Popular Science Monthly/Volume 6/March 1875/Correspondence

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To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly:

IN the article on "Woman's Place in Nature," which appeared in the January number of The Popular Science Monthly, some applications of the general principles enunciated were omitted for the sake of brevity, and, deeming them important, I send them for publication, in continuation of that argument.

Although the characters peculiar to each sex have undoubtedly been acquired under the operation of the same laws, it would seem that men and women have become too much differentiated in their mode of living, for the physical or mental health of either. Among lower animals in a wild state, sex makes little difference in the habits of life; and, among barbarous tribes and races of men, there is little concerted action or differentiation of duties of men and women, except in the conduct of wars of rivalry or defense; and it has always been considered a sign of a higher civilization when woman is released from the heavier kinds of labor, and relegated to a special and different sphere of activity. But civilization, even, may be carried too far, in the extreme separation of men and women in their daily lives, no less than in the generally-acknowledged direction of the excessive refinements of metropolitan life; and there seems to be a tendency to a "reversion" in this respect, in an increasing disposition on the part of women to share, to a fuller extent than heretofore, the labors, the interests, the education, and the recreations, which do so much to give physical health and mental vigor to men. On the other hand, the sexual erethism, amounting to a pathological condition, so frequent among the men of today, may be regarded as an indication in the same direction. The greater strength of sexual passions in men is looked upon as a weakness and degradation by women—the "social evil" being largely attributed to it as a cause. While the brief review of the causes and conditions of the development of the race, given in a former article, shows, if both facts and deductions are accepted, that the higher traits of human character have arisen largely through this inequality, the fact of its having become excessive may be taken as an indication of the desirableness of a "reversion" for men as well as women; and, through a more intimate association in business relations, where the affinities of sex would be less powerfully asserted among sterner interests—where mere entertainment of each other would not be the occupation of the hour, as in social gatherings and dissipations—it is probable that a tendency would arise toward an equalizing of the sexes in this particular, which would contribute to the health of both; and that co-education, though advocated in the interests of women only, would result in advantage to both sexes.

An undue accumulation of electric force terminates in the thunder-bolt, which carries disaster in its pathway; while a more constant communication between cloud and earth tends to the maintenance of a safe equilibrium, by which means catastrophe is averted, and a better atmospheric condition secured.

While it would not be in accordance with the principles of evolution to say that woman does not now occupy her true and natural place in life, the fact of her increasing dissatisfaction with it is evidence that she is moving on to a better one—better, because higher in the scale of evolution. Says Lecky: "That the pursuits and education of women will be considerably altered, and that these alterations will bring with them some modifications of the type of character, may safely be predicted."

Since it is in the direction of greater moral as well as intellectual unfolding that the future progress of the race is undoubtedly to consist, woman will find ample fields for the expenditure of her special force and influence. I would not be understood to discourage women from entering any profession or department of labor to which they may feel themselves called. While thus developing their individual powers, it is probable that all the industries and activities of life would also be bettered by the introduction into their management of the spirit of "greater tenderness and less selfishness" which it would seem that heredity and selection have bestowed upon her. Our courts of law are often characterized by scenes of harshness, and brutality even; and surely the professions of theology and medicine furnish fitting fields for the exercise and culture of these beneficent qualities. Without doubt the possession of these traits, in a somewhat higher degree, by woman than by man, will counterbalance her disabilities in other directions, so that, in the struggle for success, she will suffer no serious disadvantage.

While intellectual arenas may always furnish a neutral ground where the two sexes shall meet on the common basis of actual achievement—where all work shall be submitted to the common test of merit—in matters of general interest to society, qualities essentially masculine on the one hand, or peculiarly feminine on the other, will turn the balance of power according as the interests or necessities of the hour are best subserved thereby. The existence of war would seem to furnish an extreme case in which masculine traits would be in the ascendant, and receive supreme consideration; but the hospital and the ambulance—the sanitary commission and the nurses' field-staff—present the converse of the picture, where feminine qualities assert their natural supremacy. On the other hand, "the instinct and genius for charity," ascribed to woman, find their executive force in the masculine arm, always at her command in carrying out her most generous conceptions.

Thus the contrasting phases of human nature meet and blend, like the forces at the opposite extremes of the spectrum, which, presenting the unlike characteristics of heat and actinism, unite in the visible middle ground, and speak in the beautiful language of color. Unrefracted, the full white ray of perfect light is manifested as a unit.

Solicitude is sometimes expressed lest an enlargement of the activities of woman, and the consequent mingling in the ruder scenes of life, should impair the delicacy and refinement which belong to womanhood; but this would seem to be a needless anxiety. Traits of character so inwoven in the very fibre of the nature as those which distinguish the sexes will not be easily eradicated, and the same laws which are now at work to check the too great differentiation of both in the direction in which they have hitherto tended, will prevent any excess of reaction. In this imperfect review of a subject commensurate with the history of the human race, at least, and generally believed to extend its rootlets to the lowest grades of organic life, we have seen that the key to the history of the evolution of the race lies in the distinction of sex.

This distinction, making its appearance at the very threshold of development of organized structures, pari passu becomes more marked and intricate with increased complexity of form and function, till perfect dualism is reached and exemplified in man, the crowning result of creation by evolution.

Its two phases, male and female, are not opposed in the sense of being antagonistic, but complementary rather, and so related that each finds development only in and through the other.

In the eloquent language of Roehsig—"The law of polarity, which applies seemingly to all inorganic Nature and controls the realm of life, gains its crowning efflorescence in the distinction of sex, and asserts its dominion over the operations of mind itself."

Frances Emily White, M. D.
Philadelphia, January 20. 1875.