Page:On the Political Status of Women (Annie Besant).pdf/8

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It can scarcely be necessary for me to clear my way by proving to you that there are such things as rights. "Every great truth," it has been said, "must travel through three stages of public opinion: men will say of it, first, that it is not true; secondly, that it is contrary to religion; lastly, that every one knew it already." The "rights of man" have battled through these first two stages, and have reached the third; they have been denounced as a lie, subversive of all government; they have been anathematised as a heresy, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians; but now every one has always known that men have rights, it is a perfect truism. These rights do not rest on the charter of a higher authority; they are not privileges held at the favour of a superior; they have their root in the nature of man; they are his by Divine—that is to say, by natural—right. Kings, presidents, governments, draw their authority from the will of the people; the people draw their authority from themselves.

It is quite a new light to the general public that women have any rights at all; duties? ay, plenty of them, with sharp penalties for their non-fulfilment. Wrongs? ay, plenty of them, too—wrongs which will not be borne much longer. Privileges? yes, if we will take them as privileges, and own that we hold them at the will of our masters; but rights? The assertion was at first met with laughter, that was only not indignant, because it was too contemptuous. Our truth is as yet in its infancy—first, it is not true; secondly, it is contrary to religion. The matter is taken a little more seriously now; men begin to fancy that these absurd women are really in earnest, and they condescend to use a little argument, and to administer a little "soothing syrup" to these fractious children. Gentle remonstrance takes the place of laughter, and thus we arrive at my first head—surely there are more pressing female wrongs to attend to than the question of political incapacity.

It is perfectly true that the want of representation in Parliament is not, in itself, a grave injury. In itself, I say, it is of secondary importance; its gravity consists in what it involves. You do not value money for its own sake—those little yellow counters are not intrinsically beautiful, nor are they in themselves worth toil, and trouble, and danger; but you value them for what they represent; and thus we value a vote, as means to