The Fraud of Feminism/Chapter 2

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The Fraud of Feminism  (1913) 
E. Belfort Bax
the main dogma of modern feminism
London: Grant Richards Ltd pages 20-50

We have pointed out in the last chapter that Modern Feminism has two sides, the positive, definite, and articulate side, which ostensibly claims equality between the sexes, the chief concern of which is the conferring of all the rights and duties of men upon women, and the opening up of all careers to them. The justification of these demands is based upon the dogma, that, notwithstanding appearances to the contrary, women are endowed by nature with the same capacity intellectually and morally as men. We have further pointed out that there is another side in Modern Feminism which in a vague way claims for women immunity from criminal law and special privileges on the ground of sex in civil law. The basis of this side of Feminism is a sentimentalism—i.e. an unequally distributed sentiment in favour of women, traditional and acquired. It is seldom even attempted to base this sentimental claim for women on argument at all. The utmost attempts in this direction amount to vague references to physical weakness, and to the claim for special consideration deriving from the old theory of the mental and moral weakness of the female sex, so strenuously combated as out of date, when the first side of Modern Feminism is being contended for. The more or less inchoate assumptions of the second or sentimental side of the modern “Woman's Movement” amounts practically, as already stated, to a claim for women to be allowed to commit crimes without incurring the penalties imposed by the law for similar crimes when committed by men. It should be noted that in practice the most strenuous advocates of the positive and articulate side of Feminism are also the sincerest upholders of the unsubstantial and inarticulate assumptions of the sentimental side of the same creed. This is noticeable whenever a woman is found guilty of a particularly atrocious crime. It is somewhat rare for women to be convicted of such crimes at all, since the influence of sentimental Feminism with judges and juries is sufficient to procure an acquittal, no matter how conclusive the evidence to the contrary. Even if women are found guilty it is usual for a virtually nominal sentence to be passed. Should, however, a woman by any chance be convicted of a heinous crime, such as murder or maiming, under specially aggravated circumstances, and a sentence be passed such as would be unanimously sanctioned by public opinion in the case of a man, then we find the whole Feminist world up in arms. The outcry is led by self-styled upholders of equality between the sexes, the apostles of the positive side of Feminism, who bien entendu claim the eradication of sex boundaries in political and social life on the ground of women being of equal capacity with men, but who, when moral responsibility is in question, conveniently fall back on a sentiment, the only conceivable ground for which is to be found in the time-honoured theory of the mental and moral weakness of the female sex. As illustrations of the truth of the foregoing, the reader may be referred to the cases of Florence Doughty in 1906, who shot at and wounded a solicitor with whom she had relations, together with his son; to Daisy Lord in 1908, for the murder of her new-born child; to the case of the Italian murderess, Napolitano in Canada, convicted of the cold-blooded butchery of her husband in his sleep in 1911, for whose reprieve a successful agitation was got up by the suffrage societies!

Let us first of all consider the dogma at the basis of the positive side of Modern Feminism, which claims rational grounds of fact and reason for itself, and professes to be able to make good its case by virtue of such grounds. This dogma consists in the assertion of equality in intellectual capacity, in spite of appearances to the contrary, of women with men. I think it will be admitted that the articulate objects of Modern Feminism, taking them one with another, rest on this dogma, and on this dogma alone. I know it has been argued as regards the question of suffrage, that the demand does not rest solely upon the admission of equality of capacity, since men of a notoriously inferior mental order are not excluded from voting upon that ground, but the fallacy of this last argument is obvious. In all these matters we have to deal with averages. Public opinion has hitherto recognised the average of women as being intellectually below the voting standard, and the average man as not. This, if admitted, is enough to establish the anti-suffrage thesis. The latter is not affected by the fact that it is possible to find certain individual men of inferior intelligence and therefore less intrinsically qualified to form a political judgment than certain specially gifted women. The pretended absurdity of “George Eliot having no vote, and of her gardener having one” is really no absurdity at all. In the first place, given the economic advantages which conferred education upon the novelist, and not upon the gardener, there is not sufficient evidence available that his judgment in public affairs might not have been even superior to that of George Eliot herself. Moreover, the possession of exceptionally strong imaginative faculty, expressing itself as literary genius or talent in works of fiction, does not necessarily imply exceptional power of political judgment. But, be this as it may, where averages are in question, exceptions obviously do not count.

The underlying assumption of the suffrage movement may therefore be taken to be the average equality of the sexes as regards intellectual value.[1]

An initial difficulty exists in proving theoretically the intellectual inferiority of women to men, or even their relative unsuitability for fulfilling functions involving a special order of judgment. There are such things as matters of fact which are open to common observation and which none think of denying or calling in question unless they have some special reason for doing so. Now it is always possible to deny a fact, however evident it may be to ordinary perception, and it is equally impossible to prove that the person calling in question the aforesaid evident fact is either lying (or shall we say “prevaricating”), or even that he is a person hopelessly abnormal is his organs of sense-perception.

At the time of writing, the normal person who has no axe to grind in maintaining the contrary, declares the sun to be shining brightly, but should it answer the purpose of anyone to deny this obvious fact, and declare that the day is gloomy and overcast, there is no power of argument by which I can prove that I am right and he is wrong. I may point to the sun, but if he chooses to affirm that he doesn't see it I can't prove that he does. This is, of course, an extreme case, scarcely likely to occur in actual life. But it is in essence similar to those cases of persons (and they are not seldom met with) who, when they find facts hopelessly destructive of a certain theoretical position adopted by them, do not hesitate to cut the knot of controversy in their own favour by boldly denying the inconvenient facts. One often has experience of this trick of controversy in discussing the question of the notorious characteristics of the female sex. The Feminist driven into a corner endeavours to save his face by flatly denying matters open to common observation and admitted as obvious by all who are not Feminists. Such facts are the pathological mental condition peculiar to the female sex, commonly connoted by the term hysteria; the absence, or at best the extremely imperfect development of the logical faculty in most women; the inability of the average woman in her judgment of things to rise above personal considerations; and, what is largely a consequence of this, the lack of a sense of abstract justice and fair play among women in general. The aforesaid peculiarities of women, as women, are, I contend, matters of common observation and are only disputed by those persons—to wit Feminists—to whose theoretical views and practical demands their admission would be inconvenient if not fatal. Of course these characterisations refer to averages, and they do not exclude partial or even occasionally striking exceptions. It is possible, therefore, although perhaps not very probable, that individual experience may in the case of certain individuals play a part in falsifying their general outlook; it is possible—although, as I before said not perhaps very probable—that any given man's experience of the other sex has been limited to a few quite exceptional women and that hence his particular experience contradicts that of the general run of mankind. In this case, of course, his refusal to admit what to others are self-evident facts would be perfectly bona fide. The above highly improbable contingency is the only refuge for those who would contend for sincerity in the Feminist's denials. In this matter I only deal with the male Feminist. The female Feminist is usually too biassed a witness in this particular question.

Now let us consider the whole of the differentiations of the mental character between man and woman in the light of a further generalisation which is sufficiently obvious in itself and which has been formulated with special clearness by the late Otto Weininger in his remarkable book, “Geschlecht und Charakter” (Sex and Character). I refer to the observations contained in Section II., Chaps. 2 and 3. The point has been, of course, previously noted, and the present writer, among others, has on various occasions called special attention to it. But its formulation and elaboration by Weininger is the most complete I know. The truth in question consists in the fact, undeniable to all those not rendered impervious to facts by preconceived dogma, that, as I have elsewhere put it, while man has a sex, woman is a sex. Let us hear Weininger on this point. “Woman is only sexual, man is also sexual. Alike in time and space this difference may be traced in man, parts of his body susceptible to sexual excitement are small in number and strictly localised. In woman sexuality is diffused over the whole body, every contact on whatever part excites her sexually.” Weininger points out that while the sexual element in man, owing to the physiological character of the sexual organs, may be at times more violent than that in woman, yet that it is spasmodic and occurs in crises separated by intervals of quiescence. In woman, on the other hand, while less spasmodic, it is continuous. The sexual instinct with man being, as he styles it, “an appendix” and no more, he can raise himself mentally entirely outside of it. “He is conscious of it as of something which he possesses but which is not inseparate from the rest of his nature. He can view it objectively. With woman this is not the case; the sex element is part of her whole nature. Hence, it is not as with man, clearly recognisable in local manifestations, but subtly affects the whole life of the organism. For this reason the man is conscious of the sexual element within him as such, whereas the woman is unconscious of it as such. It is not for nothing that in common parlance woman is spoken of as ‘the sex.’ In this sexual differentiation of the whole life-nature of woman from man, deducible as it is from physiological and anatomical distinctions, lies the ground of those differentiations of function which culminate in the fact that while mankind in its intellectual moral and technical development is represented in the main by Man, Woman has continued to find her chief function in the direct procreation of the race.” A variety of causes, notably modern economic development, in their effect on family life, also the illegitimate application of the modern democratic notion of the equality of classes and races, to that of sex, has contributed to the modern revolt against natural sex limitations.

Assuming the substantial accuracy of the above statement of fact, the absurdity and cheapness of the clap-trap of the modern “social purity” monger, as to having one and the same sexual morality for both sexes will be readily seen. The recognition of the necessity of admitting greater latitude in this respect to men than to women is based clearly on physiology and common-sense. With men sexual instinct manifests itself locally, and at intervals its satisfaction is an urgent and pressing need. With woman this is not so. Hence the recognised distinction between the sexes in this respect is, as far as it goes, a thoroughly sound one. Not that I am championing the severity of the restrictions of the current sexual code as regards women. On the contrary, I think it ought to be and will be, in a reasonable society of the future, considerably relaxed. I am only pointing out that the urgency is not so great in the one case as in the other. And this fact it is which has led to the toleration of a stringency, originally arising mainly from economic causes (questions of inheritance and the like), in the case of women, which would not have been tolerated in that of men, even had similar reasons for its adoption in their case obtained. Any successful attempt of social purity mongers to run counter to physiology in enforcing either by legislation or public opinion the same stringency on men in this respect as on women could but have the most disastrous consequences to the health and well-being of the community.

It was a saying of the late Dr Henry Maudsley: “Sex lies deeper than culture.” By this we may understand to be meant that sex differences are organic. All authorities on the physiological question are agreed that woman is less well-organised, less well-developed, than man. Dr de Varigny asserts that this fact is traceable throughout the whole female organism, throughout all its tissues, and all its functions. For instance, the stature of the human female is less than that of the man in all races. As regards weight there is a corresponding difference. The adult woman weighs, on the average, rather more than 11 lbs. less than the man; moreover as a rule a woman completes her growth some years earlier than a man. The bones are lighter in the woman than in the man; not absolutely but in proportion to the weight of the body. They are, it is stated, not merely thinner but more fragile. The difference may be traced even to their chemical composition. The whole muscular development is inferior in woman to that in man by about one-third. The heart in woman is smaller and lighter than in man—being about 10½ oz. in man as against slightly over 8 oz. in woman. In the woman the respiratory organs show less chest and lung capacity. Again, the blood contains a considerably less proportion of red to white corpuscles. Finally, we come to the question of the size and constitution of the brain. (It should be observed that all these distinctions of sex show themselves more or less from birth onwards.)

Specialists are agreed that at all ages the size of the brain of woman is less than that of man. The difference in relative size is greater in proportion according to the degree of civilisation. This is noteworthy, as it would seem as though the brain of man grew with the progress of civilisation, whereas that of woman remains nearly stationary. The average proportion as regards size of skull between the woman and man of to-day is as 85 to 100. The weight of brain in woman varies from 38½ oz. to 45½ oz.; in man, from 42 oz. to 49 oz. This represents the absolute difference in weight, but, according to Dr de Varigny, the relative weight—i.e. the weight in proportion to that of the whole body—is even more striking in its indication of inferiority. The weight of the brain in woman is but one-forty-fourth of the weight of the body, while in man it is one-fortieth. This difference accentuates itself with age. It is only 7 per cent in favour of man between twenty and thirty years; it is 11 per cent. between thirty and forty years. As regards the substance of the brain itself and its convolutions, the enormous majority of physiologists are practically unanimous in declaring that the female brain is simpler and smoother, its convolutions fewer and more superficial than those of the male brain, that the frontal lobes, generally associated with the intellectual faculties, are less developed than the occipital lobes, which are universally connected with the lower psychological functions. The grey substance is poorer and less abundant in woman than in man, while the blood vessels of the occipital region are correspondingly fuller than those supplying the frontal lobes. In man the case is exactly the reverse. It cannot be denied by any sane person familiar with the barest elements of physiology that the whole female organism is subservient to the functions of child-bearing and lactation, which explains the inferior development of those organs and faculties which are not specially connected with this supreme end of Woman.

It is the fashion of Feminists, ignoring these fundamental physiological sex differences, to affirm that the actual inferiority of women, where they have the honesty to admit such an obvious fact, is accountable by the centuries of oppression in which Woman has been held by wicked and evil-minded Man. The absurdity of this contention has been more than once pointed out. Assuming its foundation in fact, what does it imply! Clearly that the girls inherit only through their mothers and boys only through their fathers, an hypothesis plainly at variance with the known facts of heredity. Yet those who maintain that distinction of intelligence, etc., between the sexes are traceable to external conditions affecting one sex only and inherited through that sex alone, cannot evade the above assumption. Those, therefore, who regard it as an article of their faith that Woman would show herself not inferior in mental power to man, if only she had the chance of exercising that power, must find a surer foundation for their opinion than this theory of the centuries of oppression, under which, as they allege, the female sex has laboured.

We now come to the important question of morbid and pathological mental conditions to which the female sex is liable and which are usually connected with those constitutional disturbances of the nervous system which pass under the name of hysteria. The word is, as everyone knows, derived from hystera—the womb, and was uniformly regarded by the ancients as directly due to disease of the uterus, this view maintaining itself in modern medicine up till well-nigh the middle of the nineteenth century. Thus Dr J. Mason Good (in his “Study of Medicine,” 1822, vol. iii., p. 528, an important medical text-book during the earlier half of the nineteenth century) says: “With a morbid condition of this organ, hysteria is in many instances very closely connected, though it is going too far to say that it is always dependent upon such condition, for we meet with instances, occasionally, in which no possible connexion can be traced between the disease and the organ,” etc. This is perhaps the first appearance, certainly in English medicine, of doubts being thrown on the uterine origin of the various symptoms grouped under the general term, hysteria. Towards the latter part of the nineteenth century the prevalent view tended more and more to dissociate hysteria from uterine trouble. Lately, however, some eminent pathologists have shown a tendency to qualify the terms of the latter view. Thus Dr Thomas Stevenson in 1902 admits that “it [hysteria] frequently accompanies a morbid state of the uterus,” especially where inflammation and congestion are present, and it is not an uncommon thing for surgeons at the present time to remove the ovaries in obstinate cases of hysteria. On the other hand Dr Thomas Buzzard, in an article on the subject in Quain's Dictionary of Medicine, 1902, states that hysteria is only exceptionally found in women suffering from diseases of the genital organs, and its relation to uterine and ovarian disturbances is probably neither more nor less than that which pertains to the other affections of the nervous system which may occur without any obvious material cause. Dr Thomas Luff (“Text-Book on Forensic Medicine,” 1895) shows that the derangements of the reproductive functions are undoubtedly the cause of various attacks of insanity in the female. Dr Savage, in his book “On Neuroses,” says that acute mania in women occurs most frequently at the period of adult and mature life, and may occasionally take place at either extreme age. Acute mania sometimes occurs at the suppression of the menses. The same is true of melancholia and other pathological mental symptoms. Dr Luff states that acute mania may replace hysteria; that this happens at periods such as puberty, change of life and menstruation. These patients in the intervals of their attacks are often morbidly irritable or excitable, but as time goes on their energies become diminished and their emotions blunted (“Forensic Medicine,” ii. 307). Such patients are often seized with a desire to commit violence; they are often very mischievous, tearing up clothes, breaking windows, etc. In this mental disorder the patient is driven by a morbid and uncontrollable impulse to such acts. It is not accompanied by delusions, and frequently no change will have been noticed in the individual prior to the commission of the act, and consequently, says Dr Luff, “there is much difference of opinion as to the responsibility of the individual” (ii. 297). Among the acts spoken of Dr Luff mentions a propensity to set fire to furniture, houses, etc. All this, though written in 1895, might serve as a commentary on the Suffragette agitation of recent years. The renowned French professor, Dr Paul Janet (“Les Hysteriques,” 1894) thus defined hysteria: “Hysteria is a mental affection belonging to the large group of diseases due to cerebral weakness and debility. Its physical symptoms are somewhat indefinite, consisting chiefly in a general diminution of nutrition. It is largely characterised by moral symptoms, chief of which is an impairment of the faculty of psychological synthesis, an abolition and a contraction of the field of consciousness. This manifests itself in a peculiar manner and by a certain number of elementary phenomena. Thus sensations and images are no longer perceived, and appear to be blotted out from the individual perception, a tendency which results in their persistent and complete separation from the personality in some cases and in the formation of many independent groups. This series of psychological facts alternate the one with the other or co-exist. Finally this synthetic defect favours the formation of certain independent ideas, which develop complete in themselves, and unattached from the control of the consciousness of the personality. These ideas show themselves in affections possessing very various and unique characteristics.” According to Mr A. S. Millar, F.R.C.S.E. (Encyclopædia Medica, vol. v.), “Hysteria is that…condition in which there is imagination, imitation, or exaggeration.…It occurs mostly in females and persons of nervous temperament, and is due to some nervous derangement, which may or may not be pathological.” Sir James Paget (“Clinical Lectures on Mimicry”) says also that hysterical patients are mostly females of nervous temperament. “They think of themselves constantly, are fond of telling everyone of their troubles and thus court sympathy, for which they have a morbid craving. Will power is deficient in one direction, though some have it very strongly where their interests are concerned.” He thinks the term “hysteria” in the sense now employed incorrect, and would substitute “mimicry.” “The will should be controlled by the intellect,” observes Dr G. F. Still of King's College Hospital, “rather than by the emotions and the lack of this control appears to be at the root of some, at least, of the manifestations of hysteria.”

Dr Thomas Buzzard, above mentioned, thus summarises the mental symptoms: “The intelligence may be apparently of good quality, the patient evincing sometimes remarkable quickness of apprehension; but carefully tested it is found to be wanting in the essentials of the highest class of mental power. The memory may be good, but the judgment is weak and the ability to concentrate the attention for any length of time upon a subject is absent. So also regard for accuracy, and the energy necessary to ensure it in any work that is undertaken, is deficient. The emotions are excited with undue readiness and when aroused are incapable of control. Tears are occasioned not only by pathetic ideas but by ridiculous subjects and peals of laughter may incongruously greet some tragic announcement, or the converse may take place. The ordinary signs of emotion may be absent and replaced by an attack of syncope, convulsion, pain or paralysis. Perhaps more constant than any other phenomenon in hysteria is a pronounced desire for the sympathy and interest of others. This is evidently only one of the most characteristic qualities of femininity, uncontrolled by the action of the higher nervous centres which in a healthy state keep it in subjection. There is very frequently not only a deficient regard for truthfulness, but a proneness to active deception and dishonesty. So common is this, that the various phases of hysteria are often assumed to be simple examples of voluntary simulation and the title of disease refused to the condition. But it seems more reasonable to refer the symptoms to impairment of the highly complex nervous processes which form the physiological side of the moral faculties (Quain's Dictionary of Medicine, 1902).

“It is not uncommon to find hysteria in females accompanied by an utter indifference and insensibility to sexual relations. Premature cessation of ovulation is a frequent determining cause. In cases where the ovaries are absent the change from girl to woman, which normally takes place at puberty, does not occur. The girl grows but does not develop, a masculine appearance supervenes, the voice becomes manly and harsh, sexual passion is absent, the health remains good. The most violent instances of hysteria are in young women of the most robust and masculine constitution” (John Mason Good, M.D., “Study of Medicine,” 1822). Other determining causes are given, as painful impressions, long fasting, strong emotions, imitation, luxury, ill-directed education and unhappy surroundings, celibacy, where not of choice but enforced by circumstances, unfortunate marriages, long-continued trouble, fright, worry, overwork, disappointment and such like nervous perturbations, all which causes predispose to hysteria. “It attacks childless women more frequently than mothers and particularly young widows,” and, says Dr J. Mason Good, “more especially still those who are constitutionally inclined to that morbid salacity which has often been called nymphomania…the surest remedy is a happy marriage” (“Study of Medicine,” 1822, iii. 531). Hysteria is, in common with other nervous disorders, essentially a hereditary malady, and Briquet (“Traité de l'hysterie,” 1899) gives statistics to show that in nine cases out of ten hysterical parents have hysterical children. Dr Paul Sainton of the Faculty of Medicine, Paris, says: “The appearance of a symptom of hysteria generally proves that the malady has already existed for some time though latent. The name of a provocative agent of hysteria is given to any circumstance which suddenly reveals the malady but the real cause of the disorder is a hereditary disposition. If the real cause is unique, the provocative agents are numberless. The moral emotions, grief, fright, anger and other psychic disturbances are the most frequent causes of hysterical affections and in every walk of life subjects are equally liable to attacks.”

Hysteria may appear at any age. It is common with children, especially during the five or six years preceding puberty. Of thirty-three cases under twelve years which came under Dr Still's notice, twenty-three were in children over eight years. Hysteria in women is most frequent between the ages of fifteen and thirty, and most frequently of all between fifteen and twenty. As a rule there is a tendency to cessation after the “change.” It frequently happens, however, that the disease is continued into an advanced period of life.

“There is a constant change,” says Professor Albert Moll (“Das nervöse Weib,” p. 165), “from a cheerful to a depressed mood. From being free and merry the woman in a short time becomes sulky and sad. While a moment before she was capable of entertaining a whole company without pause, talking to each member about that which interested him, shortly afterwards she does not speak a word more. I may mention the well-worn example of the refusal of a new hat as being capable of converting the most lively mood into its opposite. The weakness of will shows itself here in that the nervous woman [by “nervous” Dr Moll means what is commonly termed “hysterical”] cannot, like the normal one, command the expression of her emotions. She can laugh uninterruptedly over the most indifferent matter until she falls into veritable laughing fits. The crying fits which we sometimes observe belong to the same category. When the nervous woman is excited about anything she exhibits outbreaks of fury wanting all the characteristics of womanhood, and she is not able to prevent these emotional outbursts. In the same way just as the emotions weaken the will and the woman cannot suppress this or that action, it is noticeable in many nervous women that quite independently of these emotions there is a tendency to continuous alterations in their way of acting. It has been noticed as characteristic of many nervous persons that their only consistency lies in their inconsistency. But this must in no way be applied to all nervous persons. On this disposition, discoverable in the nature of so many nervous women, rests the craving for change as manifested in the continual search for new pleasures, theatres, concerts, parties, tours, and other things (p. 147). Things that to the normal woman are indifferent or to which she has, in a sense, accustomed herself, are to the nervous woman a source of constant worry. Although she may perfectly well know that the circumstances of herself and her husband are the most brilliant and that it is unnecessary for her to trouble herself in the least about her material position as regards the future, nevertheless the idea of financial ruin constantly troubles her. Thus if she is a millionaire's wife she never escapes from constant worry. Similarly the nervous woman creates troubles out of things that are unavoidable. If in the course of years she gets more wrinkles, and her attraction for man diminishes, this may easily become a source of lasting sorrow for the nervous woman.”

We now have to consider a point which is being continually urged by Feminists in the present day when confronted with the pathological mental symptoms so commonly observed in women which are usually regarded as having their origin in hysteria. We often hear it said by Feminists in answer to arguments based on the above fact: “Oh, but men can also suffer from hysteria!” “In England,” says Dr Buzzard, “hysteria is comparatively rarely met with in males, the female sex being much more prone to the affection.” The proportion of males to females in hysteria is, according to Dr Pitré (“Clinical Essay on Hysteria,” 1891), 1 to 3; according to Bodensheim, 1 to 10; and according to Briquet, 1 to 20. The author of the article on Hysteria in The Encyclopædia Britannica (11th edition, 1911) also gives 1 to 20 as the numerical proportion between male and female cases. Dr Pitrè, in the work above cited, gives 82 per cent. of cases of convulsions in women as against 22 in men. But in all this, under the concept hysteria are included, and indeed chiefly referred to, various physical symptoms of a convulsive and epileptic character which are quite distinct from the mental conditions rightly or wrongly connected, or even identified, with hysteria in the popular mind, and by many medical authorities. But even as regards hysteria in the former sense of the word, a sharp line of distinction based on a diagnosis of cases was long ago drawn by medical men between hysteria masculina and hysteria fœminina, and in the present day eminent authorities—e.g. Dr Bernard Holländer—would deny that the symptoms occasionally diagnosed as hysteria in men are identical with or due to the same causes as the somewhat similar conditions known in women under the name.

After all, this whole question in its broader bearings is more a question of common-sense observation than one for medical experts.

What we are here chiefly concerned with as “hysteria” (in accordance with popular usage of the term) are certain pathological mental symptoms in women open to everybody's observation, and denied by no one unprejudiced by Feminist views. Every impartial person has only to cast his eye round his female acquaintance, and to recall the various women, of all classes, conditions and nationalities, that he may have come in contact with in the course of his life, to recognise those symptoms of mental instability commonly called hysterical, as obtaining in at least a proportion of one to every four or five women he has known, in a marked and unmistakable degree. The proportion given is, in fact, stated in an official report to the Prussian Government issued some ten years back as that noticeable among female clerks, post office servants and other women employed in the Prussian Civil Service. Certainly as regards women in general, the observation of the present writer, and others whom he has questioned on the subject, would seem to indicate that the proportions given in the Prussian Civil Service report as regards the number of women afflicted in this way are rather under than over stated.[2] There are many medical men who aver that no woman is entirely free from such symptoms at least immediately before and during the menstrual period. The head surgeon at a well-known London hospital informed a friend of mine that he could always tell when this period was on or approaching with his nurses, by the mental change which came over them.

Now these pathological symptoms noticeable in a slight and more or less unimportant degree in the vast majority, if not indeed in all women, and in a marked pathological degree in a large proportion of women, it is scarcely too much to say do not occur at all in men. I have indeed known, I think, two men, and only two, in the course of my life, exhibiting mental symptoms analogous to those commonly called “hysterical” in women. On the other hand my own experience, and it is not alone, is that very few women with whom I have come into more or less frequent contact, socially or otherwise, have not at times shown the symptoms referred to in a marked degree. If, therefore, we are to admit the bare possibility of men being afflicted in a similar way it must be conceded that such cases represent such rarœ aves as to be negligible for practical purposes.

A curious thing in pronounced examples of this mental instability in women is that the symptoms are often so very similar in women of quite different birth, surroundings and nationality. I can recall at the present moment three cases, each different as regards birth, class, and in one case nationality, and yet who are liable to develop the same symptoms under the influence of quite similar idées fixes.

But it seems hardly necessary to labour the point in question at greater length. The whole experience of mankind since the dawn of written records confirmed by, as above said, that of every living person not specially committed to the theories of Modern Feminism, bears witness alike to the prevalence of what we may term the hysterical mind in woman and to her general mental frailty. It is not for nothing that women and children have always been classed together. This view, based as it is on the unanimous experience of mankind and confirmed by the observation of all independent persons, has, I repeat, not been challenged before the appearance of the present Feminist Movement and hardly by anyone outside the ranks of that movement.


It is not proposed here to dilate at length on the fact, often before insisted upon, of the absence throughout history of the signs of genius, and, with a few exceptions, of conspicuous talent, in the human female, in art, science, literature, invention or “affairs.” The fact is incontestable, and if it be argued that this absence in women, of genius or even of a high degree of talent, is no proof of the inferiority of the average woman to the average man the answer is obvious.

Apart from conclusive proof, the fact of the existence in all periods of civilisation, and even under the higher barbarism, of exceptionally gifted men, and never of a correspondingly gifted woman, does undoubtedly afford an indication of inferiority of the average woman as regards the average man. From the height of the mountain peaks we may, other things equal, undoubtedly conclude the existence of a tableland beneath them in the same tract of country whence they arise. I have already, in the present chapter, besides elsewhere, referred to the fallacy that intellectual or other fundamental inferiority in woman existing at the present day is traceable to any alleged repression in the past, since (Weissmann and his denial of transmission of acquired characteristics apart), assuming for the sake of the argument such repression to have really attained the extent alleged, and its effects to have been transmitted to future generations, it is against all the laws of heredity that such transmission should have taken place through the female line alone, as is contended by the advocates of this theory. Referring to this point, Herbert Spencer has expressed the conviction of most scientific thinkers on the subject when he declares a difference between the mental powers of men and women to result from “a physiological necessity, and [that] no amount of culture can obliterate it.” He further observes (the passages occur in a letter of his to John Stuart Mill) that “the relative deficiency of the female mind is in just those most complex faculties, intellectual and moral, which have political action for their sphere.”

One of the points as regards the inferiority of women which Feminists are willing and even eager to concede, and it is the only point of which this can be said, is that of physical weakness. The reason why they should be particularly anxious to emphasise this deficiency in the sex is not difficult to discern. It is the only possible semblance of an argument which can be plausibly brought forward to justify female privileges in certain directions. It does not really do so, but it is the sole pretext which they can adduce with any show of reason at all. Now it may be observed (1) that the general frailty of woman would militate coetaris paribus, against their own dogma of the intellectual equality between the sexes; (2) that this physical weakness is more particularly a muscular weakness, since constitutionally the organism of the human female has enormous power of resistance and resilience, in general, far greater than that of man (see below, pp. 125–128). It is a matter of common observation that the average woman can pass through strains and recover in a way few men can do. But as we shall have occasion to revert to these two points at greater length later on, we refrain from saying more here.

How then, after consideration, shall we judge of the Feminist thesis, affirmed and reaffirmed, insisted upon by so many as an incontrovertible axiom, that woman is the equal, intellectually and morally, if not physically, of man? Surely that it has all the characteristics of a true dogma. Its votaries might well say with Tertullian, credo quia absurdum. It contradicts the whole experience of mankind in the past. It is refuted by all impartial observation in the present. The facts which undermine it are seriously denied by none save those committed to the dogma in question. Like all dogmas, it is supported by “bluff.” In this case the “bluff” is to the effect that it is the “part, mark, business, lot” (as the Latin grammars of our youth would have had it) of the “advanced” man who considers himself up to date, and not “Early Victorian,” to regard it as unchallengeable. Theological dogmas are backed up by the bluff of authority, either of scriptures or of churches. This dogma of the Feminist cult is not vouchsafed by the authority of a Communion of saints but by that of the Communion of advanced persons up to date. Unfortunately dogma does not sit so well upon the community of advanced persons up to date—who otherwise profess to, and generally do, bring the tenets they hold to the bar of reason and critical test—as it does on a church or community of saints who suppose themselves to be individually or collectively in communication with wisdom from on high. Be this as it may, the “advanced man” who would claim to be “up to date” has to swallow this dogma and digest it as best he can. He may secretly, it is true, spew it out of his mouth, but in public, at least, he must make a pretence of accepting it without flinching.


  1. I believe there are some Feminist fanatics who pretend to maintain the superiority of the female mind, but I doubt whether this thesis is taken seriously even by those who put sit forward. In any case there are limits to the patent absurditie which it is worth while to refute by argument.
  2. The insanities mentioned above are the extremes. There are mental disturbances of less severity constantly occurring which are connected with the regular menstrual period as well as with disordered menstruation, with pregnancy, with parturition, with Lactation, and especially with the change of life.