As a girl, I read voraciously. I never cared if the author was male, female, or a complete mystery, I loved characters and stories and mysteries to puzzle out or things to wonder over. I don’t recall when I read my first Dorothy L. Sayers title, although I suspect I was 14 and had found her through Margery Allingham’s Campion tales. I do know that I loved Lord Peter and Harriet Vane almost immediately and Bunter none the less than they. Slowly, over the years, I would find another title as yet unread and add it to my library. In time I had all the stories but one collection, which I had from the library and then gave back (I was a good girl, and ‘losing’ it never crossed my mind). But as my semi-annual re-readings recurred through decades, the mainly paperback books began to show my love for them in physical ways. I wanted Gaudy Night for something the other day, and was forlorn when it fell apart in my hands. All was not lost, I was reminded that replacement – and further, replacement with a sturdy hardback version – was only a click away.
While I was securing an omnibus copy of Busman’s Honeymoon and Gaudy night, and (bliss!) a copy of Lord Peter, I came across a book of essays by herself, and was intrigued by the title. What follows are her words in italic block quotes, with my thoughts interspersed.
Are Women Human?
Indubitably so. I am, sitting here with fingers flying over the keyboard, no less human than my male counterpart sitting behind me enjoying music with his headphones on. What was one of my enduring favorites driving at? Caught by the curiosity, I clicked the button and thought no more of it until my copy arrived. At first, I was struck by the slenderness of the little book. I paid for this? I wondered. But then I flipped it open to the beginning of the essay, and she reached through the ages to speak to me, now, as vividly as when she first penned the words in 1938.
I was not sure I wanted to “Identify myself,” as the phrase goes, with feminism, and that the time for feminism, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, had gone past… an aggressive feminism might do more harm than good.
Good heavens. I could have written those words myself, only not as clearly and elegantly phrased. I have said similar things, and had the angry retort hurled back that I am a traitor to my gender, and an anti-feminist. Not that I am either, and I am grateful that the correspondent who asked Dorothy Sayers to speak did not respond to her in such a fashion. Instead, she was invited to speak, and to explain her thoughts, and we are the richer for it.
“A woman is as good as a man” is as meaningless to say… it means nothing whatever until you add: “at doing what?”
What, indeed? It can be argued that a woman is clearly superior to a man in bearing and breastfeeding children. So to bring her down to the level of merely ‘as good’ is erroneous. As she points out, there are exceptions on either side, that it comes to a balance only when you consider temperament and physical differences. We are stripped of that, we women, by the “feminists” who she was so dubious of at the time. We are not allowed to say that we are different than men. To do so, we are scolded, is to make us lesser than men. Does it? Or is it simply that we are different from men? And are we thereby less human, in being different? I think not, but that very obvious difference is elided over by the movement.
It is the mark of all movements, however well-intentioned, that their pioneers tend, by much lashing of themselves into excitement, to lose sight of the obvious.
There is none so blind, I have learned bitterly and with tears, as the true believer. No matter how rational, peaceful, and indeed, how truthful our comments are made, the excitement of their fervor allows them to ignore the reality of what lies before them. I can and have laid out arguments for the molecule biological differences of a male from a female, and how those affect the whole organism and still, this is ignored. History, the great panoply of what has passed before, is whitewashed until it says what they want to hear from it. Women, we hear daily, were oppressed, were chattel… and it was not always so. Yes, there were times and places it was truth. But that was not all times and places. Even today, in these enlightened times we are so proud of, there are places where women are truly oppressed and sold like goods. Are those women human? Why are we not outraged on their behalf?
A woman is just as much an ordinary human being as a man, with the same individual preferences, and with just as much right to the tastes and preferences of an individual. What is repugnant to every human being is to reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person.
Oh, how I hate to be pigeon-holed. Nothing will make me work harder than being told ‘you cannot’ on some matter or another. If you say to me ‘a woman cannot write military science fiction’ then I am going to do my best to prove you wrong. But if you say to me that all men are rapists, then I will sneer and mock at you, knowing this to be a rank lie. When I am called a writer, I despise the prefix it seems people want to class me with. She is a ‘woman writer’ they say. As though I need that word, like a little stepstool to lift me up to the level of the men who write. No. I am not a mere woman writer. I am a writer, and an individual who is unique in her femininity and humanity. There is no one else who is me.
Dorothy Sayers lived at a time when women were struggling to be included in some things from which they had been barred, such as the University where she attended and got her degree. For this, I stand up and cheer with mighty hurrahs. This is what the idea of a noble battle is. To win the right to prove oneself a the job one has chosen to pursue. However, to push so hard that your own individuality and desires are lost in the excitement is too much.
If it is done “because the men do it,” it is worse than silly, because it is not spontaneous and not even amusing.
Here, she was talking about the tendency of female students who once they had won the right to an education, took it even further to do exactly as the male students did, and come in after hours falling-down drunk. Women in her mind were to be above such things, and I am inclined to agree. Doing things just because you think that is what a man would do, and you are female, so you must do it that way too, is the height of foolishness. Stopping to consider the rashness of one’s actions and the consequences that might come after are not weak and female traits that should be abandoned merely because they are scoffed at as womanly. Desirable restraint is a human, an adult, measure of a self, not male nor female.
It is ridiculous to take on a man’s job just in order to be able to say that “a woman has done it – yah!” The only decent reason for tackling any job is that it is your job, and you want to do it.
This, a thousand times this. As I read the ongoing debates over whether women should be in combat in a role which was traditionally male, I fear that in the rush to allow women anywhere, we are lowering standards for physical fitness that exist for a reason. A man who must carry almost his own weight on his back for untold grueling miles does not train in that way for no reason. When the enemy is pushing on us, this is what is necessary for the safety of the unit. If he must also now carry what the female troop cannot, the effectiveness of the unit is compromised and may lead to deaths that need not have happened. Women can do anything. But should they? If a woman can pass the tests, then by all means… but only if the guidelines are not changed in their favor is it realistic. Some women can do so. I’m using this as an example, but really, there is more to it. Why force oneself to conform to a class that is dictated by a movement for women without an acknowledgement of what an individual wants to do?
Every woman is a human being – one cannot repeat that too often – and a human being must have occupation, if he or she is not to become a nuisance to the world.
It may shock you, my readers, but as Dorothy Sayers points out in her essay, as many women lost our their traditional roles to men in the Industrial Revolution as they are accusing men of not allowing them into. I am presuming that you will read this for yourself – I am including the barest sketch of it with my own words here – but reality is that the world changed, and we are still settling back into new roles. So which is a woman’s job, and which is a man’s? Better to say: what human can do this job best, and then throw that job open to who can do it best, no matter what they are.
When it comes to a choice, then every man or woman has to choose as an individual human being, and like a human being, take the consequences. As human beings!
We none of us want to be defined solely by what we do, the job we have. It’s a rare woman who wants to give up everything but her work, but the feminism movement seems to expect this of all women, to become extraordinary in their field, preferring it to be a field they see as having been the playground solely of men previously. In Sayers’ day, this was largely law, architecture, and academia. Today, I see all the young women being urged into STEM fields. There is nothing wrong with this, unless we want to allow our girls to be individuals. To make their own choices, to be human beings… and if that means that a girl wants nothing more than to get married, coo over her nest of babies, and serve her society as a nurturer and foster the civility and education of her children to contribute to the future, then this should not only be allowed, but encouraged for her. Or for a boy, should this be his whole-hearted desire and his mate willing.
Are women really not human, that they should be expected to toddle all all in a flock like sheep?
“Accepted as a human being!”- yes; not as an inferior class, and not, I beg and pray all feminists, as a superior class – not, in fact, as a class at all…
To oppose one class perpetually to another – is to split the foundations of the State; and if the cleavage runs too deep, there remains no remedy but force and dictatorship.