Margaret Sanger, "Class and Character," Jun 1914.
Source: " The Woman Rebel, June 1914, p. 28 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series C16:0542."
For the continuation of this article, see "Class and Character," July 1914 and August 1914.
Character is the essence of a girl's personality; it is her individuality. Character is the growth of instinct formed through experience. It is the distinguishing trait of anything, "particularly the moral and mental qualities of an individual human being, the sum of these qualities which distinguish her as a personality."
The lack of character shows itself in indecision, vacillation (wavering, uncertain) cowardice. Perhaps the greatest sustaining force of character is concentration, for the ability to accomplish will be as one is able to direct the will toward the object desired.
What a lamentable fact that the girl who toils in the factory, mill or sweat shop should not direct her energies toward her class and individual emancipation. Every girl who works for a master should build a class-conscious militant character within herself, differing from the teachings of the Church and present-day morality. Character building starts a force which in a young girl is of the greatest necessity. It will take care of the girl in any situation. It must be the foundation of all new teachings.
It is by this force of a new character in women that a revolutionary movement will accomplish its aims, and upon which a new society must be built. Why then have the radical women and men so haughtily held themselves aloof from offsetting the spineless stuff of Dorothy Dix and Beatrice Fairfax teachings. The girl at the uncertain age of 14 to 20 looks naturally for some guidance. She has entered upon that new epoch where Rousseau says "she is born again into a new life." She constantly meets new difficulties and feels new emotions she cannot understand. She feels she is being disarmed at every turn and nowhere is she understood. Of all the leaflets the organizers of labor and socialists pass on to her, they do not tell her of the things she wants most to know, and consequently she turn to the yellow sheets and finds therein stupid answers to her longings. Such writings have acted as the snake in the grass to the working girl, and have been useful agencies for the master-class in keeping the girl in servility and poverty. But this she does not know. She naturally longs to be beautiful in mind and body; she wants to know how to act with boys and men; she desires to build and mould her character; she is full of ideals and dreams. Her nature is restless, for it is the age where she is most easily influenced--consequently the age where the seeds of class consciousness should be plentifully sown. The damnable teachings of passivity and charity, submission, humility and loyalty to the masters, which have been and are to-day inculcated into the girl must be crushed out if a new womanhood shall emerge.
The hypocritical teachings of the philanthropists; the welfare workers; the investigators and their kind who come before the girls and conduct educational classes in department stores; who aim to impress upon the workers the watchwords: "courtesy, accuracy, speed, punctuality, loyalty and responsibility" should be laughed at and driven out of the shop where they come to insult and delude the workers by these cunning devices.
"Courtesy"--to the master--rise and bow, say "Yes, Sir," "No, Sir," "Thank you, Sir." "Accuracy"--no mistakes, the master loses thereby. "Speed"--put all you youth, your young blood, your dreams into speed, so the master can get more profits out of you. "Punctuality"--the pound of flesh he must have. "Loyalty"--to the master only; be a good slave, watch his interests; guard them with your life, for see what he does for you. "Responsibility"--towards him also; see that his profits pour into him "dearies" that his wife may have her auto and bridge parties, her tango teas, etc. Does he have any responsibility towards you, does he care if you are sick, or tired; if you live or are happy or have food?
Make it understood that you will not stand for such teachings, tear every hair out of the woman's head who dares to give such scab talk to your sister workers. Make them afraid to come before you with such talk. Let all rejoice in the girl who shall be brave enough to resent this scab teaching.
The religious ethics of humility, long suffering and patience are very beautiful in an ideal state; they are in fact virtues for the master class (who do not practice them), who have all the best of the good things of life. They are satisfied and contented with things and conditions as they are, but the girl who slaves and toils her youth, her beauty and health away in order that the master class may profit, should not be contented or loyal or submissive or humble or satisfied. If any girl voiced her real deep feelings she would say she hated toiling and slaving, but along come the moral teachers who give the girl a few more sleeping tablets in the name of welfare work, vacational funds etc., throwing a few crumbs from the master's table to her.
If working women acted on their feelings, there would doubtless be no capitalist class holding sway to-day. It is the damnable reformer, philanthropist and moral damper who give to the ardent individuals teachings which tend to cool their ardor and stupify them as a class.
May a new spirit awaken and infuse this enslaved girlhood to dare and feel an age-long resentment and may it give her courage to speak and act.
Again, always has this girl taken her standards from "My Lady" of the upper class--her morals, her education, her conduct, her dress and fashions, her desires, her ideals, her habits, her pleasures; everything which the girl has, comes on down to her as "leftovers" from the gold plate of the master class. Our present day tango is an example. It began with class A, was frantically caught up by class B and just naturally seeped on down to class C. Thus we find class C lacking in creative ability, force and individuality, for imitation is a weakening process.
It is time this should not be. Why should the class who do all the work of the world acknowledge the master class (who keep them in slavery) as gods of knowledge, fashion and goodness; and follow in their footsteps.
It is because they do not know or realize their own power and their own class cleanliness. For instance the girl who toils in sweatshop or mill is of greater natural purity and higher morality (even under present standards) in comparison, than my Lady of the upper class, for this girl comes from parents who have lived near the soil; whose senses are beautified and accustomed to the sweetness and perfume of the earth; such parents give offspring whose desires are simple and beautiful, but the same cannot be said of the lady whose parents and grandparents have lived lives of tenseness, nervousness and sensuality, whose emotions and desires must be aroused either by highballs or cocktails and satisfied by perverted acts and practices. This latter is the class who set up standards for the workers to live by.
Too little has been taught the girl as to the character she should develop in her own defense. The Church teaches how to develop a girl's character in its own interests -- not hers. The workers must get new and different values of life and character; they must create their own morality and realize they are surrounded by barriers of Church teachings; traditions; neighbors' gossip, etc., etc., all of which are bitter enemies of self-development.
Let the girl view all things from the standpoint of her enslaved class. Let her use tactics to free that class and recognize those forces which are working to keep her down. Only one sense of right and duty should she cultivate; that towards her class.
All revolutions have been brought about by the few militant individuals with forceful characters. A new society must be built upon such characters--strong, compelling, class-conscious, casting on the rubbish heap all morality created by the upper class.
The working class cannot rise in revolt against their slavery until the women rise too. This means a new womanhood, the development of which must be brought about by conscious militancy.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project