Just lately women have been taking an active and successful part in science, sport, and politics. This is loudly acclaimed by some as the evidence of women’s greater freedom.
Other observers are just as loudly denouncing women’s activities in the world of commerce. They sadly deplore the fact that, “forsaking her natural mission in life as wife and mother,” she is taking men’s jobs and swelling the numbers of unemployed males.
The Socialist adopts neither of these view-points. On the one hand, the much-vaunted freedom for most women is largely a myth, and on the other women are only taking the position that capitalism assigns to them.
The toll that the last war took of the men was a big factor in bringing women to the fore and making their value realised by the employers. They found that female labour was more tractable and better suited to certain classes of work. Powerful machinery made male labour unnecessary in what had been heavy work, and as female labour was much cheaper, the men were only slowly replaced, and vast numbers not at all. But already labour-saving devices are robbing the women and girls of their jobs, and unemployment is now their share.
Girls as well as boys now receive a commercial education, and every year thousands leave school and are clamouring for jobs. Hence the new measure for raising the school-leaving age. This at one end, and pensions at an earlier age at the other, are some of the methods by which the Labour Government hope to solve the problem of unemployment.
Naturally, the altered conditions are breeding a type of girl and woman different from those reared in the last century. Better physical and mental training is producing girls as alert and active as their brothers, and the female wage-slave is subject to exploitation in many new occupations. This is happening in an age when many new fields of research and activity are being opened up, and naturally one expects to see women enter them, since conditions have made her fitted to do so.
What is, or is not, a “natural mission” is a debatable subject, but it is quite clear that the capitalist system of ‘society does not look after working-class women in the home any more satisfactorily than it does in the factory, as is shown by the enormous number of preventable deaths in child-birth.
Now let us examine the greater freedom view-point, and summarise the so-called gains of women during the last few years. Those who have the necessary money have gained the right of entry into the medical and other professions. Women now have the right to vote equally with men, and there have been modifications of the laws of property and divorce. Far be it from us to decry these advancements, but we must put them in their proper places.
The laws regarding property are made in the interests of the property holders to adjust differences between the sections of property owners. This, then, is of no importance to the women wage-earners who have no property. Divorce proceedings can now be taken under the “Poor Persons” system, but working-class women have often to excuse their husbands’ conduct because they have to face the serious problem of loss of support and break-up of home, etc., if they divorce them.
The right of entering into the universities and professions again does not affect the workers much. The vote is certainly a valuable weapon if used rightly by the workers, but at present the women are as blind as the men and do not realise their potential power. Although women like to bask in the reflected glory of some of their sex, they must remember that Lady Bailey, Dr. Marie Stopes, Lady Astor, and the Duchess of Athol, and the rest did not reside in Bethnal Green nor work at the wire works. One lucky Amy Johnson is not an indication of bright prospects for women in general.
There is another side to remember about these feats of sports and science. The adventurers of old paved the way for the commercial routes of to-day, and civil aviation of to-day is linked up with military aviation. Science not only find out dangerous microbes; it discovers poisonous gases.
Thus our scientists and men and women speed and distance record breakers are mixed blessings; their discoveries may be the very means by which their sons and daughters are killed in the next war. The Labour Government has voted £18,000,000 for Air Force development, one of the results of increased aircraft efficiency.
Boiled down, then, the question of women’s freedom resolves itself into exactly the same problem as that of the men. World development has decreed that women shall play a part that is in keeping with the conditions under which they live, and to the women who do not own property this means that under capitalism they will be as much wage-slaves as their brothers. There can be no freedom for the workers, men or women, while they are exploited. Working-class women have an historic mission to perform with their men. There is no time for entering into things that concern the masters only. Let the property holders equalise the holding and sharing of their property between the sexes if they like. Already in the U.S.A. nearly half the property is owned by women capitalists. It matters not if our employers are men or women, but it does matter a great deal wheher we ourselves understand our class interests. The emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex, and that is the only cause worthy of our support. Sex equality, birth control, family endowments, etc., are only methods of sidetracking, and women should not be drawn into these worthless controversies.