The real problem of feminism

I think the oddest thing about the advanced people is that while they are always talking of things as problems, they have hardly any notion of what a real problem is. A real problem only occurs when there are admittedly disadvantages in all courses that can be pursued. If it is discovered just before a fashionable wedding that the Bishop is locked up in the coal-cellar, that is not a problem. It is obvious to anyone but an extreme anti-clerical or practical joker that the Bishop must be let out of the coal-cellar. But suppose the Bishop has been locked up in the wine-cellar, and from the obscure noises, sounds as of song and dance, etc., it is guessed that he has indiscreetly tested the vintages round him; then indeed we may properly say that there has arisen a problem; for upon the one hand, it is awkward to keep the wedding waiting, while, upon the other, any hasty opening of the door might mean an episcopal rush and scenes of the most unforeseen description.

An incident like this (which must constantly happen in our gay and varied social life) is a true problem because there are in it incompatible advantages. Now if woman is simply the domestic slave that many of these writers represent, if man has bound her by brute force, if he has simply knocked her down and sat on her — then there is no problem about the matter. She has been locked in the kitchen, like the Bishop in the coal-cellar; and they both of them ought to be let out. If there is any problem of sex, it must be because the case is not so simple as that; because there is something to be said for the man as well as for the woman; and because there are evils in unlocking the kitchen door, in addition to the obvious good of it.

The Illustrated London News, 25 June 1910.

Published in: on January 12, 2011 at 6:56 am  Comments (4)  

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  1. As a Chesterton fan/sympathizer, this makes me wince. I would hope he had originally offered some insight into what exactly he saw as the “evils in unlocking the kitchen door” to qualify this statement. From the quote as it is given, though, he appears unabashedly, unequivocally chauvinist, and his choice of metaphor is unfortunate at best. “Better keep the woman locked down there a bit longer! Who knows what might she might do if she gets out!”

  2. Chesterton believed in separate roles for men and women, without considering the male role to be superior to the female role. He frequently extolled the glory of the kitchen – where the sacred fire burns, and its keeper is Empress of her own domain – as opposed to the grim centrally-heated office of the male wage-slave. If you can find the full essay (it is in Volume 27 of his complete works I think) it has a lot to say about the potential evils of ‘unlocking the kitchen door’ and you can judge for yourself whether or not they have come to pass over the last hundred years!

    • As so often, Chesterton just throws out paradoxes without offering a real argument. What he said is that it’s the nature of woman to keep house, and the nature of men to do everything else. He provides no evidence of this–I doubt anyone could–he regards his prejudices as immutable cosmic laws. Bad enough in anyone; really bad in a supposed philosopher.

  3. That’s just it though, isn’t it? Even if there is a risk of having different social ills than they did then (or now), there is just no way for men to tell women that they should only do certain things and not do other things without being chauvinist. Men have the luxury of keeping out of the kitchen because our domain is the whole world. Women are not, in turn, given the luxury of staying in the kitchen because the whole world is denied them.

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