Margaret Sanger, "Class and Character," Jul 1914.
Published article. Source: The Woman Rebel, Vol. 1, No. 5, July 1914, 36 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:550 .
We cannot free mankind from its present slavery nor build up a new society until there exist constructive character among the individuals who shall create that society.
It is seldom that character is associated with women; but always with men. A woman may be "sweet," "dainty," "good-hearted," "a good wife," "a good mother," and so forth, but seldom do they say that she is a woman of character.
There is no need to catalogue special mental or moral traits of the most value to womankind, but certain it is that there are deep-seated dispositions and inclinations which are essential in the mental make-up of those who set before themselves a high ideal in seeking to attain an individuality.
Every girl should aim to know herself; her desires; her inclinations; her weaknesses, and early in life decide what kind of character she would make of herself. She will find she has conflicting longings, both of a material and ideal kind, and it is well if she can experience and satisfy them as they come to her, especially, if they come strongly urged from within, for it is only by experience that she can know herself and discover what stands out strongest in her nature.
It is only after an accumulated number of varied experiences that she will be able to set herself a standard or an ideal to live up to. It is then the time to grasp every opportunity, to act upon emotional promptings which are in the direction of the ideal she aspires to reach.
Every girl is a magnet to attract or to be attracted. She is the strongest who attracts and draws to herself; who creates an atmosphere; who is free to express and give out those thoughts which "flash across the mind from within," all of which come through having a positive and creative character. A girl with such a personality is likely to draw negative characters to her -- persons who have no creative thoughts. Their tendency is to criticise and destroy any constructive idea she should express. She will at first have an instinctive antagonism to such persons. They sap, exhaust and take from her; they come to feed their egotistical natures upon her personality, to invade it, to use it or bend it for their own use. Her sympathies will often make her tolerant of such persons, and she overcomes her antagonism, but in the end they destroy her ideals, shatter her stability, and her individuality is weakened. It is not the one who comes in the garb of the enemy, who invades her; but the friend, the husband or the lover.
A girl is a law unto herself, in making herself into a well proportioned character. "Not a failure but a low aim, is crime," said Lowell. A girl should aim to make herself not a wife, or a housekeeper, or a business woman, or a mother, but a WOMAN, and develop her womanhood to its fullest capacity. Motherhood should not be the highest aim of a girl, for surely all animals may fulfill this function; rather let motherhood be one of the avenues through which the girl may pass in enriching her womanhood.
The blossom cannot tell what becomes of its odor, a girl cannot tell what becomes of her influence and example. The girl agitator seemingly has to fight not only the boss, but the shop mates as well, who do not stand with her but let her fight their battles alone. Yet there is always that something pouring out of our lives like heat from a flame or perfume from a flower, and just that something will take root in the minds of the others, which a year later will set the whole shop aflame with revolt. There are girls who exert an influence out of all proportion to their ability, just as there have been women in history whose power over men was beyond understanding. Some would have us think it was the power of sex, but I claim it was character, and a strongly conscious character. In all the paintings by the great masters, there is always a central figure or idea which stands out boldly, everything is subordinate to it and finds it significance in pointing it out; so character should be the dominant feature of every personality, and a girl's experiences are but to enrich and fortify it.
There is inherent in all human beings a desire, as insistent as that for food and drink, to live a high and noble life, doing good to our fellow creatures, together with a deep social love for all mankind. That this spirit of love and kindness has been seized upon by a few whose greed for power has turned mankind into classes of masters and slaves, no one who is awakened to the social and industrial conditions existing to-day can doubt. In the meanwhile, what chance has a girl who toils for bread, shelter, and a few covering rags, to develop her character? What kind of character should she build, under existing conditions? What should be her attitude toward society? How can she develop herself and at the same time help her class to free itself? These are the questions she will ask herself, and will continue to keep in mind.
Is it not insulting to the intelligence of the working class, who do all the drudgery, all the serving, all the toil; who make garments of warmth, comfort and beauty for others while they and theirs go in rags, and ugliness, who produce and make the choicest food, while they and theirs go hungry, and die by the thousands of diseases from starvation; to ask or expect them to look upon life from the same view point as the master class.
The test of civilization is not the size of its cities nor its marvelous inventions or discoveries, but the kind of men and women it develops. Certainly there is little manhood or womanhood in the slaves of any country who submit tamely to their fetters.
If we could infuse into our everyday work the sense of beauty, pleasure and harmony, we would soon grow from artisans into artists, but there is no choice to-day of the kind we would like to do or how it shall be done. It must be done quickly as an output; for the lords of industry have no souls for art, their natures are tainted with greed, love for humanity or its progress they have never felt. It is this survival of greed for power which the workers must defend themselves against if they would survive. To love your master allows him to turn that love into profits for himself; he profits and feeds upon all such qualities as meekness, kindness, unselfishness, humility, faithfulness, honesty, truthfulness. Revalue these attributes to fit your class interests, and you will hear the howl come from the moralists.
A revolution will be won or lost, not only by the spirit of the moment, but by the formation of the characters of revolutionists years before. "Men did what the gods forced them to do" was the idea which permeated Ancient Greece. Through this philosophy they became stagnant, atrophied, and sensuous. This same idea has to some extent influenced the world ever since. In Christian Europe it found its expression in the doctrine of predestination. Such a philosophy cuts the nerve of endeavor. Mankind rots and stagnates under it. There is the same tendency among us to-day in the revolutionary movement. We have come to think that men and women can have no development until the bread and butter question has been settled, whereas, the truth is, there is too much soul starvation among us and too little self-development along resisting class conscious lines.Emerson says every great woman is a compelled woman, what she did she did because she must, for she is compelled by something within her which he calls character. There must be something finer in her than anything she can say, for character is greater than any career.
The self-sacrifice of women, both primitive and civilized, has partly unfitted her for social organization of the world's work. She has at last evolved out of this state and has come to stay in her new attitude toward the world.
Keep the faculty of mental effect alive by exercise, and develop moral courage which gives one calm in storms and fearlessness under persecution.
The absolute consecration and devotion of self to the emancipation of her class is the secret of character building in a girl. It is such sublime living as shall stamp the features with the finest and rarest beauty. Without ideals there can be no beauty.
It is this struggle for the ideal, this fight which shall create a womanhood who shall not be content to die peacefully of old age by the fireside, but shall insist upon being ever present on the firing line as long as there exists a tyrant or a master to be overcome; a womanhood which shall be ready to battle, to keep her ideals and standards high, for which jails, and scaffolds shall have no terrors.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project