I picked up Are Women Human? by Dorothy L. Sayers expecting a rather lengthy and involved discussion on feminism that I would need to re-read several times to fully grasp. Instead I got a volume of barely 75 pages composed of two essays and an introduction so full of common sense that it hardly took any time to read at all. Though groundbreaking as one of the first females to graduates from Oxford and well-known for her work as a writer of fiction and academia, Sayers did not have much to say about feminism. In fact, I would say this volume fulfills more our need (as readers) to have her say something than her need, or even desire, (as an author) to say anything about what it means to be a woman.
The essays were originally published with several others by Sayers in 1947. While they are somewhat dated, they remain quite relevant today. Many of the issues women struggled with then apply to both men and women today. Sayers’s main point is primarily that men and women have more in common than not and that each should be allowed to find the role that suits them best. If a woman is good at business, she should do it because that is what she was made to do. However, if a woman desires to have a family and be a traditional housewife, that too should be regarded as good because that is what she is meant to do. The same standards apply to men and women equally. She gets a bit more snarky in the second essay, “The Human-Not-Quite-Human,” but her point remains the same.
One of my favorite parts comes from her discussion of women wearing “trousers.” While this isn’t something controversial today, I think this passage illustrates her style, and humor, well:
“Let me give one simple illustration of the difference between the right and the wrong kind of feminism. Let us take this terrible business…of the women who go about in trousers. We are asked: ‘Why do you want to go about in trousers? They are extremely unbecoming to most of you. You only do it to copy the men.’ To this we may very properly reply: ‘It is true that they are unbecoming. Even on men they are remarkably unattractive. But, as you men have discovered for yourselves, they are comfortable, they do not get in the way of one’s activities like skirts and they protect the wearer from draughts about the ankles. As a human being, I like comfort and dislike draughts. If the trousers do not attract you, so much the worse; for the moment I do not want to attract you. I want to enjoy myself as a human being, and why not?”