Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/262

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
248
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

but, according to this document, her natural delicacy is owing to them, and she is warned that she may part with womanhood if she persists in her unnatural endeavor to change her occupations. The bee is cited as an example that "sex itself may be determined by continuous special regimen or diet."

Now, so far as any naturalist has observed, sex is not altered[1] by any regimen or diet; and as the subject of our inquiry is not a neutral bit of protoplasm, but a developed individual, woman, we do not need to study the origin of her differentiation so much as its possible modification.

The bees, with instinctive wisdom, feed the male and female larvsB differently, just as we, regardful of distinct uses, furnish varying food to the cow and ox. Yet, as the utmost change in nutrition does not result in transference of function in the mature organism, we need not fear that a different environment will ever rob woman of her essential womanhood. This specter, used to frighten girls from a higher education, is still the favorite totem of the tribe of viriolaters.

Our antisuffragist falls into another grave error when he seeks for "the instinctive tendencies of the dominant sex" in an era and in localities where woman has partial sway. It is not generally in the United States—certainly not in a city of New England—that we should look for the gross masculine ignorance that makes woman a beast of burden. It is in primitive communities that the anthropologist investigates the habits of man as the best exponents of his natural instincts. If we find in all such states of society the male is not inclined to relieve the female from hardship and toil, we can hardly argue that the divisions of labor found among civilized people arise from man's wish to exempt his mate from the arduous tasks of life. The Russian mother toiling in the fields, the Viennese woman laying bricks, the peasant girl harnessed to a cart, are better instances of man's "instinctive tendencies" than any to be found in American cities, where men have learned in some degree to subordinate instinct to reason.

Yet if one, being a woman, was forced to choose between toil in the fields, laying bricks in the sun, or a day at the washtub, it is not altogether certain that the last would be regarded as a privilege. It is possible that some women might prefer the first employments and desire exemption from the scrubbing-board. Moreover, if a child is needed to complicate the case, its chances of life may be vastly better with the flies in the open air than with the germ-laden atmosphere of a tenement.


  1. The genesis of sex in certain orders seems to depend upon differing temperature and nutrition.