Freedom And Knowledge For Women
( Originally Published 1916 )
FREEDOM without knowledge is a curse.
To leave a child of six without guardianship would be criminal, because he has not knowledge enough to keep out of danger.
A lot of ignorant savages in a state of entire freedom would proceed to butcher one another.
Hence a thorough system of education is recognized as essential among people who wish to live in a democracy.
American girls are the freest in the world. Europe is amazed at them.
Here girls come and go as they please, and have the independence of men. In Europe they are carefully guarded at home, educated in con-vents or in rigidly sequestered schools, their courting days are strictly chaperoned, and their marriage is managed for them.
There are not a few who decry our custom, holding that woman's liberty is too dangerous a thing, and that parents should maintain closer surveillance.
But the real trouble is not that girls have too much freedom, but that they do not have enough knowledge.
A system that keeps girls in ignorance of the most vital facts and laws of life, that makes total lack of information about their bodies and the functions thereof to be a sort of religious and moral excellence, and then turns them loose upon their own responsibility to mingle freely with men, is absurd.
The first right of a woman is not to be protected; it is to know, so that she can protect her-self.
The movement for "the emancipation of woman" is good. They have as much claim to liberty as men. But it is cruel and illogical to en-large their freedom to equal man's without at the same time doing something to equip them with that knowledge the lack of which makes freedom a road to ruin.
We cannot return to the old way of chaperon-age and put high walls around women to save them. That is not in line with progress. It would be to turn again to orientalism, or medievalism. What we can and must do is to make virtue the twin sister of intelligence and not of ignorance.
The second wife of Napoleon was brought up as a child with particular seclusion; she was not allowed to see males even among the domestic animals. She was fond of frogs, but even the male frogs were exterminated. That is the sort of thing the old regime called "purity." In the minds of a great many worthy people innocence means still utter lack of knowledge.
But our mothers are as chaste as our daughters. The hospital nurse may be as chaste-minded as the young miss in an exclusive "finishing school." And the soul of a happily married man is much more likely to be "pure" than that of a celibate.
By all means loose the bonds of women and set them free; but do not imagine you can do this without peril unless at the same time you get rid of your ideas of feminine ignorance being necessary to virtue.