Edward Carpenter.

Woman and her place in a free society online

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Online LibraryEdward CarpenterWoman and her place in a free society → online text (page 1 of 3)
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The Labour Press Society Limited, Printers and Publishers, 59, Tib Street.




"^A/'HAT a word is this ! In its brief compass what
thousand-year-long tragedies He enshrined ! Since
the far-back time when in the early societies the thought
of inequality had hardly arisen, and the female in her
own way — as sole authenticator of birth and parentage,
as guardian of the household, as inventress of agriculture
and the peaceful arts, as priestess or prophetess or
sharer in the councils of the tribe — was as powerful as
man in his, and sometimes even more so ; down to
to-day, what centuries of suffering, of repression, of
slave-hood, of dumbness and obscurity have been the
lot of woman ! It seems strange that with the growth of
invention and produ(flion the status of the female sex
should have tended to decline rather than to improve.
Yet such has only too often been the case. For as the
sentiment of private Property — the chief incentive to
Civilisation — has from time to time risen and spread
with a kind of contagion over the advancing races of
mankind, the human male, bitten by the greed of



individual ownership, and casting his eyes about to see
what fresh acquisitions he could claim, has continually
ended by enslaving and appropriating his own free mate,
his second self, and reducing her also to a mere chattel,
an exclusive possession and luxury, a minister to his
wants and pleasures, and a toy and soul-less plaything.

With whatever occasional exceptions, the periods of
Civilisation, and even the societies or sections of society
in which civilisation has made the greatest progress,
have been the scenes of a most notable sadness and
degradation of woman : the Man, all through, more and
more calmly assuming that it must be her province to
live and work for him ; tending more and more to shut
her from the free world and the following of her own
bent, into the seclusion of the boudoir and the harem, or
down to the drudgery of the hearth ; confining her body,
her mind ; playing always upon her sex-nature,
accentuating always that — as though she were indeed
nought else but sex ; yet furious if her feelings were not
always obedient to his desire ; arrogating to himself a
masculine licence, yet revenging the least unfaithfulness
on her part by casting her out into the scorned life of the
prostitute ; and granting her more and more but one
choice in life — to be a free woman, and to die, unsexed,
in the gutter ; or for creature-comforts and a good
name to sell herself, soul and body, into life-long


bondage to a lord whom too soon, alas ! she might
come to hate.

She, more and more, accepting as inevitable the
situation ; moving, sad-eyed, to her patient and uncom-
plaining work ; to the narrow sphere and petty details
of household labor and life, and to the obscurity of
unrecognised cares and interests ; filling the world with
her myriad nameless unrecorded acts of tenderness and
love, of drudgery and daily tendance, of patience and
self-effacement, little noticed and less understood ; yet
all the while with her own impulses and character, her
own talents and genius, smothered away and blighted
by confinement and neglect ; her brain dwarfed ; and
her outlook on the world marred by all falsity and
ignorance. Such has been, the fate of woman through
the centuries. Till at last, becoming indeed only too
well adapted to the external conditions of her life, she
has often even mentally lapsed into the chattel and
property of the male, and (like the wage-earner) been
able only to see her good in clinging for support to
the very person who used her for his profit and his

And if, like man. Woman had been light-armed for
her own defence, it might have been possible to say it
was her own fault that she allowed all this to take
place ; but when we remember that she all the while has


had to bear the great and speechless burden of Sex — to
be herself the ark and cradle of the Race down the ages
— then we may perhaps understand what a tragedy has
lain involved in her destiny. For the fulfilment of sex is
a relief and a condensation to the Man. He goes his
way, and, so to speak, thinks no more about it. But to
the Woman it is the culmination of her life, her profound
and secret mission to humanity, of incomparable import
and delicacy. It is her momentous burden, which she
can never lay aside nor forget- — which she must first lift
before she can raise herself.

Few probably among men, if any, ever understand the
depth and sacredness of the mother-feeling in woman —
its joys and hopes, nor its leaden weight of cares and
anxieties. The burden of her pregnancy and gestation,
the deep inner solicitude, and despondency, as she
realises more and more the grave changes that are in
progress, the fears that all may not be well, the
indrawing and absorption of her life into the life of the
child, the increasing effort to attend to anything else, to
care for anything else; her willingness e\en to die if only
the child may be born safe : these are things which man
— except it be occasionally in his role as artist or
inventor — does but faintly imagine. Then, later on,
the dedication to the young life or lives, the years of
daylong and nightlong labor and forethought, in which


the very thought of self is effaced, of tender service for
which there is no recognition, nor ever will or can be —
except in the far future ; the sacrifice of personal
interests and expansions in the ever-narrowing round of
domestic duty ; and in the end the sad wonderment and
grievous unfulfilled yearning as one by one the growing
boy and girl push their way into the world and disavow
their home-ties and dependence ; the sundering of heart-
strings even as the navel-cord had to be sundered before :
for these things, too. Woman can hope but little
sympathy and understanding from the other sex.

Yet when we consider that She during all the centuries
of her emprisonment and degradation has had to bear
this great and sacred burden, has had to discharge this
priceless and inviolable trust — while we realise the better
how difficult it has been for her to fight for her own
independence, we feel all the more acutely perhaps
for this very reason the part of callousness and
indifference which man has played ; and are not without
surprise that humanity has indeed survived a period
fraught with such danger to its very reproduction
and continuance. Far back out of the brows of Greek
goddess and Sibyll, and Norse and German seeress and
prophetess, over all this petty civilisation look the grand
untamfed eyes of a primal woman the equal and the mate
of man ; and in sad plight should we be if we might not

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Online LibraryEdward CarpenterWoman and her place in a free society → online text (page 1 of 3)