The Influence of Feminism upon Peace

[The American Review of Reviews; January 1917]

One of the most remarkable and unexpected by-products of the present war has been the tremendous impetus given to the cause of feminism. In almost every department of human activity hitherto preempted by men, women have proved themselves zealous, skilful, and acceptable workers. Many of them have tasted for the first time the joys and rewards of economic independence, and with it has come its inevitable concomitant, independence of thought and action.

Many observers predict that, having thus put their hands to the plow in the emergencies created by masculine conflict, women will be more determined than ever to claim the right of having their voices heard in council. If this prediction of the extension of suffrage to women as a result of the efficiency and devotion displayed by them be fulfilled, it is possible that they may help to solve the problem of the attainment of a permanent world peace. If seems certain that their votes would be cast in favor of the projected European Federation whose object is the elimination of international conflict by means of international legislation and an international army. A writer in La Revue Mensuelle (Geneva) holds that this ideal would cease to be a Utopian dream if women's influence becomes politically cogent. The first step towards its realization, he declares, must be the formation of public opinion, and in such formation women will take an important part. He writes:

Among all the social questions raised, that of feminism appears to us to be of capital importance. In a general fashion, theoretically, woman is an altruist, man an egoist. The woman, if she be married, thinks only of her husband and her children. The sacrifices of the maternal instinct are innumerable. Even if a woman desired a given war as being both just and profitable, she would renounce the idea when she remembered that it would strike less at herself than at her husband and her children.... The false point of honor would quickly disappear in her eyes. She would yield as soon as reasonable conditions of peace were proposed.

At the present time such efforts are made to excite hate and passion that this natural pacific instinct and altruism seem to be somewhat abated.

In man, his mental structure and psychology, together with the abstraction made by certain social and political elements, form the principal obstacle to the abolition of war. If the woman occupied the position of the man the situation would 'be entirely contrary; her instincts would reinforce her reason and would be a precious auxiliary for this happy-suppression.

The writer continues his argument by contending that the education of the male tends to emphasize a false idea of honor, and that his heredity transmits the germs of conflict. If military service augments these tendencies in men, in woman her cloistered habits favor contrary tendencies. The courage of man is active, stamped with combativeness; that of woman is passive. If a parliament were composed half of men and half of women the psychologic motives favorable to war would disappear in this fusion; there would remain only the motives of ethnic hatreds and the various national interests of the moment.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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