ATHLETICS FOR GIRLS
I hope and believe there are comparatively few people who will deny that athletics have done much for the health and mind of the modern girl. Exercise in some form or other is essential, and although I am quite ready to admit that games of the strenuous type, such as hockey and lawn tennis, can be and sometimes are overdone, yet the girl of to-day, who enters into and enjoys her game with scarcely less zest than her brother, is, I am convinced, better in health and happier in herself than the girl of the past generation. What are the objections to games for girls? It seems to me the chief arguments against them are (1) that they are injurious to health; (2) that they impair the womanliness of woman; (3) that they mar her appearance. There may be something to be said for these contentions, but to my mind the pros materially outweigh the cons.
As to the injury to health, I deny that the case is proved. Indeed, evidence is rarely forthcoming. A delicate girl would probably become more delicate if she did not play games in moderation and take exercise. A friend of mine, an old doctor, told me the other day that in his youth the great plague of his life was the hysterical female. She would put in an appearance obtrusively at critical moments, and the anticipation of a scene always shadowed his arrangements. We rarely see this type now. Games have driven her away. The woman of the present generation is calm, collected, and free from emotional outbursts, and I believe that invigorating outdoor exercise is the chief cause. As to the second objection, the injury to the womanliness of woman, the answer depends on what is meant by the essential feature of “womanliness.” I am afraid most people, including most men, say with Hamlet, “Frailty, thy name is woman.” Womanliness to most men implies just frailty. They may perhaps call it “delicacy,” and refer to the “weaker sex,” but they mean that just as a man’s glory is his strength, so a woman’s glory is her weakness. They argue that you must impair this “weakness” by strenuous games. Is this true? Is the essential feature of a woman her weakness, just as the essential feature of a man is his strength, not merely physical, but mental and moral strength? I do not think so. Woman is a second edition of man, if you will; therefore, like most second editions, an improvement on the first! As Lessing puts it, “Nature meant to make woman its masterpiece.” I well remember reading in a stirring narrative of the Indian Mutiny how a small party of English men and women were besieged in their quarters by a body of rebels, and while the men fought at the windows and doors the women were busy preparing ammunition, loading guns, bandaging wounds, and zealously cheering their war-worn defenders. When victory was at length achieved, the men asked themselves what would have happened but for the women. That, to my mind, was a picture of true “womanliness.” Inferior in neither moral strength nor brain-power, the true woman is a helpmeet, or man’s complement, giving him just the special form of strength in body and soul that he needs for the special experience.