Hello, women and women-lovers! It’s been 2018 for two-and-a-half months now. Feminism in North America seems to be enjoying an all-time high (#metoo, #timesup) and an all-time low (#POTUSisamisogynistharrasshole) (yep, just coined the term “harrasshole” this moment, you’re welcome) simultaneously. How confusing and invigorating for us all!
For those times when you feel like we still have one foot (plus maybe several more toes) in the Dark Ages, here is a whimsical glimpse into the true horror of the status of women on this continent less than a century ago.
(My brother found this gem, from the Montreal Standard dated December 5th, 1931, insulating someone’s wall on a renovation. Which is clearly where it belonged, barricaded into invisibility and pocked with rusty nail-holes.)
Wait, WOMAN is the loser? Are you SURE, Ursula Parrott? Well, yes, in fact. She is very sure. (I don’t know about the illustrator, though. That dude looks pretty self-satisfied in his fancy vest and checkered napkin… But there is something wistful, maybe even melancholy, about those ladies staring into space. Are those his wives? A wife and a mistress, forced to have tea together? Or are they spinsters upon whom he charitably bestows his company? Cat + knitting would suggest spinsters. Plus the article does not mention polygamy.)
The writer of the article, Lillian G. Genn, gives us a frank intro:
Spinsters of yesteryear have always appeared to us as sad, pathetic creatures who could only view life from a shelf. Given the chance, there wasn’t one who would not be glad to exchange places with the footloose, heartloose bachelor women of today who are free to stray in green pastures with the men. In fact, there are many who believe they enjoy life more than those who have followed the connubial path and are hemmed in by its responsibilities.
By contrast, here is the wisdom of Ursula Parrott, herself, minus the parts of the paper that had been lost to the ravages of time. (I’ve also included a few comments from the Dilovely peanut gallery. Which is me. And I’m colouring those comments teal for your reading pleasure.)
“The spinster woman was at least allowed the comfort of growing old. But the woman today must strive to keep herself young. She is constantly in competition with younger women, whether it is for jobs or for social favors. She can’t afford to let her waistline go or the wrinkles come, or she will be hopelessly out of everything.” [Huh. Sadly, I’d say that this is still true – the expectation of youth is there, the fear of aging is there, whether you’re married or not.]
“Woman’s primary need is for stability and permanency. The lives of the unattached women are in an emotional turmoil because they have not found this satisfaction. The future that faces them is more insecure and uncertain than it was for the spinster who had the family behind her.” [Don’t dudes want stability and permanency? I know a few who do, but back in the Great Depression, perhaps stability was a fetter to the dashing young men waiting in pogey lines.]
“The fact that the young woman of former days had her life charted for her and she knew what her place was, whether as spinster or wife, gave her some distinct advantages. When a man showed an interest in her she knew that his intentions were definitely matrimonial. [Since she couldn’t possibly just be interesting.] Once married, she devoted herself to her husband and children. There was little else for her to worry about. [Except the zero choices available to wives of the patriarchy.] No matter what adventures her husband had on the outside […] was to protect her.” [Ah, the good old days when a man’s adventures were nobody’s business but his.]
Something about how bachelor women want nothing but [***] to live life to the hilt, regardless of the cost. To them any path is better than the conventional one. They derive no pleasure in being faithful to one man. [Maybe that depends on whether the man himself is pleasant.]
“But this type of woman is in the minority. Most women, after a romance or two and a job or two, want the stability and security that marriage gives. They still regard the wedding ring as the grand prize of life. Temperamentally they are more adapted to the role of wife and mother than for anything else.” [And here my mind goes straight to those times when I am temperamentally not so great at my mother role. Like when I yell at my kids. I am clearly an adaptational disappointment.]
“If a woman is sure that what she wants is marriage, it is foolish for her to experiment. She should wait for a husband and not take risks. Of course, what has complicated the situation is that economic conditions are forcing men to defer marriage until after 30. A girl, after waiting a while, begins to feel that she had better take what she can until she can get what she wants. [Could this be a veiled reference to the fact that women actually have their very own sex drives?] Since people are more tolerant about pre-marital affairs, there is nothing to prevent her from indulging in one. In some instances she may soon terminate the affair. But what if she finds that she has become emotionally dependent upon him? She waits from year to year with vague hopes that it may culminate in wedlock.
“Finally she finds that all she is left with is the freedom to experiment again. But now she hasn’t the freshness nor the confidence. It is possible, too, that by that time her contemporaries have married and her best chances for marriage have gone. [Ack. So many ways to keep a woman down by demanding FRESHNESS.]
“A woman’s love is deeper and it lasts longer. When she says ‘I will love you forever,’ she means forever. When a man says it, he generally means it for the time being. [It is important when you engage in any relationship with a man to understand that it is his prerogative to change word meanings and generally make shit up, like he’s playing Balderdash.] That is an important reason why woman should not try to play a man’s game. She hasn’t the emotions for it. [Balderdash does make me cry sometimes.] She can’t shift easily from one affair to another. Intellectually she may be very modern. Her principles may be modern. But her instincts are the same as they always were. She can’t modernize them.”
Here, Miss Parrott pointed out, is cause for conflict. For the modern man, finding women his comrades and playmates and coworkers, has become less interested in marriage. He doesn’t have to lead a girl to the altar to have her companionship. He can date up girls of social equality and is free to leave them whenever he pleases. [Ha! If he can ever find this mythical woman of social equality.]
“Why should he marry,” the novelist observed, “when woman has nothing to sell in the marriage market but what she has already freely bestowed? What is his gain? [The knowledge that he has tamed one wild freewheeling spinster?] Consequently, woman, because she cannot play a man’s game without getting her emotions hard hit, now finds that her new freedom has only given her the hot end of the poker. [Hard-hitting metaphor, Ms. Novelist, combining the Hearth and the Sex in one!]
“If men were as modern in their principles as women; if, too, they were trained to the idea that feminine independence does not free them of their responsibilities in life, then the equality for which women fought would have gained them some advantages. [Aha. So Ursula does have some ambitions for feminism…]
“But even at that, we cannot get away from the fact that true equality between man and woman is impossible. Each is a totally different human being, with different desires, ambitions and needs. It is ridiculous, therefore, for women to strive for equality. The phrase has no more meaning that the old question: ‘Are women inferior or superior to men?’ [Oh dear, I spoke too soon. Could it be that our Ursula has reason to be jaded? (Yes it could. Read on to find out!)]
“The woman who wants to be treated as an equal is, in reality, declaring to men: ‘Do not be chivalrous to me. Do not remember that I am emotionally more intense than you. Treat me as though I were a man.’ But woman at heart does not want to be treated as a man. She is hurt when any man takes up the idea literally. What is more, to insist on identity is to ignore the biological and psychic facts. A woman may have as good a mind as a man, but it is a different kind of mind. Her values in life are different. She will, for example, always be more interested in the appearance of her dinner table than in politics.
[Currently analyzing Dilovely’s womanliness based on appearance of dining table. Outlook is not good, people.]
“However, the banner of equality having been raised, the modern woman must carry on, regardless of how she feels about it. She already knows that many of the things which the feminists once thought would be for woman’s good have proved to be boomerangs. But she cannot retreat. The conditions of life have changed too much. [Curious about these boomerangs! What were they in 1931?]
“Meanwhile, men, having found equality to their advantage, are making the most of it. They would be foolish if they didn’t. Perhaps they have lost their feeling of importance and strength in this world, but, freed from responsibilities and restraints, they are finding life easier. There is little today that they owe a woman. [And we want to be OWED, dammit!] It isn’t any wonder that more and more men are flocking to the banner of equality.”
The question was raised here that if women covet matrimony more than anything else and they want its security, why do so many of them rush into divorce? Why the sad wails from wives?
“There are several reasons,” Miss Parrott replied. “For one thing, women are more restless today. More impatient. Then, too, marriage, like everything else, has fallen into a chaos of experimentation. If it doesn’t suit, take a chance and try another. Don’t narrow your life by devoting yourself to one person. And so, restlessly, women go from one marriage to another without any definite idea as to what they want. It is, of course, typical of human nature not to be content with what we have….’ [It is worth mentioning at this point that Ms. Parrott was, in December 1931, on her second marriage.]
[…] as soon as he has her, he will turn to someone else. [I don’t like the look of this half-sentence. Is she saying that the husband is bound to stray? Probably those effing instincts again.] The same is true of the woman. When the wedding is over, she slumps down on the job of trying to hold her husband. She becomes careless of her appearance and sits around the house in a sloppy fashion. [OMG she’s right. I am totally doing this RIGHT NOW.] She doesn’t bother to listen to his jokes. She either loses him because of her indifference or she leaves him because she believes someone else is more desirable and will do more for her. [Which one befell Ursula??]
“Formerly a woman couldn’t walk out on her husband. Not only because she would lose caste, but because she was so tied down with responsibilities to her family and her home. It is certainly easier for a woman to leave a two-room apartment, with possibly only one child, than the old kind of homestead upon which she was economically dependent.
“The result is that women get divorces for the most trivial of reasons. They forget how much they still have to gain from marriage; they forget that it is easier to get a man’s breakfast than it is to support themselves. They forget that it is easier to spend his money than to earn their own; they forget that marriage offers security and comfort in middle age. They are really perfectly mad to procure a divorce before they have done their utmost to make a go of the relationship. [Nothing I can say will improve gorgeously awful bluntness of that one.]
“The pathetic part of it is that so many women actually do regret the haste with which they broke up their marriages. And, if it happens that they do not marry again, they spend the rest of their lives regretting their action. At least, when a man has taken a step that he regrets, he philosophically puts it out of his mind. But not a woman. She will dwell on that regret to her last day. Her freedom to experiment with love and marital affairs seems to give her cause for one regret after another.” [Good thing our Ursula managed to avoid this by securing herself another marriage. Or did she??]
- that she was the author of nine novels and stories that were made into movies during Hollywood’s golden age;
- that she made between $8 and $10 million (in today’s dollars) with her writing;
- that her first book, “The Ex-Wife,” was based on her personal experiences after the end of her first marriage;
- that she was married and divorced four times in total, and had one son;
- and that she died of cancer at the age of 57 or 58, single and apparently in poverty.
So when this article was written, she was already a successful author, but would become much more so – and her love life would also greatly increase in complexity.
How tragic that this outspoken and talented woman, who believed herself biologically needful of stability and permanency, experienced very little of such things in life.
My conclusion is that being a woman in the 1930s must have been full of swift social changes, frustrating and confusing contradictions, and the mistreatment, misogyny, and double-standards that we still struggle with today.
Hats off to your success, Ursula, and deepest condolences for your demise.
And yay 2018! Things could be so much worse!