Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Problems of the Age: 20: Woman’s World

Problems of the Age: 20: Woman’s World

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 19, 2011

For links to other parts of this series, see this chart.

For a statement on the unofficial nature (i.e., personal interpretation for discussion purposes, not necessarily representative of church doctrine) of these lessons, see this notice.


Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.

By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner

XX. – Woman’s World

Alarming Changes. – There is in rapid progress the creation of a new world for women. It has not been brought entirely by the war. Her grievances date back many years, for she has long felt certain inequalities with men which she has been striving for decades to overcome. The war has helped her into a wider circle of employment, but she heretofore has been extending her activities in new fields, and the farther she has gone the greater demands she has made for improved opportunities. The position she plans for the future will not be won without strong resistance. In political life she sees a means to a higher aim than office. It is in the industrial world where she feels an unjust discrimination and a wrong. Politics might help her, but it will not remove the evil she seeks to cure. Political opportunities do not furnish a world at all large enough for her activities. They may help her, that is all. There are two chief obstructions to her industrial progress. One is public sentiment; the other her own sex. For centuries there has been thrown about her an exclusiveness which confined her services mostly to the home. In European countries, where she is employed more in outdoor life she is confined to the family circle. Gradually, in the nineteenth century she began factory life, then store life, separating herself more and more from domestic pursuits. In each industrial step she has been met by the objection that she was out of her sphere. In each step, too, she has met temptations that have undoubtedly told against her moral well-being. Public sentiment would balk today at women street car conductors, motormen, hotel porters and all forms of employment that bring her into indiscriminate contact with men. The law might not prohibit her, but she would lack the support of the public sentiment which would assist her in claiming the same remuneration as men. Then there are parental objections, and disfavor of friends and relatives. Public pressure has been too great for her, however willing she may be. A fundamental power in all our social institutions is public sentiment. Many things might be done, and some would perhaps be done, were it not for social disfavor. Such prejudice has been built up for centuries and it is not easily thrown down, even when all reason for its continuation ceases to exist. Such sentiment has of course its good and bad sides. It is more powerful than law, indeed, it is often the principal source of law. It may also be more severe than law, and sometimes it is cruel, but always more or less a tyrant.

It is against this sentiment that women are battling today. To their aid a great war has come, and one of the things it will do is to turn topsy-turvy a great mass of public opinion. “We shall change our minds about things” is one of the common expressions of conversation and of public journals. How and where will it let women work? Will it let her don male attire and doff her own? The women of ancient Israel were taught that it was an abomination for women to dress as men, and the world ever since has said to that doctrine, Amen! Great changes are taking place in Europe with respect to employment and dress. These changes will find their way across the ocean to our own country; but public opinion here will be more stubborn than it is there.

Another thing which will change sentiment in this country will be the franchise of women. Their battle is on now with such a determination that its long resistance seems unlikely. Their political influence will reach all industrial life in such a manner as to sweep away distinction hitherto existing in wages and in all kinds of employment for women. Competition of a violent character is sure to arise between men and women. Men with families will be at a disadvantage. They cannot work on a scale of wages that women will accept if they need to do so in order to win places occupied by men. Then we may expect a new thing in the world – sex hatred. Indeed, its appearance is already manifest in parts of Europe today. What a serious world we are coming to! Maybe the curious thing after all is that we ourselves cannot be attuned to the new life. At any rate the present transformation of things is interesting. But the changes may come along slow enough for us to adjust ourselves to them as time goes on. We are in a period of reconstruction when the new is taking the place of the old. It is all wonderful. We can hardly believe ourselves in the contemplation that the new order is forcing upon us.

Sex Competition. – A second obstacle in the demands of woman is the opposition that her own sex will force upon her. Women must stand by their husbands and oppose their sisters in a movement calculated to rob husbands of their employment. Equal pay for equal work has the ring of eternal justice. But what is justice? Child life is needed, it must be encouraged if the nation is to exist. Men and women must have some assistance if they are to be the greatest of all benefactors to their country. They cannot compete with the childless. Will the state take over the expenses of child life? Children must be reared in homes. A parental love demands that, and the theory of some socialists that state institutions should be established for the support of children is idle in the face of one of the strongest instincts of nature.

There is an ever widening chasm between the present and the past generation. The older looks askance at the liberty and forwardness of the younger. The younger is working a revolution in the propriety and fitness of things. The women of this generation are looking at life from a new angle. New ambitions have come to them, and they are talking “careers.” they mean to break away from the old order of things and set new standards of life. Will these standards be for the better or for the worse? We all shake our heads at times. The old fashioned mother in the home, the mother whose ambition was in the home, is still our ideal. We scarcely stop to think that the home may become a thing of the past, is indeed in an ever widening circle becoming so now. The unmarried and the childless have no homes as we have known them. Those of limited families are drifting from home life. They must think as men think, and live as men live. Will the new freedom to them mean a license to do what men do? will the double standard pass away, and the moral plane of woman fall to that of man? Can the two sexes be alike in so many respects and not be in danger of being alike in all respects? In the past responsibility for immoral conduct has rested more heavily upon woman. She is learning to evade what was once the insignia of her shame. Remove from her fear of consequences, and will not the dangers for her be as great as they are for man?

Intellectual Ascendency. – The intellectual differences between the present generation of women and the past can perhaps never be abridged. Will the moral and physical difference in time break down? Is the intellect in the ascendency? If so, what will be its power over the other attributes of woman? Harriet Orne, in the Independent of September 1, 1917, writes:

My emotions belong to the world of my mother, but my mind lives in a new world which she has never entered, perhaps would not enter if she could. It is the world which my experience has made for me, an intellectual world where those ideas rule which have had the most force in the world during my life time and have been a part of my education. Between my mother’s intellectual world and my own a gulf is fixed, and we look across wistfully at one another and strive tactfully to protect each other from our own opinions.

I believe that the gap between the thinking of the women of my mother’s generation, and the thinking of the women of my own generation is a greater gap than has existed between any two other generations of women in the history that we know.

What will the competition of women mean to men? At present they are equipping themselves intellectually better than men. They are more steadfast as students and have fewer evil habits that sap the physical and mental life of man. What of the physical differences between them? the women of this generation in the activities of the home show more persistency and endurance than men. Here is a testimonial from Pierre Hamp on the work of French women in the munition factories:

Between the sewing machine or the typewriter key and the mechanic’s lathe there is no very great distance; there is more fatigue in making clothes on a sewing machine for troops than in turning a 75 mm. gun on a lathe one meter long. To pass the inside border of the hem exactly under the needle requires about the same attention as to follow with one’s eye the working of the tool while calibrating the weapon.

Woman could easily pass directly from her previous tasks to this treatment of steel in the workshops, for she had been spending herself before in more exhausting work. No great effort is required of her in metal turning. She has soon come to excel at it, and is as efficient as man and often more so. In a workshop for making shell cases one woman succeeded in a fortnight in attaining the average rate of production at piece work rates. She asked if she would be paid for all she made, irrespective of their number. This privilege was given, and in six weeks she reached a scale of production twice as great as that of men.

It was formerly thought that woman’s care could not be trusted when very exact measurements had to be made, but the eyes of an embroiderer are sharper than those of a man, and machines for making light artillery presented few difficulties for her.

Women and War. – What about woman as a fighter? Biologists say, “The female of the species is deadlier than the male” Now that women squads in Great Britain are undergoing intense military training, and many of the women of this country are so given to military excitement, one is compelled to ask what may not yet be done by women if the war continues much longer. In Prussia a woman’s battalion has been formed and has seen active service. The famous New York physician, Dr. Hammond, in a recent interview in the Times has this to say about woman and war:

At present there is no question that woman represents the undisciplined sex. That is particularly so in this country. Women have been allowed too much ease and luxury and pleasure without any of the sobering responsibility that goes with world making.

“Don’t you, Doctor, consider the task of child bearing and rearing as great and sobering a responsibility as any borne by the average male?”

I certainly do. Aside from the contribution to the State, it is the best thing a woman can do for her own well-being, both moral and physical. A woman is not fully a woman until she has borne a child. But child-bearing is going out of fashion, especially here in America. And it is with an acceptation of this condition that I speak.”

Where women have acquired economic strength, financial independence, there is undoubtedly a disposition to break away from the discipline of established decencies. It may be that women are innately anarchistic, and that they must be held in leash by economic dependence, and possess a physical strength less than that of the dominant male; but I would like to see the experiment made of subjecting them to the iron discipline of military life.

Of course, there could be no segregation of regiments according to sex. Women, if they are to be any real use to their country as soldiers, and if they are to get any real benefit themselves from the training, would have to play their part shoulder to shoulder with the men. I have no doubt this would result in colossal license for a time; but there is no doubt that the problem would work out its own solution. I have no doubt of the enduring morality of the world. All change means disruption and chaos for a time; and then the true equilibrium is found. I, for one, would be perfectly willing to put the world’s morality to the test, – crucial, I admit – of sending mixed regiments of men and women.

These are truly grave problems of life in woman’s world. The steps sometimes from the suggestive to the possible, from the possible to the probable, and probable to the reality, are not only short but rapid. Who does not venture a prediction?

Remedy. – What will happen after the breakdown of marriage in our social life? A period of reconstruction will follow. Marriage must of course be reinstated. Without it there can be for us no heaven or no earth. An awful punishment is already at hand because the world has thrown off the responsibility to such an extent of this divine requireme4nt.

Read Sec. 49:15, 16, 17, Doc. and Cov.


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