The Woman’s Page – December 29, 1916

December 29, 1916

“Your feminist movement does not only seek the vote but tries to inculcate this very spirit of equality…”

Given how dreadfully old-fashioned all this business of wanting to be taken places sounded, was MLA out of step in a feminist forum, complaining that men were failing to play prince to her princess?  “A Mere Man”, for example, rings in on the Dec. 29 issue to report sightings of a new species of bird that would surely render old squawking chickens like MLA extinct: the “modern girl” who had developed the impressive ability to go to the theatre all by herself. But is an unlocked door an open one? We can’t assume that women could traverse the public sphere unaccompanied with the same ease as men or without consequence to the way she is regarded by her community, and is that even the point? Were these dateless gals Mr. Mere Man spoke of “modern” because they embodied an end to the oppressive social roles of yesteryear or was it just that, like so many other “modern” innovations, they could save a guy a ton of work? What about the Jewish miss who decided it was time to relegate to the past the work of being a congenial domestic hostess? Give Abrams’ hilarious December 1st installment of “The Autobiography of an Ordinary Girl” a read to see how that went for her! 

Interesting is how another female writer, who signs her letter as simply  “A Woman” (December 8th issue), also points the finger at the females for not showing greater independence, but it wasn’t those who wouldn’t go to the dances alone that she was talking to; it was the ones that would. She thought they should defend the value of their presence at social affairs by withholding it. Meanwhile, another woman, “F.B.”, calls for a more general boycott of boys, by girls, until conditions improved. Her call for action is soon scoffed by a man called “J.N.” (December 22nd issue) and by Maurice II (December 29th issue) on the basis that the supply of women so greatly outnumbered that of men that no one would much care if a small number of difficult women chose to make themselves more difficult. “Cheer up, F.B.”, signs J.N., in snide disregard of the point that it was that very prospect of serving as their community’s source of “cheer” that was starting to sound kind of lame to some women.    

I approach the end of this post without even touching the question of national character introduced at the outset. Was MLA really returning to a social world built on happy comradery between men and women in her US city? It probably wasn’t quite so simple, but sharp-eyed visitors are great reminders of the relativity of cultural norms, and give us a chance, if we are not too proud, to critique aspects of our home culture easily taken for granted. I think some readers of The Women’s Page rose to this challange while others resorted to condencending defences of a status quo that suited them. I welcome your comments and memories about the subtle “economics” of dating traditions in your community either in the past, or if you’re brave, the present!

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