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The Economic and Sexual Freedom of Women
February & March, 1888
by Florence Finch Kelly

"The Economic Freedom of Women"
Article from Liberty #119 (February 25, 1888)

I cannot see that much advance toward individualism in the relations between men and women is possible until the economic freedom of women shall have become an established fact. Nor do I use economical freedom here in its large and true sense, but simply with a relative manner. I use it in the sense of the same economical plane that the other sex is on. That they should be on the same plane, wherever or whatever it may be, seems to me a thing so desirable that it is to be ranked alongside of free banks. Though the latter, I imagine, will be realized many decades before the former. It is not solely for the sake of its benefit to woman that this condition of relative economical freedom is desirable. it will have a wholesome effect upon man as well. For man is still a little bit tyrannical. Even the best of men and those most imbued with a desire for justice and equity and best able to apply individualist ideas to actual life,--even these still have something of the tyrant left in their feeling toward and their treatment of women. They are not to blame for it, I suppose, any more than they are for the fact that hair grows on their heads instead of on their feet. For so many many ages man has been superior to woman, has been accustomed to have her clinging dependently to his finger and begging to be taken care of, that it has become a part of his nature for him not only to feel, but also to use, his superiority. Vestiges of it still cling to him. Not until woman becomes a self-supporting independent creature who has ceased to beg alms of him and who can and does support herself as easily and with as much comfort as he does, will he respect her as his equal and lose the last remnants of that old spirit of tyranny which made him get everything under his thumb that he could. He will become a freer being by this one step in woman's emancipation.

For woman herself this condition would bring unnumbered goods. It is the only escape for her from the bondage of conventional marriage, which, according to the confessions of women themselves, is a condition which could have given Dante points for the Inferno. Until at least relative economical freedom for women is realized, the separate individual existence of the man and the woman is an impossibility. But I am afraid it will not be realized for many a long year. The author of that beautiful allegory, "Three Dreams in a Desert," anticipated the future. When the childless women who now sit around in boarding houses and think they have done a lot of work if they darn their husbands' stockings understand that their position is exactly the same as the prostitute whom they abhor, it will do to say, and not until then, "And slowly the creature staggered on to its knees.

"The Sexual Freedom of Women"
Article from Liberty #121 (March 31, 1888)

The subject of the liberty of woman and the state in which she now is, upon which there have been several interesting contributions in Liberty of late, is one of the most interesting and complicated in all the range of existing social conditions. To say that a woman has the same right to freedom that a man has and that she alone should decide whether or not she will enjoy that right is a truism to the ears of all who have learned the ABC of individualism. But it is the opening to a subject upon which there is more ignorance to the population and more talk to the area of ignorance than upon any other subject in which men and women interest themselves, except, perhaps, that of probation after death. I mean the subject of sexual relations, which is very much in need of investigation at the hands of men of science whose only aim would be to reach the truth. However, this is not what I started out to say. I was about to say, when the size of the subject interrupted me, that the average woman of any grade of society who really wishes this liberty, takes it. But having done so, she never fails to condemn, hunt down, and cast out any other woman who has done the same thing and has been found out. The conventional code of morals on the sexual question is in a queer state, but it has been so undermined and hollowed out by imprisoned nature that it is already "tottering to its fall."

It seems to me that the point to be attacked is not the question of a woman's right to sexual freedom. Her own nature can be trusted to settle that for her in the way that will be the most conducive to her own happiness. The weak point -- and at the same time the most important point -- in all the conventional morality is that prostitution, which Christianity and morality have been fighting for ages, and conventional marriage, the door to respectability, stand upon the same principle,--a principle that is essentially evil,--namely, the principle that a woman's sexual favor are rightfully a matter of commerce. The only important difference between the two conditions is that prostitution gets better pay than marriage. But the idea that a woman in entitled to support from the man to whom she grants herself is ingrained in the minds of both men and women.

It is this idea that must be knocked to pieces before women can be free, in any sense of the word.

And back of this is the still greater truth that women must learn to be self-supporting. Else, they will always be slaves.

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