Beauty and Motherhood
Modern Woman: Her Intentions
Beauty and Motherhood
“Americanism“ is the word sometimes used by scientific men to imply the terror of motherhood that is coming upon women. The old days when Nelson said the two most beautiful things in the world were a ship in full sail and a woman with child, are passed. Pain and the loss of beauty mean something hauntingly horrible—something of a nightmare to the modern highly strung, nervous woman. In America the question is becoming one of national importance : as a matter of fact some women are beginning to refuse motherhood, both there and in other parts of the world. I do not see anything alarming in this. To me it means that women will specialize in the future. When the unnatural economic reasons for marriage have been removed, the natural desires of women will be able to assert themselves. For centuries they have lied and schemed and flattered men in order to wheedle a living out of them, and it will take some time for the weaker sex to learn that it may really tell the truth; to learn, indeed, that it is necessary for the good of the race that it should tell the truth. When this is done it will be perceived that women are divided into two distinct classes—those that love men better than children, and those that love children better than men. This is natural enough. In ordinary life we can see some people prefer to associate with their inferiors, and some with their superiors. At present the comparatively free life led by men make them far better company, and therefore superior as a sex to women. They do not talk as well as clever women, but their views are wide, and as a rule they know something of the general facts of life. They are merrier, too, and I have often thought, “It is not so much that men must work and women must weep, but that men may laugh and women must look shocked.”
But, as I was saying, some people prefer to look up, and others prefer to look down on their companions. Some people, to put it more pleasantry, like to care for and watch over others, while others want to be cared for. So it comes about that some women do not really love children. They may feel such a passion for a man that they long to be the mother of his child, but that is a state of unusual exultation, which in cold blood is repented later. On the other hand, the born mothers—the women who really long for children, to whom it is a terrible deprivation to live without children—are undoubtedly the people who may best be entrusted with the future of the race.
I do not think that we shall ever get mankind to carry out the eugenic ideal of careful breeding, but I do think we might come to a time when the natural instinct of a woman for the fit father of her child will be a very important factor in the arrangements made for the existence and benefit of future generations.
We have such a lumber of useless old ethical codes to get rid of, and such innumerable practical suggestions for race betterment, that we hardly know where to begin. In the Eugenic Review for October, 1909, there is an excellent paper by Mr. Havelock Ellis, which explains a newly discovered and harmless operation which can be performed without making the slightest difference to an individual’s happiness. This operation would prevent him or her from ever becoming a parent. It is hoped that it may some day be used in cases where the heredity is hopelessly bad. It would save a great deal of public expense in cases where the dangerous person would otherwise have to be kept under constant supervision. The great benefit of the discovery is that it has none of the unfortunate effects which often follow from the practice of more Eastern methods of sterilizing the unfit. Contact with radium has also been found to lead to temporary sterility. But although stamping out the worst class of disease and imbecility in one generation would be a tremendous benefit, it is not the only remedy proposed. The encouragement and training of fit men and women—I mean the education in the laws of sexual health—would do a great deal to save the next generations from many ills that are brought upon it by the sheer ignorance of its parents. Here, again, we have to fight the silly conspiracy of silence which leaves schoolboys and schoolgirls to struggle through the early temptations of life without a word of warning from responsible people who have studied the subject of sex.
There is no doubt that the world at present is full of motherly women who have no chance of becoming mothers, and of unmotherly women who have children that they do not want, or more children than they want. It would be a great advance if these arrangements could be readjusted by some slight change of public opinion, guided by the obvious facts of heredity. For instance, it is a fact that some women are very fit to be mothers, and are unattractive as wives. For others, attractive to men as they often are, it is a sin to become mothers. A tuberculous woman is apt to have a much larger family than a normally healthy woman, and that tendency ought to be modified by surgical aid. Even these few suggestions acted upon would help to make the world less full of pain and sorrow.
But we are full of prejudices against these improvements. The old marriage laws, the old ideas of right and wrong remain; religious prejudice lasts far longer than religion; and the world moves on, and everyone hears of improvements that might be made quite easily. But nothing is done because of a public opinion which everyone supposes to exist, but is really a bugbear invented by the Press on the strength of a few letters from the sort of people who write letters of protest to the public libraries. A hundred letters impress an editor, because he forgets the millions of people who do not write letters, but pay all the same.
One of the most serious facts which is alleged with regard to the “Americanism“ I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, is that the nervous sensitiveness from which the women of the United States suffer is caused by their education being too purely intellectual. Now this is probably true. I remember one of the cleverest men I have ever met, the late Professor York Powell, Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, who was an encyclopædia of information, and could assimilate the contents of a book in a phenomenally short time, told me that he meant to paint up the words “Damn Intellect” over his mantelpiece at Christ Church. Intellect has been said to be the result of man’s struggle with material facts, very useful as far as material facts go, but absurdly misleading when applied to the all-important side of our natures which comes under the consideration of the psychologist. The stuffing of one’s head with a lot of undigested knowledge for purposes of examination is not only useless in after life, but really damaging to the vital apparatus. I was myself educated in the colleges of Miss Dorothea Beale and Miss Buss, and I know it took me quite six years to get out of the shell my education had hardened around me. I don’t suppose I should ever have spread my own wings if the beak of my destiny had not been stronger than my overwhelming education, so that it succeeded in hammering through that shell at last.
In the next chapter I hope to show in more detail how women might be educated to deliberately cultivate their instincts, and use them in conjunction with the practical intellect to increase the power of intuitively understanding the consciousness of groups and crowds of people. Above all, how they may learn by definitely guiding the vegetative consciousness to increase the health and beauty of their children.