The Adventitious Character of Woman


"First a beast of burden, then a domestic animal, then a slave, then a servant, then a minor." So said an eminent French anthropologist of the last generation, in summarizing the historical relation of woman to society. But, though he seems to have exhausted the vocabulary of dependency, we must decline to admit the adequacy of his analysis. No great importance, in fact, is to be attached to the view that man has with premeditation and cunning put upon woman had hard side of life. He certainly did shirk a number of disagreeable things, but, after all, womanís real grievance is not that he has given her too much to do, but that he has left her too little. Very early in the history of the race man began to appropriate, first the more stimulating pursuits, and finally all the important ones, leaving woman no first-hand activities and no resources except an appeal to his imagination. She has, consequently, assumed a role which is not without charm, indeed, but which brings her showing-off instincts too much to the front and does not adequately represent her natural character. Her present social position is, in fact, about as unnatural as the one she has assumed for some centuries in sitting a horse. It is an artificial and precarious pose, not due to any natural or hereditary disposition, and maintained only because appearance has become more important to her than reality.

Woman as an Ornament

The subordinate and ornamental position of modern woman becomes very remarkable when we consider that she had a situation of relative independence in the earliest stages of human society, and that among low forms of animal life it is the male who occupies the uncertain ground. To all appearances, nature started out without the design of having a male type at all. For the lowest forms of life were reproduced by division or budding, without the assistance of a male, and, because they reproduced they must be called female, if sex is ascribed to them at all. And when the male appeared on the scene it may almost be said that it was not for his own sake, but for the purpose of assisting the female in reproducing. In many of the lower forms he was insignificant in size, economically useless (as among the bees), and often a parasite on the female. She sometimes carried him in a pocket, and to guard against accident, often carried more than one.

But in the course of time a very important change took place in the male. From being an insignificant attachment, he became larger than the female, masterful, jealous, and a fighting specialization. He was still an attachťof the female, but now a defender and provider. He also, for the first time, had a social as well as a biological value, for a disposition on the part of the male to stand by the female is of great importance in the higher forms of life,

( 524) where a considerable time elapses after birth before the young are able to take care of themselves. Nature, indeed, could not have ventured to make so frail a thing as a human child — the most helpless of all animals in infancy, but the most formidable if only it is watched over until it gets its growth — unless the love of the mother had been reinforced by the fighting qualities of the father.

It cannot be said, however, that man was at this point completely socialized, or, indeed, that he has ever been. He was attached to the woman and the children. but he was not steady. He did the hunting and the fighting, but he did not stay at home regularly. The woman and the children were the core of society, the point to which the man came back.

Woman as Manís Equal

There consequently grew up a sort of dual society and dual activity. Man represented the more violent and spasmodic activities, involving motion and skill, and also the organization for hunting and fighting, while woman carried on the steady, settled life. She was not able to wander readily from a fixed point, on account of her children; and, indeed, her physical organization fitter her for endurance rather than movement. Consequently her attention was turned to industries, since these were suitable to settled or stationary habits. Agriculture, pottery, weaving, tanning, and all the industries involved in working up the by-products of the chase were developed by her. She domesticated man and assisted him in domesticating animals. She built the house, and it was hers. She did not go to her husbandís group after marriage. The child was hers, and remained a member of her group. The germ of social organization was, indeed, the woman and her children and her childrenís children. The old women were the heads of civil society, though the men had developed a fighting organization and technique which eventually swallowed them up.

From the standpoint of physical force, man was the master, and was often brutal enough. But woman was, if not economically independent, at least economically creative, and she enjoyed the great advantage of being less definitely interested in man than he was in her. For while woman is more deeply involved physiologically in the reproductive life than man, she is apparently less involved from the standpoint of immediate stimulus, or her interest is less acute in consciousness. The excess activity which characterizes man in general holds also for his attitude toward woman. Not only is the male the wooer among the higher orders of animals and among men, but he has developed all the accessories for attracting attention — in the animals, plumage, color, voice, and graceful and surprising forms of motion; and in man, ornament, and courageous action. Primitive man, like the male animal, was distinguished by ornament.

Man the Master

So far the relation of man to woman was a natural development, and calculated to secure the best results for the species. His aggressive disposition had been, in part at least, developed in the service of woman and her child, and he was emotionally dependent on her to such a degree that he used all the arts of attraction at his command to secure a relation with her. In the course of time, however, an important change took place in conditions. When large game began to be exhausted, man found himself forced to abandon his hunting life and to adopt the settled occupations of woman. To these he brought the inventive technique and capacity for organized action which he had developed in his hunting and fighting life. The result was that he became the master of woman in a new sense. Not suddenly, but in the course of time, he usurped her primacy in the industrial pursuits. Through his organization of industry and the application of invention to the industrial processes, he became a creator of wealth on a scale before unknown. When she was reduced to a condition of dependence on his activity, wooing became a less delicate matter; he purchased her from her male kindred, and took her to his own group, where she was easier to control.

In stages of society where machinery and the division of labor and a high degree of organization in industry have not been introduced, and among even our own lower classes, woman still retains a relation to industrial activities and has a relatively independent status. Among the Indians of this country it was recognized that a man could not become wealthy except through the possession of a sufficient number of wives to work up for trade the products of the chase; and to-day the West African youth does not seek a young woman in marriage, but an old one, preferably a widow, who knows all about the arts of preparing and adulterating rubber. Among peasants, also, and plain people, the proverb recognizes that "the grey mare is the better horse." The heavy, strong, enduring, patient, often dominant type frequently seen among these classes is probably a good representative of what the women of our race were

( 525) before they were reduced by man to a condition of parasitism.

How Woman Infatuates Man

On the moral side, particularly, manís disposition to bend the situation to his pleasure placed woman in a hard position and resulted in the distortion of her nature, or, rather, it brought to the front elemental traits which, under our moral code, are not reckoned the best. In the animal world, the female, on account of the necessity of protecting her young, is cautious and cunning, and relies on sober colors, concealment, evasion, and deception of the senses. In its origin, this quality of cunning is merely a protective instinct developed along with maternal feeling. In woman, also, this tendency to prevail by passive means rather than by assault is natural; and especially under a system of male control, where her purposes are furthered either through her manipulation of man or not at all, a sort of trickery, indirection, and hypocrisy is not to be wondered at.

Man has, however, always insisted that woman shall be better than he is, or, at any rate, that she shall limit her immoralities to such forms as he does not greatly disapprove. There has, in fact, been developed a particular code of morals to cover the peculiar case of woman. This may be called a morality of the person and of the bodily habits, as contrasted with the commercial and public morality of man. Purity, constancy, reserve, and devotion are the qualities in woman which please and flatter the jealous male; and woman has responded to these demands both really and seemingly. Without any consciousness of what she is doing (for all moral traditions fall in the general psychological region of habit), she acts in the manner which makes her more pleasing to men. She also constitutes herself the most strict censor of that morality which has become traditionally associated with woman, naively insists that her sisters shall play well within the game, and throws the first stone at any woman who bids for the favor of men by overstepping the limits of modesty.

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The Use of Finery to Attract the Other Sex

Morality, in the most general sense, represents the code under which activities are best carried on, and is worked out in the school of experience. It is preeminently an adult and a male system, and men are intelligent enough to recognize that neither women nor children have passed through this school. It was, of course, always one of the functions of the female to charm the male; but so long as woman maintained her position of usefulness and partial independence she had no great problem, for there was never a chance in primitive society, any more than in animal society, that a woman would go unmated. But when she became dependent, and when in consequence man began to pick and choose, and when the less charming women were not married — especially when "invidious distinctions" arose between the wed and the unwed, and the desirably wed and the undesirably unwed, woman had to charm for her life; and she not only employed the passive arts innate with her sex, but flashed forth in all the glitter which had been one of manís accessories in courtship, but which he had dispensed with when the superiority acquired through occupational pursuits enabled him to do so. Under a new stimulation to be attractive, and with the addition of ornament to the repertory of her charms, woman has assumed an almost aggressive attitude toward courtship. The means of attraction she employs are so highly elaborated, and her technique is so finished, that she is really more active in courtship than man. By dress, modesty, coquetry, indifference, and occasional boldness, and by "lying low and letting the imagination of the male endow her with depth." she play at once on the protective instincts and the vanity of man, and infatuates him. He does the courting, but she controls the process.

The constrained condition, also, in which woman finds herself as the result of manís control of wealth, of affairs, and even of her own person leads her to devote herself to display as an interest in itself, regardless of its effect on men. Dressing, indeed, becomes a competitive game with women, and since their opponents and severest critics are women, it turns out, curiously enough, that they dress even more with reference to the opinion of women than for men. Sometimes, indeed, when a woman is married and knows that she has scored she drops the display pose altogether, and tends to become a slattern; in other words, she retires from the game. But frequently marriage, while eliminating men in general from the field of attention, is the occasion of providing funds for the more thoroughgoing and whimsical gratification of her interest in finery itself, and for competition with "her dear five hundred friends" on a more elaborate scale. Under these circumstances the pursuit of ornament becomes a veritable craze; and a glance at the windows of our great stores shows that men have organized their business in a full appreciation of the fact.

How Woman Makes a Fool of a Man

It would, of course, be absurd to censure woman to greatly for these frailties, and it would be very unjust to imply that all women share them. Some women, in adapting them-

( 527) -selves to the situation, follow, apparently, a bent acquired in connection with the maternal instinct, and become true and devoted and grand to a degree hardly known by man. Others, following a bent gotten along with coquetry and the wooing instinct, and having no activity through which their behavior is standardized, become difficile, unreal, inefficient, exacting, unsatisfied, absurd. And we have also the paradox that the same woman can be the two things at different times. There is, therefore, a basis of truth in Popeís hard saying that "Women have no character at all." Because their problem is not to accommodate to the solid realities of the world of experience and sense, but to adjust themselves to the personality of men, it is not surprising that they should assume protean shapes.

Moreover, man is so affected by the charms of woman, and offers so easy a mark for her machinations, as to invite exploitation. Having been evolved largely through the stimulus of the female presence, he continues to be more profoundly affected by her presence and behavior than by any other stimulus whatever, unless it be the various forms of combat. From Samson and Odysseus down, history and story recognize the ease and frequency with which a woman makes a fool of a man. The male protective and sentimental attitude is indeed incompatible with resistance. Man is, in fact, so susceptible as seemingly, almost, to want to be victimized, and as Locke expressed the matter, "It is in vain to find fault with those arts of deceiving wherein men find pleasure to be deceived."

The Adventuress

This disposition of man and the detached condition of woman have much to do with the

( 528) emergence of the adventuress and the sporting-woman. Human nature was made for action, and perhaps the most distressing and disconcerting situation which confronts it is to be played on by stimulations without the ability to act. Mere passivity, as in the extreme case of solitary confinement, is sufficient to produce insanity; and the emotion of dread, or passive fear, is said to be the most painful of emotions, because there is no possibility of relief by action. Modern woman is in a similar condition of constraint and unrest, which produces organic ravages for which no luxury can compensate. The general ill health of girls of the better classes, and the equally general post-matrimonial breakdown, are probably due largely to the fact that the nervous organization demands more normal interests than are supplied. The American woman of the better classes has superior rights but no duties, and yet she is worrying herself to death — not over specific troubles, but because she has lost her connection with reality. Many women more intelligent and energetic than their husbands and brothers have no more serious occupations than to play the house-cat, with or without ornament. It is a wonder that more of them do not lose their minds; and that more of them do not break with the system entirely is due solely to the persistence of early habits.

The Morals of the Unattached Woman

As long as woman is comfortably cared for by her family or by marriage, she is not likely to do anything rash; but an unattached woman has a tendency to become an adventuress — not so much on economic as on psychological grounds. Life is rarely so hard that a young woman cannot earn her bread; but she cannot always live and have the stimulations she craves. As long, however, as she remains with her people and is known to the whole community, she realizes that any infraction of its habits, any immodesty or immorality, will ruin her standing and her chance of marriage, and bring her into confusion. Consequently, good behavior is a protective measure — instinctive, of course. But when she becomes detached from home and is removed not only from surveillance, but from the ordinary stimulation and interest afforded by social life and acquaintanceship, her restraints are likely to be relaxed.

The professionally irregular class of women represents an extreme and unfortunate result of an incomplete and unreal relation to society. There are many sorts of natural dispositions among them — as many perhaps as will be found in any other occupation. Many women of fine natural character and disposition are drawn into an irregular life, but recover and settle down to regular modes of living. In this respect

( 529) the adventuress is more fortunate than the criminal (that other great adventitious product), because the criminal is labeled and his record follows him, making reformation difficult; while the in-and-out life of woman with reference to what we call virtue is not officially noted and des not bring consequences so inevitable. But "if you drive nature out at the door, se will come back through the window"; and this interest in greater stimulation is, I believe, the dominant force in determining the choice — or, rather, the drift — of such a woman.

The Girl Who Must Earn Her Own Living

The human mind was formed and fixed once for all in very early times, through a life of action and emergency, when the species was fighting, contriving, and inventing its way up from sub-human condition; and the ground-patterns of interest have never been, and probably never will be, fundamentally changed. Consequently, all pursuits are irksome unless they are able, so to speak, to assume the guise of this early conflict for life in connection with which interest and modes of attention were developed. As a matter of fact, however, anything in the nature of a problem or a pursuit stimulates the emotional centers and is interesting because it is of the same general pattern as these primitive pursuits and problems. Scientific and artistic pursuits, business, and the various occupational callings are analogues of the hunting, flight, pursuit, courtship, and capture of early racial life, and the problems they present may, and do, become all-absorbing. The moral and educational problems of development has been, indeed, to substitute for the killing, escaping, charming, deceiving activities of early life analogues which are increasingly serviceable to society, and to expand into a general social feeling the affection developed first in connection with courtship, the rearing of children, and joint predatory and defensive enterprises. The gamester, adventuress, and criminal are not usually abnormal

( 530) in a biological sense, but society has failed to interest them. We present, indeed, a remarkable spectacle when, with all our sentiment for womanhood, we permit the girl who has to find her own living to approach the problem with no equipment but personal charm and the instinct to "make a flash" — qualities which give their possessor no economic value, but a chance of being victimized. The interests of the girl will be best safeguarded and her life normalized by the possession of a skilled activity, and by the stimulation associated with its exercise.

Suggested Remedy

The remedy for the irregularity, pettiness, ill health, and unserviceableness of modern woman seems to lie, therefore, along educational lines; not in a general and cultural education alone, but in a special and occupational interest and practice for women, married and unmarried. This should be preferably gainful, though not onerous nor incessant. It should, in fact, be a play-interest, in the sense that the interest of every artist, and craftsman, loves his work and functions through it, is a play interest. Normal life without normal stimulation is not possible, and the stimulations answering to the nature of the nervous organization seem best supplied by interesting forms of work. This reinstates racially developed stimulations better than anything except play; and interesting work is, psychologically speaking, play.

Some kind of practical activity for women would also relieve the strain on the matrimonial situation — a situation which, at present, is abnormal and almost impossible. The demands for attention from husbands on the part of wives are greater than is compatible with the absorbing general activities of the latter, and women are not only neglected by the husband in a manner which did not happen in the case of the lover, but they are jealous of men in a more general sense than men are jealous of women. In the absence of other interests, they are so dependent on the personal interest that they unconsciously put a jealous construction not only on personal behavior but on the most general and indifferent actions of the men with whom their lives are bound up; and this process is so obscure in consciousness that it is usually impossible to determine what the matter really is.

The Relations of Husband and Wife

An examination, also, of what we call happy marriages shows very generally that they do not, except for the common interest of children, rest on the true comradeship of like minds, but represent an equilibrium reached through an extension of the maternal interest of the woman to the man, whereby she looks after his personal needs as she does after those of the children — cherishing him, in fact as a child — or in an extension to woman on the part of the man of that nurture and affection which is in his nature to give pets and all helpless (and preferably dumb) creatures

Obviously a more solid basis of association is necessary than either of these two instinctively based compromises. What the man and woman need in this connection is to come into the same general world of interest, or at least to let their worlds touch and overlap, and this much common ground would be secured though the pursuit on the part of woman of an art of her own choosing, and the consequent development of an interest in principles apart from persons. Without general ideas and an interest in principles, conversation cannot go on — I mean conversation as distinguished from talk — and I should regard an occupational interest for women as of value mainly in bringing men and women into the same intellectual world.

This rehabilitation of the mind of woman through some first-hand activity will be slow to come about, not altogether on account of the opposition of man, but mainly because of the conservatism of women. It is true that no great claim can be made for the high intellectual character of the operations of the mind of man, but his practical activities have given him the habit of producing his effects along reasonable lines, or at any rate of mixing a good deal of reason in, while the adventitious position of woman and the necessity of protective adaptation to man have thrown her back largely on emotional effects and poses. She consequently has no means of determining how artificial she really is or of setting about her own reformation — and she is not prepared to listen.


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