Many feminists are socialists, many are communists, not a few are
active leaders in these movements. But the true feminist, no matter
how far to the left she may be in the revolutionary movement, sees
the woman's battle as distinct in its objects and different in its
methods from the workers' battle for industrial freedom. She knows,
of course, that the vast majority of women as well as men are
without property, and are of necessity bread and butter slaves under
a system of society which allows the very sources of life to be
privately owned by a few, and she counts herself a loyal soldier in
the working-class army that is marching to overthrow that system.
But as a feminist she also knows that the whole of woman's slavery
is not summed up in the profit system, nor her complete emancipation
assured by the downfall of capitalism.
Woman's freedom, in the feminist sense, can be fought for and
conceivably won before the gates open into industrial democracy. On
the other hand, woman's freedom, in the feminist sense, is not
inherent in the communist ideal. All feminists are familiar with the
revolutionary leader who "can't see" the woman's movement. "What's
the matter with the women? My wife's all right," he says. And his
wife, one usually finds, is raising his children in a Bronx flat or
a dreary suburb, to which he returns occasionally for food and sleep
when all possible excitement and stimulus have been wrung from the
fight. If we should graduate into communism tomorrow this man's
attitude to his wife would not be changed. The proletarian
dictatorship may or may not free women. We must begin now to
enlighten the future dictators.
What, then, is "the matter with women"? What is the problem of
women's freedom? It seems to me to be this: how to arrange the world
so that women can be human beings, with a chance to exercise their
infinitely varied gifts in infinitely varied ways, instead of being
destined by the accident of their sex to one field of activity
-housework and child-raising. And second, if and when they choose
housework and child-raising, to have that occupation recognized by
the world as work, requiring a definite economic reward and not
merely entitling the performer to be dependent on some man.
This is not the whole of feminism, of course, but it is enough to
begin with. "Oh, don't begin with economics," my friends often
protest, "Woman does not live by bread alone. What she needs first
of all is a free soul." And I can agree that women will never be
great until they achieve a certain emotional freedom, a strong
healthy egotism, and some un-personal sources of joy -- that in this
inner sense we cannot make woman free by changing her economic
status. What we can do, however, is to create conditions of outward
freedom in which a free woman's soul can be born and grow. It is
these outward conditions with which an organized feminist movement
must concern itself.
Freedom of choice in occupation and individual economic independence
for women: How shall we approach this next feminist objective?
First, by breaking down all remaining barriers, actual as well as
legal, which make it difficult for women to enter or succeed in the
various professions, to go into and get on in business, to learn
trades and practice them, to join trades unions. Chief among these
remaining barriers is inequality in pay. Here the ground is already
broken. This is the easiest part of our program.
Second, we must institute a revolution in the early training and
education of both boys and girls. It must be womanly as well as
manly to earn your own living, to stand on your own feet. And it
must be manly as well as womanly to know how to cook and sew and
clean and take care of yourself in the ordinary exigencies of life.
I need not add that the second part of this revolution will be more
passionately resisted than the first. Men will not give up their
privilege of helplessness without a struggle. The average man has a
carefully cultivated ignorance about household matters -- from what
to do with the crumbs to the grocer's telephone number -- a sort of
cheerful inefficiency which protects him better than the reputation
for having a violent temper. It was his mother's fault in the
beginning, but even as a boy he was quick to see how a general
reputation for being "no good around the house" would serve him
throughout life, and half-consciously he began to cultivate that
helplessness until today it is the despair of feminist wives.
A growing number of men admire the woman who has a job, and,
especially since the cost of living doubled, rather like the idea of
their own wives contributing to the family income by outside work.
And of course for generations there have been whole towns full of
wives who are forced by the bitterest necessity to spend the same
hours at the factory that their husbands spend. But these
bread-winning wives have not yet developed homemaking husbands. When
the two come home from the factory the man sits down while his wife
gets supper, and he does so with exactly the same sense of
fore-ordained right as if he were "supporting her." Higher up in the
economic scale the same thing is true. The business or professional
woman who is married, perhaps engages a cook, but the responsibility
is not shifted, it is still hers. She "hires and fires," she orders
meals, she does the buying, she meets and resolves all domestic
crises, she takes charge of moving, furnishing, settling. She may
be, like her husband, a busy executive at her office all day, but
unlike him, she is also an executive in a small way every night and
morning at home. Her noon hour is spent in planning, and too often
her Sundays and holidays are spent in "catching up."
Two business women can "make a home" together without either one
being over-burdened or over-bored. It is because they both know how
and both feel responsible. But it is a rare man who can marry one of
them and continue the homemaking partnership. Yet if there are no
children, there is nothing essentially different in the combination.
Two self-supporting adults decide to make a home together: if both
are women it is a pleasant partnership, more fun than work; if one
is a man, it is almost never a partnership -- the woman simply adds
running the home to her regular outside job. Unless she is very
strong, it is too much for her, she gets tired and bitter over it,
and finally perhaps gives up her outside work and condemns herself
to the tiresome half-job of housekeeping for two.
Cooperative schemes and electrical devices will simplify the
business of homemaking, but they will not get rid of it entirely. As
far as we can see ahead people will always want homes, and a happy
home cannot be had without a certain amount of rather monotonous
work and responsibility. How can we change the nature of man so that
he will honorably share that work and responsibility and thus make
the homemaking enterprise a song instead of a burden? Most assuredly
not by laws or revolutionary decrees. Perhaps we must cultivate or
simulate a little of that highly prized helplessness ourselves. But
fundamentally it is a problem of education, of early training -- we
must bring up feminist sons.
Sons? Daughters? They are born of women -- how can women be free to
choose their occupation, at all times cherishing their economic
independence, unless they stop having children? This is a further
question for feminism. If the feminist program goes to pieces on the
arrival of the first baby, it is false and useless. For ninety-nine
out of every hundred women want children, and seventy-five out of
every hundred want to take care of their own children, or at any
rate so closely superintend their care as to make any other
full-time occupation impossible for at least ten or fifteen years.
Is there any such thing then as freedom of choice in occupation for
women? And is not the family the inevitable economic unit and
woman's individual economic independence, at least during that
period, out of the question?
The feminist must have an answer to these questions, and she has.
The immediate feminist program must include voluntary motherhood.
Freedom of any kind for women is hardly worth considering unless it
is assumed that they will know how to control the size of their
families. "Birth control" is just as elementary an essential in our
propaganda as "equal pay." Women are to have children when they want
them, that's the first thing. That ensures some freedom of
occupational choice; those who do not wish to be mothers will not
have an undesired occupation thrust upon them by accident, and those
who do wish to be mothers may choose in a general way how many years
of their lives they will devote to the occupation of childraising.
But is there any way of insuring a woman's economic independence
while child-raising is her chosen occupation? Or must she sink into
that dependent state from which, as we all know, it is so hard to
rise again? That brings us to the fourth feature of our program --
motherhood endowment. It seems that the only way we can keep mothers
free, at least in a capitalist society, is by the establishment of a
principle that the occupation of raising children is peculiarly and
directly a service to society, and that the mother upon whom the
necessity and privilege of performing this service naturally falls
is entitled to an adequate economic reward from the political
government. It is idle to talk of real economic independence for
women unless this principle is accepted. But with a generous
endowment of motherhood provided by legislation, with all laws
against voluntary motherhood and education in its methods repealed,
with the feminist ideal of education accepted in home and school,
and with all special barriers removed in every field of human
activity, there is no reason why woman should not become almost a
It will be time enough then to consider whether she has a soul.
Crystal Eastman Speech
Now We Can Begin