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The Opposing Sex
by [?]

EMANCIPATION of woman is not of American invention. The “movement,” like most others that are truly momentous, originated in Europe, and has broken through and broken down more formidable barriers of law, custom and tradition there than here. It is not true that the English married woman is “virtually a bondwoman” to her husband; that “she can hardly go and come without his consent, and usually he does not consent;” that “all she has is his.” If there is such a thing as “the bitterness of the English married woman to the law,” underlying it there is such a thing as ignorance of what the law is. The “subjection of woman,” as it exists today in England, is customary and traditionary–a social, not a legal, subjection. Nowhere has law so sharply challenged that male dominion whose seat is in the harder muscles, the larger brain and the coarser heart And the law, it may be worth while to point out, was not of woman born; nor was it handed down out of Heaven engraved on tables of stone. Learned English judges have decided that virtually the term “marital rights” has no longer a legal signification. As one writer puts it, “The law has relaxed the husband’s control over his wife’s person and fortune, bit by bit, until legally it has left him nothing but the power to prevent her, if he is so disposed, and arrives in time, from jumping out of the window.” He will find it greatly to his interest to arrive in time when he conveniently can, and to be so disposed, for the husband is still liable for the wife’s torts; and if she makes the leap he may have to pay for the telescoping of a subjacent hat or two.

In England it is the Tyrant Man himself who is chafing in his chain. Not only is a husband still liable for the wrongs committed by the wife whom he has no longer the power to restrain from committing them, but in many ways–in one very important way–his obligation to her remains intact after she has had the self-sacrifice to surrender all obligation to him. Moreover, if his wife has a separate estate he has to endure the pain of seeing it hedged about from her creditors (themselves not altogether happy in the contemplation) with restrictions which do not hamper the right of recourse against his own. Doubtless all this is not without a softening effect upon his character, smoothing down his dispositional asperities and endowing him day by day with fresh accretions of humility. And that is good for him. I do not say that female autonomy is not among the most efficacious agencies for man’s reclamation from the sin of pride; I only say that it is not indigenous to this country, the sweet, sweet home of the assassiness, the happy hunting ground of the whiplady, the paradise of the vitrioleuse.

If the protagonists of woman suffrage are frank they are shallow; if wise, uncandid. Continually they affirm their conviction that political power in the hands of women will give us better government. To proof of that proposition they address all the powers that they have and marshal such facts as can be compelled to serve under their flag. They either think or profess to think that if they can show that women’s votes will purify politics they will have proved their case. That is not true; whether they know it or not, the strongest objection to woman suffrage would remain untouched. Pure politics is desirable, certainly, but it is not the chief concern of the best and most intelligent citizens. Good government is “devoutly to be wished,” but more than good government we need good women. If all our public affairs were to be ordered with the goodness and wisdom of angels, and this state of perfection were obtained by sacrifice of any of those qualities which make the best of our women, if not what they should be, nor what the mindless male thinks them, at least what they are, we should have purchased the advantage too dearly. The effect of woman suffrage upon the country is of secondary importance: the question for profitable consideration is, How will it affect the character of woman? He who does not see in the goodness and charm of such women as are good and charming something incalculably more precious than any degree of political purity or national prosperity may be a patriot: doubtless he is; but also he has the distinction to be a pig.