E Belfort Bax 1895

The Debate on Women Or Sex

Source: Justice, 7 December 1895, p.8;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Eleanor Marx’s articles The Debate on Women Or Sex, November 1895

DEAR COMRADE, – I have again received a private letter from Mrs. Aveling, ignoring my offer of a written debate, and again challenging me to the platform debate I had already declined. “I have yet to learn ‘’ (as the phrase goes) that a challenged person is morally bound to accept a challenge, not merely in principle but unreservedly in the exact terms, whatever they may be, in which it is thrown down. I might even point out, by way of analogy, that that ancient and respectable institution, the duel, allows the person challenged the choice of weapons.

The case now amounts to this. Mrs. Aveling, knowing that I am not practised in the arts of popular platform oratory, and that she is, heroically insists upon what is for me an impossible form of discussion. She thus refuses, by implication, my offer to meet her fair and square, in black and white. I decline a set platform debate with any one on any subject. Mrs. Aveling may phrase it, if it amuses her to do so, that I “shrink” from it. Precisely. Never having learnt to play the trombone, I also “shrink” from giving a public performance of the “Marseillaise” with variations, on that instrument. Not even the knowledge that the proceeds of my recital would go to the International Congress Committee would induce me to alter my decision. For the rest, for the case in question, I do not see why the sale of a written debate, possibly amounting, to some thousands, should yield results less advantageous financially to the Zurich Committee than the admission money of at most two or three hundred persons to a hall. If Mrs. Aveling persists in her refusal to debate with me in writing where we are on equal terms, the most charitable can only come to one conclusion – she dare not face my arguments when they have a fair chance.

I am informed Mrs. Aveling has taken the Athenaeum Hall for the 21 inst. I shall not be present on the occasion, and I would suggest that those present who agree with me should offer no opposition. Let Mrs. Aveling enjoy her cheep triumph to the full! (When I say cheap I mean, of course, morally. I don’t know the rent of the Athenaeum Hall. Let her roll out her periods and ease her mind of a burden by war by working off the alleged vicarious epithets I have reason to believe she has in store and other convincing “arguments” of a personal description! Let her confound the issue and win cheers by eloquently, dwelling on the class wrongs suffered by the working woman (in common with the working man) as though they were sex-wrongs ! Let her have her applause, and finally let the “pars” be industriously circulated in the press, triumphantly announcing the victory of aggressive womanhood over an absent antagonist. We have fact and argument on our side, and can afford to be generous.-Yours fraternally,

E.Belfort Bax

P.S. – I trouble you with the foregoing communication, as Mrs. Aveling has published a private letter of mine in reply to a private letter of hers, and hence I prefer addressing the public directly. I may also mention that the address in Essex Street, referred to in Mrs. Aveling’s last JUSTICE letter, was the delivery of an ordinary written lecture, and not a debate at all!