Rosa Obermayer Mayreder.

A survey of the woman problem, from the German of Rosa Mayreder online

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Printed in England.



In this book I have dealt in my own way with the
problems of the woman's movement. Although in some
respects I am not in entire agreement with this move-
ment, I regard it, nevertheless, as one of the phenomena
which honourably distinguish the present epoch from
all previous periods of human history; nay, more, it
seems to me to be one of the finest manifestations of
an epoch which otherwise, in its poverty of ideals, of
noble feelings, and of passionate beliefs, betrays evidence
of degeneration.

Many of the ideas contained in my work may fre-
quently have been expressed before. The first outlines
were made fifteen years ago, and certain experiences of
my early youth gave me the initial impulse to write it.
Those readers, however, who are already acquainted
with the literature on the subject will, I hope, find
enough that is new to compensate them for what is old;
while that large majority which, unfortunately, still
knows very little about the movement, must remain
satisfied with the comprehensive view of it which I have
endeavoured to present. Some of the essays have
already appeared in various periodicals, and in stringing
them together it has been impossible to avoid repeti-


vi Preface

tions. These will not vex the reader who recognises
that certain truths cannot be repeated too often, since
that which stands to reason does not necessarily compel
belief, and that which is proved is not always admitted.

The woman's movement is due to three different
causes, and has three different aims in view. In my
opinion, these ought to be considered separately, how-
ever intimately they may be connected with one another,
and however true it may be that, taken in conjunction
with one another, they constitute the essential move-
ment. Its threefold basis is economic, social, ethical-

During the few years in which the movement has
begun to pass from the theoretical stage to the political,
the economic and social problems have come to the front,
while the ethical-psychological part has been kept in the
background. I have, however, not dealt at all with the
economic, and only slightly with the social, sides of the
question. Although I recognise that without the
economic revolution caused by the introduction of
machinery the movement could hardly have become a
practical one, yet I maintain that historically it has an
idealistic, not a materialistic, origin. However great
an influence the economic impulses may exert, much
more importance is to be attached to the ideal postulates
of the woman's movement. Economic improvements
would have little effect in changing the real relations of
the sexes. Even if a woman were able to gain her
living independently of man, still she would not be
free unless quite other influences began to operate in
her favour.

The female sex will never, the old idealist Hippel to
the contrary notwithstanding, be set on an equal footing

Preface vii

with the male merely as a result of " the magnanimity
and sense of justice of man." Although, personally, I
am absolutely convinced that these are the distinctive
qualities of noble manhood, I still think that the world
at large is moved by more elementary influences, and not
by magnanimity or a sense of justice. That is true both
of the ethical-psychological relations of the sexes and
also of their relations in the economic affairs of life.

I mention this emphatically and at once in order to
avoid the accusation that I have taken up the cudgels on
behalf of the female sex against the male. Indeed, I
have purposely avoided the question as to the superiority
of one sex over the other. fKn unprejudiced judgment
could be given only by a person who belonged to neither
sex. Speaking for myself alone, and as a mere matter
of subjective taste, I would give the preference to the
male sex, but that seems to be a prejudice naturally
inherent in the femalej

To the majority of women as well as men, Kant's
dictum on mankind in general will, unfortunately, apply
all too well : "If you ask whether mankind is to be
regarded as a good species or as a bad, I must confess
that it has not much to boast about." Certainly, the
ordinary woman has as little reason to boast as the
ordinary man, and we ought to cease attempting to
formulate any sweeping judgments about either sex as
a whole. This method of generalisation is one of the
vulgar mental habits of the present day which tend to
confound the superior individual, the man who rises
above the average, with the mass. The average man or
woman, whether of the upper or of the middle class,
is in no sense interesting, and the ordinary sex-charac-
teristics do not make the study of either any more attrac-

viii Preface

tive. People begin to be interesting only when they
differ from the ordinary type of their sex, when they are
possessed of a certain individuality and emerge from the
common rut. Then the vicissitudes of their lives attain
a personal dignity, they are no longer commonplace, they
have passed beyond the limitations of the type.

This book may be open to the accusation of dealing
too much with exceptional examples, masculine and
feminine, and it may also be said that, although such
exceptions do occur, yet, broadly speaking, the differ-
ences between the sexes do not, as a rule, entitle us to
question their validity.

What do we know of the psycho-sexual qualities of
human beings, even of those with whom we are well
acquainted } How difficult it is to lay bare the soul of
man, so loth to allow itself to be examined, so swift to
hide itself behind conventionalities as soon as it is
conscious of being observed! And how crude and
barbarous seem all our methods of expression when we
approach that delicate, ethereal, manifold thing!

Is it possible for a man to be really understood when
he differs from the ordinary run ? Even when desirous
to do so, would he be able to interpret himself to those
from whom he differs.'' In ordinary intercourse with
other men only the superficial and conventional aspects
become visible, the inner and more personal traits are
not revealed except to those of a similar temperament.
That is the reason why the untypical remains so fre-
quently unobserved, while the average type is supposed
to be more common than it really is.

What should we have known of human nature if it
had not been for the revelations of those who have
shown themselves to us in their works? Such revela-

Preface ix

tlons furnish the material which I have used with respect
to its symptomatic significance in the second part of the
book. It is the recognition of ideas, not their propaga-
tion, for which I have striven. I do not expect to con-
vince opponents, for that would mean the conversion of
people of a different type, and I do not believe that
people of radically different temperaments can come to
any understanding by intellectual means. Even when
they are intellectually equal, they cannot approach one
another by reasonable argumentations, for all convic-
tions — at least, all genuine convictions — are only the
outward expression of the inward nature. As a matter
of fact, men do not talk or write in order to carry con-
viction to other men, but only to express their own.
Those who are experienced in the subtleties of thinking
know that every sort of opinion may be asserted and
proved, and also doubted and controverted. The battle
of opinions, however thoroughly and by whatsoever
methods it may be carried on, is a mere idle game when
it does not indicate the expression of tendencies which
are vital to the individuality of the thinker.

I desire only that this book may come into the hands
of those who are akin to me through having similar
perceptions, and I hope that it will give them the kind
of pleasure that we all experience when we see reflected,
as in a mirror, the expression of our own inward feelings.

Rosa Mayreder.



Preface v

Outlines i

Motherhood and Culture 37

The Tyranny of the Norm 74

On Masculinity 90

Woman as the Gentlewoman 124

Women and Types of Women 142

Family Literature 172

The Canon of Ideal Womanhood 183
On the Subject of the " Strong Hand " 193

The Subjective Fetich of Sex 224

Vistas of Individuality 242


The problem of sex psychology, and in particular
of feminine psychology, centres in the question — Is
woman condemned by her sex to a definitely circum-
scribed mentality or is there the same possibility of
unlimited individual modifications in the feminine
nature as in the masculine ?

We get little light from theoretical researches as to
how far mental sex differences affect the nature of
various individuals. We merely learn that as great
a variability exists among women as among men, and
hence that within their physiological limits there is
plenty of scope for the play of individuality. Decisive
results cannot be expected, because those researches are
carried out in a domain where the fundamental con-
ceptions are still indefinite and dubious.

Psychology has come off very badly in the struggle
between the spiritualistic and materialistic views,
between the dualistic and monistic conceptions of the
world, so characteristic of the intellectual life of the
present day. When we have no certainty as to what
is meant by Soul, Spirit, Reason, Intelligence or even
Consciousness, when the most divergent views are
taken of the relation between the soul and the body,
how can any trustworthy data be obtained with regard
to the sexual differentiation of the human '' psyche ".?


2 A Survey of the Woman Problem

The greatest confusion has been caused by the
generalising; methods which it has been customary to
adopt. Such terms as " the male " and " the female "
are employed as if they expressed some actual meta-
physical entity existing in and distinguishing every man
from every woman.

Yet it is evident that such generalisations have been
drawn from experiences concerning merely a more or
less extensive group of individuals, from experiences
m which chance, prejudice or the subjective nature of
the observer play too large a part. The contradictory
ideas concerning " woman " that have in this way been
launched into the world — for various reasons " man "
has to a great extent been spared such ticketing — are
so drastic in their effects because they pretend to have
an objective value by virtue of these wide generalisa-
tions. From the literature on the theme of

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Online LibraryRosa Obermayer MayrederA survey of the woman problem, from the German of Rosa Mayreder → online text (page 1 of 20)