As every litigant who has to contend with a woman knows to his cost, feminine privilege is not confined to matrimonial matters, nor to the Criminal Courts. The purse of the male is hit in the Civil Courts quite as heavily as his person in the exercise of the criminal privileges of the female sex. Anyone who has any relations, even of the most innocent character, with a woman, from a tenant or a trader who contracts with her to a casual guest at a friend’s house who makes her acquaintance in a social way, may have occasion to discover that absence of intimacy does not necessarily shield him from unpleasant consequences. The chief privileges of women in the Civil Courts are as follows (they cannot be paralleled [equalled] by those of a peer or a member of the House of Commons):–
1. Freedom from Arrest for Debt if Married.
2. Property Of Married Woman Exempt from Seizure.
3. Privilege to Commit Breaches of Contract.
4. Privilege to Defraud.
5. Privilege to Seduce.
6. Privilege to Commit Adultery.
7. Privilege to Insult.
8. Privilege to Assault.
9. Privilege to Waylay.
10. Privilege to Libel and Slander.
1. FREEDOM FROM ARREST FOR DEBT.
The process of imprisonment for debt (nominally for contempt of Court in not paying an instalment of a debt) is retained in England under the Debtors Acts, 1869 and 1882. But not in the case of the married female. No married woman is to be punished for non-payment of debt, and the Court is incapable of being contemned by a married woman. This superiority to Common Law standard, for the mere male, yet again marks out the woman as a member of an inviolable noblesse. A woman can obtain goods and not be compelled to pay for them, may use all her arts of persuading the chivalrous trader– but no compulsory power of imprisonment need disturb her. This may or may not be a good rule, if applied as in certain American States, to both men and women. But when reserved to women, it is an obvious sex privilege.
2 . PROPERTY EXEMPT FROM SEIZURE.
A married woman, as already pointed out, although rolling in wealth and owning tens of thousands a year, even when separated and released from all duty to her husband and children, retains her privilege of having her property exempt from seizure for debt. Some very amusing cases–amusing that is to all except the male litigant–of rich women refusing to pay traders and solicitors will be present to the public mind. When a rich woman develops a taste for litigation, the wisdom of the legislature has found no way of protecting the defendant from ruinous costs. Even if she quarrels with her solicitor, he is powerless to protect himself against being mulcted in costs–perhaps a happy stroke of poetic justice, as lawyers have largely created these oppressive sex-privileges of women. (See the many ramifications of the Cathcart Case.)
3. BREACH OF CONTRACT.
The absence of any compulsory power over a woman’s person or a married woman’s property and the bias of the courts amounts practically to a licence for her to break any contract at pleasure. This is quite apart from the peculiar privilege of women to waste a man’s time and money in a pretended engagement, possibly to lure on a more wealthy lover–and to he exempt from penalty. Their privilege to commit per- jury and slander with impunity plays a great part in the decision of any case in which a woman’s contract is concerned. All stock brokers, insurance agents, solicitors, and bankers, and business men generally, know how hopeless, as a rule, is any prospect of getting a contract enforced against a woman. As a rule it is best to compromise or submit to injustice rather than try it out with an adversary privileged to use loaded dice.
4. PRIVILEGE TO DEFRAUD.
Precisely as in the Criminal Law, there is no real remedy against any fraud not of extraordinary magnitude and clearness of proof, perpetrated by a woman on a man. A notorious female blackmailer brings lying accusations, suing on breach of promise of marriage, against a prominent Conservative member of Parliament. She loses her suit as she has to admit on cross-examination that she a few months previously, had extorted Â£5,000 from another victim of a similar suit, which was hushed up. But her victim could not get back his Â£5,000– and no one suggested civil or criminal process against her.
5. PRIVILEGE TO SEDUCE.
The feminine privilege of seduction extends also to the civil Courts. No civil action lies against any woman of full age or the seduction of a minor, not even if her doings be a device to entrap him by threats of scandal into marriage, and the attainment of title and fortune by her inducements to lead him astray. The male minor in France has some protection. The consent of cooler heads is required to his marriage. In England he has no protection from the terrible consequences of succumbing to the wiles of a female seducer. Contrast the law of England on the seduction of the female, minor or adult. Vindictive damages are to be had for the asking from the indignant jury. Legal fictions of “loss of service” by parents, are laid under requisition to prevent the operation of the maxim volenti non fit injuria [No injury is done to a consenting party].
6. PRIVILEGE TO COMMIT ADULTERY.
No action, civil or criminal, lies against a woman who induces a married man to have illicit relations with her. She may succeed in stripping the man of all his fortune, blackmail him for years, break up his home, cause him to be deprived of the custody of his children, and cap the climax of her crimes by appearing as a willing wit- ness for his wife in the Courts. No penalty awaits her. A man who seduces or is seduced by a wife has the satisfaction of being held up to public odium as a traitorous scoundrel, and at the same time of paying enormous costs and damages–the latter being settled on the delinquent wife.
7. PRIVILEGE TO INSULT.
For some mysterious reason a woman is supposed to be incapable of insulting a man. She may use most insolent language in a public assembly, waylay him at his office, or place of business, and adopt any other method of annoyance that malignity can devise, and the law refuses to protect him, and sends him to hard labour if he is goaded into retort. Jeremy Bentham proposed a century ago that women insulting other citizens should be punished by being exposed to public ridicule in a pillory. But we are now a long way off from the adoption of such a remedy as that. The sturdier Englishmen of former times restrained feminine provocation to violence by the summary methods of the cucking school and the indictment at the assizes of the “common scold [shrew],” not to mention the domestic discipline of the husband.
8. PRIVILEGE TO ASSAULT.
In a similar mysterious way a woman is supposed incapable of assaulting a man–at least in such a way as to deserve, not to say criminal punishment but even the exaction of pecuniary recompense. It is true that a woman with a weapon can cause grievous bodily harm. But the mere man has to put up with the consequences of such displays of feminine independence, inasmuch as the privilege holds good in civil as well as in criminal law.
9. PRIVILEGE TO WAYLAY.
In civil as well as criminal Courts this offence in women is unpunished. Let a man protect himself is the general rule on the subject. But as he is punished if he attempts to protect himself, he has simply to submit to the outrage.
10. PRIVILEGE TO LIBEL AND SLANDER.
To bring unfounded charges against any man –not against a fellow women– is now a well-established legal privilege of the fair sex. However, originally it was restrained in earlier days by legal process and domestic discipline. Exactly as in breaches of contract, it is usually wise to submit to the injustice. But the rising wave of pro-feminist sentiment has reached a curious height of late years. A woman can accuse a man of sexual irregularities with absolute impunity. But it is not to be supposed that he is to have a like privilege. A special statute (Slander of Women Act) passed a few years ago, makes such slander of a woman actionable. But she retains her privilege of slandering a man. If this be not a statutory sex-privilege words must have lost their meaning. The grim irony of making a man responsible for his wife’s slanders, and other misdeeds–although the law has deprived him of all control over her person or property, has been already referred to.