The Catholic Citizen
Organ of St. Joan’s Social and Political Alliance, (formerly Catholic Women’s Suffrage Society), 55 Berners Street, London, W.1.
Vol. XX. No. 12. Price Twopence.
Do we Appreciate our Heritage?
By Stella Gregson
A girl may leave school today and embark on her chosen career with the same chances of success as her brother. No longer need the ambitious female raise the cry that so often punctuates the novels of the last century: “If only I were a boy.” There is no longer any need for her to hide her light under a bushel, nor to bury the gifts that God gave her in the duties of domesticity.
This is the world for which women fought and prayed and suffered; the dream-world of the first feminists, won at last after the long battle against so-called tradition and arrant stupidity.
Does the girl who now tastes of the fruits of this victory appreciate her position? Does she ever pause and thank Heaven for the noble band of women who gave her this heritage? No. She takes it all for granted. She considers sex-equality as just one of the many improvements in a century that has cast aside outworn traditions.
Suffragettes? Yes, she has heard of them. Her impression of them is gained chiefly from those pictures which the newspapers are constantly reviving. Being endowed with a deep respect for her sex, she does not enjoy looking at them – women looking absurd with their hair falling down, struggling in the arms of grinning policemen; women shrieking and breaking windows, throwing themselves in front of horses, burning buildings, destroying pictures. Well, thinks the young lady who has inherited the victory without knowing the fight, it is a good thing women have some sense nowadays. They don’t make fools of themselves like that now. And thus she dismisses the whole subject of Feminism.
There must be a reason for her misguided attitude, and it is not lack of intelligence. Good use has been made of the reformed educational systems. Nor is it lack of fair-mindedness. The young girl of today does not appreciate her inheritance for the simple reason that she is not taught about Feminism, and is wholly ignorant concerning any aspect of the subject save the one which is generally held up to ridicule.
Her History course tells her of other reformations that have influenced our lives. She knows of the great movement of the nineteenth century which resulted in crowded towns and altered the entire outlook on all social questions. But that same History course does not stress the reformation that affects her more nearly. She knows, of course, that the position of women was profoundly different in the time of her grandmothers’ girlhood. But is not everything on a different basis? We can forgive her for thinking that the Feminist revolution is merely a part of the world-wide adjustment towards sanity and fairness. The lack of appreciation is not her fault. It is the fault of those responsible for her general knowledge.
If only she could be told the story of the Cause in a sane and fair-minded way, I believe that she would enjoy it more than any other event in the history of humanity. Nothing appeals to young blood more than a tale of a small country rising against and defeating a nation of powerful oppressors. How greatly would the schoolgirl relish this story of the small band of women who won their rights from the powerful nation of oppressive tradition. A story that is not an ancient one dealing with powers of long ago, but one in which her own life is implicated. Let us tell her that there is a promised land that has been won for her; that there are still those who begrudge her that land and say that she is incapable of holding it. Let her thus gain a sense of responsibility, not only to herself, but to those who went before her and whose patience and suffering gave her this heritage.
If we allow her to continue in her present state of ignorance, lacking this enriching stimulus, the result may easily be the gradual return of women to their old position of inferiority. One generation has gained an incomplete but magnificent victory. The present generation of women must turn that victory to good account, must hold the land already won and add to it. For the battle did not end, as so many believe, with the winning of the vote; there are still positions to which women are barred; there is still work to be done in the ranks of feminists, but it is being done by the older generation. We need Pankhursts and Fawcetts among the girls who are in their teens today.
If we allow the young to retain this attitude of indifference and ignorance towards Feminism, there may be a tale told in the future years of a strange whim that possessed the female mind round about the beginning of the twentieth century; of how, for a little while, women decided to be considered the equals of men, but that it all died away eventually … a mere flash in the pan … a tale to be laughed over, very ridiculous and a little pathetic.
This is the danger that we are facing. The question that the die-hards are constantly asking is: “Can women hold what she has won?” The answer lies with the younger generation, and they do not even know what all the fuss is about. Let us teach her the price of this treasure of liberty, so that we may be assured that her labour will be worthy of that magnificent struggle in which indignity, hardship and abuse were counted as nought, so that she could come safely into this dreamed-of world, and, for the first time in the history of woman, be given a fair chance to prove her worth in every sphere of thought and action.
Miss Gregson, who contributes the above article, asks us to inform our readers that she is “not an old fogey, but merely a sweet young thing straight out of a convent, therefore not possessed by a prejudice against the much abused ‘modern girl’, but speaking from first-hand experience of the views of school fellows.”