Successward: His Attitude Towards Women (Chapter 8)

Successward is the 1895 book written by Edward Bok.

The attitude which a young man assumes toward women is one of the surest index-fingers to his character, and nothing stamps him with such unerring accuracy before men. And if this be true in a general sense of his attitude toward the whole sex, it applies with particular force to his position as son. “As is the son so will be the husband,” is a well-known saying, and it is likewise true that as is the son so is the man. When a young man reverences his mother it is easy for him to believe in the nobility of the sex to which she belongs. And it is a correct belief.

That women are morally better and spiritually nobler than men should be believed by every young man. No ideal of the best and truest qualities of womanhood is too high for him to set for himself. Such a belief of his young manhood will become a conviction of his later manhood. I know that it is the fashion of some men to speak lightly of women and womanhood; and young men in their susceptible years are sometimes apt to listen to these low standards, and inclined to accept them or be influenced by them. But of one thing every young fellow may be assured: that the man who speaks of woman in any but the most respectful terms is either a knave or a fool—very often he is both. And this is one of the few rules in life to which there is no exception. I wish that young men would more closely associate their mothers with women in general, and realize that every slur cast upon women as a sex is a slur upon their mothers. This is the feeling which prompted General Grant to give a lesson in politeness which will always be told of him. The story is doubtless familiar to all how one evening an officer came into camp, and in a rollicking mood said to those assembled:

“I have such a rich story that I want to tell you. There are no women present, are there?”

Whereupon General Grant, lifting his eyes from the paper which he was reading, and looking his officer square in the eye, said slowly, but deliberately:

“No, but there are gentlemen present.”

The rebuke was masterly, and it is one which young men cannot too vividly remember.

Nothing in this world stamps a man more decisively in the eyes of his fellow-men than the practice of telling “off-color” stories in which women are concerned. I have often seen this practice followed, but never yet have I seen a single instance when the story-teller did not lower himself in the estimation of his listeners. Men are prone to laugh at these stories when they are told them; but privately I have noticed that they form their own opinion of the man who tells them, and the opinion is always of one kind. It is the man who upholds womanhood who commands the respect of other men; the man who attempts to lower it invariably invites their distrust. The men who hold that “every woman has her price” are the men who, in the estimation of other men, have no price at all, commercially, socially, or morally. The man who uses such an expression regarding woman simply apes the “smart” utterance of the first fool that God ever made, and after whose pattern all the other fools in this world were created. A man who truly loves his mother, wife, sister, or sweetheart never tells a story which lowers her sex in the eyes of others. He who tells such a story is always lacking in some one respect, and generally it is common decency. I have dwelt upon this point because I should like young fellows to believe more firmly than they do that it is not “caddishness” or “babyishness” or “goody-goodyness” to refuse to listen to a story which makes light of women; it is one of the manliest qualities which a young fellow can show, and deep down in his heart every man will respect a young man for such a position. The higher order of men never forget that, being born of woman, they owe an obligation to their mother’s sex which, as loyal sons and true gentlemen, forbids them to listen without protest to offensive stories in which woman is concerned. And no young man can listen to this class of stories without offending his mother, his sister, or the girl who a little later will teach him, through her own sweet life, that whatever is said to the moral detriment of her sex is a lie, and a reflection upon the two women who, one at the beginning of his life and the other at its ending, will prove his best friends—his mother and his wife.

It has often been said before, but it is one of those truths which can as often be said again, that a woman is a man’s truest and most loving friend, first, last, and all the time. And particularly is this so of a mother. I know perfectly well that young men are apt sometimes to think that their mothers are unreasonable. And they are, sometimes, undoubtedly, and a little selfish, too. But one point must not be forgotten: it is an unreasonableness and a selfishness born of a mother’s surest instinct for the best interests of her boy. I can look back to my earliest years of young manhood and see where, again and again, I thought my mother was either wrong or unreasonable or prone to be a trifle too cautious. But I can also look back now, and I cannot see one instance in which after-events did not prove her to be right. And to-day it is easy to say that if it has been given me to achieve even the smallest measure of success in my life thus far, it is all and entirely due to the influence of my mother, and to my absolute confidence in that influence. No woman has been so much to me, no woman is more to me at this moment that I write, than she who is my mother, my confidante, my truest and best friend—always watchful, always loving, always true, always the same. And gladly do I write this loving tribute to her, grateful that I can place it in her hands rather than on her grave.

There is no deeper or greater satisfaction to a man than to be able to have his mother live to see him fairly launched on a successful career of usefulness. If his father dies before he has made his mark in the world he does not seem to feel it so keenly. But somehow he always wants his mother to live long enough to see for herself that she did not give him life for naught, and that the world is a little better off for the being which she gave unto it. There wells up within his nature a peculiar sense of pride when some day his mother comes quietly to him, and putting her arms around his neck, says, with all the tenderness of a mother’s love, “You have done well, my boy. Now I am content to go.” No matter how hard a man may have worked, such approval comes to him as his sweetest and richest reward. The applause of the world is little compared with such a motherly benediction, and more precious to him is the remembrance of that short sentence in after years than all the honors that can be showered upon him or the riches that may come to him. It has been my privilege to hear this sacred thought from the lips of more than one of the most famous of American men—men who are to-day leaders in their professions, others who have gone to their graves crowned with the ripest honors and fullest laurels of the world.

For men, even in their most mature years, are, after all, nothing but grown boys. The fond stroke of a mother’s hand is as welcome at forty as at fourteen. The world never looks so bright to a man as when he sits at his mother’s side with her arms around him. A woman never seems so gentle as when she fondly strokes the recreant lock from his brow, after a trying day, and says, in that voice so familiar, but ever sweet, “You are tired, are you not, dear?” Ah, those women who come into a room when a man is almost worn out, and bring new life and new hope and new spirit with them! Those God-inspired mothers who say so much in a smile, who speak so lovingly to us in a look, who send a thrill of confidence through a man in a tender pressure of the hand! They know us so well. They knew us when we were children, but how much better they know us when we are men! We try to convince them that we are no longer boys, but only a quiet little smile and a fond little petting shows us the fallacy of our own words. They stroke our cheeks, and somehow the mind seems more restful and the brain ceases to throb. The things we try to hide from them are the very things we tell them about. They know with a single look just what is troubling us, and although they never ask us, we pour out to them our worries just as we did when we were children. The quarrels of the playground have only become the worries of business, and the baby of the cradle has simply become the baby of the mother’s heart.

It is easy for a man to think well of woman when he can look at her through the eyes of a good mother. And it is this which I want every young fellow to do. His mother should be the central figure of womanhood to him—his ideal, his standard; and while necessarily other women will suffer in comparison, it will only be in the respect that to the one he is a son, while to the others he is a man. The tenderest solicitude which a young man can show to his mother, the most unremitting care he can give her, are none too good for the life he owes to her. And the more tender his feelings for her the stronger he will find his faith grow in her sex. There is no influence to be compared with that of a good woman over the life of a young man. It means everything to him, his success in every phase of life. Men are by nature coarse and brutal; it is the influence of woman which softens them. And we ought to be softened as much as we can. The good Lord knows we need it badly enough. But no influence is productive of the best and surest results unless we make ourselves susceptible to it. If we lack faith in woman, if we fail in the right ideal of womanhood, all her influence will be as naught upon us. From the beginning of the world woman has been man’s leader. She has made him what he is to-day. All the qualities which we admire in men come from woman’s influence. And a young man starting out in life cannot trust to an influence so sure and so safe as that which comes to him from the being of whose life he is a part, or in whose heart he finds a supreme place. Man’s best friend is the woman who loves him. That should be the faith of every young man toward woman; that should be his absolute conviction, and he should show it by an attitude of respect and deference toward her.

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