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 From the foregoing it appears that the face-to-face group (family-community) is a powerful habit-forming mechanism. The group has to provide a system of behavior for many persons at once, a code which applies to everybody and lasts longer than any individual or generation. Consequently the group has two interests in the individual,—to suppress wishes and activities which are in conflict with the existing organization, or which seem the starting point of social disharmony, and to encourage wishes and actions which are required by the existing social system. And if the group performs this task successfully, as it does among savages, among Mohammedans, and as it did until recently among European peasants, no appreciable change in the moral code or in the state of culture is observable from generation to generation. In small and isolated communities there is little tendency to change or progress because the new experience of the individual is sacrificed for the sake of the security of the group. But by a process, an evolution, connected with mechanical inventions, facilitated communication, the diffusion of print, the growth of cities, business organization, the capitalistic system, specialized occupations, scientific research, doctrines of freedom, the evolutionary view of life, etc., the family and community 71influences have been weakened and the world in general has been profoundly changed in content, ideals, and organization.
Young people leave home for larger opportunities, to seek new experience, and from necessity. Detachment from family and community, wandering, travel, “vagabondage” have assumed the character of normality. Relationships are casualized and specialized. Men meet professionally, as promoters of enterprises, not as members of families, communities, churches. Girls leave home to work in factories, stores, offices, and studios. Even when families are not separated they leave home for their work.
Every new invention, every chance acquaintanceship, every new environment, has the possibility of redefining the situation and of introducing change, disorganization or different type of organization into the life of the individual or even of the whole world. Thus, the invention of the check led to forgery; the sulphur match to arson; at present the automobile is perhaps connected with more seductions than happen otherwise in cities altogether; an assassination precipitated the World War; motion pictures and the Saturday Evening Post have stabilized and unstabilized many existences, considered merely as opportunity for new types of career. The costly and luxurious articles of women’s wear organize the lives of many girls (as designers, artists, and buyers) and disorganize the lives of many who crave these pretty things.
In the small and spatially isolated communities of the past, where the influences were strong and steady, the members became more or less habituated to and reconciled with a life of repressed wishes. The repression was demanded of all, the arrangement was 72equitable, and while certain new experiences were prohibited, and pleasure not countenanced as an end in itself, there remained satisfactions, not the least of which was the suppression of the wishes of others. On the other hand the modern world presents itself as a spectacle in which the observer is never sufficiently participating. The modern revolt and unrest are due to the contrast between the paucity of fulfillment of the wishes of the individual and the fullness, or apparent fullness, of life around him. All age levels have been affected by the feeling that much, too much, is being missed in life. This unrest is felt most by those who have heretofore been most excluded from general participation in life,—the mature woman and the young girl. Sometimes it expresses itself in despair and depression, sometimes in breaking all bounds. Immigrants form a particular class in this respect. They sometimes repudiate the old system completely in their haste to get into the new. There are cases where the behavior of immigrants, expressing natural but random and unregulated impulses, has been called insane by our courts.
Case No. 37 represents despair, case No. 38 revolt, Nos. 39 and 40 extraordinarily wild behavior.
37. There is a saying about the peacock, “When she looks at her feathers she laughs, and when she looks at her feet she cries.” I am in the same situation.
My husband’s career, upon which I spent the best years of my life, is established favorably; our children are a joy to me as a mother; nor can I complain about our material circumstances. But I am dissatisfied with myself. My love for my children, be it ever so great, cannot destroy myself. A human being is not created like a bee which dies after accomplishing its only task.
73Desires, long latent, have been aroused in me and become more aggressive the more obstacles they encounter.... I now have the desire to go about and see and hear everything. I wish to take part in everything—to dance, skate, play the piano, sing, go to the theatre, opera, lectures and generally mingle in society. As you see, I am no idler whose purpose is to chase all sorts of foolish things, as a result of loose ways. This is not the case.
My present unrest is a natural result following a long period of hunger and thirst for non-satisfied desires in every field of human experience. It is the dread of losing that which never can be recovered—youth and time which do not stand still—an impulse to catch up with the things I have missed.... If it were not for my maternal feeling I would go away into the wide world.[39]
38. I had been looking for Margaret, for I knew she was a striking instance of the “unadjusted” who had within a year come with a kind of ?sthetic logic to Greenwich Village. She needed something very badly. What I heard about her which excited me was that she was twenty years old, unmarried, had never lived with a man or had any of that experience, had worked for a year on a socialist newspaper, and a socialist magazine, was a heavy drinker and a frequenter of Hell Hole, that she came from a middle class family but preferred the society of the outcasts to any other. Greenwich Village is not composed of outcasts, but it does not reject them, and it enables a man or woman who desires to know the outcast to satisfy the desire without feeling cut off from humanity. Hell Hole is a saloon in the back room of which pickpockets, grafters, philosophers, poets, revolutionists, stool-pigeons, and the riff-raff of humanity meet. Margaret loves this place and the people in it—so they told me—and there she did and said extreme things in which there was a bitter fling at decent society.
So that night, when she came with Christine, I invited 74her to go with me to Hell Hole to have a drink. She drank whiskey after whiskey and showed no effect. As soon as we were seated in the back room alone she started to tell me about herself. I forget what unessential thing I said to get her started. She knew by instinct what I desired and she told me her story with utter frankness, and with a simple, unaggressive self-respect.
“I belong to what is called a respectable, middle-class family. My father is a prominent newspaper man. Whenever I was ill, as a child, he gave me whiskey instead of medicine. This began at the age of four. One of my childish amusements was to mix cordials and water to entertain my little friends with. We lived in the city, and I had from four years of age the run of the streets. At six or eight I knew everything—about sex, about hard street life. I knew it wrong, of course, for I saw it but did not feel it. I felt wrong about it all, and feared it, wasn’t a part of it, except as an observer. I saw no beauty or friendliness in sex feeling. I think it was this that kept me away later from physical intimacy with men; it couldn’t appeal to me after my early life in the street. I know it doesn’t always happen so, but it did with me.
“When I got to be thirteen years old my father reversed his attitude towards me; before then, all freedom; after that, all restraint. I was completely shut in. Soon after that I became religious and joined the church. I had a long pious correspondence with another girl and used to brood all the time about God and about my transcendental duties. This lasted till I was sixteen, and then life, ordinary external life, came back with a rush and I couldn’t stand my exclusive inner world and the outward restraint any longer, and I wanted to go away from home. So I worked hard in the High School and got a $300 scholarship in Latin and Greek. With this I went to a Western College and stayed there two years, working my own way and paying my expenses. I read a lot at this time, and liked revolutionary literature; read socialism, and poetry that was full of revolt. 75I took to anything which expressed a reaction against the conditions of my life at home.
“I stood well in my studies, and suppose I might have completed the college course, except that I got into trouble with the authorities, for very slight reasons, as it seems to me. I smoked cigarettes, a habit I had formed as a child, and that of course was forbidden. It was also forbidden to enter the neighboring cemetery, I don’t know why. One day I smoked a cigarette in the graveyard—a double offense—and then, in the playfulness of my spirit, I wrote a poem about it and published it in the college paper. In this paper I had already satirized the Y. W. C. A. A few other acts of that nature made me an undesirable member of the college and my connection with it ceased.
“After an unhappy time at home—my father and I could not get on together; ever since my early childhood he had been trying to ‘reform’ me—I got a job on the socialist Call, a New York daily newspaper, at $—— a week. It was hard work all day, but I liked it and I didn’t drink—I didn’t want to—and lived on the money without borrowing. Later I went on the Masses, and there I was well off. [Then I went to Washington to picket for the suffragists and got a jail sentence, and when I returned the Masses had been suspended.] It was at that time that I began to go with the Hudson Dusters [a gang of criminals] and to drink heavily. Greenwich Village seemed to think it was too good for me, or I too bad for it. Most of the women were afraid to associate with me. Only the Hudson Dusters, or people like them, seemed really human to me. I went, in a kind of despair, to the water-front, and staid three days and nights in the back room of a low saloon, where there were several old prostitutes. And I liked them. They seemed human, more so than other people. And in this place were working men. One man, with a wife and children, noticed I was going there and didn’t seem to belong to them, and he asked me to go home with him and live with his family; and he meant it, and meant it decently.
76“I want to know the down and outs,” said Margaret with quiet, almost fanatical intenseness. “I find kindness in the lowest places, and more than kindness sometimes—something, I don’t know what it is, that I want.”[40]
39. There came a day when my wife heard that there was an Atlantic City not far from Philadelphia. So I granted her wish and rented a nice room for her in a hotel there and sent her with the two children to that seashore....
The next summer I did not make out so well and could not afford to send my wife to the country, but she absolutely demanded to be sent even if I had to “hang and bring.” ... My protestations and explanations were of no avail. She went to Atlantic City and hired a room in the same hotel....
I took my wife’s behavior to heart and became ill. Some of my friends advised me to teach her a lesson and desert her, so that she would mend her ways in the future. They assured me that they would take care of my family, to keep them from starving. I was persuaded by them and left Philadelphia for a distant town.
My wife in Atlantic City, seeing that I sent her no money, returned home. Upon learning what had happened, she promptly sold the furniture, which had cost $800, for almost nothing and went to New York. My friends notified me of all that had occurred in my absence, whereupon I came back.
I advertised in the papers and found my wife. My first question was about the children and she replied she did not know where they were. Upon further questioning she answered that she had brought the children with her from Philadelphia but as she could do nothing with them in her way she simply left them in the street.
After great efforts made through my lawyer, I succeeded in obtaining the release of my children from the Gerry Society, after paying for their two months’ keep there....
Since this unhappy occurrence, my wife has many times wrecked our home, selling the household goods while I was 77at work and leaving me alone with the children. Whenever she feels like satisfying her cravings, or whenever she cannot afford to buy herself enough pretty clothes and hats, she deserts me. One time she was gone 9 months and never saw the children during this period....
I tried to make up with her every time and give her another chance. But her cordiality lasted only until she again took a craving for some rag, when she would again leave home. She was even mean enough once to leave me with a five months’ old baby who needed nursing and the only way out seemed to be the river for me and the baby....
I assure you that everything I have written is the truth. If you do not believe me, you may convince yourself at the Desertion Bureau where my case has been recorded several times.[41]
40. ... She was one of the thousands of girls who are drawn to the great city from small towns. She perished because of her thirst for adventure.... While stopping at the Hotel Buckingham she went out one evening and never returned. A chauffeur told the police that he met the girl on the evening of her death and that she had been on a tour of the cafés and cabarets with him and that at 2 o’clock in the morning Miss Dixon became ill. She was taken to the Harlem Hospital, where her case was diagnosed as morphine poisoning....
She came of a fine Virginia family and was educated at a fashionable boarding school. Four years ago she was married to a Yale graduate. [A friend] who had known her all her life said, “She had just gone mad with love of pleasure, though at heart she was a thoroughbred and exceedingly fine. She decided to make her own living and took a small part in a couple of shows. The discipline and routine were too much for her and she gave it up and went back to [her husband] from time to time. But always the lure of New York seemed to hold her in a spell.”[42]
78The world has become large, alluring, and confusing. Social evolution has been so rapid that no agency has been developed in the larger community of the state for regulating behavior which would replace the failing influence of the community and correspond completely with present activities. There is no universally accepted body of doctrines or practices. The churchman, for example, and the scientist, educator, or radical leader are so far apart that they cannot talk together. They are, as the Greeks expressed it, in different “universes of discourse.”
41. Dr. Austin O’Malley writes rather passionately about the control of births, in the Catholic weekly, “America.” Says Dr. O’Malley: “The most helpless idiot is as far above a non-existent child as St. Bridget is above a committee on birth control.” Let us pause over the idiot and the non-existent child. Must we say that all potential children should be born? Are we to take a firm stand against celibacy, which denies to so many possible children the right to be baptized? And will Dr. O’Malley tell us which is the greater virtue, to bear children that they may be baptized, or to have no children for the glory of one’s own soul? This solicitude over the non-existent child has certain drawbacks. How large a family, in fact, does Dr. O’Malley desire a woman to bear? May she stop after the fourteenth infant, or must she say to herself: “There are still non-existent children, some of them helpless idiots; perhaps I will bear them that they may be baptized.”[43]
Or, if we should submit any series of behavior problems to a set of men selected as most competent to give an opinion we should find no such unanimity as prevailed in a village community. One set of opinions would be rigoristic and hold that conformity with 79the existing code is advisable under all circumstances; another pragmatic, holding that the code may sometimes be violated. For example, in 1919, the United States Interdepartmental Social Hygiene Board authorized the Psychological Laboratory of the Johns Hopkins University to make an investigation of the “informational and educative effect upon the public of certain motion-picture films”, and in this connection a questionnaire was sent to “medical men and women who have had most to do with problems in sex education and the actual treatment of venereal infections.” From the manuscript of this investigation I give below some of the replies received to question 13.
42. Question 13. Do you consider that absolute continence is always to be insisted upon? Or may it be taught that under certain conditions intercourse in the unmarried is harmless or beneficial?
Dr. A. I know of no harm from absolute continence. Intercourse in the unmarried cannot be justified on any grounds of health or morals.
Dr. B. No. For some absolute continence would be easy, for others, impossible. It is an individual problem to be decided by the individual, with or without advice.
Under certain conditions in the unmarried, male or female, intercourse is harmless or beneficial; under other conditions it is harmful and injurious (irrespective of venereal disease).
Dr. C. I think it is harmless and beneficial. But our standards are against it. And who could possibly conscientiously teach such a thing, no matter what he thought?
Dr. D. Certainly not. It is probably well to teach young people that continence before marriage is in general very desirable, as contrasted with the results of incontinence.
Dr. E. It is best to teach conformity to custom.
80Dr. F. Absolute continence should always be insisted upon.
Dr. G. I know of no condition where one is justified in advising the unmarried that intercourse is harmless or beneficial.
Dr. H. Absolute continence.
Dr. I. No. [Continence is not always to be insisted upon.]
Dr. J. The first should not be insisted on any more than the latter should be recommended....
Dr. K. The latter may be taught.
Dr. L. Not convinced either way.
Dr. M. Absolute continence should be preached as a doctrine to the unmarried, and let the individual adjust himself to this stern law according to his lights.[44]
Fifty-one replies were received to this question. Twenty-four were, in substance, “not permissible”; fifteen, “permissible”; four, “in doubt”; eight were indefinite, as, for example: “Adults will probably decide this for themselves.”
As another example of a general defining agency, the legal system of the state does not pretend to be more than a partial set of negative definitions. An English jurist has thus described the scope of the law: “If A is drowning and if B is present, and if B by reaching out his hand can save A, and if B does not do this, and if A drowns, then B has committed no offense.” All that the law requires of B is that he shall not push A into the water. The law is not only far from being a system capable of regulating the total life of men, but it does not even regulate the activities it is designed to regulate.
8143. A misdemeanor may be much more heinous than a felony. The adulterator of drugs or the employer of child labor may well be regarded as vastly more reprehensible than the tramp who steals part of the family wash. So far as that goes there is an alarming multitude of acts and omissions not forbidden by statute or classified as crimes which are to all intents ... fully as criminal as those designated as such by law.... For example, to push a blind man over the edge of the cliff so that he is killed ... is murder, but to permit him to walk over it is no crime at all. It is a crime to defame the character of a woman if you write on a slip of paper, but no crime at all in the state of New York if you rise in a crowded hall and ruin her forever by word of mouth. It is a crime to steal a banana off a fruit stand, but no crime at all to borrow ten thousand dollars from a man whose entire fortune it is, although you have no expectation of returning it.... It is a crime to ruin a girl of 17 years and 11 months, but not to ruin a girl of 18.... Lying is not a crime, but lying under oath is a crime, provided it relates to a material matter, and what is a material matter jurists do not agree on.... Many criminals, even guilty of homicide, are as white as snow in comparison with others who have never transgressed the literal wording of the penal statute. “We used to have so and so for our lawyer,” remarked the president of a street-railway corporation. “He was always telling us what we couldn’t do. Now we have Blank and pay him $100,000 a year to tell us how we can do the same things.”[45]
The definition of the situation is equivalent to the determination of the vague. In the Russian mir and the American rural community of fifty years ago nothing was left vague, all was defined. But in the general world movement to which I have referred, connected with free communication in space and free 82communication of thought, not only particular situations but the most general situations have become vague. Some situations were once defined and have become vague again; some have arisen and have never been defined. Whether this country shall participate in world politics, whether America is a refuge for the oppressed of other nationalities, whether the English should occupy India or the Belgians Africa, whether there shall be Sunday amusements, whether the history of the world is the unfolding of the will of God, whether men may drink wine, whether evolution may be taught in schools, whether marriage is indissoluble, whether sex life outside of marriage is permissible, whether children should be taught the facts of sex, whether the number of children born may be voluntarily limited,—these questions have become vague. There are rival definitions of the situation, and none of them is binding.
In addition to the vagueness about these general questions there is an indeterminateness about particular acts and individual life-policies. It appears that the behavior of the young girl is influenced partly by the traditional code, partly by undesigned definitions of the situation derived from those incidents in the passing show of the greater world which suggest to her pleasure and recognition. If any standard prevails or characterizes a distinguished social set this is in itself a definition of the situation. Thus in a city the shop windows, the costumes worn on the streets, the newspaper advertisements of ladies’ wear, the news items concerning objects of luxury define a proper girl as one neatly, fashionably, beautifully, and expensively gowned, and the behavior of the girl is an adaptation to this standard.
8344. Supreme Court Justice Tierney remarked in the course of a trial between two women over the purchase of silk lingerie and paradise feathers yesterday, “The workings of the feminine mind are beyond me.”...
The articles which Mrs. Small admits buying and the prices asked by Mme. Nicole are as follows:
Six suits of silk underwear, $780; six suits linen underwear, $780; six pairs silk stockings, $180; paradise feathers for fan, $1,480; handle for fan, $720.[46]
45. ... My sweetheart remarked that she would like to have a great deal of money. When I asked her what she would do with it, she replied that she would buy herself a lot of beautiful dresses. When I said that it was all right to have them but it ought to be all right without them too, she protested that she loved fine clothes and this to such extent, that—
Here she made a remark which I am ashamed to let pass my lips. I would sooner have welcomed an open grave than to have heard those words. She said that she would sell her body for a time in order to procure nice clothes for herself.
And since that day I go around like a mad person. I neither eat nor sleep. In short, I am no more a man.
She afterward excused herself, claiming that it was said in a joke, and that as long as one talks without actually doing it there is no harm in it. But this is not reassuring to me. I have a premonition that she would go further than mere talk after marriage, for if she carries such notions in her head now, what might happen after we are married.[47]
Intermediate between the home and work (or the school) there are certain organized influences for giving pleasure and information—the motion picture, the newspaper, the light periodical—which define the situation in equivocal terms. They enter the home and are dependent upon its approval, and are therefore 84obliged to present life in episodes which depict the triumph of virtue. But if they limited themselves to this they would be dull. The spectacle therefore contains a large and alluring element of sin over which virtue eventually triumphs. The moral element is preserved nominally but the real interest and substance is something else.
46. A young girl may be taught at home and church that chastity is a virtue, but the newspapers and the movies feature women in trouble along this line, now painting them as heroines, now sobbing over their mystery and pathos. Apparently they ............
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