.
If girls are so constituted mentally that they long for the independent life, self-support, self-expression, they will have it and without any advice from the worldly-wise; it is as driving an impulse as the reproductive instinct in those who are more liberally sexed. And these last are still in the majority, no doubt of that. Therefore, far better they marry and have children in their youth. They, above all, are the women whose support and protection is the natural duty of man, and while it is one of life's misfortunes for a girl to marry simply to escape life's burdens, without love and without the desire for children, it is by far the lesser evil to have the consolation of home and children in the general barrenness of life than to slave all day at an uncongenial task and go "home" to a hall bedroom.
These views were so much misunderstood when they appeared in magazine form that I have felt obliged to emphasize the differences between the still primitive woman and the woman who is the product of the higher civilization. One young socialist, who looked quite strong enough to support a family, asked me if I did not think it better for a girl to support herself than to be the slave of a man's lust and bear innumerable children, whether she wished for them or not, children to whose support society contributed nothing. But why be a man's slave, and why have more children than you can support? We live in the enlightened twentieth century, when there is precious little about anything that women do not know, and if they do not they are such hopeless fools that they should be in the State Institutions. The time has passed for women to talk of being men's slaves in any sense, except in the economic. There are still sweatshops and there is still speeding up in factories, because society is still far from perfect, but if a woman privately is a man's slave to-day it is because she is the slave of herself as well.
Personally, although nothing has ever tempted me to marry a second time, I am very glad I married in my early youth, not only because matrimony enables a potential writer to see life from many more viewpoints than if she remains blissfully single, but because I was sheltered from all harsh contacts with the world. No one was ever less equipped by nature for domesticity and all the responsibilities of everyday life, and if circumstances had so ordered that I had not blundered into matrimony before twenty-four-or-five, no doubt I never should have married at all.
But at that time--I was home on a vacation from boarding-school, and had had none of that illuminating experience known as being "out," I did no reasoning whatever. On the other hand I was far too mentally undeveloped and arrogant to be capable at that tender age of falling deeply in love. My future husband proposed six times (we were in a country house). I was flattered, divided between the ambition to graduate brilliantly and to be an author with no further loss of time, and wear becoming caps and trains to my frocks. On the other hand I wanted neither a husband particularly nor to go back to school, for I felt that as my grandfather had one of the best libraries in California nothing could be more pleasant or profitable than to finish my education in it undisturbed. Nevertheless, quite abruptly I made up my mind and married; and, if the truth were known, my reasons and impulses were probably as intelligent as those of the average young girl who knows the world only through books and thinks it has little more to teach her. My life had been objective and sheltered. If forced to earn my living at sixteen no doubt the contacts impossible to escape would soon have given me a real maturity of judgment and I should have grown to love, jealously, my freedom.
That is to say, if I had been a strong girl. As a matter-of-fact I was extremely delicate, with a weak back, a threat of tuberculosis, and very bad eyes. Most of this was the result of over-study, for I had been a healthy child, but I loved books and was indifferent to exercise and nourishment. No doubt if I had been turned out into the world to fare for myself I should have gone into a decline. Therefore, it was sheer luck that betrayed me into matrimony, for although my mental energies were torpid for several years my first child seemed to dissipate the shadows that lay in my blood, and at twenty-five I was a normally strong woman. We lived in the country. My husband looked after the servants, and if we were without a cook for several days he filled her place (he had learned to cook "camping out" and liked nothing better) until my mother-in-law sent a woman from San Francisco. I read, strolled about the woods, storing up vitality but often depressed with the unutterable ennui of youth, and haunted with the fear that my story-telling faculty, which had been very pronounced, had deserted me.
When my husband died I had but one child. I left her with her two adoring grandmothers and fled to New York. I was still as callow as a boarding-school girl, but my saving grace was that I knew I did not know anything, that I never would know enough to write about life until I had seen more of it than was on exhibition in California.
But by that time my health was established. I felt quite equal to writing six books a year if any one would publish them, besides studying life at first hand as persistently and deeply as the present state of society will permit in the case of a mere woman. For that reason I shall always be sorry I did not go on a newspaper for a year as a reporter, as there is no other way for a woman to see life in all its phases. I had a letter to Charles Dana, owner of the New York Sun, and no doubt he would have put me to work, but I was still too pampered, or too snobbish, and, lacking the spur of necessity, missed one of the best of educations. Now, no matter who asks my advice in regard to the literary career, whether she is the ambitious daughter of a millionaire or a girl whose talent is for the story and whose future depends upon herself, I invariably give her one piece of advice: "Go on a newspaper. Be a reporter. Refuse no assignment. Be thankful for a merciless City Editor and his blue pencil. But, if you feel that you have the genuine story-telling gift, save your money and leave at the end of a year, or two years at most."
As for myself, I absorbed life as best I could, met people in as many walks of life as possible. As I would not marry again, and, in consequence, had no more children, nor suffered from the wearing monotonies of domestic life, I have always kept my health and been equal to an immense amount of work.
But the point is that I had been sheltered and protected during my delicate years. No doubt it was a part of my destiny to hand on the intensely American qualities of body and mind I had inherited from my Dutch and English forefathers, as well as to do my share in carrying on the race. But I got rid of all that as quickly as possible, and struck out for that plane of modern civilization planted and furrowed and replenished by daughters of men.
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