Emancipation (Aldred)

From The Libertarian Labyrinth
Jump to: navigation, search


THAT woman is daily asserting her equality with man cannot be questioned. But exactly what the result of this assertion will be she does not seem to know herself. This is especially the case where she has decked herself out too much in the colours of orthodox suffragism, and consequently mistaken those colours for the banner of emancipation. Such errors are inevitable; but their effects are none the less deplorable. The Suffragist bride who hesitated over the word "obey" has secured a good, but offensive, advertisement for straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. She did not mind merging her identity in that of the man ; but she did object and hesitate and blush and stumble over "obey." I do not say women should obey their husbands, or promise to obey them. The very suggestion of such a thing is both barbarous and absurd. It is too ridiculous to grow indignant over. But to stumble over the word when one has consented to lose for the rest of one's life one's individual name and all its associations is so undignified and cowardly as to merit nothing but contempt. It is failing to play the game.

And the cause of these errors? I will tell my readers. Woman, in approaching this question of her emancipation, regards man as a fixed quantity. That is the first mistake. Arising out of this error is another notion, that man-made society is perfect, except for a few tinkering reforms that will leave its fundamentals untouched. "We are equal to man," is the rallying cry of Suffragism. Very true; but then you are speaking of man as though he was something established, a definite quantity or quality, at all time equal to himself. But he is nothing of the kind. Neither are his standards of judgment, his tests of equality absolute or permanent ones. Let us apply the historic touch.

An anti-suffragist, or, rather, an anti-feminist, is before. He feels fresh for the fray as a result of a careful perusal of Belfort Bax. Perhaps his blood has been tingled and his nerves strengthened by a communion with the choice spirits of Strindberg and Schopenhauer. Anyway, his face is suffused with a glow of health and a genial warmth has spread itself all over his body. What feminist dare withstand him? We listen to his arguments. First, there is poor woman's brain, so much smaller than that of a man, to be sure. "Yes, my dear chap," the feminist replies; "but it is not the weight, but the structure of the brain that counts. Besides, the calculators have been males, with an economic interest in preserving the superstition re woman's inferiority, apart from prejudice, and a love of social conquest over and above a mere economic interest." The anti-feminist apologist may not be prepared for this; and when it comes to cool reasoning on the subject, neither Bax nor Schopenhauer nor Strindberg will help him much. But cool audacity will rescue him from his discomfiture. And he will appeal to history. If the feminist is an orthodox Suffragist, she will follow him in his arguments, and submit to being trapped occasionally in his snares. For are not man-made impositions and institutions, as regards their fundamentals, combinations of the respectable? And, whilst it is forgivable to want the vote, it is not permissible to want to outrage the canons of respectability. One may stumble over "obey" at the altar ; for no one takes this word too seriously. But one must not insist so far on equality of woman with man. This would be so bold, so rational, so calmly defiant as to drive poor man into hysterics. The dear creature! Of course, he believes, when he is in a good temper, that women need not say "obey." But not to take his name, to be known and appreciated for herself, to be accepted as a chum and a friend, to be liked in the social circle for her wit and bonhomie—whatever could woman be coming to, to demand such things? And yet this would be equality, this would mean emancipation.

How should the believer in emancipation as thus defined meet the anti-feminist appeal to history? By declaring that she is the equal of man, and demanding admission to many professions that are by no means admirable occupations? By attempting to prove that woman is as capable a priest, as efficient a mere hireling instrument of war—waged from obedience to discipline and not from loyalty to principle—as "brilliant" a hack journalist, or as distinguished a pot-boiling novelist as man? By accepting all male standards of efficiency as good, and trying to measure character by reputation, scholarship by pedantry, wisdom by something less than knowledge, and mental acumen by examination cramming? No. But the real feminist, the real emancipationist of her sex, will set all these false standards aside, and make a bid for reality. She will want to appeal to the sociology of history, not to the gossip of tradition. She will not bother about woman's power to play at noughts and crosses on ballot-papers, or her ability to put such competition- papers in boxes when no one is looking. She will not contest too much woman's ability to sell her soul as a lawyer for gain, and to prosecute or to defend, without regard to truth, in the criminal atmosphere of the trial-room! She will not want to qualify as a mere thoughtless hireling of diplomatic blunderers and their lust for blood! She will prefer to be the prophet rather than the priest, the rebel-pioneer of thought rather than the manacler of reason. Before her impeachment, her repudiation of outworn standards, her test of reality, what answer will the feminist have to make? Let us follow her appeal to history.

At the beginning of the Christian era a man named Jesus Christ appeared in a nation subject to the Roman Despotism. Superior man repudiated and deserted this Carpenter, who had not where to lay His head. The women flocked to his standard—the women and such men as were deemed the vile wealth-producers of the world. Why? Because His message placed a premium upon practical virtue, upon culture wedded to the people's daily life, upon simple earnestness, and, above all, purity of soul; in a word, because He was single-eyed and stood for integrity. Less than four centuries elapsed. For political purposes, Constantine corrupted the Christian teaching by establishing it. And now superior man flocked to its altars, because they feared to displease their emperor, because they were courtiers, coward slaves of despotism. A few years more elapsed, and a woman

appeared on the scene at Alexandria. Her name was Hypatia; and she lived at the beginning of the Dark Ages as we live near their close. Her thoughts went back beyond the time of Christ. They went back to Socrates and Plato: to Socrates, who was the bravest and most virtuous man of his time, who opposed social service to private gain, believed in the honest word, and hated the traffic in phrases of which the place-hunting politicians were guilty. Hypatia was deemed a pagan by the pious ecclesiastics, who had set their hearts on worldliness, and based their Christianity on Pharisaism and their philosophy on Sophism. Fearful of the appeal of reason, like the mob that murdered Christ, superior man, with Cyril of Alexandria as leader, waylaid Hypatia, dragged her before the altar of Christ, stripped her, tore her flesh from her bones with sharp shells, then cremated her, and cast her ashes to the winds. "No woman could be a great ecclesiastic," says the antifeminist. "No, indeed?" the feminist might query. "Do you mean a woman can only be a Hypatia in A.D. 415, when man was the ecclesiastic, the ignoramus, and the murderer?"

We come on through the Dark Ages. It is not necessary to concern ourself with all the barbarities and the absurdities with which the masculine intellect concerned itself between the time of Hypatia and that of John Wycliffe, who was the first man to translate the whole Bible into English, and thus lay it open to understanding and to reason. This was a great work, a far greater work than trafficing in the hireling trade of murder. Man, the superior animal; man, whose directive ability secured him Court favour and ecclesiastical promotion, so long as he favoured corruption and laissez-faire, generally did not identify himself with Wycliffe's work. There was torture and murder to be faced, and man, brave-like, disliked the prospect just as much as woman. But truth will spread, and liberty has a ready army of martyr-volunteers. Foremost amongst those who were the prophets of right against might, of a free and open Bible, were women.

Lady Joan Boughton was over eighty years of age. She read the Scriptures, and openly avowed her adherence to the opinions of Wycliffe, whom she regarded as a saint. The priests threatened that she should be burnt unless she renounced what they called her "obstinacy in that false belief." She defied them, and avowed that she had no fear of the fire, and, indeed, set nothing by their menacing words. Her destruction was contrived by the masculine intellect of the priests, and sanctioned by Henry VII.; and she died at the stake, firm to the last, on April 28th, 1494.

In 1543 Cardinal David Beaton caused the following six persons to be condemned and executed for heresy:—William Anderson, Robert Lamb, James Finlayson, James Hunter, James Rawlinson, and Helen Stark, who was the wife of one of the foregoing. The first was murdered for interrupting a friar while teaching that a man could not be saved without praying to the saints. Three others were hung upon the same gibbet for having disrespectfully treated the image of a saint, and for having eaten flesh upon a certain festival, on which it was forbidden by the Romish Church. The fifth person was executed for adorning his house, in derision of the cardinal, as was pretended, with a representation carved in wood of the three-crowned diadem of the Pope, as the supposed successor of the Apostle Peter. Helen Stark was condemned for having refused, when in child-bed, to invoke the Virgin Mary, and for affirming that she would pray to God alone through Jesus Christ. She followed her husband to his execution, and exhorted him to die bravely and patiently. Masculine superiority declined to allow her to be executed with her husband, but murdered her immediately afterwards. She was martyred by drowning. After this we have the following list of woman martyrs:—Lady Anne Askew, at Smithfield, June, 1546 ; Mrs. Wame, at Smithfield, July, 1556; Joan Lashford, at Smithfield, January 27th, 1557; Joan Waste, at Derby, August 1st, 1556; Alice Benden, at Canterbury, June 30th, 1557; Mrs. Joyce Lewis, at Lichfield, September 10th, 1557; Elizabeth Prest, at Exeter, November 17th, 1558; Lady Lisle, at Winchester, September, 1685; Mrs. Gaunt, at Tyburn, October 13th, 1658.

At any moment during this period, had it been urged that woman was the equal of man, it would have been replied that she was not a great ecclesiastic, that, therefore, she did not have the brain of man, etc. Yet, I hold that these women martyrs who suffered for the cause of Protestantism, in repudiating Romish priestcraft showed more mental strength, more reason, and more moral courage, than any of the place-hunting priests whose names no one remembers. These women will live, in history, with Wycliffe. And if we are right in applauding Wycliffe above his enemies, then these women have played a greater part in religious and spiritual development of mankind than any ecclesiastic who was up against them.

If we take another leap, and come down to the nineteenth century, when the Messiah of the printing press played such havoc with despotism and priestcraft, we see one man, scorned by the pedants of his time, named Richard Carlile, maintaining by defiance and imprisonment the cause of reason and the self-education of the people against the "superior persons" who thrived on ignorance. Once more, women were foremost in the struggle, were imprisoned and hounded down, for nothing more than applying the test of reality to things as they were. In Russia, women have played a noble part in the struggle for freedom; and in India, Ranee Laksmi Bai of Jhansi struggled nobly, in 1857, against British despotism.

But what does this mean? Only this: that to struggle by unconventional or conventional means for conventional privileges, when so many of the privileges mean nothing real, nothing of value to mankind, is rather to betray than to enhance the cause of woman's emancipation. Women have enriched the literature of the world, have added to the lore of science, have enlarged the domain of philosophy, and triumphed in mathematics. But these are realities; they partake of the nature of the character of equality with man. The mere reputation of academic honours does not count. How many men who have benefited mankind, how many philosophers would have "crammed" through examinations?

Yes, men are regarded as absolute quantities. Too many of their slavish vices are regarded as signs of superiority, whereas they are evidences of sensuous indulgence, mere traits of animalism. To affect these vices is not to be emancipated, only to be in subjection to male standards. Equality and emancipation mean being natural in all things. It means recognising that each man and each woman is an individual; that, as such, each must be loyal to the dictates of their own respective individualities. Here there are crossing of desires, with no suggestion of sexual differences as the basic cause of such divergences. It is for woman to take her stand as an individual, assert her individual rights as such, and not be afraid to take her stand as an outcast. To-day, knowledge can be secured by all, and all can teach. Woman has but to take her rights, that is all. And to call out for the right to take honours sane men are beginning to despise, only to refuse to insist on her individuality where such insistence will sound the note of freedom and emancipation, is nonsense. Woman may smoke or drink or swear or gamble ; that neither means she is or is not emancipated. But to regard man as chum, to insist on her right to be a mother, because of her sex and not of her "responsibility," to have some special man friend without losing her identity, to insist on the power of knowledge as knowledge, on the might of Truth standing alone—this is to be emancipated. How far short of this does orthodox Suffragism fall my readers themselves can see.

Guy A. Aldred.