The ‘woman question’

According to Robert Crossley (2011) utopian fiction relocated from Earth to Mars towards the end of the 19th Century. By then most of Earth was mapped and the chances of finding uncharted valleys significantly reduced (ibid.:90). I bought a pile of the utopian novels referred to by Crossley. According to this literature, Mars was the first place in the universe to adopt universal suffrage. By written accounts, it seems that legal equality between the two sexes was in full function by 1883 when Politics and life in Mars (author unknown) was published. If we are to go by information gather during a later visit to the globe published in 1893 in Unveiling a parallel (Alice Jones & Ella Marchant) this practices dates back to the dawn of the Martian civilization. In Unveiling a parallel (Jones & Marchant 1893) a male narrator arrives in the city of Thursia after an ‘incredibly brief” journey by ‘areoplane’ (ibid.: 3). He is received with kindness and hospitality by a group of astronomers who have anticipated his arrival having had their telescope trained on Earth, “just as our telescopes were directed to Mars at that time” (ibid.). [The book is written at a time where Professor Percivell Lowell had captured the American public’s mind with his reports of irrigations systems on the Martian surface.]

One of the young astronomers, Severnius, come to act as his host and teaches him the Martian language and about the culture in Paleveria, the country in which he has arrived. Here he encounters Severnius’ sister, the beautiful and industrious Elodia, whose independence and self-assuredness in turns fascinates and shocks him. Quizzing Severnius one afternoon about her whereabouts he learns that Elodia is a wealthy banker and financier.  Noting his startled expression, Severnius wants to understand why Earthly women are not similarly involved in business. “Perhaps,” Severnius suggests, “men take care of them all […] and they have grown dependent”? (Jones & Marchant 1893:16). This explanation is rejected by the protagonist who tells that in his city alone “seventy thousand women support not only themselves, but others who are dependent on them.” (ibid.) Severnius fails to understand why these women does not venture into business and investment which “would be more agreeable, and easier” (ibid.) than being employed as teacher, clerk or stenograph. This presses the narrator to reflect on “the Woman Question”:

But the women of my country […] the self-supporting ones, do not have control of money. They have a horror of speculation, and shrink from taking risks and making ventures, the failure of which would mean loss or ruin to others. […] She is a beginner, you know. She has not yet learned to make money by the labor of others; she does not know how to manipulate those who are less intelligent and less capable than herself, and to turn their ignorance and helplessness to her own account.” (Jones & Marchant 1893:16).

Image: Book cover, Alice Ilgenfritz Jones, Ella Merchant

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