Criminal Law and Sex (1893)

The following is an excerpt from The Ethics of Socialism (p.65-66) – PW

In the Middle Ages “benefit of clergy” might be claimed by offenders who could read and write, such “benefit” consisting in exemption from the ordinary punishment for an offence. In the modern world all such wicked and unenlightened distinctions are abolished. The law nowadays makes no distinction of persons between men. True; but it makes distinctions between men and women, and where law draws no distinction, practice does. “Benefit of clergy” is superseded by “benefit of sex.” Not only are all the more brutal features of “penal discipline” still practised on men abolished as regards women, but the chances of prosecution, of conviction, and if convicted, of heavy sentences, are at least a hundred to one in favour of women.

Of course we know that the principle of equality between the sexes, as understood in the present day, demands this, and has been, and is, continually pushing legislation forward in this direction. Unless the social upheaval obliterates current lines of progress beforehand, we may yet live to see “equality between the sexes” realised in laws, whereby no female may be prosecuted for any offence whatever, the nearest male relation being substituted, and where the quiet London wayfarer in a lonely street will be in as dangerous a position as the “unprotected male” in the railway-carriage with a lone woman is now. Of course, any one that points this out is not treated seriously.

The sentiment is still on the ascendant, and will have (as things go) to work out its own absurdity by its very excess before it begins to dawn upon the average British intellect that the distinction between the cohorts of Ormuszd and Ahriman is not invariably based on sex—and that persons who would legislate on this assumption are not quite fit to be at large. Meanwhile our Ormiston Chants, Garrett Andersons, and Co., will probably have the opportunity of celebrating, in after-dinner speeches, new triumphs of the sexual inequality they apparently have at heart.

Source: Ernest Belfort Bax, Chapter 6. ‘Criminal Law Under Socialism,’ in Ethics of Socialism, Published 1893 by Swan Publishing, London.

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