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do their own. The proof has now been given, and the condition of competition between the sexes, with the sex antagonisms thus engendered, is wasteful and unsatisfactory. But the way has meantime been opened for the next step to be taken, where men and women can work in mutual freedom to determine their reciprocal functions in learning, in industry, in government and in organized society.
THE ECONOMIC BASIS OF FEMINISM
BY MAURICE PARMELEE,
New York City.
The term "feminism" has been used in a variety of ways. But generally speaking it seems to be used as a name for the present extensive movement for removing discriminations against woman on the basis of her sex and for placing her entirely or as far as possible on an equality with man.
The economic basis of feminism is obviously one of the most if not the most important aspect of feminism, because its economic basis is more or less fundamental to every other aspect of feminism. This subject involves a great many problems which can be solved only in the course of time, some of them probably not for a long time to come, and in the present transitional stage it is impossible to give a final answer to most of them. I shall attempt, therefore, to state only the more important of these problems, indicating only tentatively a possible solution for some of them.
The more extreme type of feminist seems to assume that woman can, will and should be on an absolute equality with man in every respect. The tendency of this type of feminism is to minimize almost to the point of nullity the differences between man and woman and between the human and social functions of the two sexes. Economically, then, this would mean that woman can, will and should enter every occupation along with man and that she should become economically as independent as man is or is supposed to be. But it is not safe to assume this without careful study of the subject, and such study may indicate that the two sexes cannot be as nearly equal, or, to use a more correct term (for the term equal is question-begging), as nearly alike as this type of feminist seems to assume.
Contrasted with the extreme type of feminist is the extreme type of anti-feminist who emphasizes to an extreme degree the differences between man and woman and consequently the unlikeness which should and must exist in the social position of the two sexes. Economically this would mean that the occupations open to woman
should be few and distinct from those of man and that she should be in the main dependent economically upon man.
In this connection it is important to remember that the terms "economic independence" and "economic dependence" as ordinarily used are rather misleading. In the technical economic sense a person is economically independent who is earning an income in the form of economic goods or money in an economic occupation usually carried on outside of the home and in which he is producing goods which are put on the market and have exchange value. In this sense it is evident that the vast majority of women in the past and a large part of them now are economically dependent. But to a high degree in the past, and to a large extent still, women have been carrying on activities in the home which were economically valuable in the broader social meaning of the term for they were producing goods for home consumption, while in performing the functions of child bearing and rearing they have been performing functions which in the same broad social sense have been of the highest economic value. However, on the one hand, modern economic progress has taken many industries from the home, while, on the other hand, the advance of civilization has led naturally and necessarily to a lowering of the birth rate thus reducing woman's work in the bearing and rearing of children. These changes have lessened greatly the economic functions of woman within the home and have brought into being a relatively large leisure class of parasitic women who are in every sense of the term economically dependent, and a much larger class of women who are partially dependent. These changes are probably the strongest causes of the modern feminist movement because, on the one hand, a few of the more intelligent of the leisure class of women, who are mostly in the middle and upper classes, have become restless in their idleness and have initiated movements for enlarging the political and economic activities of women. On the other hand, these changes have made of serious importance the question of the economic independence of women, for modern civilization must decide whether it can tolerate so large a class of women who are wholly or partially dependent economically, and a part at least of the feminists recognize this problem and are interested in studying it.
Let us consider first to what extent woman is capable of entering all occupations. Physically she is somewhat handicapped as
compared with man. Investigations among European peasants, where the women had as good an opportunity to develop themselves physically as the men, have shown that women are on the average about two-thirds as strong as men. This does not mean that women must therefore be barred out of all occupations requiring physical strength. In most occupations men do not have to work to the limit of their strength, or at any rate have to do so only occasionally, so that in many of these occupations it is entirely possible for women to work with men. This is all the more possible if the work can be so arranged that the excessive strains shall fall upon the men, so that the tasks imposed upon the women shall not exceed their strength. The peasant woman, who works in the fields from early youth beside the boys and men, develops a robust womanhood which is of the utmost value for herself and her progeny. She presents an example which might well be followed by many (especially in this country) who regard it as demeaning for women to do hard physical labor and ungallant of men to require or even to permit it.
If, however, the excessive strains in any occupation are unavoidable for the women, it will bar them from the occupation. This is one of the reasons why women do not go to war. They can be taught to shoot, to ride horses astride, etc., and they can be as patriotic and ferocious as men. But success in war depends to a considerable extent upon the ability to sustain forced marches, to carry heavy loads, to run very fast upon occasion, and to engage in hand-to-hand combats in which sheer physical strength is the decisive factor.
Furthermore, there are occupations which are not beyond woman's physical strength, but in which she is likely to receive injury because of her sexual and reproductive organs.
As a quadruped, the female suffered little handicap because of the functions peculiar to sex, except when actually carrying or nursing the young. But after mankind had learned to stand erect, her support was far from ideal. The bones of the ankle and feet are too small to sustain great weight. A woman's knee is not so well adapted as a man's to form part of a sustaining column. The muscles of the leg, too, have a shorter purchase than a man's, hence the leverage between the trunk and the extremities is less. The strain of support is transferred to the back. Thus any work which requires long standing for a woman is injurious. All the pressure of the body's weight is brought to bear upon a portion where the sex organs and others are crowded together, and produces a dragging feeling above and about the hips. Women
performing such work are especially liable to congestion of all the organs enclosed by the hip bones, because standing and the habit of resting on one leg only cause a narrowing of the hips.1
These facts indicate that there are certain occupations which women have already entered to a large extent, such as work in factories and in stores, which may be very injurious to them and to their progeny unless the work can be so arranged as to remove these injurious features.
It has been the popular opinion that woman is mentally inferior, or, at least, is not as capable as man, for certain kinds of work. It is true that in certain activities in which she has had plenty of opportunity to achieve, such as art, music and literature, and to a lesser extent in science and philosophy, her achievements have not been as great as those of man. But in other fields the pragmatic test of accomplishment is not a fair one because of the restrictions upon her opportunities. So far as the subject has been studied scientifically, no great mental difference between the sexes has been found which would definitely exclude woman from any specific lines of work, whether or not it be true that man is capable of greater achievements along certain lines.
Looking at the matter from a purely economic point of view, it would then appear that, apart from establishing certain safeguards which would prevent women from undertaking work which would injure them physically, there is no reason for not permitting women to compete with men freely in all kinds of work, both physical and mental. The result would then doubtless be, if we exclude other considerations for the moment, that in some occupations men and women would continue to work together because neither sex would prove to have any superior fitness for it. In other occupations a decided segregation would take place because in each of these occupations one of the sexes would prove to have a superior fitness for it and under free competition would tend to drive out the other. Thus the total amount produced would be increased greatly because all the productive forces would be set to work and would work where most productive. As to which sex would profit most would depend upon which sex proved to be most efficient economically.
1 R. Malcolm Keir, "Women in Industry," in the Popular Science Monthly, October, 1913, p. 376.