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WAR AND THE SEXES (1916)

by Ellen Key
(1849-1926)

from the Atlantic

THE first year of the war was nearing its close
when a middle-aged American woman, visiting in my
home, said to me, "Nowhere will the war bring about
a more radical change, more unexpected changes,
than in the relations between the sexes.  What way
out will be found by the millions of women who more
than ever must give up all hope of realizing their
longing for love and children?"

  A few months later I had with me another American
woman, — this time a young girl, — who put the same
question, only with the alteration natural to her
age.  "What will become of all us young girls who
formerly could reasonably expect to marry, but who
now see our chances infinitely diminished?"

  The answer can only be this:— 

  After the war, woman's prospects, from the point
of view of her natural duty — motherhood — will be
dark indeed.

  The number of women who will have to dismiss all
thought of marriage — already far too large — is
destined to become much larger still.  The number
of those who lead immoral lives and are childless,
or who bear illegitimate children, will therefore
increase.  Others, from a sense of patriotic duty
to which appeal has already been made, may marry
invalids.  How many of these will be disappointed
in their most justified wishes for happiness! 
Those women who have chosen among the men who are
rejected from military service quite often have
defective children.  The possibilities for millions
of women who are now at the most favorable age for
marriage decrease steadily, for with every day that
goes by the number of young men who might return
from the war without severe bodily or mental
injuries grows less and less — not to mention the
millions who will never return.  And, lastly, the
higher the development of women, the more they
chafe under the "patriotic" mandate to bear many
children to replace the nation's losses.  For they
know that, from the point of view of their personal
development as well as that of the race, fewer but
better children are to be preferred.

                      II

A considerable number of plans have already been
suggested in Europe to relieve the abnormal
sex-conditions, which have, of course, met with
much formidable opposition.

  Some one in London has conceived the idea of
founding a "society for the marrying of wounded
heroes" — an appeal to woman's self-sacrifice and
patriotism to make the lives of these men bearable
and to propagate children who will inherit their
fathers' qualities of heroism.  These wives, who
would, in most cases, have to become the supporters
of their families, would, therefore, be paid a
man's wages and would, in many cases, also be given
a stipend to facilitate their marriage.  Moreover,
in order to insure suitable mating, it is suggested
that recourse be had to selective committees of
clergymen and physicians; it is evidently not
proposed to let the parties themselves choose. 
Women who are physically strong will be expected to
marry men who need to be carried or pushed in a
chair.  Blind men, who can still at least enjoy
good food, will be married to good cooks, and so
forth.

  It seems impossible to believe the statement that
the society already has hundreds of thousands of
female members.

  In Germany some one has suggested that the
government give invalids an opportunity to own
their homes.  This would enable the heroes of the
war to found families — for it is to be expected
that thousands of heroic women who are widowed by
the war will remarry these invalids.  Another
thoughtful German has suggested that the government
open a marriage department, partly to further early
marriages.

  The fact that the battlefields swallow up
millions of lives makes the birth-rate a national
question and revolutionizes ideas of sexual
morality.  What was formerly considered a sinó
loveless marriages contracted simply for the
purpose of having offspring — will perhaps, from the
national point of view, come to be considered a
duty hereafter.  The bearing of children outside of
marriage, and perhaps other deviations from the
ideal of monogamy, will be practiced openly after
the war to a far greater extent than was done
secretly by people of Europe before the war. 
Twenty months of war have already dealt heavier
blows to the foundations of "Holy Marriage" than
all the "apostles of immorality" were able to
compass.  That all new forms of sex-relation will
not be officially sanctioned is self-evident, but
they may have the sanction of custom; and this, in
some cases, means more than the approval of the
State.

  Another moral question that was previously
discussed — that of birth-prevention — has come up
again during the war.  In East Prussia the question
has been discussed as to whether the law against
abortion should be suspended for those women who
fell victims to the Russian soldiers.  And in
France, where many women have, with great
suffering, borne the children of their enemies,
some people still advocate preventive measures;
some one even suggested killing these children in
order to ensure the purity of the race.  Surely one
cannot go further from the ideals of Christian
morality!  And though these suggestions have been
rejected, the mere fact that they have been
discussed proved what this whole war has so clearly
shown: that the religion of Europe is no longer
that of Christianity but that of nationalism, and
that everything that is considered good for the
nation is assumed to be right.

  Among the nations so heavily oppressed by the
war, it will inevitably be necessary to count on a
far greater number of women having to become
self-supporting than formerly.  This will bring
about very radical changes in the community, in
economic conditions, in family life, and in the
increase of population.  Family life, during the
next generations, will be more sober, more prosaic. 
The death of so many men will, to a certain extent,
do away with competition between the sexes, but
also with marriage.  The number of illegitimate
children will increase, but they will be better
cared for.  On the whole, the increase of
population will be hindered by woman's inability
both to bear and provide for children, and to those
who look upon woman as the producer of soldiers,
this will seem a misfortune.  To those, however,
who look upon the matter in a more human way, it
will, on the contrary, become a condition for
future development that women resolutely refuse
mass production of children, and more consistently
seek to improve the quality of humanity, while
they, at the same time, try more energetically to
procure the right to have a share in dictating the
politics on which the lives of their sons and
daughters are so dependent.


(End.)