––––– Reason we resign;

      Against our senses we adopt the plan

Which reverence, fear, and folly think divine. 

                                            Yearsley. 

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          What Women Are 


 

         To say what women really are, would be a very difficult task indeed; we must therefore endeavour, to describe them by negatives. As, perhaps, the only thing that can be advanced with certainty on the subject, is, – what they are not. For it is very clear, that they are not what they ought to be, that they are not what men would have them to be, and to finish the portrait, that they are not what they appear to be. Indeed, indeed, they cannot say with honest Hamlet, that they ‘know not what seem is.’ I hope however that these observations will not be considered as a libel upon the sex; for as this inconsistency and uncertainty of character is a matter of necessity and not of choice, they are rather objects of pity than of blame. And ad their defects are generally [68] speaking, I presume, those of education, rather than of nature, the men have more subject for remorse than triumph. 

         That I may endeavour to establish in some degree what I have advanced, let us examine a little on what footing women are placed in this, or indeed in any other country; and if laying aside prejudice, it is obvious to common sense, that their situation is against them in more points than in their favour; and if it is particularly against that candor and honest simplicity of heart and manner, without which no character can be really and intrinsically valuable; – if upon examination all this appear to be true, I hope it will help to extenuate the imputed faults of the sex. And it ought certainly to induce men to give up some of those high pretensions, which are as little calculated to produce real happiness in domestic life, to the one party as the other. Indeed I most firmly believe, – and it cannot be too often repeated, – that the greatest difficulty is to bring men to consider the subject with attention; [69] which if they once did, there is every reason to hope, that they would of themselves be inclined to do justice. 

         In the first place then, I hold it as an infallible truth, and a truth that few will attempt to deny; that any race of people, or I should rather say any class of rational beings, – though by no means inferior originally in intellectual endowments, – may be held in a state of subjection and dependence from generation to generation, by another party, who, by a variety of circumstances, none of them depending on actual, original superiority of mind, may have established an authority over them. And it must be acknowledged a truth equally infallible that any class so held in a state of subjection and dependence, will degenerate both in body and mind. 

         We have for examples of this, only to contemplate the characters and conduct of the descendants of the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, and other nations, living under the same [70] climates, and upon the very same soil, where their renowned ancestors flourished in arts, and triumphed in arms; and to consider to what a state of degradation and humiliation they are now reduced! On these reflections, however, it is unnecessary here to enlarge; we have only to bring home the application to the state of women in general, who, degraded and humiliated in society, and held in a constant state of dependence, – can it be wondered, that they have lost even the idea of what they might have been, or what they still might be? For they are confined, not only within those bounds, which nature and reason unite in prescribing for the real happiness and good of mankind; and in which every virtuous and well informed mind acquiesces, as much from choice as necessity; but they are likewise bound by chains, of such enormous weight and complicated form, that the more they are considered, the less hope remains of being able to unloose them by perseverance, or break through them by force. Or if some impelled by an ardent love of liberty, by genius, or by despair, ‘burst their bonds [71] asunder, and cast their cords away’ – Alas! the consequences too often are – Ruin to the individual, without benefit to the whole. 

         Women therefore, generally speaking, act a wiser and better part as individuals, to keep within that boundary prescribed for them by their lawgivers. Within it they often contrive to do mischief enough; without it who can pretend to say where the mischief might end? For, candidly speaking, perhaps it would be dangerous to trust women all at once, with liberty in that extent which is their due. 

         But it is to be regretted, that the temperance and good sense shewn by women, in submitting with so good a grace to injuries, which though they cannot redress, they nevertheless feel very severely; it is much to be regretted, that this temperance and good sense, is not attended with better consequences to themselves. 

         Indeed their fate in this respect is extremely hard; for every method they can attempt, [72] to improve their situation, is equally inefficacious. Silence and submission are looked upon as prods of acquiescence and content; and men will hardly of themselves, seek to improve a situation, with which many are apparently satisfied. On the other hand any marks of spirit, of sense of injury, or desire to better their situation either as individuals or in society; is treated not only with contempt, but abhorrence; and so far from gaining any thing by proposing reasonable and equitable terms for themselves in either case, the generality of men are enraged at the attempt; and would upon these occasions think it no crime to rob the poor culprits, of the wretched, ill understood, and worse inforced rights that remain to them. 

         The following little story, illustrates well the progress of lawless authority; and is applicable enough to our subject. 

         A Brother and Sister were one day going to a market with some eggs, and other country provisions to sell. ‘Dear Jacky,’ said the sister, [73]  after a good deal of consideration, and not a little proud of her powers of calculation, – ‘Dear Jacky, you have somehow made a very unfair division of our eggs, of which you know it was intended that we should have equal shares; so pray give me two dozen of yours, and I shall have as many as you have.’ ‘No,’ says John, – John Bull as likely as any John, – ‘they would never do; but dear, sweet pretty sister Peg, give me one dozen of yours, and then I shall have five times as many as you have; which you know will be quite the same as if you had them yourself, or indeed better; as I shall save you the trouble of carrying them, shall protect you and the rest of your property, and shall besides give you as many fine things when we get to the fair – Bless me, Margaret! what is the matter with you? How frightful you always are when in a passion! And how horribly ugly you look whenever you contradict me! I wish poor Ralph the miller saw you just now, I’m sure he’d never look at you again. Besides, sister of mine, since you force me to it, and provoke me beyond all [74] bearing, I must tell you, that I am stronger than you, I can take them whether you will or no.’ The thing was no sooner said than done, and poor Peg, found herself obliged to submit to something much more convincing than her brother’s logic. 

         On they jogged however together, Peg pouting all the way, and John not a bit the civiler for having got what he knew in his heart he had no title to; and when they got to the fair, poor Peg’s property, of which he was to have been the faithful guardian, and careful steward; went with his own, to purchase baubles and gin for his worthless favorite. But then, had not Peg pretended to put herself upon a footing of equality with him; or had she even after all, but calmly and quietly given up her own rights without murmuring, – nothing so easy as that, till it comes home to a man’s own case, – he swore manfully that there should not have been a word between them. 

         Thus goes the world! And a pretty farce it [75] is! – And such are the weighty arguments used to deprive women of rights, of which, were they on the contrary put in full possession, and taught the right use, would not only encrease their own stock of happiness; but, however it might affect individuals, which can never be guarded against in any system, or any plan of reformation whatever, would certainly meliorate the mass of humanity upon the whole. And, affected as this phrase may appear, it is the only idea I have, or definition I can give, of rational reformation, or possible perfection, in our present state. 

         But to return to our subject, let me ask; is it wonderful since women cannot be in reality what men would have them to be, though they must often endeavour to appear so; since they dare not be what they really ought to be, because it clashes with the pretensions and prejudices of the stronger party; since they are compelled upon the one hand and restrained upon the other; – is it wonderful I say if they pursue a trifling, a dissipated, and often a [76] hypocritical and vicious conduct? Or in the other words, is it wonderful if they are what they are? I believe I may readily answer the question. It is not wonderful. It is perfectly in the course of nature. It is an effect, resulting of necessity from a cause.

         The seeds of pride and vanity, are originally planted in the breast of every human being, man and woman; for in fact they differ but little. Or shall we say the seeds of ambition; for the same things are often called by different names; and men are ashamed of even acknowledging under one, that which they boast of under another. By whatever name we chuse however, to distinguish the passion to which we allude, it is a certain tendency, a certain inexplicable impulse in the mind to rise, which prompts us to excel by some means or other. The seeds of this, like those of all the other passions, are planted by a wise and unerring hand; and reason and experience prove to us, that according to the management of these, the consequences are. They [77] are evidently calculated to produce pleasure and utility on the whole, when kept within due bounds, and directed to proper objects; but if these rules are neglected, they as evidently tend to destruction. Now this passion to distinguish themselves, – this rage to excel, – women are admitted to possess in as great perfection, if not perhaps in a stronger degree than men. With this difference only, that when applied to woman it commonly receives the denomination of vanity, or at best of pride; but I think seldom or never of ambition.  No – that high sounding term, is too sublime for woman; and is reserved to varnish over the passions, and crimes of man; whole those of the other sex, called by their proper names, and seen in their natural colours, impose not on mankind. 

         The different objects however on which the vanity, or the pride, or the ambition and superiority to the men, to which they are by no means entitled in reality; because it is not [78] yet clearly proven, that the choice of every thing that is most consequential, decorous, pleasant, and profitable for their own sphere of action, is not an usurpation; and for other powerful reasons, which would lead into too large a field of controversy if here touched upon. I repeat however, that men are by no means entitled to superior respect and consideration upon such grounds, when we reflect; that women are compelled on the one hand to adopt a conduct they cannot approve of, nor feel easy and natural; and are restrained on the other, from the exercise of one more congenial to the rights of human nature; and therefore it is very difficult to say if they were not thus limited, how far it might not appear that they are equal to any sphere of action however great or good. 

         But taking women on the footing they now are, and on which they will probably remain for some time at least, the tide of their passions must waste itself upon something; and thus being forced into wrong channels, there it flows; but for the honour of the sex I trust [79] 

 

         ‘Still it murmurs as it flows, 

         Panting for its native home.’ 

 

Thus many a good head is stuffed with ribbons, gauze, fringes, flounces, and furbelows, that might have received and communicated, for other and more noble impressions. And many a fine imagination has been exhausted upon these, which had they been turned to the study of nature, or initiated into the dignified embellishments of the fine arts, might have adorned, delighted, and improved society. For oh! what patience and industry, what time and trouble, what acute observation, what intense thought, what ceaseless anxiety, what hopes and fears, alternately elate and depress thy trembling spirit, thou busy priestess of vanity! The half of the talents, the perseverance, the resolution and attention, hadst thou been but a man; might have placed thee on the woolsack, or have put a mitre on thy head, or a long robe on thy back, or a truncheon in thy hand. Or, being even what though art, the fiftieth part of thy misemployed talents if turned into proper channels, might have made thee what is tantamount, to a Chancellor, [80] a Bishop, a Judge, or a General – An useful, and amiable, and an interesting woman. 

         The mind, as we have before said, must be occupied one way or another, well or ill; and therefore after the first merely animal duties are performed, the remaining void must be filled up; and indeed much time remains that cannot be occupied well, by people whose situation places them above the necessity of habits of industry. For, to be accomplished in the elegant arts, requires habits of industry and attention, and to be accomplished in these is therefore not the lot of everyone; and though most women of the middling and higher classes, aim at this in the course of their education, yet few in comparison acquire them, or acquiring retain them in a sufficient degree, to render them amusing, or interesting in after life. 

Domestic duties have ever been recommended to women, as the most useful and meritorious occupation in which they can pass [81] their time; and against them, who shall dare to lift their voice? for in the right exercise of these, are best laid the foundations of all the virtues and charities. In the sweet circle of domestic life we may venture to affirm, that the seeds of every virtue publick and private, and in both sexes, are planted and nourished to best advantage. 

         There are however reasons, which I shall perhaps hereafter touch upon, that prevent these from being held in estimation among women of the higher classes; and falling into disuse among them, the middle ranks of course follow their example. Alas! what can women be expected to do? Driven and excluded from what are commonly esteemed the consequential offices of life; – denied, and perhaps with reason and propriety too, any political existence; – and literary talents and acquirements, nay genius itself, being in them generally regarded rather with contempt or jealousy, than meeting with encouragement and applause; – nothing in short being left for them, but domestic [82] duties, and superficial accomplishments and vanities – It is surprising, that instead of doing as far as particular circumstances permit, do as men do; – that laying aside dull precept, they follow the more animating power of example; – that spoiled by prosperity and goaded on by temptation and the allurements of pleasure, they give a loose rein to their passions, and plunge headlong into folly and dissipation; regardless in an eminent degree of their family, their fame, and their fortune, if they can but indulge in the idle vagaries of the present moment; to the utter extinction of thought, moderation, or strict morality? And, if they but shun that, which when fully proven against them, banishes them from society; they think they sacrifice sufficiently to decency and duty. And indeed when compared with the conduct of the men, they do so. 

         If this sentence, which I presume to pronounce on a considerable portion of my own sex, be deemed severe; let me be permitted to [83] appeal to the votaries of fashion themselves; and let their own hearts tell, whether or not I judge harshly of their conduct. 

         Certainly I mean not this as a censure adapted without exception to one particular class; for in no class, in no rank whatever, are there women of more exalted virtue, or more exemplary conduct than many in high life; and whose merit is magnified, and multiplied ten thousand fold, by the consideration of their resistance to bad example, to temptation, and to the most dangerous of all privileges; – that of committing folly with impunity. But still I revert to my argument, and appeal again to their own hearts, for the general truth of my assertions. 

         Is this to be ascribed to their mode of education? or is it not? In part perhaps it is; and yet a great portion of their education is good. The theoretical part at least is excellent; for I believe there are few teachers public or private, who would not be ashamed and afraid, independent [84] of conscientious feelings, to inculcate any thing directly against religion or morality. The practical part too, as far as it goes, is much of it good; as it tends to the habits of order, discipline, and application; though that these are often misplaced and misemployed cannot well be denied, and especially by one who of course rests much of the necessity of a new system of education, on the faults and blemishes of the present.

         The fact is that education properly speaking, that is, the foundation of character, is begun and ended at home; before children go to, and after they leave schools; and to these periods perhaps, reformation should be applied with most vigor and least hesitation. But the consideration of this part of our subject, belongs to another division of this sketch. In the mean time we may observe here that the general conduct of the sexes to each other, before any particular or lasting engagements are made, is very unfavorable to the virtue and good conduct of both. Women do not find it their interest to [85] tell the men the truth before marriage, and afterwards alas! they dare not. Men it is true compound the matter with them for a season, and while youth and beauty is on their side; by the grossest, the most general, and unmeaning flattery, and this sort of mutual imposition, is reduced into a system of licensed hypocrisy on both sides, till the day of inquisition arrives; and when men become husbands and fathers, – that day is near at hand. Then it is, – a few solitary instances expected, – that the romance of life, the enchanted prospect vanishes, as if by the touch of magic; and then it is generally speaking that the reality of life commences. 

         So far however all is fair and equal on both sides; and reason must at times have anticipated, that the enthusiasm of love was of a nature too volatile to last for ever. No reasonable woman, no woman with a spark of common sense, dreams that a husband is to continue a lover, in the romantic sense of the word; or if she does so she is soon undeceived, and very properly forced [86] to submit to reason. But what is indefinitely absurd and unfair, through undeniably true; men coming under the same description, men otherwise wise enough, and reasonable enough, to outward appearance; do seriously suppose that their wives are to turn out, the angels, their imaginations had painted. Or if they do not seriously suppose it, which after all is possible, they act precisely as if they did. They either expect, or affect to expect, that the same sweetness of temper, the same equality and flow of spirits, the same eagerness to please, shall uniformly prevail in the wife; when the amiable, the devoted lover, is metamorphosed into the sullen and tyrannical husband. Such expectations however, are above the reach of almost any human being to fulfil; and from such unreasonable and unfair expectations may often therefore be traced, the many disagreements and disappointments which but too frequently occur in that state, which is certainly, however, of all others in this sublunary world; that most capable of promoting and preserving, – pure, lasting, and interesting attachments. [87] 

         Alas! were men but half as anxious, to fulfil their own share of the engagements entered into the most important concern in life, as they are to press home matrimonial duties upon women, all might be well; but unfortunately for themselves, as well as those connected with them, they place their happiness, and what they seem to value more, – their consequence, – in being indulged and humored beyond all reasonable bounds, in whatever mode their fancy or passions suggest.

         In matters of great and important concern, women are generally soon taught to understand, that they ought to have, and can claim, no weight whatever. They then naturally think that the lesser ones, mere family matters, those of taste, of ornament, or fashion, may be left to them; but even here they are mistaken and misinformed; for their share in the management of home, and domestic concerns, lies entirely at the mercy of the husbands, who except they are more than human, will rather be guided by their own caprice, than by the exact rules of [88] equity. Except therefore, when the station and fortune are so great, that each can afford to live in their own way without the interference of the other; as is the case in high life, where men are in a manner compelled to share with their wives in some degree that liberty which they so amply take to themselves; in every other case, the wise is acknowledged to be, even in domestic concerns, the upper servant of her husband only; and he must be very good-natured indeed, if he does not make her sensible of it. In every other case, the iron hand of authority lies desperately heavy, on even the trifles of life. And if it were not that the men, are often addicted to vanity, to shew, and to all the fopperies of fashion as much as the other sex; women would not be indulged even in these so much as they are. 

         The authority then of the men, is far from being merely nominal, as they would sometimes have it believed in their good-natured moments, and when they wish to be extremely condescending; for women find to their cost, [89] that it is positive, in the utmost extent of the word. And though it is often alleged, that the public influence of the men, is balanced by the private influence of the women; yet if there is truth in this remark at all, it is that kind of back stair influence, which is enjoyed rather by the unworthy, than the virtuous part of the sex. For commonly speaking this is so far from being the case, that it is in the private and domestic scenes of life, above all others, where women are supposed to be obliged to act with the greatest humility and circumspection; and where indeed it often happens, that if they are not willing to give up every feeling that interests humanity, they are accused of want of temper and prudence, and consequently are considered as very indifferent wives.

         In fine, it seems to be expected that women should in a manner cease to exist, in a rational and mental point of view, before they resign life; by giving up along with their name every title to judge or act for themselves, but when their masters chuse to bestow such privileges [90] upon them. Were it possible however for women to fulfil such implicit articles of slavery, it were, perhaps, wrong to oppose any thing, which not being of itself absolutely immoral, might contribute to the peace of society. But women being formed by the power of the Almighty, so nearly to resemble man in their desire after happiness, they must be supposed equally selfish in their pursuit of it; and having upon the same principles with men, wills and opinions of their own, they will of course ever be promoting the attainments of their own ends, either directly or indirectly. That the latter system is the one that women find themselves under the necessary of adopting, is but too evident; but if men persist in thinking it is the only one that women find themselves under the necessity of adopting, is but too evident; but if men persist in thinking it the only one suitable to their characters and situation, they have no right to expect that beings so unfortunately circumstanced and so unfairly treated, should under such disadvantages act up to the perfection of their nature, nor do I pretend to allege that they do so. If they did, all attempts at reformation were vain and unnecessary. [91] 

         The substance of what the writer has already presumed to recommend to men, – and that which follows will be to the same purpose, – is shortly this; – generously, and in conformity with sound politicks to allow women such privileges, such degrees of liberty and equality as they will otherwise, as they ever have done, take in a worse way, and in a greater degree. And if indeed, women do avail themselves of the only weapons they are permitted to wield, can they be blamed? Undoubtedly not; since they are compelled to it by the injustice and impolicy of men. Petty treacheries – mean subterfuge – whining and flattery – feigned submission – and all the dirty little attendants, which compose the endless train of low cunning; if not commendable, cannot with justice be very severely censured, when practiced by women. Since alas! – the weak have no other arms against the strong! Since alas! – necessity acknowledges no law, but her own! [92/93]