The stirring march of events shows that women will have to take many tasks for which men cannot much longer be spared.
Dr. S. Biesheuvel
IT must be clearly understood that what women actually are, and what they potentially could be, are two entirely different things. Human personality is not the inevitable fruit of certain predetermined tendencies, but the products of interaction between innate endowment and a social environment which moulds and transforms. That this social environment is vastly different for the two sexes need not be stressed. Almost from birth onwards the girl child is subjected to a set of influences different from those which are brought to bear on the boy. Each is given certain expectations in life, certain aims to be realized, certain patterns of conduct consistent with these aims.
If a boy falls and hurts himself he is told to be manly and not to cry. The virtues of courage, self-reliance and self-control are constantly held before him. He is told not to be a "sissy." That which is proper in a boy is, however, tom-boyish in a girl and, therefore, to be discouraged, lest the girl grow up to deviate from the feminine pattern. Whether one likes it or not, conventionally a woman's chief expectations in life are still marriage and the rearing of children. She is unlikely to achieve the former if she is matter-of-fact and too "masculine" in her inter ests and general demeanor. Hence, as a rule, a woman conforms, becoming what society wishes her to be.
It is the task of the psychologist to penetrate below the personality facade of the woman and to hunt out the human realities as they actually are. "Intelligence tests," which are designed to measure general ability only, have amply demonstrated that there are no differences whatever between men and women on this score. There are differences in special abilities, as vocational tests have shown, but they are by no means as large as is commonly believed. Thus, it is commonly believed that women are far better suited for literary abilities than for mathematics, and so one very rarely finds women as auditors or accountants. It is extremely doubtful whether mathematical ability is sex-linked. Because there are few openings for women with a specialist training in mathematics, because literary pursuits provide an outlet for emotional frustration common to women's Jives, and because the male world shows a marked solidarity against the woman's attempt to enter a domain where men at present enjoy a monopoly position, women's interests have not gone in mathematical directions.
The war, however, is cutting across numerous established practices, outworked conventions, and age-old vested interests. There is no reason why, knowing that the openings are now there, women should not deliberately cultivate an interest in figures, reinforced emotionally by the knowledge that this is an emergency situation. It can be confidently expected that within a short time their proficiency would not fall far below that of men. There must be many men in business who could be thus transferred, or women at a university who, knowing that the war is bound to be a long one, could take up accountancy as a career.
In industry it has been found possible to employ women as welders and mechanics. Once again change of interest, rather than change of nature, was all that was required. Women have shown themselves as capable as men in sports demanding delicate and quick eye-hand co-ordinations. Why should they be less capable of the various motor co-ordinations required for skilled mechanical tasks? It is true that women are not men's equals in physical strength; but this only affects their capacity for the momentary exercise of great strength, and as a rule we use either machinery or unskilled labor for this. As regards endurance, women are the equals of men, and they probably have enough to meet the requirements of most skilled trades.
Then there is the question of the suitability of women for commercial life, from an emotional point of view. I do not think there are any grounds for believing that women are temperamentally different from men. "They appear to be emotional for two reasons: because they never impose the same restraint on their emotions, the tender-hearted woman being a pleasing fiction of our social structure, and because of frustrations of their self-assertive impulses. Many men refuse to take women seriously, to argue with them, to meet them on equal ground. This compels women to use emotional weapons to gain their ends.
The Puritan husband went forth in the morning to do a man's work, leaving his wife to the tasks for which she was better fitted. In modern business, a man or a woman may be equally competent for the job which needs only head-work.
Further, women lack opportunities for objective external, achievement; their ego-impulses tend, therefore, to get bottled up. Once again, the war situation and the idea of service to the community would invest the taking up of a business career with a sufficient amount of emotional interest to make it suitable for women. In due course, by virtue of the fact that new horizons are opened and new interests created, these emotional needs would vanish in a sufficiently large number of women to meet the needs of commerce and industry.
There remains the question of a woman's ability to identify herself with the business in which she is employed. If women are clock workers, if they show no interest in anything related to the firm but their pay-checks, then that is largely because their opportunities to rise are limited and because they must give up their work on marriage. One does not bother to make a garden for a house one has rented for a year.
Business men must not expect a performance equal to that of their men from their women employees unless they grant them equal conditions, which include the right to get married without losing the job. The war has forced many issues into the limelight, and this is but one of them. We must choose between a business life gradually strangled by lack of man-power, or one which is kept at full strength by the liberal use of women as the equals of men, to whom reasonable facilities are given for childbearing. The thing is not impossible. It has been current practice in a number of European countries, notably Belgium. We may have to throw overboard some ancient prejudices. Our willingness to do so will be measure of our sincerity in pursuing the war with all the means in our power.
-Commercial Opinion, Cape. Town, South Africa,