A GLIMPSE INTO UTOPIA. -|- Educational Philosophy Theory


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You ask me what would be the position of women in an ideal community. Well, after dinner, imagination may take free flight. Suppose, till the coffee comes, we discuss that question.

Woman, I take it, differs from man in being the sex sacrificed to reproductive necessities.

Whenever I say this, I notice my good friends, the women's-rights women, with whom I am generally in pretty close accord, look annoyed and hurt. I can never imagine why. I regard this point as an original inequality of nature, which it should be the duty of human society to redress as far as possible, like all other inequalities. Women are not on the average as tall as men; nor can they lift as heavy weights, or undergo, as a rule, so much physical labour. Yet civilised society recognises their equal right to the protection of our policemen, and endeavours to neutralise their physical inequality by the collective guarantee of all the citizens. In the same way I hold that women in the lump have a certain disadvantage laid upon them by nature, in the necessity that some or most among them should bear children; and this disadvantage I think the men in a well-ordered State would do their best to compensate by corresponding privileges. If women endure on our behalf the great public burden of providing future citizens for the community, the least we can do for them in return is to render that burden as honourable and as little onerous as possible. I can never see that there is anything unchivalrous in frankly admitting these facts of nature; on the contrary, it seems to me the highest possible chivalry to recognise in woman, as woman, high or low, rich or poor, the potential mother, who has infinite claims on that ground alone to our respect and sympathy.

Nor do I mean to deny, either, that the right to be a mother is a sacred and peculiar privilege of women. In a well-ordered community, I believe, that privilege will be valued high, and will be denied to no fitting mother by any man. While maternity is from one point of view a painful duty, a burden imposed upon a single sex for the good of the whole, it is from another point of view a privilege and a joy, and from a third point of view the natural fulfilment of a woman's own instincts, the complement of her personality, the healthy exercise of her normal functions. Just as in turn the man's part in providing physically for the support of the woman and the children is from one point of view a burden imposed upon him, but from another point of view a precious privilege of fatherhood, and from a third point of view the proper outlet for his own energy and his own faculties.

In an ideal State, then, I take it, almost every woman would be a mother, and almost every woman a mother of not more than about four children. An average of something like four is necessary, we know, to keep up population, and to allow for infant mortality, inevitable celibates, and so forth. Few women in such a State would abstain from maternity, save those who felt themselves physically or morally unfitted for the task; for in proportion as they abstained, either the State must lack citizens to carry on its life, or an extra and undue burden would have to be cast upon some other woman. And it may well be doubted whether in a well-ordered and civilised State any one woman could adequately bear, bring up, and superintend the education of more than four young citizens. Hence we may conclude that while no woman save the unfit would voluntarily shirk the duties and privileges of maternity, few (if any) women would make themselves mothers of more than four children. Four would doubtless grow to be regarded in such a community as the moral maximum; while it is even possible that improved sanitation, by diminishing infant mortality and adult ineffectiveness, might make a maximum of three sufficient to keep up the normal strength of the population.

In an ideal community, again, the woman who looked forward to this great task on behalf of the race would strenuously prepare herself for it beforehand from childhood upward. She would not be ashamed of such preparation; on the contrary, she would be proud of it. Her duty would be no longer "to suckle fools and chronicle small beer," but to produce and bring up strong, vigorous, free, able, and intelligent citizens. Therefore, she must be nobly educated for her great and important function—educated physically, intellectually, morally. Let us forecast her future. She will be well clad in clothes that allow of lithe and even development of the body; she will be taught to run, to play games, to dance, to swim; she will be supple and healthy, finely moulded and knit in limb and organ, beautiful in face and features, splendid and graceful in the native curves of her lissom figure. No cramping conventions will be allowed to cage her; no worn-out moralities will be tied round her neck like a mill-stone to hamper her. Intellectually she will be developed to the highest pitch of which in each individual case she proves herself capable—educated, not in the futile linguistic studies which have already been tried and found wanting for men, but in realities and existences, in the truths of life, in recognition of her own and our place among immensities. She will know something worth knowing of the world she lives in, its past and its present, the material of which it is made, the forces that inform it, the energies that thrill through it. Something, too, of the orbs that surround it, of the sun that lights it, of the stars that gleam upon it, of the seasons that govern it. Something of the plants and herbs that clothe it, of the infinite tribes of beast and bird that dwell upon it. Something of the human body, its structure and functions, the human soul, its origin and meaning. Something of human societies in the past, of institutions and laws, of creeds and ideas, of the birth of civilisation, of progress and evolution. Something, too, of the triumphs of art, of sculpture and painting, of the literature and the poetry of all races and ages. Her mind will be stored with the best thoughts of the thinkers. Morally, she will be free; her emotional development, instead of being narrowly checked and curbed, will have been fostered and directed. She will have a heart to love, and be neither ashamed nor afraid of it. Thus nurtured and trained, she will be a fit mate for a free man, a fit mother for free children, a fit citizen for a free and equal community.

Her life, too, will be her own. She will know no law but her higher instincts. No man will be able to buy or to cajole her. And in order that she may possess this freedom to perfection, that she may be no husband's slave, no father's obedient and trembling daughter, I can see but one way: the whole body of men in common must support in perfect liberty the whole body of women. The collective guarantee must protect them against individual tyranny. Thus only can women be safe from the bribery of the rich husband, from the dictation of the father from whom there are "expectations." In the ideal State, I take it, every woman will be absolutely at liberty to dispose of herself as she will, and no man will be able to command or to purchase her, to influence her in any way, save by pure inclination.

In such a State, most women would naturally desire to be mothers. Being healthy, strong, and free, they would wish to realise the utmost potentialities of their own organisms. And when they had done their duty as mothers, they would not care much, I imagine, for any further outlets for their superfluous energy. I don't doubt they would gratify to the full their artistic sensibilities and their thirst for knowledge. They would also perform their duties to the State as citizens, no less than the men. But having done these things I fancy they would have done enough; the margin of their life would be devoted to dignified and cultivated leisure. They would leave to men the tilling of the soil, the building and navigation of marine or aerial ships, the working of mines and metals, the erection of houses, the construction of roads, railways, and communications, perhaps even the entire manufacturing work of the community. Medicine and the care of the sick might still be a charge to some; education to most; art, in one form or another, to almost all. But the hard work of the world might well be left to men, upon whom it more naturally and fitly devolves. No hateful drudgery of "earning a livelihood." Women might rest content with being free and beautiful, cultivated and artistic, good citizens to the State, the mothers and guardians of the coming generations. If any woman asks more than this, she is really asking less—for she is asking that a heavier burden should be cast on some or most of her sex, in order to relieve the minority of a duty which to well-organised women ought to be a privilege.

"But all this has no practical bearing!" I beg your pardon. An ideal has often two practical uses. In the first place, it gives us a pattern towards which we may approximate. In the second place, it gives us a standard by which we may judge whether any step we propose to take is a step forward or a step backward.

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