THE NEW WOMAN

When I was eighteen and in my final year at School, I came across the following extract by the Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. I had a book (my Commonplace book) in which I used to copy my favourite quotes, my poems and short stories. I still have this book, and I recently found this extract whilst looking through it. I remember my excitement on first reading it, and I feel equally excited now. Here it is, written in 1904:

“The young girl and the woman will for only for a time imitate masculine manners and modes in their own development, only for a time practice masculine professions. Once these fluctuating time of transition are at an end, it will be seen that women, in these often ridiculous masquerades, have only sought to purify their nature from the distorting influence of the other sex. Woman, who lives a more spontaneous, fertile, confident life, is certainly more mature, more near to the human than man, the pretentious and impatient male, blind to the worth of that which he thinks he loves, because he does not plumb the depths as woman does by reason of the burdensome fruit of life. This humanity, matured by woman in suffering and humiliation, will see the day when woman will discard the conventions which condemn her to be no more than a woman. And the men who do not sense the coming of that day will then be amazed and confounded. One day (to which certain signs in the Nordic countries already point) the maiden, the woman will come into her own. And these words do not imply merely the contrary of the male, but something of worth in itself, not just a complement or a limit but a life, a being engaged in history, woman in her humanity. Such an advance will transform the experience of love, today so full of faults, and that in spite of man who will first be outstripped. Love will no longer be the intercourse of man with woman, but that of one humanity with another. (Von Mensch zu Mensch, nicht mehr von Mann zu Weib.) And this more human love (this love full of respect and silence, sound and sure in all that it binds and looses) is indeed that for which, in strife and pain, we make ready. It consists in this, that two solitudes protect, limit and hold each other.”

This beautiful prediction is, I think, already beginning to happen.  It is not a battle between the sexes. It is, as Rilke foresaw, the emergence of womankind from her previous subservient role into one of parity with her male counterpart.

I have never been a feminist as such, though I am grateful to those women who obtained the vote for us, and  to the pioneering women who were ahead of their time in breaching the male dominated professions. There have been exceptional women in every age.

I think men and women have different functions, inasmuch as they are physiologically different, so that their whole mental and emotional makeup is different. I would even go so far as to say that I think that women are the superior sex! But I think that for some time now women have lost their way. In trying to ape male ways they have lost sight of their own inner wisdom, and this has led to the great moral imbalance that now exists in the world.

In the Wisdom school which I attended many years ago, we were told that it is the function of the woman to set the moral tone for the nation.  The definition for a liberated woman, was:  ‘a woman who is in legal possession of her own mind.’ We were also told that it is the woman who holds the vision for the future, and the man who carries it out.

Not everyone will agree with this, I know. I have made no mention here of the great debate which is raging at the moment. This is for another forum.

When I was eighteen I had a certain confidence in my own inner beliefs, but I had no confidence whatsoever in my relationship with the outside world, and gradually I came to lose even that inner belief. My story is all about how I came to regain my own inner self confidence, as well as being able to relate it and myself to the outside world.

 

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