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- The Unexpurgated Case Against Woman Suffrage - 6/17 -
The answer to the general question is that there is of course always the risk that our generalisations may be erroneous. But when a generalisation finds wide acceptance among the thoughtful, we have come as close to truth as it is possible for humanity to come.
To the question put by the suffragist the reply is that experience with regard to the capacity of woman has been accumulating in all climes, and through all times; and that the belief of men in the inherent inferiority of women in the matter of intellectual morality, and in the power of adjudication, has never varied.
I pass now to the two most familiar grievances of the suffragist; the grievance that the virtuous and intelligent woman has no vote, while the male drunkard has; and the grievance that the woman of property has no vote, while her male underlings have.
All that is worth while saying on these points is that the suffragist is here manufacturing grievances for herself, _first_, by reasoning from the false premiss that every legal distinction which happens to press hardly upon a few individuals ought for that to be abrogated; and, _secondly_, by steady leaving out of sight that logical inconsistencies can, for the more part, be got rid of only at the price of bringing others into being.
The man who looks forward to the intellectual development of woman must be brought near to despair when he perceives that practically every woman suffragist sees in every hard case arising in connexion with a legal distinction affecting woman, an insult and example of the iniquity of man-made laws, or a logical inconsistency which could with a very little good-will be removed.
We have come now to the last item on our list, to the grievance that woman has to submit herself to "_man-made laws_."
This is a grievance which well rewards study. It is worth study from the suffragist point of view, because it is the one great injury under which all others are subsumed. And it is worth studying from the anti-suffragist point of view, because it shows how little the suffragist understands of the terms she employs; and how unreal are the wrongs which she resents.
Quite marvelously has the woman suffragist in this connexion misapprehended; or would she have us say misrepresented?
The woman suffragist misapprehends--it will be better to assume that she "misapprehends"--when she suggests that we, the male electors, have framed the laws.
In reality the law which we live under--and the law in those States which have adopted either the English, or the Roman law--descends from the past. It has been evolved precedent, by precedent, by the decisions of generation upon generation of judges, and it has for centuries been purged by amending statutes. Moreover we, the present male electors--the electors who are savagely attacked by the suffragist for our asserted iniquities in connexion with the laws which regulate sexual relations--have never in our capacity as electors had any power to alter an old, or to suggest a new law; except only in so far as by voting Conservative or Liberal we may indirectly have remotely influenced the general trend of legislation.
"Well but"--the suffragist will here rejoin--"is it not at any rate true that in the drafting of statutes and the framing of judicial decisions man has always nefariously discriminated against woman?"
The question really supplies its own answer. It will be obvious to every one who considers that the drafting of statutes and the formulating of legal decisions is almost as impersonal a procedure as that of drawing up the rules to govern a game; and it offers hardly more opportunity for discriminating between man and woman.
There are, however, three questions in connexion with which the law can and does make a distinction between man and woman.
The _first_ is that of sexual relations: rape, divorce, bastardy, and the age of consent. In connexion with _rape_, it has never been alleged that the law is not sufficiently severe. It is, or has been, under colonial conditions, severe up to the point of ferocity. In the matter of _divorce_ the law of a minority of man-governed States differentiates in favour of man. It does so influenced by tradition, by what are held to be the natural equities, and by the fact that a man is required to support his wife's progeny. The law of _bastardy [illegitimate childbirth]_ is what it is because of the dangers of blackmail. The law which fixes the age of consent discriminates against man, laying him open to a criminal charge in situations where woman--and it is not certain that she is not a more frequent offender--escapes scot-free.
The _second_ point in which the law differentiates is in the matter of exacting personal service for the State. If it had not been that man is more prone to discriminate in favour of woman than against her, every military State, when exacting personal military service from men, would have demanded from women some such equivalent personal service as would be represented by a similar period of work in an army clothing establishment, or ordnance factory, or army laundry; or would at any rate have levied upon woman a ransom in lieu of such service.
The _third_ point in which the law distinguishes between man and woman is with reference to the suffrage. The object of this book is to show that this is equitable and in the interests of both.
The suffragist further misapprehends when she regards it as an indignity to obey laws which she has not herself framed, or specifically sanctioned. (The whole male electorate, be it remarked, would here lie under the same dignity as woman.)
But in reality, whether it is a question of the rules of a game, or of the reciprocal rights and duties of members of a community, it is, and ought to be, to every reasonable human being not a grievance, but a matter of felicitation, that an expert or a body of experts should have evolved a set of rules under which order and harmony are achieved. Only vanity and folly would counsel amateurs to try to draw up rules or laws for themselves.
Again, the woman suffragist takes it as a matter of course that she would herself be able to construct a system of workable laws. In point of fact, the framing of a really useful law is a question of divining something which will apply to an infinite number of different cases and individuals. It is an intellectual feat on a par with the framing of a great generalisation. And would woman--that being of such short sight, whose mind is always so taken up with whatever instances lie nearest to her--be capable of framing anything that could pass muster as a great generalisation?
Lastly, the suffragist fails to see that the function of framing the laws is not an essential function of citizenship.
The essential functions of citizenship are the shaping of public policy, and the control of the administrative Acts of Government.
Such directive control is in a state of political freedom exercised through two quite different agencies.
It is exercised--and it is of the very essence of political freedom that this should be the normal method of control--in the first place, through expressed public opinion. By this are continuously regulated not only momentous matters of State, such as declarations of war and the introduction of constitutional changes, but also smaller and more individual matters, such as the commutation of a capital sentence, or the forcible feeding of militant suffragists.
In the background, behind the moral compulsion of expressed public opinion, there is, in the case of a Parliamentary State, also another instrument of control. I have in view that periodical settlement of the contested rulership of the State by the force of a majority of electors which is denoted a general election.
The control exercised by the suffrages of the electors in a general election is in certain important respects less effective than that exercised by the everyday public expression of opinion. It falls short in the respect that its verdicts are, except only in connexion with the issue as to whether the Government is to be retained in office or dismissed, ambiguous verdicts; further, in the respect that it comes into application either before governmental proposals have taken definite shape, or only after the expiration of a term of years, when the events are already passing out of memory.
If we now consider the question of woman's franchise from the wider point of view here opened up, it will be clear that, so far as concerns the control which is exercised through public opinion on the Government, the intelligent woman, and especially the intelligent woman who has made herself an expert on any matter, is already in possession of that which is a greater power than the franchise. She has the power which attaches to all intelligent opinion promulgated in a free State. Moreover, wherever the special interest of women are involved, any woman may count on being listened to if she is voicing the opinions of any considerable section of her sex.
In reality, therefore, woman is disfranchised only so far as relates to the confirmation of a Government in office, or its dismissal by the _ultima ratio [ultimate reason]_ of an electoral contest. And when we reflect that woman does not come into consideration as a compelling force, and that an electoral contest partakes of the nature of a civil war, it becomes clear that to give her the parliamentary vote would be to reduce all those trials of strength which take the form of electoral contests to the level of a farce.
With this I have, I will not say completed the tale of the suffragist's grievances--that would be impossible--but I have at any rate dealt with those which she has most acrimoniously insisted upon.
ARGUMENTS WHICH TAKE THE FORM OF "COUNSELS OF PERFECTION" ADDRESSED TO MAN
Argument that Woman Requires a Vote for her Protection--Argument that Woman ought to be Invested with the Responsibilities of Voting in Order that She May Attain Her Full Intellectual Stature.
There, however, remains still a further class of arguments. I have in view here arguments which have nothing to do with elementary natural rights, nor yet with wounded _amour propre._ They concern ethics, and sympathy, and charitable feelings.
The suffragist here gives to man "counsels of perfection."
It will be enough to consider here two of these:--the _first_, the argument that woman, being the weaker vessel, needs, more than man, the suffrage for her _protection_; the _second_, that woman, being
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