Militarism versus Feminism: War and the Subjection of Women
August 25, 2012
C. K. Ogden / George Allen & Unwin, Ltd.
In an era of global warn, an essay from 1915 raised critical questions about war, peace, and the role of women: "Sooner or later, our attitude to certain fundamental questions must be decided, lest the critical moment come upon us unprepared. Every movement that stands for progress raises such questions, and none is more important than the future of the women's movement in relation to war and militarism."
Militarism versus Feminism: An Enquiry and a Policy
Demonstrating that Militarism involves the Subjection of Women
"Nothing could be more timely in 1915 than insistence on the lesson that Militarism involves the subjection of women."
-- MRS. H. M. SWANWICK
LONDON (1915) -- NOTE: The following pages, in so far as they do not deal with purely historical questions, look forward to a time when the Women's Movement will once more be able calmly to take stock of its position. As regards the nations now at war, effective action on the lines suggested is hardly to be expected at present; but in neutral countries the situation is already being seriously faced.
Apart from the Dutch invitation for an International Congress, the Women's Peace Movement in the USA, under the presidency of Miss Jane Addams, is winning the unanimous support of American suffragists, who realise the extent to which their own cause is threatened by the European situation.
All who are interested in the practical problems of organisation thus raised will find a full and reliable record in Jus Suffragii which, as the organ of the International Suffrage Alliance, has proved itself invaluable as a source of information since the events of August, 1914.
Portions of the present investigation have already appeared in its columns, and in those of The Common Cause and The Cambridge Magazine, and are here reproduced by kind permission of the Editors.
It is hard indeed, at a time like the present, to detach oneself even for a moment from the duties which the common danger has imposed on us all -- men and women in every country. But, sooner or later, our attitude to certain fundamental questions must be decided, lest the critical moment come upon us unprepared. Every movement that stands for progress raises such questions, and none is more important than the future of the women's movement in relation to war and militarism.
Will -- or should -- its course be modified in the light of recent events? It is hardly too early to discuss this question, for the advocates of militarism are already busy in our midst, and it is easy to take a wrong turning or a short view. Opinions within the movement are divided. Yet it seems probable that there would be less disagreement if once the results of militarism were clearly understood.
We are faced by issues on which it seems not improbable that the ideals of most men are different from those of most women.. The difference has usually been obscured in feminist propaganda: the argument so often has to run, and quite truly, that on the majority of questions there will be no great split of society into two halves, the men wanting one thing and the women another. But militarism, as such, raises different problems.
For Feminism history has only one message on the question of war, and it is this:
Militarism has been the curse of women, as women, from the first dawn of social life. Owing to the turmoil in which it has kept every tribe and every nation almost without exception, mankind has seldom been able to pause for a moment to set social affairs in order -- and the first and most crying reform has ever been the condition of woman.
Violence at home, violence abroad; violence between individuals, between classes, between nations, between religions; violence between man and woman: this it is which, more than all other influences, has prevented the voice of woman being heard in public affairs until almost yesterday.
War has created Slavery with its degrading results for women, and its double standard of morality from which we are not yet completely free: War, and the consequent enslavement of women, has been the main inducement to Polygamy, with its conception of women as property, and its debasement of love to physical enjoyment: War has engendered and perpetuated that dominance of man as a military animal which has pervaded every social institution from Parliament downwards.
In War, man alone rules: when War is over man does not surrender his privileges. Militarist ethics have perverted the peaceful and individualising tendencies of Industry to which woman owes so much.
Industry has united with competition to produce Industrial Warfare: Commerce has combined with Imperialism for the capture of markets and the exploitation of the lower races. Militarism has ruined Education with its traditions of discipline and its conception of history. Militarism has even left its blighting imprint on Religion -- on Mohammedanism the religion of conquest with its depreciation of woman; on the religion of the Prince of Peace, so that the Churches can say what they are not ashamed to say to-day.
War, and the fear of War, has kept woman in perpetual subjection, making it her chief duty to exhaust all her faculties in the ceaseless production of children that nations might have the warriors needed for aggression or defence. She must not have any real education -- for the warrior alone required knowledge and independence; she must not have a voice in the affairs of the nation, for War and preparation for War were so fundamental in the life of nations that woman, with her silly humanitarianism, must not be allowed to meddle therewith!
And so War, which the influence of women alone might have prevented, was used as the main argument against enfranchisement, as it had been the main barrier to emancipation in the past. The circle is complete.
War, Militarism, Imperialism; in every form they have proved her undoing, and yet women hesitate to-day on which side to throw their influence! Over and over again the greatest statesmen have said that peace was Utopian only because public opinion was not ready for it; and no one has said it more emphatically than Sir Edward Grey. But who is to create the new public opinion? Have women no better answer than hatred or despair?
Over and over again Suffragists have seen that it was from militarists that their ideals met with the most bitter opposition. They have never been tired of pointing to the baleful influence on our social life of ex-Viceroys and of men accustomed to the military despotism of the East. Is it purely by chance that it is the countries which, by position or circumstances, have been most free from military domination and constant preparation for war that have felt able to listen to the demands of women?
The United States, New Zealand, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and the rest -- they are countries in which war plays but a small part. The conscriptionist countries, on the other hand, have always looked askance at women's claims, and who has not heard German women complain "It's all very well for you to talk, but you don't know what it means to live in a country where everything is secondary to the training of the warrior male"?
On February 5th, Mr. Cloudesley Brereton wrote in The Common Cause, "Germany stands forth as the chief exponent of the patriarchal conception." But, and let us not be led astray, only as the chief exponent; and from her faults let us learn. All Europe, as we show in Chapter III, is constantly menaced by similar tendencies. The Bernhardis of all nations are the danger; and, incidentally, we may note the following in The Fortnightly for January, 1915:
"Later, I heard from the Countess that women were not much higher than the 'four-footed animal kingdom' for Bernhardi; that he loudly contradicted his wife, even at hotel tables when they travelled together; that he always walked ahead in the streets; and pushed past her or even other ladies (if strangers to him) in order to go first through a doorway."
It is hard to write without danger of misrepresentation, and it is especially important to make it clear that nothing is here implied as regards individuals. As far as our argument goes the majority of men who compose the armies of Europe at the present moment might be ardent supporters of women's rights!
The indictment is against militarism. Since the war broke out every woman's paper has been full of complaints as to the way in which women have been treated -- quite apart from atrocities and sufferings, and the break down of the theory that women are 'protected,' so admirably exposed in The Englishwoman, January 1915.
Yet war does but bring out tendencies suppressed in times of peace -- the latent legacies of previous wars -- and throughout history, as we show in Chapters II and III, it is in warlike ages and in warlike countries that women have fared worst.
The age of mother-right, of which we hear so much to-day, was an age of peace, of agricultural communities whose women were not yet reduced to the subjection of the fighting patriarchal era which followed, and which with its organisation and traditions has survived even unto this day. Amongst primitive peoples, it is where peaceable conditions prevail that social and domestic arrangements accord to women the greatest liberty.
The same is true of ancient Egypt, as Mrs. Hartley and others have shown. In Greece, the woman's movement (so badly needed in the Athens of Aristophanes) had already become the butt of the comedian when the warlike ambitions of Macedonia gave the deathblow to every effort of social reform. In a Rome worn out by ceaseless fighting, women were slowly attaining influence and liberty when the inroads of the barbarians again dashed their hopes to the ground.
For centuries the battling hordes moved to and fro, and every forward movement amongst women had to contend in addition with the patriarchal system of marriage prescribed by the militarist legislators of the Old Testament, whose influence was now embedded in Christianity. And in modern times it has been the same, until in countries where the din of battle was no longer heard, and weapons of defence could at length be discarded in civil life, woman as woman dared to claim a share in directing those social affairs which concerned her so nearly.
For fifty years Great Britain had rested in peace at home after the exhaustion of the Napoleonic Wars, when John Stuart Mill first gave adequate expression to the murmurings of the centuries. Since then the movement has gathered impetus day by day; but side by side with it Militarism and Imperialism have also raised their head. And so far Militarism has prevailed! Its latest triumphs are now exposed even to the naked eye!
Nor is the process merely unconscious. We have but to remember the ex-Viceroys mentioned above. We have but to think of the effect on women of the Code Napoleon, the foundation of legislation in Latin countries, to see how the arch-militarist of modern Europe deliberately worked with military ends in view to subject and degrade women in social life.
Consider the record of Mohammedanism in India; consider the blood-drenched past of China, with its foot-bound millions; consider Japan today -- where are the New Women finding their chief opponents? And soon America too may realise to her cost the meaning of that military influence which her suffragists are suddenly straining every nerve to overcome.
To the crowning example of modern Burma we have devoted a separate chapter. Is there any exception in the world's history? And if some apparent exception should present itself, would anyone challenge the main contention, neglected though it has been by suffragists in the past?
In vain will England have fought against Militarism to-day if, when the moment comes for diverting our national energies from the single task which now confronts us, women, who must stand apart from the conflict but suffer none the less, neglect an opportunity which may not occur again for centuries of directing public opinion satiated, as it will be, with the horrors of war, but impotent to escape for lack of vision.
To sum up: One of the possible, even probable consequences of this war will be an increase in the power of Militarism, not only in the nations now fighting, but also in neutral countries overcome by the epidemic of international distrust.
The only antidote to developments so inimical to women is the existence of an organised body of public opinion, fully conscious both of the great social ideals which the settlement might serve to promote and of the disastrous retrogression which would result from the establishment of an armed peace more threatening even than that of which this war was the outcome.
The greatest hope for the formation of such a public opinion lies in the suffrage organisations whose aims and aspirations would be frustrated by the victory of the advocates of armaments and conscription.
Men, as men, are powerless to move. Here is the prerogative of woman. Let her now take the lead. Already in America the most prominent feminist speakers and writers have recognised both the danger and the remedy. When their programme is ripe, will the women of Europe be ready to carry it through? Will they, in making their decision, forget the lesson of history? Militarism has been their curse for centuries; its ideals have ever stood in the way of women's rights.
Militarism will not change in the future. It must always produce an androcentric society, a society where the moral and social position of women is that of an essentially servile and subordinate section of the community. In each single nation, taken for itself, men will be able to make a really good case for Militarism, if the movement to educate public opinion does not become international. For this reason above all others, it is the duty as well as the obvious interest of women to make clear their views with no uncertain voice. All other international bonds have been burst asunder by the war.
Science, labour, religion, all have failed; but that silent half of humanity, permanently non-combatant, on whom the horrors of war fall with equal severity in all nations alike, bringing to all the same sorrows and the same sufferings, may through these very sorrows and sufferings find a new and real bond of unity for the redemption and regeneration of the civilised world.
Here at last it is clear that the higher ideals and aspirations of women coincide with the future welfare of the whole of humanity. In them is the hope of man.
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