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The Girl's Outlook

( Originally Published 1916 )



SOONER or later every boy begins to build his dreams of man's estate about activities and interests related to the world's work. It is expected of him that he will grow up to do something, and even if he has no special predilection for work of any kind, he cannot altogether escape the feeling that he will have to take his share when the time comes. With girls, however, the matter is different. Not because girls are necessarily different " by nature." It is apparently a difference arising out of old traditions, for children will do their part to meet the prevailing expectations.

This is shown by the fact that in certain classes of society, the only picture the girls can form of their adult state is that of managing a household or acting as hostess; whereas among others it is the regular thing to look forward to work at wages. It is taken for granted that the girl will become a wife and mother; or it is taken for granted that the girl will earn her living. With comparatively rare exceptions, the assumptions thus made will give color to the girl's out-look and tone to her work of preparation.

In spite of the fact that women are entering gainful occupations in ever increasing numbers, and in spite of the fact that women remain at " work " longer and longer periods, it is still to be expected that most girls will marry, and that they will become heads of households and of families. The problem of training for the adult years is thus complicated for the girl, in a way that does not appear with the boy. With the boy grown up, the vocation is the main concern of his time and thought; marriage and family are considered to be rather incidental. With the girl grown up, on the contrary, the home must be the chief concern, whereas any other occupation is considered incidental.

Since it is impossible to know beforehand, in any given case, whether your daughter will or will not marry and have the opportunities and the responsibilities of wife and mother, it would seem to be necessary to give all girls preparation suitable for the married state. And since, whether she marries or not, every girl should be prepared to meet the requirements of modern life in the way of useful service, she must carry the additional burden of preparation for some kind of remunerative work. With the girl who feels a " call " for special work, the problem usually settles itself. This girl is likely to neglect everything and concentrate her efforts on preparation for the one thing important to her. She will throw herself into her work with the singleness of purpose that we usually expect of a good worker. Later, if chance and changing interests direct her thoughts to the traditional " place " for women, her problem is an individual one, and she will make her preparations in the thorough and systematic manner that she previously applied to her vocational training. With the vast majority of girls there is no " call," and there is the need to look ahead and to prepare.

Every girl should therefore be trained for some occupation worth entering, and this with the standards not of the transient or casual worker, but with those of one who means to make a life work of it. But this at once raises the question whether it is worth while to spend the time and effort and money necessary for such training, in view of the probability that it may not be used to the full after it is acquired. It may be said that it is worth while for every girl to, become an expert in some line of activity, even if she does not need to depend upon it for her livelihood. It gives one a certain sense of confidence to feel this reserve strength of fitness. Moreover, according to the newer views in education, the culture and training to be gained through becoming an expert worker in some useful line are just as valuable as those to be acquired through the old-fashioned " general " education.

And yet we cannot help feeling that there is a certain element of unreality in training girls for work with a mental reservation or hope that they will not make use of the training. Is it quite sincere to drill Dorothy in designing or telegraphy, while wishing, and while teaching her to wish, that she may escape the necessity of applying her skill?

It is impossible to solve Dorothy's problem in an entirely satisfactory way, unless we are willing to face the larger question of woman's work, and of woman's place in the new society. The rising generation will have to solve the problem. Can we help them better by ignoring it and making our individual adjustments as best we may, or can we accomplish more by looking at it squarely and, accepting the conditions, fight through to some conclusion?

Our daughters are growing up, yours and mine. Must we anticipate for them the choice between a life of idleness on the one hand, and the unsatisfactory conditions that prevail in most women's occupations on the other? Must we accept for them either casual work, and all this implies—perhaps for a short while, perhaps for a lifetime—or as the only alternative an ex-pensive training for high grade efficiency that may be utilized for but a short period and then go to waste? Must we have them look forward to an empty and idle middle age (after their children shall no longer need their continuous attention) either because they are not prepared for work worth doing, or because the organization of work does not permit them to utilize their training after the necessary interruptions?

This is not Dorothy's problem, it is your problem and mine, and any of you women who have the time and the energy would do well to consider this problem of woman's work, as it is bound to affect your daughters—and your sons, too.



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