Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/May 1896/The Political Rights and Duties of Women
|THE POLITICAL RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF WOMEN.|
By GEORGE F. TALBOT.
THE political enfranchisement of women is so prominent a topic of discussion among all people that live under representative governments that no apology seems required for a contribution to the debate. It does not, however, seem necessary to recapitulate the arguments for and against the concession of the ballot to women—as if that alone was the ultimate or principal part of their demand—or to sum up and formulate any judicial finding on the basis of these arguments.
It is not difficult to perceive that the usual ground might be gone over, the usual arguments for woman suffrage stated and conceded, without touching any of the vital issues involved in the proposed change. The fact is, that the right to vote, in giving reasons against which the conservative thinker is always at disadvantage—always obliged to be more or less illogical and inconsistent—is not what is really asked, but something beyond it very much more radical and questionable. Let us see if we can not by an appeal secure from discontented womanhood a frank acknowledgment of the real ultimatum of demand, the specific redress of what is deemed the actual grievance.
There are two alternatives which might be proposed to the Woman Suffrage Association, or whatever other body has a right to represent the political demands of women:
1. Let the ballot be given to all women of full age who are citizens, with the condition, however, in the article or act itself in which this right is given, that they shall not be eligible to any executive, legislative, or judicial office, under the national. State, or municipal governments, except certain clerical and subordinate offices now open to women under custom or law, such as postmaster, register of deeds, member of school committee, etc.
2. Let such women as petition for it be admitted to full citizenship, with the right to vote and hold office, on proving their qualifications before the courts to whom jurisdiction over such petitions may be assigned. The judge listens to the application and the proof offered, that the petitioner is fairly intelligent, that her moral character is irreproachable, and she has not and is not
liable to have any domestic duties or relations which will disenable her from performance of all the employments which citizenship might impose upon her. To require her to hold herself liable to be drafted as a soldier in case of invasion or rebellion might not seem in these times of peace necessary, but that she could and would perform the duties of any office to which she would be liable by the very franchise she had sought to obtain, without pleading any exemption or disability due to her permanent condition as woman, would seem a not unreasonable requirement. If, in the discretion of the judge, she should successfully pass this preliminary examination, let her be admitted to full citizenship, with the right to be an elector, and to be elected to office on the same terms with men; while women generally, who do not desire even to vote, who are appalled at the thought of competing for office, and for whom the duties of any office are utterly incompatible with their fidelity as wives and mothers, are left in the political status which they prefer.
It is not assuming too much to anticipate that both these alternative propositions, if submitted as a definite settlement of the woman question to those persons of both sexes who, on either side of the Atlantic, have by their zeal and devotion earned the right to be considered as the leaders of what is called the woman movement, would be listened to with disdainful satire and scorn. It is avowed by all these persons, who speak frankly, that women want the ballot in order that they may become candidates and officeholders, and so be able in the interest of their own sex to affect local. State, and national legislation. We may, therefore, lay on the table the specific question of giving the ballot to women—leave it unsettled—conceding that, if it were only that, the matter might be arranged to meet the wishes of the petitioners, and confine ourselves in this discussion to the rights and qualifications of women to be the administrators of political power, and the effect which the exercise by women of those political functions now performed exclusively by men would have upon the welfare and character of women generally.
I. To the complete performance of such political functions there is this serious natural impediment: four fifths of the women all the world over, between the ages of twenty and sixty, are occupied with paramount domestic obligations quite incompatible with that integrity of devotion to public duties which all the great executive, judicial, and legislative offices demand of those who fill them. Under this disability of Nature, or closely related to it, all the objections to the exercise of political functions by women may be classed, so that no other objection need be considered. If the mother of a family of young children should give to the office of President, Governor, judge, or sheriff that entire devotion of energy, time, and thought which her official oath exacted of her, she would be obliged to do it at the expense of that assiduous care, watchfulness, and service which her wifely and maternal relations demand.
Let us consider contingencies quite likely to occur under a régime which divided fairly between men and women the responsibilities of civic and public life. Would a husband of the city where this is written, going early to and returning late from his business—say that of chief salesman in a large retail store, or a contractor engaged in erecting a block of buildings—enjoy the honor of his wife's election to the Legislature, if while she were shut up in committee rooms with men, or interviewed at her lodgings by lobbyists, or waiting to mingle her shrill voice in the mêlée of a general debate in the House, the measles or the scarlatina should break out in the forlorn group of his motherless children? The banker, who had been harassed all day by the intelligence of a financial crash that threatened his own fortunes and the funds of widows and orphans of whom he was the trustee, would have a still stronger claim on the public sympathy if, coming home at night for fellowship and cheerful words, and asking his eldest daughter where her mother was, he should be told: "Oh, you know she is out on the jury with eleven men on that dreadful murder case, and it is not thought they can come in before morning."
I know the answer to this objection generally made: Yes, there are many women, as there are also some men, whose health, whose business, whose domestic cares, render them averse to office and exempt them from its responsibility. The good sense of the voters may be trusted not to select such engaged persons as candidates; and if they should be selected the good sense of the candidate can be trusted to decline the office, and that will end it.
But is this answer quite satisfactory? It is a question of reconsidering and readjusting the occupations respectively of men and women, which all civilized and uncivilized peoples, without concert among themselves, have established and built into their social institutions. An arrangement of this permanence and universality may be considered an arrangement of Nature. Nature evidently regards as of supreme importance the perpetuation of the race, and imposes presumably, and at least potentially, upon all women a paramount duty in accomplishing this purpose. The political disability, whether extending actually to four fifths of womankind or potentially to all womankind, is one irrevocably connected with that very office and raison d'être, which called woman into existence. An objection to employment in public office good as against four fifths of the female sex ought to be good as to the whole sex, just as if it were a question of enlisting women as soldiers, or shipping them as seamen, or engaging them as miners or engineers—a disability affecting the greater number would be likely to disenable the whole.
This is the situation. The great body of men—the men in the prime of their physical and mental powers—have no employments or duties imposed upon them by Nature incompatible with the strict performance of the obligations of public office. A man may be a punctual and industrious executive officer, a studious judge, a commanding general successfully conducting a campaign, and be no whit less a faithful and helpful husband, a wise and provident father. This very excellence in these purely private and domestic virtues, while it would add to his popularity, would never be thought of as impairing his efficiency as a public servant.
Now it happens that women during the same period of their physical and mental prime are by their ruling instincts and their dominant sentiments assigned to duties which leave neither time nor faculty for any absorbing and responsible public station. It might be invidious to say that the best women are in this category of disability; it must be said, however, that the women whom men think the best—at least the best to be wives and the mothers of their children—are not eligible to public office.
In this actual condition of things what will be the probable result of sharing with all women, by a sweeping enfranchisement, the privileges of all political offices? Only those will be likely to be proposed as candidates, or at least will consent to be candidates, who have no incompatible domestic duties—unmarried women, who have no pleasant homes, or fathers, brothers, or sons with whom they can live harmoniously, and all the forlorn class, who have failed to come into agreeable relations with other persons, or who have made shipwreck of their domestic ventures. I question whether the great body of virtuous and intelligent women, the mothers, wives, and sisters of the citizens, would be so well satisfied to be represented by such persons as by those citizens themselves. Our domestic experiences appoint and maintain relations between women and men far more tender and intimate than are possible between women and women, ormen and other men.
Nor is the contingent disability one to be lightly overlooked. There hangs over the fortunes of every woman, at least during the early periods of her career, the liability to the grande passion that so greatly affects human destiny and character. Every housekeeper knows how precarious is the engagement of her domestic servant. If you have secured an exceptionally excellent person in your kitchen, and have begun to look forward to months and years of wholesome cooking and economic administration, along comes the inopportune lover and carries off your prize. You think her an admirable assistant; so does he, and under the spell of his superior attraction your vision of domestic quiet and order vanishes. The same fortune befalls female clerks in stores, in banks, and in public offices, and teachers in all schools, public and private. Almost invariably we lose our 'clerks, our teachers, when they become wives; almost invariably we do not lose our clerks and teachers when they become husbands, never except when they pass to a higher grade of service or to partnership or an independent business.
Love rules the court, the camp, the grove,
And men below and saints above.
Let us suppose that in this congressional district, under the régime of full woman suffrage, some brilliant, educated, and accomplished lady, whose eloquence on the stump in a political campaign had electrified thousands of listening voters, had been nominated and elected as representative to Congress. Among the auditors whom she had fascinated might not one every-way eligible man have been bold enough to make confession of a personal attachment before the eloquent pleadings of which this young Jeanne d'Arc of politics should find herself compelled to forego her ambition for public distinction, and take upon herself the humbler but sweeter duty of consecration to a single man? The same accident would befall everywhere. Only the intelligent and agreeable women would be popular, and only the popular women would be candidates and elected. To put them in office would of itself expose them everywhere to appropriation by men brought by the occasions of public business into the circle of their acquaintance. I dare not pursue further this dangerous argument.
Will the female suffragists consent to a self-denying ordinance that shall exclude from office? I apprehend not. That is the very thing they will not listen to with patience. They have avowed that what they demand is that women shall have an opportunity to try their hands at law-making and law-administering, with a view of bettering both. They wish to vote in order that they may vote for each other, and no way has been proposed or seems practicable of making women electors that will not also make them potentially the elected.
As soon as the naturalized Irishmen in Portland became an appreciable element of the voting population, they began to be put upon the electoral tickets for municipal and State offices by both parties. In Boston and in New York, where they compose a majority of the voters, they get the majority of candidacies for places under the city government. When by a heroic effort we lifted a million of ignorant and degraded slaves to the rank of citizens and electors, the immediate result was negro justices of the peace, negro judges of the courts, negro members of Congress, and in more than one State negro Legislatures, which proceeded in a summary way to confiscate the property of the late masters by taxation, ostensibly expended in public works and largely wasted by private plunder. If the effect of raising to the grade of voters the whole mass of illiterate slaves was to give them the whole political control of several States, why will not this complete enfranchisement of women give them the political control in all the older States, where they will be in the numerical majority?
If it be urged that the great body of women in this country have no taste for politics and do not desire office, and that their domestic duties exempt them from the responsibility of office, the same conditions might have been urged in behalf of the freedmen. They knew nothing about politics, did not care for office, and were under the necessity of earning their living and getting for themselves and their children homes, fortunes, and the rudiments of education. In that very condition a few bright colored men, native and immigrant, and many cunning white men, carpet-bag adventurers, intervened as the freedmen's special friends and took the offices the negroes could not hold. May not a like experience follow woman suffrage? A few restless women, mostly those whose domestic relations are out of gear or who have failed in a congenial social career, will find themselves at leisure to pose as nominees and candidates to represent their whole sex, and they will remember, in the distribution of such offices as they do not aspire for, those cunning men who, believing that the millennium of woman's rights was coming, had made themselves prominent in advocating them.
II. What wrongs are there affecting society which the women's vote and the political power it gives will set right? What disability or oppression does woman suffer at the hands of man, which she must rise in her physical might to redress? Every other agitation for social or political reform now rife, or that has been rife in my day, has been able to justify itself by a flagrant abuse repugnant to the universal sentiments of mankind. Slavery, intemperance, the poverty and privations that have been caused by unjust distribution of the products of industry—all these are palpable evils that denunciation can not exaggerate nor eloquence winged by strong emotion overstate. But the woman's grievance against man in these modern times, in any civilized country, what is it? The moment you begin to sum it up, the moment you undertake to tabulate and itemize it, you provoke the indignation of all generous and intelligent women. The moment you attempt to inflate its emptiness with the breath of invective you have to deal with hysteric fancies rather than hard facts, or consciously to enact a make-believe.
I am careful to say that woman has no grievance against man, I do not say she has no grievance. In common with all sentient creatures she does complain of the hard conditions of universal existence—conditions which it has been the long, slow effort of what we call civilization to amend and improve. The special hardship of the lot appointed to her by Nature is, that the pains, burdens, and weary cares that parentage imposes upon each generation, in order to provide for the succession of the race, have been unequally and cruelly laden upon one of the sexes. Through the long uncivilized ages, before man had wrung from niggard Nature any material comforts, any security against impending death, any leisure for thought, culture, or enjoyment, the conditions of the male and female were more nearly balanced in what each was called to endure. If on the latter fell the pangs of childbirth, and the long vigils of nurture for the feeblest younglings among living creatures, on the former came the brunt of internecine battles with fierce brutes and fiercer fellow-men. Civilization increasing the leisure, lightening the toil of man, and relieving him in a large degree from the wars in which he was mutilated and slain, has not been able, in any appreciable degree, to redeem woman from the primitive sufferings by which she consecrated her motherhood; and so the unequal fortunes of the two branches of the human race have become under the improved fortunes of the race more pronounced.
Woman does not put this into her bill of grievances, nor with her instinctive delicacy is she likely to do so. Symptoms that indicate disease sometimes mislead as to the character and actual seat of the disease. What woman will not ask for herself the respect and sense of justice of man must award her, and that is the complete sovereignty over all those functions engaged in the perpetuation of the race, insured by physical structure itself to the females of the inferior orders of living creatures. Woman has earned by her sufferings, by the enormous surplus of her contribution of time and strength and feeling to the maintenance of the family life, the right to control it, to initiate by her selection and the promptings of her own sentiments and preferences all its permitted intimacies. But all this, so difficult to formulate, must be left out in a discussion of a distinct though related subject.
Leaving out, then, whatever offense a cruel Nature has committed against woman, let us see if men have fairly acquitted themselves of their natural obligations to her. Take the present legal status of woman. Since men began to make laws they have made them for women, and in what situation has their deliberate sense of justice left women before the law? One after the other they have obliterated from the statute book all laws that discriminated against women in respect to their personal rights, and to the acquirement, possession, and disposal of their property—old laws that had their origin in the barbaric spirit that made woman the slave of man, and, it must be confessed, which found no little sanction in that dogma of our accredited Christianity, which taught, too plainly to be misunderstood, that woman was as much below man in the scale of being as man was below the angels, her paramount duty being to be subject to him. But all this barbarism. Christian and un-Christian, has been swept away, and that too not by woman's suffrage, actual or prospective, nor by woman's petition or any political agitation prompted by her, but by man's own sense of equity and right.
No, women are not an oppressed class, least so in the United States, in England, in any country whose people have inherited the Teutonic sentiment which in the ancient Germany described by Tacitus made women counselors and advisers in the affairs of war, government, and business, as well as in matters purely domestic. Women are a privileged class.
When I say, and say after much careful thought, that women in this country are a privileged class, I have not in my mind those courtesies and civilities that have become established customs in all good society. I do not mean the respect which prompts all well-bred men to lift their hats to every woman of their acquaintance whom they pass in the street, that starts to his feet even the aged citizen when a robust girl gets into a horse-car or a thronged public meeting, even when the occasion of it may be to affect an election in which only men are concerned. All these are graceful offices for men to render, pleasant attentions for women to receive; but they are trivial, and to magnify them into substantial equivalents for political disfranchisement is to add insult to injury.
Let me make a brief inventory of some of the more substantial immunities and exemptions which women as women possess and enjoy, which mitigate for them the stress and strain of life, which affect their character, happiness, and destiny, as the usages and etiquette of social intercourse do not and can not, which, if not a compensation for political privileges, and for that excess of burden that maternity bears in caring for the perpetuation of the race, is a generous attempt on the part of men to make for their mates and yoke-fellows an easier pathway through a rugged world. To most of these exemptions and immunities the sex have become so accustomed that they are rather regarded as a part of the order of Nature than as a conventionality dictated by a generous sentiment.
III. Women are exempted from the perils, wounds, and deaths incident to war.
When we study man through his long history, we are compelled to confess that he is a fighting animal. Whatever other employments he has had on this planet, he has been largely occupied in killing his fellow-men. We have looked forward to an impending millennium of peace for the world. We Americans have assured ourselves that our country, strong in wealth and in numbers and in its remoteness from the great warring nations of Europe constantly watching each other in arms, would never be engaged in those wars that have decimated the human race through the boasted ages of civilization and Christianization. But what has befallen us? Our grandfathers passed through the long and wasting War of Independence; our fathers—a favored generation—had only the brief British and Mexican Wars; and, to compensate for this immunity, there fell upon us, the grandchildren, one of the most destructive and bloody wars of history. To this war the State in which I live contributed seventy-two thousand men—more than a tenth of its population, two thirds of its arms-bearing people. So far, even in this asylum of peace, war has made its demand on the human life of each successive generation.
The requisition which wars have made upon human life during the comparatively brief historic period is something frightful to contemplate, and this requisition has been decidedly upon one sex. It is true that myriads of women and children have perished in the massacres, famines, and pestilences that have supplemented battles and sieges; but it was nevertheless always the chief care of the fighters on both sides not to expose their women to these casualties, and the first condition of making men courageous soldiers is to assure them of the safety of wives and children.
To what is the exemption of women from military service due? The hasty answer may be, to their physical and mental unfitness. The physical strength of the average woman is perhaps twenty per cent less than that of the average man. This disparity could be readily adjusted by adapting the labor and discipline of the two classes of recruits to it. Make the regulation musket for the female regiments twenty per cent lighter than the standard, and so the personal baggage; and if twenty miles is a fair day's march for men soldiers, require of the women soldiers but fifteen miles. The nerves of women might more quickly than those of men succumb to the terror of shot and shell, or of a bayonet charge, but actual wounds and mutilations they would endure with more patience.
In the few instances of an exceptional custom preserved in history, natural disability had ceased to be a factor. There is a Greek legend of the Amazons, a race of women in Asia, so formidable as to terrorize all the early Grecian settlements, and to require such valorous heroes as Bellerophon and Hercules to subdue them. Travelers more trustworthy than Baron Munchausen tell us of an African king, whose standing army is of women—a fierce and terrible array.
It is even possible that in this judgment an effect has been mistaken for a cause. Women have not been exempted from military service on account of their congenital delicacy, but their characteristic delicacy is the slow result of their exemption from this and other hardships submitted to by men.
Certain phenomena open to general observation warn us that it will not do to trust too implicitly the permanence of natural laws, and that physical structure and accompanying mental endowments may be greatly modified by continued unfavorable environments. Among certain orders—the bee, for example—sex itself may be determined by a continuous special regimen and diet, when the exigencies of the community require it. Among domestic animals the cow, especially honored for the service rendered to men by her maternal functions, has been exempted from the yoke of labor and maintained in an indolent isolation of respect nearly equal to that of the queen bee in the hive. The result has been such a differentiation in bulk and build as almost to declare a difference of species between herself and her congener of the other sex. Among horses, sheep, and swine, a substantial uniformity of regimen and discipline brings the two sexes into physical conditions with no appreciable differences in size, form, and strength. So, too, with the carnivora: a community of employment, of exposure, of activity in predaceous warfare, tends to bring size, shape, and color into a uniformity of type, while among other wild orders, like the stag, the greater bulk, the exaggeration, of the parts serviceable in combats is clearly due to continuous fighting assigned to the males alone.
To what, then, must the anthropologist attribute that custom, almost immemorial and universal, which savage and civilized men have concurred in establishing, of exempting women from the service of fighting? To that which will be found to be the spring and source of most of their customs and institutions—sentiment; a sentiment in man of mingled pity, respect, and affection—a sentiment, like most others of somewhat low origin, beginning, it may be, in selfishness and the promptings of instinct, but flowering out in its complete evolution into a noble and divine virtue.
Facts of our own national history illustrate, if they do not confirm, this judgment. Our civil war called out, as I have already said, two thirds of the whole arms-bearing population of one State, and probably the same proportion for all the North. It called out three thirds of the arms-bearing people of the South. The war ended simply because one section had, and the other had not, a reserve of one third to fall back upon. Probably no two peoples ever entered into a strife so fiercely and so unanimously as did the rebels, men and women, to win their independence, and the loyalists, men and women, to save the Union. And yet, earnest as we were in the struggle, recruiting our armies by volunteers, by enlistments, and by conscriptions; putting into the field patriots and scholars, citizens and aliens, philanthropists, clergymen, and criminals, and finally thousands of negro slaves, so deeply is the sentiment grounded in the heart of all civilized and savage men that women must not be put into the actual peril of battle, that the North would have given up the Union and the South its independence rather than have called into the field a single company of arms-bearing women.
There is plausibility in the contention that the ballot and the rule that the minority must submit to the majority are nothing but a development of primitive war. War puts all questions to the arbitrament of strength, and in the actual trial non-combatants do not count. The ballot is the count of the potential fighters, and presupposes and discounts a virtual combat. The right to rule belonging to the superior strength, the array of the combatants declares which is the stronger.
All through the earlier periods of English history, when some ambitious or reforming chief wished to get an obnoxious law repealed, or to displace an odious minister, or to change a hated dynasty, instead of starting newspapers, holding public discussions, and canvassing the country for votes, he summoned his retainers and fellow-chieftains to arms, took the field, and began to lay siege to towns and strongholds. The Government turned out its army and its adherents and met the malcontents in battle. If it was strong enough to overcome them, the leaders were beheaded and their estates confiscated, while the defeated followers were punished and dispersed. If the rebels were victorious, a new order succeeded—a new ministry, a new national policy, perhaps a new dynasty. All the great changes in government in England were effected in just this way down to the middle of the last century. In Mexico and the South American republics, though they have written Constitutions and periodic elections, voting seems to be considered a slow method of redressing grievances; the actual working system is pronunciamientos—that is, armed revolts against the administration in power, and the real battle, not yet evolved into the modern ballot.
Now, when the two forces—the one for, the other against, the Government—stood confronting each other, what could be more sensible than to anticipate and discount the result of the fighting? "How many fighting men," asks the loyal general, summoning a conference, "have you on your side?" "Fifteen thousand," replies the rebel chief. "Then why fight it out? for I have but ten thousand, and yours are the best armed." Instead of a battle, there is a count of the combatants and a settlement in favor of the numerically stronger. So a count of the fighting forces took the place of a trial at arms, and the appeal to the majority of men capable of becoming soldiers, and so able to enforce their will against the weaker minority, took the place of insurrection as a method of political agitation. This view may not justify, but it does account for, the exclusion from enumeration in the class that decide political issues of the whole class of non-combatants.
IV. The next great immunity which, in recognition of the offices they exercise in the social system, and having its origin in the same sentiment, women enjoy, is exemption from all kinds of labor dangerous to life or exposing to hardship and privation. Thousands of men among all civilized and some barbarous people pass their lives from childhood to old age on the ocean as seamen. Their terra firma is the sloping deck of ships staggering through the restless billows, the sport of fickle winds. They fare hard; their sleep is liable to rude interruption; their toil, though not constant, is liable to crises of exertion and danger. At the word of command, enforced by brutal blows, they climb the slippery ropes or icy spars at the risk of being shaken into the boiling waves or, with fractured skulls, upon the reeling deck. This employment, from which women are excused, is only slightly less fatal to life than that of the soldier, and the ingenuity of man has devised no means considerably to lessen its annual roll of premature and appalling deaths.
In the same category belong those occupations that take thousands of workingmen into our northern forests, where they pass three months of each year contending with frosts and snows, sleeping upon hemlock boughs in smoky camps, and maintaining an exceptional vigor expended in continuous labor by the abundance of their rude fare. A shorter interval of more dangerous labor succeeds this long exile in the forest, when the timber the winter's industry has gathered is driven to the place of manufacture and sale through wide lakes and over dangerous rapids.
All the hard, repulsive, life-wearing work under ground in coal, mineral, and metallic mines is generally assigned to men, and they alone are exposed to those perils which beset engineers, train-men, the handlers of explosives, and the tenders of machinery.
It is certainly apparent that man, as the stronger sex, has not made an ungenerous use of his strength in his assignments. Having, in the right of his strength, the opportunity to determine the customs of society, he has taken upon himself, and exempted his mate from, all those vocations that expose to premature death or to great physical suffering, as well as those which segregate men from the social enjoyments of home and doom them to long exile in cold, storm, and darkness.
V. The last privilege of the sex—for only the great, cardinal privileges of womanhood need be enumerated—is woman's virtual exemption from the care of earning her livelihood and that of her offspring. Here, as in what has been said heretofore, I have disregarded exceptional and abnormal instances, and traced industrial and social customs, as men following the promptings of their dominant sentiments have been able to establish them. I have taken, too—and this seems legitimate—my illustrations from the most advanced types of civilization, rather than from the inchoate manhood of the savage and barbaric epochs and conditions. I do not forget to have seen women tugging baskets of manure to their miserable fields, or buried under burdens of hay, in Switzerland; nor the Sunday I drove by women mixing mortar and carrying hods of bricks up shaking ladders in the elegant city of Vienna; nor how all-prevalent poverty has equalized the lot of the two sexes in Russia.
No law of social completeness is to be drawn from such exceptional instances. It is only on those broad lines where the instinctive tendencies of the dominant sex have not been hindered in their complete development by conditions imposed by primitive barbarism or slavery that the natural growth of a social status is to be studied.
But even in our times and among the most advanced races there are many exceptions to the general assignment to men of the primal care for daily bread. Very many men, through accident, sickness, and mental or moral incapacity, get disabled in the struggle for life, and the burden they were appointed to carry falls unnaturally upon a wife, a sister, a daughter. Widows carry on successfully the farms which a dead husband had cleared. Sisters take places in stores, in schools, engage as copyists, and contribute to periodicals, and so bring to the family fund the stipend which a deceased father, a dissipated husband, or an invalid brother ought to have earned. The social organism gets mutilated and wounded, and these are Nature's efforts at recuperation and supply. In the healthy normal society—such as man establishes wherever he can—the true order seems to be that "man must work and woman must weep"—unless a cheerful temperament shall convert her weeping into a song, while waiting on the weariness of her yoke-fellow with affection and the ministry of a lighter service.
How few men in all civilized countries are from youth to old age exempt from the absorbing, imperious, ever-recurring necessity of earning the daily sustenance of themselves, of their wives, of the children they have dared to summon into a world bristling with hard conditions—a responsibility that sobers so many lives, and issues so often in insanity, suicide, or crime! If a census-taker should visit any day the homes of the well-to-do people of this or any other Eastern or Western American city, how would he be likely to find the sexes—of course, with the exceptions of idle men and too hard-working women—respectively employed? The men rise in the morning—some it may be leisurely and late—and go to their shops, their stores, their offices, their out-of-doors employments, spending the whole day in absorbing labor, the fruit of which tells directly upon the family income. If this mode of life, which becomes habit and routine, is ever interrupted, it is by some errand of business to Washington, to some commercial city, to the West, and, for a favored few, a genuine vacation of relaxation for two weeks at the mountains or the seaside. The women, after the oversight of the female laborers who perform the tasks of cook and chambermaid, and needlework largely of an ornamental kind, pass the day in reading the magazines, the current novels, in the amateur practice of music or some other fine art, and in making and receiving social calls.
The understanding that custom has established in New England is, that when there are boys and girls in any well-conditioned family, the boys shall pass directly from school into some employment for wages, that shall occupy every working day of their lives; and that the girls shall be at liberty to cultivate their tastes and enjoy the pleasures of refined society, and be maintained by the labor past, present, and future of their fathers, their husbands, their brothers, or their sons. This is an arrangement that the modern man, following his controlling sentiments, has voluntarily made, and one that he insists shall be maintained. Accident, calamity, very often incapacity or vice, make men fail in the accomplishment of their generous purpose, and throw upon women unnaturally and abnormally the sterner cares and toils of earning the common livelihood. Men are defeated sometimes in realizing the careers that seemed open to their ambition; but these are exceptional cases, and social laws and tendencies are not to be studied in their irregular and unusual development, but in their normal evolution.
If a capable and ambitious girl declares that she will teach school, or solicit a clerkship, or literary work in a newspaper office, or open a store, it will be the father and brothers who will protest, and not the mother and sisters. The men of the family are apt to feel that it will compromise their respectability if they have a daughter of the house earning anything. Fathers of sons and daughters have been reported, who have said: "I shall leave what little property I have to my girls, who will need it; the boys can take care of themselves." Many persons are cognizant of the fact that among their circle of acquaintance are a few men, high-spirited, conscientious, alive to the demands of nobly living, who have denied themselves the solace of marriage because they belonged to families where there were unmarried sisters, and the home could not be respectably maintained if their personal income was used in supporting another household.
VI. Now, putting any just valuation upon these great exemptions which the majority of women enjoy, and which all women enjoy so far as the appointment of men as a whole can predetermine their lot, can it be for a moment claimed that the position of women is one of oppression, and not of privilege?
I do not wish to say that men and women ever made a formal compact that the latter should surrender to the former all their natural political rights, as a condition for enjoying these privileges which have been awarded to them. None of the established customs of society, not even the forms of political government, were made in this artificial way. They were not made at all, but grew spontaneously. Rousseau's doctrine of a social contract is less in vogue than it was in the political philosophy of our fathers. But what I do wish emphatically to say is that, bargain or no bargain, the weaker sex has not been taken advantage of, and that its immunities and privileges are a full equivalent for all the political rights of which it may have been deprived.
For all the last century, perhaps for all the next, the stress and activity of the world have been and will be directed toward the development of a more pronounced individualism. Everybody is in intense pursuit of his rights. Everybody passionately asks: What of the common goods of existence can I appropriate to my own personal advantage and enjoyment? While this passion rules, nothing is to be expected but revolution and revulsion, the tearing down of the existing social and political institutions. When shall begin that more noble, more religious inquisition, not for rights, but for duties, when it shall be asked: What can I do to render some equivalent for the boon of life? What of my rights and my possessions can I surrender and sacrifice for the general good? then will the era of social and political construction upon a grander order begin. Meantime, to the chorus of the citizen, the workingman, the serf, the slave, all accusing the old tyrannies of denied justice, is added the shrill note of "insurgent" womanhood—not universal womanhood, for universal womanhood, acquiescent and content in the spheres of service which her lot as wife and mother and other equally helpful relations to society give her, has not joined in the revolt.
The formula of the demand of "insurgent" womanhood is the ballot, but the ballot must be considered with all the power to make and administer the laws which it confers, with the probable changes in social customs it involves, and the new conditions it will present under which the struggle for life will go on.
I have assumed that the concession of the ballot, pure and simple, will not be satisfactory to those bodies that represent what is called the Woman's Cause. Senator Hoar, perhaps the most conspicuous man who has appeared as their champion, specially says: "I am quite willing to agree that no class of persons who are permitted to vote should be excluded as a class from holding office."
We may as well consider what changes in human society, and especially in the character and fortunes of woman, the new order of things sought to be inaugurated will be likely to bring about.
Immediately, and in one generation, not very many or considerable. Character, that has been slowly molded by certain influences, acting for long periods, will not be modified immediately by the withdrawal of those influences. Whatever deterioration occurs, whatever new hardships make the lot of woman more tragic, will only appear after adverse influences have had their full term of operation.
Neither in readjusting the duties toward society of the sexes respectively are men likely to insist that, in taking full political powers, women shall surrender any or all of their present immunities and privileges. The relation of the contracting parties is not one that will make any such rigid and hard bargain possible. But that surrender will inevitably be brought about by the indignant disdain of the women, who will have effected the social revolution, at being the recipients of any privileges which differentiate their situation or hamper them in their complete development. The inevitable ultimate result of subjecting the two human sexes to the same labors, the same employments, the same cares, will be just the same as when domestic animals have been subjected for long periods to the same conditions: sexual differences, physical and mental, will tend to disappear, and the two branches of the race will approximate a common type.
He has inadequately considered the nature of the demands made by that section of womanhood in insurrection against the present social order, and the implications which lie behind their specific demands, who does not see the radical changes that will come finally as a result of conceding these demands. However disastrously the experiment may issue, the difficulties of either turning back or arresting the movement will be nearly insurmountable.
Certain discontented women say they want the ballot, in order that they may with it open to themselves, on the same terms and for the same compensation, a free career in all the professions and occupations in which men are engaged. They want to place all women in the condition of service and hardship in which the casualties of life and the precarious fortunes of business now place a few women. They wish to make wounds which the present social structure now receives here and there parts of its normal status. For they want to be lawyers and physicians charging the same fees, ministers having the same salaries, artisans and workmen having the same wages as men. The greater competition among the many women as against the few men in the occupations now open to women they propose to counteract by a statutory equalization of wages for the same kind of work.
The great labor crises and the imperiled industrial equilibrium in the whole civilized world being confessedly due to the excessive number of competitors for such paying work as machinery has left to be done, it is proposed to aggravate the situation by turning into the competition the whole mass of able-bodied women, not hitherto generally reckoned among the working class.
In the woman-suffrage movement the "insurgent women" virtually serve notice upon us men, that they do not desire any of our courtesies, which are a badge of their servitude, and that our politeness in giving them the best places in the concert room and the horse-car is superserviceable and compromises their sense of independence. They do not longer care to be petted or exempted from perils and hardships or to be maintained by labor not their own. They only want an equal chance to "paddle their own canoe" in quest of their own fortunes.
Whatever the answer to this demand may be, it will not be likely to be this: Very well, please yourselves; rough it with us in the struggle for life, asking no favors if such a contest invites you. Enlist in the military companies and stand the drill, and when the next war comes, go to the front. Join the fire company in your ward, and run with the machine, when the next fire calls you out at midnight. There is a ship in port bound round Cape Horn, on a year's voyage; the owners have had such bad luck with drunken men, that they mean to try a crew of athletic girls. Go up the Penobscot and live next winter in a camp, and come back next spring balancing yourself with a pic-kpole on the floating, slippery logs you have cut. Go down into the mines, and with your pickaxe and shovel dig coal and iron. Offer your services at the going wages to run a locomotive, to blast rocks, or handle dynamite.
Men who are husbands, fathers, and sons will not say this or anything like it. But when the lawyer finds his female competitor by the charms of her beauty and eloquence winning his clients; and the doctor, that the woman physician by her motherly tenderness has seduced his patients; and the minister, that some reverend lady by her superior sanctity has supplanted him in his parish; and all men in all their vocations, high and low, by whose toils they had gained bread for their families, are pressed with the competition of those it had been their chief spur to industry and their pride to maintain without the necessity of repulsive work, will not the feeling become universal that men are released from their obligations of duty and support toward the weaker sex?
The naturalists tell us that the human race acquired its strong parental affections by performing the needed offices of care and help which the prolonged infancy of its young—so much longer than among all lower animals—made necessary. We know that the tenderness, affection, and sympathy which are the essential grace and charm of womanhood, as well as the courage, disinterestedness, and chivalric sentiment which form the nobility of manhood, have sprung from that very relation of strong to weak, protector and protected, which have for ages subsisted among all the civilized races. What guarantee can they give us who are seeking to destroy that relation, or at least the cause and reason of its existence, that those cardinal virtues that adorn and dignify both sexes will not be involved in its destruction? For one, I should not dare to vote to drag woman from the high estate in which man honors himself in being her minister and servant, until at least the intelligent majority of women deliberately express their judgment in favor of a social change so consequential.
- "The women are more diligent than the men; and the hardest work is often turned over to them, as is generally the case where peasant properties prevail. They are only 'females of the male,' and have few womanly qualities. They toil at the same task as men in the fields, ride astride like them, often without saddles; and the mortality is excessive among the neglected children, who are carried out into the fields, where the babies lie the whole day with a bough over them, and covered with flies, while the poor mother is at work. Eight out of ten children are said to die before ten years old in rural Russia."—(From a Review of F. P. Verney's Rural Life in Russia, in the Nineteenth Century, of January, 1887.)