An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex/Section 2

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Our Company is generally by our Adverſaries repreſented as unprofitable and irkſome to Men of Senſe, and by ſome of the more vehement Sticklers againſt us, as Criminal. Theſe Imputations as they ars unjuſt, eſpecially the latter, ſo they favour ſtrongly of the Malice, Arrogance and Sottiſhneſs of thoſe, that moſt frequently urge ’em; who are commonly either conceited Fops, whoſe ſucceſs in their Pretences to the favour of our Sex has been no greater than their Merit, and fallen very far ſhort of their Vanity and Preſumption, or a ſort of moroſe, ill-bred, unthinking Fellows, who appear to be Men only by their Habit and Beards, and are ſcarce diſtinguiſhable from Brutes but by their Figure and Riſibility. But I ſhall wave theſe Reflections at preſent, however juſt, and come cloſer to our Argument. If Women are not quallified for the Converſation of ingenious Men, or, to get yet further, their friendſhip, it muſt be becauſe they want ſome one condition, or more, neceſſarily requiſite to either. The neceſſary Conditions of theſe are Senſe, and good nature, to which muſt be added, for Friendſhip, Fidelity and Integrity. Now if any of theſe be wanting to our Sex, it muſt be either becauſe Nature has not been ſo liberal as to beſtow ’em upon us; or becauſe due care has not been taken to cultivate thoſe Gifts to a competent meaſure in us.
The firſt of theſe Cauſes is that, which is moſt generally urg’d againſt us, whether it be in Raillery, or Spight. I might eaſily cut this part of the Controverſy ſhort by an irrefragable Argument, which is, that the expreſs intent, and reaſon for which Women was created, was to be a Companion, and help meet to Man; and that conſequently thoſe, that deny ’em to be ſo, muſt argue a Miſtake in Providence, and think themſelves wiſer than their Creator. But theſe Gentlemen are generally ſuch paſſionate Admirers of themſelves, and have ſuch a profound value and reverence for their own Parts, that they are ready at any time to ſacrifice their Religion to the Reputation of their Wit, and rather than loſe their point, deny the truth of the Hiſtory. There are others, that though they allow the Story yet affirm, that the propagation, and continuance of Mankind, was the only Reaſon for which we were made; as if the Wiſdom that firſt made Man, cou’d not without trouble have continu’d that Species by the ſame or any other Method, had not this been moſt conducive to his happineſs, which was the gracious and only end of his Creation. But theſe ſuperficial Gentlemen wear their Underſtandings like their Clothes, always ſet and formal, and wou’d no more Talk than Dreſs out of Faſhion; Beau’s that, rather than any part of their outward Figure ſhou’d be damag’d, wou’d wipe the dirt off their ſhoes with their Handkercher, and that value themſelves infinitely more upon modiſh Nonſenſe, than upon the beſt Senſe againſt the Faſhion. But ſince I do not intent to make this a religious Argument, I ſhall leave all further Conſiderations of this Nature to the Divines, whose more immediate Buſineſs and Study it is, to aſſert the Wiſdom of Providence in the Order, and diſtribution of this World, againſt all that ſhall oppoſe it.
No diſtinction of Sexes in Souls.
To proceed therefore if we be naturally defective, the Defect muſt be either in Soul or Body. In the Soul it can’t be, if what I have hear’d ſome learned Men maintain, be true, that all Souls are equal, and alike, and that conſequently there is no ſuch diſtinction, as Male and Female Souls; that there are no innate Idea’s, but that all the Notions we have, are deriv’d from our External Senſes, either immediately, or by Reflection. Theſe Metaphyſical Speculations, I muſt own, Madam, require much more Learning and a ſtronger Head, than I can pretend to be Miſtreſs of, to be conſider’d as they ought; Yet ſo bold I may be, as to undertake the defence of theſe Opinions, when any of our jingling Opponents think fit to refute ’em.
No advantage in the Organization of their Bodies.
Neither can it be in the Body, (if I may credit the Report of learned Phyſicians) for there is no difference in the Organization of thoſe Parts, which have any relation to, or influence over the Minds; but the Brain, and all other Parts (which I am not Anatomiſt enough to name) are contriv’d as well for the plentiful conveyance of Spirits, which are held to be the immediate Inſtruments of Senſation, in Women, as Men. I ſee therefore no natural Impediment in the ſtructure of our Bodies; nor does Experience, or Obſervation argue any: We uſe all our Natural Faculties, as well as Men, nay, and our Rational too, deducting only for the advantages before mention’d.
Confirm’d from Experience of Brutes.
Let us appeal yet further to Experience, and obſerve thoſe Creatures that deviate leaſt from ſimple Nature, and ſee if we can find any difference in Senſe, or underſtanding between Males and Females. In theſe we may ſee Nature plaineſt, who lie under no conſtraint of Cuſtom or Laws, but thoſe of Paſſion or Appetite, which are Natures, and know no difference of Education, nor receive any Byaſs by prejudice. We ſee great diſtance in Degrees of Underſtanding, Wit, Cunning and Docility (call them what you pleaſe) between the ſeveral Species of Brutes. An Ape, a Dog, a Fox, are by daily Obſervation found to be more Docile, and more Subtle than an Ox, a Swine, or a Sheep. But a She Ape is as full of, and as ready at Imitation as a He; a Bitch will learn as many Tricks in as ſhort a time as a Dog, a Female Fox has as many Wiles as a Male. A thouſand inſtances of this kind might be produc’d; but I think theſe are ſo plain, that to inſtance more were a ſuperfluous labour; I ſhall only once more take notice, that in Brutes and other Animals there is no difference betwixt Male and Female in point of Sagacity, notwithſtanding there is the ſame diſtinction of Sexes, that is between Men and Women. I have read, that ſome Philoſophers have held Brutes to be no more than meer Machines, a ſort of Divine Clock-work, that Act only by the force of nice unſeen Springs without Senſation, and cry out without feeling Pain, Eat without Hunger, Drink without Thirſt, fawn upon their Keepers without ſeeing ’em, hunt Hares without Smelling, &c. Here Madam is cover for our Antagoniſts againſt the laſt Argument ſo thick, that there is no beating ’em out. For my part, I ſhall not envy ’em their refuge, let ’em lie like the wild Iriſh ſecure within their Boggs; the field is at leaſt ours, ſo long as they keep to their Faſtneſſes. But to quit this Topick, I ſhall only add, that if the learnedeſt He of ’em all can convince me of the truth of this Opinion, He will very much ſtagger my Faith; for hitherto I have been able to obſerve no difference between our Knowledge and theirs, but a gradual one; and depend upon Revelation alone, that our Souls are Immortal, and theirs not.
Experience of Mankind.
But if an Argument from Brutes and other Animals ſhall not be allow’d as concluſive, (though I can’t ſee, why ſuch an Inference ſhould not be valid, ſince the parity of Reaſon is the ſame on both ſides in this Caſe.) I ſhall deſire thoſe that hold againſt us to obſerve the Country People, I mean the inferiour ſort of them, ſuch as not having Stocks to follow Husbandry upon their own Score, ſubſiſt upon their daily Labour. For amongſt theſe, though not ſo equal as that of Brutes, yet the Condition of the two Sexes is more level, than amongſt Gentlemen, City Traders, or rich Yeomen. Examine them in their ſeveral Buſineſſes, and their Capacities will appear equal; but talk to them of things indifferent, and out of the Road of their conſtant Employment, and the Ballance will fall on our ſide, the Women will be found the more ready and polite. Let us look a little further, and view our Sex in a ſtate of more improvement, amongſt our Neighbours the Dutch. There we ſhall find them managing not only the Domeſtick Affairs of the Family, but making, and receiving all Payments as well great as ſmall, keeping the Books, ballancing the Accounts, and doing all the Buſineſs, even the niceſt of Merchants, with as much Dexterity and Exactneſs as their, or our Men can do. And I have often hear’d ſome of our conſiderable Merchants blame the conduct of our Country-Men in this point; that they breed our Women ſo ignorant of Buſineſs; whereas were they taught Arithmetick, and other Arts which require not much bodily ſtrength, they might ſupply the places of abundance of luſty Men now employ’d in ſedentary Buſineſs; which would be a mighty profit to the Nation by ſending thoſe Men to Employments, where hands and Strength are more requir’d, eſpecially at this time when we are in ſuch want of People. Beſide that it might prevent the ruine of many Families, which is often occaſion’d by the Death of Merchants in full Buſineſs, and leaving their Accounts perplex’d, and embroil’d to a Widdow and Orphans, who underſtanding nothing of the Husband or Father’s Buſineſs, occaſions the Rending, and oftentimes the utter Confounding a fair Eſtate; which might be prevented, did the Wife but understand Merchants Accounts, and were made acquainted with the Books.