Story type: Essay
Give the men a chance. Upon the young women of America lies a great responsibility. The next generation will be pretty much what they choose to make it; and what are they doing for the elevation of young men? It is true that there are the colleges for men, which still perform a good work–though some of them run a good deal more to a top-dressing of accomplishments than to a sub-soiling of discipline–but these colleges reach comparatively few. There remain the great mass who are devoted to business and pleasure, and only get such intellectual cultivation as society gives them or they chance to pick up in current publications. The young women are the leisure class, consequently–so we hear–the cultivated class. Taking a certain large proportion of our society, the women in it toil not, neither do they spin; they do little or no domestic work; they engage in no productive occupation. They are set apart for a high and ennobling service–the cultivation of the mind and the rescue of society from materialism. They are the influence that keeps life elevated and sweet–are they not? For what other purpose are they set apart in elegant leisure? And nobly do they climb up to the duties of their position. They associate together in esoteric, intellectual societies. Every one is a part of many clubs, the object of which is knowledge and the broadening of the intellectual horizon. Science, languages, literature, are their daily food. They can speak in tongues; they can talk about the solar spectrum; they can interpret Chaucer, criticise Shakespeare, understand Browning. There is no literature, ancient or modern, that they do not dig up by the roots and turn over, no history that they do not drag before the club for final judgment. In every little village there is this intellectual stir and excitement; why, even in New York, readings interfere with the german;–[‘Dances’, likely referring to the productions of the Straus family in Vienna. D.W.]–and Boston! Boston is no longer divided into wards, but into Browning “sections.”
All this is mainly the work of women. The men are sometimes admitted, are even hired to perform and be encouraged and criticised; that is, men who are already highly cultivated, or who are in sympathy with the noble feminization of the age. It is a glorious movement. Its professed object is to give an intellectual lift to society. And no doubt, unless all reports are exaggerated, it is making our great leisure class of women highly intellectual beings. But, encouraging as this prospect is, it gives us pause. Who are these young women to associate with? with whom are they to hold high converse? For life is a two-fold affair. And meantime what is being done for the young men who are expected to share in the high society of the future? Will not the young women by-and-by find themselves in a lonesome place, cultivated away beyond their natural comrades? Where will they spend their evenings? This sobering thought suggests a duty that the young women are neglecting. We refer to the education of the young men. It is all very well for them to form clubs for their own advancement, and they ought not to incur the charge of selfishness in so doing; but how much better would they fulfill their mission if they would form special societies for the cultivation of young men!–sort of intellectual mission bands. Bring them into the literary circle. Make it attractive for them. Women with their attractions, not to speak of their wiles, can do anything they set out to do. They can elevate the entire present generation of young men, if they give their minds to it, to care for the intellectual pursuits they care for. Give the men a chance, and—-
Musing along in this way we are suddenly pulled up by the reflection that it is impossible to make an unqualified statement that is wholly true about anything. What chance have I, anyway? inquires the young man who thinks sometimes and occasionally wants to read. What sort of leading-strings are these that I am getting into? Look at the drift of things. Is the feminization of the world a desirable thing for a vigorous future? Are the women, or are they not, taking all the virility out of literature? Answer me that. All the novels are written by, for, or about women–brought to their standard. Even Henry James, who studies the sex untiringly, speaks about the “feminization of literature.” They write most of the newspaper correspondence–and write it for women. They are even trying to feminize the colleges. Granted that woman is the superior being; all the more, what chance is there for man if this sort of thing goes on? Are you going to make a race of men on feminine fodder? And here is the still more perplexing part of it. Unless all analysis of the female heart is a delusion, and all history false, what women like most of all things in this world is a Man, virile, forceful, compelling, a solid rock of dependence, a substantial unfeminine being, whom it is some satisfaction and glory and interest to govern and rule in the right way, and twist round the feminine finger. If women should succeed in reducing or raising–of course raising–men to the feminine standard, by feminizing society, literature, the colleges, and all that, would they not turn on their creations–for even the Bible intimates that women are uncertain and go in search of a Man? It is this sort of blind instinct of the young man for preserving himself in the world that makes him so inaccessible to the good he might get from the prevailing culture of the leisure class.