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Should women smoke?
The question, in four-inch letters, exhibited on a placard outside a small newsvendor's shop, caught recently my eye. The wanderer through London streets is familiar with such-like appeals to his decision: "Should short men marry tall wives?" "Ought we to cut our hair?" "Should second cousins kiss?" Life's problems appear to be endless.
Personally, I am not worrying myself whether women should smoke or not. It seems to me a question for the individual woman to decide for herself. I like women who smoke; I can see no objection to their smoking. Smoking soothes the nerves. Women's nerves occasionally want soothing. The tiresome idiot who argues that smoking is unwomanly denounces the drinking of tea as unmanly. He is a wooden-headed person who derives all his ideas from cheap fiction. The manly man of cheap fiction smokes a pipe and drinks whisky. That is how we know he is a man. The womanly woman--well, I always feel I could make a better woman myself out of an old clothes shop and a hair-dresser's block.
But, as I have said, the question does not impress me as one demanding my particular attention. I also like the woman who does not smoke. I have met in my time some very charming women who do not smoke. It may be a sign of degeneracy, but I am prepared to abdicate my position of woman's god, leaving her free to lead her own life.
Candidly, the responsibility of feeling myself answerable for all a woman does or does not do would weigh upon me. There are men who are willing to take this burden upon themselves, and a large number of women are still anxious that they should continue to bear it. I spoke quite seriously to a young lady not long ago on the subject of tight lacing; undoubtedly she was injuring her health. She admitted it herself.
"I know all you can say," she wailed; "I daresay a lot of it is true. Those awful pictures where one sees--well, all the things one does not want to think about. If they are correct, it must be bad, squeezing it all up together."
"Then why continue to do so?" I argued.
"Oh, it's easy enough to talk," she explained; "a few old fogies like you"--I had been speaking very plainly to her, and she was cross with me--"may pretend you don't like small waists, but the average man does."
Poor girl! She was quite prepared to injure herself for life, to damage her children's future, to be uncomfortable for fifteen hours a day, all to oblige the average man.
It is a compliment to our sex. What man would suffer injury and torture to please the average woman? This frenzied desire of woman to conform to our ideals is touching. A few daring spirits of late years have exhibited a tendency to seek for other gods--for ideals of their own. We call them the unsexed women. The womanly women lift up their hands in horror of such blasphemy.
When I was a boy no womanly woman rode a bicycle--tricycles were permitted. On three wheels you could still be womanly, but on two you were "a creature"! The womanly woman, seeing her approach, would draw down the parlour blind with a jerk, lest the children looking out might catch a glimpse of her, and their young souls be smirched for all eternity.
No womanly woman rode inside a hansom or outside a 'bus. I remember the day my own dear mother climbed outside a 'bus for the first time in her life. She was excited, and cried a little; but nobody--heaven be praised!--saw us--that is, nobody of importance. And afterwards she confessed the air was pleasant.
"Be not the first by whom the new is tried, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside," is a safe rule for those who would always retain the good opinion of that all-powerful, but somewhat unintelligent, incubus, "the average person," but the pioneer, the guide, is necessary. That is, if the world is to move forward.
The freedom-loving girl of to-day, who can enjoy a walk by herself without losing her reputation, who can ride down the street on her "bike" without being hooted at, who can play a mixed double at tennis without being compelled by public opinion to marry her partner, who can, in short, lead a human creature's life, and not that of a lap-dog led about at the end of a string, might pause to think what she owes to the "unsexed creatures" who fought her battle for her fifty years ago.
Those unsexed Creatures.
Can the working woman of to-day, who may earn her own living, if she will, without loss of the elementary rights of womanhood, think of the bachelor girl of a short generation ago without admiration of her pluck? There were ladies in those day too "unwomanly" to remain helpless burdens on overworked fathers and mothers, too "unsexed" to marry the first man that came along for the sake of their bread and butter. They fought their way into journalism, into the office, into the shop. The reformer is not always the pleasantest man to invite to a tea-party. Maybe these women who went forward with the flag were not the most charming of their sex. The "Dora Copperfield" type will for some time remain the young man's ideal, the model the young girl puts before herself. Myself, I think Dora Copperfield charming, but a world of Dora Copperfields!
The working woman is a new development in sociology. She has many lessons to learn, but one has hopes of her. It is said that she is unfitting herself to be a wife and mother. If the ideal helpmeet for a man be an animated Dresden china shepherdess--something that looks pretty on the table, something to be shown round to one's friends, something that can be locked up safely in a cupboard, that asks no questions, and, therefore, need be told no lies--then a woman who has learnt something of the world, who has formed ideas of her own, will not be the ideal wife.
References given--and required.
Maybe the average man will not be her ideal husband. Each Michaelmas at a little town in the Thames Valley with which I am acquainted there is held a hiring fair. A farmer one year laid his hand on a lively-looking lad, and asked him if he wanted a job. It was what the boy was looking for.
"Got a character?" asked the farmer. The boy replied that he had for the last two years been working for Mr. Muggs, the ironmonger--felt sure that Mr. Muggs would give him a good character.
"Well, go and ask Mr. Muggs to come across and speak to me, I will wait here," directed the would-be employer. Five minutes went by--ten minutes. No Mr. Muggs appeared. Later in the afternoon the farmer met the boy again.
"Mr. Muggs never came near me with that character of yours," said the farmer.
"No, sir," answered the boy, "I didn't ask him to."
"Why not?" inquired the farmer.
"Well, I told him who it was that wanted it"--the boy hesitated.
"Well?" demanded the farmer, impatiently.
"Well, then, he told me yours," explained the boy.
Maybe the working woman, looking for a husband, and not merely a livelihood, may end by formulating standards of her own. She may end by demanding the manly man and moving about the world, knowing something of life, may arrive at the conclusion that something more is needed than the smoking of pipes and the drinking of whiskies and sodas. We must be prepared for this. The sheltered woman who learnt her life from fairy stories is a dream of the past. Woman has escaped from her "shelter"--she is on the loose. For the future we men have got to accept the emancipated woman as an accomplished fact.
The ideal World.
Many of us are worried about her. What is going to become of the home? I admit there is a more ideal existence where the working woman would find no place; it is in a world that exists only on the comic opera stage. There every picturesque village contains an equal number of ladies and gentlemen nearly all the same height and weight, to all appearance of the same age. Each Jack has his Jill, and does not want anybody else's. There are no complications: one presumes they draw lots and fall in love the moment they unscrew the paper. They dance for awhile on grass which is never damp, and then into the conveniently situated ivy-covered church they troop in pairs and are wedded off hand by a white-haired clergyman, who is a married man himself.
Ah, if the world were but a comic opera stage, there would be no need for working women! As a matter of fact, so far as one can judge from the front of the house, there are no working men either.
But outside the opera house in the muddy street Jack goes home to his third floor back, or his chambers in the Albany, according to his caste, and wonders when the time will come when he will be able to support a wife. And Jill climbs on a penny 'bus, or steps into the family brougham, and dreams with regret of a lost garden, where there was just one man and just one woman, and clothes grew on a fig tree.
With the progress of civilization--utterly opposed as it is to all Nature's intentions--the number of working women will increase. With some friends the other day I was discussing motor-cars, and one gentleman with sorrow in his voice--he is the type of Conservative who would have regretted the passing away of the glacial period--opined that motor-cars had come to stay.
"You mean," said another, "they have come to go." The working woman, however much we may regret it, has come to go, and she is going it. We shall have to accept her and see what can be done with her. One thing is certain, we shall not solve the problem of the twentieth century by regretting the simple sociology of the Stone Age.
A Lover's View.
Speaking as a lover, I welcome the openings that are being given to women to earn their own livelihood. I can conceive of no more degrading profession for a woman--no profession more calculated to unfit her for being that wife and mother we talk so much about than the profession that up to a few years ago was the only one open to her--the profession of husband-hunting.
As a man, I object to being regarded as woman's last refuge, her one and only alternative to the workhouse. I cannot myself see why the woman who has faced the difficulties of existence, learnt the lesson of life, should not make as good a wife and mother as the ignorant girl taken direct, one might almost say, from the nursery, and, without the slightest preparation, put in a position of responsibility that to a thinking person must be almost appalling.
It has been said that the difference between men and women is this: That the man goes about the world making it ready for the children, that the woman stops at home making the children ready for the world. Will not she do it much better for knowing something of the world, for knowing something of the temptations, the difficulties, her own children will have to face, for having learnt by her own experience to sympathize with the struggles, the sordid heart-breaking cares that man has daily to contend with?
Civilization is ever undergoing transformation, but human nature remains. The bachelor girl, in her bed-sitting room, in her studio, in her flat, will still see in the shadows the vision of the home, will still hear in the silence the sound of children's voices, will still dream of the lover's kiss that is to open up new life to her. She is not quite so unsexed as you may think, my dear womanly madame. A male friend of mine was telling me of a catastrophe that once occurred at a station in the East Indies.
No time to think of Husbands.
A fire broke out at night, and everybody was in terror lest it should reach the magazine. The women and children were being hurried to the ships, and two ladies were hastening past my friend. One of them paused, and, clasping her hands, demanded of him if he knew what had become of her husband. Her companion was indignant.
"For goodness' sake, don't dawdle, Maria," she cried; "this is no time to think of husbands."
There is no reason to fear that the working woman will ever cease to think of husbands. Maybe, as I have said, she will demand a better article than the mere husband-hunter has been able to stand out for. Maybe she herself will have something more to give; maybe she will bring to him broader sympathies, higher ideals. The woman who has herself been down among the people, who has faced life in the open, will know that the home is but one cell of the vast hive.
We shall, perhaps, hear less of the woman who "has her own home and children to think of--really takes no interest in these matters"--these matters of right and wrong, these matters that spell the happiness or misery of millions.
The Wife of the Future.
Maybe the bridegroom of the future will not say, "I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come," but "I have married a wife; we will both come."
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