Modern Woman: Her Intentions
It is my conviction that all great changes come from a force that after many years of silence blazes with emotional, passionate enthusiasm. That long period of torpid latent life, once it is liberated from prison, gives driving power. Without silence and darkness no new creature can be brought forth. Without resistance no great desire can be felt. It is i the same with the woman’s movement.
When the vote was refused, the first artillery for the woman’s army was forged. That little request for the vote might have been granted three years ago without making any more difference than the borough council vote here, or the parliamentary vote in New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Finland, and so forth, has made already. That little request, that might have passed almost unnoticed had it been granted, has raised up a powerful body of feeling on both sides, that will end in one of the greatest social revolutions of the time.
Whether women are militant or anti-militant, whether they ask for the vote in order to fight the working man or to join hands with him, whether they content themselves with words of approval and donations, or whether they lose their tempers in denunciation of the un-feminine behaviour of certain brave enthusiasts—yet all the women of many opinions are alike rousing themselves from their former deadly attitude of quiescent acceptance.
The most violent anti-suffragette is obliged to try to understand the questions of social reform in order to protest against them. The most downtrodden wife is hearing rumours that even now there are laws which might protect her from domestic tyranny. The county ladies who never read anything but The Queen, The Spectator, or Punch, protest against the struggle, but admit that it is time that women of property had a vote now that their butlers and coachmen have obtained that privilege. The “too old at thirty” brigade is carrying the campaign into the ballroom and skating-rink. All this is familiar to everyone that moves in English society today, and one word of terror used by men who oppose the vote is heard on all sides. They say the vote is “the thin end of the wedge,” and I reply gladly from my side—not only as a suffragist, but as an onlooker at the loves and hatreds of the sexes—I reply that the wedge is being driven every day. Every day of delay in giving women the vote gives them a power far more deadly, a hope more dangerous, an accomplishment far more vital. It gives them the power of standing up for themselves, freed from the belief in the protection of men. It gives them hope in each other. It teaches them to speak for themselves, and discover the force of their eloquence and the ingenuity of their resources. It is impossible to go to a meeting of the militant party without feeling amazement at the dexterity of all concerned. With wit, with banter, with beauty, with dignity, awkward questions are answered, coarse, jokes are frustrated, and swift as light the laugh is turned against the interrupter.
The odd contrast between the scenes we personally witness and the same scenes served up for breakfast by the daily press, is having some effect in breaking up the touching faith of our foremothers in the accuracy of newspaper reports. Women are awake to public affairs for the first time since the matriarchal period. They are weighing the evidence of the press, they are considering political facts. They are said to be losing the chivalrous adoration of men. But in contrast to the politeness of men to well-dressed, good-looking women, I would call attention to the attitude of a respectable hospital official towards a poor woman who, in November, 1909, brought her little boy as an out-patient.
She arrived very early in order to be able to go to her work with as little delay as possible, and secured a seat before the men, who came in later. When the attendant entered, she was made to go back to the last seat of all and wait for her son to take his turn until all the elder males had been interviewed. “Men come first, your place is at the back,” was all the answer she got to her protests. So much for chivalry when a woman is poor and worn with labour. It is pathetic to see the working woman, apologetic for her poverty, apologetic, for her womanhood, apologetic for her ill-health or any temporary need of help. And I say that the working woman’s heroic patience has been attained by centuries of ill-usage and lack of chivalry. Most women would not understand the idea of chivalry if it were explained to them, so little does it come within their range of experience. We have no conception of the size of the mass we are dealing with. In England and Wales there are about 17 million females. Of these females, 13 million are past childhood, roughly speaking 6 million of these are unmarried, 7 million are married or widows. About 9 million married and unmarried women are unoccupied, or have retired from business; about 4 million are engaged in occupations, and trying to make their own living. Of the 16 million males, about 2 million are unoccupied or retired, 10 million are occupied, and the rest are children. Now we find from the last census that about 7 million women are in charge of a family, and 3 million of these are occupied in business; 6 million women are unmarried, about 1 million of these are occupied in business, and nearly ½ million have independent means. Making allowance for the very young, we have about 2½ million grown women in a dependent position without a husband or an occupation in England and Wales alone.
If one spends an afternoon studying the census returns, one sees in all occupations the well-paid businesses are for men, and the ill-paid for women. In general and local government, defence of the country, and professional occupations, 326 thousand women only have subordinate posts, but there are nearly 2 million in domestic service. Textile manufactures, 663 thousand; dress, 710 thousand; food and lodging, 300 thousand, but in commerce and finance only 60 thousand.
Men can no longer support their daughters, and daughters cannot command good positions in lucrative professions. There are only 7 million families, and at least 4 million grown-up women, unmarried and superfluous as mothers. The working man tells these women to “go home and do the washing.” “ Well,” a virgin replies, “one million of us are working at laundry and other work, under half a million of us are amusing ourselves on independent incomes, and the rest of us have to while away life somehow without money or occupation, so we are making a revolution.”
The struggle for the vote is putting heart into the superfluous woman, and it is putting the hope of reorganizing the market value of women’s labour into her heart. We not only want work, but we want good wages. If we have children we want to be sure they will be cared for and fed. If we keep house we want our wages. The 12 million females that have no independent income cry out to the ½ million that has an independent income, in their almost hopeless struggle to win fair wages. It is interesting to think that out of the total population of about 32½ million in England and Wales, a very little over ½ million are living on independent incomes, and we find that there are less than 100,000 heirs, and more than 400,000 heiresses in this country. The rest, that is 32 million, have to work or starve so as to save enough for their old age. Each person that lives at ease is surrounded by sixty-five people that have to struggle. Each woman that has a husband knows that a widow or spinster stands portionless beside her. Figures are abstractions, but behind these figures are facts and problems that are driving us before them with such resistless cruelty that at last we are determined to cry halt and make a fight—vote or no vote!