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It may be that they have not yet all that should belong to them. If that be the case, let the men lose no time in making up the difference. But it seems to me that the women who are now making their claims may perhaps hardly know when they are well off. It will be an ill movement if they insist on throwing away any of the advantages they have won. As for the women in America especially, I must confess that I think they have a “good time.” I make them my compliments on their sagacity, intelligence, and attractions, but I utterly refuse to them any sympathy for supposed wrongs. O fortunatas sua si bona nôrint! Whether or no, were I an American married man and father of a family, I should not go in for the rights of man—that is altogether another question.
This question of the rights of women divides itself into two heads,- one of which is very important, worthy of much consideration, capable perhaps of much philanthropic action, and at any rate affording matter for grave discussion. This is the question of women's work; how far the work of the world, which is now borne chiefly by men, should be thrown open to women further than is now done. The other seems to me to be worthy of no consideration, to be capable of no action, to admit of no grave discussion. This refers to the political rights of women; how far the political working of the world, which is now entirely in the hands of men, should be divided between them and women. The first question is being debated on our side of the Atlantic as keenly perhaps as on the American side. As to that other question, I do not know that much ever been said about it in Europe.
“You are doing nothing in England towards the employment of females,” a lady said to me in one of the States soon after my arrival in America. “ Pardon me,” I answered, “I think we are doing much, perhaps too much. At any rate we are doing something." I then explained to her how Miss Faithfull had instituted a printing establishment in London ; how all the work in that concern was done by females, except such heavy tasks as those for which women could not be fitted, and I handed to her one of Miss Faithfull's cards. Ah,”
American friend,“ poor creatures ! I have no doubt their very flesh will be worked off their bones.” I thought this a little unjust on her part; but nevertheless, it occurred to me as an answer not unfit to be made by some other lady,—by some woman who had not already advocated the increased employment of women. Let Miss Faithfull look to that. Not that she will work the flesh off her young women's bones, or allow such terrible consequences to take place in Coram
street; not that she or that those connected with her in that enterprise will do aught but good to those employed therein. It will not even be said of her individually, or of her partners, that they have worked the flesh off women's bones; but may it not come to this, that when the tasks now done by men have been shifted to the shoulders of women, women themselves will so complain? May it not go further, and come even to this, that women will have cause for such complaint? I do not think that such a result will come, because I do not think that the object desired by those who are active in the matter will be attained. Men, as a general rule among civilized nations, have elected to earn their own bread and the bread of the women also, and from this resolve on their part I do not think that they will be beaten off.
We know that Mrs. Dall, an American lady, has taken up this subject, and has written a book on it, in which great good sense and honesty of purpose are shown. Mrs. Dall is a strong advocate for the increased employment of women, and I, with great deference, disagree with her. I allude to her book now because she has pointed out, I think very strongly, the great reason why women do not engage themselves advantageously in trade pursuits. She by no means overpraises her own sex, and openly declares that young women will not consent to place themselves in fair competition with men.
They will not undergo the labour and servitude of long study at their trades. They will not give themselves up to an apprenticeship. They will not enter upon their tasks as though they were to be the tasks of their lives. They may have the same physical and mental aptitudes for learning a trade as men, but they have not the same devotion to the pursuit, and will not bind themselves to it thoroughly as men do. In all which I quite agree with Mrs. Dall; and the English of it is,--that the young women want to get married.
God forbid that they should not so want. Indeed God has forbidden in a very express way that there should be any lack of such a desire on the part of women. There has of late years arisen a feeling among masses of the best of our English ladies that this feminine propensity should be checked. We are told that unmarried women may be respectable, which we always knew; that they may be useful, which we also acknowledge,--thinking still that if married they would be more useful; and that they may be happy, which we trust,-feeling confident however that they might in another position be more happy. But the question is not only as to the respectability, usefulness, and happiness of womankind, but as to that of men also. If women can do without marriage, can men
do so? And if not, how are the men to get wives if the women elect to remain single ?
It will be thought that I am treating the subject as though it were simply jocose, but I beg to assure my reader that such is not my intention. It certainly is the fact that that disinclination to an apprenticeship and unwillingness to bear the long training for a trade, of which Mrs. Dall complains on the part of young women, arise from the fact, that they have other hopes with which such apprenticeships would jar; and it is also certain that if such disinclination be overcome on the part of any great number, it must be overcome by the destruction or banishment of such hopes. The question is, whether would good or evil result from such a change ? It is often said that whatever difficulty a woman may have in getting a husband, no man need encounter difficulty in finding a wife. But in spite of this seeming fact, I think it must be allowed that if women are withdrawn from the marriage market, men must be withdrawn from it also to the same extent.
In any broad view of this matter we are bound to look, not on any individual case, and the possible remedies for such cases, but on the position in the world occupied by women in general ; on the general happiness and welfare of the aggregate feminine world, and perhaps also a little on the general happiness and welfare of the aggregate male world. When ladies and gentlemen advocate the right of women to employment, they are taking very different ground from that on which stand those less extensive philanthropists who exert themselves for the benefit of distressed needlewomen, for instance, or for the alleviation of the more bitter misery of governesses. The two questions are in fact absolutely antagonistic to each other. The rights-of-women advocate is doing his
best to create that position for women, from the possible misfortunes of which the friend of the needlewomen is struggling to relieve them. The one is endeavouring to throw work from off the shoulders of men on to the shoulders of women, and the other is striving to lessen the burden which women are already bearing. Of course it is good to relieve distress in individual cases. That Song of the Shirt, which I regard as poetry of the immortal kind, has done an amount of good infinitely wider than poor Hood ever ventured to hope. Of all such efforts I would speak not only with respect, but with loving admiration. But of those whose efforts are made to spread work more widely among women, to call upon them to make for us our watches, to print our books, to sit at our desks as clerks, and to add up our accounts; much as I may respect the individual operators in such a movement, I can express no admiration for their judgment.
I have seen women with ropes round their necks drawing a harrow over ploughed ground. No one will, I suppose, say that they approve of that. But it would not have shocked me to see men drawing a harrow. I should have thought it slow, unprofitable work, but my feelings would not have been hurt. There must, therefore, be some limit; but if we men teach ourselves to believe that work is good for women, where is the limit to be drawn, and who shall draw it? It is true that there is now no actually defined limit. There is much work that is commonly open to both sexes. Personal domestic attendance is so, and the attendance in shops. The use of the needle is shared between men and women, and few, I take it, know where the sempstress ends and where the tailor begins. In many trades a woman can be, and very often is, the owner and manager of the business. Painting is as much open to women as to men; as also is literature. There can be no defined limit; but nevertheless there is at present a quasi limit, which the rights-of-women advocates wish to move, and so to move that women shall do more work and not less. A woman now could not well be a cab-driver in London ; but are these advocates sure that no woman will be a cab-driver when success has attended their efforts ? And would they like to see a woman driving a cab? For my part I confess I do not like to see a woman acting as road-keeper on a French railway. I have seen a woman acting as ostler at a public stage in Ireland. I knew the circumstances,-how her husband had become ill and incapable, and how she had been allowed to earn the wages; but nevertheless the sight was to me disagreeable, and seemed, as far as it went, to degrade the sex. Chivalry has been very active in raising women from the hard and hardening tasks of the world, and through this action they have become soft, tender, and virtuous. It seems to me that they of whom I am now speaking are desirous of undoing what chivalry has done.
The argument used is of course plain enough. It is said that women are left destitute in the world,-destitute unless they can be self-dependent, and that to women should be given the same open access to wages that men possess, in order that they may be as self-dependent as men. Why should a young woman, for whom no father is able to provide, not enjoy those means of provision which are open to a young man so circumstanced? But I think the answer is very simple. The young man under the happiest circumstances which may befall him is bound to earn his bread. The young woman is only so bound when happy circumstances do not befall her. Should we endeavour to make the recurrence of unhappy circumstances more general or less so? What does any tradesman, any professional man, any mechanic wish for his children? Is it not this, that his sons shall go forth and earn their bread, and that his daughters shall remain with him till they are inarried ? Is not that the mother's wish ? Is it not notorious that such is the wish of us all as to our daughters? In advocating the rights of women it is of other men's girls that we think, never of our own.
But, nevertheless, what shall we do for those women who must earn their bread by their own work? Whatever we do, do not let us wilfully increase their number. By opening trades to women, by making them printers, watchmakers, accountants, or what not, we shall not simply relieve those who must now earn their bread by some such work or else starve. It will not be within our power to stop ourselves exactly at a certain point; to arrange that those women who under existing circumstances may now be in want, shall be thus placed beyond want, but that no others shall be affected. Men, I fear, will be too willing to relieve themselves of some portion of their present burden, should the world's : altered ways enable them to do so. At present a lawyer's clerk may earn perhaps his two guineas a week, and he with his wife lives on that in fair comfort. But if his wife, as well as he, has been brought up as a lawyer's clerk, he will look to her also for some amount of wages. I doubt whether the two guineas would be much increased, but I do not doubt at all that the woman's position would be injured.
It seems to me that in discussing this subject, philanthropists fail to take hold of the right end of the argument. Money returns from work are very good, and work itself is good, as bringing such returns and occupying both body and mind; but the world's work is very hard, and workmen are too often overdriven. The question seems to me to be this,-of all this work have the men got on their own backs too heavy a share for them to bear, and should they seek relief by throwing more of it upon women? It is the rights of man that we are in fact debating. These watches are weary to make, and this type is troublesome to set. We have battles to fight and speeches to make, and our hands altogether are too full. The women are idle,-many of them. They shall make the watches for us and set the type ; and when they have done that, why should they not make nails as they do sometimes in Worcestershire, or clean horses, or drive the cabs! They have had an easy time of it for these years past, but we'll change that. And then it would come to pass that with ropes round their necks the women would be drawing harrows across the fields.