August Bebel. Woman and Socialism
Woman at the Present Day
When we consider the conditions enumerated above, it requires no further proof to recognize that a growing number of persons do not regard the wedded state as a desirable goal, but hesitate to enter into it. This explains the phenomenon, that in most civilized countries the marriage rate is stationary or declining. It was a matter of old experience, that an increase in the price of grain had a detrimental effect on both the marriage and birth rates. With the growing industrial development of any country the marriage and birth rates are influenced more and more by the ups and downs of the market. Economic crises and a lowering of the general economic standard have a lasting unfavorable influence. This may be seen from the marriage statistics of various countries. According to the latest census 12,832,044 marriages were contracted in the United States during the period from 1887 to 1906.
These figures show that as a result of the crises during 1893 and 1894, the marriage rate declined by 12,512. The same phenomenon recurs in 1904, during which year the marriage rate declined by 4987. The following table shows marriage statistics gathered in France:
The marriage rate attained its highest figure, 321,238, during the year 1873. From that time on the marriage rate declined only to increase again with times of prosperity. In France the highest marriage rate since 1873 was attained in 1907 when it reached 314,903. To some extent this increase was due to a new law that went into effect on June 21, 1907, by which the legal formalities required in order to become married were simplified. This increase was especially noticeable in the poorer districts. The following table shows the number of marriages contracted for every thousand inhabitants in various European countries:
|England & Wales||17.08||15.34||15.14||14.70||15.16||16.14||15.6||15.8|
excl. the Vistula province
That the marriage rate rises and sinks with the rise and decline of national prosperity is most strikingly noticeable in Germany. The largest number of marriages (423,900), were contracted in Germany in 1872, the year after the close of the Franco-Prussian war. From 1873 on, the marriage rate declined until in 1879, the year when the crisis was at its worst, it attained its lowest figure (335,133). Then it gradually increased again until 1890, a year of prosperity, to sink once more in 1892 and again to increase with the years of returning prosperity until with the height of prosperity the highest figures were attained (476,491 in 1900, and 471,519 in 1899). The next crisis brought another decline. In 1902 the number of marriages did not exceed 457,208 while in 1906 and 1907 it rose up again to 498,900 and 503,964.
But in general the statistics of most countries point to a decline of the marriage rate. The highest numbers attained during the seventies were attained only in exceptional instances at the close of the nineties. But not only the earnings have a strong influence on the marriage rate, the conditions of property have so likewise. Statistics from the kingdom of Wurttemberg show, that with the increase of large estates the number of married men between 25 and 30 years of age decreases and the number of unmarried men between 40 and 50 years of age increases. Small estates are favorable to the marriage rate, because they enable a greater number of families to maintain a decent though modest livelihood, while large estates are, for obvious reasons, unfavorable to the marriage rate. With the growing industrial development of a country, the number of marriages in urban trades and professions increases. The following statistics from Sweden during the years 1901 to 19o4 show the relation of marriage to occupation:
All these figures prove that not moral but economic causes are the determining factors. The number of marriages like the moral status of a social group depend upon its material foundation.
Fear of poverty and doubts as to whether it will be possible to bring up the children suitable to their station in life, cause many women of all classes to commit deeds that are averse to the laws of nature and to the laws of organized society as well. Such deeds include the various methods to prevent conception, and when this has occurred nevertheless, artificial abortion. It would be a mistake to assume that such methods are resorted to only by frivolous, unscrupulous women. They are, on the contrary, frequently resorted to by conscientious wives, who feel that they must limit the number of offspring and rather submit to the dangers of abortion, than to deny themselves to their husbands and thereby drive them to the devious paths. Other women again take this step to conceal a “sin,” or because they abhor the discomforts of pregnancy, child-birth and motherhood, or because they fear that their physical beauty will be impaired and that they will accordingly seem less attractive to their husbands and to men in general. These women readily obtain medical and surgical aid at high prices.
Artificial abortion seems to be practiced more and more. It was frequently practiced among the ancients and is practiced to-day among both civilized nations and savages. The old Greeks practiced it openly, without any legal restraint. Plato regarded it as within the province of the midwife, and Aristotle permitted it to married people when a pregnancy that was not desired took place. According to Jules Ronyer, the women of Rome practiced abortion for several reasons. In the first place they wished to conceal the results of their illegitimate relations; secondly they wished to indulge in uninterrupted excesses, and thirdly they sought to avoid the detrimental effects of pregnancy and child-birth upon their beauty. Among the Romans a woman was considered old when she attained the thirtieth year, and the women therefore shunned everything that was likely to make them age more quickly. During the mediaeval ages abortions were punishable by severe penalties, in some instances even by capital punishment, and a free woman who had practiced it became a serf.
At the present time abortions are practiced chiefly in Turkey and in the United States. “The Turks do not regard a foetus as being really alive until after the fifth month, and have no scruple in causing its abortion. Even at later stages, when the operation becomes criminal, it is frequently practiced. In 1872 at Constantinople, more than three thousand cases of abortion were brought before the courts in a period of ten months.”
More frequently yet it is practiced in the United States. In all the large cities of the union institutions exist where women and girls can go to bring about premature birth. Many American newspapers contain advertisements of such places. In some strata of American society an artificial abortion is discussed as openly as a regular confinement. In Germany and other European countries it is regarded in a different manner, and according to German law both the perpetrator and the accomplice may be punished by imprisonment. Abortion is often followed by the worst results; not infrequently it results in death, and in many cases it means the permanent destruction of health. “Dangers from the most unfavorable pregnancy and child-birth are less great than from artificial abortions.” Sterility is the most frequent result. Nevertheless the practice is becoming more frequent in Germany also. The following number of persons were convicted of criminal abortion: From 1882 to 1886, 839; from 1897 to 1901, 1565; from 1902 to 1906, 22,236. During recent years several cases of criminal abortions created a sensation, because distinguished physicians and prominent society women figured in these cases. judging by the advertisements in German newspapers, there also is an increase of those places and institutions where married and unmarried women are given an opportunity to await the results of their wrong-doing in absolute secrecy.
The fear of a too numerous progeny in consideration of the economic status and the cost of education has caused the introduction of preventive measures among entire classes and nations and has gradually developed into a regular system that threatens to become a public calamity. It is a wellknown fact that almost all strata of French society abide by the custom of limiting their offspring to two children. Few civilized countries have as high a marriage rate as France; but notwithstanding this fact, in no other country the birth rate is as low and the increase of population as gradual. The French bourgeoisie, the peasantry and the working class, all abide by this custom. In some parts of Germany the conditions among the peasantry seem to have lead to a similar state of affairs. In a picturesque region in the south-western part of Germany, a certain species of tree, which furnishes an ingredient for an abortive remedy, is grown on every farm. In another region the peasants have long since followed the custom of limiting their offspring to two children; they do not wish to divide up their farms. Another noteworthy fact is the marked increase in the publication and sale of literature discussing and recommending means for optional sterility. Of course, these books are always clothed in “scientific” garb and invariably point to the threatening danger of excess of population.
Besides the prevention of conception and artificial abortion, crime also plays a part. In France child exposure and infanticide have increased as a direct result of French civil law, according to which it is interdicted to investigate paternity. The “Code civil” provides that “La recherche de la paternité est enterdite,” but “la recherche de la maternité est admise.” This law forbids to search for a child’s father but permits to search for its mother. With brutal frankness it thus proclaims injustice to the unfortunate girl who has been seduced. The men of France may, by the provision of this law, seduce as many girls and women as they please; they are freed from all responsibility and do not have to contribute anything to the support of their illegitimate children. This law was framed under the pretext that women must be deterred from seducing men. We see, everywhere it is the poor, feeble man, – although his is the strong sex, – who never seduces but always is seduced. The result of this paragraph of the “Code civil” was the framing of another paragraph which provides that “L’enfant concupendant le marriage a pour père le mari” (the husband is father to every child conceived during marriage). While it is forbidden to search after a child’s father, deceived husbands must regard children as their own, that have sprung from illicit relations their wives may have maintained. We must admit that the French bourgeoisie is at least consistent, Until now all attempts to repeal these obnoxious laws have failed. On the other hand the French bourgeoisie seeks to atone somewhat for the cruelty of preventing women, who have been deceived, from seeking financial aid from the fathers of their children, by establishing foundling institutions. Thus the new-born babe is deprived not only of its father but of its mother as well. According to the French conception foundlings are orphans, and the French bourgeoisie thus permits its illegitimate children to be reared as “children of the nation” at the expense of the state. A wonderful institution!
Lately French methods have been copied in Germany. The new German civil law contains provisions in regard to the legal status of illegitimate children, that are in contradiction to the more humane laws that were in force heretofore. One paragraph states that “an illegitimate child and its father are not regarded as being related,” while Emperor Joseph II had already decreed that legitimate and illegitimate children should be equal before the law? Another paragraph states that “an illegitimate child is fatherless if its mother maintained relations with several men at the time of conception.” The child is made to suffer for its mother’s frivolousness, weakness or poverty. Frivolous fathers are not taken into consideration by the law. The law concerning illegitimate children furthermore provides: “it is the mother’s right and duty to care for the person of the illegitimate child. The father of the illegitimate child is obliged to provide for same until the completion of its sixteenth year, in accordance with the social status of the mother.” According to former Prussian law, the seducer was obliged to provide for the child in accordance with his own social status and wealth. If the woman had been seduced with the promise of marriage, she was entitled to all the rights of a divorced wife, and in those cases the illegitimate children were regarded as legitimate before the law. These more just and humane provisions have now been dispensed with. The tendency of German legislation is a retrogressive one.
During the period from 1831 to 1880, 8,568 cases of infanticide were tried before the French court of assizes. This number increased from 471 during the years 1831 to 1835 to 970 during the years 1876 to 1880. During the same period 1032 cases of criminal abortion were tried, 100 of these during the single year 1880. It goes without saying that only a small number of the artificial abortions actually practiced ever come to the notice of the courts. As a rule only such cases are brought to public attention that result in severe illness or death. The rural population furnished 75 percent of the infanticides, and the urban population furnished 67 percent of criminal abortions. The women residing in cities have more means at hand to prevent normal child-birth; therefore the cases of abortion were numerous and the cases of infanticide relatively few. In the rural districts the inverse ratio prevails. In Germany the following number of persons were convicted of infanticide: from 1882 to 1886, 884; from 1897 to 1901, 887; from 1902 to 1906, 745.
This is the picture presented by present day society in regard to its most intimate relations. It differs considerably from that picture which is usually drawn for us by poetic visionaries, but it at least has the advantage of being true. Yet the picture is incomplete; a few characteristic features must still be added.
All parties are agreed that at the present time the female sex is, on an average, mentally inferior to the male sex. Balzac, who by no means was an admirer of women, nevertheless declared, “a woman who has obtained the education of a man, indeed possesses the most brilliant and fruitful qualities for establishing her own happiness and that of her husband.” Goethe, who was well acquainted with the types of men and women of his day, uttered the following sharp remark in “The Years of Travelling of William Meister” (Confessions of a fair soul) : “scholarly women were held up to ridicule, and educated women were not popular either, probably because it was regarded as impolite to disgrace so many ignorant men.” But that does not alter the fact that women, as a rule, are mentally inferior to men. This difference is bound to exist, since the mental status of woman is but what man, her master, has made it. The education of women has always been pitifully neglected, even more than the education of the proletariat, and even at the present time it is insufficient. In our age the desire for the exchange of ideas is a growing one among all classes of society, and accordingly we begin to recognize the neglected mental training of women as a great mistake, one from which not only women, but men also must suffer.
With men education is mainly directed upon the development of the intellect; it is supposed to sharpen their reasoning powers, to expand their knowledge and to strengthen their will-power. With women, especially among the upper classes, education is mainly directed upon the development of their sentiments; it chiefly consists of attaining various accomplishments that only tend to heighten their imaginative faculty and to increase their nervous irritability, such as music, literature, art and poetry. That is the greatest error in education that could possibly be committed. It shows that educators have allowed themselves to be guided by their prejudices concerning the nature of woman and her narrow sphere in life. The development of sentiment and imagination in women should not be artificially stimulated which only increases the tendency to become nervous. With women, as well as with men, the mental faculties should be developed and they should be acquainted with the practical facts of life. It would be the greatest advantage to both sexes if women were less sentimental and more rational; if they displayed less nervousness and timidity, and more courage and will-power; if they possessed fewer accomplishments, and a broader knowledge of the world and mankind and the natural forces of life. Until the present time the spiritual life of woman and her sentiments have been stimulated to the utmost, while her intellectual development has been neglected, hampered and repressed. As a result she literally suffers from spiritual and sentimental hypertrophy, which makes her susceptible to all sorts of superstitions and miracle, frauds, an easy victim of religious and other swindles, a willing tool of bigotry and reaction. Men in their shortsightedness frequently lament this fact; but they do nothing to change it, because the great majority of them are still deeply entrenched in their own prejudices. As a result of this false education, women generally regard the world very differently from men, and thereby another great source of differences and misunderstandings between the sexes is established.
For every man in present day society, participation in public life is one of the most essential duties; that many men still fail to recognize this duty does not alter the fact. But an ever widening circle of men has begun to recognize that public institutions directly affect the private relations of each individual, and that the welfare of individuals and families depends far more upon the nature of public institutions than upon personal qualities and actions. They have begun to recognize, that even supreme efforts on the part of a single individual are powerless; in combatting evils that are rooted in social conditions, and influence his position accordingly. Moreover the struggle for existence necessitates far greater exertions to-day than formerly. Demands are made upon a man to-day, that require more and more of his time and strength. But the ignorant, indifferent woman is usually incapable of comprehending his duties and interests. We may even say that the differentiation between man and woman is greater to-day than it was formerly, when conditions were more petty and narrow, and therefore more within the range of woman’s understanding. Occupation with public affairs to-day claims a greater number of men than formerly. This expands their ideas, but it also estranges them from their domestic circle. Thereby the woman feels neglected, and one more source of differences has been created. Only in rare cases do men succeed in making themselves understood by their wives and in convincing them. As a rule the man holds the opinion that his aims and interests do not concern his wife, and that she is unable to understand them. He does not take the trouble to instruct her. “You don’t understand that,” is the usual reply when a woman complains to her husband that be is neglecting her. The lack of understanding on the part of the women is still heightened by the lack of common sense on the part of the men. Among the proletariat the relation between husband and wife is more favorable, when both recognize that they must follow the same path, since one, and one only leads to a better future for them and their children: the complete reorganization of society that will make all men and women free. As this recognition spreads among the women of the proletariat, their wedded life becomes idealized in spite of misery and want. For now both husband and wife have a common aim to strive for, and their common struggle furnishes an inexhaustible source of inspiration in exchange of opinions. The number of proletarian women who have awakened to this recognition is growing with each year. Here a movement is expanding that will be of vital importance to the future of mankind.
In other marriages the differences of education and conceptions, that were overlooked in the beginning while passion was still strong, become more and more noticeable with the advancing years. But as sexual passion decreases, it ought to be replaced by mental conformity. Quite disregarding the fact whether or not a man recognizes that he has social and civic duties, and whether or not he fulfills these duties, his business or profession alone suffices to keep him in constant touch with the outside world, and to create an intellectual atmosphere about him that broadens his views. Contrary to the woman, he is usually in a state of intellectual moulting; but domestic activities require the woman’s time and attention from morning till night, and being deprived of opportunity for mental development, she is apt to become dull and mentally stunted.
This domestic misery in which the majority of wives in present day society are obliged to live, has been truly pictured by Gerhard v. Amyntor in his book on “A Commentary to the Book of Life.” In the chapter on “Fatal Stings” he says: “It is not the terrible occurrences that no one is spared, – a husband’s death, the moral ruin of a beloved child, long, torturing illness, or the shattering of a fondly nourished hope, – it is none of these that undermine the woman’s health and strength, but the little daily recurring, body and soul devouring care s. How many millions of good housewives have cooked and scrubbed their love of life away! How many have sacrificed their rosy checks and their dimples in domestic service, until they became wrinkled, withered, broken mummies. The everlasting question: ‘what shall I cook today,’ the ever recurring necessity of sweeping and dusting and scrubbing and dish-washing, is the steadily falling drop that slowly but surely wears out her body and mind. The cooking stove is the place where accounts are sadly balanced between income and expense, and where the most oppressing observations are made concerning the increased cost of living and the growing difficulty in making both ends meet. Upon the flaming altar where the pots are boiling, youth and freedom from care, beauty and light-heartedness are being sacrificed. In the old cook whose eyes are dim and whose back is bent with toil, no one would recognize the blushing bride of yore, beautiful, merry and modestly coquettish in the finery of her bridal garb. – To the ancients the hearth was sacred; beside the hearth they erected their lares and household-gods. Let us also hold the hearth sacred, where the conscientious German housewife slowly sacrifices her life, to keep the home comfortable, the table well supplied, and the family healthy.” That is the only consolation that bourgeois society is able to offer those women who slowly perish as a result of the present order!
Those women who enjoy a freer position as a result of their more favored social circumstances, usually have a narrow, superficial education that is manifested in connection with inherited, female characteristics. Most of these women are interested only in external appearances; dress and personal adornment are their chief concern, and the satisfaction of their depraved tastes and their unbridled passions, form their object in life. They are not interested much in the children and their education; that would mean too much trouble and annoyance. Therefore they willingly turn over their children to nurses and governesses and later on to boarding-schools. At the most they regard it as their duty to make silly doll-women of their daughters, and superficial, extravagant dandies of their sons. This class of young men, who regard idleness and extravagance as a profession, furnishes the seducers of the daughters of the people.
The conditions described above have lead to a number of traits of character peculiar to women, that are more fully developed from generation to generation. Men seem to find satisfaction in ridiculing these traits, but they forget that they themselves are to blame for them. The following are some of these frequently condemned female traits of character: talkativeness and scandal-mongering; the inclination to discuss the most insignificant things at the greatest length; the exaggerated interest in outward display; the love of dress and coquetry; envy and jealousy toward – the members of her sex, and the tendency of being dishonest and hypocritical. These traits of character usually manifest themselves with the female sex at an early age; they are general and only differ in degree. These traits have developed under the pressure of social conditions, and they have been further developed by heredity, example and education. One who has been brought up unwisely is not likely to bring up others wisely.
In order to understand the origin and development of traits of character common to an entire sex or to an entire people, we must follow the same method that modern scientists apply to understand the origin and development of living beings and their characteristics. The material conditions of life to a great extent imprint upon every living being its traits of character. It is compelled to adapt itself to these existing material conditions, until the adaptation becomes its nature.
Human beings form no exception to that which holds true for all living beings throughout nature. Man is not exempt from natural laws. Viewed physiologically, he is merely the most highly developed animal. Of course, many persons refuse to admit this. Thousands of years ago ancient peoples, although they knew nothing of modern science, held more rational views in regard to many human problems, than a great many, of our contemporaries, and, what is more noteworthy still, their views that were based on experience, were put into practice. We praise and admire the strength and beauty of the men and women of ancient Greece; but we forget that it was not the climate of this beautiful country that had such a favorable influence upon the nature and development of its population, but the educational maxims that were consistently carried out by the state, and that were destined to combine beauty, strength and skill with mental sharpness and vigor. Indeed the mental development of woman was neglected even then, but not so her physical development. In Sparta where physical culture of both sexes was most extensively practiced, boys and girls went about naked until the age of puberty, and together they joined in physical exercises, games and wrestling-matches. The display of the nude human body, the natural treatment of natural things, prevented the extreme sexual irritation that is mainly caused by an artificial separation of the sexes from childhood on. The body of one sex was no mystery to the other. No dallying with ambiguities could arise. Nature was regarded as such. Each sex took pleasure in the beauty of the other.
To a natural, untrammeled relation of the sexes must mankind return; we must cast aside the unsound spiritualistic conceptions concerning human affairs and create methods of education that shall bring about a physical and mental regeneration. The prevailing conceptions in regard to education, especially the education of women, are still exceedingly reactionary. That a woman should possess such qualities of character as strength, courage and determination, is decried as unwomanly, and yet no one can deny that by means of such qualities she will be better enabled to protect herself. But her physical development is hampered, just like her mental development. This is due in no small degree to the irrational mode of dress. Woman’s dress not only interferes with her physical development, it frequently does her direct bodily harm; and yet there are few, even among physicians, who dare to oppose it. Fear of displeasing the patient causes them to be silent or even to flatter her follies. The modern style of dress prevents women from freely exercising their strength, hampers their physical development, and creates a feeling of helplessness in them. Moreover, woman’s dress endangers the health of her environment, for at home and on the street she is a walking generator of dust.
The physical and intellectual development of women is furthermore severely hampered by a rigorous separation of the sexes in school and in social intercourse, that is quite in accordance with the spiritualistic conceptions implanted by Christianity, and is still sadly prevalent among us. The woman who is given no opportunity to develop her abilities and talents, who is maintained within a narrow sphere of ideas, and rarely permitted to associate with members of the other sex, cannot rise above the commonplace and trivial. For her ideas are centered in the occurrences of her immediate environment. Verbose conversations over a mere nothingness and the tendency to gossip are fostered by this narrow life, since the mental activities that reside in every human being must find expression somewhere. Men are frequently grievously annoyed and driven to despair by these qualities
which they roundly condemn, without pausing to consider that they, “the lords of creation,” are chiefly to blame for them. During recent years numerous attempts have been made to introduce more rational conceptions of life; but they are merely a beginning, and until now have been confined to a very small portion of society.
As a result of our social and sexual relations, woman is directed toward marriage by every fibre of her existence, and naturally marriage constitutes a chief topic of her conversation and thought. As woman is physically weaker than man, and is subjected to him by custom and law, her tongue is her chief weapon to be used against him, and she naturally makes a liberal use of this weapon.
In the same way her much berated love of dress and personal adornment can be explained, that leads to increasingly eccentric follies of fashion and often causes financial troubles and unpleasantness to fathers and husbands. To man, woman has chiefly been an object of enjoyment. Being socially and economically dependent, she must regard marriage as a means of support, and thus becomes subservient to man, becomes his property. Her position is rendered more unfavorable still by the fact that the number of women usually exceeds the number of men; we will return to this phase of the question later on. – This disproportion increases the competition of women among themselves, all the more so because, for numerous reasons, many men fail to marry. Woman is therefore compelled to enhance her personal charms, in order to compete with the members of her own sex in the struggle for the possession of a man. When we consider that this disproportion has existed through many generations, it is not to be wondered at that these characteristics have gradually assumed their present, extreme form. We must consider moreover that at no time the competition among women for the possession of man was as severe as it is at present, owing to causes, some of which have already been, and others that still are to be enumerated. The increasing difficulty of obtaining a decent livelihood also directs woman more than ever to marriage as a means of support.
Men do not object to these conditions, since they are favorable to them. It flatters their vanity and serves their interest to play the part of the ruler, and as all rulers they are not easily accessible to reason. It is all the more important therefore that women themselves should strive to bring about conditions that will liberate them from their present, degraded position. Women can no more rely upon the aid of men, than the workers can rely upon the aid of the bourgeoisie.
When we furthermore consider what traits of character are developed by competition along other lines, how, for instance, industrial competition leads to hatred, envy and calumny, and how the competitors resort to the basest means, we find an explanation for the fact that similar traits of character have been developed in women by their competition for the possession of a man. It is due to this permanent competition that women, as a rule, cannot get along as well with one another as men can; that even intimate friends are easily led to quarrel when the favor of a man enters into consideration. This competition also explains what may be frequently observed, that when two women meet, even though they are utter strangers to one another, they regard each other in a hostile way. With a single glance they have summed up each other’s shortcomings in the manner and style of their clothes, and in the looks of each the verdict may be read: “I am better dressed than you are and am better able to attract attention to myself.”
On the other hand woman is by nature more impulsive than man. She is less given to reflection, is more unselfish and naive, and is more controlled by passion. These traits of character are expressed in their most beautiful form by the unselfish self-sacrifice with which she serves her children and others who are near and dear to her and cares for them during illness. But when angered, her impassionate nature manifests itself in its ugliest form. Yet the fact remains that both good and evil qualities are fostered, hampered or transformed, by the social position. The same propensity that may be harmful under unfavorable circumstances may, under favorable circumstances, become a source of happiness to oneself and others. Fourier has ably shown that the same human propensities may, under different circumstances, lead to opposite results.
Beside the improper mental education, the improper or insufficient physical education in regard to the purposes of nature, remains to be considered. All physicians are agreed that woman’s education for her profession of motherhood is almost entirely neglected. “Soldiers are trained in the use of their weapons, and mechanics in the use of their tools. Every profession requires preliminary study. Even the monk has his noviceship. Only the woman is not educated for her serious maternal duties.” Nine tenths of all maidens who are given an opportunity to marry, enter matrimony in complete ignorance of motherhood and its duties. The unpardonable prudery that prevents mothers from speaking to their grown daughters about the important functions of sex, leaves them in a state of densest ignorance concerning their duties to their husbands and to themselves. The entrance into marriage means to most women entrance into an utterly strange world. Their conceptions of marriage are purely imaginative, drawn from novels of doubtful value, and are usually very foreign to reality. Another source of differences may be found in the lack of practical knowledge of housekeeping that is still quite essential in present day marriage, though women have been relieved of many domestic activities that were formerly inevitable. Some women are deplorably ignorant of household duties because they consider themselves superior to such work and regard it as a task for servants only. Others, daughters of the proletariat, are equally ignorant, because the struggle for existence compelled them to toil in the factory from morning until night, and they found no time to prepare for their future profession of housekeeper. It becomes more and more evident that the trend of development makes individual housekeeping unpractical, and that it can be maintained only by an irrational sacrifice of time and money.
There is still another cause that to many men destroys the purpose of marriage: the physical enfeeblement of women. The food we eat, the manner in which we live, the conditions of our work and the character of our amusements, all tend to act more destructively than favorably upon our physical condition. Rightly is our age termed a nervous age. But nervousness leads to physical degeneration. Anaemia and nervousness exist in an especially marked degree among women. This physical degeneration is fast becoming a social calamity, and if it would continue to exist for several generations more, without our being able to procure more normal conditions of development, it would ultimately lead to race destruction.
The female organism requires special care in consideration of its special sexual functions. It requires good and sufficient nourishment and at certain periods it requires rest. For the great majority of women such care does not exist, nor can it be obtained under present-day conditions. Women have so accustomed themselves to self-denial that many women consider it a matrimonial duty to give their husbands the best morsels and to content themselves with insufficient food. It also frequently happens that the boys of a family are better nourished than the girls. It is generally assumed that women can content themselves with poorer and less nourishment than men. Young girls are therefore often a sad sight to professional authorities on hygiene and physical culture. A great number of our young women are weak, anaemic, and extremely nervous. The results are suffering during menstruation and diseases of the sexual organs that sometimes make it dangerous or impossible to give birth to children or to nurse them. “If the degeneration of our women continues to go on in the same manner as up to the present, it will become doubtful whether civilized man may still be classified with the mammals.” Instead of being married to a healthy, cheerful companion, a capable mother, a wife attending to her domestic duties, the man is burdened with a sickly, nervous woman who cannot endure the slightest draught or the least noise and requires the constant attendance of a physician. We need not dwell longer on this subject. Everyone knows of a number of such cases among his own friends and relatives.
Experienced physicians assert that the majority of married women, especially in the cities, are in a more or less abnormal, physical condition. According to the degree of the ailment and the characters of husband and wife, such marriages must be more or less unfortunate. In accordance with public opinion they entitle the men to take liberties outside of their matrimonial relations, and the knowledge of this fact must heighten the misery of the wives. Sometimes the sexual requirements of husband and wife also differ widely and give rise to profound disharmonies, yet the much desired separation is not possible.
In connection with this, the truth must not be concealed that in a great many cases the men are responsible for the severe physical sufferings that befall their wives in marriage. As a result of their profligate lives, many men suffer from chronic sexual diseases that they frequently treat lightly, because they do not cause them much trouble. But during sexual intercourse with their wives, these fall victims to severe abdominal diseases that set in shortly after marriage and frequently. result in sterility. Usually the unfortunate woman is ignorant of the true cause of the disease that mars her life and destroys the purpose of marriage, and reproaches herself or is reproached for the condition that her husband has caused. Many a blooming young woman becomes a chronic invalid after she has barely entered marriage, – neither she nor her relatives are able to explain her condition, and the physician must maintain silence. Recent investigations have shown that childless marriages are frequently due to sexual diseases of men; while formerly the lords of creation maintained the convenient theory that the woman was always to blame when their marriages remained childless.
Numerous are the causes that prevent present day marriage from being what it ought to be. It is therefore a recommendation of doubtful value when even learned men seek to oppose the woman movement by pointing out to woman that marriage is their true vocation. As a result of our social conditions marriage has become a caricature foreign to its true purposes.
1. Elie Metchnikoff – “The Nature of Man.”
2. Jules Ronyer, “Etudes medicales sur l’ancienne Rome.” Paris 1859.
3. Elie Metchnikoff – “The Nature of Man.”
4. According to an official investigation, 200 persons were counted in New York who made a profession of artificial abortions.
5. Edw. Reich. – “History of Abortion and its Dangers.”
6. Criminal statistics of the German Empire for the year 1906.
7. Plato. in “The State,” demands that women should be given an education similar to men, and Aristoteles in “Politics” declares as a fundamental principle of education: “first let the body be developed and then the mind.
8. A. Bebel – “Charles Fourier, His Life and His Theories.” Stuttgart, 1907. J. H. W. Dietz.
9. Irma v. Troll-Borostyani – “The Mission of our Century. A Study of the Woman Question.”
10. It, “Les Femmes qui tuent et les femmes qui votent,” Alexander Dumas, jr., relates that an eminent Catholic clergyman had told him that among hundred of his former female pupils who had become married, at least eighty came to him after a few months had elapsed and told him that marriage was a disappointment to them and that they regretted having married. That seems very plausible indeed. The French bourgeoisie find it compatible with their conscience to have their daughters reared in convents. They are influenced by the assumption that an ignorant woman is more easily guided than an enlightened one. Conflicts and disappointments in marriage are the inevitable result. Laboulaye even frankly advises to maintain the women in moderate ignorance, for “notre empire est detruit si l’homme est reconnu.” (Our rule will be destroyed if mail is recognized.)
11. Softening of the brain has increased more rapidly among women than among men. Among every hundred patients admitted to asylums in Prussia there were cases of softening of the brain:
1876-1879 17.0 3.7 1895-1897 18.5 7.6
1880-1891 17.3 5.4 1898-1901 16.2 7.5
1892-1894 17.7 6.8
12. Further details on this subject may be found in “The Book of Women,” by Mrs. H. S. Adams, M. D., Stuttgart.
13. Dr. F. B. Simon, “The Care of the Health of Women.”
14. Dr. F. B. Simon discusses this subject and the analogous subject, why so many young women become ill after marriage without being able to account for it, at length. His book is a glaring reflection upon the wrongdoings and vices of men.