IN DEFENSE OF WOMEN
by H. L. Mencken
Introduction I The Feminine Mind II The War between The Sexes III Marriage IV Woman Suffrage V The New Age
As a professional critic of life and letters, my principal business in the world is that of manufacturing platitudes for tomorrow, which is to say, ideas so novel that they will be instantly rejected as insane and outrageous by all right thinking men, and so apposite and sound that they will eventually conquer that instinctive opposition, and force themselves into the traditional wisdom of the race. I hope I need not confess that a large part of my stock in trade consists of platitudes rescued from the cobwebbed shelves of yesterday, with new labels stuck rakishly upon them. This borrowing and refurbishing of shop-worn goods, as a matter of fact, is the invariable habit of traders in ideas, at all times and everywhere. It is not, however, that all the conceivable human notions have been thought out; it is simply, to be quite honest, that the sort of men who volunteer to think out new ones seldom, if ever, have wind enough for a full day's work. The most they can ever accomplish in the way of genuine originality is an occasional brilliant spurt, and half a dozen such spurts, particularly if they come close together and show a certain co-ordination, are enough to make a practitioner celebrated, and even immortal. Nature, indeed, conspires against all such genuine originality, and I have no doubt that God is against it on His heavenly throne, as His vicars and partisans unquestionably are on this earth. The dead hand pushes all of us into intellectual cages; there is in all of us a strange tendency to yield and have done. Thus the impertinent colleague of Aristotle is doubly beset, first by a public opinion that regards his enterprise as subversive and in bad taste, and secondly by an inner weakness that limits his capacity for it, and especially his capacity to throw off the prejudices and superstitions of his race, culture anytime. The cell, said Haeckel, does not act, it reacts—and what is the instrument of reflection and speculation save a congeries of cells? At the moment of the contemporary metaphysician's loftiest flight, when he is most gratefully warmed by the feeling that he is far above all the ordinary airlanes and has absolutely novel concept by the tail, he is suddenly pulled up by the discovery that what is entertaining him is simply the ghost of some ancient idea that his school-master forced into him in 1887, or the mouldering corpse of a doctrine that was made official in his country during the late war, or a sort of fermentation-product, to mix the figure, of a banal heresy launched upon him recently by his wife. This is the penalty that the man of intellectual curiosity and vanity pays for his violation of the divine edict that what has been revealed from Sinai shall suffice for him, and for his resistance to the natural process which seeks to reduce him to the respectable level of a patriot and taxpayer.
I was, of course, privy to this difficulty when I planned the present work, and entered upon it with no expectation that I should be able to embellish it with, almost, more than a very small number of hitherto unutilized notions. Moreover, I faced the additional handicap of having an audience of extraordinary antipathy to ideas before me, for I wrote it in war-time, with all foreign markets cut off, and so my only possible customers were Americans. Of their unprecedented dislike for novelty in the domain of the intellect I have often discoursed in the past, and so there is no need to go into the matter again. All I need do here is to recall the fact that, in the United States, alone among the great nations of history, there is a right way to think and a wrong way to think in everything—not only in theology, or politics, or economics, but in the most trivial matters of everyday life. Thus, in the average American city the citizen who, in the face of an organized public clamour (usually managed by interested parties) for the erection of an equestrian statue of Susan B. Anthony, the apostle of woman suffrage, in front of the chief railway station, or the purchase of a dozen leopards for the municipal zoo, or the dispatch of an invitation to the Structural Iron Workers' Union to hold its next annual convention in the town Symphony Hall—the citizen who, for any logical reason, opposes such a proposal—on the ground, say, that Miss Anthony never mounted a horse in her life, or that a dozen leopards would be less useful than a gallows to hang the City Council, or that the Structural Iron Workers would spit all over the floor of Symphony Hall and knock down the busts of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms—this citizen is commonly denounced as an anarchist and a public enemy. It is not only erroneous to think thus; it has come to be immoral. And many other planes, high and low. For an American to question any of the articles of fundamental faith cherished by the majority is for him to run grave risks of social disaster. The old English offence of "imagining the King's death" has been formally revived by the American courts, and hundreds of men and women are in jail for committing it, and it has been so enormously extended that, in some parts of the country at least, it now embraces such remote acts as believing that the negroes should have equality before the law, and speaking the language of countries recently at war with the Republic, and conveying to a private friend a formula for making synthetic gin. All such toyings with illicit ideas are construed as attentats against democracy, which, in a sense, perhaps they are. For democracy is grounded upon so childish a complex of fallacies that they must be protected by a rigid system of taboos, else even half-wits would argue it to pieces. Its first concern must thus be to penalize the free play of ideas. In the United States this is not only its first concern, but also its last concern. No other enterprise, not even the trade in public offices and contracts, occupies the rulers of the land so steadily, or makes heavier demands upon their ingenuity and their patriotic passion.
Familiar with the risks flowing out of it—and having just had to change the plates of my "Book of Prefaces," a book of purely literary criticism, wholly without political purpose or significance, in order to get it through the mails, I determined to make this brochure upon the woman question extremely pianissimo in tone, and to avoid burdening it with any ideas of an unfamiliar, and hence illegal nature. So deciding, I presently added a bravura touch: the unquenchable vanity of the intellectual snob asserting itself over all prudence. That is to say, I laid down the rule that no idea should go into the book that was not already so obvious that it had been embodied in the proverbial philosophy, or folk-wisdom, of some civilized nation, including the Chinese. To this rule I remained faithful throughout. In its original form, as published in 1918, the book was actuary just such a pastiche of proverbs, many of them English, and hence familiar even to Congressmen, newspaper editors and other such illiterates. It was not always easy to hold to this program; over and over again I was tempted to insert notions that seemed to have escaped the peasants of Europe and Asia. But in the end, at some cost to the form of the work, I managed to get through it without compromise, and so it was put into type. There is no need to add that my ideational abstinence went unrecognized and unrewarded. In fact, not a single American reviewer noticed it, and most of them slated the book violently as a mass of heresies and contumacies, a deliberate attack upon all the known and revered truths about the woman question, a headlong assault upon the national decencies. In the South, where the suspicion of ideas goes to extraordinary lengths, even for the United States, some of the newspapers actually denounced the book as German propaganda, designed to break down American morale, and called upon the Department of Justice to proceed against me for the crime known to American law as "criminal anarchy," i.e., "imagining the King's death." Why the Comstocks did not forbid it the mails as lewd and lascivious I have never been able to determine. Certainly, they received many complaints about it. I myself, in fact, caused a number of these complaints to be lodged, in the hope that the resultant buffooneries would give me entertainment in those dull days of war, with all intellectual activities adjourned, and maybe promote the sale of the book. But the Comstocks were pursuing larger fish, and so left me to the righteous indignation of right-thinking reviewers, especially the suffragists. Their concern, after all, is not with books that are denounced; what they concentrate their moral passion on is the book that is praised.
The present edition is addressed to a wider audience, in more civilized countries, and so I have felt free to introduce a number of propositions, not to be found in popular proverbs, that had to be omitted from the original edition. But even so, the book by no means pretends to preach revolutionary doctrines, or even doctrines of any novelty. All I design by it is to set down in more or less plain form certain ideas that practically every civilized man and woman holds in petto, but that have been concealed hitherto by the vast mass of sentimentalities swathing the whole woman question. It is a question of capital importance to all human beings, and it deserves to be discussed honestly and frankly, but there is so much of social reticence, of religious superstition and of mere emotion intermingled with it that most of the enormous literature it has thrown off is hollow and useless. I point for example, to the literature of the subsidiary question of woman suffrage. It fills whole libraries, but nine tenths of it is merely rubbish, for it starts off from assumptions that are obviously untrue and it reaches conclusions that are at war with both logic and the facts. So with the question of sex specifically. I have read, literally, hundreds of volumes upon it, and uncountable numbers of pamphlets, handbills and inflammatory wall-cards, and yet it leaves the primary problem unsolved, which is to say, the problem as to what is to be done about the conflict between the celibacy enforced upon millions by civilization and the appetites implanted in all by God. In the main, it counsels yielding to celibacy, which is exactly as sensible as advising a dog to forget its fleas. Here, as in other fields, I do not presume to offer a remedy of my own. In truth, I am very suspicious of all remedies for the major ills of life, and believe that most of them are incurable. But I at least venture to discuss the matter realistically, and if what I have to say is not sagacious, it is at all events not evasive. This, I hope, is something. Maybe some later investigator will bring a better illumination to the subject.
It is the custom of The Free-Lance Series to print a paragraph or two about the author in each volume. I was born in Baltimore, September 12, 1880, and come of a learned family, though my immediate forebears were business men. The tradition of this ancient learning has been upon me since my earliest days, and I narrowly escaped becoming a doctor of philosophy. My father's death, in 1899, somehow dropped me into journalism, where I had a successful career, as such careers go. At the age of 25 I was the chief editor of a daily newspaper in Baltimore. During the same year I published my first book of criticism. Thereafter, for ten or twelve years, I moved steadily from practical journalism, with its dabbles in politics, economics and soon, toward purely aesthetic concerns, chiefly literature and music, but of late I have felt a strong pull in the other direction, and what interests me chiefly today is what may be called public psychology, ie., the nature of the ideas that the larger masses of men hold, and the processes whereby they reach them. If I do any serious writing hereafter, it will be in that field. In the United States I am commonly held suspect as a foreigner, and during the war I was variously denounced. Abroad, especially in England, I am sometimes put to the torture for my intolerable Americanism. The two views are less far apart than they seem to be. The fact is that I am superficially so American, in ways of speech and thought, that the foreigner is deceived, whereas the native, more familiar with the true signs, sees that under the surface there is incurable antagonism to most of the ideas that Americans hold to be sound. Thus If all between two stools—but it is more comfortable there on the floor than sitting up tightly. I am wholly devoid of public spirit or moral purpose. This is incomprehensible to many men, and they seek to remedy the defect by crediting me with purposes of their own. The only thing I respect is intellectual honesty, of which, of course, intellectual courage is a necessary part. A Socialist who goes to jail for his opinions seems to me a much finer man than the judge who sends him there, though I disagree with all the ideas of the Socialist and agree with some of those of the judge. But though he is fine, the Socialist is nevertheless foolish, for he suffers for what is untrue. If I knew what was true, I'd probably be willing to sweat and strive for it, and maybe even to die for it to the tune of bugle-blasts. But so far I have not found it.
H. L. Mencken
I. The Feminine Mind
1. The Maternal Instinct
A man's women folk, whatever their outward show of respect for his merit and authority, always regard him secretly as an ass, and with something akin to pity. His most gaudy sayings and doings seldom deceive them; they see the actual man within, and know him for a shallow and pathetic fellow. In this fact, perhaps, lies one of the best proofs of feminine intelligence, or, as the common phrase makes it, feminine intuition. The mark of that so-called intuition is simply a sharp and accurate perception of reality, an habitual immunity to emotional enchantment, a relentless capacity for distinguishing clearly between the appearance and the substance. The appearance, in the normal family circle, is a hero, magnifico, a demigod. The substance is a poor mountebank.
The proverb that no man is a hero to his valet is obviously of masculine manufacture. It is both insincere and untrue: insincere because it merely masks the egotistic doctrine that he is potentially a hero to everyone else, and untrue because a valet, being a fourth-rate man himself, is likely to be the last person in the world to penetrate his master's charlatanry. Who ever heard of valet who didn't envy his master wholeheartedly? who wouldn't willingly change places with his master? who didn't secretly wish that he was his master? A man's wife labours under no such naive folly. She may envy her husband, true enough, certain of his more soothing prerogatives and sentimentalities. She may envy him his masculine liberty of movement and occupation, his impenetrable complacency, his peasant-like delight in petty vices, his capacity for hiding the harsh face of reality behind the cloak of romanticism, his general innocence and childishness. But she never envies him his puerile ego; she never envies him his shoddy and preposterous soul.
This shrewd perception of masculine bombast and make-believe, this acute understanding of man as the eternal tragic comedian, is at the bottom of that compassionate irony which paces under the name of the maternal instinct. A woman wishes to mother a man simply because she sees into his helplessness, his need of an amiable environment, his touching self delusion. That ironical note is not only daily apparent in real life; it sets the whole tone of feminine fiction. The woman novelist, if she be skillful enough to arise out of mere imitation into genuine self-expression, never takes her heroes quite seriously. From the day of George Sand to the day of Selma Lagerlof she has always got into her character study a touch of superior aloofness, of ill-concealed derision. I can't recall a single masculine figure created by a woman who is not, at bottom, a booby.
2. Women's Intelligence
That is should still be necessary, at this late stage in the senility of the human race to argue that women have a fine and fluent intelligence is surely an eloquent proof of the defective observation, incurable prejudice, and general imbecility of their lords and masters. One finds very few professors of the subject, even among admitted feminists, approaching the fact as obvious; practically all of them think it necessary to bring up a vast mass of evidence to establish what should be an axiom. Even the Franco Englishman, W. L. George, one of the most sharp-witted of the faculty, wastes a whole book up on the demonstration, and then, with a great air of uttering something new, gives it the humourless title of "The Intelligence of Women." The intelligence of women, forsooth! As well devote a laborious time to the sagacity of serpents, pickpockets, or Holy Church!
Women, in truth, are not only intelligent; they have almost a monopoly of certain of the subtler and more utile forms of intelligence. The thing itself, indeed, might be reasonably described as a special feminine character; there is in it, in more than one of its manifestations, a femaleness as palpable as the femaleness of cruelty, masochism or rouge. Men are strong. Men are brave in physical combat. Men have sentiment. Men are romantic, and love what they conceive to be virtue and beauty. Men incline to faith, hope and charity. Men know how to sweat and endure. Men are amiable and fond. But in so far as they show the true fundamentals of intelligence—in so far as they reveal a capacity for discovering the kernel of eternal verity in the husk of delusion and hallucination and a passion for bringing it forth—to that extent, at least, they are feminine, and still nourished by the milk of their mothers. "Human creatures," says George, borrowing from Weininger, "are never entirely male or entirely female; there are no men, there are no women, but only sexual majorities." Find me an obviously intelligent man, a man free from sentimentality and illusion, a man hard to deceive, a man of the first class, and I'll show you aman with a wide streak of woman in him. Bonaparte had it; Goethe had it; Schopenhauer had it; Bismarck and Lincoln had it; in Shakespeare, if the Freudians are to be believed, it amounted to down right homosexuality. The essential traits and qualities of the male, the hallmarks of the unpolluted masculine, are at the same time the hall-marks of the Schalskopf. The caveman is all muscles and mush. Without a woman to rule him and think for him, he is a truly lamentable spectacle: a baby with whiskers, a rabbit with the frame of an aurochs, a feeble and preposterous caricature of God.
It would be an easy matter, indeed, to demonstrate that superior talent in man is practically always accompanied by this feminine flavour—that complete masculinity and stupidity are often indistinguishable. Lest I be misunderstood I hasten to add that I do not mean to say that masculinity contributes nothing to the complex of chemico-physiological reactions which produces what we call talent; all I mean to say is that this complex is impossible without the feminine contribution that it is a product of the interplay of the two elements. In women of genius we see the opposite picture. They are commonly distinctly mannish, and shave as well as shine. Think of George Sand, Catherine the Great, Elizabeth of England, Rosa Bonheur, Teresa Carreo or Cosima Wagner. The truth is that neither sex, without some fertilization by the complementary characters of the other, is capable of the highest reaches of human endeavour. Man, without a saving touch of woman in him, is too doltish, too naive and romantic, too easily deluded and lulled to sleep by his imagination to be anything above a cavalryman, a theologian or a bank director. And woman, without some trace of that divine innocence which is masculine, is too harshly the realist for those vast projections of the fancy which lie at the heart of what we call genius. Here, as elsewhere in the universe, the best effects are obtained by a mingling of elements. The wholly manly man lacks the wit necessary to give objective form to his soaring and secret dreams, and the wholly womanly woman is apt to be too cynical a creature to dream at all.
3. The Masculine Bag of Tricks
What men, in their egoism, constantly mistake for a deficiency of intelligence in woman is merely an incapacity for mastering that mass of small intellectual tricks, that complex of petty knowledges, that collection of cerebral rubber stamps, which constitutes the chief mental equipment of the average male. A man thinks that he is more intelligent than his wife because he can add up a column of figures more accurately, and because he understands the imbecile jargon of the stock market, and because he is able to distinguish between the ideas of rival politicians, and because he is privy to the minutiae of some sordid and degrading business or profession, say soap-selling or the law. But these empty talents, of course, are not really signs of a profound intelligence; they are, in fact, merely superficial accomplishments, and their acquirement puts little more strain on the mental powers than a chimpanzee suffers in learning how to catch a penny or scratch a match. The whole bag of tricks of the average business man, or even of the average professional man, is inordinately childish. It takes no more actual sagacity to carry on the everyday hawking and haggling of the world, or to ladle out its normal doses of bad medicine and worse law, than intakes to operate a taxicab or fry a pan of fish. No observant person, indeed, can come into close contact with the general run of business and professional men—I confine myself to those who seem to get on in the world, and exclude the admitted failures—without marvelling at their intellectual lethargy, their incurable ingenuousness, their appalling lack of ordinary sense. The late Charles Francis Adams, a grandson of one American President and a great-grandson of another, after a long lifetime in intimate association with some of the chief business "geniuses" of that paradise of traders and usurers, the United States, reported in his old age that he had never heard a single one of them say anything worth hearing. These were vigorous and masculine men, and in a man's world they were successful men, but intellectually they were all blank cartridges.
There is, indeed, fair ground for arguing that, if men of that kidney were genuinely intelligent, they would never succeed at their gross an driveling concerns—that their very capacity to master and retain such balderdash as constitutes their stock in trade is proof of their inferior mentality. The notion is certainly supported by the familiar incompetency of first rate men for what are called practical concerns. One could not think of Aristotle or Beethoven multiplying 3,472,701 by 99,999 without making a mistake, nor could one think of him remembering the range of this or that railway share for two years, or the number of ten-penny nails in a hundred weight, or the freight on lard from Galveston to Rotterdam. And by the same token one could not imagine him expert at billiards, or at grouse-shooting, or at golf, or at any other of the idiotic games at which what are called successful men commonly divert themselves. In his great study of British genius, Havelock Ellis found that an incapacity for such petty expertness was visible in almost all first rate men. They are bad at tying cravats. They do not understand the fashionable card games. They are puzzled by book-keeping. They know nothing of party politics. In brief, they are inert and impotent in the very fields of endeavour that see the average men's highest performances, and are easily surpassed by men who, in actual intelligence, are about as far below them as the Simidae.
This lack of skill at manual and mental tricks of a trivial character—which must inevitably appear to a barber or a dentist as stupidity, and to a successful haberdasher as downright imbecility—is a character that men of the first class share with women of the first, second and even third classes. There is at the bottom of it, in truth, something unmistakably feminine; its appearance in a man is almost invariably accompanied by the other touch of femaleness that I have described. Nothing, indeed, could be plainer than the fact that women, as a class, are sadly deficient in the small expertness of men as a class. One seldom, if ever, hears of them succeeding in the occupations which bring out such expertness most lavishly—for example, tuning pianos, repairing clocks, practising law, (ie., matching petty tricks with some other lawyer), painting portraits, keeping books, or managing factories—despite the circumstance that the great majority of such occupations are well within their physical powers, and that few of them offer any very formidable social barriers to female entrance. There is no external reason why women shouldn't succeed as operative surgeons; the way is wide open, the rewards are large, and there is a special demand for them on grounds of modesty. Nevertheless, not many women graduates in medicine undertake surgery and it is rare for one of them to make a success of it. There is, again, no external reason why women should not prosper at the bar, or as editors of newspapers, or as managers of the lesser sort of factories, or in the wholesale trade, or as hotel-keepers. The taboos that stand in the way are of very small force; various adventurous women have defied them with impunity; once the door is entered there remains no special handicap within. But, as every one knows, the number of women actually practising these trades and professions is very small, and few of them have attained to any distinction in competition with men.
4. Why Women Fail
The cause thereof, as I say, is not external, but internal. It lies in the same disconcerting apprehension of the larger realities, the same impatience with the paltry and meretricious, the same disqualification for mechanical routine and empty technic which one finds in the higher varieties of men. Even in the pursuits which, by the custom of Christendom, are especially their own, women seldom show any of that elaborately conventionalized and half automatic proficiency which is the pride and boast of most men. It is a commonplace of observation, indeed, that a housewife who actually knows how to cook, or who can make her own clothes with enough skill to conceal the fact from the most casual glance, or who is competent to instruct her children in the elements of morals, learning and hygiene—it is a platitude that such a woman is very rare indeed, and that when she is encountered she is not usually esteemed for her general intelligence. This is particularly true in the United States, where the position of women is higher than in any other civilized or semi-civilized country, and the old assumption of their intellectual inferiority has been most successfully challenged. The American dinner-table, in truth, becomes a monument to the defective technic of the American housewife. The guest who respects his oesophagus, invited to feed upon its discordant and ill-prepared victuals, evades the experience as long and as often as he can, and resigns himself toit as he might resign himself to being shaved by a paralytic. Nowhere else in the world have women more leisure and freedom to improve their minds, and nowhere else do they show a higher level of intelligence, or take part more effectively in affairs of the first importance. But nowhere else is there worse cooking in the home, or a more inept handling of the whole domestic economy, or a larger dependence upon the aid of external substitutes, by men provided, for the skill that wanting where it theoretically exists. It is surely no mere coincidence that the land of the emancipated and enthroned woman is also the land of canned soup, of canned pork and beans, of whole meals in cans, and of everything else ready-made. And nowhere else is there more striking tendency to throw the whole business of training the minds of children upon professional teachers, and the whole business of instructing them in morals and religion upon so-called Sunday-schools, and the whole business of developing and caring for their bodies upon playground experts, sex hygienists and other such professionals, most of them mountebanks.
In brief, women rebel—often unconsciously, sometimes even submitting all the while—against the dull, mechanical tricks of the trade that the present organization of society compels them to practise for a living, and that rebellion testifies to their intelligence. If they enjoyed and took pride in those tricks, and showed it by diligence and skill, they would be on all fours with such men as are headwaiters, ladies' tailors, schoolmasters or carpet-beaters, and proud of it. The inherent tendency of any woman above the most stupid is to evade the whole obligation, and, if she cannot actually evade it, to reduce its demands to the minimum. And when some accident purges her, either temporarily or permanently, of the inclination to marriage (of which much more anon), and she enters into competition with men in the general business of the world, the sort of career that she commonly carves out offers additional evidence of her mental peculiarity. In whatever calls for no more than an invariable technic and a feeble chicanery she usually fails; in whatever calls for independent thought and resourcefulness she usually succeeds. Thus she is almost always a failure as a lawyer, for the law requires only an armament of hollow phrases and stereotyped formulae, and a mental habit which puts these phantasms above sense, truth and justice; and she is almost always a failure in business, for business, in the main, is so foul a compound of trivialities and rogueries that her sense of intellectual integrity revolts against it. But she is usually a success as a sick-nurse, for that profession requires ingenuity, quick comprehension, courage in the face of novel and disconcerting situations, and above all, a capacity for penetrating and dominating character; and whenever she comes into competition with men in the arts, particularly on those secondary planes where simple nimbleness of mind is unaided by the masterstrokes of genius, she holds her own invariably. The best and most intellectual—i.e., most original and enterprising play-actors are not men, but women, and so are the best teachers and blackmailers, and a fair share of the best writers, and public functionaries, and executants of music. In the demimonde one will find enough acumen and daring, and enough resilience in the face of special difficulties, to put the equipment of any exclusively male profession to shame. If the work of the average man required half the mental agility and readiness of resource of the work of the average prostitute, the average man would be constantly on the verge of starvation.
5. The Thing Called Intuition
Men, as every one knows, are disposed to question this superior intelligence of women; their egoism demands the denial, and they are seldom reflective enough to dispose of it by logical and evidential analysis. Moreover, as we shall see a bit later on, there is a certain specious appearance of soundness in their position; they have forced upon women an artificial character which well conceals their real character, and women have found it profitable to encourage the deception. But though every normal man thus cherishes the soothing unction that he is the intellectual superior of all women, and particularly of his wife, he constantly gives the lie to his pretension by consulting and deferring to what he calls her intuition. That is to say, he knows by experience that her judgment in many matters of capital concern is more subtle and searching than his own, and, being disinclined to accredit this greater sagacity to a more competent intelligence, he takes refuge behind the doctrine that it is due to some impenetrable and intangible talent for guessing correctly, some half mystical super sense, some vague (and, in essence, infra-human) instinct.
The true nature of this alleged instinct, however, is revealed by an examination of the situations which inspire a man to call it to his aid. These situations do not arise out of the purely technical problems that are his daily concern, but out of the rarer and more fundamental, and hence enormously more difficult problems which beset him only at long and irregular intervals, and go offer a test, not of his mere capacity for being drilled, but of his capacity for genuine ratiocination. No man, I take it, save one consciously inferior and hen-pecked, would consult his wife about hiring a clerk, or about extending credit to some paltry customer, or about some routine piece of tawdry swindling; but not even the most egoistic man would fail to sound the sentiment of his wife about taking a partner into his business, or about standing for public office, or about combating unfair and ruinous competition, or about marrying off their daughter. Such things are of massive importance; they lie at the foundation of well-being; they call for the best thought that the man confronted by them can muster; the perils hidden in a wrong decision overcome even the clamors of vanity. It is in such situations that the superior mental grasp of women is of obvious utility, and has to be admitted. It is here that they rise above the insignificant sentimentalities, superstitions and formulae of men, and apply to the business their singular talent for separating the appearance from the substance, and so exercise what is called their intuition.
Intuition? With all respect, bosh! Then it was intuition that led Darwin to work out the hypothesis of natural selection. Then it was intuition that fabricated the gigantically complex score of "Die Walkure." Then it was intuition that convinced Columbus of the existence of land to the west of the Azores. All this intuition of which so much transcendental rubbish is merchanted is no more and no less than intelligence—intelligence so keen that it can penetrate to the hidden truth through the most formidable wrappings of false semblance and demeanour, and so little corrupted by sentimental prudery that it is equal to the even more difficult task of hauling that truth out into the light, in all its naked hideousness. Women decide the larger questions of life correctly and quickly, not because they are lucky guessers, not because they are divinely inspired, not because they practise a magic inherited from savagery, but simply and solely because they have sense. They see at a glance what most men could not see with searchlights and telescopes; they are at grips with the essentials of a problem before men have finished debating its mere externals. They are the supreme realists of the race. Apparently illogical, they are the possessors of a rare and subtle super-logic. Apparently whimsical, they hang to the truth with a tenacity which carries them through every phase of its incessant, jellylike shifting of form. Apparently unobservant and easily deceived, they see with bright and horrible eyes. In men, too, the same merciless perspicacity sometimes shows itself—men recognized to be more aloof and uninflammable than the general—men of special talent for the logical—sardonic men, cynics. Men, too, sometimes have brains. But that is a rare, rare man, I venture, who is as steadily intelligent, as constantly sound in judgment, as little put off by appearances, as the average women of forty-eight.
II. The War Between the Sexes
6. How Marriages are Arranged
I have said that women are not sentimental, i.e., not prone to permit mere emotion and illusion to corrupt their estimation of a situation. The doctrine, perhaps, will raise a protest. The theory that they are is itself a favourite sentimentality; one sentimentality will be brought up to substantiate another; dog will eat dog. But an appeal to a few obvious facts will be enough to sustain my contention, despite the vast accumulation of romantic rubbish to the contrary.
Turn, for example, to the field in which the two sexes come most constantly into conflict, and in which, as a result, their habits of mind are most clearly contrasted—to the field, to wit, of monogamous marriage. Surely no long argument is needed to demonstrate the superior competence and effectiveness of women here, and therewith their greater self-possession, their saner weighing of considerations, their higher power of resisting emotional suggestion. The very fact that marriages occur at all is a proof, indeed, that they are more cool-headed than men, and more adept in employing their intellectual resources, for it is plainly to a man's interest to avoid marriage as long as possible, and as plainly to a woman's interest to make a favourable marriage as soon as she can. The efforts of the two sexes are thus directed, in one of the capital concerns of life, to diametrically antagonistic ends. Which side commonly prevails? I leave the verdict to the jury. All normal men fight the thing off; some men are successful for relatively long periods; a few extraordinarily intelligent and courageous men (or perhaps lucky ones) escape altogether. But, taking one generation with another, as every one knows, the average man is duly married and the average woman gets a husband. Thus the great majority of women, in this clear-cut and endless conflict, make manifest their substantial superiority to the great majority of men.
Not many men, worthy of the name, gain anything of net value by marriage, at least as the institution is now met with in Christendom. Even assessing its benefits at their most inflated worth, they are plainly overborne by crushing disadvantages. When a man marries it is no more than a sign that the feminine talent for persuasion and intimidation—i.e., the feminine talent for survival in a world of clashing concepts and desires, the feminine competence and intelligence—has forced him into a more or less abhorrent compromise with his own honest inclinations and best interests. Whether that compromise be a sign of his relative stupidity or of his relative cowardice it is all one: the two things, in their symptoms and effects, are almost identical. In the first case he marries because he has been clearly bowled over in a combat of wits; in the second he resigns himself to marriage as the safest form of liaison. In both cases his inherent sentimentality is the chief weapon in the hand of his opponent. It makes him [caroche] the fiction of his enterprise, and even of his daring, in the midst of the most crude and obvious operations against him. It makes him accept as real the bold play-acting that women always excel at, and at no time more than when stalking a man. It makes him, above all, see a glamour of romance in a transaction which, even at its best, contains almost as much gross trafficking, at bottom, as the sale of a mule.
A man in full possession of the modest faculties that nature commonly apportions to him is at least far enough above idiocy to realize that marriage is a bargain in which he gets the worse of it, even when, in some detail or other, he makes a visible gain. He never, I believe, wants all that the thing offers and implies. He wants, at most, no more than certain parts. He may desire, let us say, a housekeeper to protect his goods and entertain his friends—but he may shrink from the thought of sharing his bathtub with anyone, and home cooking may be downright poisonous to him. He may yearn for a son to pray at his tomb—and yet suffer acutely at the me reapproach of relatives-in-law. He may dream of a beautiful and complaisant mistress, less exigent and mercurial than any a bachelor may hope to discover—and stand aghast at admitting her to his bank-book, his family-tree and his secret ambitions. He may want company and not intimacy, or intimacy and not company. He may want a cook and not a partner in his business, or a partner in his business and not a cook. But in order to get the precise thing or things that he wants, he has to take a lot of other things that he doesn't want—that no sane man, in truth, could imaginably want—and it is to the enterprise of forcing him into this almost Armenian bargain that the woman of his "choice" addresses herself. Once the game is fairly set, she searches out his weaknesses with the utmost delicacy and accuracy, and plays upon them with all her superior resources. He carries a handicap from the start. His sentimental and unintelligent belief in theories that she knows quite well are not true—e.g., the theory that she shrinks from him, and is modestly appalled by the banal carnalities of marriage itself—gives her a weapon against him which she drives home with instinctive and compelling art. The moment she discerns this sentimentality bubbling within him—that is, the moment his oafish smirks and eye rollings signify that he has achieved the intellectual disaster that is called falling in love—he is hers to do with as she will. Save for acts of God, he is forthwith as good as married.
7. The Feminine Attitude
This sentimentality in marriage is seldom, if ever, observed in women. For reasons that we shall examine later, they have much more to gain by the business than men, and so they are prompted by their cooler sagacity tenter upon it on the most favourable terms possible, and with the minimum admixture of disarming emotion. Men almost invariably get their mates by the process called falling in love; save among the aristocracies of the North and Latin men, the marriage of convenience is relatively rare; a hundred men marry "beneath" them to every woman who perpetrates the same folly. And what is meant by this so-called falling in love? What is meant by it is a procedure whereby a man accounts for the fact of his marriage, after feminine initiative and generalship have made it inevitable, by enshrouding it in a purple maze of romance—in brief, by setting up the doctrine that an obviously self-possessed and mammalian woman, engaged deliberately in the most important adventure of her life, and with the keenest understanding of its utmost implications, is a naive, tender, moony and almost disembodied creature, enchanted and made perfect by a passion that has stolen upon her unawares, and which she could not acknowledge, even to herself, without blushing to death. By this preposterous doctrine, the defeat and enslavement of the man is made glorious, and even gifted with a touch of flattering naughtiness. The sheer horsepower of his wooing has assailed and overcome her maiden modesty; she trembles in his arms; he has been granted a free franchise to work his wicked will upon her. Thus do the ambulant images of God cloak their shackles proudly, and divert the judicious with their boastful shouts.
Women, it is almost needless to point out, are much more cautious about embracing the conventional hocus-pocus of the situation. They never acknowledge that they have fallen in love, as the phrase is, until the man has formally avowed the delusion, and so cut off his retreat; to do otherwise would be to bring down upon their heads the mocking and contumely of all their sisters. With them, falling in love thus appears in the light of an afterthought, or, perhaps more accurately, in the light of a contagion. The theory, it would seem, is that the love of the man, laboriously avowed, has inspired it instantly, and by some unintelligible magic; that it was non-existent until the heat of his own flames set it off. This theory, it must be acknowledged, has a certain element of fact in it. A woman seldom allows herself to be swayed by emotion while the principal business is yet afoot and its issue still in doubt; to do so would be to expose a degree of imbecility that is confined only to the half-wits of the sex. But once the man is definitely committed, she frequently unbends a bit, if only as a relief from the strain of a fixed purpose, and so, throwing off her customary inhibitions, she, indulges in the luxury of a more or less forced and mawkish sentiment. It is, however, almost unheard of for her to permit herself this relaxation before the sentimental intoxication of the man is assured. To do otherwise—that is, to confess, even post facto, to an anterior descent,—would expose her, as I have said, to the scorn of all other women. Such a confession would be an admission that emotion had got the better of her at a critical intellectual moment, and in the eyes of women, as in the eyes of the small minority of genuinely intelligent men, no treason to the higher cerebral centres could be more disgraceful.
8. The Male Beauty
This disdain of sentimental weakness, even in those higher reaches where it is mellowed by aesthetic sensibility, is well revealed by the fact that women are seldom bemused by mere beauty in men. Save on the stage, the handsome fellow has no appreciable advantage in amour over his more Gothic brother. In real life, indeed, he is viewed with the utmost suspicion by all women save the most stupid. In him the vanity native to his sex is seen to mount to a degree that is positively intolerable. It not only irritates by its very nature; it also throws about him a sort of unnatural armour, and so makes him resistant to the ordinary approaches. For this reason, the matrimonial enterprises of the more reflective and analytical sort of women are almost always directed to men whose lack of pulchritude makes them easier to bring down, and, what is more important still, easier to hold down. The weight of opinion among women is decidedly against the woman who falls in love with an Apollo. She is regarded, at best, as flighty creature, and at worst, as one pushing bad taste to the verge of indecency. Such weaknesses are resigned to women approaching senility, and to the more ignoble variety of women labourers. A shop girl, perhaps, may plausibly fall in love with a moving-picture actor, and a half-idiotic old widow may succumb to a youth with shoulders like the Parthenon, but no woman of poise and self-respect, even supposing her to be transiently flustered by a lovely buck, would yield to that madness for an instant, or confess it to her dearest friend. Women know how little such purely superficial values are worth. The voice of their order, the first taboo of their freemasonry, is firmly against making a sentimental debauch of the serious business of marriage.
This disdain of the pretty fellow is often accounted for by amateur psychologists on the ground that women are anesthetic to beauty—that they lack the quick and delicate responsiveness of man. Nothing could be more absurd. Women, in point of fact, commonly have a far keener aesthetic sense than men. Beauty is more important to them; they give more thought to it; they crave more of it in their immediate surroundings. The average man, at least in England and America, takes a sort of bovine pride in his anaesthesia to the arts; he can think of them only as sources of tawdry and somewhat discreditable amusement; one seldom hears of him showing half the enthusiasm for any beautiful thing that his wife displays in the presence, of a fine fabric, an effective colour, or a graceful form, say in millinery. The truth is that women are resistant to so-called beauty in men for the simple and sufficient reason that such beauty is chiefly imaginary. A truly beautiful man, indeed, is as rare as a truly beautiful piece of jewelry. What men mistake for beauty in themselves is usually nothing save a certain hollow gaudiness, a revolting flashiness, the superficial splendour of a prancing animal. The most lovely moving picture actor, considered in the light of genuine aesthetic values, is no more than a piece of vulgarity; his like is to be found, not in the Uffizi gallery or among the harmonies of Brahms, but among the plush sofas, rococo clocks and hand-painted oil-paintings of a third-rate auction room. All women, save the least intelligent, penetrate this imposture with sharp eyes. They know that the human body, except for a brief time in infancy, is not a beautiful thing, buta hideous thing. Their own bodies give them no delight; it is their constant effort to disguise and conceal them; they never expose them aesthetically, but only as an act of the grossest sexual provocation. If it were advertised that a troupe of men of easy virtue were to appear half-clothed upon a public stage, exposing their chests, thighs, arms and calves, the only women who would go to the entertainment would be a few delayed adolescents, a psychopathic old maid or two, and a guard of indignant members of the parish Ladies Aid Society.
9. Men as Aesthetes
Men show no such sagacious apprehension of the relatively feeble loveliness of the human frame. The most effective lure that a woman can hold out to a man is the lure of what he fatuously conceives to be her beauty. This so-called beauty, of course, is almost always a pure illusion. The female body, even at its best is very defective in form; it has harsh curves and very clumsily distributed masses; compared to it the average milk-jug, or even cuspidor, is a thing of intelligent and gratifying design—in brief, an objet d'art. The fact was curiously (and humorously) display during the late war, when great numbers of women in all the belligerent countries began putting on uniforms. Instantly they appeared in public in their grotesque burlesques of the official garb of aviators, elevator boys, bus conductors, train guards, and so on, their deplorable deficiency in design was unescapably revealed. A man, save he be fat, i.e., of womanish contours, usually looks better in uniform than in mufti; the tight lines set off his figure. But a woman is at once given away: she look like a dumbbell run over by an express train. Below the neck by the bow and below the waist astern there are two masses that simply refuse to fit into a balanced composition. Viewed from the side, she presents an exaggerated S bisected by an imperfect straight line, and so she inevitably suggests a drunken dollar-mark. Her ordinary clothing cunningly conceals this fundamental imperfection. It swathes those impossible masses in draperies soothingly uncertain of outline. But putting her into uniform is like stripping her. Instantly all her alleged beauty vanishes.
Moreover, it is extremely rare to find a woman who shows even the modest sightliness that her sex is theoretically capable of; it is only the rare beauty who is even tolerable. The average woman, until art comes to her aid, is ungraceful, misshapen, badly calved and crudely articulated, even for a woman. If she has a good torso, she is almost sure to be bow-legged. If she has good legs, she is almost sure to have bad teeth. If she has good teeth, she is almost sure to have scrawny hands, or muddy eyes, or hair like oakum, or no chin. A woman who meets fair tests all 'round is so uncommon that she becomes a sort of marvel, and usually gains a livelihood by exhibiting herself as such, either on the stage, in the half-world, or as the private jewel of some wealthy connoisseur.
But this lack of genuine beauty in women lays on them no practical disadvantage in the primary business of their sex, for its effects are more than overborne by the emotional suggestibility, the herculean capacity for illusion, the almost total absence of critical sense of men. Men do not demand genuine beauty, even in the most modest doses; they are quite content with the mere appearance of beauty. That is to say, they show no talent whatever for differentiating between the artificial and the real. A film of face powder, skilfully applied, is as satisfying to them as an epidermis of damask. The hair of a dead Chinaman, artfully dressed and dyed, gives them as much delight as the authentic tresses of Venus. A false hip intrigues them as effectively as the soundest one of living fascia. A pretty frock fetches them quite as surely and securely as lovely legs, shoulders, hands or eyes. In brief, they estimate women, and hence acquire their wives, by reckoning up purely superficial aspects, which is just as intelligent as estimating an egg by purely superficial aspects. They never go behind the returns; it never occurs to them to analyze the impressions they receive. The result is that many a man, deceived by such paltry sophistications, never really sees his wife—that if, as God is supposed to see, her, and as the embalmer will see her—until they have been married for years. All the tricks may be infantile and obvious, but in the face of so naive a spectator the temptation to continue practising them is irresistible. A trained nurse tells me that even when undergoing the extreme discomforts of parturition the great majority of women continue to modify their complexions with pulverized talcs, and to give thought to the arrangement of their hair. Such transparent devices, to be sure, reduce the psychologist to a sour sort of mirth, and yet it must be plain that they suffice to entrap and make fools of men, even the most discreet. I know of no man, indeed, who is wholly resistant to female beauty, and I know of no man, even among those engaged professionally by aesthetic problems, who habitually and automatically distinguishes the genuine, from the imitation. He may doit now and then; he may even preen himself upon is on unusual discrimination; but given the right woman and the right stage setting, and he will be deceived almost as readily as a yokel fresh from the cabbage-field.
10. The Process of Delusion
Such poor fools, rolling their eyes in appraisement of such meagre female beauty as is on display in Christendom, bring to their judgments a capacity but slightly greater than that a cow would bring to the estimation of epistemologies. They are so unfitted for the business that they are even unable to agree upon its elements. Let one such man succumb to the plaster charms of some prancing miss, and all his friends will wonder what is the matter with him. No two are in accord as to which is the most beautiful woman in their own town or street. Turn six of them loose in millinery shop or the parlour of a bordello, and there will be no dispute whatsoever; each will offer the crown of love and beauty to a different girl.
And what aesthetic deafness, dumbness and blindness thus open the way for, vanity instantly reinforces. That is to say, once a normal man has succumbed to the meretricious charms of a definite fair one (or, more accurately, once a definite fair one has marked him out and grabbed him by the nose), he defends his choice with all the heat and steadfastness appertaining to the defense of a point of the deepest honour. To tell a man flatly that his wife is not beautiful, or even that his stenographer or manicurist is not beautiful, is so harsh and intolerable an insult to his taste that even an enemy seldom ventures upon it. One would offend him far less by arguing that his wife is an idiot. One would relatively speaking, almost caress him by spitting into his eye. The ego of the male is simply unable to stomach such an affront. It is a weapon as discreditable as the poison of the Borgias.
Thus, on humane grounds, a conspiracy of silence surrounds the delusion of female beauty, and so its victim is permitted to get quite as much delight out of it as if it were sound. The baits he swallows most are not edible and nourishing baits, but simply bright and gaudy ones. He succumbs to a pair of well-managed eyes, a graceful twist of the body, a synthetic complexion or a skilful display of ankles without giving the slightest thought to the fact that a whole woman is there, and that within the cranial cavity of the woman lies a brain, and that the idiosyncrasies of that brain are of vastly more importance than all imaginable physical stigmata combined. Those idiosyncrasies may make for amicable relations in the complex and difficult bondage called marriage; they may, on the contrary, make for joustings of a downright impossible character. But not many men, laced in the emotional maze preceding, are capable of any very clear examination of such facts. The truth is that they dodge the facts, even when they are favourable, and lay all stress upon the surrounding and concealing superficialities. The average stupid and sentimental man, if he has a noticeably sensible wife, is almost apologetic about it. The ideal of his sex is always a pretty wife, and the vanity and coquetry that so often go with prettiness are erected into charms. In other words, men play the love game so unintelligently that they often esteem a woman in proportion as she seems to disdain and make a mock of her intelligence. Women seldom, if ever, make that blunder. What they commonly value in a man is not mere showiness, whether physical or spiritual, but that compound of small capacities which makes up masculine efficiency and passes for masculine intelligence. This intelligence, at its highest, has a human value substantially equal to that of their own. In a man's world it at least gets its definite rewards; it guarantees security, position, a livelihood; it is a commodity that is merchantable. Women thus accord it a certain respect, and esteem it in their husbands, and so seek it out.
11. Biological Considerations
So far as I can make out by experiments on laboratory animals and by such discreet vivisections as are possible under our laws, there is no biological necessity for the superior acumen and circumspection of women. That is to say, it does not lie in any anatomical or physiological advantage. The essential feminine machine is no better than the essential masculine machine; both are monuments to the maladroitness of a much over-praised Creator. Women, it would seem, actually have smaller brains than men, though perhaps not in proportion to weight. Their nervous responses, if anything, are a bit duller than those of men; their muscular coordinations are surely no prompter. One finds quite as many obvious botches among them; they have as many bodily blemishes; they are infested by the same microscopic parasites; their senses are as obtuse; their ears stand out as absurdly. Even assuming that their special malaises are wholly offset by the effects of alcoholism in the male, they suffer patently from the same adenoids, gastritis, cholelithiasis, nephritis, tuberculosis, carcinoma, arthritis and so on—in short, from the same disturbances of colloidal equilibrium that produce religion, delusions of grandeur, democracy, pyaemia, night sweats, the yearning to save humanity, and all other such distempers in men. They have, at bottom, the same weaknesses and appetites. They react in substantially the same way to all chemical and mechanical agents. A dose of hydrocyanic acid, administered per ora to the most sagacious woman imaginable, affects her just as swiftly and just as deleteriously as it affects a tragedian, a crossing-sweeper, or an ambassador to the Court of St. James. And once a bottle of Cte Rtie or Scharlachberger is in her, even the least emotional woman shows the same complex of sentimentalities that a man shows, and is as maudlin and idiotic as he is.
Nay; the superior acumen and self-possession of women is not inherent in any peculiarity of their constitutions, and above all, not in any advantage of a purely physical character. Its springs are rather to be sought in a physical disadvantage—that is, in the mechanical inferiority of their frames, their relative lack of tractive capacity, their deficiency as brute engines. That deficiency, as every one knows, is partly a derricked heritage from those females of the Pongo pygmaeus who were their probable fore-runners in the world; the same thing is to be observed in the females of almost all other species of mammals. But it is also partly due to the effects of use under civilization, and, above all, to what evolutionists call sexual selection. In other words, women were already measurably weaker than men at the dawn of human history, and that relative weakness has been progressively augmented in the interval by the conditions of human life. For one thing, the process of bringing forth young has become so much more exhausting as refinement has replaced savage sturdiness and callousness, and the care of them in infancy has become so much more onerous as the growth of cultural complexity has made education more intricate, that the two functions now lay vastly heavier burdens upon the strength and attention of a woman than they lay upon the strength and attention of any other female. And for another thing, the consequent disability and need of physical protection, by feeding and inflaming the already large vanity of man, have caused him to attach a concept of attractiveness to feminine weakness, so that he has come to esteem his woman, not in proportion as she is self-sufficient as a social animal but in proportion as she is dependent. In this vicious circle of influences women have been caught, and as a result their chief physical character today is their fragility. A woman cannot lift as much as a man. She cannot walk as far. She cannot exert as much mechanical energy in any other way. Even her alleged superior endurance, as Havelock Ellis has demonstrated in "Man and Woman," is almost wholly mythical; she cannot, in point of fact, stand nearly so much hardship as aman can stand, and so the law, usually an ass, exhibits an unaccustomed accuracy of observation in its assumption that, whenever husband and wife are exposed alike to fatal suffering, say in a shipwreck, the wife dies first.
So far we have been among platitudes. There is less of overt platitude in the doctrine that it is precisely this physical frailty that has given women their peculiar nimbleness and effectiveness on the intellectual side. Nevertheless, it is equally true. What they have done is what every healthy and elastic organism does in like case; they have sought compensation for their impotence in one field by employing their resources in another field to the utmost, and out of that constant and maximum use has come a marked enlargement of those resources. On the one hand the sum of them present in a given woman has been enormously increased by natural selection, so that every woman, so to speak, inherits a certain extra-masculine mental dexterity as a mere function of her femaleness. And on the other hand every woman, over and above this almost unescapable legacy from her actual grandmothers, also inherits admission to that traditional wisdom which constitutes the esoteric philosophy of woman as a whole. The virgin at adolescence is thus in the position of an unusually fortunate apprentice, for she is not only naturally gifted but also apprenticed to extraordinarily competent masters. While a boy at the same period is learning from his elders little more than a few empty technical tricks, a few paltry vices and a few degrading enthusiasms, his sister is under instruction in all those higher exercises of the wits that her special deficiencies make necessary to her security, and in particular in all those exercises which aim at overcoming the physical, and hence social and economic superiority of man by attacks upon his inferior capacity for clear reasoning, uncorrupted by illusion and sentimentality.
Here, it is obvious, the process of intellectual development takes colour from the Sklavenmoral, and is, in a sense, a product of it. The Jews, as Nietzsche has demonstrated, got their unusual intelligence by the same process; a contrary process is working in the case of the English and the Americans, and has begun to show itself in the case of the French and Germans. The sum of feminine wisdom that I have just mentioned—the body of feminine devices and competences that is handed down from generation to generation of women—is, in fact, made up very largely of doctrines and expedients that infallibly appear to the average sentimental man, helpless as he is before them, as cynical and immoral. He commonly puts this aversion into the theory that women have no sense of honour. The criticism, of course, is characteristically banal. Honour is a concept too tangled to be analyzed here, but it may be sufficient to point out that it is predicated upon a feeling of absolute security, and that, in that capital conflict between man and woman out of which rises most of man's complaint of its absence—to wit, the conflict culminating in marriage, already described—the security of the woman is not something that is in actual being, but something that she is striving with all arms to attain. In such a conflict it must be manifest that honor can have no place. An animal fighting for its very existence uses all possible means of offence and defence, however foul. Even man, for all his boasting about honor, seldom displays it when he has anything of the first value at hazard. He is honorable, perhaps, in gambling, for gambling is a mere vice, but it is quite unusual for him to be honorable in business, for business is bread and butter. He is honorable (so long as the stake is trivial) in his sports, but he seldom permits honor to interfere with his perjuries in a lawsuit, or with hitting below the belt in any other sort of combat that is in earnest. The history of all his wars is a history of mutual allegations of dishonorable practices, and such allegations are nearly always well grounded. The best imitation of honor that he ever actually achieves in them is a highly self-conscious sentimentality which prompts him to be humane to the opponent who has been wounded, or disarmed, or otherwise made innocuous. Even here his so-called honor is little more than a form of playacting, both maudlin and dishonest. In the actual death-struggle he invariably bites.
Perhaps one of the chief charms of woman lies precisely in the fact that they are dishonorable, i.e., that they are relatively uncivilized. In the midst of all the puerile repressions and inhibitions that hedge them round, they continue to show a gipsy spirit. No genuine woman ever gives a hoot for law if law happens to stand in the way of her private interest. She is essentially an outlaw, a rebel, what H. G. Wells calls a nomad. The boons of civilization are so noisily cried up by sentimentalists that we are all apt to overlook its disadvantages. Intrinsically, it is a mere device for regimenting men. Its perfect symbol is the goose-step. The most civilized man is simply that man who has been most successful in caging and harnessing his honest and natural instincts-that is, the man who has done most cruel violence to his own ego in the interest of the commonweal. The value of this commonweal is always overestimated. What is it at bottom? Simply the greatest good to the greatest number—of petty rogues, ignoramuses and poltroons.
The capacity for submitting to and prospering comfortably under this cheese-monger's civilization is far more marked in men than in women, and far more in inferior men than in men of the higher categories. It must be obvious to even so pathetic an ass as a university professor of history that very few of the genuinely first-rate men of the race have been, wholly civilized, in the sense that the term is employed in newspapers and in the pulpit. Think of Caesar, Bonaparte, Luther, Frederick the Great, Cromwell, Barbarossa, Innocent III, Bolivar, Hannibal, Alexander, and to come down to our own time, Grant, Stonewall Jackson, Bismarck, Wagner, Garibaldi and Cecil Rhodes.
13. Women and the Emotions
The fact that women have a greater capacity than men for controlling and concealing their emotions is not an indication that they are more civilized, but a proof that they are less civilized. This capacity, so rare today, and withal so valuable and worthy of respect, is a characteristic of savages, not of civilized men, and its loss is one of the penalties that the race has paid for the tawdry boon of civilization. Your true savage, reserved, dignified, and courteous, knows how to mask his feelings, even in the face of the most desperate assault upon them; your civilized man is forever yielding to them. Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary. Wars are no longer waged by the will of superior men, capable of judging dispassionately and intelligently the causes behind them and the effects flowing out of them. They are now begun by first throwing a mob into a panic; they are ended only when it has spent its ferine fury. Here the effect of civilization has been to reduce the noblest of the arts, once the repository of an exalted etiquette and the chosen avocation of the very best men of the race, to the level of a riot of peasants. All the wars of Christendom are now disgusting and degrading; the conduct of them has passed out of the hands of nobles and knights and into the hands of mob-orators, money-lenders, and atrocity-mongers. To recreate one's self with war in the grand manner, as Prince Eugene, Marlborough and the Old Dessauer knew it, one must now go among barbarian peoples.
Women are nearly always against war in modern times, for the reasons brought forward to justify it are usually either transparently dishonest or childishly sentimental, and hence provoke their scorn. But once the business is begun, they commonly favour its conduct outrance, and are thus in accord with the theory of the great captains of more spacious days. In Germany, during the late war, the protests against the Schrecklichkeit practised by the imperial army and navy did not come from women, but from sentimental men; in England and the United States there is no record that any woman ever raised her voice against the blockade which destroyed hundreds of thousands of German children. I was on both sides of the bloody chasm during the war, and I cannot recall meeting a single woman who subscribed to the puerile doctrine that, in so vast a combat between nations, there could still be categories of non-combatants, with aright of asylum on armed ships and in garrisoned towns. This imbecility was maintained only by men, large numbers of whom simultaneously took part in wholesale massacres of such non-combatants. The women were superior to such hypocrisy. They recognized the nature of modern war instantly and accurately, and advocated no disingenuous efforts to conceal it.
The feminine talent for concealing emotion is probably largely responsible for the common masculine belief that women are devoid of passion, and contemplate its manifestations in the male with something akin to trembling. Here the talent itself is helped out by the fact that very few masculine observers, on the occasions when they give attention to the matter, are in a state of mind conducive to exact observation. The truth is, of course, that there is absolutely no reason to believe that the normal woman is passionless, or that the minority of women who unquestionably are is of formidable dimensions. To be sure, the peculiar vanity of men, particularly in the Northern countries, makes them place a high value upon the virginal type of woman, and so this type tends to grow more common by sexual selection, but despite that fact, it has by no means superseded the normal type, so realistically described by the theologians and publicists of the Middle Ages. It would, however, be rash to assert that this long continued sexual selection has not made itself felt, even in the normal type. Its chief effect, perhaps, is to make it measurably easier for a woman to conquer and conceal emotion than it is for a man. But this is a mere reinforcement of a native quality or, at all events, a quality long antedating the rise of the curious preference just mentioned. That preference obviously owes its origin to the concept of private property and is most evident in those countries in which the largest proportion of males are property owners, i.e., in which the property-owning caste reaches down into the lowest conceivable strata of bounders and ignoramuses. The low-caste man is never quite sure of his wife unless he is convinced that she is entirely devoid of amorous susceptibility. Thus he grows uneasy whenever she shows any sign of responding in kind to his own elephantine emotions, and is apt to be suspicious of even so trivial a thing as a hearty response to a connubial kiss. If he could manage to rid himself of such suspicions, there would be less public gabble about anesthetic wives, and fewer books written by quacks with sure cures for them, and a good deal less cold-mutton formalism and boredom at the domestic hearth.
I have a feeling that the husband of this sort—he is very common in the United States, and almost as common among the middle classes of England, Germany and Scandinavia—does himself a serious disservice, and that he is uneasily conscious of it. Having got himself a wife to his austere taste, he finds that she is rather depressing—that his vanity is almost as painfully damaged by her emotional inertness as it would have been by a too provocative and hedonistic spirit. For the thing that chiefly delights a man, when some, woman has gone through the solemn buffoonery of yielding to his great love, is the sharp and flattering contrast between her reserve in the presence of other men and her enchanting complaisance in the presence of himself. Here his vanity is enormously tickled. To the world in general she seems remote and unapproachable; to him she is docile, fluttering, gurgling, even a bit abandoned. It is as if some great magnifico male, some inordinate czar or kaiser, should step down from the throne to play dominoes with him behind the door. The greater the contrast between the lady's two fronts, the greater his satisfaction-up to, of course, the point where his suspicions are aroused. Let her diminish that contrast ever so little on the public side—by smiling at a handsome actor, by saying a word too many to an attentive head-waiter, by holding the hand of the rector of the parish, by winking amiably at his brother or at her sister's husband—and at once the poor fellow begins to look for clandestine notes, to employ private inquiry agents, and to scrutinize the eyes, ears, noses and hair of his children with shameful doubts. This explains many domestic catastrophes.
15. Mythical Anthropophagi
The man-hating woman, like the cold woman, is largely imaginary. One often encounters references to her in literature, but who has ever met hex in real life? As for me, I doubt that such a monster has ever actually existed. There are, of course, women who spend a great deal of time denouncing and reviling men, but these are certainly not genuine man-haters; they are simply women who have done their utmost to snare men, and failed. Of such sort are the majority of inflammatory suffragettes of the sex-hygiene and birth-control species. The rigid limitation of offspring, in fact, is chiefly advocated by women who run no more risk of having unwilling motherhood forced upon them than so many mummies of the Tenth Dynasty. All their unhealthy interest in such noisome matters has behind it merely a subconscious yearning to attract the attention of men, who are supposed to be partial to enterprises that are difficult or forbidden. But certainly the enterprise of dissuading such a propagandist from her gospel would not be difficult, and I know of no law forbidding it.
I'll begin to believe in the man-hater the day I am introduced to a woman who has definitely and finally refused a chance of marriage to aman who is of her own station in life, able to support her, unafflicted by any loathsome disease, and of reasonably decent aspect and manners—in brief a man who is thoroughly eligible. I doubt that any such woman breathes the air of Christendom. Whenever one comes to confidential terms with an unmarried woman, of course, she favours one with a long chronicle of the men she has refused to marry, greatly to their grief. But unsentimental cross-examination, at least in my experience, always develops the fact that every one of these suffered from some obvious and intolerable disqualification. Either he had a wife already and was vague about his ability to get rid of her, or he was drunk when he was brought to his proposal and repudiated it or forgot it the next day, or he was a bankrupt, or he was old and decrepit, or he was young and plainly idiotic, or he had diabetes or a bad heart, or his relatives were impossible, or he believed in spiritualism, or democracy, or the Baconian theory, or some other such nonsense. Restricting the thing to men palpably eligible, I believe thoroughly that no sane woman has ever actually muffed a chance. Now and then, perhaps, a miraculously fortunate girl has two victims on the mat simultaneously, and has to lose one. But they are seldom, if ever, both good chances; one is nearly always a duffer, thrown in in the telling to make the bourgeoisie marvel.
16. A Conspiracy of Silence
The reason why all this has to be stated here is simply that women, who could state it much better, have almost unanimously refrained from discussing such matters at all. One finds, indeed, a sort of general conspiracy, infinitely alert and jealous, against the publication of the esoteric wisdom of the sex, and even against the acknowledgment that any such body of erudition exists at all. Men, having more vanity and less discretion, area good deal less cautious. There is, in fact, a whole literature of masculine babbling, ranging from Machiavelli's appalling confession of political theory to the egoistic confidences of such men as Nietzsche, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Casanova, Max Stirner, Benvenuto Cellini, Napoleon Bonaparte and Lord Chesterfield. But it is very rarely that a Marie Bashkirtsev or Margot Asquith lets down the veils which conceal the acroamatic doctrine of the other sex. It is transmitted from mother to daughter, so to speak, behind the door. One observes its practical workings, but hears little about its principles. The causes of this secrecy are obvious. Women, in the last analysis, can prevail against men in the great struggle for power and security only by keeping them disarmed, and, in the main, unwarned. In a pitched battle, with the devil taking the hindmost, their physical and economic inferiority would inevitably bring them to disaster. Thus they have to apply their peculiar talents warily, and with due regard to the danger of arousing the foe. He must be attached without any formal challenge, and even without any suspicion of challenge. This strategy lies at the heart of what Nietzsche called the slave morality—in brief, a morality based upon a concealment of egoistic purpose, a code of ethics having for its foremost character a bold denial of its actual aim.
17. Fundamental Motives
How successful such a concealment may be is well displayed by the general acceptance of the notion that women are reluctant to enter into marriage—that they have to be persuaded to it by eloquence and pertinacity, and even by a sort of intimidation. The truth is that, in a world almost divested of intelligible idealism, and hence dominated by a senseless worship of the practical, marriage offers the best career that the average woman can reasonably aspire to, and, in the case of very many women, the only one that actually offers a livelihood. What is esteemed and valuable, in our materialistic and unintelligent society, is precisely that petty practical efficiency at which men are expert, and which serves them in place of free intelligence. A woman, save she show a masculine strain that verges upon the pathological, cannot hope to challenge men in general in this department, but it is always open to her to exchange her sexual charm for a lion's share in the earnings of one man, and this is what she almost invariably tries to do. That is to say, she tries to get a husband, for getting a husband means, in a sense, enslaving an expert, and so covering up her own lack of expertness, and escaping its consequences. Thereafter she has at least one stout line of defence against a struggle for existence in which the prospect of survival is chiefly based, not upon the talents that are typically hers, but upon those that she typically lacks. Before the average woman succumbs in this struggle, some man or other must succumb first. Thus her craft converts her handicap into an advantage.
In this security lies the most important of all the benefits that a woman attains by marriage. It is, in fact, the most important benefit that the mind can imagine, for the whole effort of the human race, under our industrial society, is concentrated upon the attainment of it. But there are other benefits, too. One of them is that increase in dignity which goes with an obvious success; the woman who has got herself a satisfactory husband, or even a highly imperfect husband, is regarded with respect by other women, and has a contemptuous patronage for those who have failed to do likewise. Again, marriage offers her the only safe opportunity, considering the levantine view of women as property which Christianity has preserved in our civilization, to obtain gratification for that powerful complex of instincts which we call the sexual, and, in particular, for the instinct of maternity. The woman who has not had a child remains incomplete, ill at ease, and more than a little ridiculous. She is in the position of a man who has never stood in battle; she has missed the most colossal experience of her sex. Moreover, a social odium goes with her loss. Other women regard her as a sort of permanent tyro, and treat her with ill-concealed disdain, and deride the very virtue which lies at the bottom of her experiential penury. There would seem to be, indeed, but small respect among women for virginity per se. They are against the woman who has got rid of hers outside marriage, not because they think she has lost anything intrinsically valuable, but because she has made a bad bargain, and one that materially diminishes the sentimental respect for virtue held by men, and hence one against the general advantage an dwell-being of the sex. In other words, it is a guild resentment that they feel, not a moral resentment. Women, in general, are not actively moral, nor, for that matter, noticeably modest. Every man, indeed, who is in wide practice among them is occasionally astounded and horrified to discover, on some rainy afternoon, an almost complete absence of modesty in some women of the highest respectability.
But of all things that a woman gains by marriage the most valuable is economic security. Such security, of course, is seldom absolute, but usually merely relative: the best provider among husbands may die without enough life insurance, or run off with some preposterous light of love, or become an invalid or insane, or step over the intangible and wavering line which separates business success from a prison cell. Again, a woman may be deceived: there are stray women who are credulous and sentimental, and stray men who are cunning. Yet again, a woman may make false deductions from evidence accurately before her, ineptly guessing that the clerk she marries today will be the head of the firm tomorrow, instead of merely the bookkeeper tomorrow. But on the whole it must be plain that a woman, in marrying, usually obtains for herself a reasonably secure position in that station of life to which she is accustomed. She seeks a husband, not sentimentally, but realistically; she always gives thought to the economic situation; she seldom takes a chance if it is possible to avoid it. It is common for men to marry women who bring nothing to the joint capital of marriage save good looks and an appearance of vivacity; it is almost unheard of for women to neglect more prosaic inquiries. Many a rich man, at least in America, marries his typist or the governess of his sister's children and is happy thereafter, but when a rare woman enters upon a comparable marriage she is commonly set down as insane, and the disaster that almost always ensues quickly confirms the diagnosis.
The economic and social advantage that women thus seek in marriage—and the seeking is visible no less in the kitchen wench who aspires to the heart of a policeman than in the fashionable flapper who looks for a husband with a Rolls-Royce—is, by a curious twist of fate, one of the underlying causes of their precarious economic condition before marriage rescues them. In a civilization which lays its greatest stress upon an uninspired and almost automatic expertness, and offers its highest rewards to the more intricate forms thereof, they suffer the disadvantage of being less capable of it than men. Part of this disadvantage, as we have seen, is congenital; their very intellectual enterprise makes it difficult for them to become the efficient machines that men are. But part of it is also due to the fact that, with marriage always before them, coloring their every vision of the future, and holding out a steady promise of swift and complete relief, they are under no such implacable pressure as men are to acquire the sordid arts they revolt against. The time is too short and the incentive too feeble. Before the woman employee of twenty-one can master a tenth of the idiotic "knowledge" in the head of the male clerk of thirty, or even convince herself that it is worth mastering, she has married the head of the establishment or maybe the clerk himself, and so abandons the business. It is, indeed, not until a woman has definitely put away the hope of marriage, or, at all events, admitted the possibility that she, may have to do so soon or late, that she buckles down in earnest to whatever craft she practises, and makes a genuine effort to develop competence. No sane man, seeking a woman for a post requiring laborious training and unremitting diligence, would select a woman still definitely young and marriageable. To the contrary, he would choose either a woman so unattractive sexually as to be palpably incapable of snaring a man, or one so embittered by some catastrophe of amour as to be pathologically emptied of the normal aspirations of her sex.