Enter the Woman

Enter the Woman
by Floyd Dell

Written in 1915. First published in The Masses, a socialist magazine published in New York City, in 1915.

      "WHAT are you going to write about?" asked Max,

      “1 am going to write,” I answered, I ut h Iwo great theories of womanhood which I • d amted the past. Lath of these theories hi whkd mIllions of women into a certain image. I ci at th’w theories represents a masculine ideal I Ii women have embodied, shaping their actions, Ilich pi d, find their cry thought to its contours, nicu have pointed to the women they hate made it I ud ‘Behold! this is woman Until we ii. lit un I the origin and the force of these two ihi Irir ihout women—”

      Whiti two theories ?“ asked Max.

      I ht ()i wnuil theory and the Medival theory. I i h of Lhcm represents admirably an elaborate 1 tul or ideal but neither of them represents a mph h immnc fact When you see the women t d Ion bdnnd the lattices of the harem—or rather, I it you don’t qee them—it tells you nothing about Ii unen really are, The woman of the harem, I Ilvc her life apart from the woild, content iii ihr wnstaut companIonship of her own sex and an occasional night visit from her master, believing that her highest function is to bear sons, and wishing to know nothing of the life into which she is to send them—that ,oman is not real: she is a figment of the masculine imagination: she is a work of art—and as a work of art she has a cer tam dignity and beauty; but—”

      “I hadn’t thought of the Mohammedan woman as having any particular dignity,” said Max,

      “An Occidental,” I suggested, “may fail to see the dignity of a Chinese play; but it is there for those who made it. And this Turkish tableau has its dignity too, For is not the whole Oriental system designed in a spirit of reverence for women as women? Because they are the sacred essels of life, they must be set apart from the profane uses of the world. They must be housed by themselves, in a quiet to which the din of commerce and politics may not penetrate. And when their master comes to them after the sordid business of the day, he must not bring to them his tired thoughts, the stale echoes of his day’s work, but only a tender and passionate appreciation of their loveliness. Such, I am assured by the authorities, is the real spirit of the male Turk, It is for her sake that she is confined in the harem, and made to veil her face when she walks abroad. For he knows the effect of her loveliness upon men’s minds, and he wishes to shield her from the unlwfu1 thoughts of men.”

      1kr theory doesn’t seem to work out very WI” ii ud Max, “according to Burton’s ‘Arabian I1ht

      “h mks about as well as any of the masculine I IDrIci about women It works as well as the IiE,duvaI theory did. It is founded, at least, on fi i the fact that a woman is a woman. It is in his reverence for her specifically sexual Intl iuh s the Turk loses sight of the fact that she i I urmm being. But the troubadour starts out hh thc assumption that she is not a human being I H, lmt an angel. Vomen have a certain aptiI Ii whidi enables them to masquerade as merely I hi hi But they must have had a hard time pliv lic Lmg at being angels.”

      1%)un’t you suppose the men knew it was all play11111?” %uggested Max.

      ‘I oiider. It seems to me they took the play tI ici lously when they rode and reeled in clang. Ii Ire to prove their belief in her angelicalness. i man might be subject to ordinary human moend impulses, but she—at least his own bright iirlkuhii she—was more than human. Other Umiw might be as wicked as any dame in the D imuon,’ but she was so coldly chaste that she iikL w1dk unscathed over hot ploughshares to ii it if it became necessary.”

      Yri” said Max with a shiver. “I remember IiirnbIy realistic poem about that by John Davidson. His heroine walked over hot ploughshares, but not—not unscathed,

      “She was human after all. No Turk would have put her to such a test. He would prefer to drop her quietly into the Bosphorous, in a sack”

      “Let’s agree that tile chivalric attitude toward women is crueler than the Turkish, and get on to something else. Where does the modern attitude toward woman come in?”

      “She brings it with her,” I replied. “That is the difference. The modern man does not have to invent something for the modern woman to be, She is what she is, and we adjust ourselves to her as well as we can...."

      At this moment the door of the office burst open, and an impetuous young woman entered.

      “hello!” she said. “Tell me, you two, what I’m to do. I’ve gone and made to different dinner dates for tonight!”

      We put feminism from our minds and begged her to give us more data.

      “One is to the Browns,” she said. “There will be some interesting men there, and after dinner they will go oft to the smnokingroom and talk about all sorts of interesting things, lea ing us women to ourselves. So I don’t want to go”

      Involuntarily J thought of the harem that se eluded world of women into which no breath of the interests of the larger world could penetrate, and I iiikd at what seemed a quaint survival of the thminwdan tradition. That pleasant parlour of Lh owns’, with its group of laughing women q 1”r their lords, changed subtly as I thought t Ii Irna the still precincts of the harem—fled from nc, and standing in trepidation upon our door‘ w is this defiant dsenchante’p,

      le go I was speaking again. “The other entrmcnt,” she said, “is with a young man who has Wiiicd himself to me, and wants to take me to i I he Merchant of Venice’—which i’ve seen at wnt intervals ever since I was eight years nld. I Ih that none of the other plays in town are ‘ She smiled. “He has seen them all, and knows.

      "He’s such a funny boy,” she continued. “He p a seem to realize that I’m free, white, and may one. lie’s getting to be an awful nuisance ih his notions of how I ought to behave. And ‘ she held out a pair of gloved hands—”I’ve 14 to huy inc a new pair of gloves: he took one r with him the other night, and wouldn’t give ii ok’

      LI uc ame to me a sudden Vision of the lists, d of a proud young knight who carried, triumthiough its dust and blood, her glove upon h mi For her he rode and reeled—for her ni die ideal of feminine angelicalness. And q ene faded and changed and I saw what sickened my mind—the red-hot ploughshares waits lug for her feet.

      “Well,” Max asked the girl, “what do you want to do?”

      She took another step forward into the room. “I’ll tell you,” she said seriously “I want to stay here with you boys and talk about a new book by Havelock Ellis that I’ve just been reading; and after dinner I want to look over that feminist article you’re writing and tell you what’s wrong with it, and then copy it out for you on the typewriter.”

      I looked at Max. Max turned to the girl.

      “Sit down,” he said gravely, “put your feet on thedesk,andhaveacigarett Wewillailcollab. orate on an article entitled ‘The Modern Idea of Woman.’”


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.

The author died in 1969, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.