The Feminist Movement/Chapter 3

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Wherever feminism has appeared as an organised force, it has concentrated upon some particular item of its programme and has not proclaimed the full gospel of feminism. There has been no dishonesty in this. It simply points to the fact that few people have favoured the complete freedom of women, but that many were able to unite for a partial enfranchisement or a specific demand. It is to the unmeasured language, to the passionate and unwisely expressed enthusiasm of the extremist and the fanatic that the critical outsider's suspicion of the larger, more temperate, movement is due. Let the timid console himself with the knowledge that the world has no room for fanatics. One is born now and then, to shake the sleepy world and rouse it to action; but he dies, and the world resumes its jog-trot pace.

The women's movement has everywhere evolved along certain definite lines, and these are very much the same wherever the movement has presented itself. First has come the struggle for educational opportunity; then, as an inevitable corollary, women have striven to qualify themselves for callings, up to that time the special preserve of men, in which to apply their newly gained knowledge. They have sought to enter the learned professions. Side by side with these activities, women have endeavoured to fit themselves by special training for philanthropic work on a larger scale than the baronial household or the village community afforded. These endeavours developed naturally and inevitably into a demand for more public authority and the power to elect local representatives. In this country, for reasons which will be forthcoming later, the movement is placing its emphasis at present upon the political enfranchisement of women. This does not mean that everything has been acquired which the leaders of the other sectional movements demanded. There are still educational opportunities and rewards granted to British men and denied to British women. Women are still excluded from many of the learned professions on account of their sex. The number of women who may vote for local governing bodies and sit on local councils is still very small, and the qualifications necessary for the woman voter for town and district councils are very restrictive.

The United States of America, and Great Britain, with her colonies on the other side of the world, are the countries in which most liberty for women has been won. The Germanic countries generally have permitted their women to achieve more liberty and opportunity than the other great groups of countries. The Romance countries are far behind the Teutonic communities in their treatment of women, whilst the Slavic and Oriental races are still in the earlier stages of development in this particular. It will not be possible, and it certainly is not necessary, to give a detailed account of the position and the activities of the women in each of the countries which fall under one or another of these denominations. A broad statement of the general position of the women in typical and important countries at the present time, taken from each of these convenient divisions of the human family, will be sufficiently interesting and illuminating.

Let China, the latest to rouse herself from the slumber of ages, be the first to give an account of the way in which she treats her women in these present days. The general facts about the position of the Chinese woman up to quite recent times are very well known. Every little learner of geography in the public elementary schools remembers the thrill of horror which ran through her whole body as she listened to the story of the cruel mothers who left their girl babies to die on doorsteps, or who threw them into the rivers for the sharks and crocodiles to eat. The bandaged foot of the poor little Chinese girl has been a scandal and an outrage for centuries.

By an edict of 1908, the bandaging of their girl children's feet was forbidden to Chinese parents, but Mrs Chapman Catt, the President of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, who recently travelled in China with the object of gleaning information about the women of that vast Repubic, informs us that the custom, though illegal, is still practised. She may be permitted to speak in her own words of the scene of which she and her friends were eye-witnesses. She says: 'We saw these small-footed creatures, coming up and going down the gang-planks of ships, and although the custom is now illegal, the majority of women here still have bound feet. All such women hobble as though the leg below the knee were wooden. Many cannot walk without steadying themselves by taking hold of something. The poorer women have been obliged to labour, feet or no feet, but they cannot do it in a normal way, and we often see them creeping on their knees or sitting down and hitching themselves along in an attempt to do their work. We have seen thousands of women at work in cigar and silk factories, all with bound and useless feet. But this is not the worst part of the story. Women with bound feet are obliged to walk on their heels, and this throws the body out of its true position, with the result that the pelvis becomes misshapen and motherhood rendered exceedingly difficult and perilous.'

Mrs Catt tells us that one effect of this cruel practice, and of the lack of proper physical exercise for which it is responsible, is to be seen in the uniformly smaller stature of the Chinese women when compared with the Chinese men.

One is given to understand that the education of the wealthier Chinese women has been going on for more than a generation, and that education of a sort is becoming more and more general. This has not yet led to the abolition of forced and early marriages, with the right of the husband to take any number of concubines should the legal wife fail to produce an heir. Nor has the destruction of girl babies ceased. The earnings of the Chinese wife still belong to her husband; but, as the law requires that the husband should be the bread-winner, no court, it is said, would enforce the husband's claim on the earnings of the wife.

The Chinese woman can own property only when she is a widow. Until that time she is the thrall of her father, husband, and mother-in-law; but, contrary to the custom in India, the Chinese widow may remarry. Suicides amongst the lower orders of Chinese women are very common indeed, and travellers report that the sufferings of these women are unbelievable.

In response to the demand of the newly-educated women, there are several newspapers devoted to the special interests of women. When preparations for the revolution were being made, the Chinese women, for the first time in their history, were asked to help with the work and share the risk involved in this stupendous upheaval, with its proposed change of government. The women responded in great numbers, for it was the first call ever made to their humanity, and the first demand upon their patriotism. They became indefatigable workers, many of them losing their lives in the work. They organised clubs which they called 'Dare to die' clubs. They smuggled ammunition into the country for the use of the rebels. They fought by the side of the men in many an encounter, and mounted the scaffold with them when taken prisoners. They organised the hospital work and nursed the sick and the wounded.

Their revolutionary clubs they have since converted into woman suffrage clubs, of which there are several with more than two hundred members each. The popular vote has not been given to the women by the successful Republicans, but the women of the Canton Province voted for their Provisional Assembly, and the Assembly itself, a law-making body, contained nine women members. Of their deliberations, Mrs Chapman Catt was on one occasion an interested and delighted spectator.

The wealthier women in China fill in their time making garments for their families, and in working at all kinds of beautiful embroideries. The women who must earn their living are employed much as are the women of Western lands, though, in Great Britain, one never sees women dock labourers, a common occupation for women in China. Their wages are anything from a half to two-thirds of the wages paid to men for the same kind and quality of work.

The world will hear from China yet if she develops her new powers along the lines of her own natural evolution. She will surely fail if she tries to graft on to an ancient plant new and entirely alien shoots. Whatever is of the essence of true progress she must necessarily absorb; whatever makes for the elevation of human character and the raising of the value of individual human life and the preservation of human liberty she will be wise to acquire; but let her never strive to adopt, down to the last detail, the manners, customs, and habits of the Western world, nor its devastating vices, spirit-drinking and the like. The problem of China and of all these awakening Eastern empires, is to blend the Western spirit of liberty with the native Eastern habit and practice, to take what is good from the West and so to assimilate it, that, while being in no way destructive of the native genius of the people, it will become, in very truth, a part of itself. That way lies greatness unimaginable for the teeming millions of the Orient; and towards that greatness no step that they may take could be safer and surer than the education, enlightenment, and emancipation of the future mothers.

India is frequently spoken of as 'the brightest jewel in the Imperial crown'; and so it may be some day, when the Indian feminist movement has done its perfect work. India has three hundred millions of people, of many races and of many tongues, of different religions and of various castes. These facts make the solution of the woman question, as of all questions in India, a highly complex and exceedingly difficult matter. Many thousands of women, who might otherwise strive for a larger opportunity and a wider outlook for themselves than the zenana affords, are kept humble and bound by those interested in keeping them so, who threaten them with loss of caste and consequent loss of future happiness if they come into contact with infidels and aliens.

Others, notably the Parsee women, upon whom this fear does not rest, are appalled at the difficulty of the task in front of them. Nevertheless, Indian women of culture, who have gained the necessary qualifications, can enter a profession which is entirely closed to the women of this country. The habit of secluding their women and forbidding all strange men from entering the women's quarters, or the zenana, has made it difficult for women to engage the services of a lawyer in their interests; and for this reason it has been permitted to women to become lawyers that they may act on behalf of their own sex.

The British Government has forbidden the cruel practice, until quite recent times a matter of common occurrence, of throwing girl babies into rivers. It has also forbidden human sacrifices, either of human creatures to their deities or of widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. The abolition of suttee has accomplished only half the work necessary for making life tolerable to the unhappy Indian widow. Child marriages are still universal, little girls of five and six being engaged by their parents to youths of like tender age or to grown men, as the case may be. English women physicians tell harrowing stories of these poor little child-wives and mothers, how they beg, with tears streaming from their eyes, that the good ladies will 'make them die.' The report they give is too horrible to read, but it makes the care of Indian women and children a burden upon the heart and conscience of every thinking woman of the governing nation.

Widows may not remarry, and as women are looked upon simply as adjuncts of their husbands, they have to excuse themselves continually for being alive. Only the birth of a son can give the wife any status in the eyes of family and community; then the sole joy that lies in front of her is in the prospect of some day being able to govern that son's house, and heap upon his wife, or wives, the suffering she herself has endured.

There are high schools for girls in all the great cities of India. Progressive Indian women have made use of the education they have been fortunate enough to secure in these schools to have themselves trained as teachers and doctors, nurses and missionaries. They visit the zenanas, and endeavour to show the poor ignorant inmates how to live hygienic lives. In most of the Native States there is elementary education in the vernacular for both sexes up to a certain age. Many of the best educated women of India are women of known immoral behaviour, according to Western standards, beautiful dancing women, probably women who have deliberately chosen that life, as did many of the most famous of the Greek Hetairœ, because of the larger opportunity of culture that it offered. It is less their fault than the fault of others that they are forced to employ in the offices of passion the intellectual gifts and acquirements that might, with fair opportunity, have given them a place on the scroll of the world's famous women. The most active women for the emancipation of their sex are the Parsee women, whilst many highly-endowed Indian women are engaged in the Nationalist movement which seeks to establish self-government for India.

India has had many splendid and distinguished women in the days of her departed glory, women who were queens, ruling over great States, and women who fought by the side of men in the wars between the various native princes of pre-British days. There is a woman ruler at the present time, the Begum of Bhopal, who attended the coronation of our present King. She preserved her Eastern attire during her visit to this country, wearing in public the thick veil which it is decreed all virtuous Mohammedan women shall use.

India is truly Britain's brightest jewel—and her greatest responsibility. Some day it will become a self-governing part of the great Federation of which Australia and New Zealand, Canada and South Africa are parts. No single other thing will make more for the stability and humanity of that government of the future than the complete enfranchisement of India's women.

The recent war between the Turks and the Christian peoples of the Balkans makes the consideration of the position of Turkey's women interesting and opportune. As in all Mohammedan countries, these women are bound by their Koran. The Bible of Mohammed allows, in theory at any rate, a much better status to women and much larger opportunities than certain existing codes of supposedly progressive Christian peoples—witness the Code Napoleon. The inferiority of woman is, of course, insisted upon, and if she would reach heaven, it must be through her husband! In these circumstances it is, perhaps, supposed to be a charity to women to permit polygamy, and allow each husband to marry four wives if he chooses. The Koran permits to the wife the position of a person in the eyes of the law, and recognises the title of the wife to the separate ownership of her own property, to dispose of or to control as she pleases; but the habit of seclusion makes these provisions little more than a theory, seldom taken advantage of by the women of the harem.

Mohammedan women of rank and wealth must never appear in public unveiled, and their part of the house, the harem, must never see the presence of strange men. During the revolution carried out by the Young Turks, the educated and advanced women of Turkey appealed to the revolutionaries for help towards their own enfranchisement. Many women of rank walked the streets without veils in those wonderful days, a thing hitherto unprecedented; they even made speeches at meetings of women, and supported a programme of reforms to which the leaders of the new movement gave, at that time, their consent and approval. This list of reforms included the prohibition by law of polygamy; freedom for the woman to choose her own husband; the right of a woman to file a petition for divorce; education for women and the training of them to act on their own initiative and to take upon themselves responsibilities. The Young Turk has, however, disappointed the watching world, and in nothing so much as in his throwing over the women and closing upon them the door of the harem.

The Mohammedan woman of the lower classes is free to come and go as she pleases; but she is the chattel of her husband, and the hard and sustained labour which fills her days has made her, in many respects, little better in intelligence and capacity than a four-footed beast of burden. English and American women are actively interesting themselves in the Mohammedan women, and seeking to let some rays of light into the thickly curtained chambers of the harem. The freeing of Turkish women is only a matter of time. When once the charm of freedom has been felt by individuals and by nations, every misfortune, every relapse, every backward step for which the unseeing, unthinking majority is responsible, acts to those of quickened intelligence as a spur to attempt greater and still greater things. Turkish fathers should never have sent their daughters to the schools of Western Europe if they did not mean the new ideas there gained to find expression in the national life. Turkish women are becoming educated every year in larger and still larger numbers; Turkish women have died to bring light into the lives of their fellow-women. Can any serious person think that these efforts and these sacrifices shall be in vain, and that Turkey and Egypt alone, amongst the nations of the world, shall keep their daughters in chains?

The sudden emergence of Japan from a comparatively lowly position to that of a great world-power has caused mankind to gasp with astonishment. The defeat of Russia was a nine-days' wonder to a gaping world. One very naturally begins to inquire what causes have made this possible, and how far the character of the Japanese women may have contributed to these unexpected achievements.

The hard law of Confucius still controls, to a very great extent, the lives of Japanese women. They have no status of equality with the men. Their virtues are generally of the passive variety, for the habit of unquestioning obedience is inculcated from their youth up. They have no political status whatever, and owing to the influence of Chinese customs and Chinese teachings upon their own countrymen, they have lost a great many powers and privileges which were undoubtedly theirs in the early days of their country's history.

The Japanese woman has a dominant position in the industry of the country. She is miserably paid, her average wages amounting to about sixpence-halfpenny a day; but she is engaged in industry in greater numbers than Japanese men. Children in Japan are, unhappily, in very much the same position as British children were in the early days of the nineteenth century. The country has provided education for its women, and all the cities and small towns have an excellent system of schools. There are also secondary schools for girls, and institutions in which women may qualify in medicine and pharmacy. Many Japanese women are authors and journalist writers of excellent prose. There are two political associations of women, and many other organisations exist for the promotion of special causes.

When the Japanese women have secured some measure of real freedom for themselves they will probably turn their attention to the women of their dependency—Korea—who are in a condition of amazing servitude, not being permitted to use even their own names. They are spoken of as either the daughters of their fathers or the wives of their husbands or the sisters of their brothers, but never by their own name. This happens in more civilised countries, when the wife is possessed of a particularly famous husband, but it is also true of the husband when his glory is outshone by that of his wife. He then becomes 'the husband of Mrs So-and-so.' In Korea it is the invariable custom, and, though a small thing in itself, it becomes wholly deplorable when the custom is but the symbol of the spirit that lies behind it.

The Oriental idea about women and the Mohammedan conception of the place of woman in the scheme of things have largely influenced those Slavonic countries lying on their borders, several of which have, at various times, been under the heel of the Mussulman. Such countries are Bulgaria, Servia, Roumania, and Galicia. In these lands the feminist movement is of the most rudimentary kind, and confines its energies to the improvement of the truly awful conditions of the working woman. The feminist element works for this end chiefly through the Social-Democratic movement. When one realises that the makers of ready-made garments in Galicia earn less than sixteen shillings a month, that servant girls are able to command only tenpence to elevenpence a day, and that a skilled needlewoman, working sixteen hours a day, can, by this labour, earn a sum which is equal to not more than eighteen pence of British money, one can readily understand the need for the organisation of working women.

The feminist sentiment works, too, towards the improvement of the education of girls in these countries, well knowing that education is the beginning of better things, and the most effective stimulus to self-respect and lawful ambition. The better-educated women flock into the teaching profession. The women of leisure and culture have founded women's clubs which, in Servia, it is said, have nearly twenty thousand members. The position of the women of Bulgaria is much better than that of the Galician women. They are so far advanced as to recognise the value of the vote, and have organised themselves into woman suffrage associations. In this country fifty-six women are practising as fully-qualified physicians.

The condition of women in Bohemia compares very favourably with the position of women in other parts of Eastern Europe. At one time, indeed as late as 1906, a limited number of property-owning Bohemian women held votes for the Imperial Parliament, but with the extension of the franchise to all adult males in that year, this much-prized voting power of a minority of women was withdrawn. This was a challenge to the free-spirited women of Bohemia, who are now patiently waiting the fulfilment of the Government's promise to bring in a woman's suffrage measure. The tax-paying women of Bohemia vote, by proxy it is true, for the provincial Bohemian legislature, the Landtag, and the same is true of women municipal voters except in the city of Prague, where no woman suffrage of any sort exists.

Of all the Slavonic countries, the enormous empire of the Czars is perhaps the one in which Europe takes the liveliest interest. The struggles and sufferings of the revolutionaries against despotism and bureaucracy have marked Russia for universal interest. In these struggles the women have proved themselves as devoted and courageous as the men, and have suffered horrors even greater than those endured by the men. Russia now has a professedly constitutional government; but those who know best about this unhappy country's affairs say that constitutionalism in Russia is of the letter only and not of the spirit. The hangings and imprisonments go on as ever, and the great white road to Siberia has its sad processions as of yore.

The men and women of Russia are united in sympathy and understanding, because of sufferings borne in common, in a way in which they could not be bound in countries whose men have accepted freedom for themselves and left the women out. That is why the demand was made by Russia's best men, when the Duma was formed, for the equal enfranchisement of women and men. This has not been conceded. But women and men students, either at home with the eye of the Government on them, or abroad at foreign universities, starve and struggle together, their eyes on a common goal.

There is ample room for the devotion and the talents of women in the huge territories of the Czar. We are told that there is only one doctor for every 200,000 of the population, and only 13 women public school teachers for every 1000 women inhabitants. Only 650,000 of the total number of 2,000,000 school children in Russia are girls, and the number of illiterates in the empire is about 75 per cent.

Women in Russia have a wide field in which to exercise their labour. There are nearly 600 women doctors, 400 women druggists, a number of university professors, and about 30,000 public school teachers. Altogether there are about 126,000 women occupied in the liberal professions. Women may enter commercial callings of almost every kind. This engages about 300,000, whilst agriculture and fisheries employ 2,086,169. There are 982,098 women engaged in industry and mining, and domestic service employs 1,673,605. In 1900 the women formed 44 per cent. of the working population of Russia. For these interesting figures the writer is indebted to the careful research of Dr Kathe Shirmacher, whose book on the modern woman's movement is full of just such illuminating facts as these.

The legal status of Russian women is not so low as in other Slavonic countries. They may own their property and keep for themselves their own earnings. Here and there the wife may vote, in small communities, if the husband is dead. In large cities the qualified woman votes by proxy.

The woman suffrage movement has a precarious existence, but it is there, and is doing its work in educating the women to a sense of their rights and needs. The chief difficulty which dwellers in a huge empire have to face is the infinite variety of people, language, custom, tradition and point of view, which have to be sufficiently blended to make a working whole. The vast distances that have to be travelled; the superstition that has to be overcome; the strange, blind worship of authority by the ignorant peasant; the unequal development in citizens of the same land; the censorship of the press and the difficulties of propaganda; the suspicion of the Government and the tyranny of the official—all these things, added to the native, instinctive idea, the product of generations of domination, of the inferiority of women, make the solution of the woman's question in Russia one of the gravest complication. But the spirit of freedom knows nothing of the boundaries which nations and clans have set up between one another. It leaps all obstacles, and throws open all doors, calling upon men and women alike to be free.