E. Belfort Bax

Woods on Women

(14 May 1910)

Woods on Women, Justice, 14th May 1910, p.10. (letter)
Transcribed by Tex Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


Mr. Woods has made a wonderful discovery – to wit, that of the controversial tu quoque: what the Germans call the “retour Kutsche” (return coach). He has, he says, “taken a peculiar pleasure in insinuating that Mr. Bax’s mind is sodden with anti-Feminist sex-prejudice because he says mine is sodden with Feminist sex-prejudice, and I want to show him that two can play at that game.” I am much obliged to Mr. Woods, but I can assure him that since infancy I have been perfectly aware that two can play at that game, if the second one is silly enough to take pleasure in such a childish amusement. However, I suppose I did not credit “the mind” I attributed to Mr. Woods with such empty-headedness as that. I characterised Mr. Woods’ mind in a certain way, I admit, at the same time giving the reasons for my characterisation. He simply throws back the words in my teeth without offering any ground of justification, and then crows out: “See what a brave boy am I!” This method of controversy is not, in my humble judgment, a highly edifying one, although some of his female suffrage friends may possibly regard it as magnificent.

In the midst of Mr. Woods’ bluff we have, of course, the attempt, which seems inevitable with Feminists, to ride off on a quibble, and then to divert the issue by whining for an “apology.” There was no “slip” in my statement that Mr. Woods wrote as though he thought there was a valid argumentative quid pro quo in the appeal to the fact that women may (voluntarily) bear children as against the appeal to the fact that men may be compelled to serve in a military capacity. He says now he regards both arguments as “equally silly” – which is, after all, from a practical point of view, only a slightly different way of putting it. My allegation, in effect, that a man who could not see that the latter of the contentions in question was at least an argument, whereas the former was a pure irrelevance, showed a mind hopelessly prejudiced. To this opinion I must beg, with all due deference to Mr. Woods, to continue to adhere. Mr. Woods only confirms the justification for my original remark to his latest pronouncement.

Another brilliant discovery of Mr. Woods – or perhaps one should rather say the source of the one already spoken of – is that there is no criterion of truth outside the individual. Now, I rather think there was a gentleman named Protagoras, who taught in Athens in the fifth century B.C., who expressed the same idea under the formula “Man is the measure of all things.” Of course, if a man really holds this view it is impossible to argue with him seriously at all. I have, however, a slight suspicion that Mr. W. only adopts it when his Feminist prejudices demand it. A criterion “outside all standpoints” I don’t profess to have discovered, and I don’t propose to enter here on the old question (which would demand a treatise) as to the general nature of truth. It is enough for my present purpose to state that I recognise the common objective standard of fact in human experience as a criterion of truth, just as I recognise social happiness as a criterion in matters political and ethical. As already said, I suspect Mr. Woods does the same when he is not “bluffing” in the interests of his Feminism. Now, judged according to the above criterion, it is certainly possible to prove to all intelligent beings whether human experience shows women to be on the average inferior to men or. not – also possible to prove that certain things are conducive to general human happiness and others not. Now, if our criterion, viz., the facts of human experience – even though “marshalled” by those dreadful creatures called “men,” should actually point to the inferiority of women, then those who refuse to accept the teaching of experience and the obvious logical deductions therefrom, let them be the most angelic representatives of Womanhood Mr. Woods can drum together, simply put themselves out of court with rational beings. In so far as they allow their prejudices to dominate over fact and logic they don’t count, let Mr. Woods “bluff” as he may.

This leads us up to the important questions already handled by me in part elsewhere, of the ethics of physical force, of count-of-heads majority rule and its justification, of Democracy as end or as means merely, which all have their bearing in the female suffrage question, but which cannot be dealt with at the end of a letter. If the editor is willing, I shall hope to devote an independent article to their consideration in an early number of the Social-Democrat.

Meanwhile, I will put a case showing the consequences of Mr. Woods’ position. One of the light-fingered fraternity succeeds in annexing Mr. Woods’ watch. Mr. Woods, in gripping the light-fingered one by the collar, characterises him as a thief. The latter retorts by the magic formula of the Woodsian logic, “You’re another!” thereby, according to that wonderful instrument of controversy, placing himself on a level with his victim of unimpeachable integrity, by showing him that “two can play at that game” – they having no common criterion of honesty between ... them. No, no, Mr. Woods, the anti-Feminists may be all wrong, but obvious bluff of this sort won’t settle the suffrage question or any other!

Meanwhile, I leave the field open (since I do not propose writing another letter of the subject in Justice at present) to Mr. Woods to exercise his scintillating wit and sarcasm (oh, so biting!) on my unfortunate self. So, go it, Mr. Woods! Here’s your opportunity!


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 10.8.2004