Class and Character




Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series C16:558
The Woman Rebel, Aug. 1914, p. 44


For previous articles in this series see "Class and Character," June 1914 and July 1914..


Seneca, Lucius Annaeus




Article No. 3.

Last month I tried to show that the girl who works must possess both class character and individual character. I want to emphasize here the value of good health in order that she may enjoy her own life. I have no patience with those who stupidly advocate rules of health for the growing girl in order to make her stronger for her job. Such people only believe in health for the girl so that she can get and hold a job, and then become an efficient slave.

I shall not insult the intelligence of any woman by pleading with her to love her long hours of toil, the Machine or the Boss who stands over her, I want her to hate all of them, to submit only under necessity, always waiting for the hour when she can rise with her comrades in organized strength to control their own lives.

I am not going to enumerate the clean and wholesome foods every growing girl should have to keep herself in good health, for experience among families of the workers has shown me that they know as well as I do the value of pure milk, butter, eggs, and meat. They cannot obtain them; so why insult them? They have learned by experience that the easily and quickly digested foods leave the stomach empty and the urge of hunger is too quickly felt. Naturally they choose foods less digestible, and thus are not hungry so often.

I wish to explain to the girl how she may have build up and retain sexual health. Nine out of ten so called "female troubles" are caused by male "troubles". I wish to dwell upon these facts.

The reproductive or sexual life of a woman is in reality a very short period of her existence. This period averages not more than twenty years altogether. It could be made a delightful, beautiful, healthful one, if girls were only taught to get the most beauty out of this period of their lives. The greatest percentage of married women today are working women. Their only joy is the love for the mate, and to feel that this is returned. Yet they are entirely ignorant of how to retain this love, or how to strengthen and beautify their lives through it. This question seems faraway, but it is close at hand, in considering the effect of alcohol in the sexual life of a girl.

It is not a question of taking the first drink at all, but the fact that a girl should know the advantages and disadvantages of alcoholic drinks.

If she knows both sides of the question, she will not be so afraid of it. To-day the tendency among girls is to find things out for themselves. So in drinking she will do the same. Some girls will be weakened by the influence of alcohol and will not learn to control the appetite for it. Others will hate this influence and refrain from its use.

Taken internally in small amounts, alcohol stimulates the heart and nervous system, favors gastric or stomach digestion, increases the sweat and urine. It is thrown off from the body by the lungs, skin, bowels and kidney. It is valuable as a general stimulant in low fevers and wasting diseases.

Whiskies, brandies and gins contain 45 to 50 percent of alcohol; white and red wines, from 10 to 14 percent; sherry and port wines, from 15 to 20 percent; champagne, 10 to 13 percent; ales, beers and porters, from 3 to 5 percent.

Among 2,000 prostitutes of New York City, it was discovered that 359 were not addicted to drink; that 647 drank in moderation, that 754 were intemperate drinkers; and that 240 were habitual drunkards. Practically all such women drink alcoholic stimulants to produce that state of artificial excitement necessary to their business. "No one could live this life without drinking," declared one of them. Among the higher class prostitutes, it is considered a disgrace to be intoxicated. Of course they drink moderately, but are careful to keep their heads in a controlling sense of direction.

The direct effect of the excessive use of alcohol is that it completely paralyzes the judgment and will power. A girl under the influence of alcohol has no control over actions, she cannot direct her judgment, and is at the mercy of her companions. Alcohol also excites the sexual appetite, and banishes all refined sentiments, for the continued action of alcohol upon the brain effects a coarseness of feeling affecting the most refined individuals, awakening the grossest impulse and tending to pervert the sexual appetite. It deprives a girl of all power of resistance against the sexual advances of a man, which may be aroused through drink, because her own sexual desire has been increased. The pleasure of the relation is lessened by alcohol.

She loses appreciation of her own personality. Stupefied by drink a girl who normally may be the most refined and discriminating in her judgment will abandon herself to any influence.

Thousands of girls who are confined in institutions because they are considered "wayward" will tell you that in many cases it was not the desire that led them to surrender their bodies, to the advances of the men, but the profound indifference and feebleness developed by continued drinking.

Fully seventy-five percent of venereal disease among men has been contracted while they were under the influence of drink. Alcohol effects women in a different manner. Some are physically and mentally paralyzed by small amounts and fall into a stupor. Others repel any sexual advances, while others are stimulated mentally and never completely succumb to its control. The stronger the will power and self control, the less likely will one show the effects.

A woman over 25 years of age will use the greatest discretion in the use of alcohol, while a young girl will plunge into the excesses always thinking herself an exception. In this as in all questions of the kind, we must turn back to the character of the girl, and the ideal and standards she has set for herself. It does not mean that a woman who abstains or who has never drunk or tasted alcohol in her life is necessarily the superior woman. Usually she lacks a fine human understanding, and her superiority may be narrowness and prejudice.

Seneca recommended occasional drunkenness "even to the point of intoxication, not for the purpose of drowning ourselves but of sinking ourselves deep in wine. For it washes away cares and raises our spirits from the lowest depths. The inventor of wine is called Liber because he frees the soul from the servitude of care, releases it from slavery, quickens it, and makes it bolder for all undertakings." In his essay on the Training of Children, Plutarch says that "even in bows and harps we loosen their strings that we may bend and wind them up again."

And so with women who have never relieved their tension. They can have no realization or understanding of those who do. They are less experienced and equipped with less sympathy and human feeling for the battle of life. It all comes back to the girl herself: She must know herself, her natural inclinations, her desires. She must enrich her character and develop it by experience.

College girls are sent abroad to visit foreign lands, to learn the customs of other peoples. She is sent into factories and reformatories, returning with volumes of statistical record, and is then considered "brilliant". She would not dare indulge in experience which might contribute to her own development for fear of being looked down upon as an outcast.

Let the women of the working class aim to develop a bigger womanhood, with human feeling and understanding as the foundation!