Rev. THOS. WEBSTER, D.D.
AN INTRODUCTION BY BISHOP SIMPSON.
CINCINNATI: HITCHCOCK AND WALDEN.
NEW YORK: NELSON AND PHILLIPS.
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1873,
BY HITCHCOCK & WALDEN,
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
The publishers of "WOMAN MAN'S EQUAL" conscientiously feel that they are placing before the public the discussion of one of the most important topics of the day; and they indulge the strong conviction that the author of this little volume presents this important topic in a manner at once attractive and convincing. The teachings of nature, history, and the Word of God are freely drafted, and skillfully arranged to show what nature designed, what God has taught, and what woman has proved herself capable of being and doing in the world. The abuses to which the sex has been subject from the physically stronger "lords of creation," in heathen nations and in brute ages, are ably and fully set forth.
The lessons of the past are the teachings of the future. Christianity has enlarged woman's area, and multiplied her duties and responsibilities. America is ahead of all other nations in opportunities offered to woman. Public sentiment is in favor of enlarging her sphere, and woman is venturing into hitherto untried avenues of employment and usefulness. This is an age of experiment. An ounce of experiment is worth a pound of theory. Woman's capacity will first be tested; and, if found equal to the opportunity, no door will be closed against her. She may preach, orate, lecture, teach, practice medicine or law or politics; may vote, marshal armies, navigate ships, and go sailoring or soldiering to her heart's content, and at her own good-will and pleasure, if she only proves to the age that she has ability to do and dare in all these directions. This is an age of discovery, as well as of experiment; and man is daily waking up, applying, and marshaling new forces for the benefit of the race. Steam, light, electricity, magnetism, mechanics, have all contributed of their boundless capacities to human welfare. Man is gradually coming to be aware that, in the latent powers of woman, only just now on the eve of development, half the capacities of the human race, like the powers of steam and lightning, have slumbered, until now, from the beginning of the creation. A new era is dawning upon the world. This little volume is one of the rays that herald the coming sun.
Equals in the Beginning—Apparent Mental Inferiority result to be expected when Means of Mental Culture are denied—Natural Rights—Flattery not an Equivalent for Justice—Dawning
WOMAN IN ANTIQUITY.
Women of Antiquity—Their Condition in Heathen and Mohammedan Countries—Marriage, Divorce, etc.
LATER ESTIMATE OF WOMAN.
Estimation in which Women were held later—Cause and Effect—Mental Attainments despite of Oppression and Prohibition—Equal Men in Government, etc.—Frivolity, Literature, and Home Duties—Muscle not Mind—Marriage Ceremonies
THE SEXES EQUAL AT CREATION.
Created Equal—Genesis iii, 16, considered—Monogamy—Lapse into Heathenism—Polygamy—The Patriarchs—The Law of Maid-servants and Bondwomen—Divorce; Christ recognized the Equality of Right therein—Eminent Women of Israel—Virtue and Vice of no Sex
NEW TESTAMENT TEACHINGS.
The New Testament Scriptures—How they Define the Position of Women
WOMAN BEFORE THE LAW.
Equally amenable to Laws, Human and Divine—To rear and govern a Family rightly, requires Sound Judgment—Relative Mental Capacity of the Sexes not yet fairly tested—Comparisons—Christianity has done much, yet much remains to be done—Right in Each Other's Property—Men juster than the Laws—Query—Justice should be even-handed—A United Head—Women trained to perpetuate the Wrongs of their Sex
WOMAN AND LEGISLATION.
Taxation without Representation—One-sided Legislation—Similar Objections urged against the Extensions of Franchise—Domestic Discord—Present Causes—Citizenship not Inconsistent with Home Duties—The State has been benefited at the Risk of her Life through all Ages—Assertions confuted—Modern Churches have departed from Primitive Usages—The Friends—Women as Philanthropists, Public Speakers, Artists, Physicians—Educated Women during the Late War—The Universities
FAMOUS WOMEN OF ANTIQUITY.
Dido, Queen of Carthage—Cleopatra—Lucretia—Zenobia—Hypatia—Other Famous Names
EMINENT WOMEN OF MODERN TIMES.
The Countess of Montfort—Anna Askew—Esther Inglis—Lady Pakington—Mrs. Mary Washington—Mrs. Wesley—Mrs. Fletcher—Miss Crosby—Ann Hasseltine—Sarah H.B. Judson—The Misses Chandler—Other Eminent Characters of Modern Times
Christianity is the special friend of woman. Christian civilization has exalted her almost infinitely above the position to which either paganism or Mohammedanism assigned her. This elevation is the natural outgrowth of the example and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Unlike other ancient great instructors, he did not repel women from discipleship, but cordially welcomed her presence wherever he taught. His lessons of wisdom, and his precious promises of life everlasting, were in all their fullness addressed to her as freely as to the most honored of men. His illustrations of sweeping the house to find the lost piece of silver, and of the leaven hid in three measures of meal, were drawn from her employments, and were probably suggested by her presence. To the cry of the poor Syro-Phenician woman, no less than to that of the centurion or nobleman, did he give his attention and sympathy, and with equal speed did he answer the agonizing prayer. Rising far above the trammels of Jewish prejudice, while he sat weary at the mouth of Jacob's well, he taught the beauty of spiritual worship to the astonished woman of Samaria. She became his first missionary to the people of her city, to whom she told the story of his wonderful wisdom, and said, "Is not this the Christ?" How kind must have been his spirit, how tender his words, to the sisters at Bethany, to cause the exclamation, "If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died!" How consoling must have been his accents, which drew the fair penitent to his feet, and which led her, in loving adoration, to wash them with her tears and to wipe them with the hairs of her head! How wonderful the manifestation of that Divine condescension and love which elicited that gratitude which still lingers in the rich perfumes of the alabaster-box of precious ointment! No marvel that women "followed him from Galilee," stood sorrowfully beholding his crucifixion, and when he was taken from the cross, "followed after and beheld the sepulcher, and how his body was laid." Their devotion was rewarded, on the morning of his resurrection, by their being made the first messengers of his glorious triumph. On such perfect equality were men and women placed by the blessed Savior as to terms of salvation and Gospel privileges, that the apostle exclaims, "In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female." All are members of his body, and in him all become one.
As Christian influences more fully control society, and as the spirit of Christ permeates the masses, the position of woman becomes more elevated. She is no longer considered as a slave, and compelled to bear every burden, as in savage life; nor is she a mere attendant, or minister to sensual pleasure, as among the Mohammedans. The bars are removed from the doors of the harem, and the veil is taken from her face. She sits with the family at the table, entertains her guests, and enjoys their society. She studies with her brothers in the same school, recites to the same teachers, and reads the same books. With her friends, she joins in the service and song and worship of, the sanctuary, converses in the social assembly, and listens to distinguished speakers as they discuss topics of literature, art, science, or statesmanship. The cry of suffering humanity touches her heart, and she is deeply interested in the great movements toward the elevation of the race. In this ascent, every step she has taken has been in opposition to the protest of the spirit of other civilizations, which yet lurks in many a breast. To be seen by strangers, to have her face unveiled, to sit in public assemblies, to study sciences and arts, is contrary to nature, is an offense against purity, and tends to destroy her loveliness,—said these inveterate croakers. Yet society recognized her influence and power, and believed she had both rights and duties. Step by step, odious laws have been repealed, her right to her own property has been in great measure secured, doors of usefulness have been opened before her, her voice is welcomed from the platform, and her writings from the press. She visits the sick and the prisoner, and pleads for the suffering, until hospitals and asylums are founded in their behalf. She soothes the sorrows of the aged, takes the hand of the orphan to lead him in paths of safety, and in the tumult of war ministers to the wounded and dying.
Amidst her general activity, many questions arise as to what further avenues of usefulness may properly open. How far may she engage in business, and in what branches? what is her proper work in the Church, and to what extent may she perform public religious services? is she properly a citizen, and what privileges or rights should she enjoy?—are inquiries which are considered and discussed. The greatest interest is at present excited by the question, "Should women have the ballot?" and both in this country and in England it has able advocates and strong opponents.
It can not be denied that the answer of the large majority is in the negative, and that in many instances this answer comes in the form of the laugh of ridicule or in the sneer of contempt. Such is the fate of all incipient efforts for reformation; but where a cause is intrinsically just, it can survive and triumph.
Without entering into the general discussion, two points may be briefly noted. First, this question is considered only in Christian lands. It is not even heard of elsewhere. It is mooted only in countries where the Bible is placed in the hands of the common people. It is strong only where free institutions have been established, and where liberal ideas have prevailed. It is the outgrowth of Bible freedom. Secondly, many of its opponents are persons of strong intellect, of broad views, of great benevolence, and of unquestioned piety. Yet in the opposition we find also all, or nearly all, of the most ignorant classes of society. We find also in the opposition, with very few exceptions, the entire class of venders of intoxicating drinks, drunkards, gamblers, and other notoriously vicious characters. Is there any reason for such an aggregation? On the other hand, the friends of the measure, though fewer in number, are generally found among the intelligent and religious members of the community. It is true that a few of those who desired to be recognized as leaders of the movement are known as free-thinkers or infidels; and a still smaller number have been advocates of free-love and other loathsome vagaries. The opponents of the cause have skillfully presented their names as representatives of the idea, and have thus cast such odium upon it that many timid persons, dreading even an apparent association with them, have feared to express their own convictions. These odious parties, however, are very few in number, and their influence is constantly diminishing. There can be no question that four-fifths of the friends of female suffrage are to-day active members of various Christian Churches; and of them no small number are ministers distinguished for their learning, benevolence, and piety.
The signs of the times indicate a determined struggle between temperance and intemperance. The use of intoxicating liquors is the source of nine-tenths of all the dark and terrible crimes that disgrace humanity. It whets the assassin's dagger, and pours poison into the cup of the suicide. It beggars the laborer, breaks the heart of the anguished wife, and starves the helpless children. It fills jails and penitentiaries with victims, and hospitals and asylums with the injured and hopelessly wrecked. It fastens on society an army of police to be supported, and it oppresses the land with taxes. The money amassed by the venders buys our legislators, corrupts our judges and governors, and controls our political parties. Who shall stay its ravages, or curtail its power?
My conviction is, and for years has been, that the only hope is in giving the ballot to women. True, some women love strong drink, and some are vile; yet the vast majority are utterly opposed to intemperance. None so well as the drunkard's wife knows the terrible evil, or so keenly feels its pangs. Could the mother, who bows her head in sorrow as she beholds her loved boy hastening to ruin; the wife, whose once affectionate husband has been transformed into a demon; the daughter, whose cheek has been mantled with shame at her father's fall, and who has suffered the bitterness of blasted hopes and of dismal poverty,—could they have the ballot, how quickly would the rum-shops be closed, and our youth be preserved from multi-fold temptations! What other triumph could compare with this?
With this conviction, I hail with pleasure this volume from the pen of Dr. Webster. It discusses an important question calmly, clearly, forcibly. I may not agree with all of his positions, or with some of his Biblical criticisms, yet I believe the work possesses much merit, will lead to serious thoughtfulness, and be productive of good.
I also rejoice that the enterprising publishers whose names appear on the imprint have added this volume to their catalogue, and have thus given the influence of their names, and their widely extended means of circulation, to a cause so intimately connected with the interests of humanity. The Church, in its various denominations, and by its varied agencies, must ever be, as it ever has been, the leader and the guide in great moral movements.
WOMAN MAN'S EQUAL.
In the discussion of the question of woman's equality with man, I purpose to prove from the Bible, as I believe I can, that at the creation there was neither superiority nor inferiority ordained between Adam and Eve; and that the partial distinctions which have for ages existed, and which still exist, are of man's invention; and may, therefore with propriety, be examined, and, where found unfair or oppressive, may be justly condemned.
I hope also to be able to establish the fact, from history, that in every age, whenever an opportunity has afforded itself, women have proved themselves to be fully men's equals in intellectual capacity, in morality, industry, and religion; and that, in matters of government, they have proved themselves to be as wise and judicious rulers as any of the opposite sex, under the same, or similar, circumstances. That the instances in which women have been called to places of power and responsibility in the State are comparatively rare, is not to be attributed to natural incapacity or mental inferiority, but to the fact of the persistent efforts made by men to keep them as much as possible in the background; that in many instances women have broken the fetters of oppression and prejudice by which they were bound, and have ascended the hill of fame in advance of their male opponents. If, then, women have in other and darker ages over-leaped the formidable barriers placed in their way, and thus benefited their respective nations, and sometimes the world, by their intrepidity, why should obstructions be placed in their path now, in this day of professed light and progress? Freedom, improvement, and righteousness ought to be the watchwords of the nations.
After enduring years of ridicule and contempt, the advocates of women's rights begin to see some slight indications that their labors have not been altogether futile. Both in England and America the movement is now making considerable progress. Persons of wealth, of high position in the social scale, and of sound education, have become its warm friends and advocates; but, so hard is it to remove old-time prejudice, it is probable that many years may yet elapse before women will be allowed to enjoy equal rights and privileges with men.
All great reforms, whether European or American, are of slow growth, and are usually denounced as running counter to Scripture and common sense; as witness the discussions on the disestablishment of the Irish Church in Britain, and on the abolition of slavery in the United States; both of which reforms were fiercely assailed as contrary to the Word of God and reason, and declared to be in fact the offspring of infidelity. But, like these two great reforms, when movements of vital importance are once inaugurated, their arriving at perfection is but a matter of time. Right is almost always sure to prevail in the end.
The claiming for women equality with men, not only in mental capacity, but in civil and ecclesiastical rights, may shock the preconceived opinions of many persons, and will probably subject the individual advancing such views to the charge of fanaticism and false teaching; yet we conceive the claim to be consistent with reason, justice, and the Word of God; and its full recognition to be of vital importance to the entire race of mankind. In the discussion of this question, the object will not be to flatter women, or to give offense to men; but simply to present the requirements of impartial justice with regard to a portion of the human race, who, because of their sex, have for centuries been held in a position little, if any, better than that of slaves; and who, up to the present time, are deprived of their natural rights and privileges by the laws of our own and other countries, professedly civilized, enlightened, and Christian. While, therefore, the injustice suffered, both in the past and the present, by women, will be briefly presented in the following pages, there is still no wish to deprive the "lords of creation" of any really God-appointed privilege. But should we happen to come in contact with the selfishness and the usurped prerogatives of men, we will not hesitate to expose what we conceive to be grievous wrongs, because of their antiquity.
There is no human tie so sacred as that of marriage; and yet there is no covenant so generally violated in some way or other by many of the contracting parties. The alliance, it is true, may be continued, and even observed, so far as the letter is concerned. But what of the spirit? When once true confidence is lost, the sublime and exalted character of the relation is destroyed. There is no longer any genuine affection, or real union of heart, between the parties. Nothing will destroy mutual confidence between two parties sooner than an arrogant assumption by one of them of fancied superiority over the other. Self-respect is an inherent principle in human nature. The mind of prince and peasant is alike actuated by it, and by an instinctive desire for freedom and independence of action, for the advantages of civil and religious liberty, and for the exercise of individual rights; and this instinctive desire is no less strong in the hearts of women than of men. It is impossible for a woman of proper discernment, and of refined taste and liberal education, to consider herself, simply because of her sex, inferior to her own male relatives, or indeed to any one of the opposite sex, of the same intellectual powers, literary attainments, and position in society. Nothing but the influence of a misdirected or perverted education, or the most extreme degradation and ignorance, can in any one induce the belief that woman is the inferior of man, merely because she is a woman.
No business firm could remain together in harmony for a single day, if it were understood that one of the partners assumed the position that he was superior to the other, who, prior to entering into the partnership, had been received in the same social circles, and who had brought into the business an equal proportion of funds and of business talent. And doubly preposterous would the assumption be, if it were based on the fact that the assumer was the larger or physically stronger man; and, because possessed of more of the animal nature than his partner, it therefore became his right to dictate to and control the other.
Such an assumption as this is no more absurd, nor is the reasoning upon which it is based more illogical, than that which asserts that woman, because she is a woman, is therefore an inferior, to be ruled at the discretion of her husband or sons in her own home; and that she ought to be contented to be considered such, and to be so treated by her own nation and in her own family. The carrying out of such an idea is more than absurd. It is monstrous. It is an imposition that has only been tolerated because the exactions are not in every case so bad as the system is capable of enforcing; and it is one from which every advocate of Christian liberty, to be consistent with his profession, should withdraw both countenance and toleration.
The history of woman's wrongs has for ages been written in tears, often with her life-blood; and yet the volume has, in most instances, been concealed in her own bosom, notwithstanding its fearful weight. But if, at any time, as sometimes happens, unable to keep it hidden longer, she unfolds the pages of her grief to others, what an outcry is raised against her! The oppressed Italian peasant, the Russian serf, the Spanish or American black, all, if they are only of the male sex, may make their wrongs public, may even resist oppression to the death, and be applauded for so doing. But let a woman speak so that she can be heard, no matter how great the outrages from which she has suffered, let her couch her timid complaint in ever such delicate language, and what a storm of invective is hurled at her! The very act of complaining is declared—by the advocates of her inferiority—to be in itself unwifely, indecent. "A woman's voice has no business to be heard outside of her own house; nor there, if her lord decrees otherwise," say they. It is asserted that she has been induced to give publicity to her sorrows—indeed, has occasioned them—by peevishness or imprudence, or by something worse; and thus, by an, unfair, sometimes an altogether false, issue being raised, the unhappy victim not merely of oppression, but of downright brutality, is shut off from justly merited sympathy. And women, too, who are more fortunately situated, in possessing somewhat kinder husbands, or in being possessed by them, shaping their views according to those entertained by the sterner sex, unite with them in the condemnation of a sorrow-stricken sister; and, instead of making her burden lighter, contribute to increasing its weight. Such women having never felt the iron pierce their own souls, can not realize the woes of those in whose bosoms the barb is rankling at every pulsation, and they weakly fancy that the sorrows of those suffering ones are but the inventions of an ill-ordered mind, or, at most, that the picture has been overdrawn.
Unkind men are not the only class, however, who assert the inferiority of the gentler sex. If they were, they might be disposed of in a very summary manner. There is another class not less dangerous, not less tyrannical or less arrogant, though somewhat more plausible. These speak, when occasion suits, quite eloquently, often with indecorous flippancy, of the "great influence which the ladies are capable of exerting upon society;" and for the qualified good which the orators graciously concede that women have accomplished, or may be capable of accomplishing, they bespatter them with a sort of sneering praise that is absolutely insulting to a woman of common sense. This style of fulsome flattery, with some degree of soft attention, graciously bestowed upon women, these men deem adequate compensation for all the indignities put upon their so-called inferiors. With what supreme contempt, therefore, must every right-minded woman listen to such harangues, or read them when in print!
Learned orators and divines and grave professors may, indeed sometimes do, soar away almost to the seventh heaven while recounting the heroic or generous actions of women in past ages. Admiring audiences are told that "gentle women are the ministering angels, sent by the wisdom of God to be the comforters of mankind upon earth, as the beloved of our hearths and homes; that the world, without the gentle hand of woman to alleviate our sorrows, would be a dark and dreary solitude swept by the whirlwinds of despair." The delighted listeners are borne away on the wings of fancy—alas! it is only fancy—till, in imagination, it would appear that woman had escaped from her worse than Egyptian bondage, had crossed, without trouble, the Red Sea, passed the dreadful wilderness, moved out from the plains of Moab, and, by some peculiar magic of her own, had been deftly wafted over Jordan into the promised land; that already she had gloried in the tumbling-down of the walls of Jericho, and had enjoyed the triumph of having the delegation of Gibeonites coming, in their old garments, to seek an alliance with her as the chosen of the Lord.
But let a woman allured by such an oration ask a right, and how soon the strain is changed! Let her ask to be placed on an equality with man in regard to the holding of property, or to civil or ecclesiastical rights, or authority or position; let the daughters ask equal rights and privileges with sons; let them request admission into the same colleges and universities with their brothers, so that they may compete with them for the honors and degrees conferred in such institutions,—and what then? The flowery oratory is all gone. The "angels," the "heroic, brave, and virtuous women," have suddenly become agitators whose conduct is unseemly. They "are ambitious, indelicate, not to say immodest, bold-faced females"—whether of the human or some other race we are not told.
Forgetting, apparently, that the Creator's universal law is liberty of thought and freedom of action, coupled with a strict responsibility for the use of both, those who are opposed to women exercising or enjoying equal rights with men, contend, as an excuse for their opposition, that some of the women engaged in the present reform movement are extravagant in their demands, and abuse the privileges they already possess. Precisely the same thing was said of the slaves in the South. Indeed, the same argument, variously worded, has been used by oppressors in all ages. "Ye are idle, ye are idle," is a very old cry.
But, admitting that some women are injudicious and occasionally one is irreverent, are not men, in advocating their peculiar views on politics, the same, only in much larger proportion? Are they, therefore, deprived of the franchise or other privileges? If men were obliged to come to such a standard as they lay down for women, they would consider the measure meted out to them a very hard one. Still, if it is a just and fair way of dealing with woman's suffrage and other questions of importance, it is an equally just and fair way to deal with men concerning their right to exercise the franchise.
But, though deprived of the civil and ecclesiastical privileges accorded to their sons and brothers, women are yet held equally accountable with them for any infraction of these same civil and ecclesiastical laws. Not supposed to have sufficient mental capacity to understand what a law really means, she is yet, if she violates that law, punished for such violation. And, in the face of all this, it is sneeringly asked, "What can reasonable women want more than they already have?" The answer is simple: Equal rights and privileges with men.
And it is to be hoped, for the honor of Christianity and civilization, that these will soon be accorded.
Very much has been accomplished in several of the States of the Republic, in regard to giving women a proper position in civil and educational matters, but much still remains to be done; and just now it would seem doubtful which country will first accord the suffrage to them—England or the United States. Eminent statesmen in both of these countries are moving in the matter.
Woman in Antiquity.
In the preceding chapter it is mentioned that the intention is to present to the reader, in as condensed a form as possible, some of the indignities put upon women, both in the past and the present, so that the reader may be able to form a candid judgment on the subject of woman's rights and woman's wrongs. We will, therefore, first consider the condition of the women of antiquity, and of those in heathen and Mohammedan lands; and, afterward, her position in professedly civilized and Christian countries.
After the dispersion of mankind at Babel, we behold, through the mists of the surrounding gloom, the various tribes into which the race had by that event become divided, subsisting at first by the spontaneous fruits of the earth, and by the chase. Then they became herdsmen, tillers of the soil, and traffickers, varying these occupations by predatory warfare. They are all astir, passing to and fro through the wide extent of the regions as yet inhabited. History, so far as it deals with the earlier portion of this period, necessarily derives its material from traditionary legends, more or less credible, as the case may be. These recount the marvelous exploits—not unfrequently manifestly fabulous—of their rude heroes; their deeds of might, their noble enterprises, their indomitable courage, their persistent activity, and often their deeds of most revolting cruelty.
Of the women of this period we obtain but slight glimpses, but sufficient to show that, in their domestic arrangements, the ancients early acted upon the principle, that "might makes right." Muscle appears to have been at a premium during these eras.
Later, the nations are found still engaged in war, as if each esteemed the slaughtering of its neighbors the grandest and noblest of human achievements; but their equipments indicate that, meanwhile, manufactures have been making some advancement. Warriors present a more formidable appearance than did those of former ages. They are clad in armor, and guard themselves with breastplates and with shields. Their glittering swords and spears, their battle-axes and their bows, are grasped in hands only too eager to use them; and the combatants press proudly on toward the scene of conflict; while others, equally intrepid, but less military in their tastes, still employ themselves in the chase; and the more indolent pursue pleasures of a less exciting character.
But where, meanwhile, are the counterparts of these—the wives, sisters, and daughters of these grim warriors and sturdy huntsmen, or of these dreaming idlers? In existence they certainly are; but they exist only to drudge and suffer. While their masters are employing or non-employing themselves, according to the bent of their inclination, they are cultivating the fields or watering and herding the flocks, bearing heavy burdens, carrying the luggage of their husbands to facilitate progress on the war-path; or at home rearing up children, who rarely rise up to call them blessed; or they are waiting, in submissive obedience, at the feet of their reclining lords, to be petted and caressed or cursed and kicked, as passion or caprice may dictate—subjected alike to neglect, contempt, and abuse. Exceptions to this general rule doubtless occurred occasionally; for irresponsible power does not of necessity convert every man into an unfeeling tyrant, just as under other systems of slavery, some were fortunate enough to fall into the hands of kind, considerate owners, whose hearts they inspired with love and tenderness; but neither bound wife nor bond slave was treated with kindness, respect, or common justice, because their inherent right to be so treated was recognized. It mattered little to the women of this period whether they were held as wives or concubines; their actual condition was that of slavery.
In none of the countries of antiquity had women more liberty than in Egypt; and yet what was her real condition there? Alexander remarked, it is true, that though "the women promised obedience, men often yielded it;" and, in many instances, it is equally true that the laws respecting women were immeasurably in advance of those of neighboring nations; as, for instance: Each wife had entire control of her own house. Among the princes nearest the throne, women might take their places, and even reign as sovereigns (a regency was frequently committed to their care); or they might rule as joint sovereigns with another party; and as Isis took rank above Osiris, so in such a case the woman might take rank above the man.[A]
But notwithstanding this advance beyond other nations, they were still spoken of, and in many instances not only treated as inferiors, but held in hopeless bondage.
Among the Greeks, the wife was at times permitted to take part in public assemblies, but never as the equal of her husband. She neither went with him to dinner, when he dined out, nor sat at table with those whom he invited to his house. Aristotle held that "the relation of men to women is that of governor to a subject." Plato says: "A woman's virtue may be summed up in a few words: for she has only to manage the house well, keeping what there is in it, and obeying her husband." Again, in further proof of the low estimation in which he held women, he says: "Of the men that were born, such as are timid and have passed through life unjustly are, we suppose, changed into women in their second generation." Plutarch tells us that women "were compelled to go barefoot, in order to induce them to keep at home."
The Spartan women were better off than their neighbors; and, in consequence, we get glimpses of a higher type of womanhood. The Spartan mother has furnished a theme for the pen of every ancient Greek historian. Under the Lycurgean system, women were considered "as a part of the State," and not simply household articles belonging to their husbands—chattels to be disposed of according to the supreme pleasure of their masters. Free women were trained for the service of the State with scarcely less severity than men. Lycurgus remarks: "Female slaves are good enough to sit at home, weaving and spinning; but who can expect a splendid offspring—the appropriate mission and duty of free Spartan women toward their country—from mothers brought up in such occupations?" But though, like the Egyptian women, and indeed in advance of them, the Spartan women were treated with, for the times, a marked degree of attention and respect, still, even in Sparta, there were laws in force by which women suffered grievous injustice. With all the apparent freedom accorded to them, fathers claimed and exercised the right of disposing of their daughters in marriage to suit their own views or interests. Though free-born, a girl had no choice, if her father willed it so, in the selection of her husband; and husbands might, if they wished, dispose of their wives by will, at death, as they would of any other piece of property. Though in a measure free, because she was a woman, she was still a slave.
Among the other infringements of the rights of women, and one of the most barbarous, common to the heathen, both ancient and modern, and to the Mohammedans, is early betrothal. In fact, the system of betrothal prevailed to a very great extent among the very earliest nations of which history furnishes any account, the laws affecting it being only slightly modified to suit the circumstances of the various tribes by which it was adopted. The main feature was still the same—the girl had no choice; there was nothing for her but submission.
The lot of woman in China has, from time immemorial, been a hard one. Says a writer in the Westminster Review for October, 1855: "Of all nations, the Chinese carry out the system of early betrothal most completely; parents in China not only bargain for the marriage of their children during their infancy, but while they are yet unborn. If, when a daughter is betrothed during infancy, the contract should not assume the form of actual sale, it is nevertheless usual for the bridegroom, at the time he acquires possession of the bride, to pay into the hands of her father a sum considered equivalent to the current value of a wife." Immortality is denied to woman by them. A Christian, intent on the evangelization of the Chinese, spoke to one regarding the salvation of their women. "Women," replied the Chinaman; "women have no souls. You can't make Christians of them." Few persons born in civilized lands, unless brought into immediate contact with the heathen, can have any idea of the wretched condition of their women, even at this day. Kept in a state of abject bondage, they are compelled to serve with rigor. Controlled as though they were possessed of less intelligence than male children of tender years, it might yet be supposed, from the burdens laid upon them, that they were possessed of far superior strength, physically, than men. In some countries—not all of them heathen or Mohammedan either—the amount of labor imposed upon women of the lower orders in society would task the strength of beasts of burden. The only exercise of reason allowed among such, is a sort of instinct which will enable them to perform all kinds of drudgery, and to act with scrupulous fidelity to their unkind, very often brutal and faithless, husbands—task-masters would be the better name. Of women under such rule, it may truly be said, the grave is their best, their only friend.
Among the Arabs, prior to Mohammed, the women were in a wretchedly debased condition, which has been but slightly improved by the rules of the Koran. By its sanction, wives were bought by their husbands, though it was asserted that it was not lawful for men to exchange their wives. The price paid by Mohammed for his wives, of which he had nine, varied, according to their rank and beauty, from one to one hundred dollars each. The common people procured theirs at a cheaper rate. Specific directions are given, too, for the proper government of women. "Those wives," says Mohammed, "whose perverseness ye may be apprehensive of, rebuke, and remove them into separate apartments, and chastise them."[B] When such precepts as these were laid down in the Koran, which was considered a direct revelation from God, it is not surprising that the severest punishment was inflicted on women who attempted to exercise any control over themselves or their households. The will of the proud, insolent Arab was supreme, whether his demands were reasonable or otherwise; having bought his wives cheap, he might maltreat or divorce them at pleasure. Like the Chinese, the Mohammedan women are denied the hope of immortality. "Earthly women, when they die, cease to have any existence; but men, if faithful to Mohammed, are to enter paradise, and be associated with a new race of transcendently beautiful female beings." "The glories of eternity," says the Koran, "will be eclipsed by the resplendent 'women of paradise,' created 'not of clay, as mortal women are, but of pure musk, and free from all natural impurities, defects, and inconveniencies incident to the sex; ... secluded from public view in pavilions of hollow pearl.'"[C]
A distinguished European writer observes: "The Hindoos seem to have legislated with the greatest care and detail concerning women. Yet by no people, legally speaking, is her individuality more entirely ignored; and in no country is the slavery in which she lives, at once so systematic, refined, and complete as it is in India, where the lawgiver and the priest are one. The oppressive custom of life-long guardianship is expressly ordained. By a girl, or by a woman advanced in years, nothing must be done, even in her own dwelling-place, according to her mere pleasure. In childhood must a female be dependent on her father, in youth on her husband; her lord being dead, on her sons; if she have no sons, on the near kinsman of her husband; if he left no kinsman, on those of her father; if she have no parental kinsman, on the sovereign. A woman must never seek independence."[D] Not permitted to have any discretionary power over her own actions at any period of her life, but held in every respect subject to the will of her husband, or some other male guardian, she is nevertheless to be unswervingly faithful to her lord while he lives; and no matter how cruelly he may have treated her, she is loaded with contumely, reproach, and scorn, if she refuses to lay herself upon the funeral pile, and in the flames pass into another state of being, to do honor to him who through life had been an unrelenting tyrant. Knowing the obloquy which attaches itself to the widow who recoils from such a fearful death-bed, and ignorant, too, of the "better way," the unfortunate creature generally yields to the pressure brought to bear upon her, and terminates a miserable life by an awful death; her horrid shrieks, while burning, mingling with the clamor of sounds raised to drown them by the heartless throng of spectators, and yet sometimes rising with distressing distinctness above them. When the wife of a Hindoo dies, does he sacrifice himself upon a funeral pile, in order to honor her in another state of existence? By no means. His precious body can not be committed to the flames; they are too hot for his manly courage. He burns her corpse with what are termed appropriate offerings; and, if so disposed, adds a new wife to his household, thus soothing his sorrow.
In Australia, the practice of early betrothal is nearly universal among the natives; men of distinction having several wives at the same time, and these varying in age from the little child to the woman of mature years. But while polygamy prevails to a fearful extent among the men of the wealthier class, many of the men of the humbler ranks remain unmarried, because they are unable to raise the purchase-money which secures them their domestic drudge. In the western part of Australia, especially before the benefits of civilization began to be felt in the island, it was the practice to betroth the daughters to some individual, immediately upon their birth; and should the man, or male child to whom the infant girl was betrothed, die before she arrived at maturity, she became the property of the heirs of her betrothed husband, though she might never have seen either this reputed husband, or the person who, as his representative, claimed her as his wife by virtue of the betrothal. In New Zealand, if the spouse of a female child dies before she is taken to his home, she is never allowed to marry any one else. By this custom young children become the widows of little boys or old men, according to the whims of their fathers. Another horrible practice of the Australians is, the exchange of daughters by their fathers. This is very common among the chiefs, the exchange being made with as little concern as jockeys exchange their horses. It is stated that the poorer men sometimes supplied themselves with wives after the manner of the Romans in the case of the Sabine Rape; and that when victorious in war, the women and girls captured were taken as wives, while the male prisoners were put to death. But where they were able to afford it, they preferred the betrothal system, as giving them more consequence. Not only in Australia, but in the other countries where early betrothal was practiced, if, when a boy grew up, he formed a dislike to his betrothed, or for some other whim desired to cast her off, he was at liberty to do so, but no such privilege was granted the girl. Then, as now in civilized nations, those making the laws were careful to make them all to their own advantage.
In the foundation of some of the nations of antiquity, men were frequently gathered, from almost every quarter of the then known globe, to the particular spot that seemed best suited for the purposes of self-aggrandizement; and, in the rude horde thus congregated together, there was necessarily an undue preponderance of the male element. In some instances, not one woman was to be found in such a community. The tribes more immediately contiguous to these settlements, if such they might be called, were not inclined to enter into friendly relations with them, and therefore they were unable to supply themselves with wives in the usual manner; consequently, they had recourse to other means. Sometimes women were procured by stratagem; sometimes bands of marauders sallied forth, and stole, or in some other equally exceptionable way took possession of, the women of the neighboring or of hostile tribes.
Ordinarily, the poor victims submitted to their fate with the best grace they might; but if one thus taken by force attempted to make her escape from him who claimed her as his wife, and was unfortunate enough to be retaken, a spear, or some similar weapon, was thrust through the fleshy portion of one of her limbs, effectually disabling her from making another attempt of the kind; and not unfrequently the combined bodily pain and mental anguish terminated in death—a happy release.
In process of time, however, the various tribes began to regard each other with less aversion than formerly; and it became safer and more profitable to purchase women, on the same principle that any other kind of merchandise was bought. Prices were regulated according to the supply in the market and the beauty or the muscular strength of the hapless creatures exposed for sale. Fathers sold or exchanged their daughters, brothers their sisters, without the slightest shame or remorse. Among the Tambanks, in exchanging the women for stock, a woman, full-grown and of ordinary strength, was considered equal in value to two cows or one ox.
As the settlements became more permanent, assuming by degrees the character of established nations, and the centers of enterprise grew into populous cities, the barter and exchange traffic naturally declined; but in its place were established regular markets for the sale of female slaves. Civilization was beginning to make some slight progress; and fathers began to entertain doubts regarding the propriety of selling their own flesh and blood, though they did not hesitate to buy their wives.
The slaves who were exposed in the marketplaces, therefore, were generally the overplus not desired in the harems of those who had captured them in war; and as the most beautiful brought the highest market-price, the public exhibitions of the poor unfortunates drew thither crowds of gaping people—some merely curious, some intent on business. Even in more modern days, the slave-markets of the East, and in the Southern States of the American Republic, have attracted crowds of spectators—some to condemn the horrible practice, some to compassionate the unhappy victims, but most to engage in the monstrous traffic.
It is not necessary to review further, in detail, the condition of women in the various nations as they sprang into existence, or through the successive periods of their history to the commencement of the Christian era. Various causes brought about a partial liberty for women, in both the Jewish and Roman nations, prior to the birth of Christ; but for those of other lands the blackness of darkness still remained. It was but a partial liberty, it is true, even for the Hebrew or Roman women, but their condition was much improved. Concessions had been made slowly. They had come in shreds, and had not amounted to much in ameliorating their situation when they came; but slight as were the privileges yielded, they were yet indications of the dawning of a brighter day for Eve's poor daughters.
The reformations effected were like wresting prey from the mighty. And how could it be otherwise, with selfishness and love of power, sustained by unjust and one-sided laws, arrayed against merely natural rights—not demanded, scarcely even asserted—and those to whom these rights belonged excluded from every position where they might hope to do either the one or the other successfully? The law of divorce was still common; and, like every thing else where the sexes were concerned, all the advantages were on the side of the oppressor, man.
The laws of the Romans, though according a greater degree of freedom to woman than had hitherto been granted, were still not only imperfect, but were not properly carried out, in many instances, where it suited venal judges to side with wealthy libertines who might have it in their power to bestow a favor. Professedly, each Roman had but one wife; but divorces, on most frivolous pretexts, were of frequent occurrence, granted in favor of one who wished to gratify his licentious passions without rebuke. Slavery was yet in force; and it gave ample opportunity for the practice of this injustice, even upon the free-born Roman woman. Every true Roman held his wife's or his daughter's honor sacred, and would resent to the death any attempt to violate it; but, by the connivance of corrupt officials, the protection of an upright father was rendered of no avail, by a perjurer being found who would appear before the proper tribunal and swear the maid or woman in question to be his slave. The decision once given in the libertine's favor, there was no longer hope for her—she was lost forever.
Not always, however, would Roman freemen tamely brook open injustice, much less shame, without revenging it, though they died in doing so. The case of Appius—who was himself both the libertine and judge—is in point. Having set his licentious eyes upon the beautiful Virginia—daughter of Virginius, a centurion of the army—and having in vain sought to obtain possession of her person by tampering with the matron who conveyed her to and from her school, he induced an equally licentious individual, one Claudius, to claim her as his slave, and bring the matter before himself for decision. In vain the anguished father asserted that Virginia was his child. With an air of apparent impartiality, Appius decreed that she belonged to Claudius, who thereupon proceeded to remove her. The father begged that they might at least be allowed to take leave of each other, which request was granted, on condition of their doing so in the presence of the oppressor. Drawing the girl, now nearly dead from fright, toward himself, and also toward the shambles, adjoining which they were, he snatched thence a knife, and, before any suspected his intention, stabbed her to the heart, crying, "This alone can preserve your honor and your freedom."[E]
The fearful deed of the centurion is appalling; but remember his ideas of right and wrong were veiled in pagan darkness. He took the life of his child to save her from a fate incomparably worse than that of death; and made his name historic by doing so. Thousands of fathers have found their efforts to protect the innocence of their daughters as unavailing as did the unhappy Virginius, unless, like him, they shortened life. The victims, too, are as little free-will agents in the matter as Virginia would have been; and many thousands of daughters have fallen, not by their father's hand to save their honor, but by cruel deception, and died to all that was beautiful or pure on earth, and to every hope of heaven.
And while the woman who has sinned, and fallen through that sin, is pitied by few, despised by nearly all, and but little effort made to win her back to the path of purity, how is the companion of her sin treated? He, the seducer—often the grossest of deceivers, the instigator of the crime—because he is a man, is countenanced by the many, his conduct palliated, and himself received as an honored guest, even in the highest circles of society. The law of God makes no distinction between the male violator of His holy law and the female violator of the same; but man, arrogating to himself superior wisdom, makes a very marked one.
No wonder, then, that women groan because of their bondage.
[Footnote A: Sharpe's "History of Egypt."]
[Footnote B: Koran, chap. iv.]
[Footnote C: Sale's "Preliminary Discourses on the Koran," sec. 4.]
[Footnote D: "Laws of Menu."]
[Footnote E: Bloss, page 334.]
Later Estimate of Woman.
In the discussion of the position occupied by women as wives, those only have been spoken of who were betrothed in infancy, or were captured, stolen, or bought. These latter were, without further ceremony, merely taken home to the abode of their future husband and lord. In the later periods of antiquity, betrothal terminated in a marriage ceremony, the rite varying according to the prevailing customs of each nation.
Opinions with regard to the qualifications which ought to be possessed by a woman to fit her for marriage—which were, in fact, considered indispensable—were as various as the nations or the rites; and, truth to tell, are about as conflicting now as they were centuries ago. In all the ages, and in every country, one thing seemed to be agreed upon, however, and sedulously kept in view; namely, woman's inferiority. Let her be free-born or a slave, to be married or bought, she must still be a bondwoman—a creature subject to guardianship.
After men began to desire wives who were not altogether drudges, women began to be esteemed in proportion to their beauty, not their wisdom or good judgment. A fine figure, delicate hands, and handsome face, with fascinating manners, a graceful carriage, and such accomplishments as were the fashion, quite regardless of the accomplishments of head or heart, were all that were required by the class of men who could afford to keep such dainty wares. But love, inspired by such attractions as these and nothing else, is ever fickle as the wind. When health declined and beauty faded, the fire of passion, misnamed love, died out; and the hapless wife frequently found herself deserted—if not openly, none the less shamefully—for a younger rival, whose eye was brighter and whose cheek more plump. Then shrewd women began to study artifice. Deception is wrong, without doubt; but before we too severely censure these women, let us remember how deeply they were wronged, how great their temptations, how much they had at stake. In order to retain any thing like a comfortable or respectable position in their husband's houses, the waning beauties resorted to flattery and to the invention and skillful use of various articles which would conceal the declension of beauty or artfully counterfeit it. The ways and means by which attractiveness of face and figure might be enhanced, preserved, or simulated, became the subject of serious study—something neither to be sneered at nor laughed at. The happiness of a life-time often depended upon it. The sex, taught by a bitter experience, learned that men, as a rule, were more easily influenced by blandishment and show than by good sense and genuine worth, and, with a few exceptions, strove somewhat to better their condition by practicing the lesson so learned. If, in the long run, women became frivolous, brainless, and heartless, why was it?
There were, however, in all ages, exceptions. Women, yielding to the God-given yearning after higher and better things than idle frivolities, and longing just as ardently for love and happiness in their married homes, sought to work out life's problem differently, and went to work as rational creatures. Breaking through or over the obstacles which debarred them from enjoying or making use of the sources of information open to the opposite sex, they strove to cultivate their minds and store them with useful knowledge, that they might indeed be helpmeets for their husbands, and so not only win, but by true worth retain, their love.
Then those who had hitherto sneered at woman's incapacity for intellectual attainments, or lectured her roundly for frivolity, heartlessness, and deception, sneered all the more at her presumption in fancying her heart, or head either, required any other cultivation than man, in his wisdom, saw fitting. Any thing at all likely to elevate woman to her proper place of equality with her husband, must be put down at once and forever, if possible. But, notwithstanding all the pains taken to place women in an inferior position, and keep them there, they have, in many instances, despite the sneers and persecutions of the opposite sex, proved their aptitude in acquiring knowledge; and, when placed in positions to call forth such powers, have manifested a judicious tact in the government of nations or generalship of armies, quite equal to men, with all their vaunted superiority. Nor did those women who thus distinguished themselves, or those who in private life became proficients in the various branches of science or in music, poetry or the languages, necessarily neglect their homes and families in consequence. Experience, in our own times, proves exactly the reverse. Dereliction of duty with regard to home duties results much more frequently from devotion to fashionable pleasures—considered quite allowable and womanly—than from the pursuit of literature.
That marriage was designed by the Creator for the mutual benefit, help, and happiness of those entering into that relation, there can be no doubt; but, through the selfishness of man—helped on by the fact that, like the partner referred to previously, he was physically the stronger of the two—the gracious purposes of the Creator were lost sight of, or ignored. And God suffered it so to be, for the time, just as he did other forms of slavery and outcrying sins of various kinds.
It has been said that the marriage ceremonies and festivals were as various as the several nations in which they were performed. A description of a few of these may not be uninteresting.
Among the Jews, the period of betrothal having expired, the marriage was celebrated by a feast, the bride being arrayed as magnificently as her circumstances would allow. If the contracting parties were distinguished personages, the ceremony was frequently celebrated at night, the bridal party, carrying their lamps or torches with them, going forth in procession to meet and do honor to the bridegroom.
With the Romans, the consent of the father or guardian of the maiden having been obtained, a sacrifice was prepared. "The gall was carefully removed," and the propitiatory offering made to the gods. To have been emblematical, the gall should have been presented to the bride. In most cases, it fell to her lot. On the wedding-day the bridegroom, with his attendants, presented himself at the place designated for the performance of the ceremony, where he was met by the bride, gorgeously appareled, and her maids. Then, in presence of her father or guardian and proper witnesses, the pair went through a formula of words as given them by the officiating priest. On the completion of this part of the ceremony, the company partook of a cake made of flour, salt, and water. This was the original "bride-cake." After night, the bride, accompanied by her relatives and maids of honor, was escorted with due pomp to the residence of the bridegroom, the door of which she found bound with strings, over which she was obliged to step. Having effected an entrance, she received the keys of the house, and the bridegroom and herself again repeated, after the priest, the formula which had been gone over earlier in the day. Then, having touched fire and water, and sacrificed to the domestic gods, which were placed on the table, the wedding festivities commenced, and were continued till midnight, when the guests dispersed.
In India, the magnificence of the marriage-feast can scarcely be imagined, especially when celebrated by torch-light procession.
In almost all the nations of antiquity, who had any marriage ceremony at all, a woman's wedding-day was one of splendor and apparent honor, the only day in which any of her wishes were deferred to during her whole lifetime. Light was soon lost in darkness—anticipated pleasure in disappointment, degradation, and despair. The day of her death was the first day of her freedom.
The Sexes Equal at Creation.
From the arguments brought forward by the advocates of woman's inferiority, it might be inferred that she was designed, from the very dawn of creation, for man's servant, not for his companion; and, indeed, it is not only inferred by the great mass of mankind, but broadly asserted to be the fact by very many who, from their knowledge of the history of creation, ought to know better.
Those who have striven to establish this doctrine have contrived to bring the Scriptures to their aid by wresting them to suit their own particular view of the question, and in this manner have endeavored to silence any controversy respecting their dogma. The result has been—and it is the legitimate result of such a pernicious course—that this wresting of the Scriptures, and its having been allowed for a length of time to go unchallenged by the Christian world, has produced scores of infidels, who, not having examined the Word of God critically for themselves, have accepted as true expositions of the doctrines contained therein the statements of men, apparently supported by isolated texts, separated from their contexts; and thus, having been led to believe that the Scriptures sanctioned, if they did not enforce, manifest injustice, they have repudiated the whole as unworthy of belief. A deplorable conclusion, truly! Then, though responsible for this infidelity through their perversion of Scripture, these same writers, or those of a kindred spirit, denounce every argument or movement in favor of the equal rights and privileges of women as evil, and only evil, and necessarily evil, because among the advocates of measures according these rights there are found some men and women who are skeptics.
But what say the Scriptures upon the subject? In the history of the creation, there given, we search in vain for any evidence of the Divine appointment, at that time, of masculine domination.
"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
"And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth."[F]
This dominion of the human race over the inferior creation seems to have been the only dominion instituted at the time of the creation; nor is there any indication that it was to be confined to the male portion of the race. As between the human pair, there is not here the slightest intimation given of the subjection of the one to the other. The Great Infinite in wisdom, who created "them," and who could not be mistaken in their capacities, appears to have placed "them" on a perfect equality, committing to them conjointly the dominion over the earth and all that it contained.
In the second chapter of Genesis we find a brief recapitulation of the events narrated in the first, the sacred historian entering more fully into the creation of the woman. God, in his wisdom, saw that Adam was not sufficient alone to sway the mighty scepter over the vast domain about to be intrusted to him; therefore he created for him "an helpmeet," and gave "them" a joint authority over the rest of creation. "And the Lord God said, It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him an helpmeet for him.... And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from the man, made he a woman, and brought her to the man."[G]
"This implies," says a distinguished commentator upon Holy Writ, "that the woman was a perfect resemblance of the man, possessing neither inferiority nor superiority, but being in all things like and equal to himself."
Thus it was in the beginning. But, in process of time, men, glorying in the physical strength in which they excelled women, refused to recognize as its equivalent the peculiar qualities and faculties possessed by women which were lacking in themselves. And overlooking the importance of the duties which the mothers of mankind were discharging, they plumed themselves upon their own prowess, and concluded that women and all else were made only to minister to their pleasures. Reason and justice were obliged to succumb to the strong arm, and women were forced into a subordinate position.
If the Creator, in the arrangements of his plans, designed that women should be inferior to men in intellect and freedom of action, then, in regard to one-half of the human family, God worked by the law of retrogression, producing Eve, an inferior, from Adam, a superior being; which is clearly contrary to the law of progression, and contrary to the general plan of his creation; and, if this be true, the laws of progression and retrogression were to alternate perpetually. Is this supposition of inferiority in the case of woman consistent with what we know of God's method of working, as given in the history of the creation? Let us recapitulate the whole briefly, and see.
1. He created inanimate matter. 2. He brought vegetable life into existence. 3. The inhabitants of the waters were created. 4. "The cattle after their kind." Still ascending, God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." Here, then, we see that God created man from a portion of inanimate earth; but that he produced the woman from a perfect portion of the perfect man, plainly appears from the twenty-first and twenty-second verses of the second chapter of Genesis, which, though quoted recently, necessarily come in, in this place. "And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from the man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man."[H]
Prior to the fall, then, it is quite evident that woman was equal to man in every respect. Did Eve, then, because she was first in the transgression, forfeit her right of equality with Adam, who just as flagrantly transgressed the Divine command; or was the penalty inflicted in consequence of her disobedience another matter altogether?
Genesis iii, 16, is usually brought forward to prove that, if woman was not inferior before the fall, she became so absolutely and unconditionally then. A disinterested reader—could such be found—would scarcely so render it. "Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." Upon the latter clause of this verse, separating it from all connection with the former part of the sentence, with which, however, it is connected in the Sacred Word, is based the dogma of the continued, unchangeable curse of inferiority of all the daughters of Eve, and their obligation to serve and implicitly obey their husbands. And yet if a wife, in obedience to the command of her husband, violates the law, either of God or man, she is the party held responsible. If she is not possessed of sufficient mental capacity to judge for herself in all things, how can she know when she should obey or when disobey? If implicit obedience is her duty, is there any justice, then, in punishing her for obeying the order of him whom she is bound to obey? Those who construe this and other portions of the Word of God to suit themselves, would protest loudly enough against the "manifest injustice" if it were meted out to them. But we know there is no unrighteousness with God. The Bible expressly declares that "God is no respecter of persons," and that "his ways are true and righteous altogether."
If then we examine this text (Gen. iii, 16) candidly, even taking the generally accepted translation, and construe it with the same fairness with which we would construe a sentence the meaning of which was not in dispute, the conclusion arrived at would be very different from what it usually is; and it would be apparent that the words, "And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee," has reference to the subject of generation, of which the entire passage treats. There are, however, some commentators who incline to the opinion that the words "and he shall rule over thee," might with equal propriety be rendered, "He shall have power with thee." We know that at this very time the promise of the Messiah—the seed that was to bruise the serpent's head—was given to the woman. "He," thy husband, "shall have power with thee," would not then be an inappropriate termination to the sentence relating to generation. Raschi, a celebrated Hebrew writer and rabbi, who flourished in the twelfth century, supports this reading, "He shall have power with thee;" but the majority of commentators and the Talmud are against such a rendering. It is to be borne in mind, however, that the Talmud is not the Pentateuch, and that learned and sincerely pious commentators have differed, and do so still, as widely as the poles, upon passages quite as easily understood as the one now under discussion. There is no more proof in this verse that a woman is bound to serve and obey her husband, in the common acceptation of the term, than that a man is obligated to serve and obey his wife, or worship her with his body—whatever that may mean—as he solemnly vows to do in certain marriage services. The endowment with worldly goods and the worship promised, were perhaps put in as an offset to the pledge of service and obedience. Certainly the man's vow to worship his wife is no more inconsistent than is the woman's to obey implicitly; and her obedience, if it is not implicit, is not obedience at all, but is merely acceding to the wishes of her husband when they accord with her own judgment.
Infidels, in seeking to disparage the Word of God, quote this passage and kindred ones, and, accepting the commonly received idea of their meaning, endeavor to subvert the faith of the masses. With those who do not carefully examine the matter for themselves, they often succeed. It has been asserted, too, by those who would wish the teachings of the Koran to take precedence over those of the Bible, that the position accorded to women by the Mosaic law was quite as degrading as that accorded to them by Mohammed; but a careful reading of the Scripture warrants no such conclusion. Many matters are spoken of, both in the law and the prophets, as having been practised and tolerated, and even rules given for their regulation, which were by no means of Divine appointment. This distinction should always be carefully marked in regard to the sacred text; and in addition to this it should be remembered that the Word of God is not responsible for the erroneous opinions of mankind. When the Almighty placed human beings upon the earth, he created one man and one woman, destining them to be the progenitors of the entire race, thereby indicating that monogamy was of Divine appointment. But original purity was soon departed from; lawless passion was allowed to mar the beautiful completeness and concord of the marriage relation as instituted by God; and, in time, many even of those who were nominal worshipers of the true God, fell into polygamy. The true idea and design of marriage, and the rights of woman, with the respect due to her, was lost sight of, and the requirements of the Divine law set at nought. Men became the slaves of their own lusts. God was not in all their thoughts. Iniquity prevailed to such a frightful extent that "it repented the Lord that he had made man upon the earth, and it grieved him at his heart."[I]
At this time of general apostasy, Noah—and, it would seem, he alone—was seen righteous before God. Him, therefore, with his family, the Almighty preserved in the ark, when in his fierce wrath he caused the deluge to sweep away the corrupt inhabitants from the face of the earth they had polluted. Notwithstanding the wide-spread corruption of the times, it does not appear that either Noah or his sons were polygamists. Certainly, if any one of them had been such prior to the building of the ark, he was not permitted to bring his harem into it for protection from the fearful storm. Only "eight persons," we are informed, were preserved alive; namely, Noah and his wife, with his three sons and their wives. Then, at what may be termed the second starting-point of the human race, there was again an equal number of men and women upon the earth; clearly pointing out that the design of the Almighty in this matter was the marriage of one man with one woman. God made no provision for the marriage of either man or woman after the obtaining of a divorce.
It might have been supposed that so fearful a display of the wrath of God would have made a lasting impression upon the descendants of Noah; but as is the case with perverse mankind now, so it was then; the lessons of the past were lost upon them. No very great period of time elapses till we find the posterity of this good man, Noah, impiously and daringly conceiving the idea of measuring strength with the Almighty by attempting to build a tower so high that it could not possibly be overflowed should a subsequent deluge occur. The dispersion of mankind, and the consequent division into tribes, or races, was the result of such presumption. The desperately wicked heart of man began to devise new mischiefs, and revive old ones. Monogamy, the great conservator of moral purity, was disregarded, and one corruption viler than another followed in rapid succession. Before the calling of Abraham, mankind, as a whole, appear to have lapsed, if not into absolute heathenism, at least into something very near it. The knowledge and worship of the true God seems to have been retained only in isolated families, and even there to have been but partially observed, being marred and dishonored by human inventions and substitutions.
That Abraham might be delivered from the pernicious example of his neighbors, and that his mind might be prepared for the reception of the grand manifestations of the Divine character which God designed to impart to him, he was commanded to break off all association with them; and, the more completely to effect this, he was desired to leave his kindred and his country, and become a stranger in a strange land. Yet somewhat of the contamination of early association seems to have clung both to him and Sarah, as is evidenced in the matter of Hagar. In something very like doubt of God's power to fulfill his own promise, Abraham yielded to Sarah's suggestion, and thus was partially drawn into the evil current, though he does not appear to have been a willful polygamist. It is asserted by Jonathan Ben Uzziel, the Jerusalem Targum, and other learned authorities, that Hagar and Keturah are the same person; but if this be a mistake, there is still no evidence that Abraham took Keturah till after the death of Sarah. Polygamists, both in the Jewish nation and elsewhere, have not failed to plead Abraham's example in defense of their conduct. Early association had somewhat obscured his moral perceptions of right and wrong. Had he waited for the Divine command before carrying out Sarah's suggestion, no incident in his life would have given countenance to the demoralizing practice. Isaac was a monogamist, though Jacob, through the artifice of Laban, became a polygamist. That Laban's family were tinctured with idolatry is unquestionable; and with idolatry came many other vices. When Jacob with his household took his departure from Laban, Rachel stole certain images which were her father's, the character of which was unmistakably indicated by Laban when he demanded, "Wherefore have ye stolen my gods?" Yet such was the general apostasy of the times, that this family was so much in advance of any other, that it was to it that Abraham was obliged to send, a generation previous, for a suitable wife for the amiable and meditative Isaac. What wonder then that many practices prevailed among the descendants of Jacob that were not in accordance with either the will or the word of God!
Though plurality of wives was customary both before and after the giving of the Law, it was by no means ordained by it. A man had no more right, in carrying out the designs of the Almighty, to have two or more wives living at the same time, than a woman had to have two or more husbands living at the same time. Wherever the Bible speaks of the duty of husbands to wives, or of wives to husbands, the singular form is invariably used, as husband and wife. For instance, when God brought the woman he had made to Adam, he (Adam) says: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife"—not wives—"and they shall be one flesh." And again, "They twain shall be one flesh." What God has directly commanded, and what he merely suffers men to do without imposing insuperable restraints upon them, are two very different things.
It is asserted that the Mosaic Law makes a very great and decidedly partial distinction between men-servants and maid-servants, greatly to the disadvantage of the latter, particularly in their release from servitude. These same texts—some of them, at least—have been quoted in defense of African slavery. The term, selling a Jewish servant, in the Scripture, is simply the same as binding out a child under English law. A Jewish father could only "sell," or in other words bind out, his daughter for six years, and that before she was of a suitable age to be married.[J] At the expiration of six years her apprenticeship ceased, and the maid-servant was free, unless she voluntarily perpetuated her own servitude.
There were two classes of servants among the Jews. The first, those who were taken from among themselves; the second, those obtained of the strange nations by which they were surrounded, or who were taken captive in battle. This second class of servants were called bondmen and bondwomen. The former class were denominated servants. The practice authorized by law, regarding those who were the lineal descendants of Abraham, placed men and women in the very same relation to the master, who was bound to reward them alike when the period of service should terminate. This is evident from Deuteronomy xv, 12-17: "And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. ... And it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee; then thou shalt take an awl, and thrust it through his ear into the door, and he shall be thy servant forever. And also unto thy maid-servant thou shalt do likewise."
Those who declare that the law of Moses makes a distinction in the matter of release from servitude, between men-servants and maid-servants, to the disadvantage of the latter, in confirmation of their assertion quote Exodus xxi, 7; but if they read also, in connection with it, the eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh verses of the same chapter, a careful consideration of the entire passage will, we think, clearly show that the reference therein contained is not to the ordinary maid-servant, but to one whose master had betrothed her to himself, or to his son. In the case of betrothal to himself, if the girl failed to please her master, he was not to return her to her former position of a servant, but to let her be redeemed. He must not sell her, or otherwise dispose of her services during the unexpired period of her servitude, because "he had dealt deceitfully with her." In case of betrothal to his son, as in the other, she was not to be reduced to her former rank as a menial, but to be treated in every respect as a daughter. Even when the affection of the man to whom she was betrothed waned, he was to yield to her all the rights and privileges which belonged to her as his wife; and, if any of these were withheld, she was at liberty to go forth a free woman.
The circumstance of Jacob serving Laban fourteen years for Rachel, is by some deemed a parallel case with the prevailing custom of purchasing wives among the people of the East; but the cases are not at all similar. Jacob and Rachel had met at the well where she usually watered her father's flock. He had introduced himself to the maiden, and won her regard, before he proposed to her father for her, having spent a whole month in the house of Laban prior to his doing so. There is no reason whatever to doubt that he had Rachel's full consent to the arrangement. It was not Jacob's fault that, through the stratagem of Laban, he became the husband of Leah. The plurality of wives in this instance was not so much the choice of Jacob as the fault of the wily, semi-idolatrous Laban.
Shechem offered dowry to Jacob and his sons if they would consent to his taking Dinah to wife; but it is evident he did so in order to conciliate the outraged brothers of the girl whom he had so basely humbled, and whom he really desired to retain.
It is very clear, from the testimony of sacred history, that women, in the families of the patriarchs, and in the Hebrew nation generally, for several generations after the delivery of the Mosaic Law, occupied a position very much superior to those of the neighboring nations. A woman taken captive in war, whom a Jew chose to marry, could not be sold by her husband, should he afterward take a dislike to her so great that he might put her away. Even though a heathen, she was permitted to go out free.
Boaz is said to have bought Ruth when he purchased the possession of Naomi; and this circumstance is referred to by those who would bring the Bible into contempt, to prove that Ruth was bought according to Jewish law, as though she were a chattel. The facts, as given in the sacred narrative, do not, however, warrant any such interpretation.
Elimelech, with his wife and two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, left Bethlehem-Judah in consequence of a severe famine, and removed to Moab. At the time of their emigration, they were obliged to leave all their possessions, not portable, behind them; and were in consequence in straitened circumstances. While in Moab, both his sons married Moabitish women; and, in process of time, Elimelech and his sons all three died, leaving their respective widows destitute. Under these circumstances, the famine being now over in Judah, Naomi determined to return thither, and advised her daughters-in-law to return each to the house of her father. After some persuasion, the widow of Chilion did so; but Ruth, Mahlon's widow, expressed her determination to cling to the fortunes of her mother-in-law in the following touching strain:
"Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried."
Naomi, having such proof of her attachment to her, expostulated with her no further; and, disconsolate and weary, the poor women made their way to Naomi's old home. During the absence of the family, the parcel of land which had been possessed by Elimelech had passed into the hands of strangers. Naomi naturally desired that it might be redeemed, as both herself and Ruth would be greatly benefited if it were. Boaz, though not the nearest kinsman, on being made acquainted with the circumstances of the case by Ruth, generously took up the cause; and the nearest of kin having relinquished his claim, he redeemed the property with it; and, with Ruth's own free consent, took her to be his wife. Her individual concurrence is apparent throughout the whole transaction. No one had any right to sell at all, or otherwise to dispose of her, except by her own wish.
The rape of the Benjamites is sometimes referred to in terms expressive of the desire to cast opprobium upon the teachings of the Bible. Unfortunate as was the condition of the Benjamites on this occasion, they had no more sanction for what they did from the law of Moses, than had Ahab for destroying the prophets of the Lord. Neither was the order of the Jewish elders for the massacre of men and elderly women, and the saving of the four hundred young women to make up the deficiency of wives still existing in this tribe, in any sense chargeable to the Divine law.
We might with as much propriety hold the Gospel responsible for the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, as to hold the law of Moses responsible for the acts of the Israelites. The Mosaic precepts concerning adultery and divorce might at first sight appear to give more latitude to men than to women, and therefore to be partial; but when we accept the interpretation given by our Lord, the apparent partiality vanishes. The Savior's testimony on the subject is very explicit. Matthew xix, 3-10, we read: "The Pharisees also came to him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery."
That in this matter of divorce Christ recognized the right of women to be equal to that of men, is apparent from Mark x, 2-12, the eleventh and twelfth verses of which we here quote:
"And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery." It is manifest that the design of God was, that there should be an equal fidelity on the part of both man and wife.
But, as ages rolled on, the depraved appetites of sinful mankind desired a different ordering of the affairs of life. In the Jewish Commonwealth, the rabbis became less and less favorable to the just rights of women, especially after their people began to intermix more freely with their idolatrous neighbors; their precepts were assimilated more fully to those of the heathen; and for doctrines, the commandments of men were taught instead of the pure law of God.
History proves that woman sometimes took a very prominent part in the public affairs of the Jewish nation. But, while not attempting to disprove the statements which are therein recorded, there are many who make light of any mention of the public labors of these women. Sometimes, indeed, the talents and usefulness of these women, and of the earnest women of our own day, are admitted after a fashion; but it is done in such a way as, in reality, to belittle the sex as much as possible. They are considered as occupying the same relation to men that the moon does to the sun, and all that is desired of them is to reflect a borrowed light. If she be unable to reflect a light when there is none to borrow, what then? Even in religious matters, she is judged to be incapable of taking any public part, though she may be ever so well informed and pious, and those of the opposite sex in her vicinity ever so deplorably ignorant and wicked. A few distinguished writers will, however, allow her—as a favor, it may be supposed—to go out in public to collect money for charitable or Church purposes. What a wonder the funds so collected are not defiled by passing through "female" fingers! Some of the religious denominations who gladly accept of the fruit of women's labor, either in collecting from others or in giving themselves, would yet not suffer a woman to pray or speak in public, though God has endowed her with more than ordinary talent. She may not even give advice as to how the money she has collected or given is to be expended. In the choir, women may sing of salvation; but it is fearful presumption for her to speak of it in the body of the Church, or let her voice be heard there imploring salvation for herself or others. This might defile the sanctuary or tempt her to "usurp authority over the man." Occasionally there is to be found a denomination which will allow a woman to pray in public, or to relate her Christian experience; but even in some of these the practice does not receive a very large amount of encouragement, and her right to exhort or teach publicly is seriously questioned, most frequently denied.
What was Scripture usage? From Exodus xv, 20, we learn that Miriam was a prophetess, and, in the verse following, it appears that not only she, but the women of her company, took a prominent part in the celebration of Israel's triumphant passage of the Red Sea. Not only was Miriam a prophetess, but a joint leader with Moses and Aaron of that great host which went up to possess the promised land, as is seen by reference to Micah vi, 4: "For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the land of servants, and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam." Thus did God, in the very beginning of the Jewish Church and nation, associate a woman with men, giving her an equally responsible position with her brothers. Moses was the lawgiver, Aaron the priest, and Miriam the seer. This threefold office was fulfilled in Christ; and therefore Miriam, as well as Moses and Aaron, was a type of the Messiah.
If the Almighty had not designed women to occupy prominent positions, both civilly and ecclesiastically, he certainly would not have qualified them to fill such places with honor; and history proves that he did both qualify and employ them. Deborah was both a prophetess and a judge, and at one time was the chief ruler in Israel, even leading on the hosts of the living God; for timorous Barak would not go without her. Huldah, wife of Shallum, a prophetess who flourished in the reign of Josiah, was consulted by him on matters of vital importance to his kingdom, although both Jeremiah and Zephaniah were then alive. Josiah evidently considered her fully equal to either of them, or he would not have consulted her, or at her dictation set about reforming the abuses which were prevalent at the time. He could not have set to work more earnestly in this good cause if Jeremiah had spoken to him. There have been learned men—and there are those still—who think it exceedingly strange that Josiah should have condescended to send the messengers to Huldah to inquire of the Lord, when he might have consulted either Jeremiah or one of the brother prophets. Is it not equally strange that the Lord should have answered him by her mouth? or rather should not his having done so, forever silence such questioning?
Other women have been emphatically the "called," according to "God's purpose," to combat evil in countries even where women were treated with greater indignities than in Israel. We do not make any distinction between prophets and prophetesses. Men and women were alike called to the prophetic office, as God pleased, and kings and princes acknowledged their authority. Many women became noted for their active service rendered to the Jewish Church and nation.
Women have proved themselves to be skillful diplomatists, and to be possessed of an equal amount of courage and perseverance with men; but these capabilities have not always been employed aright. There have been distinguished statesmen who have been frightfully wicked men; and, unhappily, there have been clever women who have been fully their equals in wickedness. In nothing is the mental equality of women with men more clearly indicated than in the manner in which both pursue a career of sin.
Jezebel appears to have been a stronger-minded person than Ahab, and to have excelled him in subtlety and wickedness. She was as active as he in pushing the persecution against the people of God; indeed, more active and determined than her weak and wicked husband. At the time the life of Elijah was threatened, she would seem not only to have been the more determined of the two, but to have exercised greater authority over the realm. Athaliah, the daughter of Jezebel, was no whit behind her mother in atrocious wickedness. Indeed, where women are brought up in wickedness, they differ nothing in the depth of their depravity from men educated in like manner.