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Misuse of Freedom by Women Essay

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 sleep in. 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 coming “emancipation.” 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.

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