Popular Science Monthly/Volume 20/March 1882/Science and the Woman Question




MARCH, 1882.



ALMOST all social reforms are made top-heavy by a false philosophy. Facts are of easy accumulation, but the scientific rule of deducing no principle which facts will not prove gets but unwilling countenance from reform agitators. The reform philosophy which asks for the elevation of women admits an inferiority of position and power on their part, but at the same time claims that this inferiority is due to temporary causes. It bridges the broad gulf between masculine and feminine achievement by the excuse of a different environment. If the difference is, indeed, due to temporary conditions, it is, of course, removable by the removal of such conditions. It is the purpose of this paper to consider whether the difference (especially in intellectual power) of the two sexes is attributable to permanent or to temporary conditions. The nearest way of getting at this question is to attack it upon its physiological side.

Students of physiology see that a final and conclusive law can not yet be drawn from differences in brain-weights and measurements, because of the present imperfection of such data. But there is an even broader and better foundation from which to build up a conclusion, and I propose to stand on this more general ground. In order, however, that such physiological details may have due influence upon the general argument, I give a few of the best-established facts. Professor Bastian's work on the brain, published in 1880, sums up his studies of this organ as affected by sex. I condense or quote from him the following statements: "Difference of sex, in its influence over capacity of skull, is often greater than difference of race. . . . Difference of cranial capacity between the sexes increases with the development of the race, so that the male European excels much more the female than the negro the negress. The difference in the average capacity of the skulls of male and female among modern Parisians is almost double that between the skulls of the male and female inhabitants of ancient Egypt. . . . The general superiority, in absolute weight, of the male over the female brain exists at every period of development. In. new-born infants, the brain was found by Tiedemann to weigh from 1412 ounces to 1534 ounces in the male, and from 10 ounces to 1312 ounces in the female. The maximum weight of the adult male brain, in a series of 278 cases, was 65 ounces; the minimum weight, 34 ounces. The maximum weight of the adult female brain, in a series of 191 cases, was 56 ounces; the minimum, 31 ounces. In a large proportion the male brain ranges between 46 and 53 ounces, and the female between 41 and 47 ounces. A mean average weight of 49 ounces may be deduced for the male, and of 44 ounces for the female brain." It is further given, on the authority of Gratiolet and others, that the male brain can not fall below 37 ounces without involving idiocy; while the female may fall to 32 ounces without such a result. AH accepted authorities agree that the average male brain exceeds the average female brain in weight by about ten per cent. Professor Thurnam also adds, "The brain-weight of the male negro is the same as that of the female European."

Of qualitative differences of brain we know next to nothing; we can not study quality from the physiological side, but are driven to an appeal to the concrete products of brain activity. Yet it is most probable that we may at some time establish an exact correspondence between brain-substance and intelligence, as the size and condition of the lungs yield an exact measure of the breathing power, and as the contractile muscle of the heart measures the quantity of blood ejected at each pulsation. In the case of every other organ of the body we know that there is an ascertainable correspondence between size and condition, and the amount of work which the organ can do. Is there any good reason for making an exception of the brain? The plethysmograph (described in "The Popular Science Monthly" for July, 1880) measures the amount of blood sent to the brain in any particular process of thought, and records the exact time for each process. We shall, doubtless, some time find it to be as complete a physical impossibility for a small and simply organized brain to do a great amount of thinking within a given time as for a small heart to eject a large quantity of blood at each beat, or for small lungs to absorb large amounts of oxygen at each inspiration. Now, if we are not yet certain of the kind and degree of structural differences in the brains of men and women, we still have overwhelming external evidence of the existence of such differences. We have as much external evidence of the superior quality of the masculine brain as of the superior breathing power of the masculine lungs, or of the superior absorbing power of the masculine stomach. We do not examine a muscle to ascertain its internal structure. The-weight which it will lift, or the distance which it will travel in a given time, is an unfailing index of its quality. If it were possible to collect all the results of the muscular activity of men, from the beginning of civilization until the present, and likewise all the results of the muscular activity of women for the same period, we should reason instantaneously, from these phenomena, to the superior quality of masculine muscle. We should need no resurrection of dead men and women to demonstrate the difference.

Let us now consider with more attention the general physiological law that quantity of power is in proportion to the size of the body. This brings us to the still more fundamental principle of the inseparability of matter and force. A large amount of matter represents more force than a small amount; and this law includes vital organisms as well as inorganic masses. Under proper conditions for test, the amount of power evolved by any vital organism is in direct ratio to the size and weight of that organism. This settles the question of quantity of power permanently in favor of man. The weight of all the men of civilized countries would exceed that of all the women by perhaps fifteen or twenty per cent.

Again, it is an accepted truth of modern science that all human energy is derived from the food, and is an exact equivalent of the amount of food consumed and assimilated. The amount of food assimilated by men exceeds the amount assimilated by women by about twenty per cent. This fact has popular recognition in the higher rate of board demanded for men. It inevitably follows that man, as a sex, representing more food-assimilation than woman, must represent more energy of some kind. If the collective weights and food-assimilating capacities of men should ever fall below those of women, there would follow a reversal of the present relations; but, while these two facts remain, it follows, with mathematical certainty, that the amount of power evolved by men must exceed that evolved by women. While man eats more, he will stand for more. It may be simply more muscle, but it must be more of something. Scientific students are rapidly coming to the conclusion that the human body is subject to the same laws of the conservation and transformation of energy which pertain to the whole material universe. Power is in direct proportion to size. The kind of power will depend upon the organization. Food converted into muscle will reappear as work; food converted into brain will reappear as thought and speech. We have a right to insist on the legitimacy of judging brain-power by brain-products. We value brains for thought as we value looms for manufacture. A barrel of brains is of no account, unless we can evolve from them a steam-engine or a poem. We have seen it hinted, in a recent essay by Dr. Bedell, of Chicago, that women probably possess a larger amount of actual nervous matter, in proportion to the size of the body, than men. Many external facts strengthen this theory. But nervous matter distributed over the body, in the form of threads and sensory ganglia, although it would certainly increase the amount of sensitiveness, by giving more nervous surface in proportion to the entire mass, would tend to create a preponderance of emotion over thought. Very strong probability is lent to this explanation by the liability of women to nervous excitement and disease.

Before dropping the argument from physiology, I wish to refer once more to the necessary relation between size and power. Let us suppose two cases for experiment. Let them be respectively that of a man weighing one hundred and fifty pounds, and that of a woman weighing one hundred and thirty pounds. These figures are not far from the average weight of man and woman. In the woman the digestive organs will be smaller; the absorbing surface will be less; the lung-surface will be less; the quantity of blood will be less (and here we may throw in the interesting physiological fact that the solid constituents of the blood of woman are rated about eight per cent less than in man—i. e., the watery ingredient is larger in woman). Now, if we suppose these two persons to be under similar and normal conditions, with each organ bearing a harmonious relation in size to every other—i. e., if the brain of the man have the same proportion to the weight of his body as the brain of the woman to the weight of her body it inevitably follows (if both assimilate proportionate amounts of food in a given time) that more blood will be sent to the brain of the man within a given time than to the brain of the woman in the same time. Consequently, the man will do more thinking in an hour than the woman. Nor will the woman ever be able to overtake the man in the race of thought, any more than she can overtake him in the amount of circulation; for his brain is of exactly the same quality as hers, but it is larger.

In order to see more clearly the importance of the factor of time in this calculation, as well as to get a clearer understanding of the law of the transformation of energy, let us make the further supposition that a pound of bread is gradually converted into vital energy in both these organisms. In the first place, the capacity for mastication and deglutition will be smaller in the woman. She will not be able to swallow her pound of bread in the same time as will the man. But supposing that he gave her this advantage (since it would depend on his will), yet, when the pound of bread had been transferred to the respective stomachs, the smaller lining membrane of the woman's could not secrete as much gastric juice in a given time as the man's; and as she could make no gain in time from his generosity (for the bread would have passed beyond the control of his will), she could not possibly get her bread digested and absorbed in so short a time as he. His blood could furnish the intestinal juices, reabsorb them with the food in solution, and go about some other work, while hers, with just as much work to do and fewer hands to do it with, can not possibly keep pace with his.

If, now, we may further suppose this pound of bread converted into its equivalent of thought, it is evident that a pound of bread will represent as much thought in a woman's brain as in a man's; but, as her smaller organs refuse to assimilate as fast as his, the larger organism will have a permanent advantage over the smaller one in the element of time. Any other conclusion than the one just stated implies a contradiction of the established relations of matter and force, and there is a general historic corroboration of this idea in the actual record of sex activity. Women have done something of nearly everything that men have done, but they have come later and with smaller offerings. The time-factor is one which we are bound to include in casting up our column of probabilities for the future intellectual equality of the sexes. If our facts are reliable, and the reasoning correct, it must be admitted as proved that the factor of size has given man a superiority over woman, which he will always retain while he retains his larger body and brain. The absolute gain in time which his greater size has given him can not be set aside, unless he should cease to be the medium of transformation of energy, and should wait a few centuries for woman to overtake him, as he might have waited for her to swallow her pound of bread. But even supposing such an impossibility, and granting that she should once overtake him (in the factor of time), so that the two sexes could start fairly in the race of progress, the man would immediately dart ahead again by virtue of his larger size and consequently greater capacity for transforming energy. But any such supposition as an even chance for the two sexes must remain an absurdity. Unless woman can devise some means for reducing the size of man, she must be content to revolve about him in the future as in the past. She may resist her fate, and create some aberrations in her course, but she will be held to her orbit nevertheless.

The argument from physiology has still another element of strength. The perpetuation of the human species is dependent on the function of maternity, and probably twenty per cent of the energy of women between twenty and forty years of age is diverted for the maintenance of maternity and its attendant exactions. Upon the supposition that woman's mental endowment were exactly equal to man's, the amount diverted to maternity must be continually subtracted from it, so that any original equality of intellect would certainly be lost through maternity. This diversion of power would also occur in the years of highest physical vigor. This period in man is that of most active intellectual development, because the physical basis of intellectual energy is most abundant in these years. Consequently, his period of greatest intellectual gain corresponds to her period of greatest loss.

To make this position more intelligible, let us suppose the number of men and women in the world to be exactly equal. Let us further suppose them to be of exactly the same weight; and let us add the condition of exactly the same quantity and quality of brain in both. The one sex would have exactly the same capacity for transforming energy as the other, and this would be the ideal condition of things for which the reformers plead. But, so soon as a single child is born, a certain amount of woman's energy is transformed and imparted to a new individual. The development of the individual woman holds a constantly inverse ratio to the multiplication of the species. The maintenance of intellectual equality between the sexes is impossible, because it is only supposable by the creation of impossible conditions. If our original men and women, who were in all respects equal, had no offspring, the equality would continue for a generation, until the species should have disappeared with the death of the last of these hypothetical beings.

By reflecting that no such original equality ever existed, but that, on the contrary, a considerable physical superiority has been the possession of man from the beginning; by remembering that, in the perpetual struggle for existence, man's physical and intellectual faculties have been stimulated to the utmost in gaining the means of life for himself and for his weaker mate and offspring; and by considering how large an amount of woman's energy must be diverted from intellectual pursuits to the function of maternity—we see that the conditions of intellectual development are vastly in man's favor. We also see that the main features of these original conditions are permanent conditions of human life on the earth. Woman's inferior size and power will forbid her becoming the successful rival of man in the struggle for existence. Consequently, she will miss the powerful intellectual stimulus which this competition creates among men. Lastly, while society continues to exist, she will always be obliged to expend a large proportion of her energy in the function of maternity. All these enumerated and inevitable facts bear upon her chances of intellectual growth, and have a tendency to widen the intellectual gulf between herself and man. Mr. Darwin, in his "Descent of Man" (vol. ii, p. 313), after enumerating the causes which strengthened the differences in mental power of the sexes, adds, "It is, indeed, fortunate that the law of the equal transmission of characters to both sexes has commonly prevailed throughout the whole class of mammals; otherwise, it is probable that man would have become as superior in mental endowment to woman as the peacock is in ornamental plumage to the peahen."

It is not unlikely that the still imperfectly known laws of heredity have increased the intellectual endowment of the male, for Mr. Darwin finds a general law of transmission in the line of sex. If, too, we accept Mr. Spencer's proof of the inverse ratio between individuation and multiplication, we see that intellectual mothers will have fewer daughters than unintellectual ones; so that the chances of transmission of intellectual qualities in the female line will be lessened as culture increases among mothers. Accordingly, the intellectual tendencies which might have been acquired by the short and easy method of heredity will have to be acquired by the slower processes of application. This, again, will require the expenditure of a proportionately larger amount of energy in women than in men, supposing that men have a higher average of intellect through heredity. Moreover, the probabilities of marriage, or, at least, of early marriage, are lessened in cases of intellectual women; so that the chances are, not only that intellectual women will have few daughters, and so be unable to add to the general average of female intellect by sex-transmission, but also that they will be unable to add anything whatever to the sum of hereditary intellect in either sex.

Man has two powerful advantages over woman: the admitted superiority in the size and weight of body and brain, and the certainty of the continuance of conditions which insure that superiority, for the conditions of masculine superiority are the very ones upon which the preservation of the species depends. The necessary outcome of an absolute intellectual equality of the sexes would be the extinction of the human race. For, if all food were converted into thought in both men and women, no food whatever could be appropriated to the reproduction of the species. But, as an actual fact, women do not consume so much food as men; nor can they do so while their average size remains so much smaller. Moreover, of this smaller amount of food consumed by women some must always be spared for the continuance of the race; so that the sum total of food converted into thought by women can never equal the sum total of food converted into thought by men. It follows, therefore, that men will always think more than women.

Nevertheless, if it could be shown that the energy derived from food in men were an energy of inferior quality, women might gain a compensating factor in quality of thought. By the consent of competent judges, the reasoning power and the creative imagination are the highest and most complex forms of brain-energy. We have the most abundant evidence that, while man possesses both these powers in large amount and of superior quality, woman possesses them in much smaller amount and of inferior quality; so that the distinction of exceptional women, of whom a list could be made, would add little to the general low average of feminine power. We hear the power of intuition quoted as a higher one than reason. Women possess this power in a higher degree than men, and are sometimes rated above them in consequence of it. Very little study has been bestowed on this faculty, which has been the occasion of so much self-congratulation to women. But there is considerable evidence that it is acquired by heredity, that it is closely akin to instinct, and that some modification of it is the common possession of women, children, and the lower animals. It is possessed in a lower degree by men, but has escaped registration as a masculine trait. In his classification of the mental powers of the two sexes, Mr. Darwin puts observation, reason, imagination, and invention as those especially selected in man, and likeliest to be transmitted to male off-spring. He also says: "It is generally admitted that with woman the powers of intuition, of rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man; but some, at least, of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilization."