12 October 2011

68. Are Women Human?

Are Women Human? - Dorothy L. Sayers

Like the front cover says, this is a book of: "Penetrating, sensible, and witty essays on the role of women in society". It really was outstanding.

This book is about the rights of women. The essays contained in the book were written in the 1930s. It was a very different world then. It is not about being pro-feminism. It is about the rights of women as human beings. Human beings with exactly the same rights as every other human being, male or female. Ms. Sayers uses common sense to reach her conclusions. She also says a number of times that she does not agree with "aggressive feminism" as a tactic. She thinks the humanization of women is what we should pursue. I love her approach.

She breaks down the fight for women's rights in a way I have not seen before. She fights for the individual. "What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person"

When discussing why women should be allowed to attend classical universities like Oxford and the resistance she encountered in her own education, she says:
"...the cry went up at once: "Why would women want to know about Aristotle?" The answer is NOT that all women would be the better knowing about Aristotle...but simply: "What women want as a class is irrelevant. I want to know about Aristotle."

Later she discusses another little inequality:
"We are asked: "Why do you want to go around in trousers? They are extremely unbecoming to most of you. You only do it to copy the men." To this we may very properly reply "It is true that they are unbecoming. Even on men they are remarkably unattractive. But, as you men have discovered for yourselves, they are comfortable, they do not get in the way of one's activities like skirts and they protect the wearer from draughts about the ankles. As a human being, I like comfort and dislike draughts. If trousers do not attract you, so much the worse; for the moment I do not want to attract you. I want to enjoy myself as a human being."

And then later she is discussing women in the workplace and how the response is usually that a woman's place, and work, are in the home. She says:
"Let us accept the idea that women should stick to their own jobs- the jobs they did so well in the good old days before they started talking about votes and women's rights. Let us return to the middle ages...It is a formidable list of jobs: the whole of the spinning industry, the whole of the dyeing industry, the whole of the weaving industry. The whole catering industry...the whole of the nation's brewing and distilling. All the preserving, pickling and bolling industry, all the bacon-curing. And (since in those days a man was often absent from the home for months together on war or business) a very large share in the management of landed estates. Here are the women's jobs- and what has become of them? They are all being handled by men. It is all very well to say that a woman's place is in the home- but modern civilization has taken all these pleasant and profitable activities out of the home, where the women looked after them, and handed them over to big industry, to be directed and organized by men at the head of large factories. Even the dairy maid in her simple bonnet has been replaced by a male mechanic in charge of a mechanical milking plant."

She goes on to say that the new way is much more efficient and makes a better product, but that there is no "work" left like it used to be. That, and that the home is now much smaller than the castles and plantations of the past.

Dorothy L. Sayers

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