Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Today's Chesterton, for the Author of an Unread Blog

I told the Author of an Unread Blog, the "dyed in the wool feminist" commenting below, that in her honor, I'd post a bit from Chesterton, What's Wrong With the World on the subject of woman. This is from Part 3, Chapter III,

The wife is like the fire [generally more useful than narrower inventions like electric bulbs or asbestos stoves, but not as well suited to a single task], or to put things in their proper propostion, the fire is like the wife. Like the fire, the woman is expected to cook: not to excel in cooking, but to cook; to cook better than her husband who is earnign the coke by lecturing on botany or breaking stones. Like the fire, the woman is expected to tell tales to the children, not original and artistic tales but tales--better tales than would probably be told by a first class cook. ... But she cannot be expected to endure anything like this universal duty is she is also to endure the direct cruelty of competitive or bureaucratic toil...She should have not one trade but twenty hobbies; she, unlike the man, may develop all her second bests. This is what has been really aimed at from the first in what is called the seclusion, or even the oppression, of woman. Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad. The world outside the home was one mass of narrownewsss, a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of monomaniacs. It was only by partly limiting and protecting the woman that she was enabled to play at five or six professions and so come almost as near to
God as the child when she plays at a hundred trades. But the woman's professions, unlike the child's, were all truly and almost terribly fruitful; so tragically real that nothing but her universality and balance prevented them being merely morbid. This is the substance of the contention I offer about the historic female position. I do not deny that women have been wronged and even tortured; but I doubt if they were ever tortured so much as they are tortured now by the absurd modern attempt to make them domestic empresses and competitive clerks at the same time.

. . .

The final fact which fixes this is a sufficiently plain one. Supposing it to be conceded that humanity has acted at least not unnaturally in dividing itself into two halves, respectively typifying the ideals of special talent and of general sanity (since they are genuinely difficult to compbine completely in one mind), it is not difficult to see why the line of cleavage has followed the line of sex, ofr why the female became the emlem of the universal and the male of the special and superior. Two gigantic facts of nature fixed it thus: first, that hte woman who frequently fulfilled her functions literally could not be specially prominent in experiment and adventure; and second, that the same natural operation surrounded her with very young childre, who require to be taught not so much anything as everything .... When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heaving because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. How can it be a large career to tell other people's children abou the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.

This is at pages 91-95 in the Ignatius Edition of the book (And no, I'm not getting paid for that link, but you ought to buy the book, and you ought to buy it directly from Ignatius so they can keep the Amazon markup. After all, I'm sure poor Fr. Fessio would appreciate the business; his little press can't be doing well, because it doesn't have any other prominent authors or hot books in its catalog these days).


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