Category Archives: The Legal Subjugation of Men

Preface

THE LEGAL SUBJECTION OF MEN (1908)

Preface To New Edition.

I HAVE been usually credited with being the chief author of the following brochure. Such, however, is not the case. “The Legal Subjection of Men” is in great part the work of an Irish barrister and LL.D. of Dublin, who died a few years ago. That portions here and there are from my pen is true, but for the bulk of the pamphlet I am not directly responsible, as any expert in literary style will probably detect. I mention the circumstance in writing the few words of preface for the new edition asked of me by the publishers, not with a view to any disclaimer, but simply in the interests of literary truth and accuracy. For though, as stated, only myself directly responsible for short sections, I none the less, in the main, heartily endorse the whole. The present edition has been carefully corrected and the Law brought up to date, though the illustrative cases necessarily remain as in the original edition. There have been few agitations in history which have been characterised by such hard lying and shameless perversion of fact as the so-called “Woman’s Movement.” Unfortunately, continually-reiterated assertions in direct contravention with the real state of the case have only too well succeeded. The public mind has been bull-dozed into assuming the reverse of what actually obtains to represent the truth, and has sympathised and given effect to its sympathies on the basis of these false representations. I need scarcely say that the advocates of “Woman’s Rights” and female suffrage, whose whole credit is based upon the tissue of falsehood it is the mission of this little work to expose, have done their best to boycott and ignore the exposure. All honour then to the Twentieth Century Press for originally publishing, and to the New Age Press for having the courage to risk offending certain sections of “advanced” opinion by reprinting, the following unvarnished statement of Law and fact.

E. Belfort Bax.

Preface

IT seemed to the authors of the following pamphlet that the time had fairly come for confronting the false assumptions underlying the conventional whining cant of the Feminist advocate with a plain and unvarnished statement of Law and fact. The “Woman’s rights” (?) agitator has succeeded by a system of sheer impudent, brazen, “bluff,” alternately of the whimpering and the shrieking order, in inducing a credulous public to believe that in some mysterious way the female sex is groaning under the weight of the tyranny of him whom they are pleased to term “man the brute.” The facts show these individuals to be right in one point and only one, namely, that sex-injustice and sex-inequality exist; for it so happens that the facts further show the said injustice and inequality to exist wholly and solely in favour of women as against men. In short, they disclose a state of things in which, down to the minutest detail of law and administration, civil and criminal, women are iniquitously privileged at the expense of men. As it is, many an unhappy male victim of modern sex-prerogative would doubtless be only delighted to be allowed to partake of a little of the oppression under which he is told unfortunate Woman is groaning, but from any share in which he sees himself to his detriment excluded. Mr. Hardcastle [1] found his guest’s new-fashioned shyness bore a strong resemblance to old-fashioned impudence, and our male victim of pro-feminist laws and tribunals may well he excused for failing to distinguish between this new-fashioned oppression and old-fashioned domination. In conclusion, we would advise the Feminist guild ignore our pamphlet with its tale of infamy. It is their only chance of gulling their sentimental dupes any longer. Let the latter once know of our sketch, and their game is up. For those who have read it, and a retain the vestiges of open mind on the subject, the maundering [grumbling] farce of “down-trodden woman and the brute man” will be played out.

[1] A character in “She Stoops To Conquer” by Oliver Goldsmith, 1773.

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The Legal Subjection of Men

THE LEGAL SUBJECTION OF MEN (1896)
by Ernest Belfort Bax

Legal subjection of menThe Legal Subjection of Men was co-written by Bax and an unnamed Irish barrister in 1896 as a response and rejoinder to John Stuart Mill’s 1869 essay “The Subjection of Women.” The 1908 reissue of the book includes the new subtitle, “A Reply to the Suffragettes.”

12. “The Oppressed Woman”

As regards the occasional cases of the ill-treatment of women by men, especially wife assaults and such like, these may by traced largely to the infamous state of the law we have described. Where the law practically refuses justice to one section of the community against another, it is only “human nature” (if we may employ that much-abused phrase) that occasionally members of the section to which justice is refused should be found to take the matter into their own hands, and attempt to redress the balance, by acts, amounting sometimes to brutality. It were surely more reasonable, rather than to expend indignation and ferocity on the individual offender, to seek out and remedy the underlying cause of the offence. Give men reasonable justice as against women, cease to trample underfoot every principle of equity and fair play at the behest of feminine shrieks, and the excuse, or at least, palliation which now undoubtedly for any sporadic brutality on the part of men, and especially husbands, of which women may be the victims, would be done away with. Whilst the law remains as it is women deserve scant pity if they do on rare occasions get the worst of it in their dealings with men. In the foregoing pages we have set forth the respective legal position of the sexes as it now stands. Our aim in doing so has been, by spreading knowledge of the facts of the case, to prevent uninformed though otherwise fair-minded persons from falling a prey to the maudlin rant of demagogic charlatans (male and female), ignorant of law and as destitute of the capacity of independent judgment on any subject as they are of any impartial sense of justice, who so frequently deliver themselves in press and on platform on the subject the “wrongs of woman.”

11. Socialists and Feminists

Certain Socialist writers are fond of describing the Social-Democratic State of the future as implying the “emancipation of the proletarian and the woman.” As regards the latter point, however, if emancipation is taken to include domination, we have not to wait so long. The highest development of modern capitalism, as exemplified in the English-speaking countries, has placed man to all intents and purposes, legally under the heel of woman. So far as the relations of the sexes are concerned, it would be the task of Socialism to emancipate man from this position, if sex-equality be the goal aimed at. The first step on the road towards such equality would necessarily consist in the abolition of modern female privilege.

THE SUFFRAGE.

It is absurd for feminist advocates to trot out their threadbare grievance of the want of the suffrage as a serious disability in the face of all the privileges we have been discussing.. It may be right, or it may he wrong, for women to have the suffrage. Respecting this we say nothing here. But, whether right or wrong, we deny that the lack of it, by an otherwise privileged class, constitutes a grievance. Electoral disqualifica- tions are often attendant on special privilege. The Royal Family of this realm, with all their branches, are debarred from the exercise of both the passive and the active franchise. And yet no one pleads that, say, the prince of Wales, is, in consequence, a cruelly oppressed personage. Similarly the clergy of the Established Church are debarred at least from the passive franchise (i.e., they may not sit in Parliament), and yet we have never heard it contended that on this account they are a solely hard-done-by section of the community. Where women have parliament, law courts, police magistrates, judges as their obsequious humble servants, what more could they expect to obtain, even if they had the suffrage?

10. A Sex Noblesse

From all we have said, it will now be evident, one would think, to the most prejudiced reader that modern English Law, following obsequiously a deluded or apathetic stage of public opinion, has solved the problem of the division of rights and duties between the sexes, by conceding to woman all rights, and imposing on man all duties. It would not be difficult to show, were it worth while , that even the disabilities of women in past times have been grossly exaggerated by apostles of the feminist cultus who have, of course, taken a brief to prove the wickedness of “horrid man” to the poor downtrodden female. Such disabilities as really obtained were for the most part the necessary outcome of women’s position as non-combatants in a rude fighting age, and certainly did not originate, as is generally represented, in any deep- laid scheme of male devising. In return for a certain formal subjection, in some respects, they obtained not only the blessing of protection, then an important matter, but valuable privileges in other directions. An impartial student of history must admit that, however badly men have treated their fellow-men, they have always treated women with comparative generosity. The change from feudal to modern capitalist conditions, as regards the position of women, is characterised, however, not only by, at one and the same time, the abolition of every vestige of subordination or disability, but, in addition to that, by the extension of the old compensating privileges, which were the counterpart of the former, and by the further heaping up on the top of these of new privileges, the result having finally saddled us with the institution of that sex-noblesse the leading features of which we have sketched out in the foregoing pages.

9. Muscular Inferiority and Sex-privilege

We must once more refer, on account of its wide-spreading popularity, to the cheap sneer by which some small but gallant wits may endeavour to turn the edge of the foregoing observations, namely, the attempt to play of the muscular inferiority of women to men as an answer to any allegation of oppression exercised on behalf of the so-called weaker sex. When looked at fairly in the face, the point in question will he seen so preposterously absurd as to be hardly worth answering. But, nevertheless, absurd as it is, it undoubtedly plays a part, half unconsciously, in the apathy of most men on the question of female privilege. Because men are muscularly stronger than women, it is felt by many, and the feeling is supported by the class of cheap witticism above referred to, that therefore it is impossible for men to be seriously oppressed by women. A moment’s reflection suffices to show that the question of muscular strength or weakness is absolutely immaterial to the issue. It would be just as reasonable to suppose that because the Czar of Russia and his high officials were less muscularly developed than the average Russian peasant, that the possibility of the Russian peasant being seriously oppressed by the Czar or his government was a proposition to be laughed at. The weakest and most frail woman, backed by the whole power of the State, may easily annihilate by the State forces summoned by her scream, a legion of Samsons or Hercules.

8. The Actual Exercise Of Women’s Sex Privileges

The most curious of all concomitants of the legal subjection of men in England arise, first, that many men are not conscious of the real state of the law, and secondly, that a very loud-voiced minority of women, reinforced by sycophantic males, represent the law as being the apotheosis of unjust sex-privileges on the part of men. The last phenomonen is, no doubt, in great part one cause of the first, but other causes for men’s unconsciousness contribute. A survival of the days when the physical force of the man was allowed by the State to play a part in his quarrels with women, survive in the public delusion that it is impossible for man to be oppressed by women. How can men be legally oppressed by women? Are not men, if worthy of the name, able to defend themselves? This objection, once categorically stated, is seen to be ridiculous. A legal defence is not a matter of strength or courage, but of skill. Even a skilled defence is a poor protection before a biased tribunal. But lastly, the whole question of muscular strength is absurdly and outrageously irrelevant. The bravest and strongest man is as weak as a child before the over- whelming force of the State. Any woman can at will summon to her aid a power no man can resist. And behind this force of law rests the equally irresistible force of public opinion. All this, under the present dispensation, is arrayed against the man accused by a woman. The woman accuser wields the whole power of the Courts and the community, backed up by the press and public opinion. Her physical strength is an irrelevant matter, her real force lies in the state of public opinion before which the man becomes helpless. The power of the autocrat lies not in his physical strength, but in his ability to summon at a beck the resources of the State. The Czar of Russia is, and the Emperor Nero was, physically no stronger than the merest beggar. Catherine of Russia was physically weaker than the lowest of her grenadiers.

1. The law is not generally known by the vulgar, and lawyers, unless paid, are not usually accustomed to be expansive to the public at large on the subject of their information. Ignorance by the public of the law promotes litigation, and lawyers individually are not particularly oppressed by or frightened at the legal privileges of women. The technical skill of the lawyer and his powerful trade union usually enables him to get the best of the woman who contends with him in the law courts. Similarly, in former days, the lawyer took care to guard himself from being hurt by the feudal privileges of the noble, which weighed so heavily on the rest of the community.

2. Most women in England are still under the in- fluence of the earlier polity of the Church and of Christendom. They do not dispute the duty of female subordination, and do not in fact as yet think of exercising the more flagrant of these new-fangled legal sex-privileges. The utmost pitch of domination that the majority have reached to is a noticeable increase in the display of overbearing manners towards their husbands, and other male dependents, and the palpable consciousness that the threat of a public scene will bring the scene-hating Englishman to his knees.

3. A large minority of women influenced by kindness and self-respect and all amiable qualities, do not exercise any of these iniquitous sex-privileges at all. If an insignificant minority of women are oppressed by individual men, it is merely because, from any reason, economic or other, the woman does not for a considerable time, choose to go to the Police Courts. When a fact of this kind comes to be published, it is trumpeted forth in the press–the press which carefully excludes stories of male slavery–with the object of producing a false impression as to the side on which the balance of injustice is to he found.

4. The more flagrant of these privileges are in practice resorted to chiefly by the more profligate of the female sex. Happily every man does not fall a victim. But those who do find it convenient to keep concealed the story of their wrongs. Their friends might believe in their innocence, but their enemies or the public at large would not. The man injured by a woman has no sex-conscious “man’s party” to appeal to. Every brawling wife and shrieking termagant or cold-blooded blackmailer has a sex-conscious propaganda ready to her hand. It is therefore all the more important to remember that these privileges conferred by the law of England on the woman against the man, are no dead letter. They are actually enforced with rigour that increases every day. Judge, jury, counsel and press vie with each other in driving the iron into the soul of the unfortunate man who is forced to contend with a woman in the law courts. Such an extreme of squalid unrighteousness has been reached that it has become a commonplace of the legal profession that no justice is to be had in the Courts against a woman–unless in some case of outrageous atrocity, and not always even then. The origin of this singular phenomenon–a revival of barbaric gynocracy among the English-speaking people in the British Islands, America and the British Colonies is a subject of the deepest interest, but not one lending itself to cursory treatment. A photograph of the outer surface–a picture of the facts of the law is all that has been attempted here. To confine our attention to the strictly necessary, it will suffice to remind the reader that the ordinary motives which induce the more selfish members of any privileged class to use a privilege, exist in the case of women. Many slave-owners were as indulgent as St. Clair, but many were like [Simon] Legree [“Uncle Tom’s Cabin”]. The chief impelling motives appear to be:– 1. A desire for economic advantage to get money without trouble; to exploit the labour of the male slave, enthralled by the law–this works quite as well to impel a woman as well as a man to use an unjust power. It is the predatory instinct present in pirates, robbers and criminals of all classes. 2. A desire to domineer and oppress. This impulse as distinguished from ordinary revengefulness is, some think, stronger in women than in men. No one will deny its existence in both men and women, whatever be its special cause. 3. Malignity and vindictiveness. Inordinate revenge for real or fancied wrongs, disproportioned vindictiveness for the chance slights of a complex social life may he safely reckoned on to actuate the bitterer section of a female noblesse as well as a male one. If power does not corrupt, at least it gives room for corruption to spread. Modern life among English speaking people, while releasing women from male guidance, has, by individu- alising women, multiplied the occasions of conflict between members of the two sexes. Different ideals and tests of action (women judge men by one standard and men judge women by another), the result of natural divergencies, as well as of education, absence of sex- illusion on the female side and its presence on the male side, add to these occasions.

4. Many women who, of their own accord, being still under the influence of the earlier policy of Christendom, would not think of exercising the force of public opinion, or the privileges of a one-sided law against their husbands or other men, are influenced to do so in various ways. The incessant clamour of a hysterical press leads them to suppose that in any quarrel with a man, the man must be wrong, the woman never can be wrong. The shrieks of the “new woman” propaganda suggest to women that in making most infamous use of her weapons she is upholding the cause of her “sisters.” Furthermore the new mammon-worship which has infected all modern English life has produced among the average middle class woman an unspoken theory–that the sole duty of man is to make money for his wife. The revolutionary theory of equality, dating from 1789–is applied only on one side, and it is assumed as an axiom that a wife is kept and has a right to do precisely as she pleases. At the same time it is taken as quite self-evident that she is emancipated from any duty of obedience or even civility to him. Added to the conclusions of the feminist spirit of domination, the final position is that the man is to submit to all insolences and outrages without redress. This conception of the relative positions of men and women is urged in a thousand different ways on any woman who has a quarrel with her husband, and must inevitably influence the average woman. 5. Many women, themselves ignorant of the modern law, are instigated by lawyers to bring suits, relying on their iniquitous legal privileges. Not merely are men’s reputations, lives and fortunes thus endangered, but in this way the present state of.the law has become a powerful solvent of the historic basis of the family relations of Christendom, by encouraging disputes between wives and husbands. Sir Walter Phillimore in a recent speech has pointed out what a part is played by solicitors in the promotion of divorce suits. The essential thing, therefore, to remember is that the the subjection of women in England, if it ever existed, has gone, and long gone. It is succeeded by a state of sordid subjection of the man to a biased public opinion, to a hysterical press, and to sentimental administrators of a corrupted law. There are, however, some signs that the legal subjec- tion of men in England is not destined to live for ever. The law, after all, is the shadow of public opinion.