Popular Science Monthly/Volume 33/October 1888/The Relation of the Sexes to Government

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OCTOBER, 1888.



AS is well known, the diversity of sex is of very ancient origin. It appeared in the history of life before the rise of any but the most rudimental mentality, and has at various points in the line of development of living things displayed itself in the most pronounced manner. Great peculiarities of sex structure are witnessed in the higher forms of life, as in birds and mammalia. The greatest peculiarity of mental sex character can only be seen where mind is most developed—that is, in man.

From what we know of sexual as compared with non-sexual reproduction, the advent of the former marked an important advance in the possibilities of progress. Reproduction by gemmation in non-sexual forms, and parthenogenesis in sexual animals, have a different result from sexual reproduction. In the former the characters of the single parent are reproduced with great fidelity. The cultivator who wishes to keep his stock true, uses buds and cuttings. On the other hand, seedlings are variable; because the offspring of two sexes inherit twice as many elements of difference as those of a single sex. Another great gain was secured in the development of a male sex. Being free from the disabilities imposed by maternity, the male could acquire a greater mastery over his environment than the female. His time would be less occupied, and his opportunity for physical exertion greater, and he could and would take a more active part in the struggle for existence. Hence, of the two sexes the male became the fighter and the provider, and necessarily, from the increasing muscular strength acquired in this more active life, the master of the two. He, therefore, became more specialized in some respects, particularly in those necessary to success in his various undertakings. His part in reproduction became a specialization as compared with that of the female, which more nearly resembles the asexual method. So the male became the author of variation in species in two ways: first, by adding to the sources of inheritance; and second, by his own more numerous specializations.

In man the mental organization of the sexes expresses these facts in various ways. The sexual mental characteristics of men and women have been described by Lecky, Delaunay, Ladd,[1] P. G. Hamerton, and others, and with a unanimity that would of itself be authoritative if they did not confirm the belief of thoughtful observers generally. Woman is not only restrained by her reproductive functions from taking the same active part in the world's life as does man; but, what is more important, she inherits a greater disability from thousands of ages of equal and in some cases greater disability in the countless generations of man's animal ancestors. This nature is thoroughly ingrained, and is as permanent as any other part of her organism. In considering these mental peculiarities, it must be borne in mind that she inherits from her father as well as from her mother, so that she has benefited by the general progress of the race, but her relation to the male remains the same in each family taken by itself. Thus it has resulted that the women of a higher race or family will display superior traits to men of a lower race or family, even in some of the endowments which are the especial field of the male. And it is comparisons of this sort which frequently cause the question to be raised, whether the supposed superior rationality with which men are credited is ascribed to them justly. In the great variety of history and origin possessed by the people who are thrown together by our modern civilization, it must often happen that the women of superior lineage provoke favorable comparison with men whose ancestors have emerged from semi-savagery within a comparatively recent period. Nevertheless, in these cases also, sex qualities of mind are well marked, though more or less limited on the part of the inferior type.

It is the fundamental fact above stated that needs to be considered before all others, by those persons who believe that the present relations of the sexes, socially and politically, can and should be improved. And the next fact to be considered is, that persons who do not undertake the special functions of sex are of secondary importance in the question. It is evident that the influence on future generations of persons who do not produce those generations is exceedingly small compared with the influence of the persons who do produce them; just in proportion as acquired characters are in small proportion to inherited ones. In all influence that depends on physical conditions, that of parents immensely preponderates over that of all others. Hence, in the present paper the relations of parents will be considered rather than those of other persons. For the good of the race, the parent must have the first place in the mind of the legislator, and all other persons must occupy a position of subordinate importance.

In comparing male and female minds we should take them at their best and not at their worst. We should take real livers and not pretenders; that is, persons who exercise their higher faculties, or who live up to their capacities. Very many men and women waste their higher faculties by disuse, but the married are less apt to live this aimless life than the unmarried. As there are persons who deny matters of ordinary observation, the actual differences of the minds of the sexes in general may be very briefly enumerated. We find in man a greater capacity for rational processes, a capacity which is not always exercised to its full. We find in men a greater capacity for endurance of the activity of the rational faculty. We find in men a greater capacity for work in those departments of intelligence which require mechanical skill of a high order. In the æsthetic department, we find incapacity more general than in women, certainly in the department of the aesthetics of the person. In woman we find that the deficiency of endurance of the rational faculty is associated with a general incapacity for mental strain, and, as her emotional nature is stronger, that strain is more severe than it is in man under similar circumstances. Hence the easy breakdown under stress, which is probably the most distinctive feature of the female mind. This peculiarity, when pronounced, becomes the hysterical temperament. But in all departments of mental action that depend on affection or emotion for their excellence, woman is the superior of man; in those departments where affection should not enter, she is his inferior. I think that most of the peculiarities of mind of the sexes may be traced to these first principles. The origin of these leading differences is not difficult to trace to the different functions of the sexes in the family relation, emphasized by repetition throughout the long ages of vertebrate, mammalian, and human history. Beginning with the maternal instinct, woman has become, by constant exercise, a being of affections. Her long protection by the male has reduced her capacity for defense; while the mastery by him has accustomed her to yielding, and to the use of methods of accomplishing her desires other than force. There are apparent exceptions to these definitions, but they are generally more apparent than real. For one of the characteristics of the female of man, acquired by long practice, is a capacity for keeping up the appearance of possessing qualities in which she is more or less deficient. A ready capacity for acquisition of knowledge, and skill in language, are important contributors to this result.

It would seem, then, that Nature has marked out very clearly the relative positions of the sexes of man. This relation is beneficial not only from a natural but also from a social standpoint. The sex affection or passion has the greatest influence in compelling evolution of unwilling lives, and of driving where nothing can lead. The best emotions are aroused in the man who finds a woman dependent on him for support, and the infant's breath will awake that woman to serious thought and exertion who never had a serious thought before. Nor is the mutual benefit confined to the earlier days of the relation. It has been said elsewhere:[2] "While the interests of the members of the same sex often bring them into collision with each other, those of opposite sex can not normally do so. While the contests of the members of the one sex are the active agent in evolution by rivalry and force, the relations of opposite sex furnish the inducement to progress offered by mutual admiration and pleasure. Among mankind the necessity of pleasing and of inspiring the respect of the opposite sex has a great deal to do with the becoming pleasant and respectable."

The functions of the sexes being, then, different in society, as in nature, the question arises. To what extent should they perform identical functions? This question is pressed upon us to-day, and demands have arisen that woman should compete with man in all the forms of human activity, and should even have a hand in the government, whether constitutional or monarchical. The object of the present essay is to enumerate a few practical points with reference to these questions.

So far as regards cultivation of the mind, there can be no doubt that women should have all the facilities that are open to men. As the mothers of the human race, they should be deprived of no opportunity for development. The education of girls should be pushed as far as is consistent with good health. Had the education of women been encouraged earlier in human history, the general intelligence of the species would have been at a higher point to-day.

The competition with men by women in the pursuit of a livelihood is a necessity wherever women so outnumber men that they can not all marry, and where polygamy is not practiced. It is compulsory, and questions of taste and feeling have to be put aside in considering it. And the same unbending necessity decides the pursuit in which woman fails and that in which she succeeds. In some she succeeds easily; in some she can never succeed. Between these extremes lies a territory in which each, case settles itself. But it will ever remain true that, for the normal woman, the home-life is both the easiest and the happiest.

When we come to the question of government, we reach a field in which the acts of men do not concern themselves alone, but exercise an important influence on the lives of others. Is woman by physical and mental constitution adapted to engage in the various duties and services required in the making and executing laws, and in the enterprises which nations find necessary in order to carry on their functions, and preserve themselves from internal and external enemies?

It must be here premised that the progress of civilization has thus far emphasized and not diminished the peculiarities of sex. The civilized woman is more refined, more tender, more intelligent, and more hysterical than her savage representative. Her form is more different from that of the male, and her face more expressive of her distinctive character. There is good reason to believe that this development has been due to the increased immunity from the severity of the "struggle for existence" which woman enjoys in civilized communities, and the greater opportunity thus given her to develop her own especial excellences.

The first thought that strikes us in considering the woman-suffrage movement is, that it is a proposition to engage women once more in that "struggle" from which civilization has enabled them in great measure to escape; and that its effect, if long continued and fairly tried, will be to check the development of woman as such, and to bring to bear on her influences of a kind different from those which have been hitherto active. And it becomes an impartial thinker to examine the question more closely, and see whether investigation bears out these impressions or not. We inquire, then, in the first place, is government a function adapted to the female character, or within the scope of her natural powers? We then endeavor to discover whether her occupation of this field of action is calculated to promote the mutual sex interest which has been referred to above, and thus to subserve the natural evolution of humanity.

In endeavoring to answer the first question we are at once met by the undoubted fact that woman is physically incapable of carrying into execution any law she may enact. She can not, therefore, be called on to serve in any executive capacity where law is to be executed on adults. Now, service in the support of laws enacted by those who "rule by the consent of the governed" is a sine qua non of the right to elect governors. It is a common necessity to which all of the male sex are, during most of their lives, liable to be called on to sustain. This consideration alone, it appears to me, puts the propriety of female suffrage out of the question. The situation is such, that the sexes can not take an equal share of governmental responsibilities even if they should desire to do so. Woman suffrage becomes government by women alone on every occasion where a measure is carried by the aid of woman's votes. If such a measure should be obnoxious to a majority of men, they could successfully defy a party composed of a minority of their own sex and a majority of women. That this would be done there can be no question, for we have a parallel case in the attempt to carry into effect negro suffrage in some parts of the South. We know the history too well. Intimidation, deception, and the manipulation of the count, have nullified the negro vote. How many Governors, Legislatures, and even Presidents have attained their positions in violation of the rights of the ballot during the last twenty years, we may never know. In times of peace and general prosperity these things have excited indignant protest, but nothing more. But when serious issues distract the nation or any part of it, frauds on the ballot and intimidation of voters will be a more serious matter, and will lead to disastrous consequences. We do not want to increase possibilities of such evil portent. Unqualified negro suffrage is, in the writer's estimation, a serious blunder, and woman suffrage would be another. And it is now proposed that we have both combined.

Immunity from service in executing the law would make most women irresponsible voters. But there are other reasons why the questions involved in government are foreign to the thoughts of most women. The characteristics of the female mind have been already described. Most men who have associated much with girls and women remember how many needed lessons they have learned from them in refinement and benevolence; and how they have had, on the other hand, to steel their minds against their aimlessness and pettiness. And from youth to later years they have observed one peculiarity for which no remedy has been yet found, and that is, a pronounced frailty of the rational faculty in thought or action. This characteristic is offset by a strength and elevation of the emotional nature, which shines with inextinguishable luster in the wife and mother. It is to this that man renders the homage of respect, admiration, and such devotion as he is capable of. But, are these the qualities for our governors? Men who display personal bias in ever so small a degree, unless accompanied by unusual merits of another kind, are not selected by their fellows for positions of responsibility and trust. Strong understanding, vigorous judgment, and the absence of "fear, favor, and affection," are what men desire in their governors; for only through minds of that character can justice be obtained.

On account of their stronger sympathies girls always think themselves the moral superiors of boys, who are often singularly devoid of benevolence, especially toward the lower animals. Some women imagine, for this reason, that their entire sex is morally the superior of the male. But a good many women learn to correct this opinion. In departments of morals which depend on the emotional nature, women are the superior; for those which depend on the rational nature, man is the superior. When the balance is struck, I can see no inferiority on either side. But the quality of justice remains with the male. It is on this that men and women must alike depend, and hence it is that women so often prefer to be judged by men rather than by their own sex. They will not gain anything, I believe, by assuming the right of suffrage, that they can not gain without it, and they might meet with serious loss. In serving the principle of "the greatest good of the greatest number," man is constantly called on to disregard the feelings of particular persons, and even to outrage their dearest ties of home and family. Woman can not do this judicially. After the terrors of the law have done their work, woman steps in and binds up the wounds of the victims, and the world blesses both the avenger and the comforter.

In the practical working of woman suffrage, women would either vote in accordance with the views of their husbands and lovers or they would not. Should they do the former habitually, such suffrage becomes a farce, and the only result would be to increase the aggregate number of votes cast. Should women vote in opposition to the men to whom they are bound by ties sentimental or material, unpleasant consequences would sooner or later arise. No man would view with equanimity the spectacle of his wife or daughters nullifying his vote at the polls, or contributing their influence to sustain a policy of government which he should think injurious to his own well-being or that of the community. His purse would be more open to sustain the interests of his own political party, and if he lived in the country he would probably not furnish transportation to the polls for such members of his family as voted against him. He would not probably willingly entertain at his house persons who should be active in obtaining the votes of his wife and daughters against himself; and on the other hand the wife might refuse entertainment to the active agents of the party with which she might not be in sympathy. The unpleasantness in the social circle which comes into view with the advent of woman suffrage is formidable in the extreme, and nothing less than some necessity yet undreamed of should induce us to give entrance to such a disturber of the peace. We need no additional causes of marital infelicity. But we are told by the woman-suffrage advocate that such objections on the part of men are without good reason, and are prejudices which should be set aside. But they can not be set aside so long as human nature remains what it is. Men may grant women anything hut the right to rule them, but there they draw the line. Is it not on questions of rule that the wars of men are mostly fought, and will men yield to the weak what they only surrender to irresistible force? In the settlement of all questions by force, women are only in the way.

The effect of sexual discord is bad on both sexes, but has its greatest influence for evil through woman. While it does not remove her frailties it suppresses her distinctively feminine virtues. This suppression, continued for a few generations, must end in their greater or less abolition. The lower instincts would remain, the flowers which blossom on that stem would wither. No matter what their intellectuality might be, such women would produce a race of moral barbarians, which would perish ultimately through intestine strife. The highest interests and pleasures of the male man are bound up in the effective preservation of the domestic affections of his partner. Where these traits are weak, he should use every effort to develop them by giving them healthy exercise. As in all evolution, disuse ultimately ends in atrophy, and the atrophy of the affections in woman is a disaster in direct proportion to its extent. It may be replied again that woman suffrage carries with it no such probable result. But I believe that it does, unless the relations of the sexes are to be reversed. But it will be difficult to reduce the male man to the condition of the drone-bee (although some men seem willing to fill that rôle); or of the male spider, who is first a husband and then a meal for his spouse. We have gone too far in the opposite direction for that. It will be easier to produce a reversion to barbarism in both sexes by the loss of their mutual mental hyperæsthesia.

If women would gain anything with the suffrage that they can not gain without it, one argument would exist in its favor to the many against it; but the cause of women has made great progress without it, and will, I hope, continue to do so. Even in the matter of obtaining greater facilities for divorce from drunken or insane or brutal husbands than now exist in many States of the Union, they can compel progress by agitation. A woman's society, with this reform as its object, would obtain definite results. The supposition that woman would improve the price of her labor by legislation is not more reasonable than it is in the case of men, who have to yield to the inexorable law of supply and demand.

When we consider the losses that women would sustain with the suffrage carried into effect bona fide, the reasons in its favor dwindle out of sight. The first effect would be to render marriage more undesirable to women than it is now. A premium would be at once set on unmarried life for women, and the hetæra would become a more important person to herself and to the state, than the wife, because more independent. The number of men and women who would adopt some system of marriage without obligation, would greatly increase. Confidence and sympathy between married people would be in many instances impaired; in fact, the first and many other steps would be taken in the process of weakening home affection, and there would follow a corresponding loss of its civilizing influences and a turning backward of the current of moral progress. The intervention of women into public affairs is to be dreaded also by those who desire peace among men. Both women and their male friends resent treatment for them which men would quite disregard as applied to themselves; and woman suffrage would see the introduction of more or less numerous women into public life. The extreme and irresponsible language used by Mrs. Stanton and Mrs. Lathrop at the last woman's congress in Washington effectively illustrate this aspect of the question.

The devotional nature of women must not be left out of the account in considering this question. While this element is of immense value to that sex and to society when expended upon ethical themes, when it is allied to theological issues it becomes an obstruction to progress of the most serious nature. Were woman suffrage granted, theological questions would at once assume a new political importance, and religious liberty and toleration would have to pass through new perils and endure the test of new strains. What the effect would be we can not foresee, but it could not be good. The priest would acquire a new political importance, and the availability of candidates would be greatly influenced by the question of their church affiliations.

Many objections would be nullified if women should vote under the immediate direction of their responsible male associates, except the one based on their exemption from the execution of the laws; but, should they so vote, woman suffrage becomes a farce, as it is to that extent where it now prevails. The very essential support given by women voters to polygamy in Utah is an illustration of this. In Wyoming men load up wagons with their women to drive them to the polls to vote their own ticket, as I have had the opportunity of seeing in that Territory; and so they would do everywhere. If they wished to vote otherwise, they might stay at home; and it is to be expected that women would sometimes wish to vote "otherwise."

What I have written does not include any reference to supposed inherent right to the suffrage or to any principles of representative government. This is because the view that suffrage is not a right but a privilege appears to the writer to be the most rational one, and because any system of government which tends to disturb the natural relations of the sexes I believe to be most injurious. In the absolute governments of Europe the home is safe whatever else may suffer; but a system which shall tend to the dissolution of the home is more dangerous than any form of absolutism which at the same time respects the social unit.

What America needs is not an extension, but a restriction of the suffrage.


  1. "Elements of Physiological Psychology," 1887.
  2. "The Forum," September, 1887, p. 53, "On the Object of Life."