E. Belfort Bax, Why I am an Anti Suffragist, Social Democrat, Vol.13, no.5, May 1909, pp.200-206.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
I am glad Mrs. Montefiore conquered her lofty feminist disdain and stooped to “troubling to read” and even to reply to my humble statement of the reasons why I am an anti-suffragist. That she has replied I am especially glad, since she has thereby confirmed for any unbiased reader the weight of those reasons. As against my contention with regard to the systematic privileging of women by the law and its administration she has nothing to adduce beyond a flaw in the Old Age Pensions Act (there are, it is admitted, many such), an anomaly in the confused law as regards marriage with an alien, and a harshness in the Poor Law, none of which things could be twisted by any possibility into a case of male sex privilege as such, save by a controversialist hard pressed for an argument. What I have maintained, and still maintain, is the deliberate tendency of modern legislation and of modern administration, backed by an influential public opinion to separate women as a privileged class from men. This incontrovertible statement, Mrs. Montefiore has not attempted to gainsay, but, on the contrary, her sense of fairness has got the better of her and compelled her, in her excellent remarks about prison flogging at the end of her article, to point my moral and adorn my tale.
It is true she traverses my allegations as regards the treatment of the “suffragettes” in gaol. But on this point I am prepared to prove that at least, as to treatment now and for eighteen months past, she is wrong and I am right. Mrs. Montefiore’s imprisonment dates from the very beginning of the present agitation. If I remember rightly, she was among the very first to indulge in the demonstration of going to Holloway rather than pay a harmless and necessary fine for creating a disturbance before the House of Commons. The treatment of the suffragettes during the first week of these imprisonments was, I believe, that accorded to ordinary female offenders. But Mrs. Montefiore had scarcely been released before the treatment as second-class misdemeanants was decreed for all Suffragettes and has been maintained ever since. Not only so, but I was perfectly right in saying that the additional privileges indicated by me over and above this was given to the two Pankhursts during their last imprisonment and have, I understand, been continued in the more recent cases. Mrs. Despard, in a speech, has, in fact, acknowledged the favoured treatment accorded her and her colleagues. Will Mrs. Montefiore deny the above to be facts? Certainly no male Socialist ever had this exceptional treatment.
My opponent pleads for women to be regarded as human beings pure and simple and not as a sex. Unfortunately, this is hardly possible. Apart from the indirect sex-characteristics which, interpenetrate their whole nature and activity, it would seem as though they cannot forget their sexual organs. Thus the “Suffragettes” deliberately adopt a policy of scrimmages and rough-and-tumbles and then whimper about impossible “indecent assaults” on the part of the wicked men-stewards whose function it is to resist their efforts at disorder, attempted rapes to the accompaniment of organ-obligato in the Albert Hall, etc.! Whether these wild fictions are the result of hysterical hallucination or are lies sans phrase I will not pretend to decide, but, anyway, they tend to show the extreme difficulty of even Suffragettes forgetting their sexual side in the narrow sense of the phrase. It would seem impossible for the unhallowed hand of man to touch their sacrosanct if riotous persons without setting their sexual imaginations at work. I should not have mentioned this but for Mrs. Montefiore’s challenge as to forgetting the sexual character of women and thinking of them merely as human beings.
If Mrs. Montefiore seriously calls in question the privileged position of woman as against man in the present day, I am afraid it shows that she reads her newspaper with an eye blind to all she does not wish to find there. The law and its administration reflects an influential section of public opinion. This public opinion regards it as axiomatic that women are capable of everything men are capable of, that they ought to have full responsibility in all honourable and lucrative functions and callings. There is only one thing for which unlimited allowance ought to be made on the ground of their otherwise non-existent womanly inferiority, and that is their own criminal or tortious acts! In a word, they are not to be held responsible, in the sense that men are, for their own actions when these entail unpleasant consequences for themselves. On the contrary, the obloquy and, where possible, the penalty for the wrong-doing is to be shifted on to the nearest wretched man with whom they have consorted. I cannot quote unlimited cases, but, by way of illustration I will mention two that occur to me on the spur of the moment. Some three years ago a woman deliberately shot at and wounded a solicitor (a married man) with whom she had had relations. The act was so premeditated that it came out in evidence she had been practising shooting with the revolver for days before-hand. There was, moreover, no question of a child in the case, and not even one of financial embarrassment, as she was in receipt of a quarterly allowance under a trust. Hence the case presented itself as a cold-blooded one of attempted murder without a single circumstance of attenuation. The woman was sentenced to the very lenient penalty of seven years penal servitude. (Had a man attempted to murder in this way a jilting mistress he would have received, without doubt, twenty years at least, if not a life sentence.). Now, it seems incredible but it was a fact, that a campaign was immediately started throughout the whole of the press, largely by “advanced” women and male feminists in favour of this dastardly female criminal, who only fell short of being a murderess by accident! The second case is that of Daisy Lord last year. To read the gush on that occasion one might have thought that the murder of new-born children represented the highest ideal of motherhood. This Daisy Lord became for the nonce a kind of pinchbeck Madonna in the eyes of the feminist public. Such women as the above ought of course to have equal voting rights with men, but equal consequences for their actions – oh, dear no! The extent to which feminist sentiment can fling justice to the winds in these days, is shown by the savage demand, in cases of infant murder, for vicarious vengeance on one who, as regards the offence in question, is wholly innocent, to wit, on that vile and obnoxious person “the man.”
This feminist attitude of public opinion has been sedulously cultivated, not only by means of journalism, but in literature and art for over a generation, the aim being to portray the “man” as an ignoble, mean creature, as a foil to the courage, the resource, the gentle virtues of the woman. It is done too in a very subtle way. Who has not seen the well-known picture representing the Thames Embankment at night, and an “unfortunate” possessing an angelic face being taken from the river, with a gentleman and lady in evening dress who have just got out of a cab in the foreground, the gentleman with ostentatious callousness – brute that he is – turning away and lighting a cigarette, and the lady – gentle creature – bending over the dripping form and throwing her hands up in sympathetic horror? It is by clap-trap of this sort that sentimental feminism is evoked and nourished. Only the other day I received a provincial Socialist paper (ILP) containing a feuilleton with the story of a woman who had killed her baby, and who died after a few weeks in prison – the moral being apparently the monstrous wickedness of imprisoning such women at all, rather than rewarding them with a comfortable pension for life. There are well-known writers in leading magazines who systematically take delight in painting their own sex in an abject light, by way of pandering to current feminist prejudices.
The privileged position of women is illustrated in a small way by railway compartments for “ladies only,” by reserved seats in the British Museum reading room, etc. The New York elevated railway has, I read, begun to reserve whole carriages for women from which men are rigidly excluded, no matter how full the train may be otherwise. For, be it remembered, although men are forbidden access to female reserves, women in all these cases have the run of the whole available space. There are no male reserves. This game was tried on last year in the LCC tramcar-from Tooting. Fortunately, one fine morning some enterprising young men were found who had the pluck to be “unmanly” and “unchivalrous” enough to fling the female crowd in all its weakness and womanhood remorselessly aside and board the trams themselves The reserve tram, which proved to be illegal, was then dropped.
Mrs. Montefiore denies that Feminists who are also Socialists desire anything other than absolute equality. If so, I would suggest to these worthy comrades that they occasionally made their protests heard against the existing favouritism of the law and ifs administration as regards women – not to speak of custom and conventional sentiment – rather than concoct bogus grievances on the other side.  Mrs. Montefiore quotes with approval the saying of Mrs. Lida Parce that “woman” needs the ballot to “enable her to remove those special and artificial disabilities which have been placed upon her by male legislation.” Now, I must again insist that Mrs Montefiore should know as well as I do that at the present time in this country no such disabilities exist – any apparent grievance being invariably traceable as necessary corollary to the obligation of the husband to maintain his wife. Should any collateral consequence of this vassalage of the husband involve some slight inconvenience to the wife, the Feminists pounce upon it and begin to shriek for all they are worth! (The cases adduced by Mrs. Montefiore are themselves mainly connected with the husband’s compulsion to keep his wife.)
If Mrs. Montefiore is right in asserting that our Socialist votaries of the Feminist cult only claim equality, I can only say that others (including some of those with whom Mrs. Montefiore herself has erstwhile consorted) have distinctly expressed the intention of themselves and their adherents to use the vote to legislate against men. Moreover this tendency has shown itself already, I believe, in some of the puritanical legislation of Australia. With the sex-bias as manifest as it is in the average Woman’s Righter, it could hardly be otherwise. Women form nowadays a powerful sex-trust. Men do not. On the contrary, they use their political power to confer privileges on the opposite sex, which they seem always to prefer before their own.
One word in conclusion. Mrs. Montefiore rashly takes for granted that the men I referred to as somewhat unwillingly giving their assent to Female Suffrage and in secret preferring Manhood Suffrage are not Socialists. They are Socialists. If they were not Socialists there would obviously be no reason for reticence or secrecy as to their real inclinations or convictions. The Socialist Party has been rushed into an official acceptance of the Feminist dogma, but this does not necessarily mean that all Socialists accept it precisely with enthusiasm, although from want of courage, or perhaps from (what I should deem) a mistaken view of policy, they may choose in public to keep their own counsel.
1. I have just cast my eye down Lady McLaren’s Woman’s Charter given in to-day’s paper. One of the demands is, I see, that “no married woman should be bound to accept a foreign domicile.” This is delightful! A poor man cannot get work in this country and has to take a position abroad. At her sweet whim his wife may live apart from him as a single woman and compel him to keep her all the same! Here we have a splendid example of “woman’s right” to treat man as a slave!
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