Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/August 1896/Editor's Table
THE Monthly has lately given place to two articles on the subject of the demand which is now being made by some women on behalf of their sex to be allowed to participate in political life on a footing of perfect equality with men. One of our contributors has tried to show cause why the demand should not be granted, taking the ground that the change would be injurious to society as a whole and particularly injurious to the female sex. The other treats the arguments of the first with scorn, and, if we are not mistaken, betrays not a little of that "antagonism of the sexes" which nevertheless she declares to be "unnatural and vicious." The question is one which ought to be discussed with complete dispassionateness; and we think that on this score there was no fault to find with the earlier of the two contributions, that by Mr. George F. Talbot, in our May number.
Our second contributor, Miss Alice B. Tweedy, disclaims the idea that "woman suffrage is proposed as a panacea for social evils, or that it will usher in a millennial condition. Man," she adds, "would be disfranchised if such requirement was made of his vote." The retort is sharp, but is it logical? Miss Tweedy's main contention is that a suffrage restricted to men is fundamentally insufficient for the best social results; and yet she does not want that complete system of voting which she advocates judged by any higher standard than the present incomplete system. If, however, woman suffrage is not "proposed as a panacea for social evils," what is expected of it? Our contributor says that "stringent laws are needed to prevent various evils, and to make certain offenses punishable"; adding that "women are quick to recognize vicious tendencies that men with a greed for money-getting often overlook." "Men with a greed for money-getting" is a phrase which suggests reflections. What is the chief cause of the greed which men display for money? We do not think we are far wrong in saying that it is the social ambition of the women of their families. It is women far more than men who establish social ideals; and, so far as there is a scramble for money, it is their scramble, to say the least, quite as much as the men's.
This, however, is a side issue: the contention that concerns us is that laws are wanted to make certain offenses punishable that are not punishable now; and that women, being quicker than men to recognize vicious tendencies, would get such laws passed if they only had the suffrage. This is a case in which a few examples would be very serviceable. The proposed laws are either such as would recommend themselves to the approval and support of men, or they are such as would not so recommend themselves. If they are of the former kind, they can get passed now; if they are of the latter kind, it is presuming upon an easy compliance worthy of the immortal Captain Reece, R. N., to ask men to make a constitutional change for the express purpose of defeating their own views and principles. Our contributor acknowledges that in this country "most of the laws (that were unjust to women) have been repealed, that many others are a dead letter, and that still others have been enacted that favor women." We must not, however, thank "man's own sense of equity and right" for these beneficial changes. Why? because they have all been subsequent to certain "writings and arguments" of "women agitators." So that man does not exhibit any "sense of equity and right" when he is influenced by the pleadings of "women agitators." Poor man! He is judged very severely these days. We should like to remark, however, that post hoc propter hoc is not a very sound form of argument. Grant that the "writings and arguments are a matter of record," it does not follow that these writings and arguments Ideally determined the changes in legislation referred to. What we know is that the changes were made, and that they were made by men under no actual compulsion.
At the outset of her article Miss Tweedy states that, "if every man considered it a matter of conscience to give voice in his vote to the feminine element in his household, it would put another aspect upon the demand for woman suffrage." How is it now, we feel like inquiring, in this matter? We imagine that the great majority of men who put any conscience into their voting at all do consider, as far as it is possible to do so, the interests of the feminine element in their households. When a man votes, he votes for a certain individual who is seeking a certain office. The cases in which there can be any division of interest in the family as to which candidate should be supported must be exceptional. When, however, a man gives a vote for one side or the other, there is good reason to believe—corrupt motives apart—that he thinks, not solely of his own interest as a male individual, but of all the interests, domestic and social, which he represents. In that sense the average elector's vote is meant to be, and is, representative. Our contributor's idea is that "after a family conclave" the husband, father, or brother should "quietly pocket his own conflicting opinion and support the measures favored by the home majority." The plan is beautifully simple in appearance, but we fear would present difficulties in practice. The man who was earning a living for his family could scarcely be expected to pocket his opinion upon a question, such as protection or free trade, which he believed had an important bearing on his business prospects; but at the same time we are sure that most men would be very glad to have any assistance which the female members of their households could give them in arriving at right conclusions on questions of the day.
If women are to be called upon to vote, it should be for very broad and sufficient reasons. The mere fact that some are demanding it is not a sufficient reason, inasmuch as others, and probably the great majority, not only do not join in the demand but are prepared to oppose it. Let us endeavor to indicate briefly how the matter presents itself to our mind.
In the exercise of the suffrage the individual asserts himself, claiming his share of political power. The vote is given to him for the protection of his political rights against the encroachments of other men. On voting day society is momentarily resolved into its constituent units. As long as men alone do the voting, they are supposed to represent the non-voting sex. Every man has or has had a mother, most have one or more sisters, and a very large proportion have wives. Every man's vote, therefore, we do not hesitate to say, ought to express his consciousness of and respect for the family tie. To summon women to the polls would signify an antagonism between their interests and those of men. It would signify that a man and the women of his household are separate social units in the same sense in which two men are, and that they require protection against one another—that each must be armed with the ballot lest the others encroach. This assumption, in our opinion, is not warranted. Making all deductions for unfortunate instances, the family is in general a unit, and the wife, daughter, or sister has no desire to antagonize the vote of the husband, father, or brother. How about those women, it will be asked, who have no husband, father, or brother to represent them in a satisfactory manner? Our answer is that their case does not appear to us to be one of hardship unless it can be shown that, considering them as a class apart from those who have male relatives, they are suffering through lack of political influence. Simply as women they receive whatever benefit accrues to the sex in general through such improvements in the law as are daily taking place, and through the sympathy with woman which characterizes the normal man. To a considerable extent also the same means of influence are open to them as are open to other women. They are not cut off from society: they can speak and write; and how potent "women agitators" can be in procuring changes of the law Miss Tweedy has told us. What is mainly needed, in our opinion, is the deepening of the sense of trusteeship in men, and that fortunately is a process which is realizing itself more and more before our eyes. Far better so than that all trusteeship should be snatched from man with the snappish declaration that henceforth his wife, daughter, and sister will take care of their own interests. A singular time indeed for such a change to be made, when things have so shaped themselves that so earnest a female suffragist as our contributor is hard put to it to say what the disadvantages are under which women labor through man's control of the suffrage, or what laws they want passed which if duly explained and urged they could not now get passed!
There are other views of the question which we have only space to glance at. We can not lose sight of the fact that all law means compulsion—physical compulsion in the last resort; and this to our mind points to the conclusion that the responsibility for making laws should rest with those who could if necessary fight for their enforcement. It has before been pointed out that the situation which would be created if a large majority of women, in combination with a minority of men, passed laws repugnant to a large and effective majority of men, would be a very critical one for social order. Yet if nothing of this kind is going to happen, it is difficult to see where the special influence of woman's vote will come in.
Another point deserving of consideration is that the male sex, when all is said and done, is the progressive sex. Mr. Havelock Ellis's interesting and certainly far from prejudiced book on Man and Woman makes this clear. Broadly speaking, woman shows the statical, man the dynamical, aspect of humanity, and, as the work of legislation is in its nature continuous and progressive, it seems natural that it should be intrusted to that sex which best represents the onward movement of the race. Here, however, we must adjourn the discussion, which is one difficult to confine within narrow limits. Much probably remains to be said on both sides, and we have no doubt the soundest arguments will prevail in the end.
A few weeks ago a most extraordinary story appeared in the daily papers of this city—a story of a panic that had occurred in one of our public schools in consequence of a statement made by a little girl that she had seen the devil coming into the building. It was at the hour of the noon recess, and the boys and girls were in their respective playrooms. No sooner had the words been uttered than all the girls in the room were seized with abject terror and began to scream in a frenzied manner, begging and praying to be saved from the fiend. The boys, whose room adjoined that of the girls, heard the shrieks and became almost equally terror-stricken. When the teachers appeared on the scene they could not for some time learn what the cause of the excitement was, so hysterical had the whole mass of the children become. Shortly a crowd gathered round the building, largely composed of women who had children in the school, and who, when they heard that the devil had appeared on the premises, became perfectly frantic themselves. The police having been sent for took possession of the building, and with considerable difficulty peace was finally restored.
It would appear from this that the devil superstition is not quite so extinct in the community as most of us perhaps have been in the habit of believing. It seems the children had been frightening one another for some time previously with stories of the devil, ghosts, etc., so that there had been a certain preparation for the panic that finally broke out. This is a matter, we think, in which teachers might very properly interest themselves a little. It does no small child good to believe in a devil capable of donning the conventional horns and tail and starting out on errands of destruction; and it is not probable that any important theological doctrine could be upset if children were told that such a devil was really a negligible quantity. There ought to be some way of talking even to very young children which would tend to take their thoughts off ghostly mysteries of all kinds, and concentrate them on what is beautiful and interesting and healthful in the world around them. The true corrective to devil worship—and all fear of the devil is a kind of worship—is the study of Nature and of the powers inherent in Nature. It should not be difficult to make children feel that there is really no scope left for the devil in the world as we know it to-day. Of course, if their parents or Sunday-school teachers, on the other hand, tell them that the devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, the more wholesome teaching which we are advocating may be so far antagonized. No effort should, however, be spared in the public schools to put all the thoughts of the children on a natural and rational basis, and thus as far as possible to secure for them immunity against hurtful and degrading superstitions. This incident should be taken to heart by teachers generally, as showing the importance of knowing what thoughts are really engaging the minds of their pupils. The devil has had his day—he had a good thousand years of human history pretty much to himself—and there is really no impropriety in trying to keep him out of the schools of modern New York.