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A Swede in Germany

Ellen Key on men, women, women’s rights, …

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I was recently highly surprised to learn that Ellen Keyw, one of Sweden’s most renowned and honoured women’s rights fighters, had warned strongly against the excesses of some of her co-fighters—in 1896. (In the following, I will use “WRF” to denote these and to differ from “feminist”; neither “suffragette” nor “women’s libber” seem really suitable as translations for the Swedish “kvinnorättskämpe”.)

Over the last few decades, this warning would have been perfectly understandable: Much of modern day feminism is out-of-touch with reality. But in 1896?

I managed to find a free online copy of the work in question, Missbrukad kvinnokraft och kvinnopsykologie (“Misused woman-power and female psychology”, in an approximate translation). Reading the first few chapters, I hardly believed my eyes: Here we had a leading WRF complaining about many of the same misconceptions that drive modern feminism and pointing to differences between men and women that feminists and the Swedish school system deny, but which I have myself observed or deduced later in life.

Among the many points she make, we have:

  1. The strong influence of Evolution on human behaviour and differences in behaviour between the sexes.

  2. That many WRFs are prone to excesses (as are today’s feminists); and that they have often have problems even with comprehending the arguments of their opponents. (Note the very significant difference between not comprehending and comprehending but disagreeing—the former being a major problem with many feminists.)

  3. That women cannot “have it all” without a substantial extra effort and that the price of juggling both a family and a career is often too high.

  4. That women (as a group) are inferior to men where “genius” is concerned.

  5. That individual variation does not eliminate the importance of group differences.

  6. That women are very keen on believing preconceptions and bending the facts to fit the preconceptions.

  7. That equal opportunity does not automatically bring equal outcomes; in particular, that women should have the right to make “traditionally male” life and career choices, but in no way be obliged to do so. Further that those who do follow a male path are usually likely to be less happy than in a more “traditionally female” role. (More generally, I believe that the differences between modern life and what humans were built to do is problematically large.)

  8. Men tend more towards creating things in the world (buildings, art, science, companies, …); women are more focused on the reproduction of the species.

  9. Women are better at being industrious; men have an edge when thinking enters the arena.

To give a number of specific quotes:

(The high complexity is present in the original, although the translation may be a tad worse due to issues of idiom, and I urge for a careful reading, lest her intentions be misunderstood. References to e.g. “the woman” are literal translations and should be taken as generic, not specific.)

Men om å ena sidan icke ett enda starkt skäl finnes för hoppet att den könsliga differentieringen på det psykiska området allt mer skall kunna utplånas och kvinnan bliva jämnhög med mannen i materiell och andlig produktion; om tvärtom varje stöd, man i detta fall brukar, visar sig svagt som ett rö i naturens starka hand — så ger å andra sidan ett enda undantagsfall av kvinnlig överlägsenhet ett obrytligt stöd åt yrkandet på full frihet för varje kvinna att följa sin individualitet, att utan hinder från samhällets sida själv söka finna vad naturen menat just med henne.

(If, on the one hand, there is not one single strong reason to hope for the elimination of sex differences in the mental area and that the woman would become equal to the man in material and spiritual production; if, on the contrary, every support that is used turns out to be as week as a straw in the strong hand of nature — so does, on the other hand, every exceptional case of female superiority give an indestructible support for the demand for full freedom for every woman to follow her individuality, to without obstacles from society’s side herself find what nature has meant for [with?] her.

Close to the modern anti-feminist view that men and women are equal but (as science confirms) different, and that society should not get in the way of the individual. (Note that the quote should not necessarily be read to indicate a male superiority overall. Other parts of the book point to areas with a perceived female superiority.)

En fördomsfri prövning av alla dessa fakta synes mig berättiga till den slutsatsen: att det icke endast varit det yttre trycket, som i forna tider hämmade utvecklingen av de kvinnliga snillena.

(An unprejudiced examination of all these facts seem to me to justify the conclusion: that it has not only been the external pressure that in the days of yore limited the development of female geniuses.)

Equal opportunity does not necessarily yield equal outcome and men do appear to more often reach the highest levels in various areas.

Kvinnorna minnas alltför sällan, att det icke endast är kvinnokraften som varit hämmad.

(Women remember far too seldom, that it is not only the female power that has been limited.)

One of the greatest errors in feminist argumentation: Comparing a small minority of fortunate men with the broad masses of women, leaving the broad masses of men at the wayside.

Nu syftar hela skolan, studentexamen och allt examensväsende, endast att frambringa kopior. Särskilt lyckas detta väl med flickorna, emedan dessa vanligen ha ett mindre utpräglat intellektuellt skaplynne; emedan de äro mer mottagliga, mer smidiga, och skolan således ännu bättre kan lyckas utplatta dem än gossarna.

(Now the purpose of school, high-school graduation, and all [“examination business”], is only to create copies. This is particularly successful with the girls, because these usually have a less developed intellectual wish to create; because they are more receptive, more agile, and school therefore succeeds even better in making them flat [as with dough and a rolling-pin] than boys.)

Highly interesting with an eye on the current criticisms against the good-for-girls/bad-for-boys school systems of today, which often points to similar differences.

Det är mig ofattligt att framhållandet av några »naturenliga» arbetsområden för kvinnan, kunnat anses innebära syftet att inskränka henne till dessa områden; att betonandet av det nuvarande undervisningsväsendets brister, kunnat anses innebära att jag påyrkar att kvinnor ej böra studera, eller att, när jag talar om dem som läkarinnor, lärarinnor o. s. v. då menar jag, att de skola bli allt detta utan studier!

(It is incomprehensible to me that pointing to some “natural” areas of work for the woman could be interpreted as wishing to limit her to these areas; that emphasizing the defects of the current school systems, could be taken to mean that I urge that women do not study, or that, when I speak of them as physicians, teachers, etc., I imply that they should become all this without studies!)

A typical example of feminist distortion or incomprehension of others opinions.

Under dessa 18 år har ett enda fall — m:me Curie — bestyrkt mina motståndares hopp om kvinnans vetenskapliga framtidsmöjligheter.

Bekräftelser i fråga om de av mina påståenden, som blevo allra mest angripna, ha däremot varit talrikare.

(During these 18 years [the time-span between the 1st and 4th editions; the latter being my source] only one case—m:me Curie—strengthened my opponents hopes of the woman’s scientific future possibilities.

The confirmations concerning those of my claims that were the most attacked, on the contrary, have been more numerous.)

Looking at female Nobel-Prize winners in physics and chemistry, the picture is just as bleak today. Indeed, since Curie’s days there have only been one (!) other female winner of the physics prize—and that in 1963! The chemistry prize has an additional three winners—one of which Curie’s daughter…

Lika litet behöver man betona huru rik på framgång kvinnoemancipationen varit. Såväl ideellt som materiellt har kvinnosaken gått från seger till seger. Kraven på rätt till full individuell utveckling och full laglig likställighet med mannen, liksom till full arbetsfrihet, ha åt kvinnan öppnat den ena banan efter den andra, vunnit den ena lagliga rätten efter den andra. Visserligen fattas ännu viktiga rättigheter, bland dem den mest oavisliga, den gifta kvinnans myndighet över sin person, sin egendom och sina barn. Men ingen tänkande människa betvivlar, att icke vid nästa sekelslut allt skall vara vunnet;

(Just as little does one need to emphasize how rich on success the women’s emancipation has been. Both ideally [as opposite of “materially”] and materially, the women’s cause has gone from victory to victory. The demands for the right to full individual development and full legal equality with the man, likewise to full freedom to work, has opened one road [read “door”] after the other, won one legal right after the other. Certainly, some important rights are still missing, among them the most undeniable, the married woman’s authority [presumably in a sense of “legal capacity”, “with the rights of an adult”] over her own person, her property, and her children. But no thinking human doubts that all this shall be won by the end of the next [20th] century;)

Key considers emancipation a success a century ago; the feminists of today eternally complain about how far we allegedly would still be from equality, despite the missing rights already being present. (Yes, equality and emancipation are not the same; however, extrapolating, it would be highly surprising if the latter had not followed by now—and there is no evidence to the contrary, except for unlikely interpretations of differences in outcome.)

Och dock är det ofta just ur underklassen, världens »övermänniskor» framträtt, sedan de genombrutit mycket svårare hinder än dem, den snillrika kvinnan i överklassen samtidigt hade måst besegra för att få följa sin väsensbestämmelse. Även dessa manliga snillen ha saknat arvet från »flera generationers utveckling i frihet». Men de ha dock nått den högsta andliga höjden i sin samtid.

(And still it is often just from the lower class that the worlds’ “Übermenschen” have appeared, after breaking through much more difficult obstacles than those that brilliant women in the upper class have had to conqueror in order to follow their destiny of being. These male geniuses too have lacked the heritage of “several generations of development in freedom”. Still they have reached the highest mental heights in their time.)

One popular argument among feminists (and the PC crowd in the US) is that changes over several generations are needed to create reasonably equal opportunity. (If we look at perfection, they are likely correct; however, they fail to consider that the individual and his or her abilities and actions become a more important factor far earlier.)

Man kan redan under skolåren se en skillnad mellan flickans och gossens sätt att arbeta. Flickan är plikttrognare i arbetet med de föresatta uppgifterna, men hon lämnar intresset för själva ämnet kvar i skolan, medan gossen på ett helt annat sätt är upptagen av ämnet själv. Det har under flera år roat mig att lyssna till samtalen mellan den skolungdom från flera enskilda skolor, som korsat mina egna vägar. I nio fall av tio ha flickorna talat om någon »han» eller »hon», om nöjen eller om kläder; i nio fall av tio hava gossarna talat om sport eller om sina studier — från multiplikationstabellen till helvetesläran!

(Already during the school years, one can observe a difference between the girl’s and the boy’s manner of work: The girl is more diligent in work with the prescribed exercises [tasks?], but she leaves the topic as such in school, while the boy is occupied with the topic as such in a completely different manner. For several years, it has amused me to listen to the conversations of school-youth from several individual schools that have crossed my own ways. In nine cases out of ten, the girls have spoken about a “he” or “she” [i.e. gossiped], about amusements or about clothes; in nine cases out of ten, the boys have talked about sport or their studies—from the table of multiplication to [teachings about the nature of hell]!)

School again. Further, a good characterization of male and female interests.

Medan mannen från en underordnad plats ofta lyfter sig till en högre genom sin vakenhet, sin i viss mån skapande drift, förblir kvinnan vanligen på den underordnade platsen, emedan hon saknar denna drivkraft. Av tio unga män, som erhölle valet mellan tvenne lika högt lönade platser, men av vilka den ena vore ansvarsfullare och mödosammare, den andra mindre arbetsam men även mindre betydelsefull, torde sålunda nio välja den förra, men av tio unga kvinnor de nio välja den senare.

(While the man often raises himself from a subordinate position to a higher through his wakefulness, his to some degree [in some sense?] creative drive, the woman usually remains in the subordinate position, while she lacks this drive. Of ten young men, who were given the choice between two equally payed positions, but of which the one brings more responsibility and labor, the other being less laborious but also less important, nine would thus choose the former, but of ten young women, nine the latter.)

Exactly different interests and/or abilities are the true explanation for the mythical glass ceiling (and related phenomena).

Kvinnan åter är ofta platonisk i kärleken till sitt verk, emedan hon är så fullt aktiv i sina personliga förhållanden.

(The woman, again, is often platonic in the love for her work [possibly in the “oeuvre” sense], while she is fully active in her personal relationships.

Again.

De bekräfta därigenom en ypperlig manlig definition av begreppet »kvinna»: »En varelse, som när mannen säger ’två gånger två är fyra’, svarar honom: Det tror jag inte och huru ni än bevisar, behåller jag min tanke om saken.»

(They [women] thus confirm an excellent male definition of the concept “woman”: “A being who, when the man says ‘two times two is four’, answers him: I do not believe that and no matter how you prove it, I will keep my opinion on the issue.”)

Women in general; feminists in particular.

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Written by michaeleriksson

April 3, 2011 at 3:32 pm

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