Leo Tolstoy’s Appeal to Women

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Food for Thought! sent by Visakha Priya dasi: Leo Tolstoy’s Appeal to Women

As stated in the Bible, a law was given to the man and the woman-to the man,
the law of labor; to the woman, the law of bearing children. Although we,
with our science, avons change tout ca, [have changed all this], the law for
the man, as for woman, remains as unalterable as the liver in its place, and
departure from it is equally punished with inevitable death. The only
difference lies in this, that departure from the law, in the case of the
man, is punished so immediately in the future, that it
may be designated as present punishment; but departure from the law, in the
case of the woman, receives its chastisement in a more distant future.
The general departure of all men from the law exterminates people
immediately; the departure from it of all women annihilates it in the
succeeding generation. But the evasion by some men and some women does not
exterminate the human race, and only deprives those who evade it of the
rational nature of man. The departure of men from this law began long ago,
among those classes who were in a position to subject others, and,
constantly spreading, it has continued down to our own times; and in our own
day it has reached folly, the ideal consisting in evasion of the law,–the
ideal expressed by Prince Blokhin, and shared in by Renan and by the whole
cultivated world: “Machines will work, and people will be bundles of nerves
devoted to enjoyment.”
There was hardly any departure from the law in the part of women, it was
expressed only in prostitution, and in the refusal to bear children–in
private cases. The women belonging to the wealthy classes fulfilled their
law, while the men did not comply with theirs; and therefore the women
became stronger, and continued to rule, and must rule, over men who have
evaded the law, and who have, therefore, lost their senses. It is generally
stated that woman (the woman of Paris in particular is childless) has become
so bewitching, through making use of all the means of civilization, that she
has gained the upper hand over man by this fascination of hers. This
[statement] is
not only unjust, but precisely the reverse of the truth. It is not the
childless woman who has conquered man, but the mother, that woman who has
fulfilled her law, while the man has not fulfilled his. That woman who
deliberately remains childless, and who entrances man with her shoulders and
her locks, is not the woman who rules over men, but the one who has been
corrupted by man, who has descended to his
level,–to the level of the vicious man,–who has evaded the law equally
with himself, and who has lost, in company with him, every rational idea of
life.
From this error springs that remarkable piece of stupidity which is called
the rights of women. The formula of these rights of women is as follows:
“Here! you man,” says the woman, “you have departed from your law of real
labor, and you want us to bear the burden of our real labor. No, if this is
to be so, we understand, as well as you
do, how to perform those semblances of labor which you exercise in banks,
ministries, universities, and academies; we desire, like yourselves, under
the pretext of the division of labor, to make use of the labor of others,
and to live for the gratification of our caprices alone.” They say this, and
prove by their action that they understand no worse, if not better, than
men, how to exercise this semblance of labor.
This so-called woman question has come up, and could only come up, among men
who have departed from the law of actual labor. All that is required is, to
return to that, and this question cannot exist. Woman, having her own
inevitable task, will never demand the right to share the toil of men in the
mines and in the fields. She could only demand to share in the fictitious
labors of the men of the wealthy classes.
The woman of our circle has been, and still is, stronger than the man, not
by virtue of her fascinations, not through her cleverness in performing the
same pharisaical semblance of work as man, but because she has not stepped
out from under the law that she should undergo that real labor, with danger
to her life, with exertion to the last
degree, from which the man of the wealthy classes has excused herself.
But, within my memory, a departure from this law on the part of woman, that
is to say, her fall, has begun; and, within my memory, it has become more
and more the case. Woman, having lost the law, has acquired the belief that
her strength lies in the witchery of her charms, or in her skill in
pharisaical pretences at intellectual work. And both things are bad for the
children. And, within my memory, women of the wealthy classes have come to
refuse to bear children. And so mothers who hold the power in their hands
let it escape them, in order to make way for the dissolute women, and to put
themselves on a level with them. The evil is already wide-spread, and is
extending farther and farther every day; and soon it will lay hold on all
the women of the wealthy classes, and then they will compare themselves with
men: and in company with them, they will lose the rational meaning of life.
But there is still time.
If women would but comprehend their destiny, their power, and use it for the
salvation of their husbands, brothers, and children,–for the salvation of
all men!
Women of the wealthy classes who are mothers, the salvation of the men of
our world from the evils from which they are suffering, lies in your hands.
Not those women who are occupied with their dainty figures, with their
bustles, their hair-dressing, and their attraction for men, and who bear
children against their will, with despair, and hand them over to nurses; nor
those who attend various courses of lectures, and discourse of psychometric
centres and differentiation, and who also
endeavor to escape bearing children, in order that it may not interfere with
their folly which they call culture: but those women and mothers, who,
possessing the power to refuse to bear children, consciously and in a
straightforward way submit to this eternal, unchangeable law, knowing that
the burden and the difficulty of such
submission is their appointed lot in life,–these are the women and mothers
of our wealthy classes, in whose hands, more than in those of anyone else,
lies the salvation of the men of our sphere in society from the miseries
that oppress them.
Ye women and mothers who deliberately submit yourselves to the law of God,
you alone in our wretched, deformed circle, which has lost the semblance of
humanity, you alone know the whole of the real meaning of life, according to
the law of God; and you alone, by your example, can demonstrate to people
that happiness in life, in submission to the will of God, of which they are
depriving themselves. You alone
know those raptures and those joys which invade the whole being, that bliss
which is appointed for the man who does not depart from the law of God. You
know the happiness of love for your husbands,–a happiness which does not
come to an end, which does not break off short, like all other forms of
happiness, and which constitutes the beginning of a new happiness,–of love
for your child. You alone,
when you are simple and obedient to the will of God, know not that farcical
pretence of labor which the men of our circle call work, and know that the
labor imposed by God on men, and know its true rewards, the bliss which it
confers. You know this, when, after the raptures of love, you await with
emotion, fear, and terror that torturing
state of pregnancy which renders you ailing for nine months, which brings
you to the verge of death, and to intolerable suffering and pain. You know
the conditions of true labor, when, with joy, you await the approach and the
increase of the most terrible torture, after which to you alone comes the
bliss which you well know. You
know this, when, immediately after this torture, without respite, without a
break, you undertake another series of toils and sufferings,–nursing,–in
which process you at one and the same time deny yourselves, and subdue to
your feelings the very strongest human need, that of sleep, which, as the
proverb says, is dearer than father or mother; and for months and years you
never get a single sound, unbroken might’s rest, and sometimes, nay, often,
you do not sleep at all for a period of several nights in succession, but
with failing arms you walk alone, punishing the sick child who is breaking
your heart. And when you do all this, applauded by no one, and expecting no
praises for it from any one, nor any reward,–when you do this, not as an
heroic deed, but like the laborer in the Gospel when he came from the field,
considering that you have done only that which was your duty, then you know
what the false, pretentious labor of men performed for glory really is, and
that true labor is fulfilling the will of God, whose command you feel in
your heart.
You know that if you are a true mother it makes no difference that no one
has seen your toil, that no one has praised you for it, but that it has only
been looked upon as what must needs be so, and that even those for whom you
have labored not only do not thank you, but often torture and reproach you.
And with the next child you do the same: again you suffer, again you undergo
the fearful, invisible labor; and again you expect no reward from any one,
and yet you feel the sane satisfaction.
If you are like this, you will not say after two children, or after twenty,
that you have done enough, just as the laboring man fifty years of age will
not say that he has worked enough, while he still continues to eat and to
sleep, and while his muscles still demand work; if you are like this, you
will not cast the task of nursing and care-taking upon some other mother,
just as a laboring man will not give another man the work which he has
begun, and almost completed, to finish: because into this work you will
throw your life. And therefore the more there is of this work, the fuller
and the happier is your life.
And when you are like this, for the good fortune of men, you will apply that
law of fulfilling God’s will, by which you guide your life, to the lives of
your husband, of your children, and of those most nearly connected with you.
If you are like this, and know from your own experience, that only
self-sacrificing, unseen, unrewarded
labor, accompanied with danger to life and to the extreme bounds of
endurance, for the lives of others, is the appointed lot of man, which
affords him satisfaction, then you will announce these demands to others;
you will urge your husband to the same toil; and you will measure and value
the dignity of men acceding to this toil; and for
this toil you will also prepare your children.
Only that mother who looks upon children as a disagreeable accident, and
upon love, the comforts of life, costume, and society, as the object of
life, will rear her children in such a manner that they shall have as much
enjoyment as possible out of life, and that they shall make the greatest
possible use of it; only she will feed them luxuriously, deck them out,
amuse them artificially; only she will teach them, not that which will fit
them for self-sacrificing masculine or feminine labor with danger of their
lives, and to the last limits of endurance, but that which will deliver them
from this labor. Only such a woman, who has lost the meaning of her life,
will sympathize with that delusive and false male labor, by means of which
her husband, having rid himself of the obligations of a man, is enabled to
enjoy, in her company, the work of others. Only such a woman will choose a
similar man for the husband of her daughter, and
will estimate men, not by what they are personally, but by that which is
connected with them,–position, money, or their ability to take advantage of
the labor of others.
But the true mother, who actually knows the will of God, will fit her
children to fulfil it also. For such a mother, to see her child overfed,
enervated, decked out, will mean suffering; for all this, as she well knows,
will render difficult for him the fulfilment of the law of God in which she
has instructed him. Such a mother will teach, not that which will enable her
son and her daughter to rid themselves of labor, but that which will help
them to endure the toils of life. She will have no need to inquire what she
shall teach her children, for what she shall prepare them. Such a woman will
not only not encourage her husband to false and delusive labor, which has
but one object, that of using the labors of others; but she will bear
herself with disgust and horror towards such an employment, which serves as
a double temptation to her children. Such a woman will not choose a husband
for her daughter on account of the whiteness of his
hands and the refinement of manner; but, well aware that labor and deceit
will exist always and everywhere, she will, beginning with her husband,
respect and value in men, and will require from them, real labor, with
expenditure and risk of life, and she will despise that deceptive labor
which has for its object the ridding one’s self of all true toil.
Such a mother, who brings forth children and nurses them, and will herself,
rather than any other, feed her offspring and prepare their food, and sew,
and wash, and teach her children, and sleep and talk with them, because in
this she grounds the business of her life,–only such a mother will not seek
for her children external guaranties in the form of her husband’s money, and
the children’s diplomas; but
she will rear them to that same capacity for the self-sacrificing fulfilment
of the will of God which she is conscious of herself possessing,–a capacity
for enduring toil with expenditure and risk of life,–because she knows that
in this lies the sole guaranty, and
the only well-being in life. Such a mother will not ask other people what
she ought to do; she will know everything, and will fear nothing.
If there can exist any doubt for the man and for the childless woman, as to
the path in which the fulfilment of the will of God lies, this path is
firmly and clearly defined for the woman who is a mother; and if she has
complied with it in submissiveness and in simplicity of spirit, she,
standing on that loftiest height of bliss which the human being is permitted
to attain, will become a guiding-star for all men who are seeking good. Only
the mother can calmly say before her death, to Him who sent her into this
world, and to Him whom she has served by bearing and rearing children more
dear than herself,– only she can say calmly, having served Him who has
imposed this
service upon her: “Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” And this
is the highest perfection, towards which, as towards the highest bliss, men
are striving.
Such are the women, who, having fulfilled their destiny, reign over powerful
men; such are the women who prepare the new generations of people, and fix
public opinion: and, therefore, in the hands of these women lies the highest
power of saving men from the prevailing and threatening evils of our times.
Yes, ye women and mothers, in your hands, more than in those of all others,
lies the salvation of the world!

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