We will in the first place give a short statement of the law of husband and wife, with a view to discovering on which side of the equation does the weight of privilege lie, regarding the marriage contract as it at present exists in this country. Let us clearly understand what are the exact limitations, and what the extraordinary extent of these sex privileges conferred by law. Rich men are, on account of their wealth, in a more enviable position towards any litigant in the Law Courts than are poor men. The privilege here is of wealth. But rich women are enormously better off in the matter of legal privilege than are rich men, and poor women are similarly privileged by law as against men of their own class.
THE LETTER OF THE LAW.
This privilege conferred on women arises in an extraordinary number of cases, for the express letter of the law discriminates in the sharpest possible manner between men and women in the matter of legal right and duty, of civil law advantage and criminal law exemption. But the letter of the law is supplemented by the bias of tribunals and by the bias of the press, and of public opinion, of which opinion, after all, the action of the tribunals is but the reflection. Who interprets, enacts. The unfair incidence of the law, bad enough by itself, is rendered crushing by the made-up minds of judge and jury.
BIAS OF TRIBUNALS.
The settled bias of the tribunals in favour of the woman complainant, actuating magistrates, judge and jury, operates in two ways. In the first place a woman has only to complain against a man, and the tribunal is already convinced of the justice of her claim. The tribunal is only impartial if the complaint is by one woman against another. In the next place, no adequate repression of crime or other injury by a woman against a man is even attempted.
BIAS OF PRESS AND PUBLIC OPINION.
This tendency of the tribunals is confirmed and rendered irresistible by the action of the press and public opinion. All injuries to a woman are chronicled with flaring headlines. Injuries by women to men are laughed at, or worse still, passed over in silence. The origin of this bias is a subject of deep interest, but not one capable of being discussed within brief limits. It is, of course, to be found in the history of England for some centuries past–practically since the Reformation –in so far as difference in the intensity of the sentiment differentiates England from other European peoples. It is to be found in the history of Europe and the race for many centuries before the period of the great European upheaval of the 16th century. It is enough for the present to note that the pro-feminist prejudice exists and is transmuted into positive rules of law, and legal administration by the action of public opinion and the press, Parliament, judges and juries, and crystallised into statutory enactment by an active pro-feminist propaganda of sex-conscious women’s righters. If anyone thinks the latter factor unimportant, it may be sufficient to remind him of the statutory innovation 4 involving the most flagrant injustice, inasmuch as flagrant inequality, viz.:– 1. Summary Court for Separation. Open to women alone, except in the case of drunkenness (cf. Licensing Act, 1902). 2. Action for Slander. Open to women alone. 3. Duty of Husband to maintain his wife–notwithstanding her adultery.–This last a triumph of feminine privileges enacted in 1895! It is impossible in any distribution of the main out- lines of sex-privilege to avoid occasionally overlapping. One arrangement of the topics will be convenient. Let us consider women’s privileges under the head of Matrimonial Law, and the Civil Law generally, and, further, of the Criminal Law. These privileges arise indirectly from the action of the legislature, but mainly from that of the Courts, and consist of: first, the deliberate introduction of new rules of law and procedure, and, secondly, the retention of some old-world privileges of women, logical enough when women were dependent, but under modern conditions engines of tyranny against men.