E. Belfort Bax August 1908
Source: New Age, 8 August 1908, p. 287-288;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Amid the various writers who have favoured THE NEW AGE with their views on the question of Female Suffrage, none have really traversed my original contention, as contained in my first article. That contention was, that occupying as they do a privileged position before the law – not only in itself, but still more in its administration – as against men, women have no just claim to the franchise. That the votaries of Female Suffrage feel this, is proved by the fact that their most serious efforts at arguments turn upon the iniquity of subjecting women to “man-made laws,” their staple policy throughout their agitation being, by dint of lying assertions and insinuations, ceaselessly repeated, to create the impression on the public mind that the existing state of the law and its administration not only does not favour women, but is actually unfair to “the sex.” Now, as I have pointed out, to anyone in the least acquainted with the theory and practice of the English law, there can be no doubt whatever that the latter, in theory and still more in practice, is entirely and without any exception whatever, one-sided and partial to women and against men.
The only correspondent of THE NEW AGE who has really touched the point at issue at all, while admitting the substantial truth of my remarks, confines himself to suggesting exaggeration on my part and observing that our infamous anti-man marriage laws were unjust “not on one side only.” But I must deny the charge of exaggeration, a denial that can be substantiated by illustrative cases galore. As regards the marriage laws, I insist that the unfairness is wholly and solely on one side. But I must here make an explanation. There does exist on paper one slight concession of fairness towards the husband. The divorce law, namely, ordains that an adulterous wife, owing to the fact that by her adultery she can introduce into the family, and compel her husband to support, a bastard child, can be divorced by the husband on proof of adultery alone, whereas for a wife to obtain divorce from her husband (in which case, of course, the above reason does not obtain), it is necessary to prove cruelty in addition to adultery. Now, believer as I am that marriage ought to be an absolutely free union, it is certainly not my case to defend the existing marriage laws as a system. But I do say that, given that system and our present property and family relations generally, nothing can be more reasonable or more equitable as between the man and the woman than this provision of the English law respecting divorce.
Yet when brought to book and challenged to give a concrete instance of the unfairness of “man-made laws “ to woman anent which the woman’s righter is perennially blathering at large, it is invariably this very innocent and natural provision of the divorce law that is trotted out, it being the solitary instance in which the law does not overtly favour the woman at the expense of the man. But I have said that this provision exists on paper merely, and so it does, since in practice it remains a dead letter. For the discrimination in question is now practically abolished, anything which the wife objects to – coming home late at night, going out to a party without taking her with him, holding her hands when she attempts to scratch or bite him – being adjudged technical cruelty by the husband within the meaning of the law. Per contra, the Act of 1895 condones expressly the adultery of the wife, providing she can successfully plead “neglect” (an elastic term) on the part of the husband. So much for this solitary case in which the Feminist, to his horror and indignation, finds that the law does not for once avowedly favour women at the expense of men. But apart from this isolated example, the whole marriage law is one tissue of favouritism to the woman and injustice to the man, as I have already shown.
And yet we find in “advanced” journals tirades like the following: “Any fool, any blackguard, any coward, is wise enough and worthy enough to be allowed a legal and a holy licence to torture and insult a woman. Anything with the title of husband in his pocket may goad and stab and lash and sear the soul of the slave we call a wife” (Clarion, July 17) Unfortunately, the champion liar who can gush forth the mendacious, sentimental slush, of which the foregoing is a sample, does not stand alone. His performance is but part of an anti-man crusade of misrepresentation and falsehood carefully organised and skilfully engineered, the object of which is, and has been, to inflame public opinion against men in the interests of female privilege and of female domination. Feminists well know that the most grotesquely far-fetched cry anent the injustice of man to woman will meet with a ready ear. They well know that they get here fond and foolish man on his soft side. Looking at the matter impartially, it is quite evident that man’s treatment of woman is the least vulnerable point in his moral record. Woman, as such, he has always treated with comparative generosity. But it is, of course, to the interests of the abettors of female domination to pretend the contrary. Accordingly everything has been done to excite prejudice in favour of woman as the innocent and guileless victim of man’s tyranny, and the maudlin Feminist sentiment of the “brute” man has been carefully exploited to this end. The result of two generations’ agitation in the above sense is seen in the existing state of the law, civil and criminal, in which the “Woman’s Movement” has succeeded in effecting the violation of every principle of rectitude towards the male side of the sex-equation. The existing laws connected with marriage which place the husband practically in the position of legal slavery as regards the wife is typical of the whole.
That the present “Votes for Women” movement is only a phase of the anti-man crusade which Feminism has been carrying on for nigh two generations past with the aid of the Press, is shown, not only by the persistent efforts to represent “ man-made laws “ as unjust to women, but by the incidental remarks of Suffragette leaders in which the sex animus is shown, no concealment being made of the intention to use the suffrage for rivetting on man the chains of legalised female oppression. For example, Mrs. Pankhurst recently represented one of the functions of emancipated “Womanhood” to be the handing over of the luckless male to the Female blackmailer by raising the “age of consent” above sixteen!! The allusion made at the same time to the “daughters of the working class “ is a piece of demagogy too thin to deceive anyone as to the venomous sex-spite animating this outrageous proposal.
Again, in the Daily News for July 30 a suffragette objects to a woman being punished for murdering her child, protesting that the father, who had had nothing to do with the crime, ought to have been in the dock in her place!
In the present agitation we see merely the culmination of a Feminist campaign organised with scarcely any attempt at concealment, as I have said, on the basis of a sex-war. But this sex-war is at present one-sided, the man’s case goes by default. There is no sex-conscious man’s party to be appealed to and to engineer public opinion in favour of the claims of the most elementary justice for him, as here is a sex-conscious woman’s party to further any and every iniquitous claim of the female sex. So long as the present state of things lasts, organised determination on the one side and indefinite gullibility on the other, are likely to maintain the ascendancy of the Feminist cult and increase the sphere of female privilege.
It has often been remarked that even if the suffrage were granted, the enforcement of the laws decreed by a female majority would be dependent on the goodwill of men. This observation we are accustomed to find greeted by Feminist jeers. The jeers may be justified for the moment, but the intrinsic truth of the observation remains none the less. So long, namely, as the Woman’s Party can continue to bulldose men as they have done up to the present, so long will they be able to make men obey and enforce their behests, whether formulated directly through the suffrage or indirectly by hoodwinking public opinion as they do now. But when once men get tired of this, when once the reaction sets in and a sex-conscious Man’s Party forms itself, then Heaven help the women!! The anti-man ranting sisterhood do not seem to realise what the position of their sex would be if men took to refusing to act against their “brothers.” They think it the most natural thing in the world for women to talk and act in this strain as regards their “sisters.” The explanation, to my mind, is simple. They instinctively feel that man is more than sex, that he stands for humanity in the concrete, whereas woman stands, par excellence, for sex and sex alone. As I have often pointed out before, common phraseology recognises that while man has a sex woman is a sex. The hollowness of the sham of the modern dogma of equality between the sexes is shown by the fact that the assumption of inferiority is called into requisition without any hesitation when there is anything to be gained by it for the cause of female privilege. The dogma of equality is reserved for pleading for the franchise, for the opening up of the professions, and similar occasions. According to the current theory, while women are fully equal to men in capacity for government, administration, etc., and hence, while justice demands that these spheres should be accessible to them, they are so inferior to men in the capacity to control their actions and to distinguish right from wrong, that it is not to be thought of that they, poor weak women, should be treated with the same impartiality or severity by the law as is dealt out to men. Women nowadays “want it,” not “both ways” merely, but all ways. At least as good arguments may be produced to prove that the apparent muscular inferiority of women to men is not fundamental, as are adduced to prove that the apparent intellectual inferiority is not fundamental. There are plenty of instances of extraordinary bodily strength in women. And yet we never hear these arguments. Why? Because Feminists have no interest, but quite the contrary, in perverting the truth on this side, whereas on the other, their demands require that they shall prove equality – the aim being to ensure for women all honourable, agreeable, and lucrative occupations in life, while guarding them carefully from all rough and disagreeable work and from all unpleasant responsibilities. Hence it suits their book to admit the physical, while denying the mental, inferiority. My constitutional objection to privileged classes extends also to a privileged sex. Hence my (as some deem it, intemperate) zeal in exposing the hollow humbug on which the practical demands of the “Woman’s Movement” rest.
Turning again to the present agitation, it is noteworthy how the evidence as to the numerical strength of the Suffrage movement adduced by its advocates is about on a level with the arguments advanced in support of the general principle of Feminism. A stage army, the vanguard of which probably amounts to some five hundred, which can on occasion, from all England, be raised to ten thousand (among these, girlish youth and innocence being particularly prominent), such is all that has yet been achieved, and such it is that we are asked to regard as representing the public opinion of England. However, one may suppose that the Feminists are so accustomed to their statements otherwise being allowed to pass by default, that they have come to regard the supineness and gullibility of public opinion in these matters as a safe speculation. Hence, at the beginning of the twentieth century the figure of British Womanhood rises up before us, reeking with privilege, and, in alternate strophes, tearfully whimpering and threateningly shrieking that she has not enough, that she wants more! Such, at least is the Womanhood of the Feminist agitation. In concluding this controversy, I can only reaffirm my original position unshaken, and that is, that whatever other arguments there may be for or against “Votes for Women,” certain it is, under any ordinarily recognised standard of fairness and equality, that so long as women enjoy those privileges before the law at the expense of men which they now do, it is unjust that they should be given facilities for increasing, them by the concession of the franchise.