Typos p. 222, n. 3: aminate [= animate]
Birth Control and Feminism
It must have occurred to most people that there is a connection between the Birth Control movement and Feminism. But how intimate and inevitable this connection is only becomes apparent when we enter deeply into the ideals and aims which are common to both.
In most periods of advanced civilisation there has occurred in Europe a tendency among a certain section of women to revolt against the rigorous physical laws which control their lives, and to attempt to emulate men and to enter into competition with them. And, while the first tendency, which, though really a striving for emancipation from the disabilities imposed by their functional relation to society, has cloaked itself in a wish merely to overthrow barriers which that relation has traditionally created, the second tendency has always, under the demand for sex-equality, been characterised by a barely concealed hostility to the masculine sex.
It will not be our concern here to discover what type of woman is chiefly responsible for the revolt against the physical burdens of womanhood and the hostility to man, which are always to be found at the roots of Feminism; nor shall we attempt to show how her influence, first prevailing among a small
Starting among a certain highly intellectual and rather effete section of French society in the seventeenth century, the Feminism of the Précieuses and of the Savantes began as a glorification of everything feminine as opposed to everything male, and was characterised by an energetic attempt to "elevate" woman above the rank of a bearer and rearer of children. Everything was done to show that she was capable of a "higher," far "higher" calling.
The idea that there can be anything which is "higher" for woman than the concerns of motherhood is odd and, of course, wholly untenable except on pessimistic first principles; and in those who would entertain such an idea we are justified in suspecting a certain Puritanism of outlook, an absence of normally potent instincts, and misanthropic nihilism. For, when once you postulate the survival of humanity as a desirable end, and recognise the inexhaustible joy and satisfaction which can be derived from the subserving of that end by means of an expression of normal instincts, it immediately becomes apparent that there must be something morbid in the resolute turning away from that end and joy by precisely that section of humanity which plays the most important
Only those who can look back on a life of purely intellectual pursuits, only those who have deliberately "taken the veil" of purely spiritual interests, can testify to the hollowness of the joys that are to be derived from them; for it is much too often forgotten that it is only in connection with spiritual and intellectual things that boredom and monotony have any meaning. The word "hackneyed" is exclusively confined to things of the spirit and the intellect.
Startle your hostess at a tea-table by saying that bread and butter is "hackneyed," and that you cannot suffer either of them to pass your lips again, and she will immediately suspect you of incipient insanity. The oldest experience of mankind gives the lie to such an utterance. For this experience tells both your hostess and your fellow-guests that, so long as healthy appetite and healthy bodily functioning endure, the gratification of the bodily appetite by bread-and-butter and jam, or by any other kind of staple diet, even if daily or weekly repeated, is not, and cannot be, "hackneyed."
This shows that, even from the standpoint of unalloyed happiness, the denial of the body in life is a dangerous measure. No matter how much intellect and spirit may get in exchange, it is always a bad bargain. For, provided health endure, none of the joys that the body gives no matter how often repeated can by any human argumentation or experience be shown ever to become "hackneyed."
This is not materialism, it is simply sanity. It does not mean that one should eschew intellect and spirit in life; it means that one should not eschew the body for their sake alone. And if you wish to prove the insanity of the other view, try the experiment above described, or one like it, on a party of people who, through being wholly unprepared for your sally, will be most likely to react to it in a normally human way.
Beginning early in the seventeenth century, then, with Honoré d'Urfé's novel, Astrée, which exemplified the glorification of women of which I have spoken, the French Feminist movement first aimed at a "higher" destiny than motherhood for women, and
This phase was quickly followed by a revolt against marriage, and in the novel published by Abbé de Pure in 1656 3 there is a consistent attack on matrimony and its terrible consequences for women.
Eulalie, the heroine of the novel, speaks of her "horror for marriage," and identifies marriage and spinsterhood as slavery and liberty respectively. "Is there any tyranny more cruel, more stern, more insufferable," she cries, "than that of those fetters which one has to bear unto death?" 4
1 For a catalogue of the literature of the Movement, see Man: An Indictment, pp. 115, 116,
2 La Femme Généreuse, by L. S. D. LL. (1643).
3 La Pretieuse ou le mystère des Ruelles.
4 "Y a-t-il une tyrannie au monde plus cruelle, plus sevère, plus insupportable que celle de ces fers qui durent jusqu'au tombeau?" (See Francis Baumal, Le Féminisme au Temps de Molière, p. 42.)
"As for me," says Tullie, "I would gladly emancipate myself from the laws to which Nature and custom have subjected woman, and if I were given my choice of being a gallant soldier or what I am, I would prefer to be a soldier rather than a princess, so little am I satisfied with my sex." 1
In the drawing rooms of the day, all these questions were discussed with the utmost earnestness. The merits of platonic love, the advantages of celibacy, the horrors of marriage, and particularly of sexual relations, were the favourite topics of conversation among the Précieuses and the Savantes of the period. And everything was done by these women to volatilise and disembody love, so that it might become free from all fleshly taint. Marriage was declared to be degrading, gross and repugnant. And Molière, who burlesqued the whole movement, and is often suspected of exaggeration and inaccuracy, was, as a matter of fact, much more moderate and truthful than many suppose.
1 Clélie (see Baumal, p. 48): "Quant à moi, je m'affranchirais volontièrement aux lois auxquelles la nature et la coutume ont assugetti les femmes et, si j'avais eu mon choix d'être plutôt un vaillant soldat que d'être ce que je suis, j'aimerais mieux être soldat que princesse, tant je suis peu satisfaite de mon sexe."
ARMANDE. What, sister, are you really thinking of dropping the fine title of maid, so full of charm and beauty? And do you dare to rejoice at the thought of marriage? Can such a vulgar prospect turn your head?
HENRIETTE. Yes, sister.
ARMANDE. Oh, how can I suffer to hear that yea! How can I listen to it without nausea!
HENRIETTE. What is there in marriage, sister, what makes you
ARMANDE. Oh fie!
ARMANDE. Oh, for Heaven's sake! Can't you understand what disgusting thoughts the very word calls to one's mind the moment one hears it! How offensive are the pictures it unfolds to the eye! How filthy the prospect to which it summons our minds! Don't you shudder at the thought, sister? And can you possibly bring your heart to face the consequences of that word?
There is no exaggeration in this, although in Molière's witty verse the absurdity of the sentiments revealed becomes more apparent than in the Feminist literature of the time.
From this attitude of revolt towards marriage and man to a loathing of all the consequences of marriage pregnancy, childbirth and lactation was only a step. And in Abbe de Puré's novel there are long tirades against the horrors of pregnancy and the cruelty of the husband who imposes them on a loving wife. There is also the familiar sophistry common to
1 Act I, Scene I. (The translation is the present writer's own, and will be found to be tolerably accurate. To give the whole of the French original would, it seemed, unnecessarily burden these pages.)
Madame de Sévigné, who was not only a Précieuse, but also a woman who, according to some accounts, was not possessed of very ardent sensibilities, hated the very thought of pregnancies and confinements, or rather, of other women's confinements and pregnancies (which is exactly the attitude of modern birth-controllers). In her letters to her daughter she constantly expatiates on the alleged "selfishness" of men, the horrors attending the confinements of her friends, and the dreadful consequences threatening her daughter if the latter continues to bear children to M. de Grignan.
On January 8th, 1672, she even goes so far as to suggest a preventive measure to her daughter, but it is extremely doubtful whether it would have answered even if it had been adopted, 2 and from the letters it is quite clear that Madame de Grignan is rather laughing up her sleeve the whole time at her mother's constant warnings. Madame de Sévigné's most reliable advice regarding Birth Control is to be found in her repeated exhortations to her daughter to avoid sexual relations with Monsieur de Grignan. Madame de Grignan, however, was far too sensible to pay much heed to them.
1 See footnote, p. 81, ante.
2 This appears to be the advice to which Paul Bureau refers in his L'Indiscipline des Murs (see p. 69), as I can find no other reference to preventive measures in that year. But it can hardly be dignified by the description of "des conseils afin d'éviter une troisième grossesse." (See Lettres de Madame de Sévigné, Paris, 1862, Vol. II, p. 462.)
"M. de Grignan is beginning to get cocky, and to scratch the ground, and I am terrified. If he succumbs to the temptation, do not imagine that he loves you. When a man is really in love he loves the whole of a woman, and the beauty which, like yours, brings no sorrow in its train, is not a thing to be forgotten. If he destroys yours, take it for granted that his tenderness is no good." 1
Again, on February 19th, 1672, Madame de Sévigné writes with reference to a portrait she wished to have of her daughter:
"But take care, my dear girl, not to be changed. After all, Madame de Guerchi only died because her body was worn out by too many confinements. I honour the husbands who separate from their wives on the plea that they are in love with them." 2
Then, in answer to Madame de Grignan, who in her last letter had evidently protested to her mother that her beauty seemed to her useless unless it served to reproduce beauty on earth, Madame de Sévigné writes on March 3rd, 1672:
"Your beauty seems to be agitating you, because it is useless to you. You think you might just as well be pregnant;
1 Lettres de Madame de Sévigné (Paris, 1862), Vol. II, pp. 45960: "M. de Grignan a bien ducaquet; il commence à gratter du pied, cela me fait grand'peur. S'il succombe à la tentation, ne croyez pas qu'il vous aime. Quand on aime bien, on aime tout, et la beauté que ne donne aucun chagrin, comme la vôtre, n'est pas une chose à oublier. S'il détruit la vôtre tenez-vous pour dit que sa tendresse n'est pas d'un bon aloi."
2 Ibid., p. 508. "Mais prenez garde, ma chère fille, de n'être point changée. Enfin Mme de Guerchi n'est morte que pour avoir le corps usé à force d'accoucher. J'honore bien les maris qui se défont de leurs femmes sous prétexte d'en être amoureux."
And with further reference to the same letter from her daughter, in which Madame de Grignan spoke of the uselessness of her beauty, Madame de Sévigné writes on March 16th, 1672: "I love you, my darling daughter, for not being pregnant. Console yourself for being uselessly beautiful by the joy of not being perpetually at death's door." 2
Again, on April 6th, 1672, Madame de Sévigné writes to her daughter: "I am delighted that you are not pregnant. Alas, my daughter, try at least to have; the joy of feeling well and of living in peace and quiet." 3
On April 13th, 1672, Madame de Sévigné reveals the real phobia she has in regard to other people's pregnancies by thanking her daughter for not being pregnant, as if she herself, the older woman, had been spared the trouble and inconvenience. 4 And a fort-
1 Op. cit., Vol. II, p. 524: "Votre beauté vous jette dans des extrémités, parce qu'elle vous est inutile. Vous trouvez qu'il vaut autant être grosse; c'est un amusement. Voilà une raison: songez, ma bonne, que c'est vous détruire entierèment et votre santé et votre vie. Continuez done cette bonne coutume de coucher séparément."
2 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 537: "Je vous aime bien, ma chère fille, de n'être point grosse; consolez-vous d'être belle inutilement, par le plaisir de n'être pas toujours mourante."
3 Ibid., Vol. III, p. 8: "Je suis ravie que vous ne soyez point grosse: hélas, ma fille, ayez du moins le plaisir d'être en santé et de reposer votre vie."
4 Ibid., Vol. III, p. 17: "Vous m'obéissez pour n'être point grosse; je vous en remercie de tout mon cur."
All through the letters this attitude is maintained, and M. de Grignan is scolded and abused, or flattered and congratulated, by his mother-in-law, according to whether he has or has not procreated another child. Addressed to a woman who had already had ten or twelve children, these fears of a coming pregnancy might have had some point. But addressed to a woman who only had two children, 3 they suggest an abnormal state of mind, which requires to be explained on the basis of some deep-rooted prejudice against the sexual functions in general.
1 Op. cit., Vol. III, pp. 412: "Je suis ravie, ma bonne, que vous ne soyez point grosse; j'en aime M. de Grignan de tout mon cur. Mandez-moi si on doit ce bonheur à sa tempérance ou à sa véritable tendresse pour vous."
2 Ibid., p. 147: "Je veux vous louer de n'être point grosse, et vous conjurer de ne le point devenir."
3 It should always be borne in mind in regard to the whole of the Birth Control movement, and the phobias and sentiments that aminate it, that although in their public utterances the advocates of contraceptive practices place as high as three or four the maximum number of children they think all couples should have, they really speak and argue as if a lower figure would be ample, while their propaganda most certainly leads to thousands of couples having only one or two children, or none at all.
Writing about herself in a letter of March 6th, 1672, she says: "If I had been asked my opinion, I should have preferred to die in the arms of my wet-nurse." 1
Now Madame de Sévigné represented not merely the Feminism of her time, but also most of the conclusions to which it led. She even embodied the attitude of modern birth-controllers by arguing, when there was no need so to argue for her daughter, Madame de Grignan, was well off, and her husband was Governor of Provence that child-bearing was in itself an evil, which must be as far as possible avoided. That this should have led her, as it led the other Feminists of her time, to Birth Control is only natural. And while we have, in her letters, positive evidence that she was a birth-controller, we also know that thousands of her contemporaries were the same. Nor does there appear to have been any lack of practical means for effecting this end; for we are informed that in 1660
1 Op. cit., Vol. II, p. 534: "Si on m'avait demandé mon avis, j'aurais bien aimé à mourir entre les bras de ma nourrice."
It is curious to note throughout history not only how the same states of mind are repeated, as it were, spontaneously, in different Ages, without any apparent connection, but also how completely the same in all particulars is the expression of similar states of mind, no matter how many centuries may separate their appearance.
Feminism, with its hostility to men, its rebellion against the laws which determine female destiny, its dread of pregnancy, particularly in others, and its advocacy of Birth Control, is the same to-day in England as it was in France almost three hundred years ago the same down to the smallest detail. Once more we hear the call to something "freer" than marriage. Once more we hear of the "subjection of women." And seeing how difficult it is to escape from a discipline or yoke which is imposed by natural laws, the subjection in question, although it is known to be relative to Nature or to natural forces, is made out to be relative to "brutal" or "selfish" man (i.e. something that can be attacked and reviled more easily than Nature) 2 exactly as the Précieuses
1 See Baumal, op. cit., p. 65: "plus de six cents femmes se sont confessées d'avoir tari et étouffé leur fruit."
2 The same kind of sophistry is used by the Socialists and Communists. Although a large number of the inequalities between men and their occupations are created by the diversity of natural endowments, all the inequalities and injustices of
Nor is the note of pessimism missing. We know that at least one prominent birth-controller is a confirmed philosophic pessimist, for he has told me so again and again; and we only have to read the writings of the rest to catch them red handed, as it were, flirting with the same system of thought. 1
But the parallel becomes all the more striking if we place side by side the writings of our modern birth-controllers and the writings of the French Feminists of the seventeenth century, for then it is seen how inevitably the same outlook and the same aspirations lead people of different Ages to identically the same conclusions.
modern Society are ascribed to the iniquities of the ruling classes, simply because it is easier to attack them than to attack an abstract entity like Nature.
1 See particularly, pp. 192, 193 ante.
Again, in his evidence before the Birth Rate Commission, Dr. C. V. Drysdale said:
"As a frank upholder of the women's emancipation movement, in the belief that the interests of the race cannot be properly safeguarded without the co-operation of women, I consider their emancipation from excessive and undesired maternity absolutely essential." 3
The reader will notice that Dr. Drysdale speaks of "excessive" maternity, and carefully places this word before "undesired" as if the evil of excessive
1 See Report, p. 58.
2 See how neatly the paragraph is turned at the end, as if the means to have children, or only one, two, or three, were a matter of doing "justice to herself" and "to them"! These birth-controllers know how easily modern people are caught by the snare of apparently "moral" grounds. The paragraph continues quite illogically: "and from the point of view of the race the eugenic effect of Birth Control would be enormous. [We have seen how enormous it is!] Women who are free from passive maternity will rarely consent to bring diseased or defective children into the world, or start them under unfavourable conditions." The reader will note the gratuitous introduction of the pathological to add to the persuasiveness of the first passage, which, without it, is felt to be rather weak. This introduction of a eugenic plea, although, of course, quite unfounded, is, we admit, something new. The French birth-controllers of the seventeenth century were more logical and more frank in setting forth their ideals and claims.
3 Report, p. 93.
These birth controllers, like the Feminists of the seventeenth century, will not face the problem from the standpoint of the normal woman probably because their case could not survive a moment's inspection if they did. But the introduction of "excessive" in Dr. Drysdale's statement probably passed unnoticed notwithstanding.
Turn now to Sir William Bayliss, Professor of Physiology at University College, London. In his Introduction to Marie Stopes' Contraception he says: 1
"To my mind, the chief arguments for Birth Control are two, which are in many ways identical. The one is the relief of the mother from the result of frequent and repeated pregnancies [Madame de Sévigné's nightmare], as is so well brought out in this book. . . . The other argument is that which, as far as I know, Dr. Marie Stopes has the honour of bringing out into a clear light: I mean the possibility of a normal and beautiful married love." 2
1 P. xi.
2 The attention of the reader is called incidentally to this use by a scientific man, and Professor of Physiology, of the word "normal" in reference to marital relations carried on with contraceptives.
Finally, in order to show how universally birth-controllers adopt the whole of the conclusions of seventeenth-century French and modem Feminism, we may quote Dean Inge again. Speaking of Feminist claims in regard to Birth Control, Dean Inge said:
"These claims are reasonable and must be granted, and they are incompatible with large families, except in exceptional cases." 1
There is no need to quote any more to establish the parallel. Suffice it to say that almost all birth-controllers are necessarily Feminist, and almost all Feminists necessarily birth-controllers. Over both groups, probably for the same reasons, the thoughts of pregnancy and child-bearing of other people's pregnancy and child-bearing hang like a nightmare. And the art with which they weave pathological and exceptional conditions into their pleading, despite the fact that it is only to normal people that contraception really presents itself as a problem, as a question, seems to show how much they are unconsciously led by prejudices which derive from their Puritanism on the one hand and their pessimism on the other.
Paul Bureau, in his L'Indiscipline des Murs, comes to the same conclusion as we do. He says, speaking of modern Feminism: But there is
"another Feminism, at once bourgeois and popular, which is chiefly concerned about liberating woman from the law of man, without troubling to consider whether certain prescriptions of that law of man might not be simply the laws
1 The Control of Parenthood, p. 62.
The connection between Feminism and Birth Control, therefore, seems to be the inevitable outcome of the first principles on which the two movements are based. And if we feel that Birth Control is essentially wrong, as we do, we are committed to the condemnation of Feminism, and vice versâ. In both we find the same strong vein of sophistry to support a position that does not bear a moment's steady examination, the same denial of the healthy woman's right to normal functioning in sex, the same deliberate confusion of natural with man-made conditions, the same brandishing of the mere decoy-word "freedom," the same abuse of the low critical faculty of the masses, and, above all, the same underlying note of incurable pessimism, which, being only the expression of an innate hopelessness and lack of joie de vivre in the individual birth-controller or Feminist, makes him wish to bring all humanity into step with his funeral march and into harmony with his obsequial dirge.
1. The Birth Control movement is connected with Feminism. This is shown by the seventeenth-century
1 Op. cit., pp. 1612.
2. The Précieuses and the Savantes wished to elevate woman to something higher than her functional role of mother and child bearer. And this striving was accompanied by a disparagement not only of the child-bearing functions, the sexual relationship and man, but also by a revolt against the whole discipline of sex.
3. Madame de Sévigné, who was a leading Précieuse, reveals the attitude of seventeenth-century Feminism in her letters to her daughter, by constantly emphasising the horrors of pregnancy and childbirth and imploring her daughter to bear no more. Puritanism and pessimism are the roots of Madame de Sévigné's attitude. She recommends continence and sleeping apart to her daughter and M. de Grignan, her son-in-law, and even suggests an inadequate preventive measure.
4. This pessimistic horror of other people's pregnancies naturally leads to thoughts of Birth Control, and it is significant that Madame de Sévigné acknowledges her pessimistic attitude in a letter to her daughter.
5. A report given by the Vicars-General of the diocese of Paris to the First President Lamoignon reveals the fact that the Birth Control movement resulting from seventeenth-century French Feminism was fairly widespread.
6. The parallel with modern English Feminism and Birth Control is almost perfect. In both there appear the same Puritanism and pessimism, leading to the same horror of the sexual relationship and the func-
7. Thus seventeenth-century French Feminism, like modern English Feminism, while ostensibly striving after Emancipation in a social and political sense, is really motivated by the desire to emancipate woman from her natural sex discipline.