Ernest Belfort Bax from Reminiscences and reflexions of a mid and late Victorian (1920)
Ernest Belfort Bax at age 62 – © National Portrait Gallery, London
Ernest Belfort Bax – portrait by Europa Phoenix
Ernest Belfort Bax from Reminiscences and reflexions of a mid and late Victorian (1920)
Ernest Belfort Bax at age 62 – © National Portrait Gallery, London
Ernest Belfort Bax – portrait by Europa Phoenix
Amid the various writers who have favoured THE NEW AGE with their views on the question of Female Suffrage, none have really traversed my original contention, as contained in my first article. That contention was, that occupying as they do a privileged position before the law – not only in itself, but still more in its administration – as against men, women have no just claim to the franchise. That the votaries of Female Suffrage feel this, is proved by the fact that their most serious efforts at arguments turn upon the iniquity of subjecting women to “man-made laws,” their staple policy throughout their agitation being, by dint of lying assertions and insinuations, ceaselessly repeated, to create the impression on the public mind that the existing state of the law and its administration not only does not favour women, but is actually unfair to “the sex.” Now, as I have pointed out, to anyone in the least acquainted with the theory and practice of the English law, there can be no doubt whatever that the latter, in theory and still more in practice, is entirely and without any exception whatever, one-sided and partial to women and against men.
The only correspondent of THE NEW AGE who has really touched the point at issue at all, while admitting the substantial truth of my remarks, confines himself to suggesting exaggeration on my part and observing that our infamous anti-man marriage laws were unjust “not on one side only.” But I must deny the charge of exaggeration, a denial that can be substantiated by illustrative cases galore. As regards the marriage laws, I insist that the unfairness is wholly and solely on one side. But I must here make an explanation. There does exist on paper one slight concession of fairness towards the husband. The divorce law, namely, ordains that an adulterous wife, owing to the fact that by her adultery she can introduce into the family, and compel her husband to support, a bastard child, can be divorced by the husband on proof of adultery alone, whereas for a wife to obtain divorce from her husband (in which case, of course, the above reason does not obtain), it is necessary to prove cruelty in addition to adultery. Now, believer as I am that marriage ought to be an absolutely free union, it is certainly not my case to defend the existing marriage laws as a system. But I do say that, given that system and our present property and family relations generally, nothing can be more reasonable or more equitable as between the man and the woman than this provision of the English law respecting divorce.
Yet when brought to book and challenged to give a concrete instance of the unfairness of “man-made laws “ to woman anent which the woman’s righter is perennially blathering at large, it is invariably this very innocent and natural provision of the divorce law that is trotted out, it being the solitary instance in which the law does not overtly favour the woman at the expense of the man. But I have said that this provision exists on paper merely, and so it does, since in practice it remains a dead letter. For the discrimination in question is now practically abolished, anything which the wife objects to – coming home late at night, going out to a party without taking her with him, holding her hands when she attempts to scratch or bite him – being adjudged technical cruelty by the husband within the meaning of the law. Per contra, the Act of 1895 condones expressly the adultery of the wife, providing she can successfully plead “neglect” (an elastic term) on the part of the husband. So much for this solitary case in which the Feminist, to his horror and indignation, finds that the law does not for once avowedly favour women at the expense of men. But apart from this isolated example, the whole marriage law is one tissue of favouritism to the woman and injustice to the man, as I have already shown.
And yet we find in “advanced” journals tirades like the following: “Any fool, any blackguard, any coward, is wise enough and worthy enough to be allowed a legal and a holy licence to torture and insult a woman. Anything with the title of husband in his pocket may goad and stab and lash and sear the soul of the slave we call a wife” (Clarion, July 17) Unfortunately, the champion liar who can gush forth the mendacious, sentimental slush, of which the foregoing is a sample, does not stand alone. His performance is but part of an anti-man crusade of misrepresentation and falsehood carefully organised and skilfully engineered, the object of which is, and has been, to inflame public opinion against men in the interests of female privilege and of female domination. Feminists well know that the most grotesquely far-fetched cry anent the injustice of man to woman will meet with a ready ear. They well know that they get here fond and foolish man on his soft side. Looking at the matter impartially, it is quite evident that man’s treatment of woman is the least vulnerable point in his moral record. Woman, as such, he has always treated with comparative generosity. But it is, of course, to the interests of the abettors of female domination to pretend the contrary. Accordingly everything has been done to excite prejudice in favour of woman as the innocent and guileless victim of man’s tyranny, and the maudlin Feminist sentiment of the “brute” man has been carefully exploited to this end. The result of two generations’ agitation in the above sense is seen in the existing state of the law, civil and criminal, in which the “Woman’s Movement” has succeeded in effecting the violation of every principle of rectitude towards the male side of the sex-equation. The existing laws connected with marriage which place the husband practically in the position of legal slavery as regards the wife is typical of the whole.
That the present “Votes for Women” movement is only a phase of the anti-man crusade which Feminism has been carrying on for nigh two generations past with the aid of the Press, is shown, not only by the persistent efforts to represent “ man-made laws “ as unjust to women, but by the incidental remarks of Suffragette leaders in which the sex animus is shown, no concealment being made of the intention to use the suffrage for rivetting on man the chains of legalised female oppression. For example, Mrs. Pankhurst recently represented one of the functions of emancipated “Womanhood” to be the handing over of the luckless male to the Female blackmailer by raising the “age of consent” above sixteen!! The allusion made at the same time to the “daughters of the working class “ is a piece of demagogy too thin to deceive anyone as to the venomous sex-spite animating this outrageous proposal.
Again, in the Daily News for July 30 a suffragette objects to a woman being punished for murdering her child, protesting that the father, who had had nothing to do with the crime, ought to have been in the dock in her place!
In the present agitation we see merely the culmination of a Feminist campaign organised with scarcely any attempt at concealment, as I have said, on the basis of a sex-war. But this sex-war is at present one-sided, the man’s case goes by default. There is no sex-conscious man’s party to be appealed to and to engineer public opinion in favour of the claims of the most elementary justice for him, as here is a sex-conscious woman’s party to further any and every iniquitous claim of the female sex. So long as the present state of things lasts, organised determination on the one side and indefinite gullibility on the other, are likely to maintain the ascendancy of the Feminist cult and increase the sphere of female privilege.
It has often been remarked that even if the suffrage were granted, the enforcement of the laws decreed by a female majority would be dependent on the goodwill of men. This observation we are accustomed to find greeted by Feminist jeers. The jeers may be justified for the moment, but the intrinsic truth of the observation remains none the less. So long, namely, as the Woman’s Party can continue to bulldose men as they have done up to the present, so long will they be able to make men obey and enforce their behests, whether formulated directly through the suffrage or indirectly by hoodwinking public opinion as they do now. But when once men get tired of this, when once the reaction sets in and a sex-conscious Man’s Party forms itself, then Heaven help the women!! The anti-man ranting sisterhood do not seem to realise what the position of their sex would be if men took to refusing to act against their “brothers.” They think it the most natural thing in the world for women to talk and act in this strain as regards their “sisters.” The explanation, to my mind, is simple. They instinctively feel that man is more than sex, that he stands for humanity in the concrete, whereas woman stands, par excellence, for sex and sex alone. As I have often pointed out before, common phraseology recognises that while man has a sex woman is a sex. The hollowness of the sham of the modern dogma of equality between the sexes is shown by the fact that the assumption of inferiority is called into requisition without any hesitation when there is anything to be gained by it for the cause of female privilege. The dogma of equality is reserved for pleading for the franchise, for the opening up of the professions, and similar occasions. According to the current theory, while women are fully equal to men in capacity for government, administration, etc., and hence, while justice demands that these spheres should be accessible to them, they are so inferior to men in the capacity to control their actions and to distinguish right from wrong, that it is not to be thought of that they, poor weak women, should be treated with the same impartiality or severity by the law as is dealt out to men. Women nowadays “want it,” not “both ways” merely, but all ways. At least as good arguments may be produced to prove that the apparent muscular inferiority of women to men is not fundamental, as are adduced to prove that the apparent intellectual inferiority is not fundamental. There are plenty of instances of extraordinary bodily strength in women. And yet we never hear these arguments. Why? Because Feminists have no interest, but quite the contrary, in perverting the truth on this side, whereas on the other, their demands require that they shall prove equality – the aim being to ensure for women all honourable, agreeable, and lucrative occupations in life, while guarding them carefully from all rough and disagreeable work and from all unpleasant responsibilities. Hence it suits their book to admit the physical, while denying the mental, inferiority. My constitutional objection to privileged classes extends also to a privileged sex. Hence my (as some deem it, intemperate) zeal in exposing the hollow humbug on which the practical demands of the “Woman’s Movement” rest.
Turning again to the present agitation, it is noteworthy how the evidence as to the numerical strength of the Suffrage movement adduced by its advocates is about on a level with the arguments advanced in support of the general principle of Feminism. A stage army, the vanguard of which probably amounts to some five hundred, which can on occasion, from all England, be raised to ten thousand (among these, girlish youth and innocence being particularly prominent), such is all that has yet been achieved, and such it is that we are asked to regard as representing the public opinion of England. However, one may suppose that the Feminists are so accustomed to their statements otherwise being allowed to pass by default, that they have come to regard the supineness and gullibility of public opinion in these matters as a safe speculation. Hence, at the beginning of the twentieth century the figure of British Womanhood rises up before us, reeking with privilege, and, in alternate strophes, tearfully whimpering and threateningly shrieking that she has not enough, that she wants more! Such, at least is the Womanhood of the Feminist agitation. In concluding this controversy, I can only reaffirm my original position unshaken, and that is, that whatever other arguments there may be for or against “Votes for Women,” certain it is, under any ordinarily recognised standard of fairness and equality, that so long as women enjoy those privileges before the law at the expense of men which they now do, it is unjust that they should be given facilities for increasing, them by the concession of the franchise.
Source: New Age, 8 August 1908, p. 287-288
I instanced the Tooting tramway incident as an act of commendable pluck on the part of those concerned in it to boldly challenge the attempt of woman’s righters to “jump the claim” to chivalry as a special right of the sex they champion. But there is another point Feminists conveniently overlook. It is this: That granting the “weakness” argument, this very weakness, to whose claim chivalry may per se be granted, forfeits its claim when it presumes upon that claim and becomes aggressive. Aggressive weakness deserves no quarter – à la guerre, comme à la guerre.
Women’s Privileges and “Rights”, Social Democrat, Vol.13 no.9, September (1909).
In the present article I have only dealt briefly with one aspect of this question. I may point out in conclusion that the existing state of public opinion on the subject registers the fact that sex-conscious women have exploited the muscular weakness of their sex and have succeeded in forging a weapon of tyranny called “chivalry” which enables them to ride rough-shod over every principle of justice and fair play, Men are cowed by it, and fail to distinguish between simple weakness per se which should command every consideration, and that of aggressive weakness which trades upon “chivalry” and deserves no quarter.
‘Feminism and Female Suffrage’ in New Age, (1910)
“Even taking the matter on the conventional ground of weakness and granting, for the sake of argument, the relative muscular weakness of the female as ground for her being allowed the immunity claimed by Modern Feminists of the sentimental school, the distinction is altogether lost sight of between weakness as such and aggressive weakness. Now I submit there is a very considerable difference between what is due to weakness that is harmless and unprovocative, and weakness that is aggressive, still more when this aggressive weakness presumes on itself as weakness, and on the consideration extended to it, in order to become tyrannical and oppressive. Weakness as such assuredly deserves all consideration, but aggressive weakness deserves none save to be crushed beneath the iron heel of strength. Woman at the present day has been encouraged by a Feminist public opinion to become meanly aggressive under the protection of her weakness. She has been encouraged to forge her gift of weakness into a weapon of tyranny against man, unwitting that in so doing she has deprived her weakness of all just claim to consideration or even to toleration.”
Chapter 5: The “Chivalry” Fake, in The Fraud of Feminism (1913)
The following paragraphs on the subject of feminism and World War 1 are excepted from chapter XII ‘Concluding Reflexions’ of Bax’s 1918 book Reminiscences and Reflexions of a mid and late Victorian.
“The principles and propaganda of Feminism were running high in the land up to the outbreak of the war, and though for the time being undoubtedly overshadowed by the great events of the last two years, there is no reason for thinking that Feminism, theoretical and practical, will not reassert itself when the present crisis is over. In my book on the subject I have distinguished between political and sentimental Feminism. The propaganda of Feminism has for its practical object to exalt the woman at the expense of the man. We have had echoes of sentimental Feminism during the war itself, notably, as already mentioned, in the case of Edith Cavell, where we have a woman exalted to the rank of a demi-goddess of heroism, while of the Belgian architect, Philippe Bancq, who suffered at the same time, for the same offence against the German invaders of his country, not a word has been said. Compare the case of Captain Fryatt, whose murder was even more in contravention of the laws of civilized war than that of Edith Cavell, and yet we hear of no streets named after lain and no festivals in his honour! The general theory of sentimental Feminism seems to be that the shooting of one woman non-combatant outweighs the murder of ten men non-combatants. Such divinity doth hedge a female of the human species!”
“The present war is affording a stalking-horse for more nostrums than one The trick is to trace the atrocities and misdeeds of the Prusso-German Government and armies to the absence in Germany of the influence of one’s own particular nostrum. Thus, the Feminist will try to persuade you that the crimes of the German Army are due to defects in the German character, arising from the absence of the cultus of Woman among German men and of the emancipation of Woman in the Feminist sense in the Fatherland. The shooting of Miss Cavell and sundry outrages on women in Belgium and the North of France, we are told, are referable to an insufficient spirit of gallantry or chivalry, i.e. of kowtowing to femalehood, on the part of German men. If female suffrage and female influence generally had been present in German social and political life, it is alleged, we should have had no war, or, in case of war, no “frightfulness,” and above all the sacrosanct sex would have been spared and treated with the due reverential awe which it becomes vile man to show in his dealings therewith. All this sort of talk is, I suppose, swallowed by a section of the British public at its face-value, being, as they are, utterly ignorant of the facts of the case. Either the Feminists who seek to make propaganda for their theories out of the misdeeds of the German Army do not know these facts themselves or they are dishonest in their attempt to snatch an advantage out of the war-feeling of the British public. As having had some considerable experience of Germany and things German before the war, I can answer for it that there has been now for years past as strong a current of Feminist sentiment and opinion in Germany as elsewhere, in all circles claiming to be advanced. The only difference is that in Germany, owing to Militarism with its bloodtax, the incidence of which, of course, fell exclusively on men, the injustice of allowing the sex exempted from the blood-tax to swamp with their votes the male elector who was subject to it came home, perhaps, more to the average “man in the street” than in other countries where the same conditions did not prevail. Books on Feminism had a wide circulation. Women had played a part in political agitation for a generation past, at least, in the largest political party in Germany. There was no sex-bar in the matter of membership of that party, or of the share taken in the life of its organization. There was and is, moreover, so far as I am aware, a special organization existing in Germany for the furtherance of female suffrage and other “planks” in the ordinary Feminist programme, while, morebetoken, one of its most prominent leaders is more violent in her jingoism than Count Reventlow himself. All the talk about the position of the German woman, by those who have never lived in Germany, and do not in most cases even know the language, deserves nothing but contempt. It serves the purpose, however, I suppose, of Feminists and advocates of female privilege in general, for pointing a moral and adorning a tale in favour of their own nostrum.”
After The Roots of Reality had appeared, I bethought me of a promise to my old friend William Morris, made not long before his death, to write a history of that, even to most students, little-known event at the close of the French Revolution, Gracchus Babeuf’s “Conspiracy of the Equals.” This undertaking I now endeavoured to fulfil to the best of my ability, and the result was the volume entitled The Last Episode of the French Revolution (Grant Richard), which appeared in 1911. The book, though well enough reviewed, had the sale one expects from purely historical monographs having little or no bearing on current events or practical interest for the present time. It remains, however, as the only English study on the subject obtainable, even Bronterre O’Brien’s translation of the contemporary Buonarotti’s work having been out of print for more than half a century.
This was followed in 1912 by another volume of essays, entitled Essays on Men, Mind, and Morals, comprising some previously published and some unpublished pieces, among the former the article that originally appeared in the International Journal of Ethics on the Socialist view of the fundamental principles of morality, and my reply in the Fortnightly Review to Dr. Beattie Crozier’s attack on Socialism. In November 1913 appeared The Fraud of Feminism, just after Sir Almroth Wright’s Unexpurgated Case against Woman Suffrage. In this little book of less than two hundred pages I claim to have disposed of the arguments (save the mark!), so constantly heard and so seldom contradicted or refuted, of the advocates of Feminism. I have clearly drawn the distinction between Political Feminism (as I have termed it) and Sentimental Feminism. The Political Feminist claims for women equal political and social rights with men. The Sentimental Feminist, under the sham pretence of chivalry, claims impunity for women from the unpleasant consequences of their own conduct. Between the two, and they are usually combined in the same person, we arrive at the delightful conclusion that women have a right to claim an equal position with men wherever it suits their book, i.e. in all honourable, agreeable, and lucrative positions, and at the same time to demand special treatment from that accorded to men whenever “equality” would spell unpleasant consequences for themselves – a charming doctrine truly for the female sex, in which the “equality” appears with its picturesque chivalry “all on one side.”
My efforts in this book, as in previous essays, to expose the claptrap and lies of the advocates of Feminism have naturally not been to the taste of the Suffragette sisterhood, who have lost no opportunity of venting their petty spite in feeble efforts to say nasty things. I give just one instance of this. In the Spring of 1915 appeared a volume called forth by the war, entitled German Culture, Past and Present. It consisted largely of excerpts from my previous volumes on the social side of the Reformation in Germany, with two concluding chapters on Modern Germany. The book was very favourably received by the Press generally, but there was one dissentient voice in a certain London morning daily of strong Feminist tendencies, wherein appeared a notice in which every one detected the hand of the Suffragette. The lady in question, who, of course, wrote under the veil of anonymity, headed her article Mr. Bax in extremis! (she probably meant in excelsis!). After a few words of general attack on the ground that all the contents were not new, she proceeded to single out and quote from the last chapter a couple of plain-sailing English sentences, upon which she pronounced her ipse dixit that the style was “bad” and the thought “jejune.” Now, what does the reader think these two “bad” and “jejune” sentences purported to say? Simply that in the humble judgment of the author the influence of the writings of Nietzsche on Modern Germany was not as powerful as some writers on the war had represented. Of course, I may have been wrong in my view as to this, but I submit that to describe such an opinion, whether right or wrong, precisely as “jejune” indicates a singular ignorance of the correct use of the English language as possible with advanced womanhood. As a matter of fact, these last two chapters of the book in question were written somewhat hurriedly, and in consequence one or two real if trivial errors had crept into them, which, unimportant as they were in themselves, were such as in the hands of a skilful critic bent on being “nasty” might (especially in a short notice) have been effectively exploited against me. These, however, my female critic had evidently neither the brains nor the knowledge to take advantage of. Accordingly, the foolish young woman who aimed at smartness achieved silliness.
Source: E. Belfort Bax, chaper VII ‘Literary Work’ in Reminiscences and Reflexions of a mid and late Victorian, London 1918.
Dr. Oldfield’s piteous whine for exempting women from the extreme penalty of the law while retaining it for men is hardly calculated to attract to his society those in whom the modern Feminist propaganda has left a rudimentary sense of justice. He has simply let the cat out of the bag. It now appears that the so-called “Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment” is no more than a blind; it really amounts to a Feminist “fake” for securing immunity for women from crimes for which the law exacts the extreme penalty for men. “What argument can any reasoning man have for perpetuating upon our statute book the crime of woman-hanging?” Answer: Precisely the same argument (if any) that the aforesaid “reasoning man” has for “perpetuating on our statute-book the crime of” man-hanging – neither more nor less.
Dr. Oldfield presumably believes in Female Suffrage. He believes, that is, that women are intellectually capable of full political rights with men, and yet, on the other hand, he denies them to be morally capable with men of distinguishing right from wrong. “The passions that sway women to murder,” he says, “are such as to make them wholly irresponsible for their actions.” If so it is quite clear that the inferiority of woman to man is of such a stupendous character that any talk of sex-equality is not merely unsound, but is on the face of it absurd. Most unprejudiced persons would probably consider that the statement above quoted, while applying to some female criminals also applied to some male criminals. But Dr. Oldfield wants to make sex the dividing line. If Dr. Oldfield refers to the crime passionel, and wishes to exempt this particular form of crime from the death penalty, why should he limit the exemption to one sex only? For my own part, I can see no reason whatever for special leaning towards the crime passionel in either sex. But be I right or wrong in this, there is no gainsaying that this type of crime is to be met with in both sexes alike. Of course, we have the usual snivelling appeal for chivalry towards the gentle murderess – the baby-farmer, the wholesale poisoner, the “female bluebeard”! My own feeling is that male chivalry ought really, if it is worth anything, to proclaim Divine Woman to be above the law, once for all – this would simplify matters, and be something like an adequate recognition of the “dignity of Womanhood.”
Dr. Oldfield does not disdain the demagogic art of working up an effect by harrowing his readers —only unfortunately rather stale drugs have had to be used for the process – a case alleged to have occurred some 150 years ago at Oxford, and something which probably never actually happened at all (at least in this country), viz., the scalding to death of female prisoners. The only instance in which this punishment is recorded as having been inflicted, I believe I am right in saying, was on a mere man, named Rose, in the reign of Henry VIII. Dr. Oldfield, however, thinks, I suppose, that mere men (other than himself) don’t mind the procedure so much as women.
I have described Dr. Oldfield’s society as a blind for something other than what it professes. I go further, and say that its policy of sex-favouritism constitutes it the worst enemy of its avowed aim. If there is anything likely to retard that complete abolition of capital punishment which so many of us desire, in the present state of public feeling, it is the abolition of the death-penalty for women. As Mr. Collinson, of the Humanitarian League, has more than once pointed out, these uni-sexual penal laws are the greatest foes of progress in humanity. The abominable enactment of 1820, which abolished flogging for women while retaining it for men, has left our prison system saddled with the lash (‘for men only,’, of course) ever since. “Should we hang women”? Yes, emphatically, precisely so long as we hang men, and no longer!
E. BELFORT BAX.
P. S. Dr. Oldfield tries to score a point by maintaining that the non-enfranchisement of women justifies a difference between the penal sauce for goose and gander. But many men also do not possess the franchise. So his argument, stripped of feminist sentiment, resolves itself into the following proposition: ” No non-elector ought to be hanged ”
Source: New Age, 16 May 1910, p. 59