Paul Lafargue

The Woman Question


Written: 1904 – First published in French as La question de la femme in Éditions de L’Œuvre Nouvelle, Paris 1904.
Source: The Right To Be Lazy and Other Studies
Published: Charles Kerr
Online Version: Lafargue Internet Archive ( 2000
Transcription/Markup: Sally Ryan & Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Tables checked & corrected with reference to the German version.

The bourgeois has thought and still thinks that woman ought to remain at home and devote her activity to supervising and directing the housekeeping, caring for her husband, and manufacturing and nourishing children. Even Xenophon, at the time when the bourgeoisie was newly born and was taking its shape in ancient society, traced the main outlines of this ideal of woman. But if through the course of centuries, this ideal may have appeared reasonable, because it corresponded to economic conditions which prevailed, it is no longer anything more than an ideological survival, since these conditions have ceased to exist.

The domestication of woman presupposes that she fulfills in the household certain numerous functions which absorb all her energy; now, the most important and the most exacting of these domestic labors, – the spinning of wool and linen, the cutting and making up of clothing, laundry work, baking, etc., – are carried on by capitalistic industry. It furthermore presupposes that man by his contribution to the family capital and his earnings provides for the material needs of the family now; among the comfortable bourgeoisie, marriage is as much an association of capitals [1] as a union of persons and often the capital contributed by the wife exceeds that of the husband, and in the small bourgeoisie the gains of the father of the family have fallen so low that the children, – girls as well as boys, – are compelled to earn their living in business, railroad offices, banks, teaching, civil service positions, etc., while it often happens that the young wife continues to work outside in order to help out the resources of the housekeeping, when the earnings of the husband do not suffice to cover the expenses.

The daughters and wives of the small bourgeoisie, as well as those of the working class, thus enter into competition with their father, brothers and husband. This economic antagonism, which the bourgeoisie had prevented from developing by confining the wife to the family dwelling, is becoming general and is intensified in proportion as capitalistic production develops; it invades the fields of the liberal profession – medicine, law, literature, journalism,, the sciences, etc., – where man had reserved for himself a monopoly, which he imagined was to be eternal. The laborers, as is always the case, have been the first to draw the logical consequences of the participation of woman in social production; they have replaced the ideal of the artisan, – the wife who is nothing but a housekeeper, – by a new ideal, – woman as a companion in their economic and political struggles for the raising of wages and the emancipation of labor.

The bourgeois has not yet succeeded in understanding that his ideal is already long since out of date and that it must be remodeled to correspond to the new conditions of the social environment; nevertheless since the first half of the nineteenth century the ladies of the bourgeoisie have begun to protest against their inferior position in the family, so much the more intolerable in that their dowry placed them on a footing of equality with the husband; they rebelled against the domestic slavery and the parsimonious life to which they were condemned, as well as the deprivation of intellectual and material enjoyments which was imposed upon them; the bolder ones went so far as to demand free love and to ally themselves with the utopian sects which preached the emancipation of woman. [2] The philosophers and the moralists had the simplicity to believe that they would stop the woman movement by opposing to it the sacred interest of the family, which they declared could not survive without the subjection of woman to the labors of the household, the sewing on of shirt buttons, the mending of hose, etc., her duty was to devote herself to these obscure and thankless labors, in order that man might freely unfold and display his brilliant and superior faculties. These same philosophers, who lectured the rebellious ladies on the cult of the family, sang the praises of capitalist industry, which, by forcing the wife away from the domestic hearth and her child’s cradle to condemn her to the forced labor of the factory, destroys the working-class family.

The bourgeois ladies laughed at the sermons, equally imbecile and ethical, of these solemn philosophers; they kept on their way and attained the end they set for themselves; like the patrician lady of ancient Rome and the countess of the eighteenth century, they threw off the cares of housekeeping and of the nursing of the child upon mercenaries, that they might devote themselves wholly to the toilet, that they might be the most luxuriously arrayed dolls in the capitalist world and in order to make business move. The daughters and wives of American plutocracy have attained the extreme limits of this sort of emancipation; they are transforming their fathers and husbands into accumulators of millions, which they squander madly. Since the toilet does not exhaust the entire activity of the ladies of capitalism, they find amusement in breaking the marriage contract in order to assert their independence and improve the race. The Communist Manifesto remarks that the innumerable divorce suits in which adultery is alleged are indisputable proofs of the respect inspired in the bourgeois of both sexes by the sacred bonds of marriage which the “licentious socialists” talk of loosening.

When the daughters and wives of the small bourgeoisie, obliged to earn their living and to increase the resources of the family, began to invade the stores, the offices, the civil service and the liberal professions, the bourgeois were seized with anxiety for their means of existence already so reduced; feminine competition would reduce them still further. The intellectuals who took up the defense of the males, thought it prudent not to start afresh with the ethical sermons which had miscarried so piteously in the case of the wealthy bourgeois ladies; – they appealed to science; they demonstrated by reasons which were irrefutable and loftily scientific that woman cannot emerge from the occupations of housekeeping without violating the laws of nature and history. They proved to their complete satisfaction that woman is an inferior being, incapable of receiving a higher intellectual education and of furnishing the combination of attention, energy and agility demanded by the professions in which she was entering into competition with man. Her brain, less voluminous, less heavy and less complex than that of man, is a “child’s brain.” Her less developed muscles have not the strength for attack and for resistance; the bones of her forearm, her pelvis, her femur, and in fact all her osseous, muscular and nervous system do not permit her to undertake more than the routine of the household. Nature designed her in all her organization to be the servant of man, just as the odious god of the Jews and Christians marked out the race of Ham for slavery.

History contributed its startling confirmation of these ultra scientific truths; the philosophers and the historians affirmed that always and everywhere the wife, subordinate to the man, had been shut up in the house, in the woman’s apartments; if such had been her lot in the past, such was to be her destiny in the future, was the positive declaration of Auguste Comte, the profoundest of bourgeois philosophers. Lombroso, the illustrious comedian, went him one better: he seriously declared that social statistics proclaimed the inferiority of woman, since the number of female criminals is below that of male criminals; while buried in these figures, he might have added that the statistics of insanity demonstrate the same inferiority. Thus we see that ethics, anatomy, physiology, social statistics and history riveted forever upon woman the chains of domestic servitude.


Bachofen, Morgan and a crowd of anthropologists have revised the opinion of the historians and philosophers upon the role played by woman in the past. They have shown that everywhere the paternal family, which subordinated woman to man, had been preceded by the maternal family, which gave the first place to woman. The Greek language contains the record of her two conditions: while the Spartans, among whom matriarchal customs persisted, still continued to call her despoinia, the mistress of the house, the sovereign, the other Greeks grave to the wife the name damar, the subdued, the vanquished. The Odyssey, in characterizing Nausicaa, says that she is parthenos admes, the girl not subdued, that is to say, without a husband, without a master. The modern expression “yoke of marriage” preserves the ancient idea.

Hesiod, in opposition to Homer, who tells only of patriarchal customs, preserves precious recollections of the matriarchal family; he tells us that when it existed man, even if he were a hundred years old, lived with his prudent mother, – he was fed in her house like a great child. (Works and Days, V, 129-130.) It was not the woman who then had the “child’s brain,” but the man; everything seems in fact to prove that her intelligence was the first to develop. This intellectual superiority caused her to be deified before man in the primitive religions of Egypt, the Indies, Asia and Greece, and caused the first inventions of the arts and trades, with the exception of metal working, to be attributed to goddesses and not to gods. The Muses, originally three in number, were in Greece, even in preference to Apollo, the goddesses of poetry, music and the dance. Isis, “mother of corn ears and lady of bread,” and Demeter, lawgiver, had taught the Egyptians and Greeks the tillage of barley and wheat and made them renounce their anthropophagic repasts. The woman appeared to the prepatriarchal man, like the Germans whom Tacitus knew, as having within herself something holy and providential, aliquid sanctum et providum (Germania VIII). Her prudence and foresight gave her this divine character. Must we conclude that this intellectual superiority, which manifested itself when the economic environment is rudimentary, is a natural phenomenon?

But, in any case, it may be asserted that the vitality of woman is superior to that of man. The life insurance companies of the United States, England and Holland, which do not base their calculation upon scientific fairy tales of the intellectuals but upon mortality tables, pay woman an annuity below that which they give man, because her probabilities of death are less. Here for example is the annuity paid for a capital of $1,000 by American and Dutch companies: [3]


New York

New York



50 years





60 years





70 years





80 years





It may be objected that man, leading a more active life, is more subject to accidents, diseases, and other causes of death, and that consequently the prolonged life of woman does not prove the higher vitality of her organism, but the advantages of a life less subject to accident.

The answer to this objection is found in the statistics of the various nations. There is in no country a perfect equilibrium between the number of women and that of men; for 1,000 men there are in Belgium 1,005 women, in France 1,014, in England 1,062, in Scotland 1,071 and in Norway 1,091. Nevertheless in these countries with the feminine preponderance there is an excess of masculine births: of the whole of Western Europe for every 1000 girls there are born from 1,040 to 1,060 boys. If, in spite of this excess of masculine births, more girls survive, it is because the greater mortality of the boys shows the balance in favor of the girls; and this higher mortality cannot be explained by the life of man being more subject to accident, since it is observed at an early age, notably during the first two years. All the diseases of childhood, with the exception of diphtheria and whooping cough, are to a perceptible extent more fatal among boys than among girls, from zero to five years the male sex is particularly frail; at all ages, except between ten and fifteen years, the male mortality is in excess of the female.

The superior vitality of the female sex is also noticeable in the greater ease with which it builds up its organism. M. Iribe, superintendent of the sanitarium of Hendaye, to which are sent Parisian children from three to fourteen years of age, who are afflicted with anaemia, incipient tuberculosis, scrofula and rickets, reports that at the time of their dismissal, at the end of six months, the progress in weight, girth and chest development is incomparably higher in the girls than in the boys, the increase in weight is double and often more.

The same statement has been made by other superintendents of sanitariums. (Bulletin Medical, No. 81, 1903.)

Woman undeniably possesses a greater vitality than man. M. Gustav Loisel has made inquiry "as to whether this difference existed in embryonic life, and what may be its cause?" He has communicated the results of his inquiries to the Biological Society of Paris, which published them in its Bulletin of November 6, 1903.

M. Loisel availed himself of 792 weights and measurements made upon 72 foetuses at the Maternity Hospital of Paris by C. E. Legou; [4] from the following weights of the foetuses at three, four, five and six months he obtains the following figures:





Total weight



200.07 “ males    




    0.32 “ females

Superrenal glands



    1.28 “ females




    7.96 “ females




    0.21 “ males    




    0.08 “ females




    1.63 “ females




    2.67 “ males    




    1.77 “ males    

“These figures thus show us,” says M. Loisel, “a preponderance already existing in favor of the females as regards the kidneys, the superrenal glands, the liver, the thymus and the heart: this predominance is the more noticeable since the total weight of the body is larger in the male than in the female.”

If now we take the relation between the total weight and the height of the organs which are heaviest in the male, we find that the proportion is still in favor of the female:


Proportion of Total Weight




1 to 736

1 to 718


1 to 40

1 to 38


1 to 8

1 to 7

The organs here examined, brain included, are thus absolutely or relatively heavier in the female foetus than in the male foetus.

M. Loisel has also examined into the proportion of the weights of the different organs to the total weight according to the age of the foetus. He has prepared a table, from which I take only the figures concerning the brain:


Total Weight

Proportion of weight of
brain to total weight






3 months





4 months





5 months





6 months





The weight of the male foetus, which is below that of the female foetus, at three months, when the sex has just been determined, grows more rapidly and the proportion between the weight is always to the advantage of the females from the fourth month on.

“To sum up,” says M. Loisel, “all the organs are heavier in the female foetus than in the male foetus up to about the fourth month. The predominance then passes over to the male, but only for the lungs and the organs for sex-union, thus the cardiac muscle always remains heavier in the female. The organs which are of real service to the individual during the embryonic life always remain more developed in the female sex.

“If now we consider that the differences in favor of the females are especially in the liver, the heart, the superrenal glands and the kidneys, we shall come to the conclusion that the greater vitality of the female organisms corresponds to their being better nourished and better purified.” [5]


The superior organization possessed by woman at birth, assuring her throughout her life a much greater vitality, is probably demanded by the part she plays in the production of the species, a part altogether more prolonged and exhausting than that of the man who, when fertilization is accomplished, has no more to do, while then the travail of woman begins, to continue during long months, through pregnancy and after birth. The women of savage tribes suckle their children for two years and more. It sometimes happens that the male pays dear for his inutility; after union, the bees kill the males, and the male spider must hastily take himself off that he may not be devoured by the larger and stronger female. Among the Sakawas, at the annual feast of Mylitta Anaitis, they sacrificed at Babylon the handsome slave who had just united with the priestess who incarnated the Assyrian goddess. This bloody religious ceremonial must have been a reproduction of an Amazonian custom.

The life of savagery and barbarism permits woman to develop her superiority from birth; each sex there has its special function, it is the division of labor in embryo. The man, whose muscular system is more developed, “fights, hunts, fishes and sits down,” according to the Australian native, he regards all the rest as under the jurisdiction of woman, whose function puts brain activity into play at an earlier epoch. She has charge of the communal house, which often shelters a clan of more than one hundred individuals; she prepares clothing from skins and other raw materials; she charges herself with the cultivation of the garden, the rearing of domestic animals and the manufacture of household utensils; she preserves, economizes, cooks, distributes the provisions, vegetable and animal, which have been gathered during the course of the year; and like the Valkyries of the Scandinavians and the Keres of the pre-Homeric Greeks, she accompanies the warrior on the field battle, aids in the fray, raises him up if he is wounded and cares for him; her assistance is so appreciated that, according to Tacitust the barbarians who under the leadership of Civilis revolted against Vespasian, were seized with pity for the Roman soldiers because their wives did not accompany them when they marched to combat. Plato likewise who, like the chosen ones initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries, was more informed regarding ancient customs than is supposed, makes the women to be present in the battles of the warriors of his Republic.

These multiple and diverse functions, which obliged woman to reflect, to calculate, to think of the morrow and to look ahead at long range, must necessarily have developed her intellectual faculties; thus the craniologists say that only a slight difference exists between the cranial capacity of the two sexes in the negroes, the Australians, and the red skins, while they find that it goes on increasing among civilized people. Woman is for the careless and improvident savage, a providence; she is the prudent and prescient being who presides over his destinies from birth to death. Man, making his religions with the events and the intellectual acquisitions of his daily life, was thus obliged to begin by deifying woman. The pre-Homeric Greeks and Romans had placed their destinies under the control of goddesses, the Fates – Moirai, Parcae – whose name signifies in the Latin language “sparing,” “economic,” and in the Greek the part which falls to each one in the distribution of food or of booty.

If we relieve the rich and poetical Greek mythology of the symbolical, allegorical and mystical lucubrations with which the philosophers and the poets of the classical epoch and the Alexandrine period have overloaded and complicated it, and which the German mythologists, servilely copied by those of France and England, have carried on to their own more perfect confusion, it becomes an inestimable storehouse of prehistoric customs which preserves the memory of the manners which travelers and anthropologists now observe living again among the savages and barbarous nations of Africa and the New World. The mythological legend furnishes us with information of the relative value of feminine and masculine intelligence among the Greeks, before their had entered upon the patriarchal period.

Jupiter, the “father of the gods,” as Homer, Hesiod and Aeschylos call him, after having driven the feminine divinities from Olympus, enthroned there the patriarchate, which for some generations had been established upon earth; the religious heaven always reflects terrestrial manners as the moon reflects the light of the sun. But Jupiter, who like ever barbarian, knew how to use his fists (Iliad XV. 228), who boasted that he was the strongest of the gods, and who to dominate the others kept next his throne two servants, Force and Violence, always ready to obey his orders, was inadequately prepared by his intellectual dualities to replace woman in the government of the Olympian family; in order to supply the capacities which were lacking to him, Hesiod tells us that he married Metis, “the wisest among mortals and gods.” The savage and the barbarian, that he may take into himself the courage of a fallen enemy, devours his throbbing heart; Jupiter carried off Metis to assimilate her cunning, her prudence and her wisdom, for her name in the Greek language has these diverse meanings; these qualities were considered as belonging to woman.

But the process of assimilation took some time, if we may judge from the rascally farce played upon him by Prometheus. The latter killed and butchered an enormous ox, in one pile he placed the flesh which he covered with the skin upon which he deposited the entrails; in another pile lie put the bare bones which he adroitly concealed under heaps of fat. “You have divided the parts very badly,” said the father of gods and men. “Most worthy Jupiter, greatest of living gods, take the part that your wisdom counsels you to choose,” replied the astute Prometheus. The ruler of the heavens, listening only to his gluttony, laid both hands upon the heap of fat amid the laughter of the Olympians; his wrath was terrible when he saw the bare bones. (Theogony 435 et seq.) Such a farce would hardly have been played in the Olympian heaven had it not been that on the earth similar tests had been required to prove to the Father that his intellectual faculties did not justify him in taking the place of the Mother in the leadership of the family and the management of its property.

The higher position in the family and society, which man conquered by brute force, while it compelled him to a mental activity to which he was little accustomed, at the same time put at his disposal opportunities for reflection and development which constantly increased. Woman, “subdued,” as the Greek expression has it, shut up in the narrow circle of the family, the leadership of which had been taken from her, and having little or no contact with the outside world, saw on the contrary a great reduction of the means of development which she had enjoyed, and to complete her subjection she was forbidden the intellectual culture which was given to man. If in spite of these fetters and these disadvantages, the disastrous effects of which cannot be exaggerated, the brain of woman continued to evolve, it was because woman’s intelligence profited through the progress realized by the masculine brain; for one sex transmits to the other the qualities which it has acquired; thus pullets of certain varieties inherit the spurs which are highly developed among the cocks, while in other varieties they transmit to the males their exaggerated crests. “It is fortunate,” says Darwin upon this point, “that the equal transmission of the characteristics of both sexes has been a general rule in the whole series of mammals, otherwise, it is probable that man would have become as superior to woman in intellectual power as the peacock is to the female in ornamental plumage.” (Descent of ManSexual Selection, VIII and XIX.)

But defects as well as valuable qualities are transmitted from one sex to the other: if woman has profited by the brain-growth of man, he has in his turn been retarded in his development by the sluggishness in the development of woman’s brain, produced by the reduction to the smallest minimum of intellectual activity to which he has condemned her. The breeders who seek the choicest results are as careful to have irreproachable females as males; amateur cockfighters attach as much importance to the selection of the pullets as to the cocks, the produce only from those which are armed with spurs and which have the fighting spirit. It may be said that humanity, since it emerged from communism of the clan to live under the system of private property, has been developed by the efforts of one sex alone and that its evolution has been retarded through the obstacles interposed by the other sex. Man by systematically depriving woman of the means of development, material and intellectual, has made of her a force retarding human progress.

In fact if we study and compare the different periods of savagery and barbarism, we cannot but observe the continuous and remarkable progress in human mind, because women and men, exercising freely their physical and mental faculties, contribute equally to the evolution of the species; this has been retarded ever since humanity entered into the period of civilization and private property, because then woman, constrained and confined in her development, cannot contribute to it in so effective a way. The senile stagnation in which China has vegetated for more than a thousand years can only be attributed to the degradation of woman, which has gone to the point of the cruel mutilation of her feet that she may be imprisoned the more closely in the woman’s quarters. Europe also suffers from the degradation of woman, since in spite of the extraordinary material progress of these last two thousand years and the increasing and no less extraordinary accumulation of human knowledge, it cannot be maintained that the brain of the civilized modern exceeds in power and capacity that of the Greeks of the classic epoch, which extends from the seventh to the fourth century before the Christian era. It is certain that a Victor Hugo, a Zola, or any university graduate or doctor has stored in his brain an abundance of positive and diversified conceptions not possessed by Aeschylus, Anaxagoras, Protagoras and Aristotle, but that does not prove that his imagination and his intelligence, or that of his contemporaries is more rich, more varied and more vast than that of the generations of Ionia and Attica, who were the artificers of that incomparable budding and blossoming of science, philosophy, literature and art at which history marvels and who reveled in that subtle and paradoxical play of sophistical philosophy, the like of which has not again been seen. The sophists – Photagoras, Gorgias, Socrates, Plato, etc., stated, discussed and solved the problems of the spiritualistic philosophy and many others besides: yet the Hellenes of Asia Minor and of Greece had emerged from barbarism only a few centuries before. Many reasons may be cited to explain this arrest in human development, but the principal one is the subjection of woman.


Capitalist production, which takes charge of most of the labors to which woman devoted herself in the gentile house, has levied into its army of wage-workers in factory, shop, office and schoolroom, the wives and daughters of the working class and of the small bourgeoisie, in order to procure cheap labor. Its pressing need of intellectual capacities has set aside the venerable and venerated axiom of masculine ethics: “to read, write and count ought to be all of a woman’s knowledge;” it has required that girls like boys be instructed in the rudiments of the sciences. The first step once taken, they could not be forbidden to enter the universities. Thev proved that the feminine brain, which the intellectuals had declared a “child’s brain,” was as capable as the masculine brain of receiving all scientific instruction. The abstract sciences (mathematics, geometry, mechanics, etc.), the first whose study had been accessible to woman, were also the first in which they could give the measure of their intellectual capacities; they are now attacking the experimental sciences (physiology, physics, chemistry, applied mechanics, etc), in America and Europe there arises a throng of women who are marching on a level with men in spite of the inferiority of the conditions of development in which they have lived since their first infancy.

As Capitalism has not snatched woman from the domestic hearth and launched her into social production to emancipate her, but to exploit her more ferociously than man, so it has been careful not to overthrow the economic, legal, political and moral barriers which had been raised to seclude her in the marital dwelling. Woman, exploited by capital, endures the miseries of the free laborer and bears in addition her chains of the past. Her economic misery is aggravated; instead of being supported by her father or husband, to whose rule she still submits, she is obliged to earn her living; and under the pretext that she has fewer necessities than man, her labor is paid less; and when her daily toil in the shop, the office or school is ended, her labor in the household begins. Motherhood, the sacred, the highest of social functions, becomes in capitalistic society a cause of horrible misery, economic and physiologic. The social and economic condition of woman is a danger for the reproduction of the species.

But this crushing and pitiful condition announces the end of her servitude, which begins with the establishment of private property and which can end only with its abolition. Civilized humanity, oppressed by the mechanical mode of production, turns its face toward a society, based on common property, in which woman, delivered from the economic, legal and moral chains which bind her, may develop freely her physical and intellectual faculties, as in the time of the communism of the savages.

The savages, to forbid primitive promiscuity and successfully restrain the circle of sexual relations, found no other means than to separate the sexes; there are reasons for believing that the women took the initiative in this separation, which the specialization of their functions consolidated and emphasized. This was manifested socially by religious ceremonials and secret languages peculiar to each set and even by struggles; [6] and after having taken the character of violent antagonism, it ended in the brutal subjection of woman, which still survives although it is progressively attenuated in proportion as the competition of the two sexes becomes more general and intense upon the economic field. But the modern antagonism will not end with the victory of one sex over the other, for it is one of the phenomena of the struggle of labor against capital, which will find its solution in the emancipation of the working class in which women as well as men are incorporated.

The technique of production which tends to suppress the specialization of trades and functions and to replace muscular effort by attention and intellectual skill and which, the more it is perfected, mingles and confounds man and woman the more in social labor, will prevent the return of the conditions which in savage and barbarous nations had maintained the separation of the sexes. Common property will put an end to the economic antagonism of specialization.

But if it is possible to catch a glimpse of the end of female servitude and of the antagonism of the sexes and to conceive for the human species an era of incomparable bodily and mental progress, brought about by women and men of a high development in muscle and brain, it is impossible to foresee the sexual relations of free and equal women and men who will not be united nor separated by sordid material interests and by the gross ethics engendered by such interests. But if we may judge by the present and the past, men, in whom the genetic passion is more violent and more continuous than in women – the same phenomenon is observed in the males and females of the whole animal series – will be obliged to exhibit their physical and intellectual qualities to win their sweethearts. Sexual selection, which, as Darwin has shown, fulfilled an important role in the development of the animal species and which, with rare exceptions, has ceased to play this part in the Indo-European races for about three thousand years, will again become one of the most active factors in the perfecting of the human race.

Motherhood and love will permit woman to regain the higher position which she occupied in primitive societies, the memory of which hat been preserved by the legends and myths of the ancient religions.




[1] The dowry has played an important role in the history of woman: at the beginning of the patriarchal period the husband buys her from her father, who has to refund her purchase price if for any cause whatever he repudiates her and sends her back to her family; later this purchase price is returned to him and constitutes her dowry, which her relatives are accustomed to double. From the moment when the wife enters into her husband’s house with a dowry, she ceases to be a slave whom he may dismiss, sell and kill. The dowry, which in Rome and Athens became a legal charge upon the property of the husband, was in case of her repudiation or divorce, to be restored to her in preference to any creditor. “No pleasure is derived from the riches which a woman brings into the household.” says a fragment of Euripides, “they only serve to render divorce difficult.” The comic authors ridiculed the husbands, who in tear of a suit over the dowry, fell into dependence upon the wife. A character in Plautus says to a husband who is talking against his wife, “You accepted the money of her dowry, you sold your authority – imperium.” The wealthy Roman matrons carried their insolence to such a point that they did not trust the management of their dowry to their husbands, they gave it over to the stewards, who sometimes fulfilled with them another service, as the evil-speaking Martial states.

Adultery on the part of the wife involved a legal divorce and the restitution of the dowry, but rather than come to this painful extremity, the husbands preferred to close their eyes to the foibles of their wives; at Rome and at Athens the law had to strike at them in order to recall them to their marital dignity; in China a certain number of bamboo strokes were applied to the soles of their feet. The penalties not being sufficient to encourage the husbands to repudiate their adulterous wives, the law, in order to prop up masculine virtue, permitted those who denounced the infidelity of the wife to retain a part of the dowry: there were then men who married only in prospect of the adultery of the wife. The Roman women evaded the law by having themselves enrolled in the censor’s book on the list of prostitutes, to whom it did not apply. The number of matrons inscribed became so considerable that the Senate, under Tiberius passed a decree forbidding “women who had a patrician for a grandfather, husband or father to traffic in their bodies.” (Tacitus, Annals II., 85.) Adultery on the part of the wife in the patrician society of antiquity, as well as in the aristocratic society of the eighteenth century, had become so general that it had so to speak entered into the social customs. It was looked upon lightly as a corrective and accompaniment of marriage.

[2] The Saint Simon manifesto of 1830 announced that the religion of Saint Simon had come “to put an end to that shameful traffic, that legal prostitution, which under the name of marriage often blesses the monstrous union of self-surrender and egoism, of light and of ignorance, of youth and decrepitude.”

[3] The French companies make no differences between the sexes because they pay very small annuities. La Generale, the most important one in France, gives for $1,000 at the age of 50 years an annuity of $64.20: at 60 years $80.80; at 70 years $118.50; at 80 years $134.70. Thus it realizes immense profits: its shares which in 1819 were worth 780 francs each were quoted last January at 31,300 francs.

[4] E. Legou, Some Considerations on the Development of the Foetus, Paris 1903. The weights and measurements of E. Legou were made for official use.

[5] The latest observations upon ants and bees tend to prove that the fertilized eggs would give birth to females and to workers; and the nonfertilized to males, which consequently would be born from eggs that are less complex.

[6] A. W. Howit, who observed among the Australians a species of sexual totemism, says happens that it often happens that the women and men of one clan fight, when the animal that serves as the totem for one sex is killed by the other sex.


Last updated on 5.5.2007