Misuse of Freedom by Women

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A free man or woman is one who can dispose of his or her person without let or hindrance, without reference to any master. If you, being a woman, resolved to be free in this social sense, to go out into the world as a woman in freedom, how would it fare with you? For a time you might wander unhindered, elated by thoughts of liberty, but very soon you would find that you cannot dwell forever on the heights. Let us suppose that you feel tired and that you enter a tea-shop in default of a better place of rest. The shop looks sordid and dingy, and you shudder slightly as a vision of true repose comes to mind – something with green fields and running water and the scent of grass and flowers in it. But, alas! you are not free to that extent; here there are no Elysian fields – here is London with all its dreary grey buildings and endless discomfort. So you enter the shop. A pale, grim young woman comes up as you choose a seat, and asks what she will bring. You desire only rest, but once more you are reminded that you are not free to choose; rest of a kind you may have, but at the same time tea and buns will be forced upon you. You settle yourself in your uncomfortable corner, sip some of the nasty tea, taste a bun, and ruminate dubiously about your determination to be free. The grim young woman presently brings the bill for tea and cakes, and you realise in a flash that here again in the person of the shop-girl is a limitation of freedom – you are not free from her. To the extent that your needs have been satisfied by her service, to this extent your life is dependent upon that service. At this point where you and she have met in life, the one as receiver and the other as the giver of service, each is to a certain degree dependent upon the other. And in a flash you recognise the social nature of freedom: how none stands alone in life, but the life of each is dependent upon the lives of others and affected by the lives of others; how the poor are dependent upon the rich, and the rich upon the poor; how the sick are affected by the healthy, and the healthy are affected – or infected – by the sick; how consumers are dependent on producers, and producers on consumers; how the learned are affected by the ignorant, and the ignorant by the learned; and so on throughout the whole range of human relations. And if your vision is clear enough, you realise that so long as one, even the least, of these human brothers and sisters is in bondage, there can be no true freedom for you. As you pay the bill for tea and cakes, and bid the grim young woman good-day, you have a remembrance perhaps of the feasts in Morris’s “News from Nowhere,” when the bearers of food brought along with it, not bills, but roses and kind smiles and friendly words. Alas, again for freedom! If your resolve to be free is not quite ended by the illuminating experience in a tea-shop, surely your further experiences must end it soon. Even if circumstances favour you to-day, to-morrow must put an end to the dream. The sun shines perhaps, the breeze blows, clouds chase each other across the sky. You awake to it all, feeling glad and young and gay and free. You resolve to go out into country places where you may be in the companionship of free things – flowers and birds and dancing insects. For only one vivid, brilliant day you will be one of the free, you will live as all Nature is calling upon you to live, in idle enjoyment of the sunshine – freedom at least for a day! But stop! What is that you hear? What is that monotonous beat? It is the clock ticking out the seconds which remain between breakfast and office hours. In half an hour you are due at the office. Now, then, be free for a day if you dare! Then comes the overwhelming recollection of life as it is; the noise and the crush and the horror of the great city; the strife and labour and feverish competition; disease and death, suffering and starvation. And you see yourself among those who strive and push in the midst...
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