The Feminist Movement/Chapter 4

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



For several reasons the feminist movement among Latin peoples is not so advanced as in Teutonic countries. The women of France and Italy have never been denied entrance to the universities of their respective countries, and the European feminist movement was actually born in France; but owing to the almost undivided opposition of the Roman Catholic Church, the progress of the movement has been checked in those lands where that church flourishes. But the early history and tradition of the Romance countries has also had its effect. In German and Scandinavian territory, in Great Britain and the Dutch Netherlands, women have been accustomed to more freedom and independence from the very beginning. At present, in proportion to the general population, far more women are engaged in occupations other than domestic in these countries than in Spain and Italy, Portugal and Sicily. The proportion of women to men in the fore-named countries is larger than in Romance lands, and that may have something to do with it; but whatever the reason, the training in self-reliance has had its effect in the stimulation of self-respect, the result being a more widespread and insistent demand for the opening of new doors for women.

It is an interesting but saddening fact that the French Revolution, which brought in its terrible train so much freedom to the world at large, was the cause of the revocation of rights up to that time held by French women of rank. Before the Revolution women landowners might do whatever it was in the province of the landowner of the times to do—levy taxes, raise armies, and administer justice. The Revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man applied only to men, and every effort of the leaders of the women to secure a corresponding measure of freedom for their own sex met with stern repulse by the men of the Revolution, who evidently thought that what was good for them was not good for their wives and daughters. Although women took a prominent part in all the activities of the Revolution, and sacrificed themselves with as much zeal as any of the men, their clubs were ruthlessly closed by the Committee of Public Safety, in the alleged interests of the public peace, but really because the women were becoming too insistent in their demands for themselves.

The seed of feminism was sown during this stormy period, and although the Code Napoleon—the product of a period of raging militarism and despotism—lowered the status of women, those seeds were not destroyed, but are struggling upwards even now towards a perfect fruitfulness. The British women's movement owes much to the splendid courage of these French heroines of the Revolution, inasmuch as they were the instigators of Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women, which, though it did not rouse British women at once to organise themselves, is now one of the text-books of the woman suffrage movement in this country.

Napoleon's opinion of women is too well known to need repetition, but it will be remembered as long as Napoleon's name is remembered; and in the age that is to come, when conquest and glory won through human bloodshed will seem to belong to the dark ages, and when the worth of the individual, man or woman, and the beauty of purity will be recognised by all, the memory of parts of this Code will make it difficult to regard this emperor as other than a selfish savage.

This Code provided, amongst other things of equal horror, that a husband might slay his wife for adultery, and that it would not be regarded as a crime; that no mother of an illegitimate child might make any claim for maintenance from its father. The Code also established the State regulation of prostitution. With the help of the Socialists some alterations in the Code have from time to time been wrung from the Government by the women. Frenchwomen are now entitled to the absolute control of their own earnings; they may now be witnesses to civil contracts; the father of an illegitimate child may now be compelled to pay towards its maintenance. In these particulars the law has been amended; but the legal position of Frenchwomen is still deplorably low. It is as low as, if indeed (as defined in the Code Napoleon) it is not lower than, in the least progressive of this group of countries, although France has the reputation of being the herald of freedom and of the rights of humanity.

Towards her women France has been liberal in educational matters; and Frenchwomen are known the world over for their excellent business ability. In all conscript countries, where men in large numbers are continually being drawn away from useful and productive labour in order to be taught their trade of soldiering, heavier burdens and responsibilities have fallen upon the women, who take up the threads of the disorganised business, or who, to prevent disorganisation, become partners or sole organisers of the business from the beginning. Women may enter most of the gainful occupations in France. More than five millions of them are employed in industrial, agricultural, professional, and other work. They may be doctors, lawyers, factory inspectors, education inspectors. They are teachers in the public schools, and lecturers in the universities. Madame Curie, the Russian lady who married a French professor, and who, with him, discovered radium, the wonderful new element, holds the chair of Physics in the Sorbonne. Women are employed in the Government service as telegraphists and telephonists. They are railway officials of the lower orders, and they may, if they choose, be cab-drivers.

As the old custom of keeping a woman in complete subordination has a strong hold on the minds, not only of the majority of Italian men, but of the women also, Italy is not so advanced in these matters as France. The Church is largely responsible for keeping the women in a condition of humility and of mental enslavement to these hurtful ideas. So it is in Spain. Although both Italy and Spain can boast of a host of great women who distinguished themselves in the spheres of education and literature, the world generally has moved on, leaving most of its intellectual sediment in these creed-bound lands. A woman in Italy, who would be respected, may not walk along the street without an escort. This is more strictly true, of course, of Southern Italy and Sicily than of the Plains of Lombardy, and it is, of course, a rule more strictly adhered to amongst the upper classes than amongst the lower, where conditions of life and labour make its observance difficult.

The poorer women in Latin countries have a fearfully hard life. The housewife is a drudge who has not only to rear children and do the household work, but must work also in the fields and vineyards by the side of her husband. The woman worker is miserably paid. In France the average wage of the industrial woman is about 1s. 8d. a day. This, comparatively speaking, is not so bad. In Italy the average for the million and a half women labourers is from 8d. to 10d. a day! The straw-plait workers sometimes receive as little as 2d. for twelve hours' work. Small wonder that the intelligent men and women of this land are turning their attention to the problem of organising women workers. There is a woman suffrage movement in Italy, as in France, affiliated to the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, and, on half-a-dozen different occasions, efforts have been made to secure the partial enfranchisement of women.

As in France, women of means have excellent educational opportunities, and Italy now has some very distinguished professional women. One is lecturer in the Philosophy of Law, another in Anatomy. Dr Maria Montessori, a physician in the Roman hospitals, and specialist in the treatment of weak-minded and imbecile people, is exciting much interesting controversy in this country at present relative to the Bill for the Care and Control of the Feeble-minded which is now before the British Parliament. Neither in Belgium nor in Italy could women be admitted to the Bar until recently; but one woman in Turin has succeeded in attaining this ambition.

The women of Spain are in a deplorably bad position. In the lower classes they receive no training for any special work in life; consequently they receive miserably inadequate wages when absolutely driven to work, which, however, they avoid as long as they can. Driven back upon themselves, confined to one interest—the interest in themselves and their sex—they use their sex as a weapon to win what they want, thus degrading both themselves and their men. In the higher walks of Spanish life, the women may be educated, and a number of famous Spanish women have brilliantly distinguished themselves in literature.

Portugal has recently overthrown its King and established a Republic, and, as far as women are concerned, one of the interesting by-products of the Revolution has been their receipt of a limited suffrage. Now all women of twenty-five years of age, who have received a secondary school education, may vote for political candidates. The education qualification was the thought of astute men, for so few women in Portugal possess it that the number enfranchised is too small to constitute a serious menace to the interests of any party. This was probably their greatest fear, as it is undoubtedly the greatest obstacle to the enfranchisement of women in this country.

A somewhat briefer statement of the condition of women in the other civilised countries of the world must be made in order that time and space may be devoted to the movement in Great Britain, which is, for various reasons, the present storm-centre of the world's feminist movement. It may be said broadly of all those lands which come under the denomination Germanic, that the position of women is better and happier than in those countries already discussed. A higher idea of the value of the individual appears to possess the peoples of new countries like the United States of America and the British Colonies; or, perhaps, it would be more correct to say that the blood in the veins of the pioneers of these new lands was the blood of the free men and women of the ancient North, of the Vikings and their descendants, of the land-owning Saxon and his sons; or the children of those religionists who, in a new clime, sought freedom to worship God. On the other hand, the higher status of women in the new lands is, perhaps, due to none of these things, but rather to the plain prose of a business principle. Where a thing is plentiful it becomes cheap, where it is scarce it becomes dear. In the early days of colonisation and for many generations afterwards, women colonists were in the minority. The number who emigrated was small in comparison with the number of men; for it required no little courage to face the dangers of the sea in a sailing vessel, and the terrors of a new land in which savage Indians roved at will.

The effect on the status of women made itself felt in the ordinary way of business. Women being scarce, became more precious. It is perfectly true that the common law of England, with its relatively low position for women, was carried over to the new world. It is quite true that there were witch-burnings in New England as in Old England. It is certain that the power of government was withheld from the Pilgrim Mothers and monopolised by the Pilgrim Fathers. But for all that, the atmosphere created by the colonial scarcity of women was probably more responsible than any other thing for the present privileges of women in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. In these countries, too, many of the hampering traditions which have so long bound the women of Great Britain and Northern Europe have been lacking. Both Houses of Parliament in all these countries are elected. In none of them is one religious denomination elevated by the State at the expense of all the others, as in this country. There is no territorial-magnate class, whose families have held the land for generations, and, incidentally, the human souls upon the land.

To this extent, therefore, the battle for women's freedom has been easier, for the atmosphere has been of the very breath of freedom, and no foolish respect for outworn theories and institutions has had the power to stop the onward march of progress.

Again the stern fight with savage nature, whether in the form of hard soil, or cruel drought, or native tribes, has drawn men and women nearer to each other in the bonds of a common need, and given a chance of growth to the sense of fairplay and justice, which is present, in however rudimentary a form, in the breasts of most.

Hence it is not surprising to learn that the women of Australia and New Zealand share with the men all voting powers. The women of New Zealand were enfranchised in 1893, of South Australia in 1894, of West Australia in 1899, of New South Wales in 1902, of Tasmania in 1903, of Queensland in 1905, and of Victoria in 1908. In these countries there is full and equal adult suffrage, with the power that this implies of being elected to their respective Parliaments. In 1902 the Australian Commonwealth gave the women the vote for the Federal Government, thus completing the excellent work.

It is worth while here to recount the action of both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament, which, in 1910, gave testimony to the good effect of woman suffrage upon the fortune of the Commonwealth, in the terms of the following resolution: 'That this House (and Senate) is of the opinion that the extension of the suffrage to the women of Australia for States and Commonwealth Parliaments, on the same terms as men, has had the most beneficial results. It has led to the more orderly conduct of elections, and at the last Federal elections, the women's vote in a majority of the States showed a greater proportionate increase than that cast by men. It has given a greater prominence to legislation, particularly affecting women and children, although the women have not taken up such questions to the exclusion of others of wider significance. In matters of defence and Imperial concern, they have proved themselves as far-seeing and discriminating as men. Because the reform has brought nothing but good, though disaster was freely prophesied, we respectfully urge that all nations enjoying representative government would be well advised in granting votes to women.'

The equal voting rights which these States enjoy must not be held to imply that the status of women in Australia is equal in all respects to that of men. The divorce laws are unequal in some States, and are inimical to women. Although most of the occupations are open to women, the better-paid ones are almost a male monopoly. But an atmosphere has been created and a power bestowed which will make a response to the organised and clearly-expressed wishes of the women an easy thing to secure as compared with the struggles of the past. These, while they never were so hard and so hopeless as in the old countries, had still to be waged against instinctive male prejudice and the conservatism of organised religion.

The women of New Zealand were enfranchised politically in 1893, and since that event they have secured amongst other reforms, equal divorce laws; a legal claim upon the property of the husband by wife and child; the opening of the profession of the law to women; Local Veto of the liquor traffic and the closing of saloons on election day; the raising of the age of consent to seventeen. The Australian States have each and all accomplished a number of similar reforms with the help of the women's vote, and with consequent benefit to the country at large.

Of the forty-eight States of America, ten have complete woman suffrage; but in no country in the world has woman, as woman, so much liberty as in this great Republic. Every profession is open to her, not excluding that of the preacher. She may enter every business. Industry is an open field, and agriculture her sphere by right. The average American woman has more money to spend than the average woman of any other nation, more leisure in which to spend it, and more beautiful things on which to spend it. The accumulation of wealth as a result of economical production has caused the things which only wealth can command to be poured into this fortunate land. The American woman would have long since been completely ruined by her good fortune had it not been for her native good sense, her kindly heart, her ready intellect, and her passion for doing something. It is fortunate for the well-placed American woman, as it is a calamity for the others, that the competitive system of industry, by playing havoc with the lives of America's alien citizen, should have stirred the warm hearts of America's cultured womanhood as it has done, and shown them the way to help their less fortunate fellow-creatures. The campaign for the political franchise in those still voteless States is only part of a great wave of passion for humanity and of aspiration and idealism which is passing over the United States and which promises to make it a new world indeed.

The State of Wyoming granted the franchise to women in 1869, Colorado in 1893, Utah and Idaho in 1896, Washington in 1910, California in 1911, and Kansas, Oregon, and Arizona in 1912. It is a significant fact that the last Presidential election campaign, for the first time in the history of politics, drew great hosts of women into the service of the several candidates for the high office of President. Ex-president Roosevelt, the nominee of the new Progressive Party, and a one-time opponent of votes for women, made woman suffrage a part of his party's programme, and was supported by a host of splendid women, headed by America's most famous woman citizen, Miss Jane Addams, of Chicago.

Nothing would excuse the dismissal of this great Republic with a few words only about the position of its women, except the confession that the task of describing the feminist movement in each of the forty-eight States which go to compose it is too big. Let it suffice to say that woman suffrage would certainly have been the law of the land to-day in every single State of the Union but for the fact that the general condition of women, from the purely material point of view, has in time past been so easy, as compared with that of the women of other countries. Their men have been so eager to give them everything for which they asked that the spirit of discontent has not invaded them sufficiently, nor taken a strong enough hold upon most of those whom it has invaded.

Now, however, women are becoming cheaper over there. In the Eastern States they outnumber the men; and the native American, with his higher ideals about women, is fast becoming submerged by the hordes of aliens, more than a million a year, who seek citizenship in 'the land of the brave and the home of the free,' bringing with them their half-savage notions of the inferiority of women. It was said at the time of the campaign for political equality in California, that there were enough Italians in San Francisco (most of this nationality being opposed to feminism) to veto woman suffrage over the heads of all the more enlightened citizens of that town, and that it was the country districts, in which there were fewer aliens, which carried the suffrage for the Californian women. Be this as it may, it is a warning signal to American women to lose no time in having their position secured through the vote, the symbol of citizenship, lest their task become wellnigh impossible by this lowering in the voting quality of the present citizens.

It is astonishing that any American man or woman of culture can be found to oppose this reform; but the stock argument in the United States is, that there, politics is corrupt and degrading, and that women would lose something if they entered the political arena; but the new hope and the new idealism which is abroad has little room for this argument of selfishness, which has this demerit, that it is simply not true.

To leap back again to the old world. Full citizenship on equal terms with men is at present enjoyed by the little country of Finland. Since 1906 the Finnish women have exercised their powers. All adults of twenty-four years of age have the right to vote for, and be elected to, the Finnish Parliament. Nineteen women were elected to the Finnish Parliament in 1907. To the Parliament of 1908 twenty-five women were elected. Of these, nine are married women. The women members belong to all parties and are of all classes. Their special work has been the introduction to the House of a variety of measures for improving the status of women and children. They have tried to secure equal guardianship of children by both parents; the raising of the condition of illegitimate children; the abolition of the regulation of prostitution and the raising of the age of consent. Amongst the things they have accomplished has been the total prohibition of the manufacture, importation, sale or storage of alcoholic liquor in any form. This, be it noted, has not created a revolution, nor have the men of Finland risen and turned the women out of Parliament and revoked the suffrage law. Finland is, unhappily, concerned with the question of Russian aggression, and, in the near future, will probably need all the unity and the strength which comes from the unity of its patriotic men and women, to fight against the enemy of their ancient liberties.

In 1907 the franchise was extended to all Norwegian women who pay income tax, or whose husbands pay income tax on an annual income of twelve pounds in cities and sixteen pounds ten shillings in country districts. Though Sweden is not yet in an equal position in this respect, the feeling in favour of equal suffrage is so strong that this reform cannot long be resisted. In 1912 it was carried by the Lower and rejected by the Upper House; but two parties in the state—Liberal and Labour—have put woman suffrage into their programmes, and, as the vote against was considerably less than on the previous occasion, it is hoped that, three years hence, success will be sure. In the meantime, women may sit on municipal bodies; they may labour in all State institutions; they may be teachers, professors, doctors; but not yet preachers. They may hold property, and the daughter's right of inheritance is equal to that of the son.

In the last month of 1912 a Bill for the political enfranchisement of women passed the Lower House in Denmark by a majority of six to one.

In all the countries of the world the tendency is to pay women less than men for the same work, for reasons which will be discussed later. In Scandinavia, as elsewhere, the industrial woman is not well paid, but as Scandinavia is mainly agricultural, she has fewer women of this kind than other countries.

Perhaps in no other country in the world has the struggle of women for some measure of independence and equality with men been so severe as in Germany. Militarism is ever and always the enemy of the progress of mankind, and particularly of the female half of mankind. Dr Schirmacher, one of the founders, in 1902, of the Woman's Suffrage Society, may be permitted to speak in her own words of the opinion she has formed as to the progress of feminism in Germany. She says: 'In no European country has the woman's rights movement been confronted with more unfavourable conditions; nowhere has it been more persistently opposed. In recent times the women of no other country have lived through conditions of war such as the German women underwent during the Thirty Years War and from 1807 to 1812. Such violence leaves a deep imprint on the character of a nation. Moreover, it has been the fate of no other civilised nation to owe its political existence to a war triumphantly fought out in less than one generation. Every war, every accentuation and promotion of militarism, is a weakening of the forces of civilisation, and of woman's influence. . . . A reinforcement of the women's rights movement by a large Liberal majority in the national assemblies . . . is not to be thought of in Germany. The theories of the rights of man and of citizens were never applied by German Liberalism to woman in a broad sense, and the Socialist Party is not yet in a majority. The political training of the German man has not yet, in many respects, been extended to include the principles of the American Declaration of Independence or the French Declaration of the Rights of Man; his respect for individual liberty has not been developed as in England; therefore he is much harder to win over to the cause of "woman's rights."'

As an instance of what she means, this distinguished German woman says that the campaign against the legallsation of vice has had to be conducted entirely by women, unsupported by physicians, lawyers, and members of Parliament as in Great Britain. Similarly with the struggle for education, the way has been long and bitter. Only within recent years have the German Universities been thrown open to women. Only recently, too, the law permitted them to associate for political purposes. Industrial training for women has been partly won only with tremendous effort, and yet only half of Germany's adult women are married. The German women are organised in women's clubs, and make their demands known through these organisations, but there is a growing feeling of the need of political power. In some of the German States there is a municipal suffrage for women, under which they vote by proxy; but the general status of women in the Fatherland is low when compared with that of British women. The German Emperor appears to express the national ideal for women, that they are made for children, kitchen, and church.