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article number 675
article date 07-27-2017
copyright 2017 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
American Woman in Transition, 1914, Part 2: A Changing Woman for a Changing World
by Ellen Key

MADAME KEY in her previous article showed that the old fashioned woman was the happiest that the world has yet seen because her duties harmonized with her desire. The world has changed and woman has had to change with it, to meet the new conditions. How she has done this in the moral field and what she has yet to do is the subject of this article.

* * *

THE most obvious of the sad results of present economic conditions is an ever increasing number of women who, though well fitted to be mothers, are, through no fault of their own, dry branches on the tree of life. This has a very bad effect on morals, since stifled longing for love and motherhood causes many abnormal situations and mental conditions.

We also find many married women who might be mothers, failing to be so on account of overwork or of a frivolous desire for pleasure.

In the last hundred years the severe labor conditions for women have wrecked many mothers as well as children. It will take another century of hard work to overcome all this mental and physical degeneracy.

This is what a world governed entirely by men has done for women.

Besides these purely statistical facts showing that growth and progress are not always the same, there are other more subtle evidences of the same thing. Woman’s soul culture has not developed as fast as her desire for freedom.

This is particularly true in the realm of sexual ethics. "George Eliot" in the last century was the ideal of womanly conservatism in the sphere of morality.

Another woman, "George Sand," was the fiery prophet of Woman’s right to freedom in the same field. She voices an eternal truth when she says that marriage without love is immoral, but true love even without marriage is moral.

If we believe this truth, it follows that marriage as an institution with its sex slavery is immoral even when the two individuals stand higher than the institution. Marriage is only moral when it grows from an inner necessity and not from outward pressure. Only a free gift under perfect equality can make such a relationship right.

Unfortunately, George Sand with her long string of mis-adventures showed clearly that the great problem is to find and keep the only true love. She herself became an argument against her own creed, raising the question:

"Is a succession of unions all expressing different phases of true love of higher value to the individual soul and to the life of the race than one unbroken although loveless marriage?” Even if we answer yes from the point of view of the individual, are the children better served by successive marriage or free unions than by a home where parents are held together, even though not by love, by a sense of duty for their children?

Since these questions have not yet been worked out, they can only be decided in each individual case. In spite of all the confusion and error which the new sex morals have brought in their own train, it is upon these morals that women must build in order to gain a higher morality for the future.

But in so doing we must not lose that which was good in the old sex morality. In other words, the old love with its ideal faithfulness and permanence must be kept and to it added the conviction that chastity is harmony between the soul and the senses and does not exist without such harmony.

The next great task with which women are confronted is to combine these two principles and make them practical.

"My Husband came in and stood very near me. I wasn’t looking at him but down at my wedding veil . . ." ’The Little Straw Wife’ in the June Ladies’ World. Ten cents, all news-stands. (Advertising from Harper’s Weekly, 1914.)

SO far, women have failed in doing this. This is partly because their erotic life has been injured by centuries of sacrifice and resignation and partly because today’s rebellion against the old order has been so violent. The demand for the right love, like the demand for freedom and justice, is only valuable when it promotes actions that not only enrich the life of the individual but benefit the life of the whole.

Because love between two persons may cause other persons to suffer, as the demands for liberty and justice often do, does not prove that these feelings are in themselves wrong. The road of all progress is marked by the sufferings of individuals, of classes or even of whole nations.

The question is, will a given action which brings pain to others be an advance to the race or a retrogression? Unfortunately, this question has been shirked by many who lead the struggle against sex slavery.
With the new emancipation of sex, we have come to see that the sex morality beaten into women for so long is neither as general nor as deep-rooted as we have been led to expect.

Very few women who have taken advantage of the new moral freedom and have given themselves to a man, have had the right to plead in the words of Schiller, “A man who loves passes beyond the bounds of all other ordinances and stands beneath the laws of love alone.”

There is an exalted state in which many other duties, many other moral standards no longer are binding upon him.

In many cases the feelings of these women have been far from an exalted state. Their love has not been the great love which kindles the soul and the senses and increases the value of life and the soul possibilities of the lover.

With most soul mates of the present day, the right to happiness has turned out to be a trivial desire for fresh stimulation. The right to live one’s own life has resulted in vulgar gratification of silly desire. The great passion has never grazed these people with its wings, much less has the great love ever entered their dreams.

Lust, idleness, the excitement of flirtation and sport cause the too hasty divorces, loose relations, and repeated trial marriages easily distinguished by a growing loss of spiritual questions and an increase of coarseness.

Many wives, among whom are mothers, who in their children have the greatest possible stimulus to a richer life, and many family girls with splendid possibilities more or less lead the life of a courtesan. The only difference is that these women are not paid. They often themselves have to pay in the form of loans to those invertebrates to whom alcohol, tobacco, silk linings and automobiles are necessities of life.

These “comrades” frequently belong to the literary and artistic Bohemia where men have the leisure to court women in the social world here referred to. They try to make up for their lack of creative genius by all kinds of pleasures, particularly the enjoyment of women. Add to these qualities the feminine need of luxury and pleasure and you have a class of modern women who are a counterpart of these men.

The old womanliness may remain typical of the daughters of the future."

WE had hoped that woman’s companionship with man would teach her better manners and this is true in coeducational schools, but in proportion as social intercourse between the sexes loses in modesty and the erotic life sinks to a lower plane, the manners of girls lose their delicacy and attractiveness. This is an incidental but a very disconcerting fact of modern standards.

Of course, where love is lacking, people do not want children and motherhood is avoided or prevented. Sometimes it is the man who does not want them. In such a case it is his own fault if his wife tries to fill her empty life with love adventures.

All this is frequently called the newer morality of our day, but it has always occurred during transitional periods. I only speak of it because many of these modern courtesans, both male and female, call their mode of life the new morality instead of its real name, unchastity. They thereby bring about a confusion of ideas through which the lives of many worthy men and women are ruined. No wonder many people feel a violent reaction toward the old morality.

One of the good results of the revision of this old morality is the change in our point of view toward the so-called fallen woman. In the early fifties, Mrs. Gaskill in her novel “Ruth” and Hawthorne in “The Scarlet Letter” made a first attempt to change the judgment on unmarried mothers; a change that has been going on ever since.

Unmarried mothers and their children are now beginning to get the care long refused them by society. But even here we have been at fault in using too much sentimentality and too little sense. We call motherhood holy, no matter how miserable are the children whom mothers, married and unmarried, cast upon society.

As we change the standing of unmarried mothers we must become more severe in our judgment of these others. Otherwise protection of all mothers will result in a diminished sense of responsibility.

The old by-gone custom of putting undesirable children to death was really more moral from the point of view of society than our custom of asking the strong and healthy members to burden themselves with heavy taxes to support the vicious and defective class which is allowed to propagate its kind.

WE have also changed our attitude toward the prostitute. Lennep’s book, “Klaasje Levenstee,” first told the virtuous woman that there were many innocent women among the prostitutes, both those deliberately trapped into the traffic, the so-called white slaves, and those who are the indirect victims of starvation wages.

Dumas and Tolstoi and others have shown us that the harlot may be possessed of real love and humanity. On the other hand, we have a great many books that are unwholesomely sentimental upon this subject, books that would make us believe that a brothel is a leaden casket containing nothing but pearls.

All this confusion only goes to prove that women, bewildered by sudden freedom after centuries of slavery, have been unable to lead with a firm purpose. Many have been too hasty in condemning the monogamous marriage, the achievement of ages which, with all its mistakes, impresses on the husband and father a sense of his solemn responsibilities.

Too many have under-emphasized faithfulness and self-control. Women have not shown themselves as capable of a wise moral development, as we hoped thirty or forty years ago.

The early feminists thought that love in its highest form would be immediately secured by the freedom of women. They thought that self-support for women would prevent all marriages except love matches, that their equality with men would bring about purer morals, a more developed human life and a more perfect motherhood.

They did not suspect that for many women self-support was so hard a task that any marriage was a deliverance, that woman’s purity frequently would have no effect on men, that great love would be degraded into erotic adventures and that motherhood would be looked upon as an unwelcome interference in work or pleasure.

Andrew Alexander. Our exceptionally large stock of women’s ready-to-wear slippers offers exclusive models in fashionable shades of satin at $3, $5, and $7.50. 548 Fifth Avenue, New York. (Advertising from Vanity Fair magazine, 1914.)

But even if those first apostles of feminism had suspected all this they would no more have kept silent than Jesus would have been silenced had he been told of the inquisition and auto-da-fe that would follow in the name of Christianity. The greatest faith has strength to endure the worst of all disappointments, the shortcomings of the disciples.

Neither the worst disciples of women’s freedom nor the worst errors of the new morality can change the truth that only woman’s perfect equality with man in education for work, opportunity to work, wages for work and duty to work is a fundamental condition for the final victory over sexual morality, legal or illegal.

EVERY transition period has brought confusion of ideas and laxity in morals. The race cannot form a new morality without first loosening the bands which formed the old. At Present we are living in a chaos where old and low instincts fertilized with new and high ideas have given birth to many monstrous forms of life. Only when these ideas have become feelings and the feelings have become instincts which supplant the old, will the new morality be strong and solid.

There are two lines along which morality is growing,—the individuals right to his own love life and society’s right to limit this life for the welfare of the race. The first demand is based on the growing knowledge that people are not alike in the life of their souls and particularly of their erotic needs.

The second demand grows out of a new ethical priciple, eugenics. By the swiftness with which this idea is gaining ground, we can see that a morality which is organically part of life has a power of growth aside from any help by laws or customs.

There are certain ethical crimes which, breaking out here and there, show the existence of a new moral condition of mind. Such crimes are now being committed yearly in the name of eugenics, and they will continue to be repeated until they give rise to a new idea of right and to new laws.
• A crime of this sort is the one which the mother commits when she puts to death a child who is in every way unfit for life.
• Another is the deliberate motherhood of unmarried women who are self-supporting.
• Another is race suicide when the mother knows that the child will suffer for the father’s iniquities, and lastly.
• The revolt of some woman against the unreasonable waste of energy, personal and social, in bringing more children to life than can be cared for.

Woman’s new demand for her human right to self-preservation and for her duty to cultivate her own spiritual and physical energies is perfectly compatible with the good of the race, when it is used to produce a better not a larger race. That some of these actions of the most moral women look like the actions of the most immoral ones ought not to seem inconsistent to the very people who advocate capital punishment for single murder, and at the same time glorify wholesale murder in war.

They say that the motive determines the ethics. Why not consider the motives in connection with these crimes of women?

But in spite of all these passionate conflicts, we are on the whole quietly and steadily advancing. Better care of children has resulted in the decrease of infant deaths. Men and women will now break an engagement or even a marriage when they find that either is suffering from an hereditary disease. More and more numerous are the men and women who will not enter into any sex relation when they know themselves to be victims of such heredity.

A great mass of people are still ignorant or careless of the commands of eugenics, but public opinion is growing and in time conventions will arise which in turn will become laws. In time eugenics will become as deep rooted in the instinct as the duty to defend the home country against invaders.

Anyone not blinded by the present idea of international war, colonization or industrial politics, who can still put his mind on the culture of humanity, must realize that the race can only be improved through selective breeding.

A lower birth rate is not a national evil. What is dangerous and immoral is that the worst element has no check upon the number of its children while the best women are frequently either unable or unwilling to fill the high office of motherhood.

Some women who have children even begin to preach a mother’s duty not to bring up her own children, but to leave it to the community to train and educate them collectively.

Fine-Form Maternity Garments for Expectant Mothers. In society—on the street—in the home, everywhere, the expectant mother presents an elegant appearance in a "Fine-Form" garment. Beyer & Williams Garment Co. Dept. 89, Buffalo, N. Y. (Advertising from Vanity Fair magazine, 1914.)

THIS question of motherhood is the most important of all woman questions. The answer which women can give will determine whether they are to continue to be the standard bearers of a new morality or whether their morals will become more manly in evil as well as good.

Only he who believes that moral laws are divine and unchangeable can doubt that woman’s self-assertion will on the whole be good for humanity.

But the very one who hopes this, will also hope that the ancient womanly virtues of motherly sacrifice and wifely faithfulness will never be outgrown. These virtues will be all the more needed when love is made the standard for marriage because this relation is governed by a law, as inflexible as the necessity for the presence of both oxygen and nitrogen in the air, that love implies a mutual desire for an eternal relation brought about by faithfulness between husband and wife during their life and into the future through children.

No freedom ought to make women indifferent to sell-control and motherly devotion since from these qualities some of the highest values in life have sprung. The best qualities of the sailor are still needed by the aviator though the latter has a wider space in which to sail. Unless we realize this truth through our imaginations, we shall soon learn it from the number of victims sacrificed.

WE cannot understand the modern woman’s moral uncertainty by talking of religious disbelief and the evil of the times.

The fact is that woman never has been and is not now fully free. The fact that for thousands of years they have bought all those things which enhance life through their sex value and that they are therefore oversexed has more to do with their confusion.

Therefore it is unreasonable to speak of the present state of woman’s morals as the new morality. Not until women have enjoyed liberty over a long period of time and have had for some centuries ethical and social culture on a par with man’s, a legal and economic equality which does not exhaust either body or soul, will it be known whether women have a new nature or if the old womanliness will remain typical even of the daughters of the future.

But we must not forget that in the next hundred years we shall see another change which will have an enormous influence on woman’s nature. I mean our new ideas of the relations of property and labor. It is most encouraging that woman’s liberation coincides with this democratic revolution and plays a part in the increasingly socialized theory of evolution.

We are beginning to know that the struggle for existence is balanced by mutual helpfulness and that the right of the strong need not rob the weak of his rights.

Woman has a good chance of escaping the demoralization of honor and riches, unchecked competition and unbridled enterprise, for these are passing.

At the same time women are coming into the industrial field and gaining the self-confidence that comes from knowing that they are productive members of society.

When we compare the wives who still do heavy daily labor in the homes without being paid, except through the husband’s gifts, with their sell-supporting sisters, we can realize what an economic independence means.

When woman no longer needs to use her cunning or beauty to cajole a man into giving her what she needs, the whole woman sex will rise to a higher plane of morality. To the extent that exotic pets and beasts of burden in the shape of idle and worn out women vanish, sex morality will be rid of its worst blemish, the commercial value of the woman body.

* * *

The third and last article will give Madame Key’s opinions about woman’s work and what her sphere will be when she lives up to her promises. She will tell where women have done their new work well and where they have not made good.

Ellen Key at the age of seven.
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