The Subject Treated Generally
Other men have written about Woman, and have said hard things about her too: Knox, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Weininger are among them. Neither Knox, Schopenhauer nor Nietzsche, however, started life with such a large fund of prepossession in her favour. Neither Knox, Schopenhauer nor Nietzsche can be said to have been free, as I am, from those bitter experiences and shocks that distort one's vision and destroy one's focus.
If I appear to say things that are hard, therefore let it be plainly understood at this stage in my work, that I do so only because I wish to speak frankly and clearly about my subject; and that in view of the muddled and maudlin misunderstandings that now hang like a stifling mist over the female sex, it is impossible to dissipate errors or to take up a clear and definite stand at all, without occasionally seeming hard, unrelenting, metallic. Any flash may be taken for a flash of steel, particularly when one is in a fog.
My intention in writing this book was to save Woman from the cruel misconceptions that are steadily undermining her body and her character, and although there
I maintain that Woman is now miserable, wretched, desperate. I am not one of those who are certain that present woman is a product of man's own fashioning. If she were she would not be miserable, because, step by step, as man has advanced or declined! she too would have changed, and thus remained his adapted and contented mate. But there is something essentially idiosyncratic in Woman, something that makes her an individual, unalterable and for ever fixed; something that nothing can fashion. You can make her miserable; you can make her sick; you cannot change her! I would go further and say, that all women from Pekin to London and Lisbon are the same; they are only a little more happy or healthy, or a little more miserable and ill, according as to whether their men do or do not understand how to treat them.
Disbelieving utterly, as I do, in the theory that Modern Woman is as man has made her I mean apart from her wretchedness or sickness, of course I cannot uphold the view that Woman has any destiny to work out for herself. She has no "true Womanhood" that has yet to be sought and found while we leave her alone. We cannot leave her alone. The moment we leave her alone she ceases to be true Woman: where, then, could she go alone to seek and find her "true Womanhood"?
All those who speak of a "true Womanhood" to be sought and found away from us and from the children we give her, would do both Woman and the world a kindness, a great and inestimable kindness, in henceforward for ever holding their tongues on the subject of Woman.
We try to soothe our consciences; we try to slur over our social mistakes; we sneakingly pretend to ignore the
The problem is out of hand; its difficulties have proved too much for us, otherwise we could not have the barefaced duplicity to settle it in this transparently farcical manner.
What should we think of a cattle-farmer, who, on discovering that he had not enough pasture-land for all his sheep, taught the pastureless ones, when they had grown thin and wan for want of their proper food, that there was a True Sheephood somewhere, a lofty ideal a Sheephood that could go without pasture-land and without grass altogether; a Sheephood that was self contained and self-reliant, independent and indisputable, and that they were to go in search of that True Sheephood, and if necessary grow thinner and less attractive every day in their search for it? We should feel that they would have to be very inferior sheep to believe this story, or, rather, very real sheep indeed! Everything in their body, from their cud-chewing molars to their long grass digesting gut, would surely tell them that the Ideal of
No, it is impossible to accept the "True Womanhood" ideal of woman gloriously alone, emancipated from man, independent and "discovered." Inasmuch as we have not fashioned her, and could not do so if we tried, woman is as her rôle in the course of evolution has made her. She is certainly more unhappy, more tormented, more unwell, than she ever need have been; but that is because her principal adaptation her relation to man is now so often entirely wrong, or alas! non-existent. I point out again: if, as some presumptuously maintain, we have been fashioning her all through the ages, she would have followed us contentedly to our present stage a thing she has not done. There is something essentially idiosyncratic in woman then, something that defies our clumsy "fashioning" hands.
This unalterable individuality has not to be found. It is not an ideal after which we might strive. It is present, it is seated in Woman now and for evermore, and one of its principal characteristics is that it cannot brook isolation, solitude, independence, glorious singleness. The "True Womanhood" hoax of Woman re-found by herself, for herself, and in herself, as if all this time her association with man and her dependence upon him had been a mistake, an error of judgment, a cramping, limiting and disturbing factor in the evolution of "Pure Woman," is simply pure falsehood of the worst description; because it overlooks the facts precisely there where they are most glaring, most undeniable, most conspicuous.
Examine the tendrils of the vine and deny that it is a creeping plant destined to cling to a wall or to a tougher plant than itself, and you would declare yourself in so many words an ignoramus or a madman.
Examine Woman and deny that she must have two primary adaptations that to the man and that to the child in order simply to fulfil her destiny as it is stamped
Immersed as Woman obviously is, up to her shoulders in the business of Life and its multiplication, let it be said plainly and unequivocally: all those who teach her that any other business is her business, all those who, in face of the dilemma of modern problems, confuse her with tales about a true Womanhood away from Life and its multiplication; all those, in short, who beguile her with promises of happiness, contentedness, or even comfort, without her primary adaptations to man and the child, are liars both unscrupulous and criminal.
And here I have touched upon what I claim to be idiosyncratic and perfectly individual in Woman her deep and almost whole-bodied concern with Life and its multiplication. Above all the other functional differences and similarities between the sexes, this fundamental trait must prevail as a permanent and ineradicable characteristic of Woman, and it is the bedrock on which we must build, and from which we must set out, if we wish to arrive at a clear and untainted image of Woman as distinct from Man.
When, moreover, one remembers that this principal characteristic of hers is the seed and generating force of all her will, her leading instincts and her virtues, it is simply deliberate blindness to deny that she has not a distinctive and powerful individuality that places her far outside the possible influence of those "fashioning" male hands that some have the impudence to maintain have warped or diverted the true course of her evolution.
Leave her alone then; leave her to work out her own salvation, and like Nora in Ibsen's Doll's House, to venture single-handed in search of that true Womanhood which according to some theorists has yet to be found, and has never yet been allowed a free development, and what happens? She ceases from being a true Woman at her very first step into the wilderness of isolation.
I repeat, therefore, that while we have the power to make Woman miserable and ill a power which for the last 250 years in England we have exercised with ever-increasing folly we have no more right to boast that we have moulded or directed her evolution than we have a right to boast of having shaped the stars and the moon. And those women who allow us this boast and who accuse us of having arrested their development (whatever that may mean), or of having distorted their true individuality, fall with treacherous perfidy to their sex, into the ranks of Woman's worst enemies.
How have we made Woman miserable and ill?
Let me explain what misery and illness means:
Put a mole to live upon a concrete floor, lay a frog in a parched sandy plain, and confine the agile cat to a space only just large enough to allow it to lash its tail, and you will have succeeded so thoroughly in thwarting the primary instincts of these three animals the subterranean life of the mole, for which its large forelegs and its whole body crave; the amphibious life of the frog after which its webbed feet and nimble limbs hanker, and the stalking, hunting and prowling lust of the cat to which all its magnificent body is so superbly adjusted that you will have made them utterly and desperately miserable and probably ill as well.
How do we men absolve ourselves from the blame of this? For it is certainly we who mould society and ourselves, even if we do not mould women. How do we try to evade, escape, circumvent the main issue? We have the effrontery to teach Woman the doctrine that since we fail them both in quantity and quality, there is a life away from us and the children they could have from us that is worth living. We do not scruple to tell them that they can be happy, content, comfortable, without the surroundings to which they are primarily adapted. We abet and promote a process by which millions of our women deliberately turn their backs upon their primary adaptations, and spring to our side like neuters in the arena of our active life, our besotting duties, our drudgery! But not content with undermining their health and their happiness by denying the just privilege of their primary adaptations, we undermine their spirits by casting them like convicts into the wheels of the very machine that has already reduced us to such pale shadows of our former selves, such faint echoes of manhood, that they were rightly growing dissatisfied with us.
But not only that, we taught them that they could find happiness in this independence, in this single-handed struggle happiness! Aye, there were even
If this were not all visible before us, many would still refuse to believe it. Unfortunately it is all only too true! This incredible farce is our present day existence our age!
We have actually not refrained from telling young girls that they can live a life away from their principal adaptations!
Only recently, for instance, when the 1921 census revealed that there were approximately 2,000,000 more women than men in Great Britain that is to say, 2,000,000 women who on the monogamous principle could not be expected to find mates several prominent people wrote to the papers protesting indignantly that these women were not superfluous, and arguing that there was "enough work in the world" for all the women. These people wrote as if the whole question were an economic one, and that, provided the two million unmated women could only make themselves self-supporting in their singleness, the difficulties of the case would be entirely overcome. 1 But this attitude towards the question was ridiculously unsympathetic. For, if the only object in life were to become self-supporting by means of work, one would not require to be either a man or a woman; a neuter, after the style of the worker-bee, would be all that one required to resemble. But the attitude of these prominent people was unfortunately worse than unsympathetic; it was insulting and dishonest. For, to tell a body of two million women that
1 See Arabella Kenealy in Feminism and Sex-Extinction (pp. 211-12): "That all women do not marry cannot marry, indeed, because of their preponderance in number over the other sex is no reason for dissembling the truth that in wifehood and motherhood lie women's most vital and valuable rôles. Nor is it a warrant for training the whole sex as though none were destined to fulfil this, their natural and noblest, if not always their happiest, vocation."
The Holy Catholic Church was more honest in this, and more practical than we are. It told all those women for whom society failed to provide their principal adaptations, that they could find comfort, occupation, and even a high purpose, by entering the Church, but it was frank enough to add: if you do so you must turn your back for ever upon those things for which you were built, those things to which your whole body was ingeniously and artfully adjusted and contrived.
And even when the system broke down, as it frequently did, 1 at least where Life was illicitly found in the convent or the monastery, it was found and enjoyed secretly, under the respectable auspices of a powerful institution, and not on the streets of big cities where the fruits are nothing but distress, disgrace and disease.
But behind all this unwillingness to recognize or admit that Woman cannot really be "adapted" (which is simply a biological way of saying she cannot be really happy or well) without fulfilling the destiny that her rôle in the process of evolution, and not man, stamped indelibly upon her body from the start, is the very same insidious and devastating force that has made her unhappy in
1 The reports made in the reign of Henry VIII by his Commissioners, concerning the state of the convents and monasteries, give proof enough of this, as do also the reports of visiting bishops in the Middle Ages.
Puritanism, always so hostile to sex, would fondly like one to believe that sex is no longer one of the first considerations of Life, even for women. It would give a good deal, and has given a good deal, to convince everybody that one can "get on without it"! And, indeed, its values and atmosphere have now reared so many thousands of wretched, lank, bloodless and lifeless men and women who can get on without it, and who do get on without it, that quite a large number of people are beginning to believe that Puritanism is right. In any case, it is to these unconscious victims of its system that it now has the effrontery to point as evidence of its criminal contention when it seeks to persuade the unwary that it is right.
When, therefore, the cruel solution of modern sex problems (problems that only arose through the kind of society Puritanism has created) was supposed to have been found by telling women that "they really did not want men or children, and could easily 'get on' without either," it was the voice of Puritanism that was distinct and persuasive here; Puritanism at last within an ace of complete triumph, and exulting over having achieved what to all intents and purposes must have seemed an impossible undertaking from the start.
When, however, one remembers how carefully and skilfully the ground had been prepared, when one remembers how unscrupulously every possible means had been exploited in order to consummate the end in view, how can one wonder at the unravelment!
After having reduced man to a mere shadow of his former self, after having atrophied, besmirched and slandered the sex instinct until it was literally ashamed to show its face (fancy, the fundamental instinct of life
1 For an exhaustive description of the metamorphosis of the Englishman through the influence of Puritanism, see chapter V of my Defence of Aristocracy (Constable & Co., 1915).
For fire alone purifies; fire alone renders some fusions and combinations possible. Damp the ardour of man, therefore, reduce his fire, and the sexual act does indeed become an affair from which many might be justified in shrinking. The procreative love of human beings was obviously designed on the presumption that they would remain warm-blooded animals. Once they grew to be cold-blooded, it of necessity became improper, impious. The procreation of fish is accomplished without any embrace, without any étreinte of male and female: but fish are cold-blooded.
Thus in support of the Puritan's chilling cry that there was a life away from the fundamental instinct of Life, there arose very soon a chorus of disillusioned and indignant married women's voices, who knew the anguish and embarrassment of human sexual life with a human fish, and who were not in the least prepared to conceal its horrors.
And how convincing all this seemed! How many sensitive and intelligent girls have not listened to this married woman's chorus in support of the Puritan's plea, and felt their hope in life, their trust in life, their love of life, shake in its foundations! So much so, indeed, that it is now possible for them to listen no longer with suspicion but with eager interest to those of their "fortunate" sisters who are too unhealthy, or too deficient in vigour to feel any desire for their principal adaptations; it is possible even for the naturally sterile among women, for the women below par in every respect, and incapable, either through repulsiveness or botchedness, to fulfil their destiny, to pass through the world without being despised,
It is precisely because women are so deeply in touch with Life, so secretly and unconsciously Life's ally, Life's ambassador, Life's custodian, that they cannot help being miserable and in pain nowadays. The voice of Life inside them tells them emphatically that things are wrong, that the muddle man has made of Life is tragic, cruel, insufferable. As Life's unconscious advocate, Woman is essentially opposed to modernity, however much she may seem in favour of it. When she appears to be most in favour of it, she is only following modern man and his ideals most closely.
Having all the equipment for Life's most important business, it will not appear hard to believe that Woman is positive. Life through her says "Yea" to itself. In fact when Woman says "Yea" to Life, it is simply Life itself accepting itself as such. All women's apparent negativism is either only skin deep, or else it is the outcome of bodily sickness or degeneracy. The mere fact that in all periods of decline Woman has always come to the fore, the historical fact that Feminism is undeniably a phenomenon of male degeneration the swan-song of male-constructed societies shows how inevitably Life itself comes forward at the last moment in order to try to rescue itself when it feels all else is failing. But it comes forward in a form that cannot lead to salvation. Because, although Woman is equipped for carrying on Life's business, she is not equipped for ordering it. You cannot be a thing and above it, or out of it, at the same time. The part is not greater than the whole. And, as Woman is immersed in Life, she has not the duality of vision that is necessary for placing and ordering Life.
To remind me that modern women or the most far-seeing among them organized a powerful agitation to obtain the Parliamentary vote, is simply to point to a proof of what I say. The Parliamentary vote is essentially a male invention. It is essentially a male idea. It is not an idea of Life. In fact, three quarters of the harm that has come to Life might be ascribed to this very Parliamentary vote, and the Democracy it implies; and yet, when Woman in her agony casts about her for a remedy for Life's sickness, she can do nothing more than lay hold of this futile and dangerous male invention, and seek salvation through it.
It is her cry of protest, however, that is interesting as a symptom, as a warning. And all those who have ears to hear, know it is the cry of Life itself, agitating for reform. But, as the feeling is unconscious with Woman, and as she is not equipped for the task of standing outside Life and ordering it, the remedies she advocates must be suspected and rejected just as earnestly as her cry of warning must be respected and observed.