Texts Related to the Works of Sarah Orne Jewett
A Few Words About Woman's Work.
There is a growing tendency to glorify the women who have attained to the positions formerly filled exclusively by men, and the woman who has succeeded in running an engine, or shingling a roof, is considered to have achieved a brilliant success, and to have left her more domestic sisters far in the background. There seems to be a sentiment that it is nobler to control the working of a stream engine than to direct the delicate machinery of youthful souls, training them in manliness and honor, purity, gentleness and faith, fitting them for lives of broad usefulness and a glorious immortality.
Why are these things so? Can it be possible that men are such vastly superior creatures that to be able, by great pains, to perform the toilsome and rugged tasks, for which they are fitted by nature, is far more honorable for a woman than to fulfill the duties which naturally fall to her own lot, and for which she is especially adapted by heaven-born gifts and graces? We can see no other reason for this eager rush to do what men do, and yet it is so humiliating to the wives, mothers and sisters that we are slow to accept it. I once knew a man who had little taste or skill for farming, or business, or any sort of manly occupation, but who could mend a garment and sew on buttons very deftly, and who delighted in sitting in the warm chimney-corner and preparing the fruit and vegetables for dinner. Instead of being lost in wonder and admiration that he had succeeded so well in doing woman's work, my sentiments were of a very different nature, but quite similar to those which I entertain for a woman, who, by choice, is engaged in doing a man's work. Necessity sometimes compels women to engage in work unsuited to their sex, but it is a state of things to be deplored rather than applauded.
They tell us -- these reformers -- that men close the avenues of labor against women, and thus force them into marriage as their only means of support. For ages the tenderest of associations have clustered around courtship and marriage, from the blissful moment when two youthful souls discover that they love, and that the pure passion is mutual, through all the weeks of growing love and confidence, to the day when the maiden becomes an honored wife, and enters a boundless field of love and duty and devotion. Must we relinquish all these sacred associations, and substitute instead the picture of a sullen maiden, reluctantly allowing herself to be driven to the marriage altar, as her only escape from a life of poverty?
We have good reason to believe that much of the popular sentiment in favor of manly accomplishments for our girls is theoretical rather than practical. We believe the mothers are comparatively few who wish their own fair young daughters to enter the lists with men, thus exposing themselves to the danger of losing the subtle grace of womanliness, which must ever be their greatest charm.
This piece appeared in The Congregationalist, June 5, 1884, p. 193; in the Household section.
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