The Savage, The Barbarian, The Civilized

Modern Woman: Her Intentions
The Savage, The Barbarian, The Civilized

The stately Spaniard, graceful as a tree swaying in its dance with the wind, savage and noble.

The Nihilist Russian, watching in her lair, instinctive and ready to kill. Her hatred of government marking her as the free barbarian.

The Parisian, knowing the correct convention of a funeral or an adultery, civilized and logical to her glove-tips.

Of the three women the two first are simple, but civilization is complex, and it may mean to be cultivated with regard to intellect like the Jesuits, art like the Greeks, morals like the Irish, or religion like the Arab.

In which way will the women of the future develop? Will she strive like the frequenters of the salon of Madame de Rambouillet to excel in intellect, or like Saint Teresa of Spain as a religious mystic? We have seen both these types, and I have no doubt that we shall see many shining examples of morality, but at the moment I cannot think of any conspicuous woman of whom no one has whispered scandal. For in these days if people do not trip in one direction, it is said it is because they prefer to trip in another; and soon it will be taken as a sign of evil life that one should live in a desert on bread and water. I mention in passing that our late Queen is usually admitted to have been conspicuously moral. In the arts we have seen, and hope to see again, great women novelists and actresses. In history we have an array of splendid uncivilized women immortalized from all time—Medea, Electra, the Roman empresses, Queen Maive of Connaught, the Russian heroines. Whether they excelled most as noble savages or as gloriously barbaric haters of ordered life, I cannot stay to consider.

For I want the women who read this book not to dwell upon the past, but to look forward to the great century that is waiting for their alchemy, to transmute its life by giving it a more intent purpose. Are we going to be like the very badly dressed lady of title, whom we heard the other day imploring us to behave ourselves like other people, just as we dressed like other people, in order not to be conspicuous! Or are we really going to make something out of this brilliant opportunity given us by the “refusal of the vote,” and the quickly spreading passion of enthusiasm which is moving the women of all nations to make a fight against the patriarchal faith of the goat-worshippers.

Mr. Gorst says that the object of life is making (moral) love. I think the object of our life is to make experiments, as gardeners make experiments in floriculture. I quarrel with absorption in the family because family jealousy is a bar to that kind of social intercourse which is the only education worth having, and the only experience which can lead to any result worth having. They say in France, “Love is a play in which the acts last five minutes, and the entr’actes for any time you like.” If it filled the whole of life it would only mean that life would be as short as that of the ephemeral winged, creatures of the insect world. Family love cannot absorb us if we wish to survive. We are complicated, and our possibilities of social and political intercourse are a subject of endless interest and inquiry. Let us then start again on our voyages of discovery, this time with a little more purpose in our method and delight in our hearts.

Women want the vote, it is true, but what they want more, and what they are getting, is strength to hammer through the prisons which have kept them for many centuries packed away conveniently for use on occasion. They are all coming out into the daylight for the first time within our memory, and now the real movement of life begins.

We want to change public opinion about divorce, contagious diseases, and forethought with regard to breeding. We want married women to recognize the various proportions of sexuality in each sex, to make allowance for the passionate, and to admit that we are greatly indebted for our culture to individuals who do not desire to be parents.

In conclusion, all I can say is, “Talk! talk! talk!“ We are more moved by one conversation than by many eloquent discourses. After all, what is so permanently delightful as communion of ideas? So once again I say, “Go on talking until the savage, the barbarian, and the civilized women have found out all they can learn from each other. Plenty of men will be glad to help them in their discoveries.”

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