Ernest Belfort Bax

The Everlasting Female Again!

(30 November 1895)

The Everlasting Female Again!, Justice, 30th November 1895, p.6.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DEAR COMRADES, That I have effectually put a spoke in the wheels of an imposture kept alive by “bluff” and the falsification of fact, is evidenced by the letters you have published and received. Like the man who was converted to freethought by hearing the parson discourse on the Evidences of Christianity, I have good reason to believe that many readers of Justice who were waverers on the question have had their views decided as much by the replies to me as by anything I have myself written. The partisans of the (so-called) woman’s movement have hitherto successfully adopted the motto, “Il faut de ‘bluff’, encore de ‘bluff’ et toujours de ‘bluff’” Now it is just the “toujours de ‘bluff’ ” which has been threatened (at least so far as English Socialists are concerned) by my very simple statement of facts. Hence these tears, hysterical shrieks, and inconsequent ravings! Polite aspersions on sanity by ex-lights of the Theosophical Society and accusations of “monomania” on the part of atrabilious females, for daring to criticise their conventional shibboleth are very amusing and recall the tone of certain parsons of my youth and other gentlemen of that ilk when disputing over the body of Moses With Biblical scholars and geologists; or more recently of the hidebound “Manchester” economists when discussing socialism. Seven or eight years ago on the occasion of a criticism of Die Frau by me in the Social Democrat, August Bebel, who similarly found himself unable to answer my arguments, sought a way out of the difficulty by loftily waving them off and expressing pain for the welfare of my Social-Democratic soul. This, if more dignified, was not more effective than poor comrade Burrows’ scurrility. Needless to say, my arguments have remained unanswered by Bebel to this day. My only object in drawing attention to this matter has been to enter a protest against the Socialist movement being “bluffed” by a noisy, band of shriekers into allowing itself to be dragged at the heels of a bogus agitation. A species of terrorism has been established amongst “advanced” persons generally to ostracise a serious discussion of the “Woman Question” in a sense adverse to the platform claptrap of the (so-called) “Woman’s Rights” movement.

Among Socialists this has been aided by a false analogy (that fruitful source of fallacy) consisting in setting up of a parallel derived apparently, from Auguste Comte, between the position of women as a sex, and that of the proletariat as a class. That there is no such parallel at all I have pointed out again and again. In the one case you have to deal with an organic difference – one of bodily structure – irrespective of class, while in the latter we are concerned with a social and economic difference, irrespective of organic differences, sexual or other. There are exploiting women and exploited women, just as there are men. Socialism, proclaims that accident of birth so far as economic condition is concerned is responsible for the main differences which exist among the population of a class society. It postulates a condition of things as its aim in which the “accident of birth”, in an economic sense, shall no longer tell. But to insist that the “accident of birth” should be quite inoperative even where it involves not social or economic, but radical structural or constitutional differences, is a preposterous absurdity. If you only carry this principle far enough, you arrive at the position of the emperor Caligula when he raised his favourite horse to the consular dignity, being doubtless under the belief that it was hard “the accident of birth” should be a disqualification for his four-footed friend and favourite attaining the higher honours of the state. The “accident of birth” in so far as it involves points not reducible to social and economic cause, points belonging to the “nature of the animal itself” – no society can afford to ignore in the apportionment of its functions. The difference of sex most authorities believe to involve such points. A prima facie case is at all events made out for the affirmative and has never been successfully refuted as yet. If this be so, all I say is that our conception of equality as regards sex requires revision. Our notion of equality in the matter of class is based on a conviction of the ultimate abolition of classes as our goal. Is our notion of equality in the matter of sex to be based on the belief in the ultimate extinction of sex as our goal? If so there is a certain parallel, “If not, not.”

One young lady waxes pathetic over the iniquity of punishing people for what they can’t help. Now here is a point in which I certainly agree with her. And if she will allow me I will suggest one case among many in which this iniquity obtains to-day and against which her tongue or pen might be usefully employed in protesting. In our prisons, as in most of our industrial schools, men and boys are subjected to brutal and degrading punishment from which women and girls, for the same or equally grave offences, are exempt, solely by virtue of their sex. If this is not a case of punishing the male criminal or delinquent for what he can’t help, namely, his sex, I don’t know what is? On the other hand no one that I am aware of has ever proposed to punish women for their sex.

I come now to Mendelson. “Bax has had to choose between equality and protection, and he refuses them both.” Just exactly what he does not. He points out, on the contrary, that in the mouths of “Woman’s Righters,” Socialist, no less than bourgeois (for in this respect the former are much the same as the latter), “equality” means sex domination, and “protection” means tyranny and injustice exercised on behalf of a sex. It is these things I reject. You can always put a glow upon tyranny so as to plausibly explain it away is “protection.” The trick of the tyrant, whether man or class, has always been throughout history to start by whining for “protection.” Alessandro de Medici wanted protection, and collected a body of retainers for that ostensible purpose, with which he subsequently seized the Florentine state. The white planters of the slave states explained away “chattel slavery” as a mere device for protecting the poor weak white against the muscularly and numerically stronger negro. As a matter of fact, the bestial barbarities perpetrated on the black race in the Southern States are even now so excused. The Czar and official bureaucracy of Russia doubtless have always believed that the knout and Siberian mines meant nothing more than “protection” for their precious carcasses. Robespierre’s “great terror,” he would have argued, was merely a necessary measure of “protection” for “patriots”, viz., for his Jacobins. There is, in short, no form of despotism and cruelty that cannot be twisted by perverse ingenuity into being a measure of “protection”. “Only this, and nothing more!”

Among the interesting items of information Mendelson affords me as to what views I hold, most of which were quite unknown to me before, is one that nervous citizens should be protected on their way home at night. Now I suppose, owing to not being a Peisistratus, a Medici, a Robespierre, or otherwise a specially nervous citizen in this particular respect, I am bound to give friend Stanislas the entire credit for this brilliant idea. I can certainly lay no sort of claim to it. An escort of police, I should say, would be an uncomfortable sort of arrangement, but in view of some recent cases an escort of special constables as a protection against the police might be worth considering. Allow me to point out, however, that the moment the “nervous citizen” abused his “protection,” whether of police or anti-police, as a menace to the peace of other citizens it would, even if accorded, in all probability be promptly suppressed. And this is precisely what I urge in relation to the laws now existing for the “protection of women.” As to Proudhon, though I have read some of his economic treatises, I have never read anything touching the woman question from his pen. And to dub me a disciple of Proudhon is, I submit, simply silly.

I think the “impartial reader” of Justice will scarcely be caught by certain demagogic references to “brutal Manchesterism” and sneers anent “neo-Malthusians.” A disapproval of the system of legalised blackmail called “breach of promise” actions by which a certain low type of woman is enabled to prey upon a man who has been foolish enough to get entangled in the harpy’s clutches is styled “brutal Manchesterism.” If so, for the first time in my life, I am proud of the title of “brutal Manchester man.” One would think it decent women had one atom of respect for their sex about them they would themselves horsewhip filthy females out of their society. For the rest I may point out that there is an element of truth in Manchesterism as in every other epoch-making idea. It is its false economic application that Socialists justly protest against. To merely sling out the epithet “Manchester man,” “Neo-Malhusianism” or “Anarchist” as forms of abuse is to fire an unshotted broadside. Where the middle-class Radical has failed to complete his work the Socialist must take it up. Some Radical ideals may partake of the nature of the “cult of abstractions,” but others are an integral part of the growth of society. Neo-Malthusianism is objected to by Socialists in so far as it is put forward as a red-herring in the guise of a social panacea, but not necessarily otherwise. I join issue completely with Mendelson in his statement that because an act (though purely self-regarding in itself) is what he pleases to term “abnormal” – by which I can only understand him to mean contrary to some eighteenth-century, deistic, abstract metaphysical entity he calls “Nature” – that therefore society would have any right to “consider whether it would tolerate it or not.” Eating with a knife and fork or shaving are equally “abnormal” in a sense but I should say it would be bad for any society that took to “considering whether it should tolerate” liberty in such purely private concerns of citizens. But our friend probably advocates sumptuary laws against flannel shirts and red ties. Would Mendelson propose a punishment on men and women living singly, who are also “abnormal” and have no children? Mendelson will perhaps stigmatise my suggestions of a limit to the power of the community over the individual, even in private matters as middle-class-Radical, or Anarchistic. He is welcome to this very stale gibe of the crude State Socialist. I do not propose to discuss the question of “bastardy” raised by Mendelson. Those who have read my letter on Free Love and Socialism will see I think that his objections do not touch me.

But now, what does the sum-total of Mendelson’s gyneocratic contentions amount to? Why does he not say what he obviously means? All objections to the most arbitrary despotism exercised on men in the supposed interests of women are ruled out as the “Freedom-ideas of the middle-class Radical”; the control in the interests of public health of women who pursue a certain calling, is, on the contrary, stigmatised as “odious police supervision.” Now why not say straight out men are to be bullied and blackmailed because they are men, while women are to enjoy complete immunity from all responsibility and to be aided and abetted by the law in all their attacks on men, because they are women. Similarly, when I criticise the pretensions sometimes made on behalf of the female sex I am sneered at as having a “hobby.” Those who persistently make these pretensions have no “hobby” – oh dear no! Truly a case of “my doxy and thy doxy”! If have dolt with Mendelson’a letter at some length, since it is the only definite attack on me which has so much as attempted to argue the matter, and in Sahara one is thankful for a drop of water even though its lucidity may leave something to be desired.

In conclusion I will give, once for all, in a few words my position on this question, cleared of the prejudice imported into it by railing accusations of woman-hating and other objectionable qualities.

1. I utterly dispute the validity of the attempt analogy between women as a sex and the proletariat as a class, on which analogy the plausibility of the “woman movement” for Socialists so largely rests.

2. While fully recognising the oppression of the capitalist system on women as on men, I deny that, on the whole, it presses more on women than on men, as such.

3. Coming to the question of direct sex-tyranny, if we are to talk of this I am prepared to prove that, at least in all countries where the Anglo-Saxon is dominant, viz., in Britain and its colonies, in the United States, &c., it is invariably men who, both by law and public opinion, are oppressed in the supposed interests of women and not vice versa.

4. That the few (mainly formal) disabilities of women in politics or elsewhere which are perpetually being trotted out, are more than compensated for, by special privileges in other directions.

5. That the woman’s rights agitation as hitherto conducted, in which the “brute man” plays the role of villain, was born of hysterics and “sour grapes,” and is kept alive by a bare-faced system of “bluff,” and both the suppression and perversion of fact, intended to work on the sentimental male with a view of placing women in a safe citadel of privilege and sex-domination – the talk of equality being a mere blind. I am prepared to maintain any or all of these proposition in writing with anyone.


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 4.2.2005