For Emma Goldman, the “High Priestess of Anarchy,” anarchism was “a living force in the affairs of our life, constantly creating new conditions,” but “the most elemental force in human life” was something still more basic and vital: sex. “The Sex Question” emerged for Goldman in multiple contexts, and we find her addressing it in writing on subjects as varied as women’s suffrage, “free love,” birth control, the “New Woman,” homosexuality, marriage, love, and literature. It was at once a political question, an economic question, a question of morality, and a question of social relations. But her analysis of that most elemental force remained fragmentary, scattered across numerous published (and unpublished) works and conditioned by numerous contexts. Anarchy and the Sex Question draws together the most important of those scattered sources, uniting both familiar essays and archival material, in an attempt to recreate the great work on sex that Emma Goldman might have given us. In the process, it sheds light on Goldman’s place in the history of feminism.
About the Author
Emma Goldman (1869–1940) emigrated from Russia to the United States in 1885, just as the international anarchist movement was forming, and soon became among the best-known figures associated with anarchism. The remainder of her life was speaking, writing, publishing, and agitating, despite legal harassment, imprisonment, and deportation. Many years after her death, Goldman’s ideas remain important influences among both anarchists and feminists. Her works include Anarchism and Other Essays (1910), My Disillusionment in Russia (1923), and Living My Life (1931). Shawn P. Wilbur is a historian, translator, and curator of the Libertarian Labyrinth digital archive. His published translations include work by Charles Fourier (The World War of Small Pastries), Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and Joseph Déjacque.
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Anarchy and the Sex Question
Essays on Women and Emancipation, 1896-1926
By Emma Goldman, Shawn P. Wilbur
PM PressCopyright © 2016 PM Press
All rights reserved.
ANARCHY AND THE SEX QUESTION
The workingman, whose strength and muscles are so admired by the pale, puny off-springs of the rich, yet whose labour barely brings him enough to keep the wolf of starvation from the door, marries only to have a wife and house-keeper, who must slave from morning till night, who must make every effort to keep down expenses. Her nerves are so tired by the continual effort to make the pitiful wages of her husband support both of them that she grows irritable and no longer is successful in concealing her want of affection for her lord and master, who, alas! soon comes to the conclusion that his hopes and plans have gone astray, and so practically begins to think that marriage is a failure.
The Chain Grows Heavier and Heaver
As the expenses grow larger instead of smaller, the wife, who has lost all of the little strength she had at marriage, likewise feels herself betrayed, and the constant fretting and dread of starvation consumes her beauty in a short time after marriage. She grows despondent, neglects her household duties, and as there are no ties of love and sympathy between herself and her husband to give them strength to face the misery and poverty of their lives, instead of clinging to each other, they become more and more estranged, more and more impatient with each other's faults.
The man cannot, like the millionaire, go to his club, but he goes to a saloon and tries to drown his misery in a glass of beer or whiskey. The unfortunate partner of his misery, who is too honest to seek forgetfulness in the arms of a lover, and who is too poor to allow herself any legitimate recreation or amusement, remains amid the squalid, half-kept surroundings she calls home, and bitterly bemoans the folly that made her a poor man's wife.
Yet there is no way for them to part from each other.
But They Must Wear It
However galling the chain which has been put around their necks by the law and Church may be, it may not be broken unless those two persons decide to permit it to be severed.
Should the law be merciful enough to grant them liberty, every detail of their private life must be dragged to light. The woman is condemned by public opinion and her whole life is ruined. The fear of this disgrace often causes her to break down under the heavy weight of married life without daring to enter a single protest against the outrageous system that has crushed her and so many of her sisters.
The rich endure it to avoid scandal — the poor for the sake of their children and the fear of public opinion. Their lives are one long continuation of hypocrisy and deceit.
The woman who sells her favours is at liberty to leave the man who purchases them at any time, while the respectable wife cannot free herself from a union which is galling to her.
All unnatural unions which are not hallowed by love are prostitution, whether sanctioned by the Church and society or not. Such unions cannot have other than a degrading influence both upon the morals and health of society.
The System Is to Blame
The system which forces women to sell their womanhood and independence to the highest bidder is a branch of the same evil system which gives to a few the right to live on the wealth produced by their fellow-men, 99 percent of whom must toil and slave early and late for barely enough to keep soul and body together, while the fruits of their labour are absorbed by a few idle vampires who are surrounded by every luxury wealth can purchase.
Look for a moment at two pictures of this nineteenth century social system.
Look at the homes of the wealthy, those magnificent palaces whose costly furnishings would put thousands of needy men and women in comfortable circumstances. Look at the dinner parties of these sons and daughters of wealth, a single course of which would feed hundreds of starving ones to whom a full meal of bread washed down by water is a luxury. Look upon these votaries of fashion as they spend their days devising new means of selfish enjoyment — theatres, balls, concerts, yachting, rushing from one part of the globe to another in their mad search for gaiety and pleasure. And then turn a moment and look at those who produce the wealth that pays for these excessive, unnatural enjoyments.
The Other Picture
Look at them herded together in dark, damp cellars, where they never get a breath of fresh air, clothed in rags, carrying their loads of misery from the cradle to the grave, their children running around the streets, naked, starved, without anyone to give them a loving word or tender care, growing up in ignorance and superstition, cursing the day of their birth.
Look at these two startling contrasts, you moralists and philanthropists, and tell me who is to be blamed for it! Those who are driven to prostitution, whether legal or otherwise, or those who drive their victims to such demoralisation?
The cause lies not in prostitution, but in society itself; in the system of inequality of private property and in the State and Church. In the system of legalized theft, murder and violation of the innocent women and helpless children.
The Cure for the Evil
Not until this monster is destroyed will we get rid of the disease which exists in the Senate and all public offices; in the houses of the rich as well as in the miserable barracks of the poor. Mankind must become conscious of their strength and capabilities, they must be free to commence a new life, a better and nobler life.
Prostitution will never be suppressed by the means employed by the Rev. Dr. Parkhurst and other reformers. It will exist as long as the system exists which breeds it.
When all these reformers unite their efforts with those who are striving to abolish the system which begets crime of every description and erect one which is based upon perfect equity — a system which guarantees every member, man, woman or child, the full fruits of their labour and a perfectly equal right to enjoy the gifts of nature and to attain the highest knowledge — woman will be self-supporting and independent. Her health no longer crushed by endless toil and slavery no longer will she be the victim of man, while man will no longer be possessed of unhealthy, unnatural passions and vices.
An Anarchist's Dream
Each will enter the marriage state with physical strength and moral confidence in each other. Each will love and esteem the other, and will help in working not only for their own welfare, but, being happy themselves, they will desire also the universal happiness of humanity. The offspring of such unions will be strong and healthy in mind and body and will honour and respect their parents, not because it is their duty to do so, but because the parents deserve it. They will be instructed and cared for by the whole community and will be free to follow their own inclinations, and there will be no necessity to teach them sycophancy and the base art of preying upon their fellow-beings. Their aim in life will be, not to obtain power over their brothers, but to win the respect and esteem of every member of the community.
Should the union of a man and woman prove unsatisfactory and distasteful to them they will in a quiet, friendly manner, separate and not debase the several relations of marriage by continuing an uncongenial union.
If, instead of persecuting the victims, the reformers of the day will unite their efforts to eradicate the cause, prostitution will no longer disgrace humanity.
To suppress one class and protect another is worse than folly. It is criminal. Do not turn away your heads, you moral man and woman.
Do not allow your prejudice to influence you: look at the question from an unbiased standpoint.
Instead of exerting your strength uselessly, join hands and assist to abolish the corrupt, diseased system.
If married life has not robbed you of honour and self-respect, if you have love for those you call your children, you must, for your own sake as well as theirs, seek emancipation and establish liberty. Then, and not until then, will the evils of matrimony cease.CHAPTER 2
WHAT IS THERE IN ANARCHY FOR WOMEN?
"What does anarchy hold out to me — a woman?"
"More to woman than to anyone else — everything which she has not — freedom and equality."
Quickly, earnestly Emma Goldman, the priestess of anarchy, exiled from Russia, feared by police, and now a guest of St. Louis Anarchists, gave this answer to my question.
I found her at No. 1722 Oregon avenue, an old-style two-story brick house, the home of a sympathizer — not a relative as has been stated.
I was received by a good-natured, portly German woman, and taken back to a typical German dining-room — everything clean and neat as soap and water could make them. After carefully dusting a chair for me with her apron, she took my name back to the bold little free-thinker. I was welcome. I found Emma Goldman sipping her coffee and partaking of bread and jelly, as her morning's repast. She was neatly clad in a percale shirt waist and skirt, with white collar and cuffs, her feet encased in a loose pair of cloth slippers. She doesn't look like a Russian Nihilist who will be sent to Siberia if she ever crosses the frontier of her native land.
"Do you believe in marriage?" I asked.
"I do not," answered the fair little Anarchist, as promptly as before. "I believe that when two people love each other that no judge, minister, or court, or body of people, have anything to do with it. They themselves are the ones to determine the relations which they shall hold with one another. When that relation becomes irksome to either party, or one of the parties, then it can be as quietly terminated as it was formed."
Miss Goldman gave a little nod of her head to emphasize her words, and quite a pretty head it was, crowned with soft brown hair, combed with a bang and brushed to one side. Her eyes are the honest blue, her complexion clear and white. Her nose though rather broad and of a Teutonic type, was well formed. She is short of stature, with a well-rounded figure. Her whole type is more German than Russian. The only serious physical failing that she has is in her eyes. She is so extremely nearsighted that with glasses she can scarcely distinguish print.
"The alliance should be formed," she continued, "not as it is now, to give the woman a support and home, but because the love is there, and that state of affairs can only be brought about by an internal revolution, in short, Anarchy."
She said this as calmly as though she had just expressed an ordinary everyday fact, but the glitter in her eyes showed the "internal revolutions" already at work in her busy brain.
"What does Anarchy promise woman?"
"It holds everything for woman — freedom, equality — everything that woman has not now."
"Isn't woman free?"
"Free! She is the slave of her husband and her children. She should take her part in the business world the same as the man; she should be his equal before the world, as she is in the reality. She is as capable as he, but when she labors she gets less wages. Why? Because she wears skirts instead of trousers."
"But what is to become of the ideal home life, and all that now surrounds the mother, according to a man's idea?"
"Ideal home life, indeed! The woman, instead of being the household queen, told about in story books, is the servant, the mistress, and the slave of both husband and children. She loses her own individuality entirely, even her name she is not allowed to keep. She is the mistress of John Brown or the mistress of Tom Jones; she is that and nothing else. That is the way I think of her."
Miss Goldman has a pleasant accent. She rolls her r's and changes her r's into v's and vice-versa, with a truly Russian pronunciation. She gesticulates a great deal. When she becomes exited her hands and feet and shoulders all help to illustrate her meanings.
"What would you do with the children of the Anarchistic era?"
"The children would be provided with common homes, big boarding schools, where they will be properly cared for and educated and in every way as good, and in most cases, better care than they would receive in their own homes. Very few mothers know how to take proper care of their children, anyway. It is a science only a very few have learned."
"But the women that desire a home life and the care of their own children, the domestic woman, what of her?"
"Oh, of course, the women that desire could keep their children home and confine themselves as strictly as domestic duties as they desired. But it would give those women who desire something broader, a chance to attain any height they desired. With no poor, and no capitalists, and one common purse, this earth will afford the heaven that the Christians are looking for in another world."
She gazed contemplatively in the bottom of the empty coffee cup, as though she saw in imagination the ideal State, already an actuality.
"Who will take care of the children?" I asked, breaking in upon her reverie.
"Every one," she answered, "has tastes and qualifications suiting them to some occupation. I am a trained nurse. I like to care of the sick. So it will be with some women. They will want to care for and teach the children."
"Won't the children lose their love for their parents and feel the lack of their companionship?" A thought of the affectionate little darlings being relegated to a sort of orphan asylum crossed my mind.
"The parents will have the same opportunities of gaining their confidences and affections as they have now. They can spend just as much time there as they please or have them with them just as often as desired. They will be the children of love — healthy, strong-minded — and not as now, in most cases, born of hate and domestic dissensions."
"What do you call love?"
"When a man or a woman finds some quality or qualities in another that they admire and has an overweening desire to please that person, even to the sacrificing of personal feeling; when there is that subtle something drawing them together, that those who love recognize, and feel it in the inmost fiber of their being, then I call that love." She finished speaking and her face was suffused with a rosy blush.
"Can a person love more than one at a time?"
"I don't see why not — if they find the same lovable qualities in several persons. What should prevent one loving the same things in all of them?"
"If we cease to love the man or woman and find some one else, as I said before, we talk it over and quietly change the mode of living. The private affairs of the family need not then be talked over in the courts and become public property. No one can control the affections, therefore there should be no jealousies.
"Heartaches? Oh, yes," she said, sadly, "but not hatred because he or she has tired of the relations. The human race will always have heartaches as long as the heart beats in the breast.
"My religion," she laughingly repeated. "I was of the Hebrew faith when a girl — you know I am a Jewess — but now I am an atheist. No one has been able to prove either the inspiration of the Bible or the existence of a God to my satisfaction. I believe in no hereafter except the hereafter that is found by the physical matter existing in the human body. I think that lives again in some other form, and I don't think that anything once created over is lost — it goes on and on in first one shape, then another. There is no such thing as a soul — it is all the physical matter."
Pretty Miss Goldman finished speaking, and a delicate flush mounted to her cheek as I asked her if she intended to marry.
"No; I don't believe in marriage for others, and I certainly should not preach one thing and practice another."
She sat in an easy attitude with one leg crossed over the other. She is in every sense a womanly looking woman, with masculine mind and courage.
She laughed as she said there were fifty police at her lecture on Wednesday night, and she added, "If there had been a bomb thrown I surely would have been blamed for it."
Excerpted from Anarchy and the Sex Question by Emma Goldman, Shawn P. Wilbur. Copyright © 2016 PM Press. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
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Table of Contents
Anarchy and the Sex Question,
What Is There in Anarchy for Women?,
The New Woman,
The Tragedy of Woman's Emancipation,
The White Slave Traffic,
Marriage and Love,
The Hypocrisy of Puritanism,
Mary Wollstonecraft, Her Tragic Life and Her Passionate Struggle for Freedom,
Jealousy: Causes and a Possible Cure,
Victims of Morality,
The Social Aspects of Birth Control,
Again the Birth Control Agitation,
The Woman Suffrage Chameleon,
Emma's Love Views,
Feminism's Fight Not Vain,
The Element of Sex in Life,