- The Real New Woman. Miriam Michelson Likens Her to a Pleasant Dream, Not a Nightmare
I went to the Woman’s Congress expecting to be bored. From what I had heard and seen of the new woman I had come to the conclusion that new womanhood was in so crude a condition that its friends would only be pained by its premature exhibition. I anticipated hearing women “make fools” of themselves. I expected to have my sympathies alienated by hard-faced, hard-voiced, soft-headed women, whose only excuse for addressing an audience is the possession of a tongue and quantities of assurance. I expected to be repelled by the undignified effort a woman must make to be heard in a large hall and I imagined myself straining to catch the speakers’ words only to find that they were not worth listening to.
I wasn’t wholly disappointed. The women whose names are a pestilence flag to warn healthy-minded people to stay away and whose presence insures the absence of men and women of brains were there. But, after all, the close of the congress finds me with a greater respect for women’s abilities, and consequently in a more hopeful frame of mind as to woman suffrage and the effect it will have upon women.
Judged solely by comparison with any similar association of men, the Woman’s Congress has been, on the whole, a worthy, interesting, creditable session.
I have seen Miss Shaw set her teeth and hide her open, expressive face behind her programme so that the audience should not see her impatient scorn for some mindless, meddling woman, with neither good taste nor common sense enough to know that she was offending, just as I have seen a politician of tact and brains writhe under the sense of good work undone by the male blunderers and knaves and fools.
There have been sessions of the congress when the great crowd at the church sat or stood and listened to papers and addresses which were uninteresting, badly delivered and altogether purposeless; when the meeting became a dreary kind of commencement day exercises with the only redeeming feature—the youth and beauty and grace of the graduates—left out. But there have been many sessions when women of brains and heart and sense have talked logically, honestly, excellently upon subjects of wide range and universal interest.
The congress has been conducted in a business-like way. A little more experience [End Page 353] and less consideration will be necessary, however, before the bores and the busy-bodies can be made to realize their insignificance. A curious feature has been the persistence with which women cling to the idea that poetry is always welcome.
Many of them begin their discussions with “I want to say” and conclude, or hope to conclude, with an appropriate verse. But the president, with laudable insensibility to the flowers of speech, has often spared the audience and economized time. The discussions, however, have shown a degree of practical knowledge, a wide-spread interest and an enthusiasm which are significant of the change in women. Many of the women in the audience spoke ungrammatically, some of them betrayed an hysterical inclination to preach, some of them made short speeches, remarkable only in being utterly foreign to the topic under discussion; but the general effect was to disclose a common-sense point of view, a thoroughness of practice and a surprising activity in affairs.
The reappearance of the superannuated, out-of-date woman suffragists has been both pathetic and ridiculous. These women have been galvanized back into public life by the approaching triumph of the cause, the advocacy of which formerly meant ridicule for them but now means roses for others. They have suffered in the past, and the prospect of future reward brings them back like retired warhorses to the combat, which is a modern one and for which their ideas and their experiences are wholly useless. They wave the bloody shirt of “tyrant man,” which the latter-day suffragist laughs at; they are full of awful reminiscence; they are utterly impractical; they are a thorn in the side of the women...