Why did Mrs Martin think there was an antagonism between feminism and the family? She wrote:
The family is a closely organized, coherent, interdependent group. The basic principle upon which it rests is the mutual dependence of its members. It is founded on the needs of its members for one another. Were it not for these mutual needs the family would not have been formed.
Mrs Martin looks back to the long period of human prehistory in which women nursing their infants relied on men to hunt and to provide food. The woman for her part sought to make the man comfortable on his return, i.e. to create a home.
Interdependency does not restrict or limit us. Instead it is a source of our interest and care toward others:
It is the plant which we tend and water that interests us; it is the canary bird we feed ourselves; it is the baby we nurse and fondle and care for; it is the husband whom we watch over, appreciate, sympathize with, are grateful to, enliven, comfort and cheer; it is the wife whom we toil for, protect, guide, defend, serve and cherish - these are the persons whom we love.
... Love feeds upon the need which others have of us. For the independent and self-sufficient who have no use for us, our affections are not drawn out.
We cannot assume that the family will always stand as a part of nature:
The family is not, as we are prone to think of it, a part of the order of nature. It is purely a human invention, brought forth by the pressure of need and the efforts of men and women to satisfy those needs by mutual services. Nor is it at all unthinkable that the institution of the family might one day be abandoned, for all that would be necessary in order to abolish the family would be to remove the needs which have called it into being.
This is a little overstated. There is a push and pull between different drives and instincts in people which either make for or undermine family formation. Where Mrs Martin is correct is that we cannot assume that the forces for traditional family formation will always prove strongest. If the needs which have connected men and women in the family are removed, then family formation can give way:
It is apparent that the unity of the family arises out of its common needs and mutual services. But when woman has no need of man as breadwinner and he has no need for her as home-maker, and the child has no further need for either of them as nurse, teacher, guide, friend, but finds most of its needs supplied elsewhere by paid experts ... - then the cohesive force of the family dissolves.
If you read family correspondence prior to WWI, what is striking is how close the relationship between brothers and sisters often is. I've often wondered if this is because brothers and sisters were more reliant on each other in those times.
Mrs Martin then notes the existence of social forces in her own time undermining the interdependence of family life. She blames commerce for drawing women into economic competition with men who are supposed to be their providers. Once commerce achieved this, she argues, it was human nature for people to rationalise it as liberation for women.
I think this is the weakest part of Mrs Martin's argument. Commercial interests may well have been interested in women's labour as an economic resource. But the ideal of autonomy didn't merely follow on from modern commerce. It existed in its own right as a core aspect of liberal political philosophy.
Anyway, Mrs Martin does get to the crux of things when she writes,
... the nature of the antagonism between feminism and the family becomes apparent. The keynote of the family is dependence; its very existence depends upon the mutual dependence of its members; the greater their degree of dependence the closer is its integrity.
The keynote of feminism, on the contrary, is independence. The ideal family has no place in it for feminism and feminism finds the family continually an obstacle in its way.
And she goes on to develop this idea in an interesting way. What would happen if women were made independent of men? Mrs Martin sketches out a vision of a more matriarchal type of social arrangement. She notes that even in her own time some of the more radical feminists were demanding the right for women to freely select different fathers for their children:
... extreme or advanced feminism attacks the family's sex unity: demanding for woman "freedom from sex domination" and the right to choose the father (or it may be the fathers) of her children.
Alexandra Kollontai was one such feminist of the period. In one essay Kollontai,
approvingly describes the possibility of maternity now becoming "an aim in itself," distinct from the mother's relations to the child's father. (In this essay and elsewhere, Kollontai only addresses fatherhood in passing as an option interested men could engage in for educational purposes.)
Society hasn't yet reached the point at which this has gone mainstream. But there's been a shift toward it. In the black American family or on English housing estates it's not uncommon for women to have children by different fathers. And the change in attitudes isn't just amongst the poor. When English celebrity Ulrike Jonsson defended her 4x4 family (four children to four different fathers) the comments in the Daily Mail were overwhelmingly in her favour.
Mrs Martin then goes on to describe the marginalisation of men within the family that was likely to occur if men were rendered unnecessary to family life:
Feminism is a process of putting Father out of business; of deposing him from his position of distinction and responsibility in some woman's little world ... Feminism aims to render him superfluous and unnecessary. It is showing woman how she can quite well get along without him and still have everything that she wants - independence, prosperity, the vote, self-support, self-direction, even independent motherhood if she desires it and can afford it.
It is the promise of autonomy (independence, self-support, self-direction), including sexual autonomy (independent motherhood). But the role of men would become limited:
Relieved of all responsibility and distinction ... man will wander through life ... his final position as time goes on, becoming like that of the drone in the beehive. The work of the hive will have gradually passed into the hands of industrious, self-supporting, spinster workers.
In the completed feminist state the male [will] drag out a subordinate and somewhat surreptitious existence, sneaking in and out of the back door, when sent for like a guilty plumber. He ... now reduced ... to the domestic status of a tomcat.
Mrs Martin doesn't use the term matriarchy, but what she describes is similar to those cultures which have sometimes been called matriarchal (or matrifocal). For instance, the Mosuo culture in China has an upper class which is patriarchal, but a lower class which is matrifocal. In the lower class, there is no marriage as we understand it, but a system in which a man stays the night at a woman's house:
Traditionally, a Mosuo woman or male will initiate interest in a potential partner. If the companion expresses interest, the woman gives the man permission to visit her. Such pairings are generally conducted secretly, so the man walks to her house after dark, spends the night with her, and returns home early the next morning. Mosuo women and men can engage in sexual relations with as many partners they desire.
Even though a pairing may be long term, the man never lives with the woman's family ... Mosuo women continue to live with and be responsible to their own families. There is no sharing of property. Most significantly, when children are born, the father may have little responsibility for his offspring ... the child will be raised in the mother's family, and take on her family name.
This type of marriage practice ... can be initiated at will and ended in the same manner ... Walking marriages ... allow more independence.
The lower class Mosuo men, if chosen, get to sneak in for a night-time tryst. But they don't get to have a distinct role as fathers. As Mrs Martin wrote, they have a "subordinate and somewhat surreptitious existence, sneaking in and out of the back door".
As a result, such men have little interest in accumulating private property to pass on to their progeny - they can't even be sure who their progeny is. So it's not surprising that those cultures most often identified as "matrifocal" (there don't seem to be any truly "matriarchal" cultures) are subsistence economies. Men don't have the high level investment in these cultures to create higher order economies and civilisations.
Mrs Martin was concerned enough in 1914 to believe that the future was at stake:
The future existence of our race depends upon keeping the desire for maternity alive in women. But the final outcome of feminism is inevitably the deadening of this desire by reason of its antagonism to the family ... Woman to-day, for the first time in history, holds in her hands the key to the situation. At her pleasure she may lock or unlock the gates of the future.