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Knowledge Of Home And Social Relations Between The Sexes

( Originally Published 1923 )

Knowledge of Home and Social Relations between the Sexes.-For various reasons it is becoming increasingly difficult for large portions of our population to maintain homes that are continuously and progressively educational from the point of view of growing children. The child must learn the meaning of "home" not by being told, but by actually experiencing the meaning in satisfying and vital ways. Much more than a place to eat and sleep and store his clothing and toys; the home should of course be continuously the place where he can always find affection and sympathy and understanding; the place to which he can retreat from the irritations and annoyances of the outside world, certain of a haven of peace and relaxation ; a place where people can be happy, if they maintain the right attitudes toward one another, whatever may befall without.

In the home, the child learns, one is always with friends. There will be differences, to be sure; but there is so much of common purpose that the spirit of the home should be prevailingly that of cooperation, of mutual help and consideration, of forbearance. The maintaining of such a spirit is possible not because people have learned a formula, a rule, or a proverb. It is possible because the members of the group are themselves imbued with this spirit from infancy—or have acquired it later as the result of much effort and struggle. This spirit involves restraint, a willingness to make concessions, a readiness to sacrifice. The child learns these things largely by imitation, but it is our business to see that the affection and solicitude with which he is surrounded do not merely force upon him habits of self-indulgence. It is by sharing in the spiritual experiences of the home, and deriving satisfactions from such participation that he acquires the desired attitudes, not merely by deriving satisfactions from what is be-stowed upon him. The simplest lessons in division of labor, with its implication of mutual obligation and dependence, come from experience in the home during infancy; and these lessons become vital just to the ex-tent that the child grows into an ever Iarger share of the common service and common satisfactions.

The social divisions of labor, especially as between men and women, have their counterpart in the home. Notwithstanding the steady removal from the home of many economic functions, and the corresponding assumption by women and girls of processes outside the home that were formerly supposed to be the exclusive province of men, there will remain differentiated opportunities and obligations for reasons closely connected with child-bearing and child-caring. The consideration due to those who are in greater need, and the obligations due from those with greater power or ability, are no-where learned so thoroughly and so readily as they may be in the home in which the father and mother do actually conduct their affairs according to these principles, in which standards of judgment and value take these principles for granted. The lesson of the place of men and women in society comes, further, from the casual conversation about the hundred problems of the home and of current events. We do not need to pause before each speech, unless we are aware that, for the sake of the child, our attitudes need to be changed. Mothers will always need special protection, no matter how independent and "equal" the modern girl may feel. "Women and children first" is sound fundamentally, no matter how widespread the suffrage. We can teach the child to recognize and accept differences in capacity and function—as between the sexes or as between other groups-without considering these differences to be justifications for the exploitation of the weak by the strong.

Woman's subordinate position in the past was merely a part of the age-long acceptance of subordination as the portion of the weak generally. The establishment of the democratic principle of "equality" eliminates not essential differences, but the abuse of those differences.

Alongside of these considerations of the place of men and women in society, as groups, comes the further thought concerning the place of the individual as a personality. The child's self-respect must gradually emerge out of the respect which is paid to him as a personality ; but this, in a democratic community, should be but a special phase of the respect allotted to each individual. It is not practicable, nor is it desirable, to cultivate the child's self-confidence and self-respect by emphasis upon the relative feebleness of others, or upon his advantages over others. The dignity of the individual must rest on something more solid than the humiliation and degradation of others, and it must be compatible with the equal dignity and self-respect of all other individuals. The bearing of this point upon the place of sex in life becomes apparent when we consider the present-day attitude of many men and women toward such facts as prostitution, seduction, pandering, and related problems. No community which accepts as a mat-ter of course the principle of using one personality to serve the private interests of another can demand of its youth a radically different conduct in the special domain of sex.

In short, without preaching, and indeed with very little if any didactic instruction, the child should have acquired by the time he is seven or eight years old, a rather definite, if unformulated, body of ideas concerning the relations between the sexes, that should serve as standards for his later years. Here are the beginnings of those ideal pictures which will guide him as to whole-some, unselfish home life, as to the right rôle of mother and father, of husband and wife, of sons and daughters, of brothers and sisters, that is to say, of how parents should treat each other and the children, of the reciprocal rights, privileges, and obligations of children. Here, too, should be learned the elements of democracy, the condsideration due the rights and satisfactions of others ; and the elements of courtesy, the genuine respect and consideration for the rights of elders, of weaker persons, of those in various relations, whether "superior" or "inferior," without arrogance and without subservience. In the home the child should get his first lessons in fair dealing, in loyalty, in hospitality, and in cooperation. And here he should have learned the satisfactions of controlling impulses, deferring indulgence, and sharing in the satisfactions of others.

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