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Distinction of Spheres

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Speaking of Women

Anti-Suffrage Reasoning

Women on Homesteads

Distinction of Spheres

Woman Suffrage Bill


Nellie McClung, "Speaking of Women," Maclean’s May 1916.

Men and women have two distinct spheres, when considered as men and women, but as human beings there is a great field of activity which they may—and do occupy in common. Now it is in this common field of activity that women are asking for equal privileges. There is not really much argument in pointing out that women cannot lay bricks, nor string electric wire, and therefore can never be regarded as man's equal in the matter of citizenship. Man cannot live by bricks alone! And we might with equal foolishness declare that because a man (as a rule) cannot thread a needle, or "turn a heel," therefore he should not ever be allowed to vote. Life is more than laying of bricks or threading needles, for we have diverse gifts given to us by an all-wise Creator!

The exceptional woman can do many things, and these exceptions simply prove that there is no rule. There is a woman in the Qu'Appelle Valley who runs a big wheat farm and makes money. The Agricultural Editor of the Manitoba Free Press is a woman who is acknowledged to be one of the best crop experts in Canada. Figures do not confuse her! Even if the average woman is not always sure of the binomial theorem, that does not prove that she is incapable of saying who shall make the laws under which she shall live.

But when all other arguments fail, the anti-suffragist can always go back to the saintly motherhood one, and "the hand that rocks." There is the perennial bloom that flourishes in all climates. Women are the mothers of the race—therefore they can be nothing else. When once a woman has a child, they argue, she must stay right on the job of raising it. Children have been blamed for many things very unjustly, and one of the most outstanding of these is that they take up all their mother's time, and are never able to care for themselves: that no one can do anything for the child but the mother; not even caring for it once every four years. From observation and experience, I wish to state positively that children do grow up—indeed they do—far too soon. The delightful days of babyhood and childhood are all to short, and they grow independent of us: and in a little while the day comes, no matter how hard we try to delay it, when they go out from us, to make their own way in the world, and we realize, with a queer stabbing at our hearts, that in the going of our first-born, our own youthfulness has gone too! And it seems such a cruel short time since he was born!

Yes, it is true. Children do grow up. And when they have gone from their mother, she still has her life to live. The strong, active, virile woman of fifty, with twenty good years ahead of her, with a health of experience and wisdom, with a heart mellowed by time and filled with that large charity which only comes by knowledge—is a force to be reckoned with in the uplift of the world.

But if a woman has had the narrow outlook on life all the way along—if her efforts have been all made on behalf of her own family, she cannot quickly adjust herself to anything else, even when her family no longer need her. There is no sadder sight than the middle-aged woman left alone and purposeless when her family have gone. "I am a woman of fifty, strong, healthy—a college graduate," I once heard a woman say. "My children no longer need me—my attentions embarrass them—I gave them all my thought, all my time—I stifled every ambition to serve them. Now I am too old to gain new interests. I am a woman without a job."

Yet this type of woman, who had no thought beyond her own family circle, has been exalted greatly as the perfect mother, the "living sacrifice," the "perfect slave" of her children.

It was a daring woman who claimed that she had a life of her own; and a perfect right to her own ambitions, hopes, interests, and desires.

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