Some ten days ago we were rash enough to say, in reference to Mr. Shaw Lefevre's bill about the property of married women, that whatever might be the advantages or defects of the present law upon the subject-- and every one must admit that it is capable of much improvement-- all legislation upon such matters ought to recognize and proceed upon three fundamental principles, which we stated in the following words:
“First, that men are superior to women--that is, that we have more moral, intellectual, and physical strength than they have; that we know more, feel more, can do more, are their superiors in every sense in which one class of beings can be superior to another. Secondly, that families are in the nature of small governments, and that the constitution of those governments should be monarchical, the husband being king. Thirdly, that family life, the position of a daughter, a wife, and a mother, is the normal and the most honourable course of life for women in general; that women who do not follow it should be regarded as exceptional persons, and that the law of the land should be based upon principles adapted for the case of those who do, not for the case of those who do not.”We have received a good many letters upon the subject, three of which, being the ablest vindication of the view opposed to our own which reached us, we have published. We have not the least intention of either replying upon our correspondent, or defending ourselves from some of her charges. When, for instance, she tells us that some of our expressions are "very overbearing and impertinent," when she says that men in general, and the author of the article in question in particular, are "deficient in the art of presenting unpleasant things in a pleasing, graceful way," we have not a word to say. We are quite ready to apologize for any expressions which a lady describes as overbearing and impertinent. If they gave her pain, that is quite enough. We are sincerely sorry for it. We have only to say in explanation that the sentences which we have quoted were written rather with an eye to male antagonists than with an eye to female readers. We forgot for the moment that they were not uttered upon one of those arenas in which to "tramp along in heavy-heeled boots straight before you, crushing down other people's arguments under your weight" (to quote our correspondent once more) is one of the principal objects to be kept in view. The phrases were, no doubt, too rough for a drawing-room, and we are obliged to our correspondent for reminding us that when she and other ladies do us the honour to read what we write they impose upon us the obligation of suiting our style to our readers, especially upon subjects in which they must naturally take a special interest.
Having tendered this apology, which we hope may be accepted, and having printed a reply of six columns and upwards to a remark which filled only nine lines, we may be allowed to state rather more fully what we really meant to say, inasmuch as we firmly believe it to be true, and of vital importance. Any one who will read the sentences which appear to have given so much offence will see at once that we used the words "superior" and "superiority" in a special sense. In saying "men are superior to women-- that is, we have more moral, intellectual, and physical strength than they," we define superiority to mean superiority in strength, whether intellectual, physical, or moral. This at once reduces the difference between our correspondent and ourselves to very small dimensions. She says towards the end of her second letter, "I think with you that men are physically and intellectually stronger than women." But, she adds, "as to moral superiority I differ from you entirely." By moral superiority we meant no more- as the structure of the sentence and scope of the argument show --than moral strength, or, in other words, general force of character; and surely, of all the differences which exist between men and women-- differences of physical structure hardly excepted --none is better marked than this. That more men than women go to heaven is an assertion which we never made, but that men as a rule are superior to women in those moral qualities which enable one human being to govern another is proved, if it requires proof, by the fact that in every age and every nation in the world men have, in fact, governed and actually do govern women. This cannot be accounted for by mere physical superiority (by which we mean superior muscular force), for if that were the case elephants and tigers would govern men. Nor can it be accounted for by mere intellectual power, for in that case the wisest human beings would govern the rest, which notoriously they do not. It must, therefore, be due to that more general cause which is denoted by the words force of character, or, as we call it, moral superiority-a quality which a very bad man may have, and a very good man may want. So, when we say that men "feel more" than women, we mean that they have a greater number of passions, and that those passions are deeper and more persistent. Feeling is a very general word. The feeling, for instance, of pleasure in science, or of interest in political economy, or of ambition, is as much a case of feeling as a mother's love for her child; and when we say that men feel more than women we mean, not that they are more powerfully acted upon by particular emotions, though this would admit of discussion, but that they have a greater number of objects of interest. In short, the first of our three propositions was simply that men are superior to women in every form of strength, that they are stronger in all the common senses of the word strong. We do not think that our correspondent denies this. We should doubt, indeed, whether any one would seriously deny it. Our correspondent does, indeed, insist at some length that women are stronger than men in the qualities which enable them to manage property, the proof being that, in some cases, they are apt to look after their proprietary rights with extreme sharpness, and to be very strict and severe overseers of the proceedings of those who are under their power. Every one will recognize the sort of women to whom this description refers, and most people will probably agree with us in thinking that such women form a not very pleasant exception to the rest of their sex, and that their manner of managing their affairs is not vine to which it would be desirable to give exceptional encouragement.
Assuming, however, that men are in the sense stated stronger that women, let us pass on to the connection of this genera assertion with the two other principles which we stated, and which the first principle was meant to introduce. Those principles are that families ought to be regarded as small monarchies, the husband being king, and that the laws relating to women in general should be passed upon the supposition that women in general will pass the greater part of their lives under the power of men either as daughters or wives.
First as to families being governments. What is government? Government is where one intelligent and voluntary agent compels another by force or fear to do something which that other dislikes, and from this it is obvious that the strongest, and not the best, must govern. Is it then necessary that there should be government in families? The answer is, Yes, unless its members are so united as never to differ, or unless they can dissolve partnership at pleasure if they do? If the rider wants to go one way and the horse to go another, they must either part or one must give way. Suppose the husband and wife differ as to religion, as to education of their children, as to their mode of living or place of residence; is the law to impose no duty upon either, or to permit them to separate if they think proper, and so put an end to the marriage, or to order the husband to obey the wife, or the wife to obey the husband? One of these four things it must do. If the law is completely neutral, if there are to be no such things as conjugal rights either over person or over property, it is difficult to see how the liberty of discretionary divorce can be refused, and if that liberty were once granted women would become the slaves of men in real earnest, and would be made to feel how valuable to them is that legal recognition of their weakness of which some of them, it appears, complain. A legal right to be supported by their husbands, to share to the full extent in all his worldly goods (which is the meaning of the promise, " with all my worldly goods I thee endow"), is the consideration which women get for the legal duty of obedience. Make marriage a contract to cohabit during pleasure, and women would lose by it out of all comparison more than men, if a calamity which would degrade the whole human race could be said to be more injurious to the one sex than to the other. If marriage, exceptions apart, is to be indissoluble, provision must be made for the government of the family in case government should be required; and in whose hands except the husband's can the power of government be vested?
All this, no doubt, has a harsh sound, but the bark, as in many other cases, is far worse than the bite. There is between government and society a distinction as deep and broad as the distinction between compulsion and persuasion. The one is a necessary evil, the other an enormous good. In every family there must be a person to say "must" and "shall" in case of need, just as in every State there must be coercive power provided in case of disobedience; but in a moderately happy family, in nineteen house- holds out of every twenty, the husband's authority is as little felt as the authority of the criminal law, and we have little doubt that to the great majority of those whom our article appears to have pained the question as to the degree of legal power which husbands and fathers should possess is as indifferent as the question how theft or murder shall be defined. Undisputed rights are seldom exercised, and men who are most indisputably masters in their own houses are, as every one knows, least disposed to trespass on the natural province of their wives, or to rely in any incident of their lives, great or small, upon their legal rights. People can hardly be conscious of their existence except as matter of speculation, so long as they and their wives love each other. Where mutual love exists-that is to say, in all common cases-the supremacy of the husband in his family is established at once and without dispute, and the legal rights of the parties cease to possess any value for them, or, indeed, any significance, except in so far as they set up a standard of thought and feeling which is useful as a guide. No man happily married congratulates himself on having the power to control the family income. No woman happily married congratulates herself on her having a legal right to pledge her husband's credit for necessaries. Law is required only when hard comes to hard. It is meant to provide for the case of careless or unhappy marriages. If these are not to be dissoluble at the will of the parties (and if they are, all marriages are made insecure), it is necessary that the legal rights of the parties should be defined, that in case of need one should be authorized to govern and the other be compelled to obey, and our argument is that in such cases the husband ought to govern. Whether the existing state of the law does not give him greater powers than are necessary for this purpose is an extensive and intricate question which we need not discuss on the present occasion. The sole point which we are desirous to enforce is that he ought to be invested by law with an effective and substantial control over his family. What should be the precise limits of that control is another question.
The last of our three propositions was that the laws relating to women ought to proceed upon the supposition that the normal and the most honourable course of life for a woman is married life. By this we meant to indicate very shortly the ground on which we object to proposals for female suffrage and other attempts to disregard the distinction between men and women. In a few words, that objection is that, if such rights are given to married women, they would be inconsistent with their position as wives, and with the subordination or inferiority to their husbands (in the sense explained above), which is inseparable from the very idea of married life. If they are given to single and not to married women, the result would be to throw a slur upon marriage. Married women ought to be excluded from political life for the sake of their husbands and sons. Single women ought to be excluded from political life for the sake of married women. This may look harsh, but we believe that in fact it would be difficult to do a more cruel thing than to stimulate women to enter into competition with men by Acts of Parliament, conferring rights upon them which hardly any of them (not, for one, our correspondent) really want. When they admit their weakness, when it is recognized by law and custom, it becomes their strength in a thousand well-known ways. If they deny and repudiate it, if they regard it not as part of the order of nature, but as an artificial product of male tyranny, if they will insist upon meeting men in what has hitherto been regarded as the male province upon professedly equal terms, they will be made cruelly conscious of the fact that they are weaker than men, weaker in body, mind, and spirit. For their own sakes we advise them not to try the experiment. The result in thousands of cases would be heart-breaking.
We have to apologize to our correspondent for using one word which she did not understand, and another which sent her to the dictionary. We had, however, a distinct meaning in each case. “Normal” means that which conforms to the common pattern. A “normal” chair would have four legs. The “normal” prospect for a woman is marriage. “Dyslogistically” is an adverb brought into fashion, if not invented, by Jeremy Bentham, and means that word to which it applies to which he used to call the “question-begging” class of words, and that in a bad sense. Thus “revolution” is dyslogistic; “reform” eulogistic. “Obstinancy” is dyslogistic; “firmness,” eulogistic; and so on.
Part 2: July 14, 1868
The letter from Miss Helen Taylor which we published a few days ago on the relations between men and women appears to us to deserve a reply; all as, Moreover, the subject seems to be of considerable general interest, Ad e propose to answer Miss Tayor, briefly.
She selects three points in a late article of ours upon this subject as being the "most prominent and easily exposed" fallacies which that article contains. They are as follows:--
1. We said that the fact that men actually do govern women proves that they are superior to women in those moral qualities which enable one human being to govern another, and in particular that mere superiority in muscular force would not account for the fact, inasmuch as if it did tigers sand elephants would govern men.
Miss. Taylor says this is illogical, inasmuch as it is "as plain as day-light" that if men and women are mentally and morally equal physical superiority will turn the scale, no moral obstacle in the mind of the stronger intervening.
The answer is that Miss Taylor uses the word "moral" in a sense different from that in which, as we gave notice, we used it. She obviously means by it, deserving of praise or blame. We used the word as equivalent to force of character. If when she admits the physical superiority of men Miss Taylor includes nervous as well as muscular power--if she owns that men in general are stronger than women in general, not merely or principally as a tiger is stronger than a man, but as a man of strong character is stronger than a man of weak character--that men have in a larger measure than women such qualities as determination, independence, self-assertion, and the like--the question between us is one of words, for we mean by moral superiority that which she means by physical superiority coupled with moral equality. If she denies that men are in this sense stronger than women, we not only differ as to the fact, but we repeat that the history of the relation of the sexes is unexplained. It is one which mere superiority of muscular power does not explain. If this had been the only difference between the sexes, women would have held their own against men, just as men with small bones and muscles have held their own against men with large ones.
2. We said that families should be monarchies, the husband being king. Miss Taylor replies that the family is a part of the State, not a type of it.
The answer is that our meaning (as the context showed) was that it was necessary, if marriage was to be permanent and to be recognized by law, that in every household some one should be recognized by law as master and should in case of need have his legal rights enforced by law. If a family had no legal head, it might, as we observed, be broken up by the first serious quarrel between the married persons.
Miss Taylor appears to have understood this, for she goes on to answer it. “I deny that there is any difficulty in the State's intervening to settle the quarrels of the individual members." The husband wishes to live in London. The wife wishes to live in the country. The husband wishes to send the children to church. The wife wishes to send them to chapel. The husband wishes his wife not to receive certain visitors. The wife wishes her husband not to make certain calls. At present it is the wife's legal duty to obey in such matters--that is to say, if she pushed her opposition to the extent of refusing to live with her husband on account of such differences, their existence would put her legally in the wrong, what- ever might be the merits of the particular case. Her husband would have a right to the restitution of conjugal rights. She would have no right to the custody of her children or to pledge her husband's credit after notice from him to persons with whom she might deal. Let us consider how this can be altered. Miss Taylor thinks "the State might intervene" to settle quarrels. She cannot surely mean that a wife might summon her husband to show cause why she should not have a new bonnet, or that a husband might apply for a writ of prohibition to restrain his wife from waltzing; but if this is not intended, the only alternative is the permission of divorce for incompatibility of temper, and our whole argument is and always has been that unless the right of a husband to be master in his house and family is recognized by law, this is what you must of necessity come to. Miss Taylor does not apparently shrink from this conclusion. She says, "The writer seems to think that they" (i.e. married people) "will quarrel so incessantly that they will never be able to keep together. I reply that this is just what will happen with all the men and women unfit for married life, a considerable minority, I suspect, in human nature, of which minority their unhappy partners, whether men or women, will have no objection to be rid." Postponing for the moment what the writer thinks, let us consider what Miss Taylor thinks. She thinks obviously that the facilities now afforded for divorce ought to be widely enlarged, and, as we gather, that whenever a marriage turns out unhappily, which, as she says, would happen in "a considerable minority of cases," divorce should take place.
Certainly she follows out her principles, and so far we are agreed. She admits what we assert; namely, that if the wife is under no legal duty to obey her husband, the law of divorce must be greatly extended. She goes so far as to say that the suggestion that women would be the greatest sufferers from this is a mere bugbear, and her argument is this:-- "He," the writer in the Pall Mall Gazette, " tells us that the present conditions of marriage are favourable to women, and yet he tells us that men have the force to impose their own will upon women. What motive then has induced men to impose such desirable conditions upon women in marriage that if women were free they could get nothing so good for themselves? There can be none, except the attractions of marriage to men; and these attractions, i.e. confidence in women's fidelity, and the certainty of paternity--the two benefits which men gain by marriage--have been found in practice to be ensured exactly in proportion as women are free agents." Of Miss Taylor's enumeration of the "attractions of marriage to men" we cannot say more than that it appears to us to be singularly defective, and we decline to pursue the subject further. As to her argument. You affect, says Miss Taylor in substance, to regard marriage as it is as favourable to women-- more favourable, that is, than marriage dissoluble on the ground of incompatibility of temper would be. If so, and if men are so much stronger than women, as you say, how came they to make a bargain favourable to women? The answer is that under the influence principally of the Christian religion, men and women, both taking a higher view of life and its objects than had previously prevailed, submitted to a system which on the one hand involves obedience on the part of wives to their husbands, and on the other imposes upon men the practical indissolubility of marriage--an obligation which sets a powerful curb upon those passions which would tend and do tend to make men inconstant to their wives. Remove the obligation to obey on the one hand, and the obligation to be constant to one woman on the other, and you release one of the fiercest, strongest, most brutal, and selfish parts of human nature from the only check which protects wives against satiety and the desire of novelty. On the other hand, you give to women a merely imaginary freedom. You enable them to leave their husbands, but you also enable their husbands to leave them, and in all common cases this would give the husband ten times more power over the wife than all the Acts of Parliament about property and earnings that ever could be passed. In -short, the effect of the change suggested would be to multiply jealousy, to destroy tile security of thousands of families, and to increase immorality. As one illustration out of a thousand which might be given of this, consider for one moment the case of that "considerable minority" which, being "unfit for married life," would "have no objection to be rid" of their partners. Suppose all the indifferent and unhappy husbands and wives were turned loose upon the world labelled, "Unfit for married life," would not they themselves, and all whom it might concern, read the label, "Pre-eminently fit for unmarried life," and can any man or any woman who knows what men are otherwise than by books and speculation doubt as to the result?
As for what the writer of the article in question thinks, he thinks that one of the largest classes of human beings is composed of people who, having little original power, are very much what law and custom make them. As to its members, he thinks with Lord Stowell that in innumerable cases the legal necessity of being husbands and wives makes them good husbands and wives, and that the knowledge that the relation between husband and wife is practically indissoluble, and that the husband has a legal right, if need be, to the wife's obedience, settles innumerable questions which might and would ripen into serious quarrels, and possibly into divorces, if the "State intervened to settle" them.
3. Miss Taylor says, "That marriage is the normal condition of women, and that the law must be made therefore with regard only to married women, and can take no note of exceptions, are the last two assertions, classed by the writer as one. I fully agree that marriage is the normal condition of women, as it is of men," and she goes on to argue that the law ought to take notice of exceptions, and to illustrate her argument by examples.
Miss Taylor does not profess to quote our words, and she misapprehends, as it appears to us, the scope of our argument, which was not that the law should "take no note of exceptions," but that it should not be so contrived as to make the exceptional state of life more honourable than the normal one, and so throw a slur on marriage. If you give unmarried women votes and refuse them to married women, you imply that married women are inferior to unmarried women. If to redress this you give votes to married women, you do that which is inconsistent with the theory of marriage commonly accepted. We do not say that Miss Taylor is inconsistent in wishing unmarried women to have votes because she wishes to modify the whole institution of marriage and to increase very greatly the facility of getting divorced; but we do say that those who differ from her upon these latter points are inconsistent in agreeing with her as to the votes of unmarried women. This remark answers all her illustrations. She says, "It is remarkable that so philosophical a writer should have forgotten that the law is generally called into action precisely to settle exceptional conditions. The majority of men neither steal nor embezzle nor murder, nor are victims of those crimes, yet legislation is wanted for the sake of the minority." Law no doubt is generally called into action by exceptional circumstances, but it is made for the sake and in the spirit of the normal part of society. We are all liable to be murdered, and a few of us commit murder. The law of murder is (or ought to be) made for the sake and from the point of view, not of the minority of murderers, but of the majority of possible murderees. So the laws relating to the exercise of the franchise by women ought not to be made to operate as a penalty or slur upon married life, but in the interest of married women.
Miss Taylor begins her letter by saying amongst other things "that the arguments used by the writer are so palpably insufficient to sustain these assertions may no doubt be in part ascribed to the impossibility of sustaining them efficiently in a newspaper article. On any other subject your able writer would be quite capable of seeing this, and would be the first to treat with scorn any one who attempted to compress into such a space conclusive reasonings on the fundamental principles of a topic of a tenth part of the complexity or the importance of this one. That he should think this one so easily disposed of is a curious example of how prejudice blunts the logical faculties." As far as our experience goes, inconclusive reasoning is apt to be longer than conclusive reasoning; perhaps, however, by conclusive Miss Taylor means, as people sometimes do, exhaustive. To this we never pretended. We were certainly never so vain as to suppose that such a subject could be "disposed of" by a remark of ten lines introduced in a discussion of a collateral matter, and afterwards expounded and illustrated in answer to a writer who had consumed six columns in attacking it. We would suggest to Miss Taylor that, as leading articles are not, and cannot be, treatises, and as it is expedient that subjects of importance should be discussed in them, and as it is possible to state important principles shortly and broadly if the person who states them has reflected on the subject of which he writes, and is more or less acquainted with its various bearings, the question whether the short statement of important principles shows that the logical faculties of the writer are blunted depends rather upon the way in which such principles are defended when challenged than on the greater or less space which is filled by their statement Miss Taylor herself makes in about two lines in one part of her letter an assertion as to a matter of fact essential to her argument which it would require volumes to discuss. She says, "The two benefits which men gain by marriage have been found in practice to be ensured exactly in proportion as women are free agents." To sustain this statement it would be necessary to state first how the law as to marriage and divorce in every part of the world stands or ever stood, and, secondly, what effect each variation of it had upon female virtue, due allowance being made for all collateral causes.
Pall Mall Gazette, July 2 and 14, 1868.