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- Men, Women, and God - 20/23 -
none the less like to warn any man or any woman lest he or she should imagine that by human love alone life's problem can be solved. Without God we fail in life, and the bitterest part of the failure for many is that even that beautiful and delicate thing marriage fails with the rest. "We are restless till we rest in Thee," and two restless hearts cannot be happy hearts even though they be joined together in the bonds of love.
THE INFLUENCE OF SOCIAL CONDITIONS
Let me begin this chapter with a query. Is not all the trouble in the modern world over the sexual element in life the evidence of something abnormal and distorted in the very constitution of modern society? Or put differently, would it not turn out that if only men and women were set in just and healthy conditions, given real education and sufficient means of self-expression, the sexual problem would be found very largely to have solved itself? I cannot offer any dogmatic answer to that query, though I have my own conviction that history will one day answer it with an unmistakable affirmative. What we can do even now is to notice that every maladjustment in our present social life tends to increase the amount of failure in true sex morality. All our callousness about social evils revenges itself upon us by confronting us with an increasingly menacing problem in this connection, and all honest service devoted to the increase of social health of any sort is also helping our moral progress.
And I wish to amplify this point because I hope some at least of the readers of this book will find themselves asking eagerly what can be done in view of the seriousness of sexual evil. If those who go wrong in sex matters are spoiling their lives at the core, which of us would not like to do something to guard the young from wandering, and to help to clean the modern world! Therefore it is a real satisfaction to be able to reply, as I do with complete conviction, "Anything you do to help to bring social justice and general health any nearer is also helping towards the solution of this one problem."
Let us consider some of the outstanding social evils from this point of view.
I turn first to the matter of _education_ because it is the primary issue in every connection. Now education that stops at fourteen is hardly worthy to be called education at all. It is after that age that those interests awaken which provide absorbing life for boys and girls, and ensure them against the pains and dangers of empty-mindedness. It is also after that age that most young folks learn the ways and means of self-expression. Probably also, at least in the case of boys, the years between fourteen and sixteen are just the years when the discipline of school life is most valuable, and it is certain that during that period healthy games, played under the discipline of sternly enforced rules, do most to put boys into possession of themselves, and to provide a wise outlet for their abundant energies. Consider then what happens so long as we continue to send boys out of school at the age of fourteen. They go with minds unawakened and therefore empty. They face adolescence in almost complete freedom from control. They very often have far too little opportunity for invigorating games, and they do not know how to express themselves, though vital energies are vibrant within them. It is only natural that they should find orderly ways of life very dull, and that in pursuit of excitement they should take to hooliganism. Not having learnt to appreciate either literature or art, they either read nothing or read stories that are neither true nor decent. They respond only to what is highly spiced and have nothing in their minds to counter balance the meretricious attractions of suggestive stories and undesirable films. The truth about the people who are fond of "blue" stories is often (though not always) that those stories accurately indicate their intellectual level. And the uneducated modern boy is often at that level through no fault of his own. It actually is hard for men to whom the wonder and the splendor of life have been revealed to find room in their mental life for indecent trash. But till we really educate our boys we are sending them out into life unarmed against some of its worst features.
And if the general failure of education has this deplorable effect, what shall we say of the complete lack of any special education relating to sex in at least a majority of modern schools? I know that that is a very difficult matter. I know that disaster may follow from any attempt to do it in a general way through class teaching. I know too that it ought to be done by parents. But it is not done, and both boys and girls go out to face the dangers of life in town and country without the knowledge of physical facts which might guide them into safety. Actual immorality is indeed uncommon between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, but those years are often spent in a way that is the worst possible preparation for the struggle that is to come.
I have put my main stress on the fact that education stops at fourteen, because to my mind that is the outstanding defect of our system. But even the education we do give is ill fitted to attain its true end. It is not the fault of the teachers. Many of them do wonderful work, and long to be allowed to do better work. But with classes of from fifty to seventy the most heaven-born teacher in the world cannot achieve his purposes. It is certain that lovers of purity who really understand human nature cannot be among the panic-stricken economists who want to starve education.
Housing evils are mainly of two kinds. Houses are often dark, damp, and evil-smelling, which means ill-health. And houses are often too small, which means that human beings are packed so closely that privacy is impossible. Both results affect morality. A man below par in general health is far more susceptible to the lure of evil than a really healthy one. And the same is true of girls. There are to be found in some corners of our towns lewd and unwholesome-looking youths whose talk and whose actions are unclean and sordid. We perhaps shudder as we pass by and sense what is their moral condition, but if we knew the houses from which they come we might hardly wonder. Then plainly it is hostile to wholesome living when husband and wife cannot have a sleeping-place separate from the rest of the family, and when growing boys and girls share the same room, so that natural modesty is confronted with constant obstacles to its normal development. When I wrote some pages back about the disciplinary value of the daily cold bath, I could hardly forbear stopping at that point to comment on the fact that that primary condition for bodily and moral health is beyond the reach of millions. Our housing has not yet reached the bathroom standard for the majority of our people.
All these considerations are perfectly obvious and have often been urged before. But though I have known of many cases where moral evil has followed from bad housing conditions, I have known so many instances where in spite of bad housing conditions morality has been perfectly preserved, that I do not make so much of this point as some. I have yet to learn that morality is made safe by the most elaborate and healthy housing conditions. It is true that the level of morality is very low indeed in really overcrowded slums, but it also is true that the section of the population among which real purity is most common is the artisan section, and many of them have to contend with very poor housing conditions. The Royal Commission on Venereal Disease reported that while the class of casual laborers is the worst in the country, the next in the scale is the one described as "middle and upper classes". Traveling west in our cities does not mean traveling towards morality.
There are three main directions in which sweating tends to increase immorality. In the first place low wages paid to men make marriage very difficult, and sometimes impossible. And nothing could be worse for any community than that healthy and robust men should be debarred from marriage after twenty-one by purely material considerations. It is not impossible for a man to remain chaste through a lifetime of celibacy, but for all that a society that enforces celibacy on men against their will is making immorality a practical certainty.
A particularly mean form of this evil occurs in connection with the living-in system which is imposed by a good many big shops on their employees. I used to know a number of young men of marriageable age who were housed in a great and bare sort of barracks and given in addition a wage that was only enough to provide dress and necessary etceteras. If, desiring to marry, they said that they wished to live out and to receive the equivalent of their board and lodging in money, they got in those pre-war days £18 a year extra. Is it to be wondered at that in that section of society it was a common saying that "only fools get married"? But it was not a chaste section of the community. Men are very seldom chaste when they live in exclusively male communities.
Then, secondly, sweating makes for immorality because it means that girls are paid wages which are quite insufficient to support life. Some of them live at home with their parents and so get through, but those who have to support themselves become subjected to a terribly severe temptation to add to their starvation wages by the sale of themselves. It is still in this way that a considerable percentage of the prostitutes of the country is created, and the number of girls who, though not known as prostitutes, have sacrificed their purity because of financial pressure must be very great.
The word sweating also covers cases where workers are subjected to overwork, and unduly long hours; and therefore under this head I mention the influence of the strain of long shop hours. The improvement has been great of late in this respect, but still there are restaurants and special shops where the strain on girls is very heavy. And the result is that after work is over they are fit for nothing but walking about the streets in search of diversion. Many indeed who live in hostels have almost no choice between walking in the streets or going to bed. There is no need to say more. First girls are rendered nervously weary and yet eager for fresh air and movement, and then they have to face all that street life may mean. The recreations offered them in cinemas and music-halls are often calculated to give them just the wrong sort of excitement. And so first they are bored by monotony and long hours, and then played upon by rather low forms of suggestive art. It is here that girls' clubs and troops of girl guides meet the real needs of girls; and they probably constitute the finest influence of the right sort which modern life offers them.
One of the most serious evils in the modern world is that a great many
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