Изображения страниц


It must often have occurred to the advocates of women's suffrage in England that one great reason why their cause has till now made slow progress, in proportion to the zeal and ability enlisted in it, is the indifference with which it is regarded by large numbers of Englishwomen. I dare say they are fully aware of that which they must esteem a deplorable apathy; but it seems to me worth while to inquire, from another point of view than theirs, whether this attitude of Englishwomen on the question is to be stigmatised as apathetic, or, indeed, to be deplored at all.

Probably, although many women have thought on the subject, and drawn a conclusion adverse to female suffrage, there are a greater number who are opposed to it instinctively rather than deliberately. They have not the time, nor perhaps often the materials, for forming a definite opinion. But one thing is clear-viz. that neither among educated nor uneducated women, among those who think most nor those who work most, among rich women nor among poor, is there any great and pressing and genuine desire for the suffrage. The evidence of petitions to Parliament will not alone count for much with any one who has witnessed the ease with which signatures can be obtained, by mere importunity, from the great multitude of unthinking persons-in which category must be included the numbers who 'think' in strict obedience to the last person who has addressed them. But if there were a genuine, wide, and pressing desire for the Parliamentary franchise among women, the large female population would assuredly make itself heard in very different fashion from those reports of meetings for women's suffrage which are from time to time to be seen in the newspapers, and seem to interest principally those who attend and address the meetings. The subject would be frequently and eagerly discussed amongst women by themselves, the prospects of the measure in Parliament would be eagerly scanned, and constant efforts would be made by women in their families to press the claim for female suffrage on their male relatives. Now, whatever may be the case in the large towns among certain coteries, things are not thus in the country at large.

This attitude of the female sex in England is not, I think, to be explained, as our female reformers would perhaps have it, as mere

ignorance resulting in apathy. Women, no doubt, are still as a rule less instructed than men. But they have as much mother-wit as men; they are as conversant, in their own way, with the practical needs and difficulties of life; and in judging les questions intimes, the questions of what is likely to be good or bad for their daughters and sisters, they are probably in the main just as competent as men in judging for their sons and brothers. Indeed, the absolute' equality' of the sexes in mental ability is strongly insisted on by the advocates of women's rights' as a main ground for the concession of the franchise to women. It behoves them, then, seriously to consider the fact that large numbers of these competent female persons have no wish for political equality with men. Especially is it to be noted that married women are for the most part indifferent if not opposed to it.

I now wish (so far as an obscure person like myself can argue for my sex) to show why women are to be reckoned wise and prudent in declining to grasp at direct political power. I hope it will appear that this by no means involves their having no interest in the affairs of their country, but that their interest and also their influence in those affairs will be best exercised by other means than by voting at parliamentary elections.

I will begin by admitting that which I should have thought too clear to be ever in dispute, but which seems to be thought by many contenders for women's rights' necessary to be insisted upon-viz. that if this question is to be decided by (1) mere intellectual capacity, or (2) the qualifications of property-holding, labour-employing, taxpaying, the case for admitting women to the parliamentary franchise is plain. As to the first, it is certain that there are numbers of women far more competent intellectually to exercise the franchise than are very many of the present electorate. And though (pace the contenders aforesaid) the mental power of the average woman is probably distinctly below that of the average man, the difference could not be made out so great as to justify the withholding of the franchise from one sex while it is granted to the other. As to the second test, it is undeniable that women do (and probably will in an increasing number of cases) exercise functions which are held to be 'notes' of the capable citizen in the case of men. Why, it is asked, should they be debarred from benefiting by the natural corollary of public rights to public duties, capacities, responsibilities? Surely it is an artificial, anomalous arrangement which debars them.

An artificial arrangement, I suppose, is one bearing on a given set of conditions from without, and for reasons foreign to the natural demands of those conditions. Now in this sense any human arrangement must seem artificial, if regard be had only to one set of facts out of the various and complicated sum-total of life. Actually, all our arrangements are in the nature of compromises between the exi

gencies of this consideration and that; for it is impossible to pick out any one set of facts, and then draw a conclusion on the merits without coming into conflict with equally legitimate conclusions from other picked-out facts. But these compromises are mostly made unconsciously, though our sense of them is witnessed to by the distrust which all practical people feel for paper theories untested in the wear and tear of life. The actual position of women is the result of such a compromise, between the demands that might logically be made for them as intellectual, property-holding, wage- and tax-paying persons, and certain other considerations; and the compromise has been arrived at unconsciously and gradually. If by calling that position artificial people mean that it is the result of a deliberate scheme, planned by men for the exclusion of women from power, they can be contradicted with absolute security. All the evidence of mankind's history goes to show that the relative position of the sexes as we know it has slowly worked itself out in obedience to deep underlying laws, which, unawares to us, have shaped its main outlines. That there ever was a time when men as a sex said of the other sex, 'These women may become too powerful; we must see to it and keep them down,' there is no evidence whatever. No, the insistence has always been on what is fitting and beneficial to women in themselves, and as mothers, wives, and daughters of men; and the ideas of what is so have slowly shaped themselves according to the great unalterable facts of human nature.

Now (though it may appear to some people pompous to say so) it is by appeal once more to these great unalterable facts, underlying all our arrangements, that the question of conceding the parliamentary franchise to women ought to be decided. A human being is, so to speak,' all of a piece'; and it is really impossible to separate warp from woof-to draw distinct lines dividing its living organism into sections, however for convenience' sake we may distinguish things mental from things physical, things moral from things intellectual, and so on. And though in spite of popular science numbers of us still think and speak as if the mind and soul made up a kind of separate machine, fitted into the body like a travelling-clock in a box, yet we are more and more aware that the attempt to deal with any so-called part' of human nature without reference to other parts always results in disaster. We are familiar with warnings against cultivating the mind at the expense of the body, or indulging the body to the clogging

This is said advisedly, spite of the instances to be cited of the opposition by male workers to the intrusion of women upon their trade or profession. These seem to me not the opposition of sex to sex, but mere cases of a class and trade exclusiveness which has the sole purpose of maintaining a certain rate of wages, and is exercised quite as often by men against men as by men against women. Again, the often-quoted absorption by the male sex of educational endowments intended for both sexes cannot be shown to have resulted from any plan to oust girls from schools: it resulted rather from the fact that there was no demand for female education.

of the mind. Keeping all this in view, we shall recognise that if in one department (so to speak) of human nature a certain plan of life is indicated by experience and reason, we ought to look for its indication in other departments.

Now can any one seriously argue that, on the physical side, divergence of pursuits and habits is not indicated for the sexes? The common-sense of mankind has long ago answered the question, and even our female reformers I believe admit that ploughing and driving cattle, soldiering and sailoring, are not appropriate to women, nor feeding and rocking children, nursing the sick and keeping house, to men. Not that women have not as much physical strength and energy in their own kind as men in theirs, but that energy appears to have a different scope. Men would find the common tasks of women desperately fatiguing and irksome; a man, for instance, would certainly not cultivate manly strength and energy as a child's nurse; yet the nurse exercises a great deal of strength, carrying and nursing a heavy child. The ignoring of this differentiation of physical energy in the two sexes is always the note of barbarism or degradation among mankind. Where you find women put to tasks which do not suit with their physical constitution and functions-a practice always evidenced by premature decrepitude-there you have a people low in the scale of humanity.

Now, human nature being all of a piece, it is but reasonable to think that a divergence as between the sexes in pursuits and habits, which is strongly indicated, and admittedly wise on one side of it, is likely to be wise on the other. The energy of women, as it differs in kind and in scope from that of men in physical matters, so differs in moral and intellectual matters. No doubt it is not so easy to discriminate between the intellectual and moral powers of men and women as between their bodily powers; but there is a real difference throughout their being, and it ought to be (as at present it practically is) recognised in the scope of their action as members of the commonwealth.

As it affords a very clear illustration of my meaning, I will refer, painful though it is, to a subject which perhaps more strongly than any other excites the horror and at the same time the remedial activity of good women. I allude to the vice of impurity and the crimes which spring from it. It is, I believe, often urged by pleaders for female enfranchisement that the state both of the law and of the public conscience in regard to these evils would be greatly bettered if women had a direct voice in legislation. I cannot but think they make a grave mistake. If physiological considerations have any meaning, it must always be impossible for women to view these subjects in lumine sicco. If they were invested with the power of dictating legal methods, we should have, with the best and purest intentions, all the worst errors committed which marked the attempt

of some persons to deal with these evils last summer. But if it is asked, Do you mean, then, that women should look indifferently on these terrible subjects, or turn their eyes away from them and ignore them? the answer is, God forbid. The very qualities in the nature of women which unfit them for devising legislation denote their proper office in raising morality, of which legislation is the follower and servant. The consciences of even good men are apt to be blunter in respect of these evils than those of women, blunted by past transgression of their own, or by frequent knowledge of transgression in others; and in no case can a man have as keen and painful sense of the harm wrought as a woman. It is the office of women to use this keen and painful sense to quicken the conscience of men in the matter. If women of the upper classes, instead of being idle and cowardly, disinclined to consider any grave subject, and mostly occupied with dress and amusement, use the many opportunities they have of influence with husbands and sons, brothers and near friends, to urge the cause of purity and high-mindedness, they are helping forward that cause as no legislation could help it. If wives and mothers among them refuse to admit to their houses, much more to be the husbands of their daughters, men known to be viciously given, they are helping forward that cause in a yet larger sphere. And if all well-to-do women resist mere luxury and self-indulgence in themselves, not

Compound for sins they are inclined to

By damning those they have no mind to

they are influencing the whole nation against the sins of the flesh, for example filters downwards in these matters most rapidly of all. If women of the working classes, instead of indulging their young sons and daughters in every freak of self-will, keeping no order in the family as to hours and associates, and then angrily resenting the daughter's 'losing her character,' or the son's having to pay for an illegitimate child-if instead of all this they hold up before their children, by example and precept, the blessing of a godly, righteous, and sober life, they are exercising in the cause of purity and goodness a power far greater than any franchise can confer, and a power which they are fitted by their own womanly nature to wield. And to women of all classes the due exercise of these womanly influences gives the right and the power to press on the consideration of their male relations any need they may see for alteration in the law.

The same kind of action is open to women, and ought to be exercised by them, in other matters of the commonweal. If men are apt to lean rather to the business' side of things, to think too exclusively of 'what will pay,' to be satisfied with general rules, and careless if these bear hardly on particular cases, the fit office of women is to keep alive ideals, to speak for a wise generosity as the best economy, and to insist that general rules are but conclusions from VOL. XIX.-No. 110.


« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »