Woman and Labour

Olive Schreiner
Woman and Labour
Olive Schreiner
Author of "Dreams," "The Story of an African Farm," "Trooper Peter
Halket," "Dream Life and Real Life," etc. etc.
Dedicated to Constance Lytton
"Glory of warrior, glory of orator, glory of song, Paid with a voice
flying by to be lost on an endless sea-- Glory of virtue, to fight, to
struggle, to right the wrong-- Nay, but she aim'd not at glory, no lover
of glory she: Give her the glory of going on and still to be."
Olive Schreiner. De Aar, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. 1911.

* Chapter I. Parasitism
* Chapter II. Parasitism (continued)
* Chapter III. Parasitism (continued)
* Chapter IV. Woman and War
* Chapter V. Sex Differences
* Chapter VI. Certain Objections

It is necessary to say a few words to explain this book. The original
title of the book was "Musings on Woman and Labour."
It is, what its name implies, a collection of musings on some of the
points connected with woman's work.
In my early youth I began a book on Woman. I continued the work till
ten years ago. It necessarily touched on most matters in which sex has a
part, however incompletely.
It began by tracing the differences of sex function to their earliest
appearances in life on the globe; not only as when in the animal world,
two amoeboid globules coalesce, and the process of sexual generation
almost unconsciously begins; but to its yet more primitive
manifestations in plant life. In the first three chapters I traced, as far as
I was able, the evolution of sex in different branches of non-human life.
Many large facts surprised me in following this line of thought by their
bearing on the whole modern sex problem. Such facts as this; that, in
the great majority of species on the earth the female form exceeds the
male in size and strength and often in predatory instinct; and that sex
relationships may assume almost any form on earth as the conditions of
life vary; and that, even in their sexual relations towards offspring,
those differences which we, conventionally, are apt to suppose are
inherent in the paternal or the maternal sex form, are not inherent--as
when one studies the lives of certain toads, where the female deposits
her eggs in cavities on the back of the male, where the eggs are
preserved and hatched; or, of certain sea animals, in which the male
carries the young about with him and rears them in a pouch formed of
his own substance; and countless other such. And above all, this
important fact, which had first impressed me when as a child I
wandered alone in the African bush and watched cock-o-veets singing
their inter-knit love-songs, and small singing birds building their nests
together, and caring for and watching over, not only their young, but
each other, and which has powerfully influenced all I have thought and

felt on sex matters since;--the fact that, along the line of bird life and
among certain of its species sex has attained its highest and aesthetic,
and one might almost say intellectual, development on earth: a point of
development to which no human race as a whole has yet reached, and
which represents the realisation of the highest sexual ideal which
haunts humanity.
When these three chapters we ended I went on to deal, as far as
possible, with woman's condition in the most primitive, in the savage
and in the semi-savage states. I had always been strangely interested
from childhood in watching the condition of the native African women
in their primitive society about me. When I was eighteen I had a
conversation with a Kafir woman still in her untouched primitive
condition, a conversation which made a more profound impression on
my mind than any but one other incident connected with the position of
woman has ever done. She was a woman whom I cannot think of
otherwise than as a person of genius. In language more eloquent and
intense than I have ever heard from the lips of any other woman, she
painted the condition of the women of her race; the labour of women,
the anguish of woman as she grew older, and the limitations of her life
closed in about her, her sufferings under the condition of polygamy and
subjection; all this she painted with a passion and intensity I have not
known equalled; and yet, and this was the interesting point, when I
went on to question her, combined with a deep and almost fierce
bitterness against life and the unseen powers which had shaped woman
and her conditions as they were, there was not one word of bitterness
against the individual man, nor any will or intention to revolt; rather,
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