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The Morality of Woman

The Morality of Woman - Ellen Key,  Mamah Bouton Borthwick I picked this up on project gutenberg after reading the two books on FLW (Loving Frank and The Women) last fall. I was intrigued with Mamah's project of translation and the idea that she was an early feminist. Lots to think about in these essays, I have lots of quotes with individual comments below, but basically I was amazed at two things: first that Ellen Key was still so biased in her thinking (she comes across as supporting the idea that women and men are so very different and that woman's role/preference should still be in the home) and second that her ideas for the future were so anarchist (the cult of the personality at the expense of all social structure seemed extreme to me).

"This feeling with liberates, conserves and deepens the personality, which is the inspiration to noble deeds and works of genius, is the opposite of the ephemeral, merely sensual love, which enslaves, dissipates and lessens the personality." --This I agree with, especially given a historical context in which male lust is oftentimes a controlling force to determine a woman's life outcome. Certainly, pure love is superior to sexual relations; in this early statement she is already planting the seeds of the importance of "personality".

"The decisive thing for the sound life of these peoples was, that that which they considered right had sovereign power to bind them: the faithfulness to the conception of duty more than the content of conception determines the moral soundness of a people. Society is in danger, not when the ideals are raised but when they are lost." --I do like her thoughts on the blind acceptance of rules. She argues that faithfulness to societal constraints is not necessarily the best choice for the individual or for society at large.

"To this general delicacy of feeling there is added especially the heightened sensibility of woman to the discord between that which she expected in marriage and that which in reality it offered her, because the union often lacked the freedom, the understanding which her sympathetic feeling now craves." --Again, this is more historical in context, but she is very polite with her comments about how frequently marriage is akin to slavery for women.

"Rather it will lead to individual, differentiated and refined love that erotic happiness will be increasingly difficult to find and the idealists of love will more frequently prefer celibacy to a compromise with their greater demands for sympathetic love." --I find this absurd. Not only that women would evolve to such a point as to never feel lust, but that men wouldn't feel lust is even more ridiculous. THERE IS NO WAY THAT ALL PEOPLE will evolve to such a point that no one ever is interested in sexual interaction without accompanying love. Interestingly enough, I think this statement is evidence of Keys doing exactly what she preaches against, which is subscribing to a current societal idea without evaluation. She is fighting against "morality" people who are so against love outside of marriage and so in an effort at appeasement she makes this absolutely ridiculous statement.

"In the face of knowledge she will maintain the rights of the unknowable; in face of logic, feeling; in face of reality, possibilities; and in face of analysis, intuition. Woman will above all further the growth of the soul, man that of the intelligence; she will extend the sphere of intuition, he that of reason; she will realize tenderness, he justice; she will triumph by audacity, he by courage." and another quote along the same lines: "ineffaceable, deep-rooted psychological difference due to physical peculiarities will always exist between man and woman, which probably will always keep her by preference active in the sphere of the family, while he probably will remain active in other spheres of culture." --WTF!!! As a feminist I am completely offended by this statement. In an essay in which she is supposedly arguing for the equality of women, she is pointing out that woman's "specialities" are the "softer" things and that man's are the "logical, intelligent" things. HOW OFFENSIVE!

"a woman's fidelity to her own personality is more significant for the welfare of others as well a of herself than her fidelity to conventional conceptions of morality." --This one I actually buy. I agree that an individual can't be happy without first being true to themselves. I agree that the development of personality is important, but she goes over the top when she starts discussing the method of educating children in order to preserve individual personalities. Along with it is: "It is a deep psychological truth that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the children. For no one attains the highest that life offers in any other way than by simplicity, unworldliness and the power of devoting his whole being without reserve to his object." Other than the fact that I don't think there is a kingdom of heaven, this is the best definition of happiness I've found in a while. I'm choosing to believe that "kingdom of heaven" can refer to some sort of utopian happy state of being; not a real bonafide location post-mortum.

"It is right that the wages of women should be increased; but will the labor value of women increase in proportion? Can we even desire that the majority of these women bent over their desks shall devote a live interest to their work, when their sole essential being would first find expression only when bent over a cradle? It is well also for girls of wealth to wish to have a vocation. But is it also good if they, because they can be satisfied with a smaller wage, take away the work from poor girls and men, often more competent, who have to live entirely by the fruits of their work, and must therefore demand larger wages?" --Again, there is a major problem with this logic. You CANNOT simultaneously argue that women are equal to men and that they should have equal wages and that their place is actually bent over a cradle. Currently men make more than women and married men make more than single men because there is still this bias towards men as being the "providers"....I wouldn't expect that Key would have been forward thinking enough in the early 1900s to realize that this is wrong; but certainly she is bringing up the idea of equal pay for equal work (which would mean that even rich girls deserve to be paid for their time/efforts), but she undermines her argument with these thoughts.