MoboReader > Literature > Women and the Alphabet

   Chapter 2 PHYSIOLOGY

Women and the Alphabet By Thomas Wentworth Higginson Characters: 35892

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"Allein, bevor und nachdem man Mutter ist, ist Man ein Mensch; die mütterliche Bestimmung aber, oder gar die heeliche, kann nicht die menschliche überwiegen oder ersetzen, sondern sie muss das Mittel, nicht der Zweck derselben sein."--J.P.F. Richter: Levana, § 89.

"But, before and after being a mother, one is a human being; and neither the motherly nor the wifely destination can overbalance or replace the human, but must become its means, not its end."


Lord Melbourne, speaking of the fine ladies in London who were fond of talking about their ailments, used to complain that they gave him too much of their natural history. There are a good many writers--usually men--who, with the best intentions, discuss woman as if she had merely a physical organization, and as if she existed only for one object, the production and rearing of children. Against this some protest may well be made.

Doubtless there are few things more important to a community than the health of its women. The Sandwich Island proverb says:--

"If strong is the frame of the mother,

The son will give laws to the people."

And, in nations where all men give laws, all men need mothers of strong frames.

Moreover, there is no harm in admitting that all the rules of our structure are imperative; that soul and body, whether of man or woman, are made in harmony, so that each part of our nature must accept the limitations of the other. A man's soul may yearn to the stars; but so long as the body cannot jump so high, he must accept the body's veto. It is the same with any veto interposed in advance by the physical structure of woman. Nobody objects to this general principle. It is only when clerical gentlemen or physiological gentlemen undertake to go a step farther, and put in that veto on their own responsibility, that it is necessary to say, "Hands off, gentlemen! Precisely because women are women, they, not you, are to settle that question."

One or two points are clear. Every specialist is liable to overrate his own specialty; and the man who thinks of woman only as a wife and mother is apt to forget, that, before she was either of these, she was a human being. "Women, as such," says an able writer, "are constituted for purposes of maternity and the continuation of mankind." Undoubtedly, and so were men, as such, constituted for paternity. But very much depends on what relative importance we assign to the phrase, "as such." Even an essay so careful, so moderate, and so free from coarseness, as that here quoted, suggests, after all, a slight one-sidedness,--perhaps a natural reaction from the one-sidedness of those injudicious reformers who allow themselves to speak slightingly of "the merely animal function of child-bearing." Higher than either--wiser than both put together--is that noble statement with which Jean Paul begins his fine essay on the education of girls in "Levana." "Before being a wife or mother, one is a human being; and neither motherly nor wifely destination can overbalance or replace the human, but must become its means, not end. As above the poet, the painter, or the hero, so above the mother, does the human being rise pre?minent."

Here is sure anchorage. We can hold to this. And, fortunately, all the analogies of nature sustain this position. Throughout nature the laws of sex rule everywhere; but they rule a kingdom of their own, always subordinate to the greater kingdom of the vital functions. Every creature, male or female, finds in its sexual relations only a subordinate part of its existence. The need of food, the need of exercise, the joy of living, these come first, and absorb the bulk of its life, whether the individual be male or female. This Antiope butterfly, that flits at this moment past my window,--the first of the season,--spends almost all its existence in a form where the distinction of sex lies dormant: a few days, I might almost say a few hours, comprise its whole sexual consciousness, and the majority of its race die before reaching that epoch. The law of sex is written absolutely through the whole insect world. Yet everywhere it is written as a secondary and subordinate law. The life which is common to the sexes is the principal life; the life which each sex leads, "as such," is a minor and subordinate thing.

The same rule pervades nature. Two riders pass down the street before my window. One rides a horse, the other a mare. The animals were perhaps foaled in the same stable, of the same progenitors. They have been reared alike, fed alike, trained alike, ridden alike; they need the same exercise, the same grooming; nine tenths of their existence are the same, and only the other tenth is different. Their whole organization is marked by the distinction of sex; but, though the marking is ineffaceable, the distinction is not the first or most important fact.

If this be true of the lower animals, it is far more true of the higher. The mental and moral laws of the universe touch us first and chiefly as human beings. We eat our breakfasts as human beings, not as men or women; and it is the same with nine tenths of our interests and duties in life. In legislating or philosophizing for woman, we must neither forget that she has an organization distinct from that of man, nor must we exaggerate the fact. Not "first the womanly and then the human," but first the human and then the womanly, is to be the order of her training.


When any woman, old or young, asks the question, Which among all modern books ought I to read first? the answer is plain. She should read Buckle's lecture before the Royal Institution upon "The Influence of Woman on the Progress of Knowledge." It is one of two papers contained in a thin volume called "Essays by Henry Thomas Buckle." As a means whereby a woman may become convinced that her sex has a place in the intellectual universe, this little essay is almost indispensable. Nothing else quite takes its place.

Darwin and Huxley seem to make woman simply a lesser man, weaker in body and mind,--an affectionate and docile animal, of inferior grade. That there is any aim in the distinction of the sexes, beyond the perpetuation of the race, is nowhere recognized by them, so far as I know. That there is anything in the intellectual sphere to correspond to the physical difference; that here also the sexes are equal yet diverse, and each the natural completion and complement of the other,--this neither Huxley nor Darwin explicitly recognizes. And with the utmost admiration for their great teachings in other ways, I must think that here they are open to the suspicion of narrowness.

Huxley wrote in "The Reader," in 1864, a short paper called "Emancipation--Black and White," in which, while taking generous ground in behalf of the legal and political position of woman, he yet does it pityingly, de haut en bas, as for a creature hopelessly inferior, and so heavily weighted already by her sex that she should be spared all further trials. Speaking through an imaginary critic, who seems to represent himself, he denies "even the natural equality of the sexes," and declares "that in every excellent character, whether mental or physical, the average woman is inferior to the average man, in the sense of having that character less in quantity and lower in quality." Finally he goes so far as "to defend the startling paradox that even in physical beauty man is the superior." He admits that for a brief period of early youth the case may be doubtful, but claims that after thirty the superior beauty of man is unquestionable. Thus reasons Huxley; the whole essay being included in his volume of "Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews." [1]

Darwin's best statements on the subject may be found in his "Descent of Man."[2] He is, as usual, more moderate and guarded than Huxley. He says, for instance: "It is generally admitted that with women the powers of intuition, of rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man; but some, at least, of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilization." Then he passes to the usual assertion that man has thus far attained to a higher eminence than woman. "If two lists were made of the most eminent men and women in poetry, painting, sculpture, music,-- comprising composition and performance,--history, science, and philosophy, with half a dozen names under each subject, the two lists would not bear comparison." But the obvious answer, that nearly every name on his list, upon the masculine side, would probably be taken from periods when woman was excluded from any fair competition,--this he does not seem to recognize at all. Darwin, of all men, must admit that superior merit generally arrives later, not earlier, on the scene; and the question for him to answer is, not whether woman equalled man in the first stages of the intellectual "struggle for life," but whether she is not gaining on him now.

If, in spite of man's enormous advantage in the start, woman is already overtaking his very best performances in several of the highest intellectual departments,--as, for instance, prose fiction and dramatic representation,--then it is mere dogmatism in Mr. Darwin to deny that she may yet do the same in other departments. We in this generation have actually seen this success achieved by Rachel and Ristori in the one art, by "George Sand" and "George Eliot" in the other. Woman is, then, visibly gaining on man in the sphere of intellect; and, if so, Mr. Darwin, at least, must accept the inevitable inference.

But this is arguing the question on the superficial facts merely. Buckle goes deeper, and looks to principles. That superior quickness of women, which Darwin dismisses so lightly as something belonging to savage epochs, is to Buckle the sign of a quality which he holds essential, not only to literature and art, but to science itself. Go among ignorant women, he says, and you will find them more quick and intelligent than equally ignorant men. A woman will usually tell you the way in the street more readily than a man can; a woman can always understand a foreigner more easily; and Dr. Currie says in his letters, that when a laborer and his wife came to consult him, the man always got all the information from the wife. Buckle illustrates this at some length, and points out that a woman's mind is by its nature deductive and quick; a man's mind, inductive and slow; that each has its value, and that science profoundly needs both.

"I will endeavor," he says, "to establish two propositions. First, that women naturally prefer the deductive method to the inductive. Secondly, that women, by encouraging in men deductive habits of thought, have rendered an immense though unconscious service to the progress of science, by preventing scientific investigators from being as exclusively inductive as they would otherwise be."

Then he shows that the most important scientific discoveries of modern times--as of the law of gravitation by Newton, the law of the forms of crystals by Haüy, and the metamorphosis of plants by Goethe--were all essentially the results of that a priori or deductive method "which, during the last two centuries, Englishmen have unwisely despised." They were all the work, in a manner, of the imagination,--of the intuitive or womanly quality of mind. And nothing can be finer or truer than the words in which Buckle predicts the benefits that are to come from the intellectual union of the sexes for the work of the future. "In that field which we and our posterity have yet to traverse, I firmly believe that the imagination will effect quite as much as the understanding. Our poetry will have to reinforce our logic, and we must feel quite as much as we must argue. Let us, then, hope that the imaginative and emotional minds of one sex will continue to accelerate the great progress by acting upon and improving the colder and harder minds of the other sex. By this coalition, by this union of different faculties, different tastes, and different methods, we shall go on our way with the greater ease."

[Footnote 1: Pp. 22, 23, Am. ed.]

[Footnote 2: Vol. ii. p. 311, Am. ed]


When Mr. John Smauker and the Bath footmen invited Sam Weller to their "swarry," consisting of a boiled leg of mutton, each guest had some expression of contempt and wrath for the humble little green-grocer who served them,--"in the true spirit," Dickens says, "of the very smallest tyranny." The very fact that they were subject to being ordered about in their own persons gave them a peculiar delight in issuing tyrannical orders to others: just as sophomores in college torment freshmen because other sophomores once teased the present tormentors themselves; and Irishmen denounce the Chinese for underbidding them in the labor market, precisely as they were themselves denounced by native-born Americans thirty years ago. So it has sometimes seemed to me that the men whose own positions and claims are really least commanding are those who hold most resolutely that women should be kept in their proper place of subordination.

A friend of mine maintains the theory that men large and strong in person are constitutionally inclined to do justice to women, as fearing no competition from them in the way of bodily strength; but that small and weak men are apt to be vehemently opposed to anything like equality in the sexes. He quotes in defence of his theory the big soldier in London who justified himself for allowing his little wife to chastise him, on the ground that it pleased her and did not hurt him; and on the other hand cites the extreme domestic tyranny of the dwarf Quilp. He declares that in any difficult excursion among woods and mountains, the guides and the able-bodied men are often willing to have women join the party, while it is sure to be opposed by those who doubt their own strength or are reluctant to display their weakness. It is not necessary to go so far as my friend goes; but many will remember some fact of this kind, making such theories appear not quite so absurd as at first.

Thus it seems from the "Life and Letters" of Sydney Dobell, the English poet, that he was opposed both to woman suffrage and woman authorship, believing the movement for the former to be a "blundering on to the perdition of womanhood." It appears that against all authorship by women his convictions yearly grew stronger, he regarding it as "an error and an anomaly." It seems quite in accordance with my friend's theory to hear, after this, that Sydney Dobell was slight in person and a lifelong invalid; nor is it surprising, on the same theory, that his poetry took no deep root, and that it will not be likely to survive long, except perhaps in his weird ballad of "Ravelston." But he represents a large class of masculine intellects, of secondary and mediocre quality, whose opinions on this subject are not so much opinions as instinctive prejudices against a competitor who may turn out their superior. Whether they know it, or not, their aversion to the authorship of women is very much like the conviction of a weak pedestrian, that women are not naturally fitted to take long walks; or the opinion of a man whose own accounts are in a muddle, that his wife is constitutionally unfitted to understand business.

It is a pity to praise either sex at the expense of the other. The social inequality of the sexes was not produced so much by the voluntary tyranny of man, as by his great practical advantage at the outset; human history necessarily beginning with a period when physical strength was sole ruler. It is unnecessary, too, to consider in how many cases women may have justified this distrust; and may have made themselves as obnoxious as Horace Walpole's maids of honor, whose coachman left his savings to his son on condition that he should never marry a maid of honor. But it is safe to say that on the whole the feeling of contempt for women, and the love to exercise arbitrary power over them, is the survival of a crude impulse which the world is outgrowing, and which is in general least obvious in the manliest men. That clear and able English writer, Walter Bagehot, well describes "the contempt for physical weakness and for women which marks early society. The non-combatant population is sure to fare ill during the ages of combat. But these defects, too, are cured or lessened; women have now marvellous means of winning their way in the world; and mind without muscle has far greater force than muscle without mind." [1]

[Footnote 1: Physics and Politics, p. 79.]


A highly educated American woman of my acquaintance once employed a French tutor in Paris to assist her in teaching Latin to her little grandson. The Frenchman brought with him a Latin grammar, written in his own language, with which my friend was quite pleased, until she came to a passage relating to the masculine gender in nouns, and claiming grammatical precedence for it on the ground that the male sex is the noble sex,--"le sexe noble." "Upon that," she said, "I burst forth in indignation, and the poor teacher soon retired. But I do not believe," she added, "that the Frenchman has the slightest conception, up to this moment, of what I could find in that phrase to displease me."

I do not suppose he could. From the time when the Salic Law set French women aside from the royal succession, on the ground that the kingdom of France was "too noble to be ruled by a woman," the claim of nobility has been all on one side. The State has strengthened the Church in this theory, the Church has strengthened the State; and the result of all is, that French grammarians follow both these high authorities. When even the good Père Hyacinthe teaches, through the

New York "Independent," that the husband is to direct the conscience of his wife, precisely as the father directs that of his child, what higher philosophy can you expect of any Frenchman than to maintain the claims of "le sexe noble"?

We see the consequence, even among the most heterodox Frenchmen. Rejecting all other precedents and authorities, the poor Communists still held to this. Consider, for instance, this translation of a marriage contract under the Commune, which lately came to light in a trial reported in the "Gazette des Tribunaux:"--


The citizen Anet, son of Jean Louis Anet, and the citoyenne Maria Saint; she engaged to follow the said citizen everywhere and to love him always.-- ANET. MARIA SAINT.

Witnessed by the under-mentioned citizen and citoyenne.--FOURIER. LAROCHE.

PARIS, April 22, 1871.

What a comfortable arrangement is this! Poor citoyenne Maria Saint, even when all human laws have suspended their action, still holds by her grammar, still must annex herself to le sexe noble. She still must follow citizen Anet as the feminine pronoun follows the masculine, or as a verb agrees with its nominative case in number and in person. But with what a lordly freedom from all obligation does citizen Anet, representative of this nobility of sex, accept the allegiance! The citizeness may "follow him," certainly,--so long as she is not in the way,--and she must "love him always;" but he is not bound. Why should he be? It would be quite ungrammatical.

Yet, after all is said and done, there is a brutal honesty in this frank subordination of the woman according to the grammar. It has the same merit with the old Russian marriage consecration: "Here, wolf, take thy lamb," which at least put the thing clearly, and made no nonsense about it. I do not know that anywhere in France the wedding ritual is now so severely simple as this, but I know that in some French villages the bride is still married in a mourning-gown. I should think she would be.


Every young woman of the present generation, so soon as she ventures to have a headache or a set of nerves, is immediately confronted by indignant critics with her grandmother. If the grandmother is living, the fact of her existence is appealed to: if there is only a departed grandmother to remember, the maiden is confronted with a ghost. That ghost is endowed with as many excellences as those with which Miss Betsey Trotwood endowed the niece that never had been born; and just as David Copperfield was reproached with the virtues of his unborn sister who "would never have run away," so that granddaughter with the headache is reproached with the ghostly perfections of her grandmother, who never had a headache--or, if she had, it is luckily forgotten. It is necessary to ask, sometimes, what was really the truth about our grandmothers? Were they such models of bodily perfection as is usually claimed?

If we look at the early colonial days, we are at once met by the fact, that although families were then often larger than is now common, yet this phenomenon was by no means universal, and was balanced by a good many childless homes. Of this any one can satisfy himself by looking over any family history; and he can also satisfy himself of the fact,--first pointed out, I believe, by Mrs. Ball,--that third and fourth marriages were then obviously and unquestionably more common than now. The inference would seem to be, that there is a little illusion about the health of those days, as there is about the health of savage races. In both cases, it is not so much that the average health is greater under rude social conditions, as that these conditions kill off the weak, and leave only the strong. Modern civilized society, on the other hand, preserves the health of many men and women--and permits them to marry, and become parents--who under the severities of savage life or of pioneer life would have died, and given way to others.

On this I will not dwell; because these primeval ladies were not strictly our grandmothers, being farther removed. But of those who were our grandmothers,--the women of the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary epochs,--we happen to have very definite physiological observations recorded; not very flattering, it is true, but frank and searching. What these good women are in the imagination of their descendants, we know. Mrs. Stowe describes them as "the race of strong, hardy, cheerful girls that used to grow up in country places, and made the bright, neat New England kitchens of olden times;" and adds, "This race of women, pride of olden time, is daily lessening; and in their stead come the fragile, easily fatigued, languid girls of a modern age, drilled in book-learning, ignorant of common things."

What, now, was the testimony of those who saw our grandmothers in the flesh? As it happens, there were a good many foreigners, generally Frenchmen, who came to visit the new Republic during the presidency of Washington. Let us take, for instance, the testimony of the two following.

The Abbé Robin was a chaplain in Rochambeau's army during the Revolution, and wrote thus in regard to the American ladies in his "Nouveau Voyage dans l'Amerique Septentrionale," published in 1782:--

"They are tall and well-proportioned; their features are generally regular; their complexions are generally fair and without color.... At twenty years of age the women have no longer the freshness of youth. At thirty-five or forty they are wrinkled and decrepit. The men are almost as premature."

Again: The Chevalier Louis Félix de Beaujour lived in the United States from 1804 to 1814, as consul-general and chargé d'affaires; and wrote a book, immediately after, which was translated into English under the title, "A Sketch of the United States at the Commencement of the Present Century." In this he thus describes American women:--

"The women have more of that delicate beauty which belongs to their sex, and in general have finer features and more expression in their physiognomy. Their stature is usually tall, and nearly all are possessed of a light and airy shape,--the breast high, a fine head, and their color of a dazzling whiteness. Let us imagine, under this brilliant form, the most modest demeanor, a chaste and virginal air, accompanied by those single and unaffected graces which flow from artless nature, and we may have an idea of their beauty; but this beauty fades and passes in a moment. At the age of twenty-five their form changes, and at thirty the whole of their charms have disappeared."

These statements bring out a class of facts, which, as it seems to me, are singularly ignored by some of our physiologists. They indicate that the modification of the American type began early, and was, as a rule, due to causes antedating the fashions or studies of the present day. Here are our grandmothers and great-grandmothers as they were actually seen by the eyes of impartial or even flattering critics. These critics were not Englishmen, accustomed to a robust and ruddy type of women, but Frenchmen, used to a type more like the American. They were not mere hasty travellers; for the one lived here ten years, and the other was stationed for some time at Newport, R.I., in a healthy locality, noted in those days for the beauty of its women. Yet we find it their verdict upon these grandmothers of nearly a hundred years ago, that they showed the same delicate beauty, the same slenderness, the same pallor, the same fragility, the same early decline, with which their granddaughters are now reproached.

In some respects, probably, the physical habits of the grandmothers were better: but an examination of their portraits will satisfy any one that they laced more tightly than their descendants, and wore their dresses lower in the neck; and as for their diet, we have the testimony of another French traveller, Volney, who was in America from 1795 to 1798, that "if a premium were offered for a regimen most destructive to the teeth, the stomach, and the health in general, none could be devised more efficacious for these ends than that in use among this people." And he goes on to give particulars, showing a far worse condition in respect to cookery and diet than now prevails in any decent American society.

We have therefore strong evidence that the essential change in the American type was effected in the last century, not in this. Dr. E.H. Clarke says, "A century does not afford a period long enough for the production of great changes. That length of time could not transform the sturdy German fr?ulein and robust English damsel into the fragile American miss." And yet it is pretty clear that the first century and a half of our colonial life had done just this for our grandmothers. And, if so, our physiologists ought to conform their theories to the facts.


I was talking the other day with a New York physician, long retired from practice, who after an absence of a dozen years in Europe has returned within a year to this country. He volunteered the remark, that nothing had so impressed him since his return as the improved health of Americans. He said that his wife had been equally struck with it; and that they had noticed it especially among the inhabitants of cities, among the more cultivated classes, and in particular among women.

It so happened, that within twenty-four hours almost precisely the same remark was made to me by another gentleman of unusually cosmopolitan experience, and past middle age. He further fortified himself by a similar assertion made him by Charles Dickens, in comparing his second visit to this country with his first. In answer to an inquiry as to what points of difference had most impressed him, Dickens said, "Your people, especially the women, look better fed than formerly."

It is possible that in all these cases the witnesses may have been led to exaggerate the original evil, while absent from the country, and so may have felt some undue reaction on their arrival. One of my informants went so far as to express confidence that among his circle of friends in Boston and in London a dinner party of half a dozen Americans would outweigh an English party of the same number. Granting this to be too bold a statement, and granting the unscientific nature of all these assertions, they still indicate a probability of their own truth until refuted by facts on the other side. They are further corroborated by the surprise expressed by Huxley and some other recent Englishmen at finding us a race more substantial than they had supposed.

The truth seems to be, that Nature is endeavoring to take a new departure in the American, and to produce a race more finely organized, more sensitive, more pliable, and of more nervous energy, than the races of Northern Europe; that this change of type involves some risk to health in the process, but promises greater results whenever the new type shall be established. I am confident that there has been within the last half-century a great improvement in the physical habits of the more cultivated classes, at least, in this country,--better food, better air, better habits as to bathing and exercise. The great increase of athletic games; the greatly increased proportion of seaside and mountain life in summer; the thicker shoes and boots of women and little girls, permitting them to go out more freely in all weathers,--these are among the permanent gains. The increased habit of dining late, and of taking only a lunch at noon, is of itself an enormous gain to the professional and mercantile classes, because it secures time for eating and for digestion. Even the furnaces in houses, which seemed at first so destructive to the very breath of life, turn out to have given a new lease to it; and open fires are being rapidly reintroduced as a provision for enjoyment and health, when the main body of the house has been tempered by the furnace. There has been, furthermore, a decided improvement in the bread of the community, and a very general introduction of other farinaceous food. All this has happened within my own memory, and gives a priori probability to the alleged improvement in physical condition within twenty years.

And, if these reasonings are still insufficient on the one side, it must be remembered that the facts of the census are almost equally inadequate when quoted on the other. If, for instance, all the young people of a New Hampshire village take a fancy to remove to Wisconsin, it does not show that the race is dying out because their children swell the birth-rate of Wisconsin instead of New Hampshire. If in a given city the births among the foreign-born population are twice as many in proportion as among the American, we have not the whole story until we learn whether the deaths are not twice as many also. If so, the inference is that the same recklessness brought the children into the world and sent them out of it; and no physiological inference whatever can be drawn. It was clearly established by the medical commission of the Boston Board of Health, a few years ago, that "the general mortality of the foreign element is much greater than that of the native element of our population." "This is found to be the case," they add, "throughout the United States as well as in Boston."

So far as I can judge, all our physiological tendencies are favorable rather than otherwise: and the transplantation of the English race seems now likely to end in no deterioration, but in a type more finely organized, and more comprehensive and cosmopolitan; and this without loss of health, of longevity, or of physical size and weight. And, if this is to hold true, it must be true not only of men, but of women.


Are there any inevitable limitations of sex?

Some reformers, apparently, think that there are not, and that the best way to help woman is to deny the fact of limitations. But I think the great majority of reformers would take a different ground, and would say that the two sexes are mutually limited by nature. They would doubtless add that this very fact is an argument for the enfranchisement of woman: for, if woman is a mere duplicate of man, man can represent her; but if she has traits of her own, absolutely distinct from his, then he cannot represent her, and she should have a voice and a vote of her own.

To this last body of believers I belong. I think that all legal or conventional obstacles should be removed, which debar woman from determining for herself, as freely as man determines, what the real limitations of sex are, and what restrictions are merely conventional. But, when all is said and done, there is no doubt that plenty of limitations will remain on both sides.

That man has such limitations is clear. No matter how finely organized he may be, how sympathetic, how tender, how loving, there is yet a barrier, never to be passed, that separates him from the most precious part of the woman's kingdom. All the wondrous world of motherhood, with its unspeakable delights, its holy of holies, remains forever unknown by him; he may gaze, but never enter. That halo of pure devotion, which makes a Madonna out of so many a poor and ignorant woman, can never touch his brow. Many a man loves children more than many a woman: but, after all, it is not he who has borne them; to that peculiar sacredness of experience he can never arrive. But never mind whether the loss be a great one or a small one: it is distinctly a limitation; and to every loving mother it is a limitation so important that she would be unable to weigh all the privileges and powers of manhood against this peculiar possession of her child.

Now, if this be true, and if man be thus distinctly limited by the mere fact of sex, can the woman complain that she also should have some natural limitations? Grant that she should have no unnecessary restrictions; and that the course of human progress is constantly setting aside, as unnecessary, point after point that was once held essential. Still, if she finds--as she undoubtedly will find--that some natural barriers and hindrances remain at last, and that she can no more do man's whole work in the world than he can do hers, why should she complain? If he can accept his limitations, she must be prepared also to accept hers.

Some of our physiological reformers, declare that a girl will be perfectly healthy if she can only be sensibly dressed, and can "have just as much outdoor exercise as the boys, and of the same sort, if she choose it." But I have observed that matter a good deal, and have watched the effect of boyish exercise on a good many girls; and I am satisfied that so far from being safely turned loose, as boys can be, they need, for physical health, the constant supervision of wise mothers. Otherwise the very exposure that only hardens the boy may make the girl an invalid for life. The danger comes from a greater sensitiveness of structure,--not weakness, properly so called, since it gives, in certain ways, more power of endurance,--a greater sensitiveness which runs through all a woman's career, and is the expensive price she pays for the divine destiny of motherhood. It is another natural limitation.

No wise person believes in any "reform against Nature," or that we can get beyond the laws of Nature. If I believed the limitations of sex to be inconsistent with woman suffrage for instance, I should oppose it; but I do not see why a woman cannot form political opinions by her baby's cradle, as well as her husband in his workshop, while her very love for the child commits her to an interest in good government. Our duty is to remove all the artificial restrictions we can. That done, it will not be hard for man or woman to acquiesce in the natural limitations.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top