Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/December 1878/Biology and Woman's Rights
|BIOLOGY AND "WOMAN'S RIGHTS."|
SINCE natural history was remodeled by Mr. Darwin it has been found capable of throwing valuable lights, previously little anticipated, upon topics quite unconnected with the origin and attributes of zoological or botanical species. Of this solidarity of the sciences—one supplying another with methods of inquiry—a striking instance is afforded by a recent work, in which the doctrine of natural selection is successfully utilized in the study of certain political subjects. That further applications more or less analogous are still possible will scarcely be doubted. There is in particular one question now agitating human society which seems particularly to require such treatment. Every one knows that of late years a movement has sprung up to secure for women, as contradistinguished from men, certain rights, liberties, and powers, of which it is contended they have been arbitrarily and wrongfully deprived. To define this movement, and to formulate distinctly the demands of its supporters, is a scarcely possible task. Innovators and agitators of all kinds enjoy the advantage that they cannot be tied down to any fixed set of propositions by which and by whose logical consequences they are prepared to stand or fall. On the contrary, if one ground is found untenable, another is instantly taken up; what satisfies one champion of the cause is rejected by another; and what to-day is accepted as final—as in the case of the anti-vivisection movement—is to-morrow proclaimed a mere installment, and made the basis of fresh demands.
Perhaps we may best describe the movement as an attempt to obliterate all—save the purely structural—distinctions between man and woman, and to establish between them a complete identity of duties and functions in place of that separation which has more or less hitherto always existed. That certain speakers and writers, not content with mere identification, go on to inversion, and would assign to men the particular tasks now allotted to women, though a significant fact, need not detain our attention.
It is of no use laughing at this agitation as the outcome of a mere "crotchet." In certain states of the moral atmosphere crotchets spread just as do epidemics—which they closely resemble—in certain conditions of the physical atmosphere and other surroundings of man. Who would attempt to deal with the cholera or the small-pox by ridicule, how pungent and incisive soever?
We purpose, therefore, to examine this movement in the light of the principles of natural selection, of differentiation, and specialization, and to inquire whether the relations of the sexes in the human species and the distribution of their respective functions are or are not in general harmony with what is observed in that portion of the animal kingdom which lies nearest to man—to wit, in the Mammalia. With the origin and history of the agitation, with the hopes and motives of its supporters, and with the ethical, sentimental, economical, and political arguments used on either side we have no direct concern.
Even a very superficial and popular survey of the class Mammalia will satisfy us that the structural differences between the males and the females of each species are by no means confined to the reproductive organs. The male ruminant, whale, bat, elephant, rodent, carnivore, or ape, is on the average a larger and heavier animal than his mate. The tiger, for instance, exceeds the tigress in size by a proportion of from ten to twenty per cent. In few, if any, species is the superior stature of the male more striking than in the one which approaches man most nearly in its physical development—the gorilla.
But the mere difference in size is not all; the female is scarcely in any normal case a mere miniature copy of the male. Her proportions differ; the head and the thorax are relatively smaller, the pelvis broader, the bones slighter, and the muscles less powerful. The male in many cases possesses offensive weapons which in the female are wanting. In illustration we need only refer to the tusks of the elephant and the boar, and the horns of many species of deer. On the contrary, there is no instance of a female mammal possessing any weapon which is not also found, to at least an equal degree, in the male.
Further, the superior size of the head in the male is not merely due to the more massive osseous growth needful for the support of tusks, horns, etc., but to a proportionately larger development of brain. Thus, according to the recent investigations of M. le Bon, "taking the mean weight of seventeen brains of human males, of 154 to 164 centimetres in height, and comparing them with the brains of seventeen women of the same stature, we find between the two a difference of 172 grammes (nearly six ounces) in favor of the male."
Summing up these facts, commonplace but not the less important, we see that in the whole mammalian class, man included, the males are distinguished from the females, not merely by larger size, but by superior cerebral and thoracic development, and by the more general possession of offensive weapons. On the other hand, trite as the remark may seem, the organs for the nutrition of the young are exclusively confined to the female. Are we to suppose that these sexual differences are devoid of meaning, merely accidental, or artificial in their origin?
We must next inquire to what functional distinctions these structural differences correspond, and what is their signification? It is generally admitted that among animals of one and the same species the larger will be found to be the stronger, and generally speaking physically the superior. Exceptions doubtless occur, but, if we were to take one hundred men in normal health whose "fighting-weight" ranged from eleven to twelve stone each, and compare them with another hundred averaging a stone less, we should find the former set able to lift greater weights, strike harder blows, and in every way excel the second lot in athletic performances.
Again, it is found that the size of the chest, and consequent volume of the lungs, affords a very good standard by which the general vigor, the vital energy, of either man or beast, may be gauged. The more a man, free from corpulence, measures round the chest, the better are his stamina, and the greater his power to support fatigues and hardships. Of this fact the military and the sporting world are perfectly aware, and never fail to take it into account in estimating the eligibility of a recruit or the probable performances of an athlete.
Having seen, then, that male animals are not merely actually larger than their respective females, but surpass them proportionally in the size of the thorax, we naturally expect the former to be decidedly the stronger, gifted with a more intense and exuberant vitality. Nor are our expectations disappointed. The bodily strength of a cow is trifling indeed compared with that of a bull of the same breed. In races a filly is very frequently—merely as such—allowed to carry less weight than a horse. A lady gorilla would be in evil case indeed if her husband did not treat her with a gentleness and kindness which many of our own species would do well to imitate. And as to mankind—is not, perhaps, the most legitimate source of the very movement we are criticising an attempt to secure women against the superior strength of men? Yet at a meeting at Manchester a male agitator actually sought to deny the superior physical power of man, because it would be easy to find a fish-wife stronger than a cotton-weaver. The argument, being intensely illogical, was frantically applauded.
Persons are not, however, wanting who—while admitting the general inferiority of women to men in physical strength—contend that this weakness is the result of continued and systematic repression. Woman, they say, has been forcibly debarred from invigorating pursuits, and comparative feebleness is the natural result. We would ask such advocates whether this systematic repression has been also carried out among the lower mammals, and, if not, what is the origin of the weakness of the female sex in their case, which is at least as well marked as among mankind? Has the "subjugation" of woman had its parallel in the "subjugation" of the cow, the mare, the ewe, the lioness?
That the women of the middle class in all civilized countries, and of the higher in some, would be much healthier and stronger if they took more exercise in the open air and swallowed less tea, we admit. But in that case we contend that their increased vigor would descend not to their daughters exclusively or specially, but to all their children.
Further, in some countries and among certain classes, a great amount of physical labor falls to the lot of the women, without their being thereby rendered equal in strength to the men. Among the North American aborigines the squaw has the monopoly of hard work, while her husband—save when on the chase or on the war-path—indulges in idleness. Yet he runs no risk on that account of being surpassed in strength by his wife, and ultimately finding himself in consequence "subjugated."
No less is the superior cerebral development of the male sex in the human species, to which we have already referred as an indisputable fact, devoid of functional importance. It has, indeed, been contended that the difference in weight between the brain of the two sexes is a mere "survival" from some lower state of civilization, or of existence which we may expect to see ultimately disappear. Such hopes, if they anywhere exist, must be abandoned in view of the results of M, le Bon, already quoted. This biologist finds that "the difference between the respective weight of the brain in man and woman constantly goes on increasing as we rise in the scale of civilization, so that as regards the mass of the brain, and consequently in intelligence, woman becomes more and more differentiated from man. The difference which exists between the mean of the crania of contemporary Parisian men and that of contemporary Parisian women is almost double the difference which existed in ancient Egypt.
Taking hold of this simple fact, that the brain in the male is not merely larger, but increasingly larger, than in the female, we need not long search for its meaning. As the same writer to whom we have referred declares, "On examining series of crania sufficiently numerous we find that in the human species the largest brains belong to the races highest endowed intellectually, and in each race to its most intelligent members." Just, therefore, as higher civilization is heralded, or at least evidenced, by increasing bulk of brain; just as the most intelligent and the dominant races surpass their rivals in cranial capacity; and just as in those races the leaders, whether in the sphere of thought or of action, are eminently large-brained—so we must naturally expect that man, surpassing woman in volume of brain, must surpass her in at least a proportionate degree in intellectual power. We are sorry to be compelled here to own that while we know that in most, if not all, mammalian species the brain of the male exceeds in size that of the female, we have no observations as to any corresponding difference in mental power. That such difference, on careful examination, Will be found to exist is highly probable; but we must likewise expect that it will be found less distinctly marked the lower the rank of the species.
To return: the intellectual superiority thus claimed for the male sex, in virtue of a higher cerebral development, is fully manifested in the history of the various arts and sciences. In every department the first, the leading, minds have belonged to the male sex. Homer, Shakespeare, Phidias, Beethoven, no less than Newton, Liebig, and Darwin, are men.
In reply to this historical confirmation of what biology foretells, the advocates of the movement adduce three arguments, all, in our opinion, singularly inconclusive.
Admitting the superiority of the male brain in bulk and weight to that of the female, they maintain the existence of a qualitative difference which renders the two incommensurable. This hypothesis, however, is a pure assumption. We should have an equal right to maintain that the brains of different races of men, especially as existing in ages widely remote from each other, were incapable of mutual comparison. Or, in the same spirit, it might even be urged that the smaller size of the muscles in woman was no proof of any inferiority in physical strength.
Secondly, it is contended by those who seek to identify the duties, functions, and spheres of action of the two sexes, that many women have distinguished themselves in the arts and sciences. Admitting to the full this fact, we can only place it on a level with the kindred phenomenon that not a few women have, in disguise, entered the army or navy, and have acquitted themselves as creditably as their male comrades; or that others have worked long and undetected as excavators, in the construction of railways, etc. The savante—the woman of science—like the female athlete, is simply an anomaly, an exceptional being, holding a position more or less intermediate between the two sexes. In the one case the brain, as in the other the muscular system, has undergone an abnormal development. That such cases should occur need no more surprise us than does the converse phenomenon, the existence of womanish man. We meet with subjects, otherwise of the male sex, in whom the beard is scanty or wanting, the limbs slight and rounded, the voice high, the chest narrow, and the pelvis broad, or who, if they do not structurally approximate to the female sex, betray a preference for feminine occupations, which wins for them such epithets as "molly-cots," "cot-queans," etc. At the risk of somewhat anticipating ourselves we cannot suppress the remark that no one demands especial laws and institutions for the benefit of such womanish men, or proposes their exemption from the customary, duties of the male sex, how burdensome soever these may be felt.
The third and last plea put forward to explain, if possible, the cerebral inferiority of woman and her concomitant intellectual inferiority, is an adaptation of the one already proposed to account for her smaller physical strength. It is gravely asserted that mental activity in art or science has been systematically repressed among women, and that in consequence their cerebral development has been injuriously interfered with. To this contention it would be a sufficient reply were we to simply point to the fact already mentioned, that the relative inferiority in the size of the brain of women, instead of diminishing as their social status has improved, has, on the contrary, been increasing. We may hence fairly argue that it exists not in virtue of any artificial interference, but of a law of Nature. We can, however, adduce other considerations. In the pursuit of the fine arts, woman, instead of being checked and hindered, whether by law or by social conventions, has been encouraged. An acquaintance with music has been literally forced upon every girl of the upper and middle classes. Yet, leaving composers out of the question, how many of the million female performers on the piano-forte, now to be found in Europe and America, can take rank with Liszt and Thalberg? In the highest development of literature, poetry, sex has been no obstacle to the recognition of merit. Yet neither Sappho in the past nor Mrs. Hemans and Mrs. Browning in our own day can be placed even in the same class with the leading poets of Greece, England, and Germany.
Women have certainly till of late met with few direct facilities for the pursuit of science. But, in England at least, neither have men. Our great scientific discoverers, until quite recent days, have been substantially self-taught, and even if in their youth they enjoyed a university education their subsequent researches, though post hoc (after this), have assuredly not been propter hoc (on account of this). Scientific books and apparatus have been as accessible to one sex as to the other; and these have generally been the only opportunities that our discoverers have had at their command. How to use such appliances they had to discover for themselves. We deny, therefore, that the exclusion of young women from universities, in which modern sciences were not taught, can have hindered them from entering upon a scientific career. Equally do we deny that public opinion forbade for them study and research. Had Miss Herschel been a man, her astronomical discoveries could not have been more highly or more deservedly appreciated. Not a dog barked at her for preferring determining the orbits of comets to ordinary feminine avocations. In like manner, if any woman had possessed the necessary faculties and turn of mind, there was nothing in the way of public prejudices or established customs to prevent her from having anticipated Dalton in discovering the laws of definite chemical combination. Nor, if thus discovered, would the "atomic theory" have met with a less favorable reception. We then entirely deny the existence of any supposed conspiracy to repress scientific talent in the female sex, and we hold that the three arguments adduced to explain its comparative rarity among women are utterly inconclusive.
A further distinction between the sexes, common to mankind and to all the mammalian class, must be sought in the moral faculties. Take what species we like we find the males bolder, more pugnacious and quarrelsome, more adventurous and restless, and less tractable and docile. The females, on the other hand, save in protection of their young from real or supposed danger, are mild, gentle, and inoffensive. Of this no more indisputable instance could be found than the case of domestic cattle, the cow—with the exception of certain "strong-minded" individuals—being perfectly harmless, while the bull, when above four years old, is one of the most dangerous animals known, attacking and killing human beings, not for food, like the lion or the tiger, but out of pure "superfluity of naughtiness." Very similar is the distinction between the character of the sexes among the Quadrumana. No animal is more wantonly and gratuitously mischievous than an adult male baboon, and we are unable to find an instance of one having been tamed so far that he could be allowed his liberty. The females, on the other hand, are capable of domestication. Were there any necessity to multiply instances a fair-sized volume might be filled with accounts of the intractability of male mammalia of different species, as contrasted with the mildness and docility of their females, while in no animal is the case reversed. That the sexual distinction of character in our own species is precisely analogous in its nature will, we trust, be admitted without argument.
We find, therefore, summing up the foregoing facts, that throughout the mammalian community the males are larger and heavier than the females, whom they, moreover, especially exceed in thoracic and cerebral development; that they are consequently stronger, more intensely animated, and in disposition bolder and fiercer. The very same differences are found in average men as compared with average women, with the additional peculiarity that here the superior size of brain expresses itself in higher intellectual power.
It would be ridiculous to suppose that all these diversities, structural and functional, are objectless, and do not imply a corresponding diversity of duties. This accordingly we find to be the case: The male, at least in all species which form unions of any degree of permanence—whether monogamous or polygamous—defends and protects the female and her young ones. Thus, if a herd of elephants is menaced, the most powerful tuskers take their station on the side where danger appears, while the females and the young are placed as far as possible out of harm's way. If bisons are attacked by wolves, the bulls form a circle inclosing the cows and calves, A similar order is adopted by wild-horses. A gorilla will encounter any danger in defense of his mate, and even among baboons the old males will face an approaching enemy while the weaker members of the troop make good their escape. A lion has been seen in the same manner covering the retreat of his lioness and her cubs.
Other examples might be given were it at all needful, but those already stated are surely sufficient to establish the principle. Among herbivorous and omnivorous species, where food is plentiful, there is no occasion for the male to take upon him the duties of provider, but among the Carnivora he frequently supports as well as defends his family. The lion is in this respect a well-known instance.
We find, therefore, that throughout the class Mammalia the respective tasks of the two sexes are precisely such as we find in our own species: the male is the defender and provider, wherever such defense and provision are necessary; the female is the nurse. The man who brings home to his wife his weekly earnings, his professional fees, or his share of the profits of a business, merely repeats on a higher scale the action of the lion who carries a deer or an antelope to his den. Each sex fulfills the tasks for which it is especially adapted by Nature, and anything like "subjugation" is utterly out of the question. Were the duties of the two sexes confounded together, or, still more, were they inverted—the female, for instance, going forth to face danger or to hunt for prey, while the male was left to nurse the young—the position of the species in the great and constant struggle for existence would be very decidedly altered for the worse. We must conclude, therefore, that the attempt to alter the present relations of the sexes is not a rebellion against some arbitrary law instituted by a despot or a majority—not an attempt to break the yoke of a mere convention; it is a struggle against Nature; a war undertaken to reverse the very conditions under which not man alone, but all mammalian species have reached their present development. Sentimental speakers and writers have commented on the well-known fact that even a very young boy will, to his utmost ability, defend his sister or female playmate, and have expressed a hope that this habit—the result of early training—would wear out, the female no longer needing and the male no longer offering protection. Alas! is the very same habit in the ape, the lion, or the bison, the result of a mistaken training, or of an old-world convention, to be laid aside in these enlightened days? What would be the position of a family of young lions if both their parents went forth to hunt? Yet very similar will be that of children if their mother, as well as their father, goes out to the daily toils of a profession, leaving them perhaps to themselves—perhaps to the care of ignorant and unprincipled hirelings. The results of mothers withdrawn from domestic duties, and spending their days in industrial pursuits, have been sufficiently exemplified in our manufacturing towns. Here, in the very highest interests of the race, it has been found necessary to check and limit female labor, which ought never to have been introduced. Had this precaution been taken, a man would have been able to earn as much as he and his wife jointly have been able to realize under the factory system. But what reason have we to expect that the introduction of female labor into professional spheres will prove a greater boon either to the aspirants themselves or to the nation than it has been in the factory and the workshop? A friend, of original habits of thought, points out that upon man alone was laid the penalty of labor as upon woman the sorrow of child-bearing. This is in fact the very same lesson, clothed in theological language, which we learn from biology. Among the lower animals, who, as compared with man, may be called the proletariate of creation, both sexes indeed seem merely or mainly to exist in order to perpetuate their species. Still, even here, the female is more exclusively constructed for, and more totally absorbed in, the task of reproduction than the male. The share of the latter in this function is, strictly speaking, momentary, while during the stage of maturity the energies of the normal female are more or less completely devoted to the nurture, intra-and extrauterine, of her offspring. Even when she never becomes a mother the generative system exercises a modifying influence upon her whole career. This consideration throws a strong light upon the ground taken by certain of the more "advanced" female advocates of the movement. The femme libre (free woman) of the new social order may, indeed, escape the charge of neglecting her family and her household by contending that it is "not her vocation to become a wife and a mother." Why then, we ask, is she constituted a woman at all? Merely that she should become a sort of second-rate man? We have already declared, and we repeat, that we wish a free career for every talent. If an abnormal woman possesses a man's muscular strength and adaptation for toil, we would not, either by law or by social influences, seek to debar her from working at the oar, or the forge, or even from wielding the policeman's truncheon or the soldier's rifle. But we would not calculate on such anomalies; we would not legislate for their special protection, or seek to increase their number. In a manner perfectly analogous, if a woman possesses the taste and the power for scientific research usually confined to men—and far from common even among them—we would not wish to restrain her from the cultivation of her peculiar faculties; but we would not foster the growth of such a class of females. We would not seek to entice women into the observatory, the laboratory, or, above all, into the dissecting-room, nor erect colleges for the training of savantes, any more than we would organize female regiments and open institutions where muscular young ladies might perfect themselves in the management of heavy artillery.
It is generally—too generally—assumed that every novelty, every change from what has hitherto been customary and recognized, commends itself, on the mere ground of its novelty, to men of science, as, indeed, to all unfettered inquirers, and will be resisted merely by those whose guiding principle is an unreasoning attachment to what is established. Never, perhaps, was it shown more clearly than with reference to the present question that innovation may be retrograde—that a proposed change, if carried out, may involve a return to a lower stage of development. What is the very essence of all advance to a higher stage, of being, save differentiation? We see what was at first homogeneous, uniform in structure, become resolved into distinct tissues and members. We see functions which, in some rudimentary state, were jointly exercised by the whole body of an animal, gradually allotted out to special organs, and, during and in consequence of this very specialization, acquiring a far higher degree of perfection than they heretofore possessed. Look at the first rudimentary state—germ, seed, or ovum—of the plant or animal, and compare it with the mature organism to which it ultimately gives rise. What was one has become manifold; what was simple is now highly complex. The globule of albuminoid matter has developed into distinct members—sense-apparatus, organs respiratory, digestive, circulatory, locomotive, etc.—each of which has a separate task to fulfill, and is distinctly organized for that very purpose. It is no departure from our subject to remark that, though in the organic body one organ may, under certain circumstances, undertake the duties of another, such vicarious action involves grave peril to the organ concerned, and to the entire animal. Perhaps the world may yet find that the analogy between the individual and mankind holds good in this respect, and that a social congestion may follow from the movement we are examining.
To return: the increase of size which distinguishes the butterfly from the egg or the oak from the acorn, is a trifling feature compared with the accompanying differentiation—chemical, morphological, and functional—which has taken place.
If we pass from a consideration of the individual plant or animal to a survey of the entire organic realms, we find, as we advance from the humblest and meanest beings to the highest, merely a repetition of the same great fact. At the one extremity of the scale—if this expression may still be used—we find beings whose senses, such as they are, must be exercised by the whole external surface of the body, those more special functions which we know as sight, hearing, etc., being still identical with feeling. No distinct nervous system, still less definite nerve-centres, can be traced. Nor are there any organs specially devoted to the processes of respiration, circulation, digestion, etc. A common internal cavity takes the place, and, in a crude way, fulfills the duties of all these parts. Externally the same uniformity prevails; there are no limbs, no members exclusively constructed for locomotion in any of its modes, or for prehension. The animal moves by elongating and contracting its whole body, or by rolling over. In many of the lower forms of animal life the sexes are not separated, the functions of the male and the female being exercised by one and the same individual. It is a fact, long familiar to the world, that the polyp may be cut into without injury, each part soon becoming a complete animal.
To such simplicity of structure the completest contrast is afforded by the higher animals. Throughout their bodies we find a "division of labor," each function having its organ and each organ its distinct function. To trace how this differentiation is carried out would be wearisome, and, being admitted, is fortunately needless.
It may be useful, however, to call to mind the fact that animals which, when mature, are broadly and easily distinguished from each other, are more and more alike the earlier the stage of growth at which we institute a comparison. The differences between a baby chimpanzee and a human infant are much slighter than those between the adults of the respective species. If we extend our researches to the embryonic state we find that the rudimentary man can scarcely be distinguished from many of the other vertebrates. It is only, as Prof. Huxley points out, in the later stages of prenatal growth that the human foetus differs from that of an ape. In the former the convolutions of the brain, according to Prof. Bischoff, reach about the same stage of development as in an adult baboon. The great toe, in man, is considered by Prof. Owen the most characteristic feature of the human skeleton; but, in an embryo about an inch in length. Prof. Wyman found this member not lying parallel with the other toes, but projecting out from the side of the foot as it does permanently in the so-called Quadrumana in their mature condition. Thus plainly does it appear that differentiation is the way to perfection, each animal as it approaches maturity diverging more and more from other forms, from which, in its earlier stages, it was scarcely distinguishable.
Yet again, we may turn from a survey of the growth of the individual, and from a comparison of the highest and lowest forms of contemporary organic life, to the consideration of the successive phases of being that have peopled our earth. Here, too, we find the same great law prevail. In the remote past we find what are called "generalized forms"—animals which seem to have combined in themselves the rough outlines of what we now find developed into perfectly distinct beings.
Suppose it were now proposed as an improvement in the structure of man, or of any other mammalian species, that the functions now exercised by two distinct organs—such as, e. g., the eye and the ear, or the nerves of motion and of sensation—should be "lumped" together, committed to one only set of organs; would such a change, if we for the moment* suppose it practicable, be an advance or a retreat? Would it raise or lower the species in the scale of existence? It might seem a convenience if, instead of seeing with our eyes alone, we could also see and hear with our ears; but would either the seeing or the hearing be done as well as now, when each is the sole function of an express organ? On the principles of the old natural history, as well as of the new, we may safely reply in the negative. The change we have supposed is fortunately incapable of being effected, otherwise the attempt would doubtless be made in the name of "progress."
But we may follow the principle of differentiation, and trace its workings over the boundaries of biology into those of sociology, if such a science can be said to exist. Where differences of structure can no longer be traced we still find differences of function. In man we find no variation in the number and position of bodily organs; yet identical organs in different individuals are trained to special tasks which to other men would be impossible, and which might seem to necessitate a structural difference. We come, that is to say, upon the division of labor, which is one of the most characteristic and essential features of civilization. We have seen that in the lowest forms of animal life the entire body seemed to subserve every vital process; just so in the lowest stages of human society, every individual is at once warrior, hunter, builder, maker of arms and other utensils, and—in as far as agriculture is practised at all—tiller of the soil. Every man is perforce, in the words of the adage, "Jack of all trades," with the inevitable consequence that he is "master of none." In a civilized nation, just as in the higher animals, all this is reversed. Every function has its special organ, or, in other words, every task is committed to a separate man or body of men. In all this we can trace out nothing that speaks of arbitrary interference or compulsion. In the animal or human body each function is committed to organs fitted for that function. The stomach does not protest because it is not the seat of respiration, nor does the heart crave to undertake the task of digestion, either instead of or along with its own duties. In human society—complain as we may about "square pegs" being placed in "round holes"—the different tasks are in the main assigned to the men most competent for their performance. In a savage tribe the strongest and bravest naturally leads in war; the man keenest of eye and ear becomes the scout, either as regards hostile tribes or beasts of the chase. The wisest and most eloquent—attributes which, if necessarily connected in primitive times, are now so no longer—took the foremost place in council. The man of greatest manual dexterity would be chief bow-maker to the tribe. The process in operation was, in fact, natural selection. The man who undertook a task for which he was unfitted, or less fitted than others, was gradually eliminated, as far as that particular task was concerned. In proportion as new wants sprung up and new means of gratifying them were devised, social functions were multiplied, and the division of labor became more minute. Yet even in the very rudest state, as far at least as anthropologists have been able to trace, there never was a time when the duties of all persons were absolutely identical. To men and to women different duties were assigned on the same principle of natural selection. Changes have, indeed, taken place in the distribution of the tasks respectively allotted to the two sexes. But these changes, it is important to note, till the "woman's-rights' movement" sprung up, have all been in one direction—the direction of increasing differentiation. The distinction between men's work and women's work has been increased, not diminished. The barbarian and the semi-civilized nation allowed women to carry heavy burdens, to tug at the oar, to wield the spade, the hoe, the mattock, in the fields, and even to labor in mines. In our higher civilization such tasks are limited to man, and, as we have already remarked, to abnormal "mannish" women. The movement we are considering, in so far as it aims at breaking down the natural barriers between the duties of the two sexes, is palpably retrograde. If advancement toward perfection is reached by differentiation, anti-differentiation—if we may use the expression—whether structural or functional, must be a return to a lower condition. If the first and plainest step in the division of labor is to be abandoned, how can others be maintained?
It has been already pointed out in the Quarterly Journal of Science that among vertebrate animals the social unit of which nations are put together is the family, whether that be monogamous or polygamous. A community of rooks is made up of an assemblage of married couples. A tribe of baboons consists of a number of males, each one having his wives and offspring. Now the "woman's-rights' movement" not merely runs counter to Nature in the respects we have already shown, but it is open to the charge of seeking to destroy family life and to constitute society of individuals—of atoms instead of molecules. In so doing it tends toward the condition of things prevalent in certain insect-communities. But there the mass of the nation, and especially its working and fighting members, is composed of what are commonly called neuters. Of such an arrangement no trace prevails among vertebrate animals, and we do not therefore see how their example can afford us any practical precedent.
We have, therefore, in fine, full ground for maintaining that the "woman's-rights' movement" is an attempt to rear, by a process of "unnatural selection," a race of monstrosities—hostile alike to men, to normal women, to human society, and to the future development of our race. We know that the modern "honorary secretary" is always ready to exclaim, "Let heaven and earth perish, so my crotchet may be realized!" But we would bid him ask himself whether the end is worth the means.—Quarterly Journal of Science.
- "Physics and Politics," by Walter Bagehot. ("International Scientific Series.")
- Comptes-Rendus, Ixxxvii., No. 2, p. 80.
- Genesis iii. 16, 17.
- As applied to the human species we consider this term eminently foolish. The man who benefits his race in no other way will probably injure it by leaving posterity like himself.