Thursday, 29 September 2016

THE TRUTH ABOUT WOMEN.

We do not know what Truth is. We, ourselves, as Olive Shreiner so sweetly teaches in "The Story of an African Farm," shall never see it to know it. But, just the same, we know that Truth is, and we know of it also that Truth is One. By this I mean that we know that no truths antagonise one another, that all truths are knit and interknit together in one complete whole, which is the ideal Truth, and in which there is not a single note that jars. We know this because it is impossible to conceive of antagonistic truths, because every instinct of our brain, every fibre of our frame, every sentiment of our existence, prompts and impels, and teaches us to reject such a supposition, and to compare, and criticise, and examine until we can strip the fallacies from antagonizing appearances: and find the common truth which all experience teaches us ever lies underneath. The whole reason, not only of the highest artist, but, as far as it goes, of the lowest savage, is based upon the unity of Truth. It is a very necessity of our existence ; without it the universe is chaos worse confounded. We may deny the unity of God, or deny God altogether— as some think—but Truth must be, and Truth is One.
* * *
What has this to do with the Labor movement and the women question? Just this : Progress, which is the search after Truth, is One, too. There is another burning question in our midst besides the industrial question. If everything which occurs, everything which threatens to occur, throws the Labor movement into greater prominence, none the less surely does the woman question hang about its skirts, and keep steadfastly at its heels. It is absurd for us to ignore any question, because—Truth being One —all questions affect one another, and so all questions affect the Labor movement. It is specially absurd for us to ignore the woman question, which in itself is sufficient to decide the fate of people and the future of great States.
 * * *
 Now, does the woman question specially affect the Labor question? In this way, it seems to me : If mothers were not slaves children would be born free, whereas now most of us are born tired, and only fit to work at wages, for squatters, and to submit like lambs when Governments bully. The influence of a degraded sex, of a sex denied by law and custom equal opportunity with men, of a sex accustomed to secure its objects by wheedling and persistent cunning, of a sex accustomed to sell its sexuality as Judas Iscariot sold Christ, only asking, at the most, that the sale take place before a priest, of a sex that is driven throughout every class, rich and poor, to outrage the laws of its being, and to live an unnatural life under an unnatural conventionalism, cannot be very good. We hear it said that if women had votes they would vote with the conservatives of Society. Seeing that we have united for centuries to damn women, I don't think that this can be wondered at. The only thing to be wondered at is that any woman — or any man either, for that matter— has any spirit or courage left to question anything.
* * *
 There was a saying once—it is heard less frequently of late, I think—that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So it is—for those who were imposing on our ignorance. Why shouldn't we have a little knowledge till we can get more ? Why should we not, for example, examine for ourselves the influences which have brought Woman to the place she now holds? Is it always necessary that we should take our thoughts from pseudo-scientists, and our doctrines from ignorant priests ? We have done that long enough, and see where they have landed us.
 * * *
 The influences which go to make up the modern Woman are various : the Greek woman, the Christian woman, the Gothic woman, even the Jew woman — all contributed in the wonderful pot-boiling of thought-movements to mould the woman of to-day.
 * * *
 The place of the Greek woman, the Greek ideal, was to please the hermaphroditic taste of the great artist-people. In Greek art the face of man and woman are closely akin, the female breast is small, the whole effect of the female form is of delicacy rather than of vigour. The Greek women bound their bosoms flat lest they should offend the taste of the Society which saw the climax of womanly beauty in the childless bride. The Greek woman was a slave, an intolerable slave whose ministrations to man's sensual fancy was softened by no gleam of higher and better things. Even the desire for children did not herald the dawning of a better day. All the glory of Greek art, of Greek thought, of Greek courage, and Greek liberty was as the course of a sky-lighting comet that flashed for a moment over a world of barren and desolate womanhood. And in the decline of Greeco-Roman civilization, the very name of sex, the very thought of sexuality, was defamed by the riotous Bacchanalia that shook a dying civilization, in which the mere form-beauty idea became soulless indeed. To this comes Paul, half-Jew, half Gentile, all his Semitic instincts, his Jewish Puritanism, outraged by the breastless courtesan-wife of the Greek, the shameless Thessalinas of the Romans. Woman is cast down from the shameful pedestal whereon Greek art placed her naked to please the public eye, and to soothe the public brain. She is treated as a vile beast, whose own fault it was that she was shamed and sinned against. The sex becomes a dishonor, indeed, a mark of divine displeasure. Maternity itself is denounced be cause of the sexual act, without which even St. Paul cannot be brought into the world. And we see this fanatical condemnation of the Greek woman reaching its apotheosis in the idea of the divine paternity of Jesus Christ. That the kiss of human love had sanctified the conceiving of the carpenter of Nazareth was not to be tolerated. Woman is crushed down to the nethermost hell of ascetic condemnation when the power of the Holy Ghost overshadows her, and "sinless" the Christ is born.
 * * *
 This is why the Jew was not Christianised because Paul the Gentile killed Christ and invented Christianity. The Jew woman was, at least, honored as the mother, trusted as a sister in the persecuted Faith. The Jew stoned the adulteress ; he did not set her in the seat of honor as the Greek did, and lay the philosophy of the host in her lap. To him, God had grown into a sublime conception of Eternal Truth and Justice, which the genius of Christ clothed in the garb of the All-Father ; the Jew had no gods who played Lothario with womankind in the form of bulls, or swans, or showers of golden rain, or ghosts. It was with him a religious duty that women should bear children ; the barren woman had no part in his idealism, the life-long virgin no place in his conception of human life. The tenderness of Jesus reached the Jew, but the fierce anti-Greek Geeekism— to coin a word— of Paul repelled and shocked him. And so, somehow, between the lot of them, we nursed in Christianity the sister-woman whose hand the gentle carpenter took, and whose children he blessed, and whose sorrows he shared, and whose marriage feast he joyed at, and with whom he talked ever in perfect equality, the Jewish respect tempered by the Christ-love. We got instead a sort of clip-winged devil, whose sex was a temptation and a snare, and whose deviltry was only subdued by our trampling on her as a regular thing. And there is a lot of this lingering still even amongst us North Europe peoples, while as for the Latin countries, it is the dominant note of their feeling about women to this very day. That we are not quite so bad is due to the shadow which the Gothic woman throws upon the vague surface of the magic lantern of the Past.
 * * *
 Of this Gothic woman there is a tale that looms up in Gothic story as the Pyramids loom on the sands of Egypt. When they first entered Roman Europe from the North, the Goths were migrating with their cattle and their families, looking for land. The Romans, overthrowing the first swarms, sold the captured women to slavery and degradation ; after that, the women in these migrating hordes used to stab themselves when their husbands were beaten. The Gothic woman was large and strong, broad of hip and vast of breast, and shrill of voice, working side by side with the men, each sex doing its own particular work, and both sexes overflowing with a passionate monogamy— that is, one husband one wife and one-wife-for-all-the-time. In the whole myth of the Goths, in their whole nature-worship religion, we see this equality of the sexes, this intense sexualism, this extraordinary emotionality. They, were coarse, they were cruel, they were brutal, men and women alike; but they were human brutes, who took life boldly and broadly and laughed at this Gothic woman—idolised by struggling woers in her youth, idolised by her chosen mate in her prime, idolised by love-borne children in her old age, with the songs of her people exalting her and the religion of her people deifying her, and the thought of her as lover, wife, and mother on every man's lips and in every man's heart, her sex held sacred, her femininity adored, her advice regarded, her wisdom sought after, her love the crown of living and her scorn the deadliest sorrow that could smite the stubborn Goth with the woman of St. Paul, the Christian woman, conceived in sin and born accursed and to be avoided by those who would reach heaven, whose breasts were not a glory but a shame, and whose aim it was to subdue "the flesh and the devil" with fastings, and prayers; and scourgings, with whom, barrenness was the only good and marriage itself a tampering with the powers of darkness and a dangerous unlocking of the gates of sin! Compare these two women for a minute! Is not the Gothic woman the true womanly woman? Is it not from her type that free men will be born and great nations spring ? Yet even as the Christian woman comes from the wedding of Jewish fanaticism with Greek meretriciousness, so the modern woman comes from the wedding of the Gothic strength with the Christian weakness. The priest had persuaded us that sexualism is evil and that asceticism is the only good. This has been hanging round our necks for centuries, and, being Goths, we have been perpetually rebelling against being burdened for the offending of the Greeks with whom we had nothing whatever to do. The English-speaking people are Goths, and naturally retain to this day, a tremendous percentage of our Gothic characteristics. Indeed the Gothic woman may fairly be said to be our ideal of woman the moment we can forget the unfortunate influences which surround us. Yet the persistent theological indoctrination of the wickedness of sexuality, of the inferiority of woman, of the necessity to keep our daughters and wives, even our sisters and mothers, under our thumbs, for fear the wickedness inherent in their sex should bubble up and scald us, has had a tremendous effect upon our thoughts and habits. Most of all, I am of opinion, it has influenced women themselves.
 * * *
 Surely there can be nothing more serious than to feel that a natural instinct instead of being good is altogether bad, and is to be fought against as a deadly sin rather than followed as a certain guide. If we were taught that the inherent love of Truth is devilish, and to be rejected as a lingering taint of original sin, what would be the result. It has been thrust upon us for nearly a thousand years, seriously for nearly five hundred, that sexuality is sinful and unwomanly and ungodly. Although all our Gothic instincts are against this we have, ethically, that is as a morality, been accepting it ; surely it is as plain as the nose on the face that such teaching must induce looseness of living just as to condemn persistently love of Truth must lead to lying.
 * * *
 Space forbids a prolonging of this most tremendous of all the social questions. When we see the world full of unmarried men and women ; when we see Labor content to be robbed not only of its food, but of its home, its sex, its humanity ; when we see the average marriage made for money and not for love, when we know that society reeks with immorality and that men are being born without enough courage to strike a blow for undoubted rights, and women without enough passion to cut their throats rather than sell themselves, we must realise, I think that something is wrong with our race. And one of the things that is wrong is the position of women, with the popular conception of woman by man and of woman by herself.
 * * *
 What to do : you see, that is harder. It is easier to know a disease exists than to cure it, and I know of no cure except to preach always, at all times, in all seasons, the Truth as it seemed to our Gothic forefathers, and, as it has come down to us, in the folk-lore that ignores all change of creed. Which is, that woman is not devilish but divine, that love is not a vice but a virtue, and that the passion of one-man-one-woman is the secret of the eternal race-life ; that we have a right to love and live which no Society can rightfully take from us; that every Jack should have his Jill, and should marry her, and should shake his fist at the Future and ignore all the muddy slimey thoughts in which our race is choking ; that God made the earth fruitful, and gave men strong arms, and women full breasts, and that it is a fitting thing to fill the world with children, and to feed them and to care for them, even if to do it we have to lose our lives in striking down the robber caste that takes the children's bread ; that the priest-marriage alone is not marriage, and that the loveless wife is a harlot ; and that morality is the same for men as for women, and that Death is better than shame. And this is the Truth, and we know it, and it echoes in all our breasts as the sob of sorrow echoes in the empty rooms of the house of Want. We know we should be better men if each one loved a brave woman and had bonnie children to nerve his arm to shake this competitive civilization to pieces so that they might live free. And we know that women would be better if we could only destroy the submissiveness that makes them mostly as tortured oxen straining at the chain, with no dream of resistence, with no relief but lukewarm tears and empty meaningless words, if for love they would only risk all always, and would regard marriage, without love, by ten archbishops, and four cardinals, and eight magistrates as an unpardonable sin.
 * * *
 But we are cold and flabby in our emotions. The Christian woman has slain the Gothic woman, and it seems sometimes that the most we can do is to sit in sadness by the grace of our race-mother, yearning for the day when, by Death's portals, she will gather her children into her passionate arms. For we may reform industry all we like, but unless the race-blood is warm the race is dying out.
 John Miller.

Hummer (Wagga Wagga, NSW : 1891 - 1892), Saturday 20 February 1892, page 1

No comments: