1910s >> 1912 >> no-90-february-1912

Socialism and the Suffragette. Miss E. Barry, B.A. and the Socialist Party

To the Editor of the Socialist Standard.

The Poor Male

Sir,

A naturalist who, in noting a change of habit or variation in conduct of a creature under his notice, and about which he had recently written a book, should fly into Poor a rage, abuse the animal, and endeavour, lest the value of bis book be destroyed, to force it back into its old customs, would be regarded with justice as a traitor to science. Yet this is precisely what the male politician does with regard to the new developments among women. Angry that she no longer fits into the little corner be has prepared for her in the social scheme he has built up, entirely without her co-operation, he finds relief in abusing her, and in shouting her down.

Moreover, all politicians, of whatever party colour, use the same methods of vituperation. A touch of originality would at least enliven their recriminations, but with dull, age old, prejudiced invective the bitter war goes on. Who shows the greatest “sex-bias,” to quote F.C.W., in the strife?

We picked up the Socialist Standard and read about the Suffragette. As well might we have picked up the “Daily Mail” or the “Morning Leader” ; for all three on this question speak the same language, breathe the same ignorance, the same sentimental, masculine futilities, the same contemptuous comment on what they fail to understand. We felt after we had begun to read the description of the Suffrage movement as “a pitiful caricature of the male struggle for the franchise,” a trading on “sex-privilege,” and after making the allusion to the “cheap glory ” and to that “starvation which has all the charms of novelty” (!), that we should soon chance across the words “morbid,” “hysterical,” and “illogical.” and there they were, our dear old friends, without which we should hardly know that a man was describing the sex of the mother who bore him.

Could it have been?
We found, moreover, what we do not often see stated in black and white and with such simple confidence, that “the true woman worships the male” (O fatuous complacency!), that “the professional woman is nerve-racked and overwrought by the very intensity of the effort needed to compete with men” (we have intimate knowledge of men and women working side by side in a profession, sharing everything with rigid equality, except the emoluments, and we have failed to notice these shocking consequences. We have seen the men overwrought and nerve racked quite as frequently as the women. (Could it have been it have that this was the result of the “very intensity of effort needed ” to compete with the women ?)

We are told further that Nature has handicapped the woman in her competition with this superior creature by making “extra demands on her vital force,” that, in short, woman’s place is in the home, doing “crochet, embroidery,” and pursuing “old-time occupations,” and that this loudly emphasised to drown inward qualms — she must be content, in short, to sew on his buttons and nurse the baby.

The writer of the article stops just short of the suggestion inevitably made by the mail in the street to the Suffragette marching in her interminable procession, that “All she is fit for is to have ten children.” O reverence and respect for motherhood in which we are told man believes, here you have your exponent in the voice of the people!

The Socialist is as primitive in his prejudices as is any Liberal or Tory. It is not a question of politics but of masculinity.

“Go home,” says the Tory, “mind the baby, and if it is a bit dull, come to our Primrose League meeting and your well known powers of persuasion—though, of course, your logic is inferior to ours your habit of never getting into rages at people’s front doors while canvassing—though, do not mistake, you are hysterical and we are not—your quickness in seizing the gist of the argument—though your intellect is inferior to ours—will be of great help in getting our logical, sane intelligence into Parliament.

Suspicion
The Liberal offers the Liberal and Radical Association as a means of mental refreshment; the Socialist offers the S.P.G.B. meeting and the prospect of a neat future all arranged for women by men as blind to her needs as is F.C.W.

For, as regards Socialism, the last word for women has not been said when the Declaration of Principles of the S P.G.B. has been accepted. There is still left untouched the whole question of sex relationships. Of this not a word is said in the aforesaid declaration. Yet this matter is at least of equal importance to women as that the means of production of wealth should be owned by the people. Nor can the sex question be settled except as a separate issue. The “people” might very well own the means of production and women yet be enslaved. But women cannot trust men who shriek “morbid!” “illogical!” “hysterical! ” at the woman who is endeavouring to expound her point of view, to settle this tremendous question for them. In this matter she is the protagonist, and must continue to elucidate her own needs in spite of the fact that the man is working or speaking so busily about his point of view of her that he cannot hear or read her view of herself.

I base my right to a hearing on several things: first, as a patient student of the history of women ; secondly, as one who has followed the windings of the Suffrage movement for as many years as there has been a militant section; thirdly, as one who is acquainted with dozens of Suffragettes and who has some intimate friends among them ; but, before all, because I am a woman.

That quality is the first and absolute necessity for understanding the present feminist movement and its political indications.

A Drop in the Ocean
The Suffrage movement is merely a drop in the wave of doubt on the part in the of women that men have ever or will ever understand their needs. This wave in sweeping over the whole civilised world of women. From Turkey to America, from Japan to Moscow, women are raising their eyes and seeing how things are with them. They are realising, what F.C.W. does not, that, in contradiction to his statement, men’s and women’s interests are not by any means always one. What of the prostitute? What of the woman forced into the artificially unequal competition of the labour market ? in which not “woman’s inferior labour-power” obtains a lower wage— for when she takes his place at the same work ; and produces identical results she is paid less.

No, it is her sex which is penalised. She is paid less because she is a woman. Astounding to relate, F C.W. seems to imply that this is just, since she is supposed to have no encumbrance and the man a family to maintain Has F.C W. ever noticed a case where a widow with six children to support has been paid more than the bachelor on that account ?

But not one trifling thing or another can account for the woman’s movement. Woman’s ears are full of the voice of Evolution. She cannot hear the man’s exhortations, futile ragings and vain prohibitions. This is her hour. She has arisen to build a future for herself.

Before this great conception of the Feminist movement such writers as F.C.W. appear as flies on the wheel of Fate. Their efforts to cause it to cease turning are as valueless as a fly’s efforts. His destiny is to watch and wait. Woman can no longer be legislated for. The honest woman has ceased her pretence of “worshipping the male.” Man must stand by and see her work out her own salvation, for assuredly she cannot, if she would, accept the ready made systems which he is offering her.

Cleaning the Slate.
Not only is F.C.W. ignorant of the psychology of this greatest issue of the present day, but also of that small, though meaningful part of it, the Suffrage movement. Of its actual history he is staggeringly unaware. Thus he says that “its adherents do not lose a living by their farcical bravado.” I know at least a dozen women who have lost their sole means of livelihood by taking part in the movement. I know intimately two who have had no work except of the most casual kind for a year. I know three women, all self-supporting, who are the complete invalids for life from treatment received at the hands of policemen and male opponents. I know of nurses, teachers, and mill girls forced to quit their work. That F.C.W. does not know these things completely wipes out his indictments that these women make “a hubbub” about their ill treatment and that they get much out of “sex- privilege.” If he wishes I can supply him privately with names and addresses.

I cannot say I know any Suffragette whose “robes” are taken off and put on by servants, but I do know women who prefer to work in the world rather than bring up their own children, and I applaud the woman who realises that her vocation does not lie in the direction of training the young. Since I know that all fathers do not possess the necessary qualities, I see that we can not expect all women, who are just as much individuals, to possess them either.

On the purely political side F.C.W. errs unpardonably. He should at least acquaint himself with facts. What women want, he says, is a property vote. He is wrong They ask for the vote on the same terms as men. If F.C.W. can effect an alteration in the old, bad laws his sex have produced, and find a more democratic basis for the vote, woman would still demand the vote on the same terms as men, and his plaint will perforce be bushed. But women are not going to set about agitating for the reform of man’s own suffrage laws until they have got a weapon with which to strike at them. They have done enough spade work for men. Thus if F.C.W. secures manhood suffrage, women will advocate womanhood suffrage, and there is his adult suffrage bill complete.

In these words: “On the same terms as men,” lies woman’s just and natural indignation at the prospect of more men—working or otherwise— having the vote while sex still excludes herself. It is another insult to her as a woman.

F.C.W.’s attitude to the “superficial and amusing” Mrs. Gilman, of a fame which has spread over two continents, I shall not speak of, except to comment upon it as an example of the way in which a man will speak contemptuously of a great woman, qua woman. Hence, knowing that common respect for sincere research and patient intellectual effort is merely decent and good form, I am inclined to echo F.C.W.’s statement that as for man, “there is little that is Godlike in the poor worm.” But otherwise F.C.W.’s article is of errors all compact. A complete answer would take a whole Socialist Standard. As rhetoric we applaud it, but of knowledge it has not a syllable. Yet, however, there is a hint that at the bottom of F.C W.’s heart he has doubts about woman’s happiness in the home, with the crochet and the embroidery, to which he, in common with the Tory and the Liberal, so forcefully consigns her, for he says uneasily that this life may be “deadly monotonous” for her. However, he has no remedy except crochet and a vague recommendation to her to wait for the time when “the dawn” is ushered in and men will “no longer resemble cave animals,” etc. We cannot heed him. We women have to build a future system for ourselves. We are not satisfied with the place assigned to us by the “hysterical! – illogical !—morbid ! ’’-crying Tory, Liberal, and Socialist. We have our livings to get, our own and our children’s future to watch over — a future made to our wishes, suited to our natures, conforming to our intellects, allowing for our individualities and for the strength of nerve and endurance of body which have perpetuated the human race.

Elizabeth Barry, B.A.

Reply:
The above typically illustrates how the Suffragettes always avoid the vital issue.

The article in question described the factors giving rise to the Suffragette movement, and showed it to be capitalistic. It exposed the fraud in the present “votes for women” agitation, and pointed out that the emancipation of working men and women from economic bondage, drudgery, and poverty could only be hindered by giving more votes to property. That is why we oppose the Suffragettes, it said. Only through Socialism could the women (as well as the men) be emancipated ; and to that supreme end all working-class efforts should be directed.

And how does Miss Barry meet this? By making a man of straw. She treats the issue as being one of sex, when it is one of class. She endeavours to identify our case with that of the “Daily Mail” ; and, desiring to saddle me with some particularly foolish view, she says that I “stopped short” of it, and proceeds as though I had uttered it. She quotes the contemptible attitude of an imaginary Tory toward his women folk, and says “So speaks the Socialist and offers the S.P.G.B. meeting”! But that is not all. She says that in my article “we are told further that . . . in short, woman’s place is in the home, doing ‘crochet, embroidery,’ and pursuing ‘old time occupations,’ and that — this loudly emphasised to drown inward qualms — she must be content to sew on his buttons and nurse the baby.” All of which is nothing less than deliberate falsehood, being contradicted both in the letter and the spirit of the article in question.

Moreover, in practically every case Miss Barry has re-arranged the words of her “quotations’’ to suit her convenience, while retaining the inverted commas—a thing inadmissible in honest journalism. For example, she “quotes” with regard to the Suffragettes, that “its adherents do not lose a living by their farcical bravado.” Here, apart from a re-arrangement of the words, she has, to suit her case and enable her to talk plausibly of secret addresses, carefully omitted a vital phrase from the very midst of the “quotation”. But even were this not so, the matter does not turn on rare cases. One swallow does not make a summer. And no misquotation, no subterfuge, can hide the obvious fact (which Miss Barry dare not openly deny) that the Suffragette movement is not working class. It is a movement of the well to-do and their hangers-on. Its society weddings, receptions, huge collections, and titled adherents, all proclaim its capitalist nature. To the workers this class issue is of supreme importance. It is clearly stamped on the Suffragette demands, for it is futile to deny that they mean “votes for property irrespective of the sex of the owner.”

As already stated (and it has not been denied) the Suffragettes oppose adult suffrage. The vote to women on the same terms as men as at present would exclude the mass of working-class women (or their husbands) because of their lack of property. It would permit the doubling of the voting strength of property by enabling the wealthy to provide their women with the requisite qualifications. It would deal a blow at the whole working class, and set back the hour of emancipation.

It is actually suggested that I consider the lower remuneration of women to be just! This is an absurdity so obvious that only the direst poverty of argument could have induced Miss Barry to utter it. The laws which determine wages are the consequence of the wages system, and can only cease to be true when that system is abolished. We are endeavouring to overthrow that system; my critic is labouring, consciously or unconsciously, to perpetuate it. The misery of the sweated widow, equally with the sale of women’s bodies for a living, demonstrates, above all, the pressing need for Socialism—not for more votes for property !

And how nauseating is the hypocritical sentimentality, characteristic of the Suffragettes of both sexes, which repeatedly apostrophises the “reverence and respect for motherhood,” when they treat motherhood as a curse and applaud those who renounce it!

It is, it appears, sex bias to pillory the absurdities in a book written by a woman. We must surrender our honest judgment to Mrs. Gilman because the Suffragettes consider her great! A book, whether by man or woman, is entitled to our respect as Socialists, not for its meretricious brilliance, but for its truth and usefulness. Mrs. Gilman’s book signally failed at the test. It is our duty to brand errors which are pernicious to our class. These are questions of fact, not of “good form” or “respect.” They can only be met by questions of fact; and Miss Barry has wisely refrained from defending in this way her heroine’s manifest absurdities.

However, it is not necessary to be as verbose as my critic. Her letter is a good example of Suffragette “logic.” It shows yet again that the only weapons against the Socialist case are misrepresentation and evasion. Miss Barry has been unable to dispose of the Socialist contention that the interests of working men and working women are identical, and that Socialism alone can provide the economic foundation for the full and free development of men and women. In face of this fact how childish is her assertion, put forth oracularly on behalf of all women, that they cannot wait for Socialism, they are going to “ build up a future system for themselves” !

Truly the futures of working men and women are inseparable As stated in the Declaration of Principles of this party, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex. And the task before proletarian men and women is the exposure of the capitalist nature of the “votes for property” campaign, and the organisation of their class in the struggle against all sections of the capitalists and their sycophants, irrespective of sex.

F. C. Watts