The Feminist Movement/Chapter 11

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Much of the opposition to woman suffrage on the part of wage-earning and professional men is born of the instinctive fear that it threatens in some mysterious way their means of living. Numerous inventions of labour-saving machinery of every variety have reduced the number of workers, the competition of the dispossessed has caused wages to fall, and life has become so hazardous for the workers that many of them, quite naturally, shrink from increasing the risks and difficulties of their position by encouraging an increase in the number of women competitors for their work. If it is true that woman suffrage will have the effect of robbing large numbers of men of their employment, and replacing them with women, one must look sympathetically at the opposition which arises from the fact. It is the firm belief of woman suffragists that the direct opposite of this will be the case, and that men will gain rather than lose from the improvement in the wages and general labour conditions which they hope to see as a result of the political enfranchisement of women.

No person who thinks at all can fail to be touched by any plea from labour for an improvement in its condition. When it is realised that the wealthiest country in the world pays over two millions of its male workers less than 25s. a week, that twelve millions of the working classes do not get enough of the ordinary necessaries of life to maintain a decently comfortable existence, that more than one-fourth of the working people of the country live in houses that do not conform to the requirements of the law in matters pertaining to sanitation and the provision of air-space, and that six millions of infants have died during the last fifty years, most of whom should have been living men and women to-day, it is quite impossible to be averse from doing anything or supporting any cause which would make the hard lot and heavy burden of the toilers harder and heavier to bear. The question of the labour of women cannot be considered apart from a number of grave considerations bearing upon the welfare of the race; but its consideration involves the recognition at the outset of the following hard facts.

The destiny of the normal woman is undoubtedly marriage and motherhood. This, under any form of government and in any system of society, is the life that the normal woman will choose. It is amazing folly to talk and write as though the natural work of women was so repugnant to them that only the compulsion of slavery could induce them to do it. Most women have been trained to believe that marriage, with all that it implies, is the end and aim of every woman's existence, the most honourable calling they could pursue. Most of them desire it; but what of the facts? There are considerably over a million more females than males in the country, so that, to begin with, at least a million women will not be able to follow their natural and desired vocation. The special danger of many male callings, such callings as fighting, fishing, mining, and chemical working, reduces still further the number of men. The fearful struggle for a living wage and the precariousness of employment prevent many of the more thoughtful from undertaking the duties which matrimony brings in its train. The higher standard of living, and the love of comfort, makes others equally reluctant to take upon themselves heavy responsibilities. In addition to all these obstacles to marriage for women there is the poverty which necessitates their entering the labour market. This poverty compels a working-class father to send his daughters to the shop or the factory as soon as they leave school; and the wisdom of the better-off parent, who seeks to fit his daughters for any emergency which may arise by giving them a trade or a profession, saves them from the horrors of helpless dependency.

All these causes have combined to make the work of women a necessity, and time has made of it a fact which has to be reckoned with. Between five and six millions of women are to-day earning their own living. If in the future this number becomes larger it will be because the need for it is greater. Large considerations of the effect of her work here and there, on this person and on that, will not enter into the thought of the workgirl wanting food and shelter. She will do what she can and take what she can get. The problem for earnest-minded men and women, feminists and others, is not whether or not women should work outside their homes, but rather, how may women be properly equipped for the duty of supporting themselves, without injury to their special work as actual or prospective mothers, and with the minimum of injury and inconvenience to those men who have families to support. The unmarried men may take their chance in the open market with their unmarried, self-supporting sisters.

On the question of the economic position of woman, suffragists are divided. In the opinion of a considerable section the number of women's occupations should be strictly limited, their hours and conditions of labour should be regulated by Parliament, and their wages should not be the same as those of men for the same work. Others hold the contrary view on each of these points. Most of them are agreed that, whatever restrictions are established, and whatever regulations are enforced, women themselves should be partners to them, and should not be governed in these matters of intimate concern to themselves without their knowledge and consent.

The out-and-out feminist has very definite views on the subject of women's labour. She is in favour of throwing open to women all professions and occupations which are open to men. She is opposed to all legal restrictions and regulations of women's work which do not govern the work of their male associates, and she is emphatically in favour of equal pay for equal work, a formula which may mean something or nothing, as the case may be.

The admission of women to every profession, business, and trade is an idea very repugnant to a great many people. The untrained and half-trained human mind, with its extraordinary facility for leaping to the extremes of imagination, pictures a country defended by women soldiers, whose ships are manned by women sailors, whose streets are patrolled by women policemen, whose Benches are filled with women magistrates, and whose Parliamentary Chambers are filled with women politicians. It is assumed in the most inconsequential manner and without any relation to the possibilities of the case, that women are only waiting for the opportunity, to leap into all these exceptional offices and drive men out of them. Paris has a number of women cabdrivers; San Francisco has women jurors; Finland has women members of Parliament; Minneapolis has a woman policeman, doing excellent work in the dance-halls of the city; but there is no evidence to show that there is more than a handful of women in the whole wide world occupying positions and doing work which the common sense of women would say was best done in the main by men.

The feminist would throw open the work to women, and afterwards would rely on the common sense of her sex, a quality which may safely be trusted if one may judge from the past, to save women from entering those walks of life which, for natural reasons, they cannot fill with credit to themselves and profit to the general community. Such occupations as involve the use, on occasion, of enormous physical strength, the common sense of women would save them from the folly and impropriety of entering. Though women have been soldiers and sailors, it is safe to assume that these two spheres at least will be the preserves of the male half of humanity.

An examination of the statistics bearing on the problem of women's labour reveals the fact that there are really very few occupations of any sort now which women may not enter. In the industrial world they are co-workers with their fathers and brothers. Sometimes there is a difference in the actual process of manufacture which occupies them, the work requiring more muscle being given to the men, whilst that requiring a finer touch is done by the women; but the outstanding and important fact is that there is the industrial woman as well as the industrial man. Most of the professions are now open to women. Their struggle to win an entry into the medical profession has been already described, and their fight for education also. Now, in addition to doctors and teachers, women are lecturers, editors, architects, accountants, house decorators, dentists, and chemists. There are about two hundred women chemists in the country. Many women are making plans and designing buildings after having been articled to such architects as were willing to receive them into their offices. Two women recently passed the very difficult examination set by the Royal Institute of British Architects, and one of these ladies won the silver medal for the prize essay in architecture. The Architectural Association of London declines to admit women either as members or as students. Probably this is due to the fact that the profession is terribly overcrowded, and the young architects it trains have great difficulty in securing work on account of the already tremendous competition.

Although neither the Institute of Chartered Accountants nor the Society of Incorporated Accountants and Auditors admits women, and thus precludes their getting the best-paid work, women are practising Accountancy, and it is generally agreed that this profession is particularly suitable for the clever, hard-working woman. The two great professions entirely closed to women at present are those of the Law and the Church. The feminist would open both these, admitting women to the Bar and the pulpit on the same terms and conditions as men.

The opposition to the woman lawyer is much the same as that which the woman doctor had to fight—prejudice and professional jealousy. The real argument is hidden in a cloud of words meant to convince the world of the natural disability of women, their sensitiveness, their delicacy, their utter lack of the logical faculty, all of which objections have been proved baseless by the thousand practising women lawyers of the United States of America. Great Britain is one of the very few great nations of the world where women may not practise law after having properly qualified; but no doubt it will be put down, amongst other similar things, as evidence of the national lack of a sense of humour! In January, 1913, by an overwhelming majority, the Council of the English Bar rejected a proposal to admit women.

The opposition of the Church to the ordination of the woman preacher is of the same sort, but differently cloaked. In this case the sacred teachings are summoned to the aid of the prejudiced ones, and the dead hand is made to strangle the living thought. This is particularly true of the Roman Catholic Church and the Established Churches of England and Scotland, in whose pulpits no woman is permitted to speak to the congregation. It is less true of the Nonconformist Churches, which permit women to preach sermons, as lay persons, on occasion. The Unitarian Church has one properly ordained woman minister in Dr Gertrud von Petzold, and the Congregational Church recognises the Rev. Hattie Baker. The Society of Friends makes no distinction between its men and women in the matter of public speech on sacred themes, nor do the Theosophists, Christian Scientists, and the promoters of Higher Thought. In the great Ethical Movement women speakers are recognised as of equal value with their men speakers when they have a message to deliver; Swedenborgianism gives a high place to the woman prophet. There are thousands of women preachers in the Salvation Army and women missioners in every part of the country.

Thus the argument that women should keep silent in the Churches is no longer of any potency, seeing that women are constantly speaking there, except in those sections of the Universal Church already named, the Anglican, the Roman Catholic, and the Presbyterian.

A rigid interpretation of the letter of Christian teaching is here made to exclude gifted women from the high offices of the Church. Even the Nonconformists, who in practice are less official, generally decline to ordain women to the ministry and to provide them with opportunities of studying for this important office.

One would almost rather believe that prejudice and not professional jealousy was the chief cause of this behaviour. It is not a pleasant thought that, for the sake of incomes to be drawn, and by the competition of women to be endangered, clergy and ministers oppose the pulpit for women. It surely cannot be that Paul, the strict upholder of the customs, good and bad, of his country and of his times, holds higher place in the opinion of Christian leaders than the holy Founder of their Faith, who knew nothing of sex discrimination, and whose gentle spirit and teaching reveal nothing which warrants the prohibition of the woman who is moved to proclaim His truth.

The overwhelming majority of the people attending the Churches of every denomination are women. The hardest Church-workers are women. The finances of the Free Churches are kept up chiefly by the efforts of women. The lower offices of the Churches are filled by women. Women are Sunday School Teachers, Class Leaders, Missioners, Singers, Band of Hope Workers, Sisters of Mercy, District Visitors, Deacons, Trustees, Delegates to Conference in one or more of the various Churches of the land. Why not fully trained and ordained ministers, if qualified by natural gifts, character, and training for the high and holy office? One effect of the woman preacher would most certainly be an improvement in the quality of preaching. There is scarcely room for a doubt that the fact of having so many women in his congregation, joined to the unconscious but real feeling that the high intellectual appeal would be lost on them, is responsible for very much of the nonsense that flows so easily from the lips of many a pulpit orator.

The woman preacher would bring to the new work the conscientiousness and zeal which the woman has brought to every new work she has undertaken. The gift of intuition, the instinctive passion for the giving of herself, the mother spirit, all of which make for a readier recognition of the inwardness of things and for the awakening of cosmic consciousness, would make of the woman preacher a competitor in higher things worth striving against. Moreover, it is quite sure that the women in the pews would not tolerate from the lips of a woman in the pulpit the kind of preaching they are frequently compelled to listen to to-day because it is the best that may be had. It is certain that there would be no great rush of women to the pulpit, but how mistaken, from the point of view of the community, to close the lips of those who have been touched with the live coal from the altar for no better reason than that they are women.

John Stuart Mill has said, in relation to this question of women's work: 'Is there so great a superfluity of men fit for high duties that society can afford to reject the service of any competent person? Are we so certain of always finding a man made to our hands for any duty or function of social importance which falls vacant, that we lose nothing by putting a ban upon one-half of mankind, and refusing beforehand to make their faculties available, however distinguished they may be? And even if we could do without them, would it be consistent with justice to refuse to them their fair share of honour and distinction, or to deny to them the equal moral right of all human beings to choose their occupation (short of injury to others) according to their own preferences, at their own risk? Nor is the injustice confined to them: it is shared by those who are in a position to benefit by their services. To ordain that any kind of person shall not be physicians, or shall not be advocates, or shall not be members of Parliament, is to injure not them only, but all who employ physicians and advocates, or elect members of Parliament, and who are deprived of the stimulating effect of greater competition on the exertions of the competitors, as well as restricted to a narrower range of choice.'

These words of wisdom apply also to the great offices of the Church.

With regard to the second point in the feminist's economic code, her objection to the regulation of women's labour: her chief objection to this is simply that it puts women at a disadvantage in the competition for work and makes it more difficult for them to earn a living. This is sometimes true, and if it were possible to improve the condition of one set of workers without damaging in some measure another set, one would like to do it. It does not seem to be possible. Trade, industry, commerce, finance are so intricately intertwined, so delicately balanced, that a movement in one quarter sets up a corresponding movement in the whole fabric, and hundreds, sometimes thousands, are affected who never dreamt of being brought within the sphere of its influence. The guiding rule here as in all things should be the greatest good of the greatest number, the true interests of society as a whole; and measured by this standard, all but the most anarchistic spirits, those who object to regulation in any and every form, must protest against the slackening of certain regulations of women's labour.

Every woman is a potential mother. This means more than the potential fatherhood of every man, for the woman's body may be requisitioned for a special work. This fact is the justification for the regulation of women's work more than men's, the sufficient reason for establishing a minimum of conditions which no employer shall be permitted to violate. It is good, on the whole, that women should not work in factories at night. It is good that the number of hours young persons of eighteen shall work per week should be limited. It is good that a woman shall not be permitted to return to work too soon after the birth of a child. It would be an altogether beneficial thing if the prospective mother could be kept at home six months before and six months after the birth of a child. It would be better still if women could be kept at home altogether until their children themselves are working for money. This, of course, presupposes some scheme of State Aid or Maintenance of Mothers, the provision by society of some independent means during the child-bearing period, provided the children were well cared for, which should be sufficient in amount to compensate for the giving up of the ordinary vocation, and which should be secured for the uses of the mother as her personal, private income. If this were done, public opinion would soon condemn the woman who neglected her young children for gainful pursuits. As things are at present, public opinion is aware that poverty drives many mothers to work to provide their children with the things which they need, and which the husband's wages are inadequate to provide.

Until some scheme of compensation to mothers for the giving up of their independent work is devised, the feminist opinion of the country will be needed to control the well-meaning philanthropist, who, deploring the evils of infant mortality, is seeking by legislation to prohibit altogether the labour of married women. Such legislation would be a terrible step backward, and a lowering of the married status which would effectively reduce the number of satisfactory marriages. The other way is the better one. Let the child-bearing woman be suitably maintained for her important work, and allow the childless married woman or the married woman with grown-up children to pursue her calling; it will be better for her and better for society as a whole that she should do so.

The competition of the married woman teacher with the single woman teacher has given rise to an interesting controversy on the question of married women's labour. There are interesting and effective arguments on both sides. It is certainly hard on a girl who has, at some cost, and at great toil, secured her training, to find herself unable to get a post, especially when she knows that many teachers who are employed are married. On the other hand, the married woman is frequently an excellent teacher, with very special qualifications for her work, especially amongst infants, and is much more usefully employed teaching than in dusting rooms and boiling potatoes, which others less intellectual can do. Moreover, she frequently has some one at home to maintain. The matter, seemingly, is not one for legislation but for local arrangement. A fixed rule, closing the doors to all married women, would be very unwise, from the point of view of the public. Each case is one to be taken on its merits, and the best thing in the circumstances should be done; at the same time, it is only fair to point out that, as regards this particular profession, there need be no dearth of posts for teachers. If the ratepayer could forget the amount of his rates in the contemplation of the common good, or if education could become a national charge, the enormous classes of most elementary schools might be reduced, in which case the supply of teachers would be considerably below the demand.

It is difficult, in writing on the question of wages, to advocate anything which may not react injuriously upon some other section of the workers. The largest factor, though by no means the only one, in the regulation of wages is supply and demand. The demand for weavers in the cotton industry is, at the moment of writing, greater than the supply, so prosperous is that particular industry. The case of the elementary school teachers is of the opposite sort: there the supply exceeds the demand. The wages of domestic servants are relatively high because the supply of trained domestics is much smaller than the demand. On the other hand, the appallingly low wages which women receive in a hundred sweated industries are the natural fruits of an over-supply of women who can do those kinds of work.

The feminist maintains, and not only the feminist but humane people of every class and of every political party, that there are points at which the law must be set in motion to control the law of supply and demand; that limit must be set to the exploiting power of the employer of labour. Quite recently Wages Boards were established, which have fixed the legal minimum, below which no employer may go, in four of the country's most sweated industries—lace-making, tailoring, chain-making, and box-making.

Those interested in the sweated woman worker are endeavouring to bring certain other disreputable and badly-paid work under the Wages Boards Act, such for instance as the hollow ware makers, who have just won the princely wage of twopence an hour after a prolonged strike involving hideous sufferings. Those poor creatures who make a dozen blouses for ninepence, a dozen shirts for the same sum, finding their own thread and machine, ought to be protected by law. So ought the cigarette makers, the paper-flower makers, the hook-and-eye carders, and a score of other kinds of workers whose miserable wages vary from one penny to threepence an hour. Even the Government of the country is not guiltless of exploiting its defenceless, voteless women citizens. Women are working for the Government, making army clothing and mail-bags for wages which would disgrace the private employer. Quite recently a poor woman who was charged with trying to commit suicide told the magistrates that she was engaged in making trousers for the police and clothing for soldiers, and that, by working nearly eleven hours a day, she could scarcely make a shilling a day. For making a pair of Territorial riding breeches she received eightpence, and she found it to be utterly impossible to make two pairs in one day.

Women receive no advantage from the Fair Wages Clause, which, by law, is supposed to secure fair rates of pay to all employed in Government work. 'Having regard to wages current in the district' is the phrase employed in the Fair Wages Clause, and, as women are very badly paid in most districts outside Lancashire, the inevitable result appears, and the Government takes no steps to remedy it. In every case, the women employees of the Government are paid less than the men, even when the work is the same, with the single very modern exception of the Insurance Commissioners, who were given the same salaries as the men because it would have been a valuable argument for the woman suffragists if this had not been done. In Australia, where women have the vote, the Government has fixed a minimum wage for State employees, the same for women as for men.

It is believed by all qualified to express an opinion that one of the inevitable and speedy results of woman suffrage would be the establishment of the principle of equal pay for equal work in all Government workrooms. It is important that it should be so, since there is no doubt that the standard set by the Government, the greatest employer of labour in the land, has a considerable influence upon the private employers all over the country. These cannot be expected to take all the risks which the private employer in competition with his fellows must take, and pay better wages than the Government with all the resources of the country at its command. By fixing a legal minimum, appointing factory inspectors, shortening hours, safeguarding machinery, protecting Trade Unions, and in a hundred other ways improving labour conditions, the Government of the country is really raising the wages of its people, since it is providing more leisure, safety, and security, for the same money that was available before the legislation was enacted.

The feminist principle of equal pay for equal work meets with a considerable amount of opposition, not only from men moved by professional jealousy, but from the very people it is hoped to benefit by the establishment of the principle. Men argue that the work of women is not in any circumstances as good as their own. They point out that the effect of such a demand by the women would probably mean a reduction in their own wages or salaries. This, it is pointed out, has happened again and again, notably in New York quite recently, where the wages of the men teachers have been slightly lowered to equal the women teachers' salaries, which have been raised. It is maintained by the men that their salaries are calculated on a family basis, and that single women ought to be content with less.

Women who argue this point lose no self-respect by admitting the truth of much of the objection. The unit of calculation is probably the family, and it is not fair to seek to get over the difficulty by suggesting an additional grant to the man for every member of the family he is called upon to support. The effect of such a rule would be that single men would be engaged and would probably be dismissed when they married. Similarly with the women with dependants, who would come under the same rule. Those women without encumbrances would have preference over those with dependants. A slight lowering of the salaries of men by a mean-spirited public body anxious to cut down expenses is to be deplored, as all decreases in wages are to be deplored where none are very high; but looking at the thing broadly and without sex-bias, it is better that all should be paid moderately well than that some should have more than others for precisely the same work. A strong Trade Union or Professional Union might command for its workers any reasonable rate of pay it chose to demand, and the difficulty might be obviated in this way.

There appears to be no way satisfactory to the father of a family who rightly thinks he deserves more for the additional service he is rendering society; but if he will bear in mind this one great fact, he will probably become reconciled to his position. If the principle of equality of payment be established in every trade and industry in the country, a much greater number of men will probably find work than at present. The reason for the employment of women in such enormous numbers is not that their work is so much better than that of the men, but because they have been, and are, willing to work for less money. No business man with any common sense is going to employ a man at thirty shillings a week when he can get the work done nearly, if not quite, as well for fifteen shillings. Men have permitted women to undersell them in this way to such an extent that thousands of men are tramping the streets looking for work, whilst their daughters, for half the money they could command, are doing the work which should have been theirs. It is the business of the Trade Unions to organise the women and compel them to demand the same wage for the same work. Then men will be employed, except in those occupations where women are obviously more fitted for the work than men. It is quite certain that if the Lancashire Textile Unions had not brought the women into their Unions the whole of the Lancashire cotton trade might have passed into the hands of women. As it is, there are more women engaged in this industry than men.

The argument just put forward to persuade men to accept the principle is the argument which women opponents of the proposal use against it. They do not want to lose their work. They cannot afford to lose it, and this is precisely what they fear from the equalisation of the rate of pay.

Of course, equal pay for equal work must mean what it says. If women permit themselves privileges which are denied to the men workers in the same business or trade, regular days off for sickness, shorter hours, less responsibility, they must not call it 'equal work.' If women work hard and fit themselves for their work, and by their power to do it clearly demonstrate to an employer that it is to his interest to employ them, they will not be in such sore straits as they imagine. It will be a spur to their effort to do excellent work, and much more dignified than to be employed because they are cheap; and society is the gainer. One argument for the equalisation of remuneration for men and women is that the community will get the best work, for there will be no temptation to employ bad workers simply because their work is cheap.

It is feared by many that the unemployment of women consequent upon the equal pay principle being accepted will crowd a few occupations and bring down wages to starvation point in work previously well paid, such, for example, as skilled domestic service. The equal pay principle will not be accepted by every industry simultaneously, but gradually, as public opinion demands it, and the industry affected will have time to adjust itself to the new conditions. Trade Unionism is the immediate remedy for the too serious lowering of wages, and the enfranchisement of women would probably do more for the enactment of a legal minimum wage in all low-paid employments than any other one thing.

This question of wages is an extremely complicated one, and one which the lay mind can scarcely hope to handle with intelligence. Economic problems have largely to work themselves out, legislators combining with the public to improve conditions as special problems and special issues arise. In this way has this country moved from the day of the first Factory Act. In this way shall we continue to move. Meantime, it is necessary to understand the feeling of irritation produced in the minds of women when they see themselves paid for their good work half the price that is paid to men for the same work, and when they know that the white slave market and the dreadful profession of the streets are supplied from the women victims of commercialism, the sweated slaves of industry.

The attempt of women to enter the professions has met, and is meeting, with the bitterest opposition. Appeals are made to their woman's delicacy and refinement and their constitutional unfitness for hard work. But these arguments are seldom heard of the poor women workers whose occupations are badly paid. Their work is not thought by the same people to be unwomanly and degrading; it is only the better-paid work that is supposed to be unsexing and degrading. This kind of reasoning makes very determined feminists, men and women who hate cant, and who want a human life, a fair field and no favour, for every woman and every man.