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Some Moral Aspects of the "Woman Movement"

Author(s): Walter Rauschenbusch

Source: The Biblical World, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Oct., 1913), pp. 195-199
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3142396
Accessed: 21-08-2015 23:09 UTC

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Professorof Church History, Rochester Theological Seminary
Author of "'Christianityand the Social Crisis"and "Christianizingthe Social Order"

If eversanity is neededit is in the discussion of "feminism." Civilizationfaces

no more serious issue than the new status of women. From the economic,domestic,
and political points of view, the social readjustmentthat must resultfrom the long de-
layed equality of the sexes attractsattention and arouses speculation. The BIBLICAL
WORLD is, however,concernedwith that profound aspect of life which is involvedin
everysocial change. And it is this we have askedProfessorRauschenbuschto discuss.

I was walking through a factory dis- This is a tremendous fact. In our

trict when the whistle blew in the even- age of social transformationswhat other
ing. In a moment the sidewalk was social process is of equal import? It
flooded with a tide of human beings, would be a great thing if we could abolish
wave on wave, and they were nearly all child-labor. It would be an immense
girls. achievement if all public utilities could
I passed along the corridorsof a great be brought under public ownership.
university when the bell rang. The But what is that compared with a for-
students were hurrying through the hall ward movement in which half of the
and filling the lecture rooms. Their entire nation is surging up out of the
ranks were alive with the bright colors of semi-seclusionof the past, out of a world
women's dress, the saucy flash of hats with a fair but narrow horizon, out of
and ribbons, the loose tendrils of hair, self-imposed limitations of purpose, and
the passing glances and smiles of sex marching out into a future which none
challenge. knows or understands? This thing
I sat in the convention of a great through which we are passing is a social
political party. There were women all revolution.
around me and women on the platform; If this social change stopped after re-
not ladies who had come to see their adjusting the equilibriumof the sexes, it
men-folks perform,but women who were would constitute an epoch in the history
thereto do the performing,earnest,watch- of humanity. Every little brother and
ful, readyto assert themselves and to fight sister playing together; every man and
for a cause on the same level as men. maiden mating; every father and mother
Women have arrived-in industry, in governing a household in common;
education, in politics. They pervade all every man and woman meeting in society
domainsof life, not passively as adjuncts, would henceforth act differently on
but with a sense of equal rights and a account of this great change. But this
feeling of new-found destiny. change is only the beginning of more

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changes. The emancipation of half the have accented morality according to

race must release a vast reservoir of their ethical tastes and interests. The
stored energy. What will it do and anti-saloon movement is one of the
not do ? results; there are others. What changes
They are realizing these unknown in our theology have been due to the
potencies concretely in Illinois just now. transition of women from a passive to
What changeswill votes for women make an active participation in church life?
in the political alignment of the state ? Anyone who would answer that question
Who will get hurt ? How will the game adequately would make a real contribu-
of politics have to be played from now tion to church history. Women have
on ? What new tremolo stops will have not occupied our pulpits, but the men in
to be pulled on the organ of political the pulpits were conscious of talking to
eloquence to get those votes? Who women who would speak their mind and
knows? who did their own thinking. The pro-
This political adjustment is sudden foundest changes in theology come by
and conscious. But similar adjustments silences. Things are left unsaid because
of even greater importance have long they sound awkward or arouse contra-
ago begun to take place quietly and for diction; after a while these things have
the most part unconsciously. quietly dropped out of the religious con-
For instance, it would be hard to sciousness of an entire generation.
formulate the influence of the feminine We are far too deeply immersed in
invasion on the methods, the spirit, and these currents of change to see clearly
the subject-matter of higher education. whither they will carry us. God knows.
But every professorwho has had to pass Plainly women are here as our equals in
from the old to the new must have felt religion, in the intellectual life, in indus-
that the presence of women affected try, and in the life of our common-
him. Some liked it; some did not. A wealths. When a thing is both right
public speaker would be strangely unre- and inevitable we might as well accept it
sponsive to the electric currents of and go ahead.
humanity if he talked in precisely the The results will not be all to the good.
same strain and temper to an audience No great historic movement worked out
composed of men only and to another in 99.6 per cent pure--not even Christian-
which women predominate. But in ity. The rise of woman will cut some
most educational audiences women do knots and tie others. But no admixture
predominate. of evil must make us waver in the faith
The ascendancy of woman has long that it is right to do right, and that a
begun its work in religion. In our larger freedom will in the end work out
American Protestant churches women, the larger good.
who have been mute and passive in the Only let us be prepared for the con-
church for ages, have found a voice and comitant evils and call them by their
have freely uttered their religious ideas name when they come. A rising social
and sentiments, molding the vital and class always feels that its cause is wholly
working religion of the country. They good and noble, and only its wisest

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leaders foresee the possible evils wrapped just as much instinctive and outspoken
up in its triumph. When the business reverence for the moral qualities of men
class was unhorsing the feudal nobility, as all decent men now have for the moral
it was aglow with moral enthusiasm for qualities of women.
the beauty of freedom of trade and the Most men could mention off-hand
right of private initiative. Yet that some of the sins to which men are espe-
same class has now run us into the slough cially prone. How many of us can men-
of capitalism in which all civilization is tion off-hand the corresponding sins of
floundering. The industrial working women ? Are there none, or have we
class, which is now trying to unhorse done no thinking about them? Women
the business class, is confident that the are pointing out the evils into which
rise of labor means the ascendancy of masculine mismanagement has brought
pure social justice. I have had socialists our social life. It is highly desirable
tell me there can be no more graft after that they should point them out. More
the instruments of production have be- precision to their forefinger and more
come the property of the workers. In scope for their voice! But are there no
the same way the woman's movement corresponding evils into which the pre-
thrills with splendid self-confidence and dominant influenceof women has already
optimism. brought us ? Have they done well with
That self-confidence is the necessary the power they now have ?
fighting temper of an onward movement, There is one great line of employment
but half-truths and illusions are always in which women have always been both
dangerous. One often feels as if the old the employers and the employees-
attitude of the sexes was merely being domestic service. But this relation is
reversed. The time was when men felt notoriously one of the most unsettled
that woman was the weaker vessel, and unsatisfactory of all social relations,
inferior in intellect, semper mutabile, a more feudal and less democratized than
perpetual snare to the higher nature of any other. In all other employments
the male. Now the judgment has the worker hunts his job; domestic
swung around; many men feel that service is so unattractive that the
women are morally better than men. worker sits in an office and allows herself
Perhaps it is right that men should to be hunted. We must allow for the
instinctively feel so. But it is a differ- fact that the relation is more intimate
ent matter when women think so too. and psychologically complicated than
They are not better. They are only most other working relations, but is the
good in differentways than men. They undeveloped morality of women not a
have just as much sin and nonsense in factor in the psychological difficulties?
them as men. They are the same raw All fighting movements are prone to
human nature, and in some directions resort to violence. Force always seems
they have had less hammering and a short cut to the end desired. But the
molding than men. We shall know short cut usually turns out to be the
that women collectively have arrived at longest way around. We can measure
their spiritual maturity when they have the sobriety and sustained moral power

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of a movement partly by its self- Many have wealth of their own. House-
restraint and its refusal to seize the wives manage the home finances more
hiltless dagger of force. All the world autonomously than formerly. Women
knows how one wing of the suffrage do the bulk of retail buying for con-
movement has succumbedto the tempta- sumption and thereby give the decisive
tion. Yet the resort to physical force direction to the economic organizationof
was the last thing we should have society. Is it accidental, then, that
expected of a woman's movement. simultaneously with the advent of
Women rarely commit brutal murders; woman there has been, through all social
they preferpoison or get their men to use strata, an increase in the opulence of
the violence. Of course the militants in living, in the expensiveness of dress and
England are only a small minority. For furniture, in the adornmentsof the table,
all other women the moral test was in and in the lavishness of entertainment?
the speed with which they would see the These are the things which women con-
danger to their movement and react trol. Of course there are other impor-
against the militants. tant factors involved, but it seems as if
The evolution of religion for centuries the increasing financial power of women
has been toward the religious freedom of had promptly registered itself in these
the individual and toward the exercise of ways, and chiefly in everything which
scientific scrutiny in matters of fact and sets off the personality of women.
doctrine. Any religion that does not What enormous amounts of time, and
train men in the use of freedom, and in labor, and money are spent in accentu-
wise use of doubt, is either a hold-over ating the charms of women, young and
from the past or a relapse to the past. old, with a frameworkof clinging stuffs,
Now, there are two forms of religion of jewels, of elaborate hair, of furniture,
which have sprung up among us since of lights, of houses. Imagine all the
the advent of the feminine movement, women on the avenue on one sidewalk
Christian Science and Theosophy. and all the men on the other. On which
Women have been the predominant and side would civilization, and on which
creative spiritual factors in both. But side would barbarismbe, so far as dress
both rest to a singular degree on author- is concerned? Men may be more open
ity and both make very heavy demands to the lusts of the flesh, but perhaps
on the capacity of believing without women make up for it by the lust of the
scrutiny. Christian Science is a "reli- eye and the pride of life. Throughout
gion of authority" even more than history the women of the upper classes
Roman Catholicism. It does not even have dropped into a parasitic and idle
permit its authorized exponents to life faster than their men. "Society,"
preach their own sermons on its doc- so called, is the product of women as
trines. Is there any connection between much as politics has been the product of
these characteristics of these two reli- men; for its evils they are largely
gions and their feminine habitus ? responsible.
Women handle more money and The standards of modesty have de-
handle it more freely than formerly. clined since women have moved out into

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freedom. Older women agree that girls of it. If such large numbers are going
talk less modestly, dress less modestly, over, a slow landslide of morality must
and act less modestly than formerly. It be going on. Here the fashions in dress,
is not simply an increase in sincerity and the spread of smoking and drinking
freedom of self-expression. It is a loss among society women, the forwardness
of control. Family authority, religion, of half-grown girls, the conscious ex-
and the customs of their sex used to hold posure at summer resorts, and the
wayward impulses in restraint. These success of sex novels have symptomatic
restraints imposed from without have value. Something new seems to be
weakened, and many have no self- going on around us, and it is closely
restraint to offset the loss. So they connected with the emancipation of
follow desire, "go the limit," lean over women. They are earning their own
the barriers that are still left, and prod living, going and coming and keeping
temptation to come and tempt them. their own hours like men, and apparently
The dress of many women has become a they are gravitating toward similar
scandal. Instead of draping and veiling sexual standards.
what is suggestive of sex, they accentuate I believe in the woman's movement
it. If men did the same it would be dis- and have always supported it. I trust
gusting. I have found repeatedly in in its ultimate workings. My point is
large meetings of men that there is a that all who wish it well must be pre-
suppressed sense of resentment and pared for the inevitable concomitant
shame for the dress of women. We have evils in it and resist them. In her old
come to a serious pass when men are relations of wifehood and motherhood
more modest in their feeling than women. woman has all the inherited instincts
These fashions have now run for several and traditions of centuries to make her
years, but what adequate expression of wise. In the new relations into which
condemnation has come from the intelli- she is now entering, hers is the younger
gent and organized womanhood of the sex. The feminine virtues in the past
country ? were not all due to superior personal
Eventhe dullestof mindsmustreal- character, but largely to the inhibitions
by the recent imposed by the social institution of the
vice reports are ominous. The class of home and the clear standards of conduct
prostitutesis not a thingapart. These prescribedin a comparatively stationary
women are part of the whole body of social life. The movement into freedom
womanhood. Some girls are betrayed means a severe test of women, singly
and decoyed, and pass suddenly from and collectively, a test like that which
decencyto vice, but the great majority comes to us all at adolescence-a wider
graduate into it slowly. First they cut field of action, increased liberty, larger
across the boundary occasionally, then duties, untried paths, unknown passions
often, and finally they make a business and temptations.

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