The Evils of Liberty
The Evils of Liberty.
By Lizzie M. Holmes. Part I.
The student of sociology and economics knows that a great change has taken place in industrial and social fields in the last fifty years. The position of women is so different that we might almost be in another world; and this is partly due to the new systems of industry and commerce and partly to the vigorous agitation which has been waged since the days of Mary Wolstonecraft.
In the old days women meekly followed their domestic occupations, moved in society always well chaperoned, and at the proper time accepted the husbands which their parents provided. In the lower ranks of life women spun, wove, made butter and cheese, cured the home raised meats, swept their hearth stones and sat down before them in the quiet of evening, and dreamed not of ballot boxes and political conventions. They waited for the proper men to come and marry them, and then their lives were settled forevermore. Very rarely, women took their fortunes into their own hands and directed them to suit themselves. The conventional woman remained under the care of a father, uncle or brother until handed over to a husband; if no husband appeared, the filial protection and support lasted through life.
It was a quiet, respectable arrangement, and fitted in with the economic and ecclesiastic systems of the time. Much of the work of society was performed in private homes and the proper place for women was there. The first new demand for a wider liberty for women sounded like a brazen cry from unsexed humanity, horrifying men and startling the women for whose sake it was raised.
But the cry would not be stilled. It gained in strength and clearness, and though often ridiculous, it wielded a wonderful influence. The great economic changes taking place at the same time which took the work of the people out of their homes and placed it in factories and mills, aided in bringing women out of their old seclusion. Women were compelled, willing or unwilling, to come out and grapple with the new industrial problems by the side of their brothers. Instead of the small shop where master and man worked together and sold the products to their neighbors, in place of the loom, spinning wheel, soap kettle and pork barrel in the kitchens of private houses, the huge factory, the packing house and weaving and clothing establishments came into existence. Instead of the old, simple methods of production and exchange, the commercial system with its vast aggregations of capital, and its wages and profits, was developed. Women were in a manner thrust into the wage working field; but finding themselves capable in the new domain, they did not stop there. They aspired to positions in the counting room and office; they forced open the doors of colleges and universities; they entered the realms of art, literature, science and the professions. Today, nothing stands in the way of woman in any field of activity, except her own limitations.
And what is the direct result of this newer freedom and greater activity? Is society better and are individuals happier and wiser? Let us see.
We find that in four states in the union women possess every political right that men enjoy. In other states partial political liberty has been granted and everywhere the influence of women in politics is acknowledged. Women perform all kinds of labor, shine in the professions, and the arts and sciences are further advanced for the work of women. Women no longer need protection; they have taken up physical culture and athletic sports; they are as likely to be expert shots and to be up in the science of "Jin ji'tsu" as men. Therefore the old chivalry is superfluous and out of date. The old relations between men and women are destroyed, and we yet await the time when they shall be comrades and friends. But apparently, everything now is about as bad as it can well be. From reports of political matters in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Dakota, the four states which give the franchise to women, we learn that a startling amount of corruption is extant. Charges and counter charges are rife; the public money, taxed from the devoted people with the supposed purpose of supporting the law and the constitution, is scattered about among tools, prostitutes, hangers on, with a reckless prodigality never before known. The laws and institutions of our nation are not improved, and such laws as we have are no better executed. The rich are growing richer, more grasping, more heartless; the poor, poorer, more abject and servile. Evidently, participation by women in politics has not purified it, and the great reforms promised by woman suffragists have not materialized. Women are not to blame perhaps for the chaotic corrupt condition of society, but at least their participation in the making of laws has not prevented it.
The church as an organization has not advanced under the new regime. The membership of orthodox churches has fallen off when we consider the increase in population in the last fifty years. Ideas which once would have excommunicated one who entertained them, now permeate the churches. Church discipline is more lax, and greater liberties are allowed the sanctified. The old doctrines of eternal punishment, total depravity, vicarious atonement are seldom mentioned today, though all these doctrines still have a place in the creeds. Liberal churches are growing in size and importance, and women are found flocking to their doors while the orthodox churches are comparatively deserted.
In the industrial world there is much more to deplore. Women wear themselves out in factories and mills long before they are old. The long hours in the heat and dust of sweat shops sap their life forces, and if they live they are unfit to be wives and mothers. Their children are forced into the factories because their labor is cheap. Human flesh and blood cheap! One great, modern fortune costs the lives of thousands of little children—but of course, it is "cheap" to the accumulator. And while this is being done, the fathers of toiling children are tramping, vainly hunting work, or sinking into irrevocable vagabondage. Surely,our industrial systems reflect no honor on the exertions of women to free and improve their sisters.
In the social world the change is still more marked. Marriage is no longer the sole and one important goal of women, nor is it the inevitable thing it once was. The courts are filled with divorce cases; a marriage today may not be one tomorrow, and young children often have a succession of step-parents that must be very confusing to their undeveloped minds. You may attend the grand society wedding of a young lady this year and not be quite sure how to address her if you meet her unexpectedly the next. The sanctity of the marriage relation seems to be threatened on all sides, and the home with many children growing up together under one father and mother, is now seldom seen. Already the wiseacres are trembling for the future of the race, as the new woman very often refuses to become a wife or to be the mother of a numerous progeny.
And therefore it looks to the casual observer as though nothing but evil had come of the new emancipation of women. We sigh for the good old days when married people staid married, and children came into the world about as quickly as possible and were somehow taken care of; when demure maidens of sixteen were married off by their parents and were seldom heard of or from again; when ladies so unfortunate a? not to be asked in marriage, lived as superfluous but often useful dependents in relatives' families to the end of their days; when there were no such beings as "bachelor maids," and no drudges except household drudges; when children were not factory slaves—only slaves to the early pioneer conditions and their own hard working parents. Ah, yesl we sigh for "the good old days" and try in vain to stay the rising tide of freedom.
But it is impossible. We can never put the loom, the spinning wheel, the soap kettle and bake oven back into the kitchens of our homes. We cannot push the new generation of women back into their old seclusion. The economics of the world send human activities where the need of activities exists. We cannot take away the delights of a little independent thinking, nor rob women of the new sense, ability, and wisdom which they have acquired by their hard experiences. They will never, never again fit into the old submissive seclusion and quiet where once they grew, lived and died in silence.
And would we do so if we could? The present conditions seem bad enough, but would we barter the freedom of the race—free men cannot be born of slave mothers—for a deceitful peace? A decorous silence may not always mean good to the greatest number, it may signify rather death and stagnation.
When we come to look about for a remedy for what seems to be an unalloyed evil, we must remember that always the cure for the evils of liberty, is more liberty. The transitional stage in any evolution is always a turbulent one. Repeated trials, failures and successes, suffering,—these are necessary factors in the attainment of perfection. We are not astonished when a young man who has been strictly reared in ignorance of vice and temptation through all his youth, suddenly left free to do as he pleases, rushes into all sorts of vices and follies. The wise man would not cure him by endeavoring to push him back into his old seclusion and ignorance and confining him there for the rest of his life. He would know that the young man must use his freedom until his judgment should become trained by experience, and his faculties and powers should develop themselves. In time he would learn what was wisest and best and his foolishness would come to an end. So it is with woman. She has been for many ages either the slave, the toy or the idol. What if she does come out from the centuries of submission, a little wild, vicious, crude and foolish? Continued freedom with its experiences, trials, failures and successes will cure these faults in time, and nothing else in the universe will.
Let us carefully examine the evil" conditions which apparently have been brought about by the new freedom for women, and take up politics first, for it is here that the change is most marked. It is said that politics has corrupted women without being improved itself in the least. Then there must be something radically wrong, in politics. If it is something that contaminates the mothers of men, it cannot be very good for men. Men and women are human beings alike and what injures one sex will very probably do harm to the other. Politics might be called the art of seating and unseating rulers. Perhaps we will learn in time that choosing rulers is an evil in itself and cannot be indulged in without more or less corruption. "I will rule over no man; I want no man to rule over me," is a good motto for both men and women.
Human beings will yet learn that control must come from within to be of any benefit. Outside restraint after all, never created a moral man. If somehow, somewhere the man does not develop the divine spark within his breast, which alone leads to a high and useful life, he never will reach the high planes. There is no other method, no other plan whereby he may be saved. He may be prevented from exercising his vicious instincts by forcible restraint, but he will never be made a good man by the process. So we will sometime learn that true government comes from within—that its seat is in the breast of each and every individual. Then we will cease dabbling in politics, a thing which is but another name for interfering with our brothers' affairs and robbing them of their birthrights. If politics is not good for women it is not good for any of us.
But the irreligion of modern society cannot be excused on the plea that religion itself is wrong. It may be true that the growth away from old church creeds is due to the modern craving for liberty and to women's wider outlook. But is this an unmixed evil? Is it not a hopeful sign that women are beginning to be influenced through their reasoning faculties rather than through their emotions? Adherence to creeds centuries old is not in itself a great virtue. True religion is something higher than loyalty to an old, crystalized guess of our ancestors; it is an inward growth, an aspiration, a hope, a worship of the highest ideals. It does not consist in believing certain dogmas, in a place of everlasting punishment, in impossible miracles, in any particular plan of salvation, or in petty doctrinal distinctions. To love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy strength and thy neighbor as thyself" is the whole of true religion, and the people who endeavor to live up to this definition are not to be numbered by counting church members. That women are no longer blind followers of creeds and priests, does not argue they are irreligious. Genuine religion is really more widespread today than ever before, and the motives and aims of the people are higher.
In industrial fields the mischief seems deeper and more irremediable. Women have taken the places of men to their own injury, and men, because of it, arc leaping into vagabondage. Women are weakened and rendered unfit) for wifehood and motherhood by the excessive strain which wage slavery entails. But what is the cure? We cannot expect to crowd all women back into private homes at this stage of industrial and capitalistic development. If our industrial conditions were based on justice, it would not matter how many workers there were—the more the better. The more producers, the more wealth, and the more general comforts, luxury and advantages would be. But our industrial system is not what it should be and not only women and children suffer, but men also. Too intense a struggle against overwhelming forces, distorts the natures of both men and women. It is truly painful to sec women grow hard, unscrupulous and brazen in the competitive field; to see them worn and shrunken by the terrific toil when they fail; to see their mannish airs when successful; to watch them growing masculine in looks and demeanor as they become accustomed to the grinding routine of business or wage working. But it is equally sad to see mankind in general, stunted and coarsened by too intense toil and struggle. Business ought not to be a tug of war. "Making a living" ought not to be a fierce en- counter with deadly foes. To make one's self independent in the world ought not to be a battle in which one or another must fall. There is no need of it all; the world is bountiful in natural resources; there are plenty of willing hands and inventive brains to turn it all into comforts and luxuries. We are still pursuing old, clumsy methods of production and distribution. As a civilized society we have learned nearly everything except how to be just. But we must learn that soon, or lose all that we have gained in many centuries of progress. When we have learned it, men and women will be free to choose their activities according to their abilities and tastes without invading each other's rights. A free choice would soon determine whether it is an artificial law or a natural one which binds women to particular lines of work to the exclusion of other kinds. If we should find that women can do their best work and be happier and better as adjuncts to a cookstove or a sewing machine, no doubt they will become willing attachments to these implements. But we may discover that there is no more reason for every woman being first of all a housekeeper and nurse than there is for every man being a carpenter and a gardener before he is anything else. Under free and wise methods of production and distribution, children would never be forced to work beyond the normal expression of their natures while learning and growing. So here again, the liberty that has apparently resulted only in coarsening women and injuring men, should expand until all mankind is free to work as naturally as the birds fly and animals run. No one would ever be injured by the natural, reasonable use of one's powers and faculties, and no one would care to shirk such exercise of their abilities. It is not work which people dread, but drudgery and slavery.
But the social evil, the terrible state of affairs which prevails even in so-called "best society," what can excuse that? It all seems so inexplicable, so helpless. Homes are being broken up, husbands and wives are separating every day, marriage has lost its sanctity and the nuptial vows no longer possess any significance.
What ought to be done? Shall we try to force a return to the old time ideals by passing more and severer laws against divorce? By excommunicating or ostracising the lax creatures who will not abide by the arrangements which go to form the everlasting bulwarks of society?
We will find that impossible, too. We can never go back to an old condition when once the gigantic forces of evolution have swept us out of it. We must go on to the end, whatever it is, and await another cycle in the great upward spiral of progress.
And if we could? If it were possible, have we any right to try to purchase the stability of our old institutions with the sufferings of silent victims? True, we heard little outcry in those old days when a woman's fate was irrevocably fixed by outsiders before she was old enough to know what it meant. We had peace, certainly, and our nerves were not outraged by the exposition of home tragedies in ugly court rooms. But this does not prove that there was no suffering. There were tragedies in those days. The secret history has escaped in the relieved sigh of many a dying mother, in the hidden, tear-dimmed words written in secrecy, in the dwarfed and stunted bodies and souls of children, in the crazed brains of both men and women. There were long drawn out agonies of endurance when there was no escape from a loveless union; when innumerable children were born in hate and iniquity; when death was the only release from bonds that no legal ceremony could sanctify.
The cry of the oppressed is never a pleasant sound; it troubles and annoys, and we would like to hush it when we can. But hushing it does not cure the wrong. If an institution can only be kept sacred by forbidding its victims to cry out. let its sanctity be lost. If society can only be saved from ruin and destruction by hushing the rattle of its chains, it would better not be saved. But it is not all so hopeless. Society has within it the elements of its own security. It docs not need salvation by sacrifice. Love is forever sacred, and it exists—not as the result of ceremonies, institutions and legal bonds, but in spite of them. Whatever is truly sacred, requires no "keeping." "What God hath joined together let no man put asunder," but if God joins, man cannot put asunder. We cannot destroy the sanctity of love if we would, and we cannot make a forced union without love sacred, try as we may.
In a recent editorial of a modern daily paper, comment on the President's advice to all women "to be able and willing to perform the first and greatest duty of womanhood, to bear and bring up healthy, sound children numerous enough so that the race shall increase and not decrease," are these words: "Laws for the protection of home may be enacted and enforced ; fathers and mothers may be exhorted concerning their sacred obligations to the race; but does not human history teach the lesson so plainly that he who runs may read, that none of these things are necessary for the homes of the land that are founded on the highest and holiest emotions of the human heart?"
And in answer to a German philosopher who said "while the republic endures there will be one monarch who will never be dethroned, and that is his majesty, the baby," the editorial says:
"But this would be nearer the truth had he said that 'while love reigns in the homes of the republic,' and he might have added, 'when it does not, it ought to be dethroned.'" We will never reach quiet by trying to force one when there is the real turbulence of suffering. We must have liberty, of expression, of action, of choice. The right will ever come uppermost when there is sufficient free and. unhindered agitation. The only cure for the evils of liberty is more liberty.
When women have grown more accustomed to liberty; when through experience and suffering they learn what constitutes true purity and genuine peace, they will of their own accord seek and accept them. They will need no outside restraints or bonds to keep them from doing wrong. In the sunlight of freedom, they will grow upright as the flower and send forth blossoms to bless and enrich all mankind as naturally.
Under the present new liberty, crude though it is, women are bewildered, they shiver in the rare, fine air and know not how to breathe it properly. But this does not prove that the air is not good for them. The invalid shrinks and gasps in the glorious, fine air of the mountains at first but he becomes strong and healthful in it. Many women have let go the old guards and fetters and have forgotten to create new sup- ports. They have drifted, been whirled into maelstroms and apparently lost. But the divine womanhood within, the essence of that lofty humanity which is to reign sometime on earth, is never entirely lost. The free woman will in time rise to a realizing sense of herself.. She will not be coerced, restricted, threatened, but she will not waste herself. She will rear a standard of her own; she will cherish ideals loftier and purer than any that church, state or society have ever tried to enforce upon her, and she will grow to them. Nothing can detain her. Marriage will then be truly sacred, for love will be its only foundation. The woman of the future will not value herself cheaply; she will not sell herself for wealth, position, fashion or influence—these things will have nothing to do with her marriage.
Man need not fear for his happiness when this grand, new creature shall come to meet him. He will be loved as he never has been loved. And love shall inspire and uplift him, never drag him down or degrade him.
This new woman can only grow under freedom. Statutes, creeds and institutions cannot create her. She must come of the divine spark within every human being, unfolding naturally in the sunshine of love and liberty.