The most curious of all concomitants of the legal subjection of men in England arise, first, that many men are not conscious of the real state of the law, and secondly, that a very loud-voiced minority of women, reinforced by sycophantic males, represent the law as being the apotheosis of unjust sex-privileges on the part of men. The last phenomonen is, no doubt, in great part one cause of the first, but other causes for men’s unconsciousness contribute. A survival of the days when the physical force of the man was allowed by the State to play a part in his quarrels with women, survive in the public delusion that it is impossible for man to be oppressed by women. How can men be legally oppressed by women? Are not men, if worthy of the name, able to defend themselves? This objection, once categorically stated, is seen to be ridiculous. A legal defence is not a matter of strength or courage, but of skill. Even a skilled defence is a poor protection before a biased tribunal. But lastly, the whole question of muscular strength is absurdly and outrageously irrelevant. The bravest and strongest man is as weak as a child before the over- whelming force of the State. Any woman can at will summon to her aid a power no man can resist. And behind this force of law rests the equally irresistible force of public opinion. All this, under the present dispensation, is arrayed against the man accused by a woman. The woman accuser wields the whole power of the Courts and the community, backed up by the press and public opinion. Her physical strength is an irrelevant matter, her real force lies in the state of public opinion before which the man becomes helpless. The power of the autocrat lies not in his physical strength, but in his ability to summon at a beck the resources of the State. The Czar of Russia is, and the Emperor Nero was, physically no stronger than the merest beggar. Catherine of Russia was physically weaker than the lowest of her grenadiers.
1. The law is not generally known by the vulgar, and lawyers, unless paid, are not usually accustomed to be expansive to the public at large on the subject of their information. Ignorance by the public of the law promotes litigation, and lawyers individually are not particularly oppressed by or frightened at the legal privileges of women. The technical skill of the lawyer and his powerful trade union usually enables him to get the best of the woman who contends with him in the law courts. Similarly, in former days, the lawyer took care to guard himself from being hurt by the feudal privileges of the noble, which weighed so heavily on the rest of the community.
2. Most women in England are still under the in- fluence of the earlier polity of the Church and of Christendom. They do not dispute the duty of female subordination, and do not in fact as yet think of exercising the more flagrant of these new-fangled legal sex-privileges. The utmost pitch of domination that the majority have reached to is a noticeable increase in the display of overbearing manners towards their husbands, and other male dependents, and the palpable consciousness that the threat of a public scene will bring the scene-hating Englishman to his knees.
3. A large minority of women influenced by kindness and self-respect and all amiable qualities, do not exercise any of these iniquitous sex-privileges at all. If an insignificant minority of women are oppressed by individual men, it is merely because, from any reason, economic or other, the woman does not for a considerable time, choose to go to the Police Courts. When a fact of this kind comes to be published, it is trumpeted forth in the press–the press which carefully excludes stories of male slavery–with the object of producing a false impression as to the side on which the balance of injustice is to he found.
4. The more flagrant of these privileges are in practice resorted to chiefly by the more profligate of the female sex. Happily every man does not fall a victim. But those who do find it convenient to keep concealed the story of their wrongs. Their friends might believe in their innocence, but their enemies or the public at large would not. The man injured by a woman has no sex-conscious “man’s party” to appeal to. Every brawling wife and shrieking termagant or cold-blooded blackmailer has a sex-conscious propaganda ready to her hand. It is therefore all the more important to remember that these privileges conferred by the law of England on the woman against the man, are no dead letter. They are actually enforced with rigour that increases every day. Judge, jury, counsel and press vie with each other in driving the iron into the soul of the unfortunate man who is forced to contend with a woman in the law courts. Such an extreme of squalid unrighteousness has been reached that it has become a commonplace of the legal profession that no justice is to be had in the Courts against a woman–unless in some case of outrageous atrocity, and not always even then. The origin of this singular phenomenon–a revival of barbaric gynocracy among the English-speaking people in the British Islands, America and the British Colonies is a subject of the deepest interest, but not one lending itself to cursory treatment. A photograph of the outer surface–a picture of the facts of the law is all that has been attempted here. To confine our attention to the strictly necessary, it will suffice to remind the reader that the ordinary motives which induce the more selfish members of any privileged class to use a privilege, exist in the case of women. Many slave-owners were as indulgent as St. Clair, but many were like [Simon] Legree [“Uncle Tom’s Cabin”]. The chief impelling motives appear to be:– 1. A desire for economic advantage to get money without trouble; to exploit the labour of the male slave, enthralled by the law–this works quite as well to impel a woman as well as a man to use an unjust power. It is the predatory instinct present in pirates, robbers and criminals of all classes. 2. A desire to domineer and oppress. This impulse as distinguished from ordinary revengefulness is, some think, stronger in women than in men. No one will deny its existence in both men and women, whatever be its special cause. 3. Malignity and vindictiveness. Inordinate revenge for real or fancied wrongs, disproportioned vindictiveness for the chance slights of a complex social life may he safely reckoned on to actuate the bitterer section of a female noblesse as well as a male one. If power does not corrupt, at least it gives room for corruption to spread. Modern life among English speaking people, while releasing women from male guidance, has, by individu- alising women, multiplied the occasions of conflict between members of the two sexes. Different ideals and tests of action (women judge men by one standard and men judge women by another), the result of natural divergencies, as well as of education, absence of sex- illusion on the female side and its presence on the male side, add to these occasions.
4. Many women who, of their own accord, being still under the influence of the earlier policy of Christendom, would not think of exercising the force of public opinion, or the privileges of a one-sided law against their husbands or other men, are influenced to do so in various ways. The incessant clamour of a hysterical press leads them to suppose that in any quarrel with a man, the man must be wrong, the woman never can be wrong. The shrieks of the “new woman” propaganda suggest to women that in making most infamous use of her weapons she is upholding the cause of her “sisters.” Furthermore the new mammon-worship which has infected all modern English life has produced among the average middle class woman an unspoken theory–that the sole duty of man is to make money for his wife. The revolutionary theory of equality, dating from 1789–is applied only on one side, and it is assumed as an axiom that a wife is kept and has a right to do precisely as she pleases. At the same time it is taken as quite self-evident that she is emancipated from any duty of obedience or even civility to him. Added to the conclusions of the feminist spirit of domination, the final position is that the man is to submit to all insolences and outrages without redress. This conception of the relative positions of men and women is urged in a thousand different ways on any woman who has a quarrel with her husband, and must inevitably influence the average woman. 5. Many women, themselves ignorant of the modern law, are instigated by lawyers to bring suits, relying on their iniquitous legal privileges. Not merely are men’s reputations, lives and fortunes thus endangered, but in this way the present state of.the law has become a powerful solvent of the historic basis of the family relations of Christendom, by encouraging disputes between wives and husbands. Sir Walter Phillimore in a recent speech has pointed out what a part is played by solicitors in the promotion of divorce suits. The essential thing, therefore, to remember is that the the subjection of women in England, if it ever existed, has gone, and long gone. It is succeeded by a state of sordid subjection of the man to a biased public opinion, to a hysterical press, and to sentimental administrators of a corrupted law. There are, however, some signs that the legal subjec- tion of men in England is not destined to live for ever. The law, after all, is the shadow of public opinion.