Let us say that certain prime donne can earn £25,000 a year for a few years, that the most successful London actress may receive a salary of £5000 a year, that a successful novelist may get a few thousands a year by her books, that a. lady doctor or dressmaker may make £1000 a year, and you have admitted all that can be said in favour of the present means women have of making a large income on the same lines as men. I suppose the average successful singer is delighted with £1000 a year, the average successful actress with £10 a week or £500 a year, the average novelist with £300 a year, and the average lady doctor with the same. In an institution which gives £1000 a year to its male principal, we find the lady superintendent receiving £200 a year, and the male secretary £350. Women find it hard to get any professional income out of the Government offices, the Church, or the law courts. In the Post Office and in all educational work the disparities between the salaries of men and women is well known. And I think we may take it for granted that the average business income of an everyday sort of woman, working hard, is less than £100 a year. The income of a charwoman in London, we know, is 2s. 6d. a day, or a possible 15s. a week—that is, 3d. an hour, exactly half a man’s minimum wage.
These are a few well-known facts. The reason is that women are said to have “other means“ of earning a livelihood. First among these comes the comfortable possibility of inheriting money from relations. Many great heiresses and little heiresses are to be found among the conservative forces of the land, for these women have nothing to gain and everything to lose by changing the present state of things. They and the insurance offices alike prosper on the present foundations of English family life.
Next comes the probably miserable alternative of marrying a rich husband. It is a very curious thing that it is harder for a rich man to be naturally attractive to women than it is for the camel to pass through the needle’s eye, and the consequence is that women generally have a more or less unhappy domestic life when they definitely marry for a livelihood.
Then we have the adventuress, who succeeds in making a handsome income by the unscrupulous use of her intelligence and charm. After that come the various types of women who hire themselves or are hired out for the relief of excitable gentlemen. And lastly the crowd of desolate diseased refuse who pick up a living any way they can, in ways too horrible to think of, by the practice of vulgar indecency.
All these incomes which are earned by women, either by their tenderness and charm or by their bestiality, are, together with the family inheritances, the real reasons why women as a sex are not made economically independent on the same lines as men. The father of a family longs to save his daughters from the temptations of poverty, and if they do what he bids them he insures his life in their favour. The husband prefers to keep his wife dancing to the tune he pays for, so he makes her allowance dependent on his own mood of the moment. The infatuated boy considers he is seeing life when he spends his money recklessly on an adventuress. All these women can undersell other women in the labour market, because they have incomes which make them independent of what they may earn there. They are, in a kind of way, what the strike organizers would call “blacklegs”: they make life more difficult for the women who must work to live or starve.
Again, the magic of love is destroyed by the thought of money. And love is very apt to evaporate when such thoughts flame up in the mind.
The hope I see for the ennobling of sex relations is that women should, by some means never yet thought of, become independent of the caprice of individual man.
The average middle-class Englishman, I believe, looks upon his married life as a kind of business partnership, in which he pays money in order that he may not be worried about the care of his clothes or his food or his affectional needs. These things once settled and put under the care of a sensible woman, he can devote his thoughts to business, to betting, to cards, to golf, or any other amusement he may select to ensure that he may not become a “dull man.” The average working man, of course, not only marries a housekeeper, a cook, a maid-of-all-work, but the mother and nurse of his continuous flow of offspring, and the butt of his temper when the world has used him ill.
If any hope of eventual economic freedom is to come for the whole sex, I stand aghast to think of all the antagonistic interests that will have to be reconciled. It will be worse than the Budget. The wives will have to stand out for fixed allowances. The mothers will have to make their bargain either with their husbands or the State, whichever wants their children most. The housekeepers will have to take their wages like the other servants.
The women of the adventuress class are a hopeless problem. They are worth a hundred a week at one moment, and nothing at all a few weeks later perhaps. Their trade is so dangerous. But we can cheer ourselves up with the statistics which tell us they are in England and Wales numbered by thousands only, whereas we are dealing at present with the problem of seventeen millions of women.
We have, then, four classes of women—the heiresses, the portionless wives, the courtesans, and the prostitutes—who stand in the way of the economic independence of women because they appear to be better off under the present state of disorganization. The labour market for women is of course permeated by their influence. The rich women who work for nothing, the wives who “ get round ‘ their husbands, the courtesans who command the “flesh market,” the prostitutes, who are ignored by the rest of their sex, but revenge themselves on the ignorant by spreading disease and sorrow among the happy and healthy.
The record of the overwhelming advantages of the economic independence of women can hardly be compressed into the compass of this chapter. It would make love marriages possible. It is almost certain that a love marriage on the woman’s side is one of the most important elements for good in the production of a fine race. If a girl were free to choose according to her inclination, there is practically no doubt that she would choose the right father for her child, however badly she might choose a lifelong companion for herself.
This is, of course, true about both the sexes to a certain extent, although average men are much less dainty about these matters than the average woman. If we could remove the economic considerations from parenthood it would help towards the invigoration of the race.
The sad part of this question is that according to all the great racial ideals women ought to be economically independent, but, according to all little social ideals, it seems inevitable that her independence will be resisted to the last.