Who has met a “New Woman?” – September 1899

The Raider publicly and graciously approves of Gretchen’s opinions and sentiments and she in turn pays him her acknowledgments. In the same breath, he proceeds to make a rash and emphatic statement which is like to disturb this beautiful harmony and stirs up Gretchen to have a bout with him.

But Mr Raider, be not angry but sweetly reasonable and listen to what a woman has to say about women. With masculine directness of speech, you say the New Woman is a humbug anywhere. What is a New Woman? Tell me that. Have you ever met one? She is an interesting monstrosity, much talked of by journalists but in the flesh I have never met her. If she is a humbug anywhere, she must be a very bad type of woman. My own opinion is that the “New Woman” is as chimerical as the fire-spitting dragon.

Now, these old fashioned women were and are faithful and strong props of the household and of the nation. We shall do well if we keep up the standard of their virtue and strength . But they have their limitations and times have changed.

It must have occurred to you that there is a fashion in character as in clothes. It used to be the fashion to get gloriously drunk. Now it is disgraceful. Among women in the early half of the century — this applies less to our countrywomen than to any other class — it was the fashion to affect weakness and ignorance. Indeed the affection has not yet died out where it is thought men will be favourably influenced thereby.

At my first party before leaving school, I overheard a group of charming young ladies entertaining several intelligent college-bred young men. Of their ignorance, one said she was quite sure she did not know her multiplication tables; another that she could not tell the capitals of a single county in England; another that she had learned music for eight years and was doubtful whether she could play God Save the Queen without notes. Another that she had never knitted or made a single garment in her life.

As I was then hard at work trying to learn as much as schools could teach, these conversations were puzzling and disheartening. It was years before I understood that these charming girls shrewdly guessed that to sham ignorance and, better still, be ignorant, was their greatest attraction. These were the old fashioned kind of girls then dying out and pretty well obsolete even in the cities.

Do not you think, Mr Raider, that the world will move surely and steadily towards that “one divine event” when women in every country have risen to the level of men and have equal liberty. These are the new women.

Perhaps, Mr Raider, you are not as intimately acquainted as I am with the paralysing affectations of women. The new woman wants to kill “gentility” which claims its tens of thousands of victims. You would be surprised at the number of farmers’ daughters whose wrists are too weak to milk a cow, who would be ashamed to say that they took entire charge of the poultry or the garden or the byre or anything necessitating disagreeable manual labour .

They want to be taught to be ashamed of themselves and I think Lady Warwick and her helpers are doing some good work in reminding farmers’ daughters, amongst others, of the dignity and interest that attaches to these occupations.

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