The Fraud of Feminism/Chapter 7

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The Fraud of Feminism  (1913) 
E. Belfort Bax
the psychology of the movement
London: Grant Richards Ltd pages 140-160

We have already spoken of two strains in Modern Feminism which, although commonly found together, are nevertheless intrinsically distinguishable. The first I have termed Sentimental Feminism and the second Political Feminism. Sentimental Feminism is in the main an extension and emotional elaboration of the old notion of chivalry, a notion which in the period when it was supposed to have been at its zenith, certainly played a very much smaller part in human affairs than it does in its extended and metamorphosed form in the present day. We have already analysed in a former chapter the notion of chivalry. Taken in its most general and barest form it represents the consideration for weakness which is very apt to degenerate into a worship of mere weakness. La faiblesse prime le droit is not necessarily nearer justice than la force prime le droit; although to hear much of the talk in the present day one would imagine that the inherent right of the weak to oppress the strong were a first principle of eternal rectitude. But the theory of chivalry is scarcely invoked in the present day save in the interests of one particular form of weakness—viz. the woman as the muscularly weaker sex, and here it has acquired an utterly different character.[1]

Chivalry, as understood by Modern Sentimental Feminism, means unlimited licence for women in their relations with men, and unlimited coercion for men in their relations with women. To men all duties and no rights, to women all rights and no duties, is the basic principle underlying Modern Feminism, Suffragism, and the bastard chivalry it is so fond of invoking. The most insistent female shrieker for equality between the sexes among Political Feminists, it is interesting to observe, will, in most cases, on occasion be found an equally insistent advocate of the claims of Sentimental Feminism, based on modern metamorphosed notions of chivalry. It never seems to strike anyone that the muscular weakness of woman has been forged by Modern Feminists into an abominable weapon of tyranny. Under cover of the notion of chivalry, as understood by Modern Feminism, Political and Sentimental Feminists alike would deprive men of the most elementary rights of self-defence against women and would exonerate the latter practically from all punishment for the most dastardly crimes against men. They know they can rely upon the support of the sentimental section of public opinion with some such parrot cry of "What! Hit a woman!"

Why not, if she molests you?

"Treat a woman in this way!" "Shame!" responds automatically the crowd of Sentimental Feminist idiots, oblivious of the fact that the real shame lies in their endorsement of an iniquitous sex privilege. If the same crowd were prepared to condemn any special form of punishment or mode of treatment as inhumane for both sexes alike, there would, of course, be nothing to be said. But it is not so. The most savage cruelty and vindictive animosity towards men leaves them comparatively cold, at most evoking a mild remonstrance as against the inflated manifestation of sentimental horror and frothy indignation produced by any slight hardship inflicted by way of punishment (let us say) on a female offender.

The psychology of Sentimental Feminism generally is intimately bound up with the curious phenomenon of the hatred of men by their own sex as such. With women, in spite of what is sometimes alleged, one does not find this phenomenon of anti-sex. On the contrary, nowadays we are in presence of a powerful female sex-solidarity indicating the beginnings of a strong sex-league of women against men. But with men, as already said, in all cases of conflict between the sexes, we are met with a callous indifference, alternating with positive hostility towards their fellow-men, which seems at times to kill in them all sense of justice. This is complemented on the other side by an imbecile softness towards the female sex in general which reminds one of nothing so much as of the maudlin bonhomie of the amiable drunkard. This besotted indulgence, as before noted, is proof even against the outraged sense of injury to property.

As we all know, offences against property, as a rule, are those the average bourgeois is least inclined to condone, yet we have recently seen a campaign of deliberate wanton destruction by arson and other means, directed expressly against private property, which nevertheless the respectable propertied bourgeois, the man of law and order, has taken pretty much "lying down." Let us suppose another case. Let us imagine an anarchist agitation, with a known centre and known leaders, a centre from which daily outrages were deliberately planned by these leaders and carried out by their emissaries, all, bien entendu, of the male persuasion.

Now what attitude does the reader suppose "public opinion" of the propertied classes would adopt towards the miscreants who were responsible for these acts? Can he not picture to himself the furious indignation, the rabid diatribes, the advocacy of hanging, flogging, penal servitude for life, as the minimum punishment, followed by panic legislation on these lines, which would ensue as a consequence. Yet of such threatenings and slaughter, where suffragettes who imitate the policy of the Terrorist Anarchist are concerned, we hear not a sound. The respectable propertied bourgeois, the man of law and order, will, it is true, probably condemn these outrages in an academic way, but there is an undernote of hesitancy which damps down the fire of his indignation. There is no vindictiveness, no note of atrocity in his expostulations; nay, he is even prepared, on occasion, to argue the question, while maintaining the impropriety, the foolishness, the "unwomanliness" of setting fire to empty houses, cutting up golf links, destroying correspondence, smashing windows and the like. But of fiery indignation, of lurid advocacy of barbaric punishments, or of ferocity in general, we have not a trace. On the contrary, a certain willingness to admit and even to emphasise the disinterestedness of these female criminals is observable. As regards this last point, we must again insist on what was pointed out on a previous page, that the disinterestedness and unselfishness of many a male bomb-throwing anarchist who has come in for the righteous bourgeois' sternest indignation, are, at least, as unquestionable as those of the female house-burners and window-smashers. Moreover the anarchist, however wrong-headed he may have been in his action, as once before remarked, it must not be forgotten, had at least for the goal of his endeavours, not merely the acquirement of a vote, but the revolution which he conceived would abolish human misery and raise humanity to a higher level.

In this strange phenomenon, therefore, in which the indignation of the bourgeois at the wanton and wilful violation of the sacredness of his idol, is reduced to mild remonstrance and its punitive action to a playful pretence, we have a crucial instance of the extraordinary influence of Feminism over the modern mind. That the propertied classes should take arson and wilful destruction of property in general, with such comparative equanimity because the culprits are women, acting in the assumed interest of a cause that aims at increasing the influence of women in the State, is the most striking illustration we can have of the power of Feminism. We have here a double phenomenon, the unreasoning hatred of man as a sex, by men, and their equally unreasoning indulgence towards the other sex. As we indicated above, not only is the sense of esprit de corps entirely absent among modern men as regards their own sex, while strongly present in modern women, but this negative characteristic has become positive on the other side. Thus the modern sex problem presents us with a reversal of the ordinary sociological law of the solidarity of those possessing common interests.

It remains to consider the psychological explanation of this fact. Why should men so conspicuously prefer the interests of women before those of their own sex? That this is the case with modern man the history of the legislation of the last fifty years shows, and the undoubted fact may be found further illustrated in the newspaper reports of well-nigh every trial, whether at civil or criminal law, quite apart from the ordinary "chivalric" acts of men in the detail of social life. This question of sex, therefore, as before said, forms the solitary exception to the general law of the esprit de corps of those possessing common characteristics and interests. It cannot be adequately explained by a reference to the evolution of sex functions and relations from primitive man onwards, since it is at least in the extreme form we see it to-day, a comparatively recent social phenomenon. The theory of the sacrosanctity of women by virtue of their sex, quite apart from their character and conduct as individuals, scarcely dates back farther than a century, even from its beginnings. The earlier chivalry, where it obtained at all, applied only to the woman who presented what were conceived of as the ideal moral feminine characteristics in some appreciable degree. The mere physical fact of sex was never for a moment regarded as of itself sufficient to entitle the woman to any special homage, consideration, or immunity, over and above the man. No one suggested that the female criminal was less guilty or more excusable than the male criminal. No one believed that a woman had a vested right to rob or swindle a man because she had had sexual relations with him. This notion of the mere fact of sex—of femality—as of itself constituting a title to special privileges and immunities, apart from any other consideration, is a product of very recent times. In treating this question, in so far as it bears on the criminal law, it is important to distinguish carefully between the softening of the whole system of punishment due to the general development of humanitarian tendencies and the special discrimination made in favour of the female sex. These two things are very often inadequately distinguished from one another. Punishment may have become more humane where men are concerned, it may have advanced up to a certain point in this direction, but its character is not essentially changed. As regards women, however, the whole conception of criminal punishment and penal discipline has altered. Sex privilege has been now definitely established as a principle.

Now a complete investigation of the psychology of this curious phenomenon we have been considering—namely, the hatred so common with men for their fellow-men as a sex—is a task which has never yet been properly taken in hand. Its obverse side is to be seen on all hands in the conferring and confirming of sex prerogative on women. Not very long ago, as we have seen, one of its most striking manifestations came strongly under public notice—namely, the "rule of the sea," by which women, by virtue of their sex, can claim to be saved from a sinking ship before men. The fact that the laws and practices in which this man-hatred and woman-preference find expression are contrary to every elementary sense of justice, in many cases conflict with public policy, and can obviously be seen to be purely arbitrary, matters not. The majority of men feel no sense of the injustice although they may admit the fact of the injustice, when categorically questioned. They are prepared when it comes to the point to let public policy go by the board rather than entrench upon the sacred privilege and immunity of the female; while as to the arbitrary and unreasoning nature of the aforesaid laws and practices, not being troubled with a logical conscience, this does not affect them. I must confess to being unequal to the task of accurately fathoming the psychological condition of the average man who hates man in general and loves woman in general to the extent of going contrary to so many apparently basal tendencies of human nature as we know it otherwise. The reply, of course, will be an appeal to the power of the sexual instinct. But this, I must again repeat, will not explain the rise, or, if not the rise, at least the marked expansion of the sentiment in question during the last three generations or thereabouts. Even apart from this, while I am well aware of the power of sexual love to effect anything in the mind of man as regards its individual object, I submit it is difficult to conceive how it can influence so strongly men's attitude towards women they have not seen, or, even where they have seen them, when there is no question of sexual attraction, or, again, as regards the collectivity of women—the abstract category, Woman (in general).

We have already dealt with the Anti-man campaign in the Press, especially in modern novels and plays. This, as we have remarked, often takes the form of direct abuse of husbands and lovers and the attempt to make them look ridiculous as a foil to the brilliant qualities of wives and sweet-hearts. But we sometimes find the mere laudation of woman herself, apart from any direct anti-manism, assume the character of an intellectual emetic. A much-admired contemporary novelist, depicting a wedding ceremony in fashionable society circles, describes the feelings of his hero, a young man disgusted with the hollowness and vanity of "Society" and all its ways, as follows:—"The bride was opposite him now, and by an instinct of common chivalry he turned away his eyes; it seemed to him a shame to look at that downcast head above the silver mystery of her perfect raiment; the modest head full, doubtless, of devotion and pure yearnings; the stately head where no such thought as 'How am I looking this day of all days, before all London?' had ever entered: the proud head, where no such fear as, 'How am I carrying it off?' could surely be besmirching.... He saw below the surface of this drama played before his eyes; and set his face, as a man might who found himself assisting at a sacrifice." Now, I ask, can it be believed that the writer of the above flamboyant feminist fustian is a novelist and playwright of established reputation who undoubtedly has done good work. The obvious criticism must surely strike every reader that it is somewhat strange that this divinely innocent creature he glorifies should arise straight out of a milieu which is shown up as the embodiment of hollowness and conventional superficiality. If men can lay the butter on thick in their laudation of womanhood, female idolaters of their own sex can fairly outbid them. At the time of writing there has just come under my notice a dithyramb in the journal, The Clarion, by Miss Winnifred Blatchford, on the sacrosanct perfections of womanhood in general, especially as exemplified in the suicidal exploits of the late lamented Emily Wilding Davidson of Epsom fame, and a diatribe on the purity, beauty and unapproachable glory of woman. According to this lady, the glory of womanhood seems to extend to every part of the female organism, but, we are told, is especially manifested in the hair (oozing into the roots apparently). Evidently there is something especially sacred in woman's hair! This prose ode to Woman, as exemplified in Emily Davidson, culminates in the invocation: "Will the day ever come when a woman's life will be rated higher... than that of a jockey?" Poor jockey! We will trust not, though present appearances do indicate a strong tendency to regard a woman as possessing the prerogatives of the sacred cow of Indian or ancient Egyptian fame!

It is impossible to read or hear any discussion on, say, the marriage laws, without it being apparent that the female side of the question is the one element of the problem which is considered worthy of attention. The undoubted iniquity of our existing marriage laws is always spoken of as an injustice to the woman and the changes in the direction of greater freedom which are advocated as a relief to the wife bound to a bad or otherwise unendurable husband. That the converse case may happen, that that reviled and despised thing, a husband, may also have reason to desire relief from a wife whose angelic qualities and vast superiority to his own vile male self he fails to appreciate, never seems to enter into the calculation at all.

That no satisfactory formulation of the psychology of the movement of Feminism has yet been offered is undoubtedly true. For the moment, I take it, all we can do is co-ordinate the fact as a case of what we may term social hypnotism, of those waves of feeling uninfluenced by reason which are a phenomenon so common in history—witchcraft manias, flagellant fanaticisms, religious "revivals," and similar social upheavals. The belief that woman is oppressed by man, and that the need for remedying that oppression at all costs is urgent, partly, at least, doubtless belongs to this order of phenomena. That this feeling is widespread and held in various degrees of intensity by large numbers of persons, men no less than women, is not to be denied. That it is of the nature of a hypnotic wave of sentiment, uninfluenced by reason, is shown by the fact that argument does not seem to touch it. You may show conclusively that facts are opposed to the assumption; that, so far from women being oppressed, the very contrary is the case; that the existing law and its administration is in no essential respect whatever unfavourable to women, but, on the contrary, is, as a whole, grossly unfair to men—it is all to no purpose. Your remonstrances, in the main, fall on deaf ears, or, shall we say, they fall off the mind coated with Feminist sentiment as water falls from the proverbial duck's back. The facts are ignored and the sentiment prevails; the same old catchwords, the same lies and threadbare fallacies are repeated. The fact that they have been shown to be false counts for nothing. The hypnotic wave of sentiment sweeps reason aside and compels men to believe that woman is oppressed and man the oppressor, and believe it they will. If facts are against the idée fixe of the hypnotic suggestion, so much the worse for the facts. Thus far the Feminist dogma of the oppression of the female sex.

As regards the obverse side of this Sentimental Feminism which issues in ferocious sex-laws directed against men for offences against women—laws enacting barbarous tortures, such as the "cat," and which are ordered with gusto in all their severity in our criminal courts—this probably is largely traceable to the influence of Sadic lusts. An agitation such as that which led to the passing of the White Slave Traffic Act, so-called, of 1912, is started, an agitation engineered largely by the inverted libidinousness of social purity mongers, and on the crest of this agitation the votaries of Sadic cruelty have their innings. The foolish Sentimental Feminist at large, whose indignation against wicked man is fanned to fury by bogus tales and his judgment captured by representations of the severities requisite to stamp out the evil he is assured is so widespread, lends his fatuous support to the measures proposed. The judicial Bench is, of course, delighted at the increase of power given it over the prisoner in the dock, and should any of the puisnes happen to have Sadic proclivities they are as happy as horses in clover and the "cat" flourishes like a green bay tree.

Let us now turn to the question of the psychology of Political Feminism. Political Feminism, as regards its immediate demand of female suffrage, is based directly on the modern conception of democracy. This is its avowed basis. With modern notions of universal suffrage it is declared that the exclusion of women from the franchise is logically incompatible. If you include in the parliamentary voting lists all sorts and conditions of men, it is said, it is plainly a violation of the principle of democracy to exclude more than one half of the adult population from the polls. As Mill used to say in his advocacy of female suffrage, so long as the franchise was restricted to a very small section of the population, there may have been nothing noteworthy in the exclusion of women. But now that the mass of men are entitled to the vote and the avowed aim of democracy is to extend it to all men, the refusal to extend it still further to women is an anomaly and a manifest inconsistency. But in this, Mill, and others who have used his argument, omitted to consider one very vital point. The extensions of the suffrage, such as have been demanded and in part obtained by democracy up to the present agitation, have always referred to the removal of class barriers, wealth barriers, race barriers, etc.—in a word, social barriers—but never to the removal of barriers based on deep-lying organic difference—i.e. barriers determining not sociological but biological distinctions. The case of sex is unique in this connection, and this fact vitiates any analogy between the extension of suffrage to women and its extension to fresh social strata such as democracy has hitherto had in view, terminating in the manhood suffrage which is the ultimate goal of all political democrats. Now sex constitutes an organic or biological difference, just as a species constitutes another and (of course) a stronger biological difference. Hence I contend the mere fact of this difference rules out the bare appeal to the principle of democracy per se as an argument in favour of the extension of the suffrage to women. There is, I submit, no parity between the principle and practice of democracy as hitherto understood, and the new extension proposed to be given to the franchise by the inclusion of women within its pale. And yet there is no question but that the apparent but delusive demand of logical consistency in this question, has influenced and still influences many an honest democrat in his attitude in this matter.

But although the recognition of the difference of sex as being an organic difference and therefore radically other than social differences of caste, class, wealth, or even race, undoubtedly invalidates the appeal to the democrat on the ground of consistency, to accept the principle of female suffrage, yet it does not necessarily dispose of the question. It merely leaves the ground free for the problem as to whether the organic distinction implied in sex does or does not involve corresponding intellectual and moral differences in the female sex which it is proposed to enfranchise; and furthermore whether such differences, if they exist, involve general inferiority, or at least an unfitness ad hoc for the exercise of political functions. These questions we have, I think, sufficiently discussed already in the present work. The fact of the existence of exceptionally able women in various departments, does undoubtedly mislead many men in their judgment as to the capacity of the average woman to "think politically," or otherwise to show herself the effective equal of the average man, morally and intellectually. The reasons for answering this question in the negative we have already briefly indicated in the course of our investigations. This renders it unnecessary to discuss the matter any further here.

In dealing with the psychological aspects of the Feminist Movement, the intellectual conditions which paved the way for its acceptance, it is worth while recalling two or three typical instances of the class of "argument" to be heard on occasion from the female advocates for the suffrage. Thus, when the census was taken in 1911 and the Women's Political and Social Union conceived, as they thought, the brilliant idea of annoying the authorities and vitiating the results of the census by refusing to allow themselves to be enrolled, one of the leaders, when interviewed on the point, gave her reason for her refusal to be included, in the following terms:—"I am not a citizen" (meaning that she did not possess the franchise) "and I am not going to pretend to be one." The silliness of this observation is, of course, obvious, seeing that the franchise or even citizenship has nothing whatever to do with the census, which includes infants, besides criminals, lunatics, imbeciles, etc. Again, in a manifesto of the Women's Political and Social Union defending window-smashing and other "militant" outrages, it was pointed out that the coal strike had caused more injury than the window-smashing and yet the strikers were not prosecuted as the window-smashers were—in other words, the exercise of the basal personal right of the free man to withhold his labour save under the conditions agreed to by him, is paralleled with criminal outrage against person and property! Again, some three or four years ago, when the Women's Suffrage Bill had passed the Commons, on its being announced by the Government that for the remainder of the Session no further facilities could be given for private members' Bills, save for those of a non-contentious character, one of these sapient females urged in the Press that, seeing that there were persons to be found in both the orthodox political camps who were in favour of female suffrage, therefore the Bill in question must be regarded as of a non-contentious character! Once more, a lady, writing a few months ago to one of the weekly journals, remarked that though deliberate window-breaking, destruction of letters, and arson, might be illegal acts, yet that the punishing of them by imprisonment with hard labour, they being political offences, was also an illegal act, with the conclusion that the "militants" and the authorities, both alike having committed illegal acts, were "quits"! These choice specimens of suffragettes' logic are given as throwing a significant light on the mental condition of women in the suffragette movement, and indirectly on female psychology generally. One would presumably suppose that the women who put them forward must have failed to see the exhibition they were making of themselves. That any human being out of an asylum, could have sunk to the depth of fatuous inconsequent idiocy they indicate would seem scarcely credible. Is the order of imbecility which the above and many similar utterances reflect, confined to suffragette intelligence alone, or does it point to radical inferiority of intellectual fibre, not in degree merely, but in kind, in the mental constitution of the human female generally? Certainly it is hard to think that any man, however low his intelligence, would be capable of making a fool of himself precisely in the way these women are continually doing in their attempts to defend their cause and their tactics.

In the foregoing pages we have endeavoured to trace some of the leading strands of thought going to make up the Modern Feminist Movement. Sentimental Feminism clearly has its roots in sexual feeling, and in the tradition of chivalry, albeit the notion of chivalry has essentially changed in the course of its evolution. For the rest, Sentimental Feminism, with its double character of man-antipathy and woman-sympathy, as we see it to-day, has assumed the character of one of those psychopathic social phenomena which have so often recurred in history. It can only be explained, like the latter, as an hypnotic wave passing over society.

As for Political Feminism, we have shown that this largely has its root in a fallacious application of the notion of democracy, partaking largely of the logical fallacy known technically as a dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter. This logical fallacy of Political Feminism is, of course, reinforced and urged forward by Sentimental Feminism. As coming under the head of the psychology of the movement, we have also called attention to some curious phenomena of logical imbecility, noticeable in the utterances of educated women in the suffragette agitation.

  1. As regards this point it should be remarked that mediæval chivalry tolerated (as Wharton expressed it in his "History of Poetry") "the grossest indecencies and obscenities between the sexes," such things as modern puritanism would stigmatise with such words as "unchivalrous," "unmanly" and the like. The resemblance between the modern worship of women and the relations of the mediæval knight to the female sex is very thin indeed. Modern claims to immunity for women from the criminal law and mediæval chivalry are quite different things.