INCREASING PERSONAL EFFICIENCY
Russell H. Conwell
Some women may be superficial in education and accomplishments, extravagant in tastes, conspicuous in apparel, something more than self-assured in bearing, devoted to trivialities, inclined to frequent public places. It is, nevertheless, not without cause that art has always shown the virtues in woman’s dress, and that true literature teems with eloquent tributes and ideal pictures of true womanhood–from Homer’s Andromache to Scott’s Ellen Douglas, and farther. While Shakespeare had no heroes, all his women except Ophelia are heroines, even if Lady Macbeth, Regan, and Goneril are hideously wicked. In the moral world, women are what flowers and fruit are in the physical. “The soul’s armor is never well set to the heart until woman’s hand has braced it; and it is only when she braces it loosely that the honor of manhood fails.”
Men will mainly be what women make them, and there can never be _entirely free men_ until there are _entirely free women_ with no special privileges, but with all her rights. The wife makes the home, the mother makes the man, and she is the creator of joyous boyhood and heroic manhood; when women fulfil their divine mission, all reform societies will die, brutes will become men, and men shall be divine. There are unkind things said of her in the cheaper writings of to-day–perhaps because their authors have seen her only in boarding-houses, restaurants, theaters, dance-halls, and at card-parties; and the poor, degraded stage with its warped mirror shows her up to the ridicule of the cheaper brood. The greatest writings and the greatest dramas of all time have more than compensated for all this indignity, and we have only to read deep into the great literature to be disillusioned of any vulgar estimations of womanhood, and to understand the beauty and power of soul of every woman who is true to the royalty of womanhood.
There are few surer tests of a manly character than the estimation he has of women, and it is noteworthy that the men who stand highest in the esteem of both men and women are always men with worthy ideas of womanhood, and with praiseworthy ideals for their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters. As men sink in self-respect and moral worth, their esteem of womanhood lowers. The women who become the theme for poets and philosophers and high-class playwrights are the women who have been bred mainly in the home. They seem without exception to abhor throngs, and only stern necessity can induce them to appear in them; the motherly, matronly, and filial graces appeal strongly to them–such as are portrayed in Cornelia, Portia, and Cordelia. They may yearn for society, but it is the best society–for the “women whose beauty and sweetness and dignity and high accomplishments and grace make us understand the Greek mythology, and for the men who mold the time, who refresh our faith in heroism and virtue, who make Plato and Zeno and Shakespeare and all Shakespeare’s gentlemen possible again.”
If there is any inferiority in women, it is the result of environment and of lack of opportunity–never from lack of intelligence and other soul-powers. There is no sex in spiritual endowments, and woman seems entitled to all the rights of man–plus the right of protection. Ruskin says, “We are foolish without excuse in talking of the superiority of one sex over the other; each has attributes the other has not, each is completed by the other, and the happiness of both depends upon each seeking and receiving from the other what the other can alone give.”
In speaking of the time when perfect manhood and perfect womanhood has come, Tennyson says in “The Princess”:
Yet in the long years liker must they grow:
The man be more of woman, she of man;
He gain in sweetness and in moral height,
Nor lose the _wrestling_ thews that throw the world;
She mental breadth, nor fail in childward care,
Nor lose the childlike in the larger mind.
Home is the true sphere for woman; her best work for humanity has always been done there, or has had its first impulse from within those four walls. It was home with all its duties that made the Roman matron Cornelia the type of the lofty woman of the world and the worthy mother. While it endowed her with the power to raise two sons as worthy as any known to history, who sacrificed their lives in defense of the Roman poor, it also endowed her with courage to say to the second of her sons when he was leaving her for the battle which brought his death, “My son, see that thou returnest with thy shield or on it.” Napoleon claimed that it was the women of France who caused the loss at Waterloo, not its men.
“Man’s intellect is for speculation and invention, and his energy is for just war and just conquest; woman’s intellect is for sweet ordering, arrangement, and decision; her energy is not for battle, but for rule.” Apparently relying upon man’s magnanimity not to resent her abdicating her home, woman’s exigencies–and perhaps her ambitions–have forced her more and more during the past fifty years into man’s domains of speculation and energy–perhaps into some war and some conquest. The ever-increasing demand for her in these man-realms which she has invaded or into which she has intruded herself is abundant evidence that she has creditably acquitted herself in the betterment of business, education, and literature, as well as in the numberless things which she has invented to add beauty and comfort to the home, and to remove much of the bitter drudgery from house and office, and to promote the health and happiness of millions. All these helps she has given, even if she has undoubtedly lost some of the graces which have always made so lovable the woman of whom Andromache, Portia, and Cordelia are but types.
Although matrimony and motherhood were the first conditions of women and only conditions that poets sing about and philosophers write about, and although these are still the conditions where she is doing her largest and noblest work in humanizing, yet her proper sphere is as man’s, wherever she can live nobly and work nobly. How many myriads in this country alone are drudging or almost drudging in shops and offices to relieve the too stern pressure of pain or poverty from some one who is dear to them, yet are doing it unselfishly and uncomplainingly! A young woman lately told me that she had for several years been employed to interview women applicants for positions; that during these years she had interviewed scores of women daily, and had learned much of their private lives; that although the majority were working partly or entirely to maintain others, yet had she never heard one complaint of the sacrifices this service involved. Hundreds of other women, like George Eliot, Charlotte Brontë and Helen Hunt will long continue to bring pleasure and profit to millions through their writings.