Aspects of the “Woman Question”
(Based on Notes of a series of Lectures on “The Sexes in Evolution.”)
Nearly all the accepted mental differences between men and women are the result of upbringing. It is woman’s environment, particularly in childhood, that is the cause of the feeling of inferiority where it exists. From their earliest years they are acquainted with the fact that women occupy an inferior position, and take it for granted that this is proper. Even before they can possibly understand the meaning of sex they are required to believe that little girls are not so clever or original as little boys, and cannot by any means emulate them. And this brings us to the so-called sex inequality.
In a biological sense men and women are equal, and one is the complement of the other. Is not every human being that is born, whether male or female, but the outcome of the union of a man and a woman ? And if we know anything at all about heredity, does it not teach us that on the average a child will receive one-half of its total heritage from its parents? There is a difference between them, both physiological and psychological, brought about in a perfectly natural way by Nature’s imposition of the division of labour. But there is nothing mystical about these differences between the sexes. Each type is specialised for its own task—that of producing and caring for the two kinds of sexual cells. It is quite probable that the only real mental differences between men and women are the instincts directly concerned with sexual intercourse and the care of children. In the female mind there is as a rule a natural tinge of conservatism; she is more reserved, more emotional, and possesses more caution in the matter of taking risks. She has a quieter disposition and is less vigorous than the male, who, by contrast, is far more powerful, both in body physique and sex impulse. To the biologist there is, of course, no suggestion of inferiority or superiority in the use of these terms. They merely express the specialisation which accompanies sex in all types of animal. The possession of the uterus, and the carrying of the young for so long a period powerfully modifies the activities and habits of the female and is the biological foundation of a great deal of our human social custom and behaviour. Reproduction and sex lie at the very foundation of marriage, home, and the family, and it is inevitable that these aspects should profoundly colour the whole human society, both as to its ideals and its structure. Though it might be true to say that woman’s proper sphere is the home, we have seen that out of economic necessity woman has been driven out of the home into the workshop, with its consequent reaction on the wage status of man. When men and women recognise that their battle is one and the same we shall be much nearer to a realization of that co-operative commonwealth that all enlightened people are desirous of bringing into being.
Now, in conclusion, I have tried to show, in a somewhat rapid fashion, how the present position of woman has come about. This, as will have been apparent, cannot be understood without reference to the contemporary position of man. Under the existing system of society, women, like men, are considered to be legitimate objects of exploitation. They are employed only because they produce a profit for a less wage than a man, and because they are useful as an offset against the demands of men workers. This is not to raise an objection to the employment of women under any circumstances. Women—any more than men—ought not to be expected to lead a humdrum existence, in the home or anywhere else. There is plenty of scope for the useful employment of women—employment that could be made profitable to herself and of lasting value to the community. There are such avenues as the Arts, the Sciences, the Public Health Service, and, above all, in the field of Education, for, after all, who is better qualified to teach the young than the sex equipped for the function of motherhood ?
But this will not happen until men and women bind themselves in a world-wide brotherhood, conscious of their class interests, to the end that they shall conquer political power, abolish all class privilege, make exploitation but a memory, to finally usher in a system of society wherein men and women shall enjoy to the full the fruits of their labour and be assured of the reality of that which is now hardly more than a dream—a full, free, and joyous existence.
(Socialist Standard, January 1930)