Socialism and the Suffragette. A Review

“THE MAN-MADE WORLD,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Fisher Unwin. 43. 6d. net.

Why the Suffragette?
In a pitiful caricature of the male struggle for the franchise, a number of middle-class women are clamouring for the vote. There is no need to emphasize how largely they count on sex privilege. The hubbub they make when a “militant” happens exceptionally to be treated by public, police, or magistrate almost as though she were a man, is evidence enough. Their “glory” is as cheap as it is worthless.

But without troubling, for the nonce, about woman’s privileges before man-made law, and without discussing the disappearing economic dependence on the male which is held to excuse those legal privileges ; why have we a woman suffrage movement at all just now ? Is it because the factory system has undermined home life ? Is it because so many women have plunged into competition with men for work ? These are reasons, but are they sufficient ?

In entering intensely into competition with the quondam bread winner woman hurtles against the wages question. And the deadly imminence of this leads rather to economic organisation than to the seemingly more remote franchise method. Among women of the working class this is to some extent the cause. As men found themselves condemned to wage-slavery all their lives, and formed organisations upon that basis, so are women forming or joining unions with similar aims.

That they do not do so more fully may in part be attributed to the impression most of them have that they will not be ordinary wage-slaves all their lives. They look to an escape from the discipline and tyranny of the factory into the seeming freedom and independence of a household. Hence the wages question is not taken as seriously by women as it merits, and their unions progress slowly.

Not a Working-Class Movement
Nevertheless their advent into industrial strife ever narrows their chances of marriage, and must force the wages question more strongly upon their notice. And whether woman without “encumbrance” clamours for the same wage as a man with a family dependent upon him (which he is legally compelled to keep), or whether, in the opposite case, man howls “black¬leg !” when the inferior labour-power of woman in certain instances necessarily obtains a lower wage, it is immaterial. Their interests are one and their tendencies similar. The industrial competition of women tends to promote (among the women directly concerned) a greater activity on the economic than on the political field. And it is only in face of the insolubility of the wages question, as such, and the narrow limits of economic strife within the present system, that working women as well as working men will direct their chief energy to the realisation of their one hope in Socialism by political means.

For other reasons, also, the entry of women into office, factory, and workshop, although it explains much of the change in their attitude toward the problem of life, is not sufficient to explain the suffragette. The woman suffrage movement, in the main, is not working class at all. It is a well-to-do movement. Its leaders and spokeswomen are of the “leisured,” as distinct from the working, class. Its coffers are filled to overflowing at a single meeting. Its adherents do not lose a livelihood and reduce a family to want by their farcical bravado and confinement. Starvation, to them, has all the charms of novelty. Self-indulged, it buys a martyr’s crown, clears the blood, and whiles away the prison hours.

Obviously, such a movement is not explicable as a direct outcome of the industrial employment of women. There is question, not of workers, but of the capitalist class and its dependants. Not of producers, but of parasites—indeed, of parasites upon parasites.

Home Life of the Rich
Just as time was when the capitalist took a hand in production and proclaimed labour the source of all wealth (although he now abstains and calls his income the reward of his abstinence), so time was when the wife and daughter of the capitalist indulged in, and took pride in, their domestic labour. But now all is changed. What is home without a slavey ? Crochet, embroidery, and old-time occupations are old fashioned and taboo. Domestic work is “low.” The care of children, and even the putting on and off of robes, is servants’ work and equally taboo. Consequently, where there is not a constant round of travel or social function, life becomes a purposeless bore, and recourse is had to stimulants or narcotics ; to the devil or to suffragism.

But that is not all. The hangers-on of the capitalist class eagerly imitate their “social betters.” Even the so-called middle-class wife must have her domestic slave. The emptiness and idleness of her life becomes no less demoralising. Hence the hysteria reflected in the heroines of prevalent fiction and the drama, and even in would-be politics.

There exists, therefore, an unhealthy craving for excitement and sensationalism that is partly a reaction against the emptiest form of parasitism. It is not a revolt against parasitism as such by any means, but a disgust with its indirectness through the male, and a desire for reality and added power. It is an attempt to get at the sources of plunder—most of which, except the directly political, are, indeed, now as open to the women as to the males of their class.

Votes for Property
Added to this is that large body of women (who dearly love to be counted among the “upper middle class”) that sometimes as a result of the foregoing, but mainly from other causes, are already in business or the professions. A type of these is the woman writer of fiction, too often specialising in a peculiar brand of morbid novel, written with deadly insight for women only, and who holds this very lucrative field to the envy of other women and the derogation of domesticity.

The professional woman, however, partakes of, as well as helps to shape, the mentality of the class. She is in many cases nerve-wracked and overwrought by the very intensity of the effort needed to compete with men. And she, too, is often found beside her sister arrogantly disputing her access to the flesh pots of political office. It is, then, from women of various sections of the capitalist class rather than from working women, that the claim to the vote, and to the opening of all political careers to well-to-do-women, chiefly comes.

And the present campaign is entirely fraudulent. What is claimed is not “votes for women” at all, but votes for property irrespective of the sex of the owner. Indeed, the Suffragettes confess that the extension of the franchise to more working men is a deadly blow to them ; and they proclaim themselves the opponents of Adult Suffrage, which would include all women as well as all men. Their aim is more power to themselves as champions of property, and a seat at the thieves’ table. They are anti-working class, and that is why Socialism is hostile to them.

Early in their campaign huge posters appealed to working women to help, and attributed all the ills under which the workers groan, to the fact that women who paid the taxes had not the vote.

But the humbug of it was seen. The response of the workers was practically nil. And working women as well as working men are coming to see that to allow themselves to be led by either the men or the women of the class that lives upon their degradation, is only to strengthen the bonds of servitude they already wear.

The Place for all Workers
The extension of the suffrage to women upon a property basis which must exclude the majority of working women, is certainly only a fresh obstacle in the path of Socialism. And it is equally certain, to say for all the least, that the gift of the vote to all women is by no means indispensable to the conquest of the State by the workers. Tbe logical place of working men and women is within the Socialist Party, wherein all questions of sex or suffrage are subordinate always to the greater one of the emancipation of the whole working class.

But, lest I forget, this is a review. Space is running short, but it does not greatly matter.

Briefly, the author of “The Man-Made World” does not take up the proletarian point of view. The bitter struggle for a living imposed upon the great majority of the human race is quite foreign to her femininism. Her contribution, though both superficial and amusing, differs somewhat from the usual Suffragist literature. But her book is a symptom, and it will serve.

Its central idea is that woman was the original race type, and man a sex type only. Woman is “human.” Man is a mere embodiment of sex who has, nevertheless, usurped dominance over humankind. And to man’s domination are due the myriad-fold evils of modern life.

The idea that the male is the race type is called the androcentric theory, while the belief that the female is the race type—and the male an accident—is called the gynsecocentric theory of life. I hope I have spelt them correctly.

Common sense denies them both. Where male is not sex is not. In the beginning there was neither. Where one begins the other begins, and both are inevitable complements to each other. Neither, therefore, can be more truly the race type than the other. It is a natural example of the social division of labour.

Yet Mrs. Gilman says that nothing more important than this gynrecocentric theory has been advanced since the theory of evolution, and nothing more important to women has ever been given to the world !

Formerly, according to this book, woman was dominant, but the inferior male ousted her from her place. If this were true (since Mrs. Gilman does not look beyond personal human agency for causality) it would simply be evidence, from the author’s own standpoint, that the male was not inferior after all. But there is no evidence of its truth. The so-called Matriarchate is scarcely known to have existed except in some Indian hill tribes. And to go back to earlier tribal times, descent was traced through females because it was physically impossible to do otherwise in face of the then existing marital relationships. There existed no private property—and no instrument of domination except force and custom. And there is, in consequence, no evidence of female dominance. Nor is there the slightest evidence that the female was ever the stronger physically. Yet as one goes back to human origins the ruling qualities are more completely brute force and prowess in war—in which the inferiority of woman is most manifest.

Woman is still protected somewhat from the hurly-burly of personal conflict and the clash of war. In many mammals this is more plainly seen, and the male who fights with male does not attack the female, though the latter may often with impunity attack him. The deep natural basis of this simple fact refutes one half of Mrs. Gilman’s random statements.

As society advances, however, socially organised force in class grooves displaces individual force. Intelligence, of a social rather than an individual character, becomes a more prominent feature. Machine industry makes the labour of women and children available because less force and less skill are required than in handicraft. Competition becomes less a matter of brute force and more a matter of deftness and inexpensiveness. Consequently the physical and mental differences between the sexes are less readily noticeable. The qualities normally demanded are less varied and human, and more mechanical. The essential differences between the sexes are only fully observable where the full depth of human physical and mental powers is sounded, as in works of science and initiative, steady strength and endurance.

But why should there be rivalry ? Only the capitalist system creates it. By the extra demands on her vital force in the processes of menstruation, conception, childbirth and child nourishment, the woman is handicapped in other spheres. And since the activities which belong to her alone are vitally necessary to society in the social division of labour, so there should be no rivalry, but only mutual help and forbearance.

Mrs. Gilman repeatedly asserts that early inventions were feminine, and that out of the overflowing fountain of mother’s love industry grew. But the only evidence of this is that woman as the child-bearer undertook the domestic duties while tribal man was hunting. Woman used the domestic implements ; therefore, it is surmised, she made the improvements in them.

But this is not proof. If modern experience may be taken as evidence it becomes plain that though woman now mainly uses the domestic appliances, the improvements and inventions in them are overwhelmingly male. Mrs. Gilman herself says, in fact, that “in personal decoration to-day, women are still near the savage. . . . Here as in other cases the greatest artists are men, the greatest milliners, the greatest hairdressers and tailors, and the masters and designers in all our decorative toilets and accessories are men. Women in this as in so many other lines consume rather than produce.”

Nevertheless, the authoress maintains that men are only fighters and begetters, while women are the true managers and producers. “For long ages,” she says, ” men performed no productive labour at all.”

What senseless juggling with words !

Men through the ages have been the bread¬winners. Not only have they been hunters, but also pastoralists and agriculturists, when each was dominant—not to speak of industry. And each phase represented the essential productive labour : the source of livelihood of the race.

Much of the book, also, is a play upon the word “human.” The authoress will have it that fighting is not human because women do not fight. Yet it was only because men did fight that women had no need to. Without the combative qualities which Mrs. Gilman sets aside as merely masculine, the human race would have ceased to exist. It could never have made head¬way against its multitudinous enemies. Consequently the fighting instinct, most developed in the male, is and has been essential to humanity. It is a great source of hardy enterprise and progress.

It is really not worth while dealing at length with the political opinions of the authoress. They are those of a bourgeoise with a violent sex squint. Yet, like a true woman, she worships the male. This is seen even in the title of her book, and in her perfervid dedication with “reverent love and gratitude.” Not God, but Man, made the world, and behold it was very bad. “The male of the species,” she says, “is far ahead of the female.” And again on page 59 : “The most convenient proof of the inferiority of woman in human beauty is shown by those composite statues prepared by Dr. Sargent for the World’s Fair of ’93. These were from gymnasium measurements of thousands of young collegians of both sexes all over America. The statue of the girl has a pretty face, small hands and feet, rather nice arms, though weak ; but the legs are too thick and short, the chest and shoulders poor, while the trunk is quite pitiful in its weakness. The figure of the man is much better proportioned.”

Surely much of this is sex bias. Evidently Mrs. Gilman is a very womanly human. And the fact that man is quite unjustly saddled with the direct and entire responsibility for all this does not detract from the piquancy of her statement.

But her tribute to man’s superiority is too flattering. There is little that is godlike in the poor worm. Really, he did not create the world. Like “poor, down-trodden woman,” he is a creature of clay and circumstances. In Mrs. Gilman’s eyes, however, the economic development of which men and women are alike the victims, counts for nothing. It is all man’s doing. Poverty, female inferiority, everything is due to male domination.

But all will be better than well when woman gets equal rights with man.

Evidently, then, the all-round inferiority of woman on which Mrs. Gilman so strongly insists will vanish like smoke at this joyful consummation. She will be straightway transformed into a fairy goddess at whose magic touch all evil will vanish and all good prosper.

So it is with the illogical Suffragette everywhere. But such bare assertion is futile in face of the demonstrable certainty that neither the abolition of poverty nor the equality of the sexes can come except through that economic and social change we call Socialism.

Indeed, the whole relationship between the sexes needs a readjustment it cannot possibly obtain under the system of private property. The bonds forged by property, and the lonely, isolated home, are not a little responsible for the prevailing morbidity and hysteria. It is often felt in working-class homes as an added unhappiness to the misery directly inflicted by capitalist exploitation. To-day the women of our class, even more than working men, need a wider outlook and a more happily varied experience. Even where home has its charm to the man as a haven of rest from the crash and scurry of every- day toil, its very restfulness often spells deadly monotony to the woman whose world is all but comprised within its four walls. Variety is the spice of life. Yet for the wife to go out into factory or workshop is, under present conditions, only to make matters worse for both. Nevertheless, it is to be feared that the night of proletarian suffering will be still darker before the dawn is here.

It is all the more needful, therefore, to resolutely prepare for that dawn, when exploitation will give place to co-operation, and when men and women will cease to scuffle for their daily bread. Then human-kind will have energed from the troglodyte stage, and will and longer resemble cave-dwelling animals, rushing fiercely each day out into the struggling world, snatching food from each other, and then slinking guiltily back each, to its individual lair.

F. C. W.

Leave a Reply