Marriage as a Trade
MARRIAGE AS A TRADE
Table of Contents
Marriage as a Trade
AUTHOR OF “DIANA OF DOBSON’S”
MOFFAT, YARD AND COMPANY
Copyright, 1909, byMOFFAT, YARD AND COMPANY
All Rights Reserved
THE QUINN & BODEN CO. PRESS
RAHWAY, N. J., U. S. A.
The only excuse for this book is the lack ofbooks on the subject with which it deals—thetrade aspect of marriage. That is to say, wifehoodand motherhood considered as a means oflivelihood for women.
I shall not deny for an instant that there areaspects of matrimony other than the tradeaspect; but upon these there is no lack of a veryplentiful literature—the love of man and womanhas been written about since humanity acquiredthe art of writing.
The love of man and woman is, no doubt, athing of infinite importance; but also of infiniteimportance is the manner in which woman earnsher bread and the economic conditions underwhich she enters the family and propagates therace. Thus an inquiry into the circumstancesunder which the wife and mother plies her tradeseems to me quite as necessary and justifiableas an inquiry into the conditions of other andviless important industries—such as mining orcotton-spinning. It will not be disputed thatthe manner in which a human being earns hislivelihood tends to mould and influence hischaracter—to warp or to improve it. The manwho works amidst brutalizing surroundings isapt to become brutal; the man from whom intelligenceis demanded is apt to exercise it.Particular trades tend to develop particulartypes; the boy who becomes a soldier will notturn out in all respects the man he would havebeen had he decided to enter a stockbroker’soffice. In the same way the trade of marriagetends to produce its own particular type, andmy contention is that woman, as we know her,is largely the product of the conditions imposedupon her by her staple industry.
I am not of those who are entirely satisfiedwith woman as she is; on the contrary, I considerthat we are greatly in need of improvement,mental, physical and moral. And it isbecause I desire such improvement—not onlyin our own interests but in that of the race ingeneral—that I desire to see an alteration in theconditions of our staple industry. I have noviiintention of attacking the institution of marriagein itself—the life companionship of man andwoman; I merely wish to point out that there arecertain grave disadvantages attaching to that institutionas it exists to-day. These disadvantagesI believe to be largely unnecessary and avoidable;but at present they are very real and theresults produced by them are anything but favourableto the mental, physical and moral developmentof women.
MARRIAGE AS A TRADE
The sense of curiosity is, as a rule, arousedin us only by the unfamiliar and the unexpected.What custom and long usagehas made familiar we do not trouble to inquireinto but accept without comment or investigation;confusing the actual with the inevitable,and deciding, slothfully enough, that the thingthat is, is likewise the thing that was and is tobe. In nothing is this inert and slothful attitudeof mind more marked than in the common, unquestioningacceptance of the illogical and unsatisfactoryposition occupied by women. Andit is the prevalence of that attitude of mind whichis the only justification for a book which purportsto be nothing more than the attempt ofan unscientific woman to explain, honestly andas far as her limitations permit, the why andwherefore of some of the disadvantages under2which she and her sisters exist—the reason whytheir place in the world into which they wereborn is often so desperately and unnecessarilyuncomfortable.
I had better, at the outset, define the word“woman” as I understand and use it, since it isapt to convey two distinct and differing impressions,according to the sex of the hearer. Myconception of woman is inevitably the feminineconception; a thing so entirely unlike the masculineconception of woman that it is eminentlyneedful to define the term and make my meaningclear; lest, when I speak of woman in myown tongue, my reader, being male, translatethe expression, with confusion as the result.
By a woman, then, I understand an individualhuman being whose life is her own concern;whose worth, in my eyes (worth being an entirelypersonal matter) is in no way advanced ordetracted from by the accident of marriage;who does not rise in my estimation by reasonof a purely physical capacity for bearing children,or sink in my estimation through a lackof that capacity. I am quite aware, of course,that her life, in many cases, will have been3moulded to a great extent by the responsibilitiesof marriage and the care of children; just as Iam aware that the lives of most of the men withwhom I am acquainted have been moulded toa great extent by the trade or profession bywhich they earn their bread. But my judgmentof her and appreciation of her are a personaljudgment and appreciation, having nothing todo with her actual or potential relations, sexualor maternal, with other people. In short, Inever think of her either as a wife or as amother—I separate the woman from her attributes.To me she is an entity in herself; andif, on meeting her for the first time, I inquirewhether or no she is married, it is only becauseI wish to know whether I am to address her asMrs. or Miss.
That, frankly and as nearly as I can defineit, is my attitude towards my own sex; an attitudewhich, it is almost needless to say, I should notinsist upon if I did not believe that it was fairlytypical and that the majority of women, ifthey analyzed their feelings on the subject,would find that they regarded each other inmuch the same way.
It is hardly necessary to point out that themental attitude of the average man towardswoman is something quite different from this.It is a mental attitude reminding one of that ofthe bewildered person who could not see thewood for the trees. To him the accidental factorin woman’s life is the all-important and hisconception of her has never got beyond herattributes—and certain only of these. As faras I can make out, he looks upon her as somethinghaving a definite and necessary physicalrelation to man; without that definite andnecessary relation she is, as the cant phrasegoes “incomplete.” That is to say, she isnot woman at all—until man has made herso. Until the moment when he takes her inhand she is merely the raw material of womanhood—theundeveloped and unfinishedarticle.
Without sharing in the smallest degree thisestimate of her own destiny, any fair-mindedwoman must admit its advantages from the pointof view of the male—must sympathize with thepleasurable sense of importance, creative power,even of artistry, which such a conviction must5impart. To take the imperfect and undevelopedcreature and, with a kiss upon her lipsand a ring upon her finger, to make of her awoman, perfect and complete—surely a prerogativealmost divine in its magnificence, mostadmirable, most enviable!
It is this consciousness, expressed or unexpressed,(frequently the former) of his ownsupreme importance in her destiny that coloursevery thought and action of man towardswoman. Having assumed that she is incompletewithout him, he draws the quite permissibleconclusion that she exists only for the purposeof attaining to completeness through him—andthat where she does not so attain to it, theunfortunate creature is, for all practical purposes,non-existent. To him womanhood issummed up in one of its attributes—wifehood,or its unlegalized equivalent. Language bearsthe stamp of the idea that woman is a wife,actually, or in embryo. To most men—perhapsto all—the girl is some man’s wife that is tobe; the married woman some man’s wife thatis; the widow some man’s wife that was; thespinster some man’s wife that should have been6—a damaged article, unfit for use, unsuitable.Therefore a negligible quantity.
I have convinced myself, by personal observationand inquiry, that my description of themale attitude in this respect is in no way exaggerated.It has, for instance, fallen to mylot, over and over again, to discuss with men—mostof them distinctly above the average inintelligence—questions affecting the welfare andconditions of women. And over and overagain, after listening to their views for fiveminutes or so, I have broken in upon them andpulled them up with the remark that they werenarrowing down the subject under discussion—thatwhat they were considering was not theclaim of women in general, but the claim of aparticular class—the class of wives and mothers.I may add that the remark has invariably beenreceived with an expression of extreme astonishment.And is it not on record that Henleyonce dashed across a manuscript the terse pronouncement,“I take no interest in childlesswomen”? Comprehensive; and indicating aconfusion in the author’s mind between the termswoman and breeding-machine. Did it occur to7him, I wonder, that the poor objects of hisscorn might venture to take some interest inthemselves? Probably he did not credit themwith so much presumption.
The above has, I hope, explained in howfar my idea of woman differs from male ideason the same subject and has also made it clearthat I do not look upon women as persons whosedestiny it is to be married. On the contrary, Ihold, and hold very strongly, that the narrowingdown of woman’s hopes and ambitions to thesole pursuit and sphere of marriage is one ofthe principal causes of the various disabilities,economic and otherwise, under which she laboursto-day. And I hold, also, that this concentrationof all her hopes and ambitions on the oneobject was, to a great extent, the result of artificialpressure, of unsound economic and socialconditions—conditions which forced her energyinto one channel, by the simple expedient ofdepriving it of every other outlet, and mademarriage practically compulsory.
To say the least of it, marriage is no moreessentially necessary to woman than to man—onewould imagine that it was rather the other8way about. There are a good many drawbacksattached to the fulfilment of a woman’s destiny;in an unfettered state of existence it is possiblethat they might weigh more heavily with herthan they can do at present—being balanced,and more than balanced, by artificial means. Iam inclined to think that they would. The institutionof marriage by capture, for instance,has puzzled many inquirers into the habits ofprimitive man. It is often, I believe, regardedas symbolic; but why should it not point to areal reluctance to be reduced to permanent servitudeon the part of primitive woman—a reluctancecomprehensible enough, since, primitivewoman’s wants being few and easily suppliedby herself, there was no need for her to exchangepossession of her person for the meansof existence?
It is Nietzsche, if I remember rightly, whohas delivered himself of the momentous opinionthat everything in woman is a riddle, and thatthe answer to the riddle is child-bearing. Child-bearingcertainly explains some qualities inwoman—for instance, her comparative fastidiousnessin sexual relations—but not all. If it9did, there would be no riddle—yet Nietzscheadmits that one exists. Nor is he alone in hisestimate of the “mysterious” nature of woman;her unfathomable and erratic character, herpeculiar aptitude for appearing “uncertain, coy,and hard to please,” has been insisted upon timeafter time—insisted upon alike as a charm anda deficiency. A charm because of its unexpected,a deficiency because of its unreasonable, quality.Woman, in short, is not only a wife and mother,but a thoroughly incomprehensible wife andmother.
Now it seems to me that a very simple explanationof this mystery which perpetuallyenvelops our conduct and impulses can be foundin the fact that the fundamental natural lawswhich govern them have never been ascertainedor honestly sought for. Or rather—since thefundamental natural laws which govern us arethe same large and simple laws which governother animals, man included—though they havebeen ascertained, the masculine intellect hassteadfastly and stubbornly refused to admit thatthey can possibly apply to us in the same degreeas to every other living being. As a substitute10for these laws, he suggests explanations of hisown—for the most part flattering to himself.He believes, apparently, that we live in a worldapart, governed by curious customs and regulationsof our own—customs and regulations which“have no fellow in