Saturday, March 31, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part IV, Chapter 5




There remains now to examine those principles of liberty which we have reached in the course of our extended inquiries, in their application to the various branches of the social question. This is necessary for two reasons: one is, to be able to forecast the practical results to be obtained from a realization of a condition of unqualified liberty, and the other, to see if a platform and plan of work looking to such a realization will afford common standing ground for all genuine reformers of every name.

One of the most important as well as delicate of those branches is the relation of the sexes. The necessity for some relation of intercourse between them obviously arises from the most imperative necessity of mankind itself. And the natural forces impelling the sexes to assume and maintain relations of intercourse have been made powerful commensurate with that importance; therefore the law, when dealing with those relations, is meddling with the most powerful factors of human association. Even admitting that any sort of regulation, other than those natural instincts which prompt and control that association, is necessary or possible, it is manifest that it should be undertaken with the greatest caution, and carried out with the highest wisdom. But considering those who make the laws, there is nothing either in their habits or training which would lead us to expect even an average degree of wisdom. The methods by which legislators are chosen are such as almost preclude the possibility of obtaining any other than the grossly vulgar, and corrupt. Nor is there anything in the manner in which laws are suggested, or enacted, which [332] would remove the difficulties one particle. They rather thicken as we advance, rendering more and more remote the possibility of, even by chance, the enacting of a good law.

But we are not left to hypothesis in this matter. The evidences are positive and overwhelming of the most serious evils which come from efforts to regulate the relations of the sexes by law. Ill-assorted marriages, violations of the marriage contract, tyrannical and abusive treatment by one of the parties, jealousies, quarrels, constant friction, often culminating in appalling tragedies, are some of the more direct effects which flow from arbitrary legal restraints.

Scarcely less direct, in fact often forming steps to these disagreements, are the results which come from the laws of property. Instead of sexual relations being the result of inclination, of love, they are made to depend upon sordid considerations as far removed from the natural object of such a union as it is possible to conceive. The first consideration is made a support, and afterward, social position. Wealth, conferring distinction, is sought for the sake of the distinction; and the degree of distinction,—the social position, depends upon the degree of wealth. Even where love exists, and would assert itself, poverty stands in the way. Herbert Spencer says:

“Where attachments exist what most frequently decides for or against marriages? The possession of adequate means. Though some improvidently marry without means, yet it is undeniable that in many instances marriage is delayed by the man, or forbidden by the parents, or not assented to by the woman until there is a reasonable evidence of ability to meet the responsibilities.”

In the face of such obstacles, with natural instincts so powerful, is it any wonder that artificial standards of morals are often violated? The mother instinct in women, while differing somewhat in intensity, is universal. It is manifested even in infancy [333] in the passion for dolls. It grows in strength with increasing years until it either finds its proper expression, or is crushed by adverse circumstances at the expense, not to say of happiness, but of health of mind and body, and may be of life. This mother instinct, just in proportion to its intensity, imparts a sweetness and grace to the personal character, which most powerfully attracts the opposite sex. If, under the influence of these powerful attractions, manifestly the most natural as well as the most exalted, artificial standards of morals are violated, is it not because the law has set up barriers against the natural gratification of desire? Society then steps in with its unwritten laws, but which are just as despotic, and just as arbitrary, to finish the work begun by the statute, and destroy, often the purest and truest of womanhood, and consign them to lives of dishonor. In this case, just as we have found in many other cases, the best and noblest qualities are made the ones which most surely bring dishonor and ruin. That this is the character, in a very large degree, of those who have entered upon a life of prostitution is shown by a great many circumstances, often small in themselves but exceedingly significant. The honesty of their dealings with their washerwomen, and the shopkeepers who trust them while inmates of houses of prostitution, is a matter of frequent note, although in many cases they are shamefully victimized. Another thing, still more significant, is the experience of physicians at Blackwell’s Island Hospital, who say that there are no nurses so tender and devoted to the sick and dying, as those girls. Yet some of our most earnest and conscientious people continue to uphold, not only the law, but the pretended standard of morals, although frequently their own children are the victims; and they will speak of their honor as having been violated by a beloved daughter, whom they feel called upon to disown and [334] discard. Dishonor? Yes. But the dishonor lies in their own weakness and ignorance which permits them to enact such a monstrous injustice to a beloved child.

But some women enter into the ranks of prostitution, just as other women marry, for money. Some of them do it from necessity, and some from choice. But what have they done more than those who marry for the same reasons? They have each sought for support,—for wealth. The only difference is that one method is legalized, and the other is not. The cold blooded social pharisees, who would cut all others to their own measure, are made respectable by law, while their more unfortunate sisters are not.

Everywhere it is the same question,—that of a support, whether in marriage, or out; and it is the same in all the other phases of the woman question, that of equality of opportunity in employments, equality of wages, equality in the family, and equality in political power. It all resolves itself at last into the question of a support. How then will perfect freedom from the restraints of the law act upon this question of a support for women? Precisely as it will for men. It will destroy privilege. It will take away the power that one man or one woman, or some men and some women, exert over other men and women. It will make support infinitely easier for all, at once; and soon will bring about a common possession of property for both men and women; so that the question of a support will be settled in the most complete and substantial way, leaving the relations of the sexes to be determined by natural inclination, or love. Support will no longer be an element in determining those relations. There will be no longer any law to enforce subjection of one party to the will of the other, or to enforce a continuance of relations when no longer productive of happiness, the object for which they [335] were originally assumed. There can be no prostitution, because all will have the most abundant support; and the opportunity for the gratification of sexual desires will depend upon the mutual and natural promptings and consent of the parties themselves, and none other. Women, as men, can and will work at whatever they please, and as they please, not for a support, but as a means of self-culture, of improvement, and to win renown and distinction. The same path of progress will be open to them as to men; and the end will be accomplished by the same means. But now, if a brutal husband knows that he can force his suffering wife to obey him, that she risks starvation, or still greater suffering in mind or body by refusing, while he is practically exempt from any injury to his reputation as long as he maintains a semblance of respectability, be will be extremely careless of criticism and make the life of his wife a burden. He now has a power over her which no person in this world should possess over another. It is precisely the power which the master has over his slave. The only difference is in the extent to which he can carry it.

What then will be the condition of the family: that institution which the law so persistently professes to protect? I do not know; nor do I care to stop to consider. If it is a natural institution, and suited to the wants of humanity, it needs no artificial support like the law to sustain it. And if it is not, it will give place to something that will better express the needs of humanity. In any case it will be purified from the imperfections which are imposed upon it by law. But if the family can only be preserved at the expense of preserving poverty, prostitution, subjection of women to men, domestic infelicity, and the blight and ruin which always follow in the wake of the law, then we had a thousand times better give up the family. It is too high a price to pay even for a good article. [336]

I suppose these sentiments will, at first, find small favor among the professed leaders in social reform. Leaders are only so many rulers in their way. Almost invariably they are infected with the itch of governing. Their ideal of equality and liberty is the equal liberty of scrambling for an office, that they may lord it over the people while in office, and enjoy the emoluments and honors while they are able to retain office. If the leaders in the woman’s movement to obtain equal political power with men, really wish to secure the emancipation of women, they will find that they can only do it by, at the same time, emancipating men. The emancipation of men is the emancipation of women, and the law is the only thing that stands in the way of either. What is the use in wasting our energies for what has failed to produce equality among men. Agitation for right of the franchise, or any other artificial contrivance, cannot possibly do more than delay the day of emancipation, by keeping up a false and misleading issue. If, however, the purpose of the leaders is the same as that of politicians generally, and reform is only presented to hoodwink the people and secure office for the leaders, then they will utterly ignore these propositions until the people, for whom these pages were written, shall take to doing their own thinking and acting, which they must do before they can obtain relief, and act without the intervention of leaders. And really, it is not leaders that men want. So long as they submit to being led, they will be led to the advantage of the leaders. Men must do their .own thinking; and all that I can do, or any other man can do, is to hold up whatever light we have. When men and women understand where the trouble is, their natural interests, and co-operative instincts, will enable them to associate effectively to overcome the obstruction that stands in the way of freedom.

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