To Women / Leo Tolstoy

As stated in the Bible, a law was given to the man and the woman,--to
the man, the law of labor; to the woman, the law of bearing children.
Although we, with our science, avons change tout ca, the law for the
man, as for woman, remains as unalterable as the liver in its place,
and departure from it is equally punished with inevitable death. The
only difference lies in this, that departure from the law, in the
case of the man, is punished so immediately in the future, that it
may be designated as present punishment; but departure from the law,
in the case of the woman, receives its chastisement in a more distant

The general departure of all men from the law exterminates people
immediately; the departure from it of all women annihilates it in the
succeeding generation. But the evasion by some men and some women
does not exterminate the human race, and only deprives those who
evade it of the rational nature of man. The departure of men from
this law began long ago, among those classes who were in a position
to subject others, and, constantly spreading, it has continued down
to our own times; and in our own day it has reached folly, the ideal
consisting in evasion of the law,--the ideal expressed by Prince
Blokhin, and shared in by Renan and by the whole cultivated world:
"Machines will work, and people will be bundles of nerves devoted to

There was hardly any departure from the law in the part of women, it
was expressed only in prostitution, and in the refusal to bear
children--in private cases. The women belonging to the wealthy
classes fulfilled their law, while the men did not comply with
theirs; and therefore the women became stronger, and continued to
rule, and must rule, over men who have evaded the law, and who have,
therefore, lost their senses. It is generally stated that woman (the
woman of Paris in particular is childless) has become so bewitching,
through making use of all the means of civilization, that she has
gained the upper hand over man by this fascination of hers. This is
not only unjust, but precisely the reverse of the truth. It is not
the childless woman who has conquered man, but the mother, that woman
who has fulfilled her law, while the man has not fulfilled his. That
woman who deliberately remains childless, and who entrances man with
her shoulders and her locks, is not the woman who rules over men, but
the one who has been corrupted by man, who has descended to his
level,--to the level of the vicious man,--who has evaded the law
equally with himself, and who has lost, in company with him, every
rational idea of life.

From this error springs that remarkable piece of stupidity which is
called the rights of women. The formula of these rights of women is
as follows: "Here! you man," says the woman, "you have departed from
your law of real labor, and you want us to bear the burden of our
real labor. No, if this is to be so, we understand, as well as you
do, how to perform those semblances of labor which you exercise in
banks, ministries, universities, and academies; we desire, like
yourselves, under the pretext of the division of labor, to make use
of the labor of others, and to live for the gratification of our
caprices alone." They say this, and prove by their action that they
understand no worse, if not better, than men, how to exercise this
semblance of labor.

This so-called woman question has come up, and could only come up,
among men who have departed from the law of actual labor. All that
is required is, to return to that, and this question cannot exist.
Woman, having her own inevitable task, will never demand the right to
share the toil of men in the mines and in the fields. She could only
demand to share in the fictitious labors of the men of the wealthy

The woman of our circle has been, and still is, stronger than the
man, not by virtue of her fascinations, not through her cleverness in
performing the same pharisaical semblance of work as man, but because
she has not stepped out from under the law that she should undergo
that real labor, with danger to her life, with exertion to the last
degree, from which the man of the wealthy classes has excused

But, within my memory, a departure from this law on the part of
woman, that is to say, her fall, has begun; and, within my memory, it
has become more and more the case. Woman, having lost the law, has
acquired the belief that her strength lies in the witchery of her
charms, or in her skill in pharisaical pretences at intellectual
work. And both things are bad for the children. And, within my
memory, women of the wealthy classes have come to refuse to bear
children. And so mothers who hold the power in their hands let it
escape them, in order to make way for the dissolute women, and to put
themselves on a level with them. The evil is already wide-spread,
and is extending farther and farther every day; and soon it will lay
hold on all the women of the wealthy classes, and then they will
compare themselves with men: and in company with them, they will
lose the rational meaning of life. But there is still time.

If women would but comprehend their destiny, their power, and use it
for the salvation of their husbands, brothers, and children,--for the
salvation of all men!

Women of the wealthy classes who are mothers, the salvation of the
men of our world from the evils from which they are suffering, lies
in your hands.

Not those women who are occupied with their dainty figures, with
their bustles, their hair-dressing, and their attraction for men, and
who bear children against their will, with despair, and hand them
over to nurses; nor those who attend various courses of lectures, and
discourse of psychometric centres and differentiation, and who also
endeavor to escape bearing children, in order that it may not
interfere with their folly which they call culture: but those women
and mothers, who, possessing the power to refuse to bear children,
consciously and in a straightforward way submit to this eternal,
unchangeable law, knowing that the burden and the difficulty of such
submission is their appointed lot in life,--these are the women and
mothers of our wealthy classes, in whose hands, more than in those of
any one else, lies the salvation of the men of our sphere in society
from the miseries that oppress them.

Ye women and mothers who deliberately submit yourselves to the law of
God, you alone in our wretched, deformed circle, which has lost the
semblance of humanity, you alone know the whole of the real meaning
of life, according to the law of God; and you alone, by your example,
can demonstrate to people that happiness in life, in submission to
the will of God, of which they are depriving themselves. You alone
know those raptures and those joys which invade the whole being, that
bliss which is appointed for the man who does not depart from the law
of God. You know the happiness of love for your husbands,--a
happiness which does not come to an end, which does not break off
short, like all other forms of happiness, and which constitutes the
beginning of a new happiness,--of love for your child. You alone,
when you are simple and obedient to the will of God, know not that
farcical pretence of labor which the men of our circle call work, and
know that the labor imposed by God on men, and know its true rewards,
the bliss which it confers. You know this, when, after the raptures
of love, you await with emotion, fear, and terror that torturing
state of pregnancy which renders you ailing for nine months, which
brings you to the verge of death, and to intolerable suffering and
pain. You know the conditions of true labor, when, with joy, you
await the approach and the increase of the most terrible torture,
after which to you alone comes the bliss which you well know. You
know this, when, immediately after this torture, without respite,
without a break, you undertake another series of toils and
sufferings,--nursing,--in which process you at one and the same time
deny yourselves, and subdue to your feelings the very strongest human
need, that of sleep, which, as the proverb says, is dearer than
father or mother; and for months and years you never get a single
sound, unbroken might's rest, and sometimes, nay, often, you do not
sleep at all for a period of several nights in succession, but with
failing arms you walk alone, punishing the sick child who is breaking
your heart. And when you do all this, applauded by no one, and
expecting no praises for it from any one, nor any reward,--when you
do this, not as an heroic deed, but like the laborer in the Gospel
when he came from the field, considering that you have done only that
which was your duty, then you know what the false, pretentious labor
of men performed for glory really is, and that true labor is
fulfilling the will of God, whose command you feel in your heart.
You know that if you are a true mother it makes no difference that no
one has seen your toil, that no one has praised you for it, but that
it has only been looked upon as what must needs be so, and that even
those for whom your have labored not only do not thank you, but often
torture and reproach you. And with the next child you do the same:
again you suffer, again you undergo the fearful, invisible labor; and
again you expect no reward from any one, and yet you feel the sane

If you are like this, you will not say after two children, or after
twenty, that you have done enough, just as the laboring man fifty
years of age will not say that he has worked enough, while he still
continues to eat and to sleep, and while his muscles still demand
work; if you are like this, your will not cast the task of nursing
and care-taking upon some other mother, just as a laboring man will
not give another man the work which he has begun, and almost
completed, to finish: because into this work you will throw your
life. And therefore the more there is of this work, the fuller and
the happier is your life.

And when you are like this, for the good fortune of men, you will
apply that law of fulfilling God's will, by which you guide your
life, to the lives of your husband, of your children, and of those
most nearly connected with you. If your are like this, and know from
your own experience, that only self-sacrificing, unseen, unrewarded
labor, accompanied with danger to life and to the extreme bounds of
endurance, for the lives of others, is the appointed lot of man,
which affords him satisfaction, then you will announce these demands
to others; you will urge your husband to the same toil; and you will
measure and value the dignity of men acceding to this toil; and for
this toil you will also prepare your children.

Only that mother who looks upon children as a disagreeable accident,
and upon love, the comforts of life, costume, and society, as the
object of life, will rear her children in such a manner that they
shall have as much enjoyment as possible out of life, and that they
shall make the greatest possible use of it; only she will feed them
luxuriously, deck them out, amuse them artificially; only she will
teach them, not that which will fit them for self-sacrificing
masculine or feminine labor with danger of their lives, and to the
last limits of endurance, but that which will deliver them from this
labor. Only such a woman, who has lost the meaning of her life, will
sympathize with that delusive and false male labor, by means of which
her husband, having rid himself of the obligations of a man, is
enabled to enjoy, in her company, the work of others. Only such a
woman will choose a similar man for the husband of her daughter, and
will estimate men, not by what they are personally, but by that which
is connected with them,--position, money, or their ability to take
advantage of the labor of others.

But the true mother, who actually knows the will of God, will fit her
children to fulfil it also. For such a mother, to see her child
overfed, enervated, decked out, will mean suffering; for all this, as
she well knows, will render difficult for him the fulfilment of the
law of God in which she has instructed him. Such a mother will
teach, not that which will enable her son and her daughter to rid
themselves of labor, but that which will help them to endure the
toils of life. She will have no need to inquire what she shall teach
her children, for what she shall prepare them. Such a woman will not
only not encourage her husband to false and delusive labor, which has
but one object, that of using the labors of others; but she will bear
herself with disgust and horror towards such an employment, which
serves as a double temptation to her children. Such a woman will not
choose a husband for her daughter on account of the whiteness of his
hands and the refinement of manner; but, well aware that labor and
deceit will exist always and everywhere, she will, beginning with her
husband, respect and value in men, and will require from them, real
labor, with expenditure and risk of life, and she will despise that
deceptive labor which has for its object the ridding one's self of
all true toil.

Such a mother, who brings forth children and nurses them, and will
herself, rather than any other, feed her offspring and prepare their
food, and sew, and wash, and teach her children, and sleep and talk
with them, because in this she grounds the business of her life,--
only such a mother will not seek for her children external guaranties
in the form of her husband's money, and the children's diplomas; but
she will rear them to that same capacity for the self-sacrificing
fulfilment of the will of God which she is conscious of herself
possessing,--a capacity for enduring toil with expenditure and risk
of life,--because she knows that in this lies the sole guaranty, and
the only well-being in life. Such a mother will not ask other people
what she ought to do; she will know every thing, and will fear

If there can exist any doubt for the man and for the childless woman,
as to the path in which the fulfilment of the will of God lies, this
path is firmly and clearly defined for the woman who is a mother; and
if she has complied with it in submissiveness and in simplicity of
spirit, she, standing on that loftiest height of bliss which the
human being is permitted to attain, will become a guiding-star for
all men who are seeking good. Only the mother can calmly say before
her death, to Him who sent her into this world, and to Him whom she
has served by bearing and rearing children more dear than herself,--
only she can say calmly, having served Him who has imposed this
service upon her: "Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace."
And this is the highest perfection, towards which, as towards the
highest bliss, men are striving.

Such are the women, who, having fulfilled their destiny, reign over
powerful men; such are the women who prepare the new generations of
people, and fix public opinion: and, therefore, in the hands of
these women lies the highest power of saving men from the prevailing
and threatening evils of our times.

Yes, ye women and mothers, in your hands, more than in those of all
others, lies the salvation of the world!


{1}  In English in the text.

{2}  An excellent translation of Kriloff's Fables, by Mr. W. R. S.
Ralston, is published in London.

{3}  Burlak, pl. burlaki, is a boatman on the River Volga.

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