Tag Archives: privilege

Why I Am an Anti-Suffragist (1909)

I am glad Mrs. Montefiore conquered her lofty feminist disdain and stooped to “troubling to read” and even to reply to my humble statement of the reasons why I am an anti-suffragist. That she has replied I am especially glad, since she has thereby confirmed for any unbiased reader the weight of those reasons. As against my contention with regard to the systematic privileging of women by the law and its administration she has nothing to adduce beyond a flaw in the Old Age Pensions Act (there are, it is admitted, many such), an anomaly in the confused law as regards marriage with an alien, and a harshness in the Poor Law, none of which things could be twisted by any possibility into a case of male sex privilege as such, save by a controversialist hard pressed for an argument. What I have maintained, and still maintain, is the deliberate tendency of modern legislation and of modern administration, backed by an influential public opinion to separate women as a privileged class from men. This incontrovertible statement, Mrs. Montefiore has not attempted to gainsay, but, on the contrary, her sense of fairness has got the better of her and compelled her, in her excellent remarks about prison flogging at the end of her article, to point my moral and adorn my tale.

It is true she traverses my allegations as regards the treatment of the “suffragettes” in gaol. But on this point I am prepared to prove that at least, as to treatment now and for eighteen months past, she is wrong and I am right. Mrs. Montefiore’s imprisonment dates from the very beginning of the present agitation. If I remember rightly, she was among the very first to indulge in the demonstration of going to Holloway rather than pay a harmless and necessary fine for creating a disturbance before the House of Commons. The treatment of the suffragettes during the first week of these imprisonments was, I believe, that accorded to ordinary female offenders. But Mrs. Montefiore had scarcely been released before the treatment as second-class misdemeanants was decreed for all Suffragettes and has been maintained ever since. Not only so, but I was perfectly right in saying that the additional privileges indicated by me over and above this was given to the two Pankhursts during their last imprisonment and have, I understand, been continued in the more recent cases. Mrs. Despard, in a speech, has, in fact, acknowledged the favoured treatment accorded her and her colleagues. Will Mrs. Montefiore deny the above to be facts? Certainly no male Socialist ever had this exceptional treatment.

My opponent pleads for women to be regarded as human beings pure and simple and not as a sex. Unfortunately, this is hardly possible. Apart from the indirect sex-characteristics which, interpenetrate their whole nature and activity, it would seem as though they cannot forget their sexual organs. Thus the “Suffragettes” deliberately adopt a policy of scrimmages and rough-and-tumbles and then whimper about impossible “indecent assaults” on the part of the wicked men-stewards whose function it is to resist their efforts at disorder, attempted rapes to the accompaniment of organ-obligato in the Albert Hall, etc.! Whether these wild fictions are the result of hysterical hallucination or are lies sans phrase I will not pretend to decide, but, anyway, they tend to show the extreme difficulty of even Suffragettes forgetting their sexual side in the narrow sense of the phrase. It would seem impossible for the unhallowed hand of man to touch their sacrosanct if riotous persons without setting their sexual imaginations at work. I should not have mentioned this but for Mrs. Montefiore’s challenge as to forgetting the sexual character of women and thinking of them merely as human beings.

If Mrs. Montefiore seriously calls in question the privileged position of woman as against man in the present day, I am afraid it shows that she reads her newspaper with an eye blind to all she does not wish to find there. The law and its administration reflects an influential section of public opinion. This public opinion regards it as axiomatic that women are capable of everything men are capable of, that they ought to have full responsibility in all honourable and lucrative functions and callings. There is only one thing for which unlimited allowance ought to be made on the ground of their otherwise non-existent womanly inferiority, and that is their own criminal or tortious acts! In a word, they are not to be held responsible, in the sense that men are, for their own actions when these entail unpleasant consequences for themselves. On the contrary, the obloquy and, where possible, the penalty for the wrong-doing is to be shifted on to the nearest wretched man with whom they have consorted. I cannot quote unlimited cases, but, by way of illustration I will mention two that occur to me on the spur of the moment. Some three years ago a woman deliberately shot at and wounded a solicitor (a married man) with whom she had had relations. The act was so premeditated that it came out in evidence she had been practising shooting with the revolver for days before-hand. There was, moreover, no question of a child in the case, and not even one of financial embarrassment, as she was in receipt of a quarterly allowance under a trust. Hence the case presented itself as a cold-blooded one of attempted murder without a single circumstance of attenuation. The woman was sentenced to the very lenient penalty of seven years penal servitude. (Had a man attempted to murder in this way a jilting mistress he would have received, without doubt, twenty years at least, if not a life sentence.). Now, it seems incredible but it was a fact, that a campaign was immediately started throughout the whole of the press, largely by “advanced” women and male feminists in favour of this dastardly female criminal, who only fell short of being a murderess by accident! The second case is that of Daisy Lord last year. To read the gush on that occasion one might have thought that the murder of new-born children represented the highest ideal of motherhood. This Daisy Lord became for the nonce a kind of pinchbeck Madonna in the eyes of the feminist public. Such women as the above ought of course to have equal voting rights with men, but equal consequences for their actions – oh, dear no! The extent to which feminist sentiment can fling justice to the winds in these days, is shown by the savage demand, in cases of infant murder, for vicarious vengeance on one who, as regards the offence in question, is wholly innocent, to wit, on that vile and obnoxious person “the man.”

This feminist attitude of public opinion has been sedulously cultivated, not only by means of journalism, but in literature and art for over a generation, the aim being to portray the “man” as an ignoble, mean creature, as a foil to the courage, the resource, the gentle virtues of the woman. It is done too in a very subtle way. Who has not seen the well-known picture representing the Thames Embankment at night, and an “unfortunate” possessing an angelic face being taken from the river, with a gentleman and lady in evening dress who have just got out of a cab in the foreground, the gentleman with ostentatious callousness – brute that he is – turning away and lighting a cigarette, and the lady – gentle creature – bending over the dripping form and throwing her hands up in sympathetic horror? It is by clap-trap of this sort that sentimental feminism is evoked and nourished. Only the other day I received a provincial Socialist paper (ILP) containing a feuilleton with the story of a woman who had killed her baby, and who died after a few weeks in prison – the moral being apparently the monstrous wickedness of imprisoning such women at all, rather than rewarding them with a comfortable pension for life. There are well-known writers in leading magazines who systematically take delight in painting their own sex in an abject light, by way of pandering to current feminist prejudices.

The privileged position of women is illustrated in a small way by railway compartments for “ladies only,” by reserved seats in the British Museum reading room, etc. The New York elevated railway has, I read, begun to reserve whole carriages for women from which men are rigidly excluded, no matter how full the train may be otherwise. For, be it remembered, although men are forbidden access to female reserves, women in all these cases have the run of the whole available space. There are no male reserves. This game was tried on last year in the LCC tramcar-from Tooting. Fortunately, one fine morning some enterprising young men were found who had the pluck to be “unmanly” and “unchivalrous” enough to fling the female crowd in all its weakness and womanhood remorselessly aside and board the trams themselves The reserve tram, which proved to be illegal, was then dropped.

Mrs. Montefiore denies that Feminists who are also Socialists desire anything other than absolute equality. If so, I would suggest to these worthy comrades that they occasionally made their protests heard against the existing favouritism of the law and ifs administration as regards women – not to speak of custom and conventional sentiment – rather than concoct bogus grievances on the other side. [1] Mrs. Montefiore quotes with approval the saying of Mrs. Lida Parce that “woman” needs the ballot to “enable her to remove those special and artificial disabilities which have been placed upon her by male legislation.” Now, I must again insist that Mrs Montefiore should know as well as I do that at the present time in this country no such disabilities exist – any apparent grievance being invariably traceable as necessary corollary to the obligation of the husband to maintain his wife. Should any collateral consequence of this vassalage of the husband involve some slight inconvenience to the wife, the Feminists pounce upon it and begin to shriek for all they are worth! (The cases adduced by Mrs. Montefiore are themselves mainly connected with the husband’s compulsion to keep his wife.)

If Mrs. Montefiore is right in asserting that our Socialist votaries of the Feminist cult only claim equality, I can only say that others (including some of those with whom Mrs. Montefiore herself has erstwhile consorted) have distinctly expressed the intention of themselves and their adherents to use the vote to legislate against men. Moreover this tendency has shown itself already, I believe, in some of the puritanical legislation of Australia. With the sex-bias as manifest as it is in the average Woman’s Righter, it could hardly be otherwise. Women form nowadays a powerful sex-trust. Men do not. On the contrary, they use their political power to confer privileges on the opposite sex, which they seem always to prefer before their own.

One word in conclusion. Mrs. Montefiore rashly takes for granted that the men I referred to as somewhat unwillingly giving their assent to Female Suffrage and in secret preferring Manhood Suffrage are not Socialists. They are Socialists. If they were not Socialists there would obviously be no reason for reticence or secrecy as to their real inclinations or convictions. The Socialist Party has been rushed into an official acceptance of the Feminist dogma, but this does not necessarily mean that all Socialists accept it precisely with enthusiasm, although from want of courage, or perhaps from (what I should deem) a mistaken view of policy, they may choose in public to keep their own counsel.



1. I have just cast my eye down Lady McLaren’s Woman’s Charter given in to-day’s paper. One of the demands is, I see, that “no married woman should be bound to accept a foreign domicile.” This is delightful! A poor man cannot get work in this country and has to take a position abroad. At her sweet whim his wife may live apart from him as a single woman and compel him to keep her all the same! Here we have a splendid example of “woman’s right” to treat man as a slave!

Source: Why I am an Anti Suffragist, Social Democrat, Vol.13, no.5, May 1909, pp.200-206.

Feminism in Extremis (1902)

It is an undeniable fact that many Socialists hold their social creed to involve the doctrine of what is called sex-equality, by which is commonly meant, not merely the freeing of the female sex from certain arbitrary, economic and social disabilities, equal reward for equal work, the right to follow, in general, any pursuit for which qualification can be shown, & c., but the same rights as man in all things, political, economic, domestic or what-not, supplemented by certain sex privileges and immunities, airily defended on the vague ground of physical weakness. Now in order to maintain this position it is necessary to assume the complete intellectual and moral equality of women with men, while judiciously conceding their physical inferiority. A desire, conscious or unconscious, on the part of these Socialists, as of other advocates of Feminism, is to make out a claim for women to all that is honourable and agreeable in the functions of human life, while safeguarding them from any obligation to accept rough or dangerous duties. Thus Bebel, in his “Frau und der Sozialismus,” while maintaining that no social function filled by men ought to be inaccessible to women, since any seeming unfitness in the latter is only the result of certain cruel oppression at the hands of vile man, yet is careful to guard his fair clients from the danger of being called upon for military purposes, even of defence. Now if we are to assume the physiological possibility of the results of oppression being inherited through one sex only, it would seem somewhat singular that only the physical inferiority should be inherited, and not the mental, since there is no obvious reason for assuming that while one is the result of oppression, the other is of original constitution. The consequence, however, shows itself in that while it is deemed only reasonable to regard women as unfitted for soldiering, it is in the eyes of the Feminists crass and blind male prejudice to deem them unfitted for responsible political office.

The best-known Socialistic exponent of Feminism is, of course, August Bebel, but in his book, i.e., in those portions of it treating of the woman question, the violent prejudice is so obvious and the apparatus of argument so plainly coloured by parti pris that some Feminists are prepared partially to surrender Bebel in conceding his argumentation to be “doubtless open to criticism.” In the present article, therefore, I prefer to take as an exponent of the Feminist position an undoubtedly able and eminently sober-minded English publicist, and to constitute as my text an article of Mr. J.M. Robertson in No. 362 of the Reformer, consisting of a criticism of Enrico Ferri’s position on the subject of the equality of woman and man, a position shared by the present writer.

As already said, this question of moral and intellectual equality between the sexes is the key of the situation as regards Feminism, and hence it is to this point I shall address myself chiefly in the following paragraphs.

Mr. Robinson accuses Enrico Ferri of being “unscientific.” This means, as we shall see, merely that Mr. Robertson disagrees with Enrico Ferri. In a long footnote (pp.20-22 of the English translation of “Socialismo e scienza positiva”) Ferri points out that the tendency of some Socialists to make the equality of man and woman an article of faith is due to a mental habit surviving from utopian Socialism. He might have said that it is also, and perhaps chiefly, due, as I have repeatedly pointed out, to the confusion between sex and class – i.e., a primarily biological category with a social and economic category. However, Enrico Ferri goes on to show how recent investigations have tended to confirm the fact of the physiological and psychological inferiority of woman to man. Now Mr. Robertson falls foul of Ferri on the ground of his using the general terms “woman” and “man,” his plea being that these terms are abstract, and, therefore, “medieval” (as he calls it) since no two concrete men and no two concrete women are exactly alike. I confess, on reading this, I fairly gasped at the straits to which Feminist advocates can be reduced for an argument, and the recklessness with which a usually telling and logical thinker will throw his reputation into the breach on behalf of the cause he has espoused – when it is that of the fair sex. To read Mr. Robertson one would think he were in a state resembling Mr. Jourdain’s, before he had discovered that he had been talking prose all his life without knowing it. For Mr. Robertson writes as if he were altogether unaware that the form of the Concept, at the basis of what is known in Logic as the “class-name,” is not only the primary essential of all human thought and language, but is a crucial factor even in our perceptive consciousness. In all his walk and conversation, Mr. Robertson, like the rest of us, has been employing this “abstraction,” the logical class-name, ever since he arrived at self-consciousness at all, and has, accordingly, to adopt his own phrase, been “medievalising” all his life. Our critic now suddenly makes the astonishing discovery (which, by the way, every mediaeval schoolboy could have revealed to him) that the class-name is an abstraction in that it never covers the entirety of the qualities of the particulars or individuals falling under it, which hence may differ inter se. But the still more astounding deduction he draws from his discovery would seem to be that we should abandon the use of the “general term” or “ class-name altogether, and so we suppose become Jogis, doing our level best to divest ourselves of all logical thought and human language. Yet no! This would be a too hasty view of Mr. Robertson’s position. He knows mercy and will still allow us to talk, even in scientific conversation, of dogs and horses, Hottentots and Russians and the like, and to predicate things concerning them, without branding us with the terrible stigma of being unscientific mediaeval survivals – and this, notwithstanding that no two dogs (not even of the same breed) are exactly alike any more than any two horses, or two Russians, or even two Hottentots. No, where he draws the line is at human sex. if you speak of “man” or “woman” in general terms, if you employ the class-name in this case, then his anathema descends on you; then you are, indeed, a mediaeval survival discussing an abstract “man” and “woman” having no counterpart in “reality,” but being merely the coinage of a medieval brain. Mind you, I repeat, if you are a zoologist or a veterinary surgeon, you are not unscientific in differentiating between a greyhound and a spaniel, notwithstanding that no two greyhounds or spaniels are “concretely” alike. Similarly, if you are an ethnologist, you may talk of the race-characteristics of Hottentots and Slavs without even a stain on your scientific character! In this case the abstraction is all right; but, if you are a sociologist, and venture to distinguish sex, i.e., human sex, or to discuss the general characteristics of “woman” as distinguished from “man,” then woebetide you! Is the suspicion unnatural, that the sudden desire to confound the harmless and necessary class-name or logical “universal” is due to the fear lest its normal use should in this case lead to conclusions derogatory to the claims of emancipated womanhood.

When Mr. Robertson talks about his million female college graduates (he would have a difficulty in getting a million together, I fancy) as against a million grooms or sailors, with a view of upsetting comrade Ferri, he is simply trying on the old dodge of placing exceptions against exceptions to subvert a rule. The female graduate is an exceptionally gifted woman, the groom in most cases an exceptionally non-intellectual man. Granted that a clever and well-trained dog might show more intelligence than a neglected human idiot, it would not bring us any nearer to a proof of the intellectual equality of man and dog. Place the groom from childhood under the same educational circumstances as the Girton girl, or vice versa, and you might have the basis for a comparison, but as the argument is stated by Mr. Robertson it is, I submit, simply an evasion of the issue. Brought up under special conditions, I believe, cats have been trained to eat grass, and sheep mutton chops, but this fact is not usually regarded as rendering the man unscientific or medieval who describes the former as carnivorous and the latter as herbivorous animals, and who proceeds to argue on this basis. In violation alike of physiology and ordinary observation, Mr. Robertson, in order to save the situation for feminism, would apparently maintain the thesis that the sexual system plays as important a part in the general intellectual and emotional life of the average man as it does in that of the average woman. Says Ferri, “all the physiological characteristics of woman are the consequences of her great physiological function, maternity.” “This is as good as saying,” observes our critic, that “man’s characteristics are not thus consequent on sex,” to which I reply, certainly they are not, at least to anything approaching the same extent. The whole mental life of the average woman is completely dominated by her sexual organisation. It determines her attitude in every question and in every department of life. Her sexual relation to man is the fulcrum moving her whole life until she becomes a mother, when this is, of course, modified by the maternal relation. With man, on the contrary, sex is only an element, generally even, by no means the strongest, in determining his general mental life. It exists more as something per se; it may be strong or it may be weak, but in only exceptional pathological cases does it infiltrate that mental life in the same way that it normally does in woman.

As I have elsewhere put it, we are justified in referring to normal woman as being a sex (in common language, woman is spoken of as “the sex”), and to normal man as having a sex. The actual sexual instinct or passion may (if you will) be stronger in man than in woman, but, even if so, it does not in the same way interpenetrate his entire life. It is not the fulcrum on which his whole mental constitution turns. To deny, as is apparently done by Mr. Robertson, that a woman’s mental processes are consequent on her sex-function to an extent and in a sense in which men’s most assuredly are not is, I repeat, a procedure so flagrantly in contradiction with physiology and ordinary observation that Mr. Robertson can hardly expect us to accept it without more ado, even on his authority.

Mr. Robertson, like other Feminist advocates, would, as we have seen, deny that there are causal elements in the female constitution, physical and psychical, that are sui generis. To do so, he says, is “reducing psychology to chaos.” What he means by this I do not profess to know. All I can say is, if the recognition of a self-evident fact is to reduce psychology to chaos, the sooner this happens the better, since so much the sooner will poor psychology have a chance of being reconstructed on a more reasonable basis – a basis which will include all facts, however distasteful they may be to the individual psychologist.

Pursuing his extraordinary line of argument, the first condition of which, like that of most Feminists, seems to be the denial or ignoring of patent truths, Mr. Robertson goes on to emphasise his point, alleging that Ferri’s contention as to the influence of the sexual system on women could not be true except on the hypothesis that every woman were in a continual state “of pregnancy, parturition or lactation”! And this is a critic who veritably runs amuck with the word “unscientific” among all whose science leads them to results uncongenial to the Feminist mind. We note by the way that Mr, Robertson writes as though he had never heard of menses as the most constant and hence in the long run most severe manifestation of the female sex-organism. Mr. Robertson actually goes so far as to allege that the sex-function apart from maternity is more of a drain on men’s than on women’s strength! To what length of absurdity will parti pris not carry us! But the really startling fallacy of our author lies in the assumption that the peculiar sexual-organisation of women can only affect their general bodily and mental structure and functions during the period of its special activity. That the mere fact of this sexual organisation being present, the whole system otherwise having to contribute to its maintenance, he apparently regards as quite immaterial. Yet it is precisely on the existence of this sexual system as such and on the demands it makes that Ferri’s argument is primarily based, and not merely, or even chiefly, on its special periods of activity.

Ferri’s critic is fond of using the expression “bluff” respecting controversial statements he does not like. But if there ever was an instance of “bluff” in argument, I submit the article under discussion about “takes the cake.” Mr. Robertson, as we have seen, begins with a piece of logical “bluff,” endeavouring to bamboozle those unversed in the “Tree of Porphyry” anent the proper use of the “class-name” or logical “universal.” He next tries on a physiological piece of bluff – the assumption that the action of the sexual system in man and woman respectively on the general life is comparable in kind and amount. He emphasises this by a further piece of bluff – viz., the assumption that Ferri’s argument, as based on the peculiar characteristics of the female sex-system, could only be applicable during the periods of the latter’s special activity. He goes on making the astoundingly “bluffing” assertion, unbacked by any proof, an assertion refuted by common experience, that the sexual function, apart from maternity, is more of a drain on men’s than on women’s strength – and so on.

Mr. Robertson is naturally prepared to grant the inherent muscular weakness of women as compared with men. But he is careful to point out that physical or muscular strength and intellectual capacity are seldom united in the same individual. This is very true, only, unfortunately, it does not help the Feminist position. The problem for Feminism is to maintain the mental equality of woman with man, while speciously conceding the physical inferiority. Hence this observation as to the respective proportion of physical and mental capacity present between individuals of the same sex is made to do duty as an argument when the question is of one sex with another. The (logical) class or category called man contains a general potential capacity that may actualise itself either in physical or mental capacity. But this is, says Mr. Robertson, often distributed in inverse proportions between individual men, the mentally strong man being often the physically weak, and vice versa. Hence, he argues that the physical inferiority of women does not presumptively imply their intellectual inferiority.

The fallacy here is obvious. A fact which applies between the individuals of one category he would make apply as between two distinct categories. The sex-category man, say for the sake of argument, possesses a certain general potential energy, capacity or power. This may actualise itself in any given individual man as mental power (at the expense of physical) or as physical (at the expense of mental). But over the whole range of men both are present. If, however, you admit in the case of woman that there is a persistent inferiority throughout the whole sex, of one form of actualised capacity, the physical, the presumption is surely strong that the total capacity, mental as well as physical, in the sex-category woman is less than that in man, and it is, I submit, a presumption which will require a good deal of rebutting. No mere reference to the distribution between individual men, as regards the physical and psychical sides of the total potential capacity of man as a whole (i.e., as a sex), will suffice to effect this since the basis of an analogy is wanting. For a gentleman, however, who has such a sovereign contempt for logical forms as Mr. Robertson we suppose it would be too much to expect that he should recognise this.

But, says the Feminist, the intelligence of woman may be different from that of man but not necessarily inferior. The whole of the evidence available, I answer, points to woman’s inferiority as an organism. In addition to the facts brought forward by Ferri we have a mass of cumulative proof which is overwhelming. Let us enumerate some of the main points in connection with this.

1. The smaller average size of the organism, otherwise, in the main, the same in essentials as that of man.

2. The proportionately inferior mass and quality of the brain matter (as shown by anatomists).

3. The special character of the female sexual-system and its functions, especially menstruation, which necessarily tends to draw off strength from the brain, the nervous and muscular systems.

4. The earlier ripeness of the female organism as compared to that of the man (it is well known that, other things equal, an organism inferior in the order of evolution reaches perfection sooner than a superior organism).

5. The lesser susceptibility to pain proved of women by the experiments of Lombroso and others, and the greater constitutional toughness of vitality in women than in men, characteristics at least strongly suggesting a lower form of evolutionary type.

6. The liability of women to hysteria in one or other of its forms, one woman in four or five, or according to some estimates even a higher percentage, being affected by it to a greater or less extent, varying as it does from slight and unimportant nervous symptoms to positive insanity (a remarkable illustration of how this tendency handicaps women in all occupations demanding close attention is afforded by the recent report concerning the employment of women in Post Offices and other Government departments in Germany.)

7. The fact that, even in those directions (e.g., art and literature) where no special prejudice or barrier has stood in the way, women have, with one, or two exceptions, never achieved anything noteworthy.

8. The fact admitted by every observant person who has not taken a brief in the Feminist cause, of the usual comparative absence in women of the foundation of all morality, the sense for abstract justice, of a regard for truth, and of the capacity for forming an objective and disinterested judgment.

In conclusion, I would once more call attention to the singular circumstance that, whether really so or not, while, on the face of things, women are inferior to men mentally as well as physically, yet the Feminist, while readily accepting the second kind of inferiority as essential to women, storms and raves at the bare suggestion that the first kind of inferiority may also be necessarily part of the equipment of the female sex. To deny essentiality for either would be at least consistent, but then what would become of woman’s privileges based on her supposed weakness? Mr. Robertson’s desperate attempt to confound the distinction between Men as such, and Women as such, in endeavouring to maintain that the difference between the average man and the average woman is no more than that between one man and another, or one woman and another, is too thin to pass muster outside the brotherhood and sisterhood of sworn Feminists.

I think I have shown that Mr. Robertson’s science, whatever it may be at other times, when infected with Feminist parti pris, does not amount to much. On the other hand, what has Mr. Robertson done to show anything unscientific in Enrico Ferri’s “note” in Socialismo e scienza positiva? He sets up sundry assertions contrary to received physiology and certainly contrary to the results of ordinary observation, in opposition to certain of Ferri’s statements. The only score he makes is over a slip or misprint of the word no where the word few was quite obviously intended. In Sahara one is thankful for anything in the shape of moisture, and, considering the hopelessness of our critic’s case otherwise, I do not grudge him the capital he seeks to make out of a typographical error. This error is, in the opinion of Mr. Robertson, sufficient to entitle the “Feminist” to deny him (Ferri) any further hearing! When we have to deal with woman’s rights champions, it is clear we must look sharp after our proof-sheets after this.

For the rest, I venture to say that to any impartial person the “note” criticised will be found to be as rigorously scientific as the nature of a brief statement admits. The characterisation, moreover, of women “as ranking between the child and the adult male” seems as happily to hit off the case as presented to common observation as it is possible to do in a short sentence. And now our last word on the relation of Feminism to Social-Democracy. As Dr. Möbius, in his remarkable pamphlet, truly says, “if Social-Democrats allow themselves to be caught by the Feminist fallacy, they are only injuring their own cause.” The same author also justly points out that the proletarian woman-movement has no necessary connection with the so-called “woman’s rights” or Feminist movement, which is rather individualist or anarchist. The aim of the latter is, in a word, to obtain for the female sex men’s rights combined with women’s privileges, and this goal, I am afraid, also seems at the back of certain Socialist pronouncements on the woman question.

Source: Social Democrat, Vol. 6. No. 12, December 1902, pp. 361-367

Some Current Fallacies on the Woman Question (1897)

In the following remarks on the above subject, I should premise that my intention is only to appeal to those persons whose minds are warped in favour of Feminism [1] by certain plausible-sounding arguments, which they have been in all sincerity accepting because their fallacy has never been pointed out to them. The rack of hysterical molluscs, who are imposed upon by hollow sentimental whines anent their “mothers and their sisters” (why not their grandmothers, their aunts, their female cousins, or their mothers-in-law?), may be fairly left to stew in their own rather thin juice. As for myself, when I hear of injustice, say, of prison brutalities practised on men (brutalities from which women are exempt), my indignation, I say, is intensified, when I think it is the sex to which my father and my brother belong (or did belong) who are their victims. But I should never think of trotting out this purely personal sentiment as an argument for the special favouring of men in this connection, in any discussion on the relative treatment of men and women. I therefore propose confining myself to certain popular statements which one commonly hears and which are supposed to make for the views promulgated by women’s rights advocates – statements which, if they were true, or if the implication conveyed in them were true, world undoubtedly afford some grounds for a serious consideration of the conventional view of this question put forward by the aforesaid advocates. They are, in fact, the only semblance of argument which the latter seem able to produce.

These argumentative statements consist very largely of variations on two main contentions – both of them, as I maintain, in the nature of false analogies. The first is the assumption that the relative position of the sexes bears some analogy (it is commonly represented as a very close analogy) with the relation between employer and workman – the employer representing the man and the workman the woman. The talk about “the proletarian in the household” is founded on this assumption. Now, as I have often pointed out before, the very basis of an analogy is wanting in this case. The difference between man and woman is not all economical or social one: it is an organic or biological distinction from which, as contended by non-Feminists, is deducible the difference in capacity between men and woman, both as to quantity and quality. The distinction between capitalist and proletarian is, on the other hand, not biological, but purely social, being simply one of class, based on economical circumstance. But what is further amusing is the way in which this preposterous analogy is worked, so that the woman is represented as the oppressed side of the equation in the case. Now, it is quite clear that if we are to fake up an analogy at all between sexes and classes, it is the man whose labour is exploited and not the women. It is the duty of the husband to maintain his wife, not the wife her husband. The husband is compelled, by custom and by law, to do corvée, or to yield up such portion of his earnings as may enable his wife to live in comfort – just as the villein was compelled to do corvée, or to pay his lord a proportion of the produce of the fields worked by his labour. The lord had the practical monopoly of the villein’s means of existence – the land. Under the most favourable circumstances, he exacted from him a toll, in the shape of rent in kind or money, and other dues, for the privilege of working the land. The woman possesses the monopoly of what is, if not a primary, at least a secondary necessary of life to the great majority of men – the means of sexual satisfaction, her body; and for allowing him access to which the law entitles her to demand a rent and dues in the shape of food, clothes, shelter – in short, provision in accordance with the station of life occupied by her “villein,” the husband, without any exertion on her part. But, it may be said, she has her duties to perform in the household, which may sometimes involve not inconsiderable labour. But so had the feudal lord his duties to perform. He had to go out to battle to protect his tenants against foes from without – an operation which might easily cost him his life – and to see that justice was administered on his estate. It is true there was often no adequate power to prevent the lord from neglecting the welfare of his tenants, but there is no power at all in modern English law to prevent the wife from neglecting her duties to her husband and family. The husband remains even more hopelessly the slave of a worthless wife than the mediaeval serf was of a tyrannical and rapacious baron. I do not press the foregoing parallel myself, as I consider the whole attempt to establish an analogy between class and sex-opposition to be fallacious, ab initio. But I think I have sufficiently shown that if we are to have the analogy forced upon us at all, it will work out in quite a different sense to the “proletarian-in-the-home” theory.

Yet it is in the class of argumentation of which this theory is a specimen that it is considered incumbent upon all democrats to champion the pitch-forking of women into every sphere of activity which, from its lucrative or honour-bearing character, happens to excite their envy, quite irrespective of their suitability therefor. As against this, all that is contended by myself, and other democrats and Socialists who think with me, is that the cumulative experience of the human race through at least three thousand years establishes a case for what is termed, in legal phraseology, a “presumption” that the woman is less capable than the man in those spheres of activity in which she has hitherto not shone. It is true that this presumption is rebuttable, and has in individual cases been rebutted. But the onus of rebuttal, it is contended, rests with the individual woman who aspires to the post or occupation in question. If she has given clear and unmistakable proof of her capacity, it would be absurd to exclude her on the ground of her sex alone.

But, on the other hand, one swallow does not make a summer, and the fact that an occasional woman is to be found to which the presumption will not apply is not by any means sufficient to rebut it as a general principle. Therefore, it is insisted, such isolated cases ought not to be regarded as establishing a precedent for reversing a practice resting on such a widely established induction as that of the inferiority of women to men in so many departments of executive and directive activity. The induction referred to is strengthened rather than weakened by the theory, so dear to woman’s rights advocates, that gyneocracy (the supremacy of the female) was universal in the earliest stages of human society. There is, of course, another theory, that the so-called gyneocracy was peculiar to certain races, and hence cannot be regarded like other institutions belonging to the same period as forming an essential stage in social evolution generally. But, assuming the former theory to be right, it is obvious that women in primitive times enjoyed a governmental and executive authority which they were unable to maintain, presumably owing to inherent incapacity, since the fall of gyneocracy wherever it has existed, is too widespread a phenomenon to be accounted for by local or special causes and the hypothesis that the victory of private over tribal or communal property-fielding had anything to do with it is manifestly absurd when we consider that personal property holding and inheritance is just as possible through females as through males, a state of things which actually obtained concurrently with other gyneocratic institutions, in some cases long after the ancient primitive communism had broken down (e.g., in Lykia, as also to a large extent in Egypt), and yet that, in spite of all, either the gyneocratic institutions perished, or the races subjected to them went under before non-gyneocratic civilisations. If the above be in any way admitted, it follows that the appeal to democratic sentiment and democratic analogies in support of the so called “claims” of women is entirely beside the mark. It yet remains to be proved that women have any “claim” at all to the exercise, say, of the suffrage, or of any other responsible function. It may be an open question if you like, but it cannot be decided off hand on the basis of “natural rights,” “social equality,” or any of those grounds which are urged in the case of classes, or of nations on approximately the same level of development.

Would people but abstain from quite going off their heads, in considering this question, they would be compelled to admit that women have never been oppressed as subject classes have been by dominant classes, or even as subject races have been by dominant races. The superficial disabilities to which women have been subject have always been more than compensated by other privileges. The woman has always been queen in her own sphere. She has always had very substantial rights, and exercised authority in a very substantial manner. The distinction of rights between the sexes has always been more as between spheres of influence rather than as between domination and subjection. Nevertheless, that an organically inferior being should not be in certain matters subject to the relatively superior, is a proposition which I for one am not prepared to endorse off-hand. But the inferiority of women has not been proved, it will be said! True, but as already pointed out, the course of history, from primitive times upward, makes out a strong case of presumption in favour of the inferiority. And that presumption has certainly never been, as such, rebutted. Those who doubt this may be referred to the painfully-laboured special-pleadings of Bebel in a certain chapter of Die Frau. The forlorn defence of an able advocate is always the best indictment of all untenable position.

As things are, women, by considering themselves in the light of a class, and agitating, not for equality, but for supremacy (the “equality” is a mere pretence) in class-fashion, are really creating a sex-antagonism which ultimately means the sacrifice of their strongest weapons. They are flinging away that moral power by which they have hitherto, for good or for evil, swayed men, wholly unchallenged, for the sake of a brute force wielded by men in their favour, which they may lose at any time. They are resigning the psychological magic by which they have bent men to their will for the privilege of being allowed to invoke the brute force of the policeman, the prison warder, the judge, and the bailiff. The fact would seem to indicate a female degeneracy, if that were possible, since the exchange, one would think, could only benefit women who united in their persons the attributes of badness, ugliness, and stupidity. The absence of any one of these qualities has generally sufficed, hitherto, to enable them to work the oracle themselves. They have now invoked the phantom of the brute force of the state to settle their quarrels with men, thereby calling into existence a sex-hostility which will one day recoil on them as sure as men are men and women are women.

Meanwhile, middle-class public opinion still continues in favour of the oppression of men, and the immunity of women from all control. It is a “revolting injustice” to subject public women to sanitary measures. It is perfectly in order to mutilate men who have contracted disease from these unexamined women. It is a monstrous iniquity that a man should exercise any power over his wife’s property or earnings. The latest “right” claimed by the “advanced” political women of New Zealand is the confiscation for the wife’s exclusive use of half the husband’s property on marriage! Sir John Bridge, doubtless, aptly expresses public sentiment when, in discharging a young man against whom a bogus charge had been brought by a prostitute, after she had first of all assaulted him, admonishes the young man – that he give the sweet creature ten shillings compensation! Truly a nice way of fulfilling a police magistrate’s duty of protecting harmless citizens on their way home at night! Another police magistrate, Mr. Francis, is severely hauled over the coals by certain hysterical Feminist organs for not passing a vindictive sentence on a husband charged with administering to his wife what, for aught they knew, may have been a thoroughly well-deserved thrashing. As the same magistrate said, when dealing with another similar case, if all husbands were sent to gaol for trivial assaults on their wives, there would not be enough prisons to contain then. Yet this is exactly what our Feminists are aiming at. The chief function of the magistrate, according to them, ought to be to act as assistant-bully to brow-beating wives. We have already got some way in this direction. A friend of mine heard a manifestly bogus charge – of indecently assaulting a daughter – tried (the prisoner apparently being only convicted owing to a misunderstanding of the jury), where the judge put it to the wife whether it would not inconvenience her to be deprived of the labour of her husband-slave, and, on the creature answering in the negative, sentenced him to a month’s “hard.”

The second main-root of a number of fallacies as to the possible capacities of women, both as regards quantity and quality, in various departments where they have not hitherto distinguished themselves, is expressed in the view that modern woman is the product of “centuries of oppression,” and hence cannot be expected, at present, to show forth the latent glories of her intellectual and moral character. Now, for my own part, I should certainly demur to the fact of the centuries of oppression, but the granting of them does not help the Feminist case. In the first false analogy we had the confusion between sex and class; here we have the confusion between sex and race. For the advocates of the theory forgot that, were it true that women have suffered under a special oppression as women, the effects of such oppression would necessarily, on the average, be divided equally between both sexes of their descendants, and could not possibly be inherited after the manner of what someone has called a “hent-ail,” in the female line only, and hence could not affect women more than men. Women no more constitute a race or species by themselves than they do a class by themselves. Nevertheless, this preposterous argument has been repeated over and over again, until to many people it is an unassailable truth upon which it is perfectly safe to base speculation as to an infinite vista of untold feminine achievements. Really Feminists would do well to drop argument, and confine themselves to blithering about “mothers and sisters”! It is so touching!

In addition to the foregoing sources of fallacy, there is a fooling among Socialists, in itself perfectly natural and legitimate, to the effect that the change from Capitalism to Socialism must involve considerable alteration in the condition of women. So it certainly will, but it by no means follows that the changes involved will he along the lines of the modern Feminist movement, as so many take for granted. That the position of women must change is obvious; but to assume that it must take the form of the female prerogative prevailing in. the more advanced capitalist states of to dry, or even of a mechanical equality which takes no account of organic differences, is a mere assumption which the wave of Feminist sentiment has hitherto allowed to pass unchallenged within the ranks of our party on the Continent as well as here. It is this assumption which will have, in the future, to be subjected to a rigorous criticism, a criticism very different from the one-sided plaidoyer for the Feminist position contained in the, in other respects, excellent book of August Bebel, Die Frau und der Sozialismus. Men will perhaps learn in time to approach this woman question with an open mind, unbiassed by that blind hatred of their own, and blind worship of the other sex, which at present characterises Rebel as well as so many other writers on the subject.



[1] It seems to be decided now by the usage of the majority that the above, and not “Femininism,” is the correct form of this word.

Source: E. Belfort Bax, Some Current Fallacies on the Woman Question, Social Democrat, July 1897, pp.201-205.

The Everlasting Female Again! (1895)

DEAR COMRADES, That I have effectually put a spoke in the wheels of an imposture kept alive by “bluff” and the falsification of fact, is evidenced by the letters you have published and received. Like the man who was converted to freethought by hearing the parson discourse on the Evidences of Christianity, I have good reason to believe that many readers of Justice who were waverers on the question have had their views decided as much by the replies to me as by anything I have myself written. The partisans of the (so-called) woman’s movement have hitherto successfully adopted the motto, “Il faut de ‘bluff’, encore de ‘bluff’ et toujours de ‘bluff’” Now it is just the “toujours de ‘bluff’ ” which has been threatened (at least so far as English Socialists are concerned) by my very simple statement of facts. Hence these tears, hysterical shrieks, and inconsequent ravings! Polite aspersions on sanity by ex-lights of the Theosophical Society and accusations of “monomania” on the part of atrabilious females, for daring to criticise their conventional shibboleth are very amusing and recall the tone of certain parsons of my youth and other gentlemen of that ilk when disputing over the body of Moses With Biblical scholars and geologists; or more recently of the hidebound “Manchester” economists when discussing socialism. Seven or eight years ago on the occasion of a criticism of Die Frau by me in the Social Democrat, August Bebel, who similarly found himself unable to answer my arguments, sought a way out of the difficulty by loftily waving them off and expressing pain for the welfare of my Social-Democratic soul. This, if more dignified, was not more effective than poor comrade Burrows’ scurrility. Needless to say, my arguments have remained unanswered by Bebel to this day. My only object in drawing attention to this matter has been to enter a protest against the Socialist movement being “bluffed” by a noisy, band of shriekers into allowing itself to be dragged at the heels of a bogus agitation. A species of terrorism has been established amongst “advanced” persons generally to ostracise a serious discussion of the “Woman Question” in a sense adverse to the platform claptrap of the (so-called) “Woman’s Rights” movement.

Among Socialists this has been aided by a false analogy (that fruitful source of fallacy) consisting in setting up of a parallel derived apparently, from Auguste Comte, between the position of women as a sex, and that of the proletariat as a class. That there is no such parallel at all I have pointed out again and again. In the one case you have to deal with an organic difference – one of bodily structure – irrespective of class, while in the latter we are concerned with a social and economic difference, irrespective of organic differences, sexual or other. There are exploiting women and exploited women, just as there are men. Socialism, proclaims that accident of birth so far as economic condition is concerned is responsible for the main differences which exist among the population of a class society. It postulates a condition of things as its aim in which the “accident of birth”, in an economic sense, shall no longer tell. But to insist that the “accident of birth” should be quite inoperative even where it involves not social or economic, but radical structural or constitutional differences, is a preposterous absurdity. If you only carry this principle far enough, you arrive at the position of the emperor Caligula when he raised his favourite horse to the consular dignity, being doubtless under the belief that it was hard “the accident of birth” should be a disqualification for his four-footed friend and favourite attaining the higher honours of the state. The “accident of birth” in so far as it involves points not reducible to social and economic cause, points belonging to the “nature of the animal itself” – no society can afford to ignore in the apportionment of its functions. The difference of sex most authorities believe to involve such points. A prima facie case is at all events made out for the affirmative and has never been successfully refuted as yet. If this be so, all I say is that our conception of equality as regards sex requires revision. Our notion of equality in the matter of class is based on a conviction of the ultimate abolition of classes as our goal. Is our notion of equality in the matter of sex to be based on the belief in the ultimate extinction of sex as our goal? If so there is a certain parallel, “If not, not.”

One young lady waxes pathetic over the iniquity of punishing people for what they can’t help. Now here is a point in which I certainly agree with her. And if she will allow me I will suggest one case among many in which this iniquity obtains to-day and against which her tongue or pen might be usefully employed in protesting. In our prisons, as in most of our industrial schools, men and boys are subjected to brutal and degrading punishment from which women and girls, for the same or equally grave offences, are exempt, solely by virtue of their sex. If this is not a case of punishing the male criminal or delinquent for what he can’t help, namely, his sex, I don’t know what is? On the other hand no one that I am aware of has ever proposed to punish women for their sex.

I come now to Mendelson. “Bax has had to choose between equality and protection, and he refuses them both.” Just exactly what he does not. He points out, on the contrary, that in the mouths of “Woman’s Righters,” Socialist, no less than bourgeois (for in this respect the former are much the same as the latter), “equality” means sex domination, and “protection” means tyranny and injustice exercised on behalf of a sex. It is these things I reject. You can always put a glow upon tyranny so as to plausibly explain it away is “protection.” The trick of the tyrant, whether man or class, has always been throughout history to start by whining for “protection.” Alessandro de Medici wanted protection, and collected a body of retainers for that ostensible purpose, with which he subsequently seized the Florentine state. The white planters of the slave states explained away “chattel slavery” as a mere device for protecting the poor weak white against the muscularly and numerically stronger negro. As a matter of fact, the bestial barbarities perpetrated on the black race in the Southern States are even now so excused. The Czar and official bureaucracy of Russia doubtless have always believed that the knout and Siberian mines meant nothing more than “protection” for their precious carcasses. Robespierre’s “great terror,” he would have argued, was merely a necessary measure of “protection” for “patriots”, viz., for his Jacobins. There is, in short, no form of despotism and cruelty that cannot be twisted by perverse ingenuity into being a measure of “protection”. “Only this, and nothing more!”

Among the interesting items of information Mendelson affords me as to what views I hold, most of which were quite unknown to me before, is one that nervous citizens should be protected on their way home at night. Now I suppose, owing to not being a Peisistratus, a Medici, a Robespierre, or otherwise a specially nervous citizen in this particular respect, I am bound to give friend Stanislas the entire credit for this brilliant idea. I can certainly lay no sort of claim to it. An escort of police, I should say, would be an uncomfortable sort of arrangement, but in view of some recent cases an escort of special constables as a protection against the police might be worth considering. Allow me to point out, however, that the moment the “nervous citizen” abused his “protection,” whether of police or anti-police, as a menace to the peace of other citizens it would, even if accorded, in all probability be promptly suppressed. And this is precisely what I urge in relation to the laws now existing for the “protection of women.” As to Proudhon, though I have read some of his economic treatises, I have never read anything touching the woman question from his pen. And to dub me a disciple of Proudhon is, I submit, simply silly.

I think the “impartial reader” of Justice will scarcely be caught by certain demagogic references to “brutal Manchesterism” and sneers anent “neo-Malthusians.” A disapproval of the system of legalised blackmail called “breach of promise” actions by which a certain low type of woman is enabled to prey upon a man who has been foolish enough to get entangled in the harpy’s clutches is styled “brutal Manchesterism.” If so, for the first time in my life, I am proud of the title of “brutal Manchester man.” One would think it decent women had one atom of respect for their sex about them they would themselves horsewhip filthy females out of their society. For the rest I may point out that there is an element of truth in Manchesterism as in every other epoch-making idea. It is its false economic application that Socialists justly protest against. To merely sling out the epithet “Manchester man,” “Neo-Malhusianism” or “Anarchist” as forms of abuse is to fire an unshotted broadside. Where the middle-class Radical has failed to complete his work the Socialist must take it up. Some Radical ideals may partake of the nature of the “cult of abstractions,” but others are an integral part of the growth of society. Neo-Malthusianism is objected to by Socialists in so far as it is put forward as a red-herring in the guise of a social panacea, but not necessarily otherwise. I join issue completely with Mendelson in his statement that because an act (though purely self-regarding in itself) is what he pleases to term “abnormal” – by which I can only understand him to mean contrary to some eighteenth-century, deistic, abstract metaphysical entity he calls “Nature” – that therefore society would have any right to “consider whether it would tolerate it or not.” Eating with a knife and fork or shaving are equally “abnormal” in a sense but I should say it would be bad for any society that took to “considering whether it should tolerate” liberty in such purely private concerns of citizens. But our friend probably advocates sumptuary laws against flannel shirts and red ties. Would Mendelson propose a punishment on men and women living singly, who are also “abnormal” and have no children? Mendelson will perhaps stigmatise my suggestions of a limit to the power of the community over the individual, even in private matters as middle-class-Radical, or Anarchistic. He is welcome to this very stale gibe of the crude State Socialist. I do not propose to discuss the question of “bastardy” raised by Mendelson. Those who have read my letter on Free Love and Socialism will see I think that his objections do not touch me.

But now, what does the sum-total of Mendelson’s gyneocratic contentions amount to? Why does he not say what he obviously means? All objections to the most arbitrary despotism exercised on men in the supposed interests of women are ruled out as the “Freedom-ideas of the middle-class Radical”; the control in the interests of public health of women who pursue a certain calling, is, on the contrary, stigmatised as “odious police supervision.” Now why not say straight out men are to be bullied and blackmailed because they are men, while women are to enjoy complete immunity from all responsibility and to be aided and abetted by the law in all their attacks on men, because they are women. Similarly, when I criticise the pretensions sometimes made on behalf of the female sex I am sneered at as having a “hobby.” Those who persistently make these pretensions have no “hobby” – oh dear no! Truly a case of “my doxy and thy doxy”! If have dolt with Mendelson’a letter at some length, since it is the only definite attack on me which has so much as attempted to argue the matter, and in Sahara one is thankful for a drop of water even though its lucidity may leave something to be desired.

In conclusion I will give, once for all, in a few words my position on this question, cleared of the prejudice imported into it by railing accusations of woman-hating and other objectionable qualities.

1. I utterly dispute the validity of the attempt analogy between women as a sex and the proletariat as a class, on which analogy the plausibility of the “woman movement” for Socialists so largely rests.

2. While fully recognising the oppression of the capitalist system on women as on men, I deny that, on the whole, it presses more on women than on men, as such.

3. Coming to the question of direct sex-tyranny, if we are to talk of this I am prepared to prove that, at least in all countries where the Anglo-Saxon is dominant, viz., in Britain and its colonies, in the United States, &c., it is invariably men who, both by law and public opinion, are oppressed in the supposed interests of women and not vice versa.

4. That the few (mainly formal) disabilities of women in politics or elsewhere which are perpetually being trotted out, are more than compensated for, by special privileges in other directions.

5. That the woman’s rights agitation as hitherto conducted, in which the “brute man” plays the role of villain, was born of hysterics and “sour grapes,” and is kept alive by a bare-faced system of “bluff,” and both the suppression and perversion of fact, intended to work on the sentimental male with a view of placing women in a safe citadel of privilege and sex-domination – the talk of equality being a mere blind. I am prepared to maintain any or all of these proposition in writing with anyone.

Source: The Everlasting Female Again!, Justice, 30th November 1895, p.6.