Chapter 6

   Further Thoughts on the Previous Chapter.

  We have now considered the characters of women, as men would have them to be, and as they really are; though I must confess in that slight, hasty, and unfinished manner, of which in some degree every part of this little work must necessarily partake. By the arrangement of my subject I should next proceed to what women ought to be; but before I take upon me to delineate that very important part of it, I shall make some reflections which may serve to connect what I have already advanced, with that which I have still further to say on the subject. 

   I have heretofore, it is true, been pretty free in my observations upon the conduct of men, where I think it absurd and capricious with regard to women; but I hope without acrimony, for I am sure I feel none towards them. On the contrary I love them with all my heart as individuals. But even themselves must own, that taken collectively, they are inclined [94] to be a little too consequential, – a little too tyrannical, – a little too desirous of assuming an exclusive right, – to all power, wisdom, knowledge, and learning. 

   In justice however to men, let us now enquire, why in general they are so averse from women acquiring knowledge of almost any sort? And why with regard to those attainments in particular, which enlarge the understanding, and strengthen the judgement, they say – Thus far shalt thou go, and no further? 

    I think then it must be the opinion of every sensible and impartial person, man and woman, who takes the trouble to consider the subject coolly; that it is from no bad motive, that indeed it can be from no bad motive, – if we reflect how inseparably their own happiness is connected with that of women’s, – that men have in almost all nations, and in all ages, nearly agreed in this system of intellectual privation with regard to the other sex. But I fear we must add, that they act upon a bad principle; [95] or perhaps we should rather say upon a wrong one. 

   Let me here explain myself clearly. 

    While then, we wish to exhonor men, with respect to the motives, which prompt their conduct towards women; – while we cannot upon any fair principles of reasoning, doubt, that they are desirous, and even satisfied, that good consequences may follow from their absolute government of women; – we cannot with any degree of sincerity profess, that we consider as well established, but on the contrary, – as false; – or at best but as uncertain; – that principle upon which they build their whole system, viz. That men are superior beings, when compared with women; and that consequently, nature and reason, invest them with authority over t he weaker sex. This, – divested of all ambiguity of language, and all attempts, to impose on the understandings, or compound with the vanity of women, – [96] is beyond a doubt, not the opinion only, of the generality of men; – but the leading principle upon which the laws by which we are governed, are founded, – the grand pivot upon which social and domestic politicks turn, – And the language of prejudice all over the world. For, alas for poor human nature! it yet remains to be proven, that it is the language of truth. What is it indeed after all, but an opinion taken up at random, and which perhaps if fairly examined, and cross examined, may be found to be, – the essence, nay the very quintessence, of prepossession, of arrogance, and of absurdity!

    But it must be confessed, that even those who consider the human species, in a more liberal and extensive point of view, – who do not see sufficient grounds for those claims so haughtily advanced on the part of the men, – yet suppose the necessity of subordination on one side unavoidable. They therefore fear, that women, were their eyes opened to their natural equality and consequence, would not so [97] tamely submit to the cruel injustice with which they are treated, in many of the leading points in life. And they know that nothing would tend so much to this eclaircissement, as an education, which by exercising their reason, and unfolding their talents, should point out to themselves, how they might exert them to the utmost. Such a developement of mind would undoubtedly enable them to see and reason upon what principles, all the other regulations of society were formed, – which however they may deviate in execution, are evidently founded on justice and humanity, – and would consequently enable them to bring home and apply those principles to the situation of their sex in general. Thus awakened to a sense of their injuries, they would behold with astonishment and indignation, the arts which had been employed, to keep them in a state of perpetual babyism. 

   I know that many will be inclined to think, that to keep millions of reasonable beings in ignorance of their own rights, merely that they [98] may not have it in their power to claim them, is doing a bad thing from the worst of motives. But let us consider further, that men not only fear, that if women were permitted to be what they call too wise, and knowing, they would not so easily submit to be governed; but they likewise fear that this want of submission, might produce the most fatal consequences in society. For this truth cannot be denied, in every case as well as the present – Either that authority must be vested in one side, and that explicitly for the general good of mankind – Or for the same important purpose, authority must be so nicely balanced and arranged, – alas! so very nicely, – that it is almost too much to expect from human integrity, that it shall voluntarily enter upon a task of such trouble and difficulty; or that a party already in possession of so flattering a distinction, no matter how or by what means obtained, shall set about to dilapidate or garble it by participation. – No! No! it is in no vain to think, that any man, or set of men, or men in short taken in the gross, shall by frequent appeals to their best [99] feelings seek out for reasons to portion it away. With a bad grace do men intrusted with power, devise it to each other, and still they keep it within as narrow a circle as possible; but when through necessity, and for the common purposes of life, they admit women to certain puny privileges, and delegate to them a scanty portion of power, with what a niggardly and griping hand do they dispense their favors! With so many useless and mortifying precautions indeed do they trammel their gifts, that they become by passing through such hands, equivalent to prohibitions 

   I must here for brevity’s sake, adopt the same mode of appeal as upon a former occasion, and instead of bringing forward examples to prove what I have advanced, trust to the candor of my readers, and ask them; if every law, and maxim generally understood as in favor of women; – and maxims advanced at random by the men with regard to them, are nearly as rigorous as laws; – does not confirm in the [100] strongest manner possible, every word I have said? 

   But shall the time never come – Ah! surely it must – when the mysterious veil formed by law, by prejudice, and by precedent, shall be rent asunder, – when Justice herself shall appear in all the beauty of simplicity, – when her fetters shall be unbound, – and when unawed by clamour she shall say to the listening world – Before all these were, I was?

   Until however by the appointment or permission of Providence, that time come, men foresee that to put matters on a fair and equitable footing between the sexes, must be a subject of very serious consideration, and most delicate arrangement. That it necessarily involves many public and political, as well as private and domestic concerns. And, that in its progress new points of view must open, not only to the party immediately concerned, but to every party who [101] find themselves unreasonably fettered, by laws of human invention. 

    Considering therefore these things, they look upon it as probably the wisest, and as certainly the easiest method for themselves, to let remain as long as it can, a fabric; which though from the beginning not built of the best materials, and certainly upon the very worst possible foundation; and which though propped up, and supported by trash, and rubbish of every sort, that best suited the convenience of successive undertakers; yet accommodates one way or other all parties; – but particularly well, those, who only have it in their power to make a change. 

    Thus, or nearly this, must men reason, who deign to allow, that women are perhaps injured in the distribution of worldly concerns. But the truth I believe is, that men in general, think nothing at all about the matter; except when their pride and resentment are roused, by any little opposition on the part of the women. [102] Or when they do think, they consider the authority which has been assumed by their sex, not only as an inheritance against which no claim can be of any avail; but as a birthright given them from above, which it is their duty as much as their inclination to maintain. 

    In short they are fully convinced, that they are much fitter to govern women, than women are to govern themselves; and therefore waving all dispute and examination on the subject they do so. 

   Now this is precisely what we may be permitted to say, is proceeding upon a wrong principle. For if it is evidently unphilosophical and sophistical; nay in plain terms, if it is unfair; instead of establishing a principle to take one for granted, and go on to build upon it, though even certain of good consequences ensuing from it; how much more so is it, when the very consequences are proved to be uncertain, to which certainty of principle has been [103] sacrificed? It then indeed becomes, and edifice of extreme folly.

    And this is precisely a case in point. For, in the first place it cannot be proved, that men are fitter to govern women, that women are to govern themselves, in the unlimited sense that men aspire to; except comparative experiment has been fairly and repeatedly made. Or, except superiority of mind had from the beginning, been so completely, so distinctly, and do uniformly marked; that it could bear no more dispute, that men should take the whole mankind into their own hands, than that mature age, should care for helpless infancy. 

    Men however, having taken for granted, and endeavoured to establish without proof, that they have some degree of intellectual superiority over women; have the consequences of their government, been equal to their declarations of superior wisdom, or answerable to their wishes, or to their ideas, of the possible perfection of the female sex, even in that secondary [104] view in which they chuse to consider them? I apprehend they will not say so. Or if they do, the sex will by no means join them. For chained and blindfolded as they most certainly are, with respect to their own rights; – they know, – they feel conscious – of capability of greater degrees of perfection, than they are permitted to arrive at. Yes, they see, – there is not an individual among them, who does not at times see, – and feel too with keenest anguish, – that mind, as has been finely said, is of no sex. 

    Shall then this, ‘Vital spark of heavenly flame’ be nearly extinguished in them, through the capricious and unfeeling tyranny of man. 


––– “Shall the quick thought, 

That darts from world to world, and traverses

The realms of space, and time, all fancy free,

Check’d in this rapid course, obey the call

Of some barbarian?” 


         Alas! too often it must. Yet where conscious ability is inherent, hope can never be entirely extinct. [105]


                                         ––– Pent in his cage

                  The imprisoned eagle sits, and beats his bars; 

                  His eye is raised to heaven. Though many a moon

                  Has seen him pine in sad captivity,

     Still to the thunderer’s throne he longs to bear

                  The bolt of vengeance; still he thrifts to dip

                  His daring pinions in the fount of light.”


         If then the sex in general, agree in thinking themselves injured, and compelled to act a part in society unequal to their abilities, and pretensions; how honorable would it be for men, to turn some degree of their attention to a subject, which viewed in every light is of such consequence to mankind! And if after examining it with the same impartiality, which they would expect and demand, in any case where their own interest were concerned; they should find little to applaud in their old system, and little to fear from a new one properly regulated; – how honorable would it be to restore to woman that freedom, which the God of nature seems manifestly to have intended, for every living creature! Liberty, – rational liberty, – such as is confident with the good order of [106] every branch of society, and in which sense only I would be thought to use the term, never yet injured, man, woman, or child. For though I cannot perhaps express myself, with philosophical precision and propriety; yet I shall be understood when I say, that I hold liberty to be in the moral world, what the very air which we breathe, is to animal and vegetable life. In each case existence is possible with a small, or moderate degree. Without any, physical, and moral death must ensure. The air itself indeed, on which out life depends, may be rendered as noxious as salutary; and may be condensed, or rarified, till unfit for the purposes of existence – Or impelled by natural causes, engender storms and tempests, which deform the face of creation. 

          So Liberty, when she ‘oversteps the modestly of nature,’ changes her very essence, is transformed from our good to our evil genius, and instead of her who cherishes and renovates the heart of man, ‘Aye and of women too,’ and under whose auspices every thing great and [107] good must flourish; she becomes a fiend spreading devastation and death around, and leaving her deluded followers, only a shadow and a name. 

          The desirable point therefore in all cases surely is that, where, as much freedom is enjoyed as is required, to being forth every degree of possible perfection. And to this point in morals, should all legislation tend, whatever obstacles or prejudices may lie in the way. 

          Now it is to this degree of liberty, as near as human imperfection can manage the matter, that I wish to see a prospect of women being advanced; for, as I have already said, perhaps it might not be safe to entrust them all at once with freedom in that extent which is their due. 

         Possibly it is better that the mind, as well as the body, should be prepared by degrees to receive any great change, or lasting improvement. Perhaps this holds true even in the grand political scale of life; perhaps even there, [108] prudence and good politicks go hand in hand. But surely and without a doubt, moderation ought always to dictate the more private, yet not less interesting appeals, of the one sex to the other. 

         It is indeed absurd to suppose, from the reasons already advanced, and from a thousand others, that men will see the propriety of the justice of laying aside all at once, claims which they have been accustomed to consider as founded in nature, and supported by reason; – but it is neither absurd not chimerical to suppose, that men may by degrees, and by calm representation, be brought to consider the subject as they ought, and are bound in justice and honour to do. And this once done there is no reason to fear, but the retribution will naturally follow. 

         In opposition to this hope, that the situation of women may by degrees be bettered, it may be answered; that since ages have elapsed without women having been in any country put upon the footing which I contend is their due; [109] it amounts almost to a decisive proof, that they will, and ought to remain, pretty nearly on the footing that they have been and are; allowing for little alterations, in compliance with times and circumstances. 

         Now this reasoning I apprehend to be fully more in favor of women than against them; and it brings one of my strongest arguments home. Since, except the experiment had been fairly made, and they been allowed the same advantages of education as men, and permitted to exert in their fullest extent those talents with which their Creator may have endowed them; who is entitled to say, what might have been the consequences to the world? For my part I am sanguine enough to think, that from such an attention to improving the minds, and forming the characters of women, as I propose; consequences of the highest importance would ensue. – Perhaps it is not too bold to say, that to the erroneous ideas with regard to women which have been allowed from indulgence and want of opposition, to take so deep room among [110] mankind, it may be partly imputed, that society has never been upon so perfect a plan as it might have been. And perhaps it is not too daring to prophesy, that till these prejudices are exterminated and done away as if they had never bgeen; society can never arrive at that state of perfection, of which it is really capable. 

          Indeed when we consider, that men have always had it in their power to exercise without controul, those talents, abilities, and virtues, which they found most suitable to their genius; it is not very unreasonable to suppose, that at some periods they may have been nearly as perfect, as their nature admits of. Or, that they may at this very moment be so, in all civilized nations. For balancing what they may have lost by luxury and over refinement, with what they must have gained by the experience of past ages; they are probably as near to perfection, as any who have gone before them.

          Now with the other sex the case is totally different. From the first dawnings of reason [111] they find a part in life they already prescribed for them, when they nearly as early find out to be unequal to their powers and capacities. They find themselves enclosed in a kind of magic circle, out of which they cannot move, but to contempt or destruction. And however confined and mortifying to their feelings this prison of the soul may be, they can never hope for emancipation, but from superior power. In this circle, in this prison therefore, during the reign of youth and beauty they gambol and frisk away life as they best can; happily blind and thoughtless as to futurity. But what comes then? Untaught, alas! by education or habit to reflect in that manner, which by exercising the reason, cultivates the mind, and opens up every day new and latent powers; reflection is to them a source of vexation only. They indeed see clearly enough that they are injured; but as they cannot see a way for redress, they often in despair turn to vanities and follies of most pernicious tendency in the higher circles; in middling life they degenerate more commonly into insipidity; and in the lower classes, especially [112] in great and populous cities, into vulgar debauchery. 

          This no doubt sounds somewhat like declamation; but what has been advanced may be defended. I do not surely say that all, nor perhaps that most of the women of the past ages and the present, have been, and are, either vain and foolish, or insipid, or vicious. The shades of our ancestors would rise in myriads, to confute such unfounded assertions; and a still greater proportion of the women of the present day, would compel me to retract such malignant satire. I even own that if women were all educated philosophers and pedants, – which God forbid! – Nay what is more to the point, if they were all educated, and allowed to be, on the reasonable and respectable footing I contend for; still! still! folly, insipidity, and vice, would have their reign, and sweep away millions in their train. To expect that it should be otherwise in the present imperfect state of existence were vain. All I contend for is this; that as far as is practicable, or possible, every [113] prejudice ought to be laid aside in a pursuit so important, as that of perfecting the human species; every stumbling block removed out of the way; and no attempt that human sagacity can suggest left untried, through a blind attachment to certain favorite notions which men find convenient to entertain, and which women are forced to indulge them in; though at the expense of that singleness of heart and openness of character, for which they make a bad exchange, by obtaining any present and trifling advantages. 

          Indeed I must be permitted to say, that men upon this subject, are deplorably weak and childish; for those who are ashamed in this enlightened age, to hold forth passive obedience, and unlimited authority in all their horrors, even to women; have fallen upon another method. They upon every occasion call out like spoilt children, for that indulgence which they dare not as reasonable beings claim. And as they well know that women as reasonable beings, cannot be blind to their moral [114] conduct, and overbearing tempers, they only entreat of them to appear so; and she who can best affect and carry on this kind of imposition, they represent as the most amiable woman and most desirable companion, whether in the character of wife, mother, daughter, or sister. 

          They likewise represent, and a very powerful argument it is, that this is the only method by which they may hope to arrive at any indulgence they aim at; for that they have nothing to expect when claimed as rights, to which claims they constantly give, the name of masculine, and insufferable from women; but that they have every thing to hope for when entreated as favors. This is a way indeed of cutting short every proposal for bettering the situation of women, and of quashing every hope or desire of a general improvement. It is however but a barbarous kind of policy, unworthy of man to advance, and of women to acknowledge; and which however long it may have taken place, or even succeeded with regard to one party, can never bear examination when considered [115] as a mutual benefit; because viewed in that light it is founded upon no one principle of justice or common sense. 

          Notwithstanding then that men have planned every thing their own way, I must repeat, that the consequences are not equal to their hopes or expectations; for they complain bitterly both in public and private, of the folly, the inconsistency, the extravagance, and the general relaxation of manners amongst women. And they would be extremely well satisfied, if, without changing an iota of their own system and self indulgence; they could transform women in general into domestic wives, tender mothers, and dutiful and affectionate daughters; characters upon which they expatiate with enthusiasm and delight, and no wonder. But when it is at any time argued and proved that to bring about reformation, the first step ought to be, the reformation of the moral conduct of the men themselves; and the next that of educating women on a more liberal and unprejudiced plan, and putting them on a more [116] respectable footing in society; then it is that the generality of men fly off, and are not ashamed to declare, that they would rather a thousand times take women as they are; – weak, frail, dependent creatures. In comparison of the frightful certainty of having women declared their equals, and as such their companions and friends, instead of their amusement, their dependents; and in plain and unvarnished terms their slaves; folly, vice, impertinence of every kind is delightful. 

          Then it is that we hear of the heavenly softness of the sex, that with a glance can disarm authority and dispel rage. Then it is that we hear them tell, with as much earnestness and gravity as if it were true, or even possible, consistently with human nature; that in woman’s weakness consists her strength, and in her dependence her power. That though for wise and political purposes, men are vested with authority over women, yet that is only for their mutual good that it is designed, or ever ought to be exercised – (And it is well known that [117] men never do, but what they ought to do.) That it is indeed rather a nominal authority taken up for conveniency’s sake; for that upon the whole, what women lose of power in an acknowledged way, and in name, they make up for it in the private scenes of life. &c. &c. &c.

         Now every one of these unmeaning, imposing, romantic ravings, might be easily confuted and overturned; for the truth is that they have not a leg to stand upon, when examined upon the principles of reason and common sense, backed by the woful experience of women. But waving all discussion of what is but too obvious, I shall content myself with asking two very simple questions; and I think I know exactly how every honest man will answer them. 

          Are not the ideas, which men have indulged themselves in with regard to the other sex, rather the work of imagination, than the operations of the reason and common sense; and they are not therefore more calculated to amuse a youthful fancy, and encourage romantic [118] expectations, than for the purposes of common life? And to bring this ‘home to men’s business and bosoms,’ let me ask them the second question. Whether when they expatiate upon the immense powers of the female sex, over the hearts and conduct of men, they do not always attach the ideas of youth and beauty to the picture? I believe it will be pretty generally acknowledged, that these two queries, must be answered in the affirmative. 

          Now having these pleasing images before their minds eye, which work them up to a temporary sentiment of love and tenderness for the whole sex; no wonder if men suppose that such objects have no need of law or right on their side, and have only to be seen to be obeyed. No wonder if they suppose the only danger here to be, that every indulgence shall be granted even beyond what reason would approve. For, they very justly represent the empire of beauty as requiring no formal or written law in its favor, its law being engraved on the heart of man, and more powerful than all others. But [119] men and brethren, awake out of your illusive dreams! and in order to do justice to the sex in general, quit the fields of romance, where 


         “Love and life are always young,

         And truth on every shepherd’s tongue.” 


And descending to real life and what is constantly before your eyes, recollect, that all women are not handsome, that all women, alas! are young but for a very short period indeed, and that consequently you are not always in love. It is therefore equally absurd, and cruel, to establish rules and principles, and even fixed laws, which could only answer if the reverse of all this were true. 

          If indeed this were the case, if the women were always this handsome, and always young, and the men perpetually in love; the laws and opinions adopted concerning women would fit exactly; and the whole business of life on both sides would be to please. But I shall and must tell you, – though the very name of them will freeze the blood in your veins, – that ugly women, and old women, and indeed every description [120] of women, after the charm of novelty and the first frenzy of love are over with the other sex, find, that those soft and heavenly graces, &c. upon which the men flourish so much, – taking care however not to come to particulars, – are not only quite insufficient ‘to disarm authority, and dispel rage;’ but are even quite insufficient to procure them common justice, upon the most common occasions. 

          No! – If emanations of the divinity itself, – if all the virtues, graces, and charities, were sent upon earth, through the medium of ugly women, or I believe, God forgive me, in the shape of almost any man’s own wife, – they would rarely meet with any thing but neglect, and often with contempt and derision. Whilst vice, – under the protection of beauty, novelty, and fashion, – would roll triumphantly along, and trample them in the dust. 

          Far be it from me however to advance, that because softness of gentleness of manners do not [121] always succeed; that an opposite conduct is proper, or natural, or would be attended with good effects. It would be much like the other, imperfect and uncertain, would sometimes answer and sometimes fail, according to circumstances, and the subjects acted upon. Besides, if a bold and overbearing manner and temper, are becoming unbearable and disagreeable even in men, – which I shall always be Christian enough to maintain, – I must likewise be honest enough to confess, that they are if possible, still more unbecoming, still more disagreeable in women. But this is nothing to the purpose; for however disagreeable, human nature, which is much the same in both sexes, will maintain its rights if trampled upon; except where nature is extinguished by that hypocritical attention to appearances, which tyranny always produces, at the expense of sincerity. 

          For this very reason amongst many others, the female sex ought to be protected by explicit and indisputable laws, from insult and oppression; that they may not, however unavailingly, [122] be tempted to assume a character, unpleasing to themselves and to others. And especially as men are pleased to allege, that it is out of character, and out of nature, for women to attempt any defense of themselves, however injured. Yet in spite of early and often repeated lessons, nature will rise, against insult and oppression. And in spite of human rules, human passions will upon trying occasions, swell at the hearts, and appear in the countenance of even the best of women. But perhaps, ‘to be angry and sin not,’ is a privilege granted to them, as well as to men. Perhaps the Almighty can forgive the frailties, whatever they may be, of the one sex as well as the other; at least he has not been pleased to declare the distinction, either by reason or revelation. 

         But man! tyrant man! ye cannot forgive that the lips should utter, what rises warm from the heart, if it does not chime in with your present feelings. Ye cannot even forgive, that the face which ye consider as formed only to suggest ideas of pleasure, delight, or submission [123] to you; should be defended by the expression of those natural feelings, which the lips dare not utter. 

          Ah! ye abetters of hypocrisy! ye self-imposters! ye slaves to surface! Ye sacrifice your truest happiness, and your dearest interests, by denying to women, – to the only helpmates whom God has granted you, – the noble privilege of telling you truth, with that honest freedom, which is, and ought to be, equally distant from ill-nature and fury, as from flattery and hypocrisy. I could on this subject make reflections without end, but it is not time in conformity with my plan, to proceed to what women ought to be. [124/125]