Woman: Man's Equal Part 4

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They have been found, in times of trouble, giving to statesmen sound counsel, which, followed, has led to beneficial results; and, alas! they have, equally with men, been found capable of base intrigue. Cleopatra was fully on a par with Marc Antony, Madame de Pompadour with Richelieu or Mazarin.

Women noted for piety and for patriotism are not found lacking on this list. Retired lives as they have led, compared with men, history, both sacred and profane, abounds with them. They shine out conspicuously, bright lights in a very dark world. Miriam stands side by side with Moses, Deborah a little in advance of Barak. They contribute their jewels to adorn the tabernacle or to save the State; and, in time of need, they cheerfully endure every privation, that the commonwealth may prosper. They were found last lingerers about the cross, and the first to visit the sepulcher of Christ; and they were the first commissioned by him to proclaim his resurrection.

In philanthropic enterprise, Mrs. Fry is the peer of Howard. Who, among men, have been found to excel the world-honored Florence Nightingale in intelligent arrangements and administrative talent, as displayed in her management of the important department to which she devoted herself, and where her courage, prompt.i.tude, and sound judgment were as conspicuous as her sweet, womanly compa.s.sion?

Similar qualities distinguish in a marked degree both Miss Rye and Miss McPherson, and also the power of influencing and controlling juveniles unaccustomed to moral restraints. These, though only a few of the many n.o.ble women whose business talents have been used to bless the needy and suffering, may suffice to prove that women have not only the heart to devise philanthropic undertakings, but the ability to carry them out successfully.

Mothers of great mental power rear sons whose names never die. The mother of the Wesleys, and the mother of Washington, are named as reverently as are these ill.u.s.trious men themselves. In fine, how few great men there are who do not, when they speak upon the subject, attribute their greatness or success to their mothers!

Since, then, women have in a measure shown the capabilities of which they are possessed, it remains to be ascertained what rights and privileges are accorded them, and to be shown whether these are in any proportion to what they are ent.i.tled to; and, as the women of Europe and America enjoy more liberty than those of the other portions of the globe, it is their condition that will be inquired into. Whatever may be amiss in Christianized and civilized lands, the state of woman is incomparably worse where the light of the Gospel does not shine.

Christianity and its attendant civilization have done much for the amelioration of the condition of woman. Except in Turkey and in Utah, the idea that a man is to have more than one wife at the same time is not tolerated. In referring to the continents of Europe and America, it will be understood that Turkey in the one, Utah in the other, are always excepted. In neither Europe nor America are women subject to the surveillance of the East; they are not bought and sold in the markets.

They are, if they do not marry before coming of age, mistresses of their own personal actions. The halls of science, literature, and the arts, have been partially opened to them. The doors have been set ajar, and they allowed to peep in. They may now attend the house of G.o.d without being railed in behind a lattice; and they may, without censure, move about the streets without veils, if it is not the fashion, or it does not please them to wear them. They are accorded a measure of liberty in forming their own religious opinions; that is, the law does not prevent them from doing so. They may, if they can, acquire property in their own names, or they may inherit it. In such cases they, perhaps, if unmarried, may be allowed to manage such property. Once married, it is managed, or mismanaged, as the case may be, by the husband, except in very special cases. They are not compelled by law to marry unless they choose, and are supposed to have a choice with regard to those they do marry, though outside pressure is very frequently brought to bear with regard to both. And, finally, they are allowed a share of authority in the joint government of their respective families. This is about the sum total of the privileges accorded to them.

In the population of both continents, men and women are about equally divided. It is not estimated that there are any more idiots or imbeciles among women than there are among men. Here, then, one-half of this mighty population are prohibited by law from having any voice in the making of the laws by which they are governed, or the carrying of them out after they are made. Where is justice in this case? One slight exception may be made here: in some of the Western States women are allowed to vote and to hold some few positions of profit and trust in the State. It is only a trifling advantage, but still it is an advantage, and is one step gained in the right direction.

The law allows the mother’s holiest feelings to be outraged with impunity. It does not recognize her right to the custody of her own children, except at the husband’s pleasure. She may be intelligent and educated, virtuous and pious. Yet, if he so wills, he may remove her children from her care, deprive her of their society, and even of the comfort of occasionally seeing them; and he may place them under the tutelage of the ignorant and vicious; while the deeply wronged mother is powerless, according to law, to help either herself or her children.

It is counted among one of woman’s privileges that she may hold property in her own right. Upon what tenure is she allowed to hold it? If the property be acquired or inherited, without entail of any sort; if it be real estate, it is hers in fee-simple till she marries. After that event–unless she has guarded her rights by a legal pre-nuptial contract, properly signed and attested to by him who is to be her husband–she may not dispose of any part of it without his express sanction. He may not legally sell it away from her, it is true; but by law he is her master, and may manage it according to his supreme pleasure while he lives. Even a will made by her does not take effect, except her husband pleases, till his death. If the property be in ready money or in funds–except it be guarded in the contract–the husband becomes possessed of it at once, and may appropriate and apply it to any purpose he pleases, without consulting the wishes of his wife. She has no redress. He may, despite her remonstrances, take this her substance and her money, and spend it in foolish speculation; or, worse still, in gambling, drunkenness, and debauchery. He may maltreat her and insult her by the presence in her own house of his mistress. If, no longer able to endure his brutality, she is obliged to leave him, he may, unless the law grant a divorce and alimony, keep possession of her houses and lands, while she must leave home and children behind, and go out upon the world penniless. She can not force him to return one dollar of the wealth that was her own; and after the separation, unless legal papers warranting it have been executed, he can follow her and collect her scanty earnings. Thousands upon the back of thousands of times has all this occurred. Does not civilized law give a woman a lien upon her husband’s property? and does not this counterbalance his lien upon hers?

About as equally as are all other privileges balanced between the s.e.xes; no more.

She has no legal voice whatever in the management of her husband’s estate. His real estate is the only thing upon which she has any claim, and this is only a life interest–after his death–of the one-third of the estate; and of this she may only draw the interest upon the valuation. She may refuse to bar her dower[K] in a sale of land, but if the bargain goes on, her refusal does not invalidate the t.i.tle; all she can do is, in the event of her husband’s death, to claim her interest on her “thirds.” This is all she can claim. The furniture of her home, the very beds which she may have brought to the house, are included in the inventory of her husband’s effects; and, unless she agrees to accept them as part of her thirds, she may be left without, one on which to rest her weary limbs; and that, too, though the property may have been purchased with money brought by her into the matrimonial firm; or though she may have been the working-bee who in reality acquired it. This is not an overdrawn picture. It is the law in civilized countries; and men are found every day who avail themselves of its conditions. That all men are not mean enough to take advantage of such laws, is no excuse for their existence. It is barbarous that, by laws in the enacting of which women have had no voice, they are left to the mercy of unscrupulous men, without the possibility of better men coming to their help, except by repealing the iniquitous statutes.

It is quite true that all women are not made to feel the full force of this bitter oppression, because of the kindness of their husbands, or the prudent forethought of their fathers in providing for unlooked-for emergencies which might occasion poverty or distress; but the laws, and the makers of them, deserve little credit for any comfort or degree of independence enjoyed by women. More sorrowful than it is, infinitely more sorrowful, would woman’s condition be, if true Christianity had not made many men more just than the laws require them to be. Many of the slaves had kind masters; but was slavery any the less an iniquitous outrage upon humanity, a curse upon the land, a blot that could only be wiped away by a b.l.o.o.d.y war? The present social condition of women is merely one system of domestic slavery, which is hourly calling out to G.o.d for redress; and, though he tarry long, yet his afflicted children’s cry is never lifted up in vain.

Society is even yet so const.i.tuted, and the minds of those who are administrators of the law so blinded, by the prejudices which long usage has established, that even the very few laws which are on record for her so-called protection, are rendered of little avail.

The sufferings of women and children from the effects of the liquor-traffic, is perfectly frightful; and what help is there for it?

Lately, in Canada, the wife may, after she is reduced to poverty, forbid the dram-seller to sell her husband any more liquor. If he pays attention to the prohibition, well and good; if not, when in a drunken fit the husband has well-nigh killed her, she may have him bound over to keep the peace–if she can find a magistrate who will do it–and she may complain of the man who sold him the liquor. Perhaps he will be fined a dollar, perhaps not. More likely the latter, with a not very gentle hint that she has stepped out of her sphere by presuming to meddle in such matters.

If women had a voice in the making of the laws, how long would the dram-shop and low groggery send out their liquid poison to pollute civilized lands? But all women are not on the side of right. Neither are the very large majority of men. Many women are drunkards themselves, and worse. True, alas! too true. Sin has corrupted human nature, and men and women have sunk to fearful depths of degradation. Statistics go to show, however, that fallen women happily bear only a very small proportion to those upon whose moral character there is no stain. The virtuous and good are in the large majority.

Men are not allowed by law to murder their wives. Indeed, the law forbids them to beat them; but for this trifle, husbands frequently escape with an “admonition.” Yet, though the letter of the law is explicit, they must stop short of killing their victims. There is a case on record, within a few years back and in a British province, where a man beat his wife to death. He was found guilty of the crime. The jury–composed of men, of course–brought in a verdict of manslaughter, and he was sentenced to three months in the common jail. The plea in his behalf was that she was a drunkard. The poor fellow had only gone a little too far; the court must be merciful. At this same a.s.size, there was a man indicted for theft. He had made good his entrance into a jeweler’s shop, and stolen therefrom a watch. The theft was proved, and the culprit sent to the penitentiary for three years. _Query_: Which was the greater crime, killing a woman or stealing a watch?

The law professes to punish seduction and rape; but when either or both are proved, what are the sentences? In nine cases out of ten, scarcely so severe as for damaging an animal belonging to a neighbor.

Occasionally, when the cases have been atrociously aggravating, a man has been hung for poisoning his wife, or one has been sent to the penitentiary for rape; but the instances are more frequent in which the criminal escapes punishment. It is contended that, usually, the women who are murdered, or otherwise maltreated, are ill-tempered, drunken creatures, and therefore not worthy the protection of the law. Would these same parties contend that because a man was ill-tempered, drunken, or dissolute, therefore his wife was scarcely to be punished for foully murdering him? Not at all. The universal testimony would be that she was a shockingly wicked wretch.

Women, as well as men, have to contend with infirmities of temper; and they quite as well succeed in controlling or keeping them in check.

There are both men and women, unfortunately, who let their evil pa.s.sions run riot till they are torments to all who have any thing to do with them. Some women, naturally gentle and kind, have been so ill-treated, so shamefully tyrannized over, that in process of time the “milk of human kindness in their b.r.e.a.s.t.s has turned to gall;” and the gall is then bitter enough. Would not men, in similar circ.u.mstances, be just as bitter?

There is a certain cla.s.s of women, however, who as a rule are likely to become fretful and ill-tempered as they grow in years: girls who are allowed to grow up with uninformed judgments, who are taught that the chief end and aim of woman is to captivate and please the opposite s.e.x, who are taught to think a pretty face and delicate figure of more importance than good sense or a thorough education. And yet it is a fact worthy of notice, that those who most eloquently a.s.sert their great superiority over the entire s.e.x, are the very men most easily led–ay, and duped–by dressy, frivolous, brainless women. It would be a misfortune, scarcely to be endured, for such men to have wives who know too much.

That there should be a head to every family, is self-evident. A man and his wife, according to Scripture, should be one; and the corporate head is best qualified to govern a family, or manage an estate in which both have a common interest, and therefore ought to have an equal voice. What one lacks, the other may have. The man may be overconfident, the woman too cautious; by counseling together, a proper and safe medium is arrived at.

One-half of the property in the matrimonial firm should always be regarded as belonging to the wife. And if a man and his wife fail to agree as to the advantage, or even safety, of a proposed scheme, and he is still determined to act upon his own judgment, contrary to that of his wife, he should never, in such case, risk more than one-half of the property.

What right has a man, except that “might makes right,” to hazard all he has in wild speculations, or by indorsing for some friend or boon companion, despite his wife’s expostulations, or without her knowledge?

Yet it is done every day, and all lost; and if women who see their children and themselves thus reduced to poverty, complain, they are stigmatized as fretful, unwomanly grumblers. Their husbands, says the world, had a right to do as they pleased with the property in their possession. What if the wife had earned or inherited half, or even the whole, of it! what should women know about business?

In indorsing, especially, a man should be restrained by law, under pains and penalties, from indorsing to amounts exceeding one-half of his property; and no indors.e.m.e.nt in excess of that amount should be allowed to const.i.tute a legal claim.

But is it really right to indorse for any one, under any circ.u.mstances?

Why should a third party enc.u.mber his estate, and run the risk of ruining himself and his family, to secure the payment of a debt in which he has no personal interest, simply to make a capitalist secure in the investing of his funds, or in the profitable disposal of his property on credit? If the lender can not trust the party who deals directly with him, let there be no credit. It is manifestly a departure from the line of duty for a man to jeopard the means of maintenance for his family, without any prospect of advantage to himself or them. It is as much a great moral wrong for a man to rob his wife and children as it is to rob strangers, although commercial usage and the laws of mankind may declare the reverse. “He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it: and he that hateth suretyship is sure.” (Proverbs xi, 15.)

It may be said that to refuse to indorse would r.e.t.a.r.d trade. Let it be r.e.t.a.r.ded, then; for why should the capitalist have two chances to the trader’s one? If the man trusted is unsuccessful, why, to enrich the capitalist who loans his money for his own gain, should an innocent family be impoverished, who reaped no benefit, and were expected to reap no benefit, from the transaction? How many families have thus been brought to ruin, the day of Judgment alone will reveal.

In many countries the law of primogeniture prevails, though, happily, in the United States and Canada it has been abolished. Whether the interests of the mothers and younger members of families ever were in any degree the better provided for by every thing being placed at the absolute disposal of the eldest son, is a doubtful question. It may have been that, in the old barbaric times, when women and children were a prey to every bold marauder who chose to prey upon them, that the law was intended for their protection, the eldest son or brother being the person most likely to be able to protect them; and the property, not being subdivided and scattered, was more easily defended; and it might have been expected that natural affection would cause the heir to deal justly with his mother and the other children.

But with the pa.s.sing away of these days of barbarous forays, pa.s.sed away the need of any such arrangement; if indeed any good ever was accomplished by it. Certainly, much mischief has been wrought and foul injustice sanctioned by it, for many centuries.

An arrangement so well calculated to foster selfishness and arrogance, so long established, produced its legitimate fruit. Since at his father’s death every thing, or nearly so, would come under his control, the eldest son became the one important member of his family. As his mother could have but her interest on the third of the value of the estate, unless specially provided for by marriage settlement, she necessarily became dependent upon him who inherited the estate; and therefore the lad, even while a lad, was constantly deferred to, until he deemed himself superior to the rest of his family. The elder members of a family might have been girls, and, there being no boys, might have arrived at the conclusion that the property of their father might be theirs; but a boy born late in the life of their father would sweep away the delusion, and leave them to poverty. Eldest sons have been known to send their brothers and sisters out into the world penniless, and sell from over their mothers’ heads the homes in which they had hoped to die, obliging them to subsist or starve, as they might, upon their meagre “thirds.” Whether justice to mother or children was done or not, depended entirely upon this one boy. And this was the brightest side of primogeniture. In cases of entailed property, very often the entail specified that it was to go to the heir male for all time. A father in this case, dying without a son, could do nothing besides willing to these girls such loose property as he might have acquired independently of his estate. It might revert to his daughter’s most bitter enemy; it was not in his power to help it.

From the hour of a woman’s birth to her death, there is a continuous system of belittling her, which, if it does not succeed in destroying her self-respect, thus teaching her that she may, as her only means of retaliation, allow herself in any little meanness which may occur to her, is so galling to that self-respect, that the wonder is that her very nature has not become revolutionized. But women have so long been trained in this school, that they have, to a large extent, adopted the language expressive of their own inferiority, if not the sentiment itself.

Emma and John, as children, play together; Emma aged five and John three years respectively. Their toys are suited to their s.e.x–Emma’s a doll, John’s a toy carriage and ponies. For a time all goes on harmoniously; they use each other’s toys indiscriminately; for as yet their minds have not been contaminated by outside influences. By and by, as will come in play, both children wish entire possession of the same toy. There is a contest, and John appeals to mother: “Emma has my carriage, and won’t give it up.” “For shame!” says mother, “Emma, give John his toy directly. Don’t you know that a carriage with ponies is a toy for little gentlemen? Besides, if you are good, when you both grow up perhaps he will give you a ride with real carriage and live ponies.” Awed by the command, and charmed by the distant prospect of the actual ride, the little girl–as indeed she ought–gives up the toy, and peace is restored for the time. But presently a shrill cry is heard: “Johnnie’s rubbing all the paint off my dolly’s cheeks. He won’t give her to me. O, he has broken her arm.” The mother’s reply to this cry is stern and sharp. “Don’t be so cross with your little brother.” Then to John. “O, John, you ought not to have broken sister’s pretty dolly; it wasn’t half so nice as your own little carriage and ponies. Why didn’t you play with them? Boys should be gentlemen. Emma is only a little girl;” with a tone emphatic of inferiority upon the word girl. “Little boys should never stoop to play with girl’s toys.” Later on, where a girl’s enjoyment is in a measure provided for in connection with her brother, he is made almost invariably the purse-bearer. What she has is of his generosity.

Girls must be yielding, submissive, and dependent, as becomes their s.e.x.

Boys may be overbearing or rough; it is a sign of a manly spirit to be so.

Thus arrogance and injustice is fostered in the boy, and a sense of wrong begotten in the girl; the one is degraded in her own eyes, and in the eyes of her brother; the other is elevated above his just level in his own eyes and his sister’s; and heart-burning and jealousies engendered that often last through life. A girl may hardly choose her own husband. Her father, brother, or some friend will introduce some eligible party. She is an undutiful girl if–when he honors her by asking her hand–she do not thankfully consent. To the credit of humanity be it said, that girls have more liberty of choice in this respect than they had formerly. There is still room for improvement. The sooner match-making and match-makers die out, the better for the world.

If man or woman make a mistake in marrying unfortunately, and in consequence suffer unhappiness, let those more fortunately situated, pity and be kind to the sufferer; but let none incur the responsibility of having made such a match.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote K: By recent legislation in Ontario, she is deprived of her right of dower in wild lands.]

CHAPTER VII.

Woman and Legislation.

What rights, it may be asked, ought women to have accorded to them which they do not now enjoy according to law? From what rights does custom debar them? We claim that women, being held equally responsible to the law with men, are as well ent.i.tled to have a voice in making that law.

It is a fundamental principle of all governments, not despotic, that “taxation without representation” is a gross infringement upon the civil rights of the subject or citizen. When, in spite of the disadvantages under which women labor, they have, by unflagging industry and prudent management, acquired real estate, their property is taxed according to the same rule by which the property of men is taxed; and still the elective franchise is denied them. Men in legislating for men know their wants and understand their particular needs, because they have experience of them; but in legislating for women they look at things from their own stand-point; and because of its being impossible for them to experience the various annoyances and humiliations to which women are subjected, they do not realize the injustice toward women of the existing state of things, or the nature and extent of the changes which justice to them requires. To secure any thing like impartial justice in civil affairs for women, they should have an equal voice in making the laws.

It is contended that, if women were ent.i.tled to the franchise, it would make no difference with a party vote, since as many women would vote on one ticket as on the other. What of it? The franchise has been extended from time to time for centuries to various cla.s.ses of men, and these cla.s.ses did not, as a cla.s.s, confine themselves to one particular ticket or party. Was it any the less the unalienable right of these men to enjoy their liberty to vote as they saw fit, or as they deemed for the best interests of the country? Certainly not. Neither is it just that women should be denied the right to vote because it would make no perceptible difference to a party ticket.

If women had a right to vote, say some, it would occasion family contention. Why should it? If a woman thinks as her husband, she will vote as he does; if not, none but an unreasonable and overbearing man would insist that his wife must think as he does, and vote in accordance with his views, whether they agree with her own or not. It would be quite as just and as reasonable to urge that, because the peace of families is sometimes disturbed by fathers and sons voting for opposite parties, therefore, the sons should not be allowed to exercise the franchise during the life-time of their fathers. There are differences of opinion concerning politics in families now; there always have been, and always will be, unless some process can be devised whereby women will be deprived of the power of thought. Are these existing differences less to be deprecated than those likely to result from extending the franchise to women? How can it be supposed that the peace of families is secured by men only having the liberty to give practical expression to their views, by recording votes which may tell for the good or ill of the country, while women have not? though very frequently a woman has the outrage put upon her of knowing that her husband is recording a vote upon her property, not his, for a party to which she is conscientiously opposed. And this in a civilized, not a barbarous, land! Where is either the justice or the moral honesty of such a course of procedure? Surely, if a woman did vote for a candidate or for a measure to which her husband is opposed, it is no worse, and ought to produce no more disturbance in the family, than for him to vote for a candidate or measure to which she is opposed, especially where the property qualification is in her own right, or where–as is very frequently the case–she has worked equally hard in earning it; nor would disturbance be produced by it at any time, were men as much disposed to be just as women are to forgive injury.

Then, there are many intelligent, industrious, and enterprising women who never marry; and many more who do, are left widows early in life, and remain so to its end. These women contribute quite as much to the public good as do unmarried men in similar circ.u.mstances. Why, then, should the one enjoy the privilege of the ballot-box or the polls, and it be denied to the other? There is no just reason whatever. Nothing but usage makes such an injustice tolerated; nothing but the love of arbitrary power causes it to be advocated.

The a.s.sertion that the majority of women care nothing about politics or the exercise of any right not now enjoyed by them, is about as true as the a.s.severations of those who opposed the pa.s.sage of the late “Reform Bill” in England, that the majority of the middle and poorer cla.s.ses were satisfied with the privileges enjoyed, and would scarcely–the poorer cla.s.ses especially–be able to vote intelligently if the privilege were allowed. It was roundly a.s.serted, too, that all this reform agitation was the work of demagogues and infidels. Time has proved that the common people of England were able to record intelligent votes, and that they did prize the privileges which were so reluctantly granted; neither is infidelity any more rampant since liberty has been given to the people to express their opinions than it was before.

Indeed, it has less material upon which to feed and grow than it then had. It is a.s.serted by reverend divines that, to accord women equal rights and privileges with men, is to countenance infidelity. Such a.s.sertions have yet to be proved to be truthful. Logically, the position is untenable. There are many thousands more infidels among men than among women. How, then, can these divines make it appear that giving to women equal civil and political privileges with men would countenance infidelity, or tend to its increase? Women being so much more generally religiously disposed than men, the influence of the former, if allowed its due weight in public affairs, would be much more likely to neutralize the influence of the infidel men now exercising the rights and privileges from which women are debarred, and would thus contribute to the development of a higher moral and religious tone in community.

Apply these men’s theory to themselves, and they would quickly observe its absurdity, as well as its shameful injustice. It is said, too, that women are amply represented by their husbands, brothers, or fathers; which is not true, since wives do not always think as their husbands do; daughters do not always see matters from the same stand-point that their fathers do, any more than sons; and sisters do not agree in opinion with brothers, any more than brothers agree with brothers. It is a well-known fact that, in all countries, fathers and sons have entertained different views, both political and religious, and have given public expression of them; so, also, brothers have arrayed themselves against brothers in civil and ecclesiastical contests. It is absurd, therefore, to say that one member of a family–even though he be the “head”–of necessity represents the views of the entire family. But, supposing it were true that the thing could be done, it would be just as reasonable for women to represent their fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers at the polls as to be represented there by them.

It is urged that many women are frivolous, that they seem scarcely to have a serious thought, that the energies of their minds–if they have any–are bent upon the acquirement of a thorough knowledge of the latest foreign fashion, heedless whether they ruin father or husband or not. So there are–those especially who are taught to think it very “unfeminine”

to be “strong-minded” enough to be independent, who deem it a fearful thing to bend mind or body to work for their own living, a.s.serting, with an unwitting sarcasm, that “papa” or “husband” is the responsible head of the house, and that it is his business to supply their wants. There are frivolous young men, too, in this world of ours, whose whole minds seem bent on the exquisite parting of their back hair, the peculiar shape of their collar and shade of gloves or neck-tie, and the exact height of the heel of their French boots; men who run up bills and ruin fathers and wives without any apparent compunctions of conscience, and who feel no shame that their wives or daughters support them while they squander both time and money. Yet these men, frivolous as it is possible to be, are not denied equal privileges with the rest of their s.e.x, nor is their frivolity pleaded as a reason why sensible men should not be allowed the franchise.

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