Page:On the Political Status of Women (Annie Besant).pdf/11

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was asleep. They certainly show no signs of the properly-constituted feminine intellect. But allowing that these women are inferior in mental power to the uneducated artisan and petty farmer, may I ask why that should be a political disqualification? I never remember hearing it urged that the franchise should only be conferred on men of genius, or of great intellectual attainments. Even the idea of an educational franchise was sneered at, low as was the proposed standard of education. When a law is made which restricts the franchise to those who rise above a certain mental level, the talk about mental inferiority will become reasonable and pertinent; but when that law is passed, I fear that nature will not be found to have been sufficiently careful of the male interest to have placed all men above the level, and all women below it. Susceptibility to influence is an argument that also goes too far. I am afraid that people's opinions are but rarely "opinions" at all. They are simply their neighbours' thoughts covered over with a film of personal prejudice. It is, however, a new idea in England that a class liable to be unduly influenced, should be disfranchised; the Ballot Act lately passed was, I always understood, specially designed to protect the weak from the pressure of the strong. Oliver Cromwell said that it was unjust to deprive any one of a natural right on the plea that were it given it would be abused. Not so; "when he hath abused it, judge." Business incapacity may, or may not, exist on the part of women; it is difficult to judge what power a person may have when he is never permitted to exercise it. Tie up a man's hands, and then sneer that he has no aptitude for writing; or, chain his feet, and show his natural incapacity for walking. John Stuart Mill has remarked: "The ladies of reigning families are the only women who are allowed the same range of interests and freedom of development as men, and it is precisely in their case that there is not found to be any inferiority. Exactly where and in proportion as woman's capacities for government have been tried, in that proportion have they been found adequate." In France, at the present day, the women rule business matters more than do the men, and the business capacity of Frenchwomen is a matter of notoriety. Lastly, I would urge on those who believe in women's natural inferiority, why, in the name of common sense, are you so terribly afraid of putting your