The influence of women and its cure

by John Erskine, 1936


"We men who have reason for gratitude to some one woman, have reason also to be on the guard against women in the group, women organized, women on the march, even when the menacing confederation includes Her."   p. 11

"a truth which must be accepted ... that this is at present a woman's world, a phenomenon which I deplore."

"One of the distinguishing characteristics of women, in all ages and states of society, is their belief that they have a harder lot than men."   p. 16

"When men win political or other rights and privileges, they call it progress and celebrate with public anniversaries. Women are just as adroit at acquiring rights, but once they have them, they omit the celebration and continue the complaint, in some revised form."   p. 17

"If scandal attaches to an actor or actress, on the stage or in the films, whether his or her popularity will be affected depends on what the women of the nation think of the case. What the men think, doesn't matter."   p. 18

"But literature is now discouraged from noticing the fact that love has a physical basis, that women as well as men are predatory, that a very large proportion of women in the best social circles - those women, that is, who are proud of having preserved an old-fashioned femininity - are parasites, contributing nothing to the world they live in, and draining the resources of the men who are docile enough to support them."   p. 19

"The censorship which women exercise upon literature has little to do with one would call genuine ideals ... the feminine mind lends itself easily to a double standard.....

   One of the characteristics of a woman's world, such as that in which we are living, is lawlessness. The intellectual double standard which the ladies permit themselves makes it possible for them to rally at all times to any movement for the enforcement for law and order. They like to rally especially under some slogan which advocates the preservation of the home and the protection of the mothers of the nation. Having rallied, however, they make exceptions of their cases and do what they like... Most good women feel they have a right to do the government out of all the taxes they can. In so far as they are successful, the men of course must pay the difference."   p. 20 - 21

"It is women who largely inaugurated and encouraged the tragic experiment of Prohibition in the United States. I personally suspect that their underlying motive was resentment against the men for drinking in clubs and saloons; that is, for finding complete satisfaction in their own society."   p. 21

"Twenty-five or thirty years ago [college boys] lived in a masculine atmosphere of their own creating... their ideal of happiness was the comradeship of their fellows in sports and in studies. Today the American college boy is quite restless without the society of girls. He must have them at his fraternity, to dance with, he must spend the evenings with them, he can't enjoy his own sports unless they accompany him to the grandstand."   p. 22

"It is said .. that most of the wealth in our country belongs to women .. If the American man buys a house .. he usually had the deed recorded in his wife's name .. When he dies, he leaves to her the largest part of his remaining property .. I think it signifies .. a wish to propitiate those who really control us. The American man now pays tribute to the American woman."   p. 24

"If a man buys a car, he buys the one she wants. If he buys himself a suit, a shirt or a necktie, she tells him what to select. Our national advertising, therefore is directed at her rather than him, and since advertising carries the newspapers, the magazines, the radio, those immense forces bend to her tastes. It is she who must be pleased in the theater, the concert hall, the art exhibit."   p. 24-25

".. the scandal of alimony, which makes marriage too obviously an investment for income."   p. 27

"in the whole animal kingdom, including mankind, the female wants to mate with the leader, with the strongest, the most brilliant, the most successful. The fact that he is married won't stand in the way..

   If a college is famous for its football victories, the players receive what the polite call improper proposals after after each game. If the victory goes the other way, the proposals shift over to the winning team ... they want to mate with .. success."   p.36

[Women] won't admit that they themselves are acquisitive or possessive where an outstanding man is concerned, but they see clearly that every other woman is."   p.37

"Perhaps that is why we are lenient toward the great artist. It isn't that his genius is benefited by license, but he has to sustain an unusually heavy bombardment. He's not a Don Juan, he's a battered target."   p. 38

" .. the housekeeper and the [female] wage-earner, the types we [men] admire, would gladly exchange their lot for the cultivated idleness which the masculine effort can supply ...

The evolution which is enacting under our eyes has nothing to do with the parrot-like pleas for equality, for the right to compete freely with the wage-earning man. Pay no attention to what women say; watch what they do."   p.43

"The class of women who tend more and more to exercise influence in America are .. fond of security, but in so far as they are secure they have some man to thank. The security which they esteem is moreover an illusion, generated in all of us by memories of childhood .. Those who must wrestle with life soon learn the grim facts at first hand. No one can be permanently secure."   p. 45

"The feminine influence of which I am speaking is exerted by those who enjoy leisure. They do not like the name of slavery, but if you call it something else they can tolerate it, for others. They are willing that others, including their immediate male relatives, should support them. Once they embrace that premise, our present civilization follows logically."   p. 48

"In France .. the mothers and wives don't organize for a mass influence upon the men, but through their homes they exert a larger influence upon public affairs than even I would attribute to our much-assembled women."   p. 49

".. the essence of slaveholding is that you enjoy the labor of others without paying much for it. You always have to pay something; even chattel-slaves must be fed and clothed and their health looked after, for the owner's protection. But if you pay for the labor less than its worth, you are appropriating the advantages of the slave system."   p.53

"Lycurgus also tried to cure the women of idleness and to take from them their too great influence, which he recognized as the product of leisure. As he put it, when the Spartans went to war the women controlled the home, and by the time the husbands got back, the control was a habit ... Lycurgus furnished the women with duties .. But it didn't last .. Plutarch admits that not even the great Spartan could completely tame the women or curb their influence"   p.60

"Even if women in general did not wish to enslave the men, the individual woman who is beautiful does so automatically"   p. 61

"Money is power, of course, but leisure gives you the chance to mold the direction in which money and power will be used. If you wish to steer the human destiny you should first ask for free time"

".. the more leisure the workers achieve, the more they will advance the interests of their class."   p. 63

"it may no longer seem extravagant to say that women in the mass are now busy reducing men to slaves"

"Heaven defend us from the one evil yet untasted, a feminist dictator!"    p.64

"The entrance of women into public life, into politics or education or the professions or business, has not made life sweeter or stronger or more civilized or more secure... the mass drive of the women toward their new opportunities has the effect, not of educating the men to a civilized equality, but of dislodging them altogether.

   And when women occupy the avenues to influence which formerly the men monopolized, not only is the masculine flavor lost but no truly feminine inspiration is substituted. Women who invade what was man's territory, try to act like men... But the women can't imitate the masculine point of view... their only concern is to take over the honors of which men once had a monopoly, and to copy the manners of those they dispossess."   p.65

"I object only to the bizarre evolution which has put great power in the hands of that class of women who know the least about life, never having had to confront its difficulties."   p. 68

"That women should take charge of those schools and colleges is absurd .. they wished to invade this part of the man's world, and having got in, they softened and spoiled it, until our education system is now satisfactory neither for boys or for girls."   p 68-9

"I still hold that the viragoes should be educated to be women and the effeminate youth should be taught to be men. I find nothing happy in a program which is sympathetic and encouraging toward the lesbian and the fairy."

"our educational system .. let us observe what the women are doing to .. With the best intentions they are busy making girls out of the boys... There ought to be a first-rate overhauling of a system which keeps boys in their early years largely under the domination of women."   p.70

"schools .. don't provide a manly atmosphere for the boys. The male teachers, outnumbered on the faculty, succumb to the fussy and enervating pedagogics which are the breath of life to women teachers .. In genuine education a real man would look at a real boy, see what he had to learn, and teach it to him. Only a few women would consent to be so practical or so simple."   p.71

"if the children are neither disobedient or rude, if they don't flunk their examinations altogether, if they "pass", and if the other children don't dislike them, we shall call their education a success.

    Observe that we don't ask for power, for ambition, for initiative, backbone and stamina. The manly note is becoming rare. Women now set the standards of child-training."   p. 73

"the schools have added a new pest, the parents' organizations which collaborate with the teachers in managing the schools... Father is busy, and Mother therefore becomes almost overnight an educational expert... the ladies who now tyrannize over American education .. are gradually bending the schools into whatever shape will be most comfortable for the lazy home, where the parents find the children a bother... if the parents have messed up the job at home, and the children come to the school with flabby characters, I don't see why the parents should be permitted to follow them and mess up the school."   p.75-7

"I doubt if we shall ever have a first-rate women president .. or a general .. The women in the past who have excelled in government or in military command have been able to depend on men. This was true of Catherine of Russia, of Elizabeth and Victoria of England, of Joan of Arc... For the honor of their sex the ladies will elect each other to any difficult post, but once the candidate is in, they become critical, envious or indifferent. If she proves her competence it is the men who stand by her."   p. 78

"If women have interfered, with unfortunate results, in our education, and have canceled from our political inheritance some of the most creative ideas, they are perpetuating a still more tragic mischief in the field of religion... women are taking the masculine element out of religion... The male element in religion is positive, the female is passive. You can turn to religion either to give something or to get something. You are either aflame with a vision and you wish to utter it, or you are looking for comfort, for a spiritual salve, a bandage or plaster. The masculine form of religion is aggressive, it would build an empire, it would spread its gospel; the feminine form is introspective, it is occupied with its own sensations in the presence of a ritual or a discipline, it would rather conform than push ahead."   p.85-6

"I'm still talking .. about those women in our country who wish to be supported and carried along, who exert wide influence, but who want others to work for them... Their influence penetrates even the traditional churches, sapping the intellectual fabric, blunting the moral edge. It penetrates also our economic philosophy. Many of us fall victims to the seductive fallacies which they like to spread; those who once had backbone and a little sense may now be playing with the notion that every man's business is to be happy, and the state should support him. It's unkind to ask who the state is, that it can support so much. In the passive religion of America, the feminine religion, the state is another kind of husband or another form of God, an infinite source of supply who delights to clothe and feed us..

   If I am not altogether wrong in this account of our religious collapse, under the influence of the kind of women who is a spoiled child .. our country seems destined to represent the West in the coming collision with the East, and the religions of the East are masculine....

The Oriental learns to contemplate the universe, he measures himself against an enormous past, an inexhaustible future, his dignity is modest and patient, he accepts life as an opportunity not for comfort but for excellence, even though his virtue may be without applause. The feminized religion of America encourages us to contemplate not the universe but ourselves."   p 88-9

"Perhaps the Greek worship of the body and the approach to the cult or habit of nakedness was not unlike what is occurring in modern time in woman's costume, or in the nude dancing on the stage, or in the acceptance of scanty or no bathing costume. There are two marked differences, however. One is that reform in ancient Greece had to do chiefly with frank exposure of man's body, and today the exposure is of woman's. The Greeks lived in a man's world."   p. 94-5

"The least Greek thing about us .. is our superficial delight in a change of fashion. We alter both are character and our physique to fit the season's style. From our souls outward we are content to be chameleons. The Greek preferred to be himself, and to set his impress first upon his body, then upon his clothing, then upon the world about him."   p. 98

"It is possible to look upon a change of fashion in clothing as a substitute for travel. When we grow weary of our environment and crave a change, we can take the needed vacation either by moving around the earth or by altering the immediate environment in which we are obliged to stay."   p. 99

"I mention this question of costume merely because it illustrates in a minor department the tendency noticed in more critical fields, the disposition of women in the mass to lean upon some outer aid or support, rather than to find it in themselves."   p. 100

"If men in general approve the recent cult in scanty clothing, the reason probably isn't that the revelation of the female anatomy is satisfying entertainment; the reason is rather that the woman in that case is staking her appearance on herself, not on the padding and the trimmings. Even this gesture of self-reliance may prove a sign of progress."   p. 101

"If a boy is taught by women, they will become for him the representatives of authority and the intellectual life. This confusion is bad at every point. To think of them habitually as something to obey, is not the same thing as learning to respect them; to identify them with the intellectual life is not necessarily to make scholarly pursuits attractive. The healthy American used to consider the fine arts effeminate, because in America they were cultivated so largely by women. Because of the school-teachers he must submit to, the American boy now would delegate scholarship to weaklings. The awe he felt for the spinster at the desk, or the awe he pretended to feel, undermines his faith in himself and in others of his sex. The things of the mind are not for him, at least not publicly... He turns for self-respect to athletics, the one subject which the women don't teach. Much of the halo around the football coach is lighted not by the glamour of the sport but by nostalgia for a man's world"   p. 113-4

"No wonder the American man is bashful in the presence of art and learning, polite without enthusiasm. No wonder he is at home on the golf course.

   If the schoolboy were taught by men, it would be more natural for him to take part in the adventures of the intellect and to equip himself for his political responsibilities. To most Americans politics now means nothing more than office seeking or tax resistance... Our platform usually comes to this, that our candidate is good and the other fellow is wicked... politics remains one of the greatest of sciences, even though we neglect it .. This knowledge is indeed power..

   Men can teach boys the science of the political life, but women apparently cannot"   p.114-5

"If in your childhood you enjoyed Tom Brown as I did, you will recall that until the final pages Tom was not altogether an admirer of Doctor Arnold. Thomas Hughes, the author, here recorded his own experience...

In it is none of the hysterical emotion which moves us to what we call political reform; here rather, is a science conscientiously applied, impartially and without rancor, for the strengthening of those who expect to hold office. With all proper esteem for what women do accomplish in education, I don't think this sort of thing lies in their field. If a teacher did insist that school honors should imply school responsibility, and if the small boy who assumed the honor but not the hard work were sent home, I think he would complain to his mother, who would visit the school with blood in her eye, and unless the teacher surrendered, there would be discussion of the incident at the next Parents' meeting, and a less uncouth system would shortly be promulgated.

   Since men by tradition are the providers, and since the women who most influence us are the idle dependents, I think a boy would be most likely to learn from a male teacher a humane and sensible theory of economics. At least, if a a man taught it, the theory would seem to the boy handsomely disinterested."   p.115-8

"The doctrine that wealth should be shared is often imparted by women, but I'd rather have a man teach it, because their still remains the question of how the sharing is to be done, and the masculine temper will lean to the sturdier method...

   If the well-to-do remain possessive they are hated, and when poverty becomes too grinding, the rich, as we learn from the past, are destroyed. Yet the destruction in itself never cures poverty. The revolutionary method appeals most to the hysterical; in art the symbol of revolution is a woman.

   When the strain of want has become severe, though not yet at the breaking point, the less fortunate have sometimes tried to secure a systematic leveling or distribution of what the more fortunate have selfishly or stupidly withheld. Whether this accomplished by seizure of property or by taxing of income, is of small consequence. The result is the same .. Spiritually the effect of this confiscation is almost as wretched as the aftermath of revolution. You share not wealth but poverty, you prolong bitterness and you invent new distrusts. Perhaps outright revolution is in the end happier, because when you have cut off the heads you envy, you can forget them and stop hating. But to seize another man's goods in a supposedly peaceful society is as though a family grabbed the earnings of the ablest child..

   I'd like the boys to know the disadvantages of robbery, even for a humane purpose, and at the same time understand that wealth should be shared...

   There is something very feminine, something circuitous and irresponsible, in any plan to lodge wealth first in the state and afterwards distribute it back to the citizenry. It's being generous with another's pocketbook. That those who pay no taxes should raise, for their own benefit, the taxes of those who do pay, is an intolerable shabbiness. Yet the obligation remains to share your wealth... For the boy to hear it from a man he respected, the drab science of economics would be transformed into a romantic vision, and the captain of industry would become a glamorous figure, like the soldier or sailor, whom we honor, as Ruskin said, not because he goes forth to kill, but because he is ready to die for the cause, or to stick by the sinking ship until every passenger and all the crew are saved."   p. 120-122

"The meanest thing you could do to the women of America would be to give them what they pretend to want, equality with men... the number of women who are maintained in a dangerously busy leisure, is not decreasing. They have too large a place in our civilization, and the place is bought for them with a man's work, a man's money, a man's name."   p.127

"women are still objects of pursuit, which they pretend not to like, and they are still objects of worship, at least theoretically, and they approve of the theory. Neither attitude yet implies in them a maturity equal to man's. Neither attitude assumes in them an individual will or a personal responsibility."   p. 131