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- Men, Women, and God - 4/23 -


CHAPTER II

COMRADESHIP

The first outstanding social consequence of sex is the mutual attraction of young men and women in general. With apologies in the meantime to the girls who "have no use for men" and to the queer men who "don't like girls," I propose to speak to the great majority. To many a healthy and normal man there is nothing so wonderful or beautiful in all God's earth as a woman. And the converse is often true. The most interesting thing about the world for many of each sex is that the other sex is in it also.

Those who share the assumption on which this book is written will agree that an influence so strong, so profound, and so universal must have some fine significance in the divine scheme of things. It is an element in humanity which must affect the whole of life. To handle it rightly must be necessary if life as a whole is to succeed. And the first step towards a right handling of it is to accept the fact of it gladly and openly. The convention lingers that it is a little weak in a man to admit that he needs and craves woman's society, and that for a girl to admit the converse is not quite modest. And thus there is often a certain furtive element in the relations of the sexes between fifteen and twenty-five which is all of it a great pity. It is here that Mrs. Grundy has done us real injury. The poor old dear has been so fussy and nervous about it all. She has often tried to close the doors upon free and wholesome fellowship, and so has driven the young to find out other ways of meeting. But even she has not been able to keep the sexes apart. The truth is that the mutual relations of men and women in the realm of comradeship, and quite apart from marriage, may be so happy and enriching--so exhilarating and so bracing--that one may reverently say the whole arrangement of having divided mankind into two such groups, is one of the most splendid of the divine thoughts. For many a man the joy and worth of life depend largely upon women. The things he gets on his journey from his mother, his sisters, and his girl friends --from his wife, his daughters, and the women friends of later days are the golden things in life. And I know that many a woman would say a corresponding thing about the life career of a woman. That is God's plan--to make us dependent on one another for the stimuli, the inspirations, and the joys which prevent life from becoming drab and monotonous. "In the beginning God made them male and female," because He loved them. He made them gloriously different that they might enjoy and help each other.

It is one of the mysteries of history that for uncounted centuries man imagined that he only needed woman in her capacity as a wife and potential mother--that for long ages woman had no place in society except as wife or mother. Why it was so long before the spirit of God moved women to shatter that conception, I do not understand. But with its shattering there appeared for a time a tendency to imagine that men and women are in most things practically the same, and that the difference of sex is a very little thing. Many people seemed inclined to believe that a woman is just the same sort of being as a man, except for one special function--that of motherhood--which can only be exercised occasionally, and need not be exercised at all. That I am sure was a mistake with the possibility of disaster in it. No doubt there are men with many feminine characteristics, and women with many masculine ones. But woman is not only physically different from man. She is different mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And that is just why we need her so much in all life's departments.

We need woman in politics, for instance, just because she is different from man. If the extension of the franchise to some millions of women had meant merely that the number of people had been increased who would think and vote simply as men had previously thought and voted, it would have been no great event. If women members of Parliament are going to be mere replicas of the old type of M. P., then they might as well save themselves the bondage of Westminster, for their presence there will make no valuable difference. But we do need them in the constituencies and in the House exactly because they bring new and different vital forces to bear on the conduct of affairs. Experience is already teaching us that men and women think more truly together than they do apart. There is something about the sweep and range of man's thought which is peculiarly stimulating to woman's mind, and there are aspects of truth to which men remain blind until women point them out. For this reason very often mixed committees act more wisely than committees of only one sex. I suspect that the same thing holds in relation to art, and even to scientific work. It certainly holds in connection with social work, and church work. In fact in all life's departments, with a few obvious exceptions, men and women supplement and stimulate one another, and by comradeship make a bigger and better thing of life than would be possible otherwise.

I am not assuming that a fine comradeship is necessarily an easy thing to achieve. I should be surprised if it were, for I know of no fine things that can be attained easily. Comradeship between the sexes is rapidly spoilt by "silliness." It has to be based upon a considerable amount of restraint. It can be and it ought to be "jolly," but it becomes a poor thing at once when either man or woman forgets dignity. We are still at the experimental stage in traveling through this new country that has opened up to us within the last twenty years; and if that is a reason for being very charitable about mistakes, it is also a reason for being alert to find the right paths.

I am very much impressed by the opportunity that lies before students as a class in this matter. In most of our universities and colleges men and women meet in the freest way, and they only and for themselves can discover how this new kind of life is best conducted. College rules and regulations are not going to do it for them. Indeed the older generation is not going to do it for them. But if they will find out the right way and establish for themselves the right standards and conventions, they may do an immense service for the rest of the nation. And I believe they are already in large measure doing this. My experience has on the whole made me entirely hopeful, and has deepened my faith in the fitness of men and women for freedom.

None the less and although I belong to the older generation, I propose to offer some suggestions for this part of life. I cannot make much use of the word "flirting." It has nearly as many different meanings as Bolshevism. By some people it is applied to any high-spirited and happy intercourse between men and women, in which case it signifies only a right and good thing. Some people mean by it "playing at being in love," in which case it is a silly and unworthy occupation which saps the real love power in men and women. Others again mean by it the whole bundle of silly and sentimental manners which some men and some women assume when in the presence of the other sex, and in that sense of the word flirting means just exactly the foolish thing that common sense would declare it to be. What I am quite sure of is that success in this comradeship between the sexes depends upon the discovery of a right way which lies between the coldness which is the negation of good fellowship, and the undue familiarity which is both dangerous and undignified. We men have in the past been accustomed to boast that we will go just as far towards familiarity as women will allow, and have declared that this whole matter is one which women must regulate. Male opinion on the whole used to regard a man as something less than a sport who would not take liberties wherever he saw they would not be resented. To use any sort of compulsion was indeed held to be ungentlemanly, but short of that men have recognized no compulsion of honor bidding them refrain from familiarities. "That's the girl's affair," they have often said. But this is really a flagrant case of the way in which we men deceive ourselves and assume positions that are both dishonest and cruel. I call this particular one dishonest because it is absurd for us to pretend that our expectations and desires have no influence on girls, and that therefore we have no responsibility for events. Of course girls will tend to give what men in general persist in asking. They are just as human as we are. Our conventional assumption that they are always mistresses of the situation--models of perfect self-mastery and understanding--is ridiculous and unkind. It is the age-long injustice which men have practiced towards women to pretend that they are creatures without passion and by nature always in control of their emotions. We know it is not true, and yet we act on the pretence that it is. And I call this position of ours cruel because there is no reason whatever why we should try to lay on women the whole burden of refining and controlling our mutual relations. Why should we not take our share of the task? Since history began we have asked many things of women, and then kept our real respect for those who refused them--a mean and cowardly attitude. Women are not angels and it is mere sentimental nonsense to pretend that they are. But they can be splendid companions when men help them towards the attaining of that relationship. Often we have seemed to want of them only sentimental dalliance, with the result that they often grant it. But many women would rather pass men by altogether than meet them in that way, although most really long for some relationship that will call into exercise the mental, aesthetic, and spiritual powers of both men and women. Indeed there is ground for this charge against both men and women, that often in social intercourse with one another they suspend the exercise of the finer parts of their natures. We have all known men of great intellectual gifts and wide experience who when "the ladies" appear promptly put on the garb of mere triflers. And we have also known women with very real literary, or artistic, or intellectual gifts who treat men primarily as beings to be played with. And so do many people miss the enriching joys of companionship, and make social intercourse petty and wearisome. I believe most women want to know whatever is big and strong and efficient in men and not merely to find out whether they are good at badinage. And though many men think they are afraid of serious and clever women, they really in their hearts want to discover the responsible and sincere qualities in the personalities of girls and not merely the surface ones.

God forbid that we should banish chaff and jest from our common life, or pretend to be old while still we are young! God forbid that we should be prim and Puritan when the sun shines and life calls! There are no sillier things in life than the mere affectations of intellectuality. Mere solemnity is both an ugly and a futile thing, and nothing is duller than a constant enforced earnestness. I remember a dear old celibate professor of mine who, having met a number of self-consciously intellectual women, became so annoyed that at last when asked whether he did not rejoice in the higher education of women he broke out with the sentence, "No! I don't like clever women--I like silly girls." The story may be apocryphal. The man at least was human enough to have said it. All that I am pleading for is that men and women should cease to hide from one another the deeper interests and concerns that really are present in their lives--that they should not merely play together but should also think together.

As to the detailed manners and customs which should control comradeship I claim no authority to speak dogmatically, and, as I have said, I am sure the rising generation will have to settle these things for itself. I am at least sure that both the stately coldness of Lady Vere de Vere and the familiarity in which dignity is forgotten are fatal. I confess to the hope that the linking of arms and the slapping of one another on the shoulder are not going to be characteristics of social intercourse in the future. And as to kissing I confess myself unblushingly conservative--Victorian if you will. Nine times out of ten it may not


Men, Women, and God - 4/23

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