An interesting anarchist-communist feminist text first published by Freedom Press in 1914.
I. Women in Bondage.
There is much talk and clamour among us because of the “Woman
Question.” The discussion is obscured for the most part by sex
prejudice. Some would have us believe that women form a sort of angelic
sisterhood oppressed by the tyrant man; others inform us that women
must forever be dependent upon men because of their natural inferiority.
Those feminists who believe in the angelic sisterhood seem always to be singing that old nursery rhyme –
“What are little girls made of, what are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice, and all that’s nice, that’s what little girls are made of.
What are little boys made of, what are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails, that’s what little boys are made of.”
And those who proclaim man’s natural superiority repeat very
much the same sort of nonsense the other way round. It seems as if they
sing perpetually –
“What are little girls made of, what are little girls made of?
Frills and laces and silly faces, that’s what little girls are made of.
What are little boys made of, what are little boys made of?
Muscles and mind of superior kind, that’s what little boys are made of.”
Indeed, this lumping together of the sexes, as if they formed
two opposing camps, has no reference to the facts of everyday
experience. It is altogether too theoretic. Men and women do not oppose
each other like two armies; they live together, and share together the
pains and struggles and joys of life. Men as men are not in a superior
social position. Women are not in bondage to men; they are not
oppressed by men, nor dominated by men.
Go out into the street, and watch the people who pass. Notice
the working men with their worn faces, shabby clothes, and all the
characteristics by which you know at a glance that they are Workman.
Then notice the first “lady” (rich woman, that is) who comes along ill
motor-car or taxi-cab; observe her soft clothes, her smooth face, her
confident manner, and all the other characteristics by which you
immediately know her for a rich woman. That woman in bondage to these men! The idea is only to be laughed at.
There is no sisterhood of women any more than there is a
brotherhood of men. A working woman asking for employment from a rich
woman does not greet the lady as a sister, and expects no sisterly
greeting; she expects, and she receives, much the same sort of
treatment from a mistress as from a master. The case is just as bad for
her one way as the other.
In fact, while it is true that we find in daily experience of
life that human society is really split up very much into two camps (or
what Disraeli Called “the two nations” of rich and poor), these camps
are by no means two armies of opposing sexes, but two armies of
opposing classes. Yet it is also true that nearly all woman are no
better than slaves; that is to say, social restrictions prevent the,
full, free, and natural development of nearly every woman that is born.
Certainly the same is true of nearly every man; but the restraint is
greater for woman, and the degradation is greater.
How is it, then? If not the tyranny of man, how is it? To understand it we must study various types of woman in bondage.
Go out again and watch the woman as they pass. Look once more,
for instance, at the rich woman in the motor-car, the “lady,” as she is
called. In the streets, in the parks, in other public places, this
“lady” type is to be observed in fine clothes, furs, and jewels of
great price. She is arrogant, and does not notice us because we are
less expensive mortals than herself; but we may well say to ourselves
“Slave!” as she passes. The rich clothes, and the jewels, and the
servants, and the carriages, and the motor cars are all the very signs
and tokens of her slavery. This woman has sold herself into bondage,
and she is actually owned by the man who owns also the furs and jewels
and servants and carriages – the man who signs the cheques. For a rich
man’s wife is merely his most costly possession.
Lady! What does it mean, this “lady”? It is a name of good
repute, and often it is said of a woman as highest praise that she is
“a perfect lady.” Yet the very type of what is called a lady is
generally a pampered, painted, fleshy instrument to some man’s pleasure.
Lady! A slave and a bondswoman!
She has sold her woman’s body for costly accessories and a soft
living. She has sold herself into married prostitution. The Christian
religion has given to the sale the odour of sanctity, and at the
priest’s bidding she has promised to love, honour, and obey the man who
purchased her body in the marriage market. No matter how depraved, how
diseased, how hideous the man may be who comes to bid in that market,
he is sure, if only he bills high enough, of getting a prize for his
possession – a beautiful, live, degraded woman’s body. Love such a man!
What has love to do with such a bargain? Honour! How can honour be
given to the sensualist who buys a woman with his riches? Obey ! How
should a woman swear away her freedom because she is going to live with
a man? Love and obedience, moreover, cannot be given together, for love
is by its nature free, and obedience is willing slavery.
To be a willing slave. Is that not the most shameful thing
possible to a human being? But all the same she is “a perfect lady”!
Lady! If anyone should compose for me some day an epitaph, I wish it
may be written: “At least she was no lady.”
And yet, what is a woman to do? What is a girl brought up in a
rich family to do? Such a girl is usually entirely dependent upon her
parents, whose ideals in life are probably dividends and social power.
None dares to speak openly to her of sexual truths, and her own natural
sexual dignity is cheated by the false appearance of successful
attainment in the marriage bargain. Not only is she dependent upon her
parents, but they have accustomed her to luxury, and she has become
dependent upon luxuries by force of habit. When the choice comes to
her, what is she to do but sell the one thing she has to sell, that one
wonderful thing so desired of man – her woman’s body?
It does not always happen so; but which of us can be sure that in the same case it would not happen so to us?
Now turn to another type. Most of the woman who pass us wherever
we go are of this type – it is the type of woman who is poorly born,
the working woman. All her life this woman has found herself in a
peculiar position. Her father and her brothers and her husband are all
slaves – they are not free to work for themselves; they must spend
their lives working for others. She also is a slave; either she must do
the work of the household to make it possible for the men to work for
wages, or she must work for wages herself. But her slavery has a
peculiar characteristic. She found it out as a girl when first she sold
herself for wages. She might do the same work as her brothers did, but
she never received the same pay. She might sell herself as goods in the
labour market, but she was always cheaper goods than her brothers.
What was the reason of this? Was she an inferior worker? No, that certainly was not the explanation.
If she, being a high-spirited girl, borrowed her brother’s
trousers, shirt, coat, and waistcoat, and went to do her brother’s
work, she would receive her brother’s pay; as long as she succeeded in
masquerading as her brother there would be no question of inferiority.
But if she took the job dressed in her own petticoats, she would
receive only about half what she earned for working the same hours and
doing the same work in her brother’s trousers.
When I go to buy eggs, and see one basket marked “12 a
shilling, cooking,” and another basket marked “8 a shilling, new-laid,”
I know that the “cooking” eggs are stale and will not give me the
nourishment which I should get from the “new-laid.” And so on with
other goods. I buy the better goods at a bigger price, and get the
better value. But not so with men and women. For doing the same work
men’s wages are often two or three times as high as women’s wages – in
tailoring, for instance, men get 30s. or 40s. a week when doing work
for which women only receive from 7s. to 16s.
What is the reason of it all?
It is an old story going back to the time when, in primitive
societies, physical strength, sheer muscular strength, was the
principal factor in human social life. Then women must have been
dependent upon men to a very great degree, and the effects of this
dependence remain in human relationships long after its cause (mere
muscular strength) has ceased to be an important social factor. Brute
force is no longer the human criterion in life. A woman can work modern
machinery (including machine guns, I do not doubt) just as well as a
man can. But the tradition remains that she is socially weaker, or
inferior, and therefore as a worker she is reckoned cheaper goods.
Then, again, women are affected by sexual functions which make
their labour less regular and dependable than men’s labour. That also
tends to cheapen women’s labour. Again, women very often work merely to
earn a wage to help in the family, and are therefore willing to accept
less than a living wage.
So from one cause and another women are always being bought as
cheap goods in the labour market, and the result is that the struggle
to live is even more painful and terrible for women wage-slaves than
for men wage-slaves. We are told in cold official figures that
forty-five per cent. of the wage-earners of the country are women, and
that the average wage of women workers is only about 7s. a week. What
unimaginable lives of struggle and suffering are summed up in these figures!
From this we turn naturally to that third type of women in bondage – the prostitute.
It is the fashion of to-day to be politely sentimental about the
“White Slave Traffic,” but the tales of guileless girls, of villainous
men and women with drugs and snares, are in no way needful to account
for prostitution. These statistics giving the conditions of women’s
employment are explanation enough to anyone who can read the living
facts behind the bare statement of the figures. Forty-five per cent. of
the wage-earners are women, and they earn on the average 7s. a week!
The bondage of the prostitute is bitter and cruel, and every
woman must feel the cruelty of it if she realises that a woman may
actually be driven by want, by dread of death from starvation (and
perhaps not only dread for herself, but also for her helpless
children), to buy food by selling her body to a man. Not one woman only
– though human social life will remain a loathsome thing while this is
true of only one single woman – not one woman only, but countless
numbers of women every day that passes!
These, then, are the three types of women in bondage – the lady
sold in marriage, the working woman, and the prostitute. The bondage of
these three types is different in kind, but the manner of entering
bondage is the same in all three cases. All these women enter bondage
by selling their bodies; selling them for man’s pleasure or selling
them for the profit of an employer, but always by selling that sacred
thing, a woman’s body.
This is the evil and degrading thing which every woman does who
enters slavery. It is clear that women are driven to this degradation,
not because of the domination of some big abstraction called Man, but
because of the domination of those human laws by which both men and
women are forbidden the free use and enjoyment of the earth they live upon.
II. Women in Rebellion
There is only one thing more fierce than the tiger, and that is
the tigress. Women in rebellion have something of this fierceness. For
the most part, women are more passive than men; but in times of crisis,
when danger threatens the family, women are animated, like the tigress
protecting her young, by a strangely fierce activity. In the ordinary
conception of women, this is overlooked. They are usually regarded as
domesticated animals who require protection, and who never willingly
come out of the shelter of the home into more active ways of life.
Well, let us see.
Let us recall, as an instance, the hunger-fevered women of
Paris on that wet October morning in the year of revolution, 1789.
Heedless of the rain, they gathered together in the street,
gesticulating, calling out to each other, the talk always being of
bread and famine, the king and queen. They gathered their forces, these
women, and a disordered march began. They swept down the narrow
streets, out into the country. “To Versailles!” they cried; and when
they reached Versailles, they invaded the Assembly, demanding bread
instead of words – bread for the starving people of Paris. By their
fierce enthusiasm they carried everything before them. In the evening
they invaded the Palace itself, and the next day they returned in
triumph to Paris, bringing with them as prisoners the king and queen of France.
Then, again, in revolutionary Paris, the Paris of March 18,
1871. It was the fearless inspiration of women that women Paris for the
people that day. The women led the guards to the streets where the
soldiers had captured the cannon of the people; fiercely animated in
that hour of danger, they made a rush up the street and surrounded the
soldiers, calling to them as brothers not to shoot, seizing them by the
hands, even throwing themselves in front of the muzzles of the guns.
And that brave appeal of the women had more power with the soldiers
than the commands of their general. From mere shooting machines; acted
upon by the word of command, they were transformed again into human
beings; and instead of shooting down their fellows, they turned and
seized the officers who were ordering them to do murder.
That miracle happened because of the action of women in
rebellion. Perhaps if men had been acting alone, they would have been
more reasonable about the crisis; they might have called a
meeting and formed a committee, and made resolutions and amendments.
And in the meantime, before they had passed their first resolution, the
guns would have been lost.
That was an attempted revolution only – it failed, and in the
failure more than 30,000 Communards were slaughtered in the streets.
But, whether in success or failure, the women of the Commune took an
active part in its defence. Women helped in the work of raising the
barricades, and defended them alongside the men. Barricades were even
built and defended entirely by women. During the slaughter, forty-two
men, women, and children were shot down in one place, as an act of
vengeance; when the soldiers tried to force them to kneel before their
murderers, it was a woman with her baby in her arms who sprang out from
among them, and, standing straight up, called to the others, “Show
these wretches that you know how to die upright!”
And yet there are people who tell us that women must not have public rights because they cannot fight!
These two instances from French history show something of the
spirit of rebel women. These things happened in France, perhaps the
most enlightened country in the world. But it is the same everywhere.
In Russia, one of the darkest of countries, the women have been
wonderful in the effort against the oppressive Government which keeps
millions of the Russian people in a state of miserable subjection and
an ignorance worse than childish.
In the middle of last century there was a rebel awakening all
over Russia. The inspired cry of “to The People!” was responded to by
thousands of generous young men and women. “It is bitter to eat the
bread made by slaves,” they said; and they refused any longer to live
on the riches of their parents. “V Narod! To The People!” – and
they went out all over Russia to spread knowledge among the people, to
help the people, to live the lives of the people. In this great
movement young girls had to struggle desperately against domestic
despotism. They sacrificed home-life, security, riches; and later on
they knew also how to sacrifice life itself just as bravely as the men did.
Looking at rebel women, not merely in general in great historic
movements, but as individuals, the same self-adandonment in action
appears even more clearly.
In American there is a woman rebel, Emma Goldman, whom the
police have named “the woman who cannot be stopped”; and there have
always been women whom no forces of authority could stop. Louise
Michel, tender and gentle in private life, fierce and reckless in the
midst of the most dreadful danger; Maria Rygier, the boldest speaker
and writer in Italy, imprisoned over and over again for her
revolutionary utterances; Marie Spiridonova, daring to kill and to
suffer tortures because she could not endure to think of the cruelties
inflicted on the peasants of her country – these are only a few
instances taken at random of innumerable women who could not be stopped.
Yes, women at all times and all over the world have been
active, not passive, in rebellion; and active with a special kind of
tigress fierceness of their own. There is, therefore, no reason to fear
that women, any more than men, will continue to sell themselves into
slavery without making splendid efforts to be free. The only thing to
fear is that these efforts may be wasted in wrong directions, that all
this wonderful wild rebel spirit should be uselessly dissipated in
following some popular cry which is a mere mockery of freedom.
“Votes for Women!” What a poor cry that is compared with those
other cries which have inspired rebel women in the past. The “To The
People!” of the Russians; the “Vive la Commune” of the Communards; the
“Liberty, Fraternity, Equality!” of the Revolutionaries of 1789.
“Votes for Women!” There is a cracked and treble sound about that.
The call for “votes” can never be a call to freedom. For what is
it to vote? To vote is to register assent to being ruled by one
legislator or another. Such and such a man (or woman perhaps) is to
make laws and to administer the law with the assent of the person who votes. That is all. How, then, can a demand for votes be a call to freedom?
Legislation and freedom – these two words express exactly
opposite things. Legislation is the making of laws to curtail and limit
freedom. To vote is to take part indirectly by assent in this
limitation of the freedom of human beings. And yet they cry, “Votes for Women!”
If I, for one, had the vote – if I had all the votes in the
country – I would scorn to use that “right” as they call it, to do so
great a wrong to freedom. If all the voting papers in the world were at
my disposal, the only use I should put them to would be to build one
great bonfire of them, and call upon the people to come round and
rejoice while I set them ablaze.
At a suffragist meeting the other day a placard was displayed
which read, “legislation without representation tyranny.” Mrs. Despard,
the principal speaker at the meeting, made the claim that the “Women’s
Freedom League” stands for freedom, as its name implies. After her
speech came question time. She was asked about the placard. She was
asked why, if freedom is the object, the placard did not omit the two
words “without representation.” It would then read, “Legislation is tyranny.”
All that the speaker could reply was that she did not agree
with the questioner, as people are not yet fit to do without laws; and
she indicated that women would give them more laws when they have the
vote, and especially laws for men.
Very well; then Mrs. Despard and other Suffragists should cease
sentimentalising about freedom, since it is really legislation, or the
limitation of freedom by law, that they are out for.
But it is said that women demand the vote because it has
already been given to men, and women should have the same social status
as men. Because men have blindly mistaken for a social privilege the
means of forging the chains that hold them in slavery, women are also
to be cheated in the same way!
This “Woman’s Movement” at the best aims only at relative emancipation. Women are to have freedom relatively
to men. The aim is expressed in the phrase of the Suffragists: “On the
same terms as men.” But men, the great majority of men, are slaves;
therefore, “on the same terms as men” means terms of slavery.
No; the call for “Votes for Women” is a poor, cracked, treble
call; and the Suffragists uttering that cry, although many of them
suffer bravely for their illusions, are but a travesty of true rebel
women. Rebel women struggle to be free from bondage, and they struggle,
not against the men who share their interests in life, but side by side
with these men.
If the terms of slavery are even more ghastly for women than for men, so much the greater must be their effort towards freedom.
III. Women in Freedom
A free man or woman is one who can dispose of his or her person
without let or hindrance, without reference to any master. If you,
being a woman, resolved to be free in this social sense, to go out into
the world as a woman in freedom, how would it fare with you?
For a time you might wander unhindered, elated by thoughts of
liberty, but very soon you would find that you cannot dwell forever on
the heights. Let us suppose that you feel tired and that you enter a
tea-shop in default of a better place of rest. The shop looks sordid
and dingy, and you shudder slightly as a vision of true repose comes to
mind – something with green fields and running water and the scent of
grass and flowers in it. But, alas! you are not free to that extent;
here there are no Elysian fields – here is London with all its dreary
grey buildings and endless discomfort. So you enter the shop. A pale,
grim young woman comes up as you choose a seat, and asks what she will
bring. You desire only rest, but once more you are reminded that you
are not free to choose; rest of a kind you may have, but at the same
time tea and buns will be forced upon you. You settle yourself in your
uncomfortable corner, sip some of the nasty tea, taste a bun, and
ruminate dubiously about your determination to be free. The grim young
woman presently brings the bill for tea and cakes, and you realise in a
flash that here again in the person of the shop-girl is a limitation of
freedom – you are not free from her. To the extent that your
needs have been satisfied by her service, to this extent your life is
dependent upon that service. At this point where you and she have met
in life, the one as receiver and the other as the giver of service,
each is to a certain degree dependent upon the other.
And in a flash you recognise the social nature of freedom: how
none stands alone in life, but the life of each is dependent upon the
lives of others and affected by the lives of others; how the poor are
dependent upon the rich, and the rich upon the poor; how the sick are
affected by the healthy, and the healthy are affected – or infected –
by the sick; how consumers are dependent on producers, and producers on
consumers; how the learned are affected by the ignorant, and the
ignorant by the learned; and so on throughout the whole range of human
relations. And if your vision is clear enough, you realise that so long
as one, even the least, of these human brothers and sisters is in
bondage, there can be no true freedom for you.
As you pay the bill for tea and cakes, and bid the grim young
woman good-day, you have a remembrance perhaps of the feasts in
Morris’s “News from Nowhere,” when the bearers of food brought along
with it, not bills, but roses and kind smiles and friendly words. Alas,
again for freedom!
If your resolve to be free is not quite ended by the
illuminating experience in a tea-shop, surely your further experiences
must end it soon. Even if circumstances favour you to-day, to-morrow
must put an end to the dream. The sun shines perhaps, the breeze blows,
clouds chase each other across the sky. You awake to it all, feeling
glad and young and gay and free. You resolve to go out into
country places where you may be in the companionship of free things –
flowers and birds and dancing insects. For only one vivid, brilliant
day you will be one of the free, you will live as all Nature is calling
upon you to live, in idle enjoyment of the sunshine – freedom at least
for a day!
But stop! What is that you hear? What is that monotonous beat?
It is the clock ticking out the seconds which remain between breakfast
and office hours. In half an hour you are due at the office. Now, then,
be free for a day if you dare!
Then comes the overwhelming recollection of life as it is; the
noise and the crush and the horror of the great city; the strife and
labour and feverish competition; disease and death, suffering and
starvation. And you see yourself among those who strive and push in the
midst of this seething mass of millions of human beings, who hurry
hither and thither in frantic efforts to maintain life in enmity with
their fellows. you see yourself with nerves strained and brain
exhausted, working hour after hour at the hateful machine, to be the
human part of which you have sold your living body. For it is not
worked by electric power alone, but by human power also.
Dare to be free for a day – and what then?
If you dare to be free for even one day, you will be thrust out
by your fellows, another will take your place; the machine will still
be served with its due of human energy; this great industrial activity
which pollutes the air and obscures the sunlight will not be
interrupted for one instant by the want of you – you will not be missed.
But you? The means of life will be gone for you; the price of your freedom will be poverty and death.
In that monster army of modern industrial life the penalty of
desertion is death. there is no way of living for you in the wild
outside of it. The woods and the fields and the rivers and all the
rich, beautiful country all belong to individuals of whom you know
nothing and who know nothing of you, who care nothing for you. They
will not permit you to take to your use so much earth as may fill a
flower-pot – hands off! it is private property! Let the human body
perish; the law allows it; and will even provide for you a pauper’s
grave. But let the sacred rights of private property be in the least
degree violated, and the law in all its might is there to do vengeance
and give protection to the proprietor.
No, the slave of the industrial system cannot be free for even
one day. Turn back quickly to the city again and sell yourself once
more into slavery before it is too late.
Here, too, everything belongs to individuals of whom you know
nothing and who know nothing of you. All the tremendous machinery by
which the few things needful and the many needless are being produced,
and the buildings which contain the machinery, and the ground upon
which the buildings stand – all belong to these unseen, unknown human
beings in possession. And to sell yourself bodily for all the long
beautiful hours of your precious days of youth to these possessors is
your only means of life.
So once again, as you stand listening to the menace of the
clock and wondering whether you will break free or trudge back to the
office, you have a sudden revelation. You realise that while there are
men and women who hold from others the means of life – the rich surface
of the earth and the means of cultivating that richness – so long there
will be no freedom for the others who possess none at all. For
possession by a few gives power to the few to control the lives of the
millions who are dispossessed, and to bind them in lifelong bondage.
You have thus arrived at a great illumination through your vain striving after personal liberty.
There can be no freedom for single individuals – one here and
one there cannot be free in a social sense; but men and women, being
socially independent can only be free together – as a community,
that it. And further, there can be no freedom while there is private
property which prevents all men and women having free access to the
means of life; not one here and one there must be possessors, but all
must possess together – in common, that is.
And this is Communism.
If ever men and women attain these essentials of freedom, the
life of human beings will be a Communistic life and the most terrible
impediments to a full and true human development may thus be overcome.
How, then, will it fare especially with women?
Women will have the same freedom as men, because they will be able to dispose of their lives as they choose.
In Communism there will no longer be any need for women to sell
themselves as wives, as wage-earners, or as prostitutes. When there is
no more monopoly of land and other means of producing wealth, each
woman as well as each man will be able to produce enough, without undue
stress of labour, for her own simple needs, so that she may have not
only sufficient food, clothing, and shelter, but also enjoyment of the
best that the world can give – sunlight, fresh air, and access to the
beautiful places of the country.
Now, when such freedom as this is possible for all, what sane
woman will sell herself to work for wages? And when such freedom is
possible, what woman will sell herself for any man’s pleasure when she
may give herself for love?
Love is always free. Bodies may be bought and sold; that is the
most terrible shame of our present society, where the world is turned
into a great market and all things have their price. But love cannot be
bought and sold along with a woman’s body, because it is always beyond
price and free. Our moralists talk of “free love” as if it were some
wild proposition, something excessively outrageous and indecent.
Marriage is respectable because it is a bond and a law; but love, free
love, is wholly disreputable! The truth is that marriage as a bond and
a law is quite superfluous, except as a property regulation having
nothing to do with love.
But love itself is always free. Though men and women have
endured, and do endure, and may forever endure, the most shameful
slavery and barter of all sacred things on earth, still there is always
this one sacred thing which cannot be enslaved, which is not to be
bartered away. Show me the love that is not free!
When women can give their love in freedom without fear of want
and painful lifelong drudgery, then that home-life which is so cruelly
outraged to-day will become a living and wonderful reality, at least
for those who by nature may desire such a life. When men and women give
themselves freely to each other, and not for a price, then begins the
life of true companionship in which is possible that perfect
development which is the end result of freedom.
For love, great as it is, is not the whole of life. It is
rather the basis upon which is built up a life of full and glorious
experience of all the joys of earth. The joys of the care and
companionship of children, the joys of home and the daily round of
homely doings, garden joys, field joys, joys of exploration and
adventure, joys of congenial work; these many joys of life, and that
indescribable animal joy which we call the very “joy of life” itself –
all these are only truly known when life is permeated by love.
Such a life is rare indeed at present, but for free men and women there will be no difficulty in its attainment.
And then there will be no need to talk of “preserving the
sanctity of the home” by means of law and domestic tyranny. The home
will preserve itself in all its sanctity, because with its happy
child-life, and its life of happy grown men and women, and its life of
middle aged men and women at peace, it will be the most beautiful and
desirable of habitations.
To-day the sanctity of the home is violated, not by those
unrestrained passions upon which the novelists grow fat, but because
men, and also many women, find themselves forced to spend their days
outside of their homes. The home has become merely a place to eat and
How is home life to be even tolerable, much less desirable, under these conditions?
As things are, the workers do not work for themselves; they work
for other men and women who are their masters. And labour is enforced,
or slave labour, because for the millions the alternative to working
for a master is starvation. Under these circumstances those who work do
not choose what their work shall be; they produce what they are ordered
to produce. The result is an enormous mass of merchandise, in great
part superfluous, and even objectionable and harmful. This mass of
merchandise is produced by a mechanical method so complex, unhealthy,
and abhorrent, that it cannot be supposed in sanity that free men and
women would agree to take part in it. Such a monstrosity as the modern
industrial system could only be maintained, in fact, by slave-labour.
If the slaves prove capable of freeing themselves from the
property laws, which make the master and servant relationship possible,
no doubt they will also be capable of freeing themselves from the
altogether monstrous system of production in which the lives of the
workers are now wasted.
And the only alternative, it seems to me, will be to return to
a simpler and more wholesome kind of life, in which physical needs will
be provided for rather by handicrafts and agriculture than by the
complex machinery system of labour in crowded cities. Workers might
then return home again.
If this is ever to be attained, it is obvious that women must
play a most important part in its attainment. The home must always be
in a great part for the child, and the being most nearly connected for
the child is surely its mother. Therefore, there is truth in that
worn-out phrase, “Woman’s sphere is in the home.” But that is only
desirable and quite wholesome when man’s sphere is the home also.
For men and women as male and female are not made to live apart, but
together in love and companionship. But women, by their function as
mothers, will naturally take the lead in making home-life in a free
society all that it may be for the very fullest enjoyment of life.
To-day those women of the privileged class who are striving for
so-called emancipation demand entrance for women into all those
tortuous paths of life which men have cut out for themselves. They
demand that women should have legal permission to follow any profession
which men follow, as lawyers, doctors, parsons, stockbrokers, and so
forth; and even the entrance of hordes of women into the factories
(driven there by the scourge of poverty) is hailed by them as a sign of
But it needs no prophet to foretell that in free communal life
it will be found, not that women are to be emancipated by becoming
lawyers and doctors and what not, but that men are to be emancipated by
withdrawing from such abnormal occupations and returning to home and
garden and field as the true sphere of human life. But when life itself
is made clean and wholesome, men and women will not be in an everyday
state of disease; therefore special doctors, who live upon diseases,
will not be required, but all may easily learn enough of hygiene to
assist one another in case of need. And when there is no more private
property to quarrel about, the lawyer’s occupation will be gone, for
people may then learn how to live without being fettered by laws. And
when human relations are founded upon mutual aid instead of mutual
strife, there will be no more need of parsons to preach sermons.
Indeed, when the ideal is true freedom in communal life, there
is no special question of ” women’s emancipation” at all, because in
such a life, as Morris says, “the men have no longer any opportunity of
tyrannising over the women, or the women over the men,” both of which
things take place at present.
Woman’s emancipation is not to be attained apart from man’s
emancipation, nor, for that matter, man’s apart from woman’s; but,
being slaves together, they will gain true emancipation when they
strive together for freedom.
From: London : Freedom Press, 1914.
Text version taken with thanks from http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/cfxqkw