The Times/1914/Literary Supplement/The Future of the Women's Movement

Literary Supplement: The Future of the Women's Movement
by Catherine Beatrice Phillips
2006758Literary Supplement: The Future of the Women's MovementCatherine Beatrice Phillips



The Vocation of Women. By Mrs. Archibald Colquhoun (Macmillan 4s. 6d. net.)

The Future of the Women's Movement. By H. M. Swanwick. (Bell. 2s. 6d. net.)

Conflicting Ideals: Two Sides of the Woman's Question. By B. L. Hutchins (Thomas Murby. 1s. 6d.)

The Fraud of Feminism. By E. Belfort Bax (Grant Richards. 2s. 6d.)

In dealing with a highly controversial subject such as the "Women's Movement," which appeals so strongly to emotion and prejudice, and deals with data of such intangible character, it is almost impossible to avoid vague and shallow generalizations. It was, therefore, with a feeling of relief and sanguine expectation that we read in Mrs. Fawcett's preface tp Mrs. Swanwick's book that it "avoids cheap and easy generalizations"; and the disappointment was the greater when, instead of a clear review of the position of the woman's movement, we were again met with those worn-out commonplaces which are the despair of those who try to keep pace with feminist literature. As an example of the silliness—there is no other word to describe it—of so much that is written on this subject, we need only to refer to the chapters entitled respectively "The Man's Woman" and "The Woman's Woman" and to the extraordinary shallow chapter called "Democracy." This is more the regrettable, as Mrs. Swanwick is, on the whole, a moderate exponent of the suffragist position; she disclaims any violent sex prejudice, states her opponents' views fairly as a rule, and does not unduly idealise her sex.

It is interesting to compare her conclusions with those of Mrs. Colquhoun, who writes from a progressive, but non-suffragist point of view, to note how much they have in common, and at what point their views diverge. Both are agreed as to the inevitability and the desirability of motherhood and the home being women' chief métier, both realize the necessity for a radical change in the methods of women's education, both insist on the need for more "knowledge" and "scope" for women; but each of them is rather anxious to recommend her pet panacea. Mrs. Colquhoun deals with the subject in a very moderate and broad-minded spirit, very much above the usual level of suffrage controversy; but home-life and domesticity are evidently her panacea, and in her anxiety for the preservation of family life she is a little tempted to sentamentalize over the somewhat doubtful joys of the housewife and other who has to face the difficult conditions of the present day with an equipment little in advance of that of the eighteenth century. She does not really face the problem, which not even the most domestically minded can afford to shirk, that a growing number of women are driven by the pressure of circumstance to seek a greater or lesser degree of economic independence. On the other hand, she realizes as few writers do that the greatest enemy of the women's movement is women's own snobbishness, laziness and the cult of "gentility." Mrs. Swanick's panacea is the liberation of women by men from the state of subjection in which she considers that they are still kept, and the throwing open to women of all careers which are now closed to them. Unlike many suffragists, she admits the average inferiority of women's work to that of men, and admits that where the two sexes come into competition men must generally command higher wages; but this argument she meets with a sentimental appeal for a "change of heart" by which men are to "leave off applying to women a cash standard can be applied under competitive conditions we are not told.

The fact is, that comprehensive treatises which attempt to deal with every aspect of the woman's question—sexual, sociological, biological, economic, or political—are bound to be rather inconclusive and futile. It is for this reason that we welcome the modest and unpretentious monograph of Miss B. L. Hutchins, who confines herself to a simple and carefully thought out exposition of one aspect of the woman's question—namely, the conflict between the old-fashioned ideal of the "patriarchal" family and the new "individualistic ideal," which arises from the fact that the mother, the domestic woman, "produces use-values as opposed to exchange-values"—in other words that "the domestic virtues … have no earning power." Miss Hutchins has no panacea to offer; her own bias, very discreetly indicated on page 69, would seem to be in favour of a Socialistic state, but though she has nothing strikingly novel to say, it is well and clearly said. The same cannot be said of Mr. Bax, who will not content himself with the simple task of refuting the oft-repeated suffragist assertion that "man-made" laws differentiate unjustly against women, but drags his argument into a murky atmosphere of antagonism and suffragette-like spite into which few readers will care to follow him.

But all these books go prove that the patent weakness of the feminist movement is above all due to the fact that its aims are confused. There are many who consider that the excessive preoccupation of the present generation of women the political side of the question has tended to increase this confusion. It is still by no means satisfactorily demonstrated that women as a sex have interest apart from and antagonistic to those of men, or whether there are merely a number of feminine groups-interests arising from the peculiar conditions of women's work, Mrs. Colquhoun, in her chapter on "Modern Women in Politics," in spite of much dogmatic and irrelevant political generalizing, certainly goes far towards showing that the female vote would be very unlikely to square with the present party system; yet if we attempt to fix in words any conception of a separate Feminist Party, we find it almost impossible to sketch a programme for it. We look at the existing suffragist societies and see, on the one hand, the Conservative suffragists, standing for the right of property; on the other hand the Radical suffragists standing for the universal adult suffrage; and yet again the Socialist suffragists. But cutting across these ordinary party divisions comes a series of subjects upon which woman claim to be especially competent to express an opinion, and, if they get the chance, to be legislate—for instance, such matters as public morality, the relations of the sexes, and questions affecting the family, the status of the wife, and children. There are, moreover, the complicated questions arising from legislation affecting the work of women. Much compromise would obviously be necessary before any sort of coherent party could be formed out of all the heterogeneous elements.

Another consideration which is not sufficiently borne in mind in feminist literature—whence, no doubt, arises much of its vagueness and impracticability—is that there is not one women's problem, but many women's problems. The educated and the uneducated women—not to speak of the half-educated women—the women of the working classes and of the middle classes, the woman who is wholly self-supporting and she who is only partly so, the married and the unmarried woman, the women with children and the women without them—all these classes offer very varied problems depending in each case on different factors; and each requires separate study. "Knowledge and scope" are the watchwords of progressive women. But are we quite sure that women are really seeking knowledge in the right quarters, or using the scope which they already possess? It is too generally assumed that the efforts of the "pioneer women" of former generations have done all that there was to be done, and that women have nothing left to do but rest on their oars and float down an ever-widening river of progress. There is no great delusion. Women have rushed in the labour marker in a haphazard way, too often with no particular training and with no standard of efficiency; and, in an age when the root principles underlying women's education and women's work are still matters of lively controversy, those who will deserve vest of their sex are those who devote their time and money to further pioneer work, examining piecemeal the whole field of woman's effort, collecting the data which are necessary before the problems connected with this work can be rationally dealt with, and discovering into what channels the energies of women can be most usefully led. There seems to be no reason why women should not take in hand many matters, of great importance both to the community and to the individual , for which their particular gifts would seem to qualify them. Apart from local government, public health, and the care of children, which already offer scope for women's work, a great deal is waiting to be done in the direction of improved education and vocational training for girls, and, merely to touch upon a vast subject, the application of scientific methods to the improvement of the home and of the production and distribution of food. Most important of all would seem to be the accumulation of trustworthy data as to the work and wages of women. There are bodies, such as the Women's Industrial Council and the Women's Economic and Industrial Union of Boston, Mass. which are employed in this indispensable work of research and vocational training; and it is very much to be regretted that money and energy should be diverted from this important constructive work to barren controversy and petulant agitation, based on insufficient knowledge and having no clear aim in view. The future of the women's movement lies entirely in the hands of women, It is surely quite out of date to maintain, as Mrs. Swanwick does, that women are not nowadays quite sufficiently emancipated to effect, by their own efforts, almost all that is required for the work of enlightening and raising their sex.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1979, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 44 years or less. This work may 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.

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