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One Of Our "Two Puzzles"
by [?]

The two puzzles of our era are, how to employ our women, and what to do with our convicts; and how little soever gallant it may seem to place them in collocation, there is a bond that unites the attempt to keep the good in virtue with the desire to reform the bad from vice, which will save me from any imputation of deficient delicacy.

Let us begin with the Women. An enormous amount of ingenuity has been expended in devising occupations where female labour might be advantageously employed, and where the more patient industry and more delicate handiwork of women might replace the coarser mechanism of men. Printing, bookbinding, cigar-making, and the working of the telegraph, have been freely opened–and, I believe, very successfully–to female skill; and scores of other callings have been also placed at their disposal: but, strange enough, the more that we do, the more there remains to be done; and never have the professed advocates of woman’s rights been so loud in their demands as since we have shared with them many of what we used to regard as the especial fields of man’s industry. Women have taken to the practice of Medicine, and have threatened to invade the Bar–steps doubtless anticipatory of the time when they shall “rise in the House” or sit on the Treasury benches. Now, I have very little doubt that we used not to be as liberal as we might in sharing our callings with women. We had got into the habit of underrating their capacities, and disparaging their fitness for labour, which was very illiberal; but let us take care that the reaction does not cany us too far on the other side, and that in our zeal to make a reparation we only make a blunder, and that we encourage them to adopt careers and crafts totally unsuited to their tastes and their powers.

It is quite clear–in fact, a mere glance at the detail of the preliminary studies will suffice to show it–that medicine and surgery should not be shared with them. For a variety of reasons, they ought not to be encouraged to take holy orders; and, on the whole, it is very doubtful if it would be a wise step to introduce them into the army, much less into the navy. Seeing this, therefore, the question naturally arises, Are women to be the mere drudges–the Helots of our civilisation? Are we only to employ them in such humble callings as exclude all ideas of future distinction? A very serious question this, and one over which I pondered for more than half an hour last night, as I lay under the influence of some very strong tea and a slight menace of gout.

Women are very haughty creatures–very resentful of any supposed slight–very aggressive, besides, if they imagine the time for attack favourable. Will they sit down patiently as makers of pill-boxes and artificial flowers? Will they be satisfied with their small gains and smaller consideration? Will there not be ambitious spirits amongst them who will ask, What do you mean to offer us? We are of a class who neither care to bind books nor draw patterns. We are your equals–if we were not distinctively modest, we might say something more than your equals–in acquirement and information. We have our smattering of physical-science humbug, as you have; we are read up in theological disputation, and are as ready as you to stand by Colenso against Moses; in modern languages we are more than your match. What have you to offer us if we are too proud, or too poor, or too anything else, to stand waiting for a buyer in the marriage-market of Belgravia? You will not suffer us to enter the learned professions nor the Service; you will not encourage us to be architects, attorneys, land-agents, or engineers. We know and we feel that there is not one of these callings either above our capacity or unsuited to our habits, but you deny us admittance; and now we ask, What is your scheme for our employment? what project have you that may point out to us a future of independence and a station of respect? Have you such a plan? or, failing it, have you the courage to proclaim to the world that all your boasted civilisation can offer us is to become the governesses to the children of our luckier sisters? But there are many of us totally unsuited to this, brought up with ways and habits that would make such an existence something very like penal servitude–what will you do with us?