The First Essay on the Political Rights of Women/Remarks

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Although I am not aware of any previous translation of the foregoing essay, and do not remember to have seen anywhere any allusion to this first publication on the subject of woman's emancipation, yet have been struck by the close similarity of the arguments used by J. S. Mill and by those who have succeeded him in the advocacy of women's electoral freedom to those used by the Marquis de Condorcet in this essay. It could not, indeed, well be otherwise, since the fundamental principle of equal rights, and equal claim to protection in the exercise of these rights, must present itself in the same forcible light to any really intelligent person who is truly anxious to lay down just and fair principles of government. That it should be within the reach of every individual of the human race to attain to the power of influencing the Government under which he or she lives, follows inevitably to logical minds, and the only exceptions which can fairly be made are those of the immature and the failures.

The immature, indeed, can scarcely be called exceptions, since maturity succeeds immaturity—the child becomes the adult; and as physical, moral, and intellectual powers are acquired, civil rights must be accorded.

The failures, then, include all those who can with due regard to just principles be entirely excluded; and these are the idiot, who never reaches maturity; the lunatic, who, becoming diseased, loses the mental and moral characteristics of maturity; and the criminal, who is coming more and more to be looked upon as partaking of the character of the idiot and the lunatic. I venture to think, then, that the real issue is narrowing itself down to this: that the opponents of women's emancipation really regard all women either as perpetually immature (to whom they will accord more or less protection, privilege, or even adoration, just as they admire the innocence of childhood), or as the perpetual failures of the race.

If women continue to be excluded from electoral functions, it will be because a majority of men in their secret hearts relegate them to one or other of these classes. But there are, happily, increasing numbers of men who are perfectly aware of, and sympathise with the indignation of women at the affront thus put upon them. These men cannot but feel that the insult thus publicly affixed to all women affects them also. They say: "We are the sons of women, and may in our turn also become fathers of women. Are we, then, sons of slaves, and shall we in turn create slaves to hinder the development and lower the morality of our sons? No! we believe that women ought to be free and equal before the law, so that they may become mothers of free and equal sons and daughters, helping in each other's development, ennobling and no longer enslaving each other."

If the issue narrows down, looked at from first principles, it broadens out indefinitely as the details of its applications and effects come before us. These are wide and far-reaching, and space fails for entering upon them here. But in the struggles of the labouring classes, in the societies for reform of evils, for the spread of improvements, in the work of the County Council, etc., we find that women's help is needed, and that it either cannot be given at all, or is miserably curtailed in its power for good and useful work, because it is not accompanied by the electoral powers which back up men's endeavours. So it must remain till the power of the vote is granted, and so does the Nemesis of injustice and inequality before the law daily work out its revenge.