The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill

The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill

                            CHAPTER I

The object of this Essay is to explain as clearly as I am able
grounds of an opinion which I have held from the very earliest
period when I had formed any opinions at all on social political
matters, and which, instead of being weakened or modified, has been
constantly growing stronger by the progress reflection and the
experience of life. That the principle which regulates the existing
social relations between the two sexes–the legal subordination of
one sex to the other–is wrong itself, and now one of the chief
hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced
by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege
on the one side, nor disability on the other.

The very words necessary to express the task I have undertaken,
show how arduous it is. But it would be a mistake to suppose that
the difficulty of the case must lie in the insufficiency or
obscurity of the grounds of reason on which my convictions. The
difficulty is that which exists in all cases in which there is a
mass of feeling to be contended against. So long as opinion is
strongly rooted in the feelings, it gains rather than loses
instability by having a preponderating weight of argument against
it. For if it were accepted as a result of argument, the refutation
of the argument might shake the solidity of the conviction; but
when it rests solely on feeling, worse it fares in argumentative
contest, the more persuaded adherents are that their feeling must
have some deeper ground, which the arguments do not reach; and
while the feeling remains, it is always throwing up fresh
intrenchments of argument to repair any breach made in the old. And
there are so many causes tending to make the feelings connected
with this subject the most intense and most deeply-rooted of those
which gather round and protect old institutions and custom, that we
need not wonder to find them as yet less undermined and loosened
than any of the rest by the progress the great modern spiritual and
social transition; nor suppose that the barbarisms to which men
cling longest must be less barbarisms than those which they earlier
shake off.

In every respect the burthen is hard on those who attack an almost
universal opinion. They must be very fortunate well as unusually
capable if they obtain a hearing at all. They have more difficulty
in obtaining a trial, than any other litigants have in getting a
verdict. If they do extort a hearing, they are subjected to a set
of logical requirements totally different from those exacted from
other people. In all other cases, burthen of proof is supposed to
lie with the affirmative. If a person is charged with a murder, it
rests with those who accuse him to give proof of his guilt, not
with himself to prove his innocence. If there is a difference of
opinion about the reality of an alleged historical event, in which
the feelings of men general are not much interested, as the Siege
of Troy example, those who maintain that the event took place
expected to produce their proofs, before those who take the other
side can be required to say anything; and at no time these required
to do more than show that the evidence produced by the others is of
no value. Again, in practical matters, the burthen of proof is
supposed to be with those who are against liberty; who contend for
any restriction or prohibition either any limitation of the general
freedom of human action or any disqualification or disparity of
privilege affecting one person or kind of persons, as compared with
others. The a priori presumption is in favour of freedom and
impartiality. It is held that there should be no restraint not
required by I general good, and that the law should be no respecter
of persons but should treat all alike, save where dissimilarity of
treatment is required by positive reasons, either of justice or of
policy. But of none of these rules of evidence will the benefit be
allowed to those who maintain the opinion I profess. It is useless
me to say that those who maintain the doctrine that men ha a right
to command and women are under an obligation obey, or that men are
fit for government and women unfit, on the affirmative side of the
question, and that they are bound to show positive evidence for the
assertions, or submit to their rejection. It is equally unavailing
for me to say that those who deny to women any freedom or privilege
rightly allow to men, having the double presumption against them
that they are opposing freedom and recommending partiality, must
held to the strictest proof of their case, and unless their success
be such as to exclude all doubt, the judgment ought to against
them. These would be thought good pleas in any common case; but
they will not be thought so in this instance.

Before I could hope to make any impression, I should be expected
not only to answer all that has ever been said bye who take the
other side of the question, but to imagine that could be said by
them–to find them in reasons, as I as answer all I find: and
besides refuting all arguments for the affirmative, I shall be
called upon for invincible positive arguments to prove a negative.
And even if I could do all and leave the opposite party with a host
of unanswered arguments against them, and not a single unrefuted
one on side, I should be thought to have done little; for a cause
supported on the one hand by universal usage, and on the r by so
great a preponderance of popular sentiment, is supposed to have a
presumption in its favour, superior to any conviction which an
appeal to reason has power to produce in intellects but those of a
high class.

I do not mention these difficulties to complain of them; first, use
it would be useless; they are inseparable from having to contend
through people’s understandings against the hostility their
feelings and practical tendencies: and truly the understandings of
the majority of mankind would need to be much better cultivated
than has ever yet been the case, before they be asked to place such
reliance in their own power of estimating arguments, as to give up
practical principles in which have been born and bred and which are
the basis of much existing order of the world, at the first
argumentative attack which they are not capable of logically
resisting. I do not therefore quarrel with them for having too
little faith in argument, but for having too much faith in custom
and the general feeling. It is one of the characteristic prejudices
of the ion of the nineteenth century against the eighteenth, to d
to the unreasoning elements in human nature the infallibility which
the eighteenth century is supposed to have ascribed to the
reasoning elements. For the apotheosis of Reason we have
substituted that of Instinct; and we call thing instinct which we
find in ourselves and for which we cannot trace any rational
foundation. This idolatry, infinitely more degrading than the
other, and the most pernicious e false worships of the present day,
of all of which it is the main support, will probably hold its
ground until it way before a sound psychology laying bare the real
root of much that is bowed down to as the intention of Nature and
ordinance of God. As regards the present question, I am going to
accept the unfavourable conditions which the prejudice assigns to
me. I consent that established custom, and the general feelings,
should be deemed conclusive against me, unless that custom and
feeling from age to age can be shown to have owed their existence
to other causes than their soundness, and to have derived their
power from the worse rather than the better parts of human nature.
I am willing that judgment should go against me, unless I can show
that my judge has been tampered with. The concession is not so
great as it might appear; for to prove this, is by far the easiest
portion of my task.

The generality of a practice is in some cases a strong presumption
that it is, or at all events once was, conducive to laudable ends.
This is the case, when the practice was first adopted, or
afterwards kept up, as a means to such ends, and was grounded on
experience of the mode in which they could be most effectually
attained. If the authority of men over women, when first
established, had been the result of a conscientious comparison
between different modes of constituting the government of society;
if, after trying various other modes of social organisation–the
government of women over men, equality between the two, and such
mixed and divided modes of government as might be invented–it had
been decided, on the testimony of experience, that the mode in
which women are wholly under the rule of men, having no share at
all in public concerns, and each in private being under the legal
obligation of obedience to the man with whom she has associated her
destiny, was the arrangement most conducive to the happiness and
well-being of both; its general adoption might then be fairly
thought to be some evidence that, at the time when it was adopted,
it was the best: though even then the considerations which
recommended it may, like so many other primeval social facts of the
greatest importance, have subsequently, in the course of ages,
ceased to exist. But the state of the case is in every respect the
reverse of this. In the first place, the opinion in favour of the
present system, which entirely subordinates the weaker sex to the
stronger, rests upon theory only; for there never has been trial
made of any other: so that experience, in the sense in which it is
vulgarly opposed to theory, cannot be pretended to have pronounced
any verdict. And in the second place, the adoption of this system
of inequality never was the result of deliberation, or forethought,
or any social ideas, or any notion whatever of what conduced to the
benefit of humanity or the good order of society. It arose simply
from the fact that from the very earliest twilight of human
society, every woman owing to the value attached to her by men,
combined with her inferiority in muscular strength) was found in a
state of bondage to some man. Laws and systems of polity always
begin by recognising the relations they find already existing
between individuals. They convert what was a mere physical fact
into a legal right, give it the sanction of society, and
principally aim at the substitution of public and organised means
of asserting and protecting these rights, instead of the irregular
and lawless conflict of physical strength. Those who had already
been compelled to obedience became in this manner legally bound to
it. Slavery, from be inn a mere affair of force between the master
and the slave, became regularised and a matter of compact among the
masters, who, binding themselves to one another for common
protection, guaranteed by their collective strength the private
possessions of each, including his slaves. In early times, the
great majority of the male sex were slaves, as well as the whole of
the female. And many ages elapsed, some of them ages of high
cultivation, before any thinker was bold enough to question the
rightfulness, and the absolute social necessity, either of the one
slavery or of the other. By degrees such thinkers did arise; and
(the general progress of society assisting) the slavery of the male
sex has, in all the countries of Christian Europe at least (though,
in one of them, only within the last few years) been at length
abolished, and that of the female sex has been gradually changed
into a milder form of dependence. But this dependence, as it exists
at present, is not an original institution, taking a fresh start
from considerations of justice and social expediency–it is the
primitive state of slavery lasting on, through successive
mitigations and modifications occasioned by the same causes which
have softened the general manners, and brought all human relations
more under the control of justice and the influence of humanity. It
has not lost the taint of its brutal origin. No presumption in its
favour, therefore, can be drawn from the fact of its existence. The
only such presumption which it could be supposed to have, must be
grounded on its having lasted till now, when so many other things
which came down from the same odious source have been done away
with. And this, indeed, is what makes it strange to ordinary ears,
to hear it asserted that the inequality of rights between men and
women has no other source than the law of the strongest.

That this statement should have the effect of a paradox, is in some
respects creditable to the progress of civilisation, and the
improvement of the moral sentiments of mankind. We now live–that
is to say, one or two of the most advanced nations of the world now
live–in a state in which the law of the strongest seems to be
entirely abandoned as the regulating principle of the world’s
affairs: nobody professes it, and, as regards most of the relations
between human beings, nobody is permitted to practise it. When
anyone succeeds in doing so, it is under cover of some pretext
which gives him the semblance of having some general social
interest on his side. This being the ostensible state of things,
people flatter themselves that the rule of mere force is ended;
that the law of the strongest cannot be the reason of existence of
anything which has remained in full operation down to the present
time. However any of our present institutions may have begun, it
can only, they think, have been preserved to this period of
advanced civilisation by a well-grounded feeling of its adaptation
to human nature, and conduciveness to the general good. They do not
understand the great vitality and durability of institutions which
place right on the side of might; how intensely they are clung to;
how the good as well as the bad propensities and sentiments of
those who have power in their hands, become identified with
retaining it; how slowly these bad institutions give way, one at a
time, the weakest first. beginning with those which are least
interwoven with the daily habits of life;and how very rarely those
who have obtained legal power because they first had physical, have
ever lost their hold of it until the physical power had passed over
to the other side. Such shifting of the physical force not having
taken place in the case of women; this fact, combined with all the
peculiar and characteristic features of the particular case, made
it certain from the first that this branch of the system of right
founded on might, though softened in its most atrocious features at
an earlier period than several of the others, would be the very
last to disappear. It was inevitable that this one case of a social
relation grounded on force, would survive through generations of
institutions grounded on equal justice, an almost solitary
exception to the general character of their laws and customs; but
which, so long as it does not proclaim its own origin, and as
discussion has not brought out its true character, is not felt to
jar with modern civilisation, any more than domestic slavery among
the Greeks jarred with their notion of themselves as a free people.

The truth is, that people of the present and the last two or three
generations have lost all practical sense of the primitive
condition of humanity; and only the few who have studied history
accurately, or have much frequented the parts of the world occupied
by the living representatives of ages long past, are able to form
any mental picture of what society then was. People are not aware
how entirely, informer ages, the law of superior strength was the
rule of life; how publicly and openly it was avowed, I do not say
cynically or shamelessly–for these words imply a feeling that
there was something in it to be ashamed of, and no such notion
could find a place in the faculties of any person in those ages,
except a philosopher or a saint. History gives a cruel experience
of human nature, in showing how exactly the regard due to the life,
possessions, and entire earthly happiness of any class of persons,
was measured by what they had the power of enforcing; how all who
made any resistance to authorities that had arms in their hands,
however dreadful might be the provocation, had not only the law of
force but all other laws, and all the notions of social obligation
against them; and in the eyes of those whom they resisted, were not
only guilty of crime, but of the worst of all crimes, deserving the
most cruel chastisement which human beings could inflict. The first
small vestige of a feeling of obligation in a superior to
acknowledge any right in inferiors, began when he had been induced,
for convenience, to make some promise to them. Though these
promises, even when sanctioned by the most solemn oaths, were for
many ages revoked or violated on the most trifling provocation or
temptation, it is probably that this, except by persons of still
worse than the average morality, was seldom done without some
twinges of conscience. The ancient republics, being mostly grounded
from the first upon some kind of mutual con;pact, or at any rate
formed by an union of persons not very unequal in strength,
afforded, in consequence, the first instance of a portion of human
relations fenced round, and placed under the dominion of another
law than that of force. And though the original law of force
remained in full operation between them and their slaves, and also
(except so far as limited by express compact) between a
commonwealth and its subjects, or other independent commonwealths;
the banishment of that primitive law even from so narrow a field,
commenced the regeneration of human nature, by giving birth to
sentiments of which experience soon demonstrated the immense value
even for material interests, and which thence forward only required
to be enlarged, not created. Though slaves were no part of the
commonwealth, it was in the free states that slaves were first felt
to have rights as human beings. The Stoics were, I believe, the
first (except so far as the Jewish law constitutes an exception)
who taught as a part of morality that men were bound by moral
obligations to their slaves. No one, after Christianity became
ascendant, could ever again have been a stranger to this belief, in
theory; nor, after the rise of the Catholic Church, was it ever
without persons to stand up for it. Yet to enforce it was the most
arduous task which Christianity ever had to perform. For more thana
thousand years the Church kept up the contest, with hardly any
perceptible success. It was not for want of power over men’s minds.
Its power was prodigious. It could make kings and nobles resign
their most valued possessions to enrich the Church. It could make
thousands in the prime of life and the height of worldly
advantages, shut themselves up in convents to work out their
salvation by poverty, fasting, and prayer. It could send hundreds
of thousands across land and sea, Europe and Asia, to give their
lives for the deliverance of the Holy Sepulchre. It could make
kings relinquish wives who were the object of their passionate
attachment, because the Church declared that they were within the
seventh (by our calculation the fourteenth) degree of relationship.
All this it did; but it could not make men fight less with one
another, nor tyrannise less cruelly over the serfs, and when they
were able, over burgesses. It could not make them renounce either
of the applications of force; force militant, or force triumphant.
This they could never be induced to do until they were themselves
in their turn compelled by superior force. Only by the growing
power of kings was an end put to fighting except between kings, or
competitors for kingship; only by the growth of a wealthy and
warlike bourgeoisie in the fortified towns, and of a plebeian
infantry which proved more powerful in the field than the
undisciplined chivalry, was the insolent tyranny of the nobles over
the bourgeoisie and peasantry brought within some bounds. It was
persisted in not only until, but long after, the oppressed had
obtained a power enabling them often to take conspicuous vengeance;
and on the Continent much of it continued to the time of the French
Revolution, though in England the earlier and better organisation
of the democratic classes put an end to it sooner, by establishing
equal laws and free national institutions.

If people are mostly so little aware how completely, during the
greater part of the duration of our species, the law of force was
the avowed rule of general conduct, any other being only a special
and exceptional consequence of peculiar ties—and from how very
recent a date it is that the affairs of society in general have
been even pretended to be regulated according to any moral law; as
little do people remember or consider, how institutions and customs
which never had any ground but the law of force, last on into ages
and states of general opinion which never would have permitted
their first establishment. Less than forty years ago, Englishmen
might still by law hold human beings in bondage as saleable
property: within the present century they might kidnap them and
carry them off, and work them literally to death. This absolutely
extreme case of the law of force, condemned by those who can
tolerate almost every other form of arbitrary power, and which, of
all others presents features the most revolting to the feelings of
all who look at it from an impartial position, was the law of
civilised and Christian England within the memory of persons now
living: and in one half of Anglo-Saxon America three or four years
ago, not only did slavery exist, but the slave-trade, and the
breeding of slaves expressly for it, was a general practice between
slave states. Yet not only was there a greater strength of
sentiment against it, but, in England at least, a less amount
either of feeling or of interest in favour of it, than of any other
of the customary abuses of force: for its motive was the love of
gain, unmixed and undisguised; and those who profited by it were a
very small numerical fraction of the country, while the natural
feeling of all who were not personally interested in it, was
unmitigated abhorrence. So extreme an instance makes it almost
superfluous to refer to any other: but consider the long duration of
absolute monarchy. In England at present it is the almost universal
conviction that military despotism is a case of the law of force,
having no other origin or justification. Yet in all the great
nations of Europe except England it either still exists, or has
only just ceased to exist, and has even now a strong party
favourable to it in all ranks of the people, especially among
persons of station and consequence. Such is the power of an
established system, even when far from universal; when not only in
almost every period of history there have been great and well-known
examples of the contrary system, but these have almost invariably
been afforded by the most illustrious and most prosperous
communities. In this case, too, the possessor of the undue power,
the person directly interested in it, is only one person, while
those who are subject to it and suffer from it are literally all
the rest. The yoke is naturally and necessarily humiliating to all
persons, except the one who is on the throne, together with, at
most, the one who expects to succeed to it. How different are these
cases from that of the power of men over women!I am not now
prejudging the question-of its justifiableness. I am showing how
vastly more permanent it could not but be, even if not justifiable,
than these other dominations which have nevertheless lasted down to
our own time. Whatever gratification of pride there is in the
possession of power, and whatever personal interest in its
exercise, is in this case not confined to a limited class, but
common to the whole male sex. Instead of being, to most of its
supporters) a thing desirable chiefly in the abstract, or, like the
political ends usually contended for by factions, of little private
importance to any but the leaders; it comes home to the person and
hearth of every male head of a family, and of everyone who looks
forward to being so. The clodhopper exercises, oris to exercise,
his share of the power equally with the highest nobleman. And the
case is that in which the desire of power is the strongest: for
everyone who desires power, desires it most over those who are
nearest to him, with whom his life is passed, with whom he has most
concerns in common and in whom any independence of his authority is
oftenest likely to interfere with his individual preferences. If,
in the other cases specified, powers manifestly grounded only on
force, and having so much less to support them, are so slowly and
with so much difficulty got rid of, much more must it be so with
this, even if it rests on no better foundation than those. We must
consider, too, that the possessors of the power have facilities in
this case, greater than in any other, to prevent any uprising
against it. Every one of the subjects lives under the very eye, and
almost, it may be said, in the hands, of one of the masters in
closer intimacy with him than with any of her fellow-subjects; with
no means of combining against him, no power of even locally over
mastering him, and, on the other hand, with the strongest motives
for seeking his favour and avoiding to give him offence. In
struggles for political emancipation, everybody knows how often its
champions are bought off by bribes, or daunted by terrors. In the
case of women, each individual of the subject-class is in a chronic
state of bribery and intimidation combined. In setting up the
standard of resistance, a large number of the leaders, and still
more of the followers, must make an almost complete sacrifice of
the pleasures or the alleviations of their own individual lot. If
ever any system of privilege and enforced subjection had its yoke
tightly riveted on the those who are kept down by it, this has. I
have not yet shown that it is a wrong system: but everyone who is
capable of thinking on the subject must see that even if it is, it
was certain to outlast all other forms of unjust authority. And
when some of the grossest of the other forms still exist in many
civilised countries, and have only recently been got rid of in
others, it would be strange if that which is so much the deepest
rooted had yet been perceptibly shaken anywhere. There is more
reason to wonder that the protests and testimonies against it
should have been so numerous and so weighty as they are.

Some will object, that a comparison cannot fairly be made between
the government of the male sex and the forms of unjust power which
I have adduced in illustration of it, since these are arbitrary,
and the effect of mere usurpation, while it on the contrary is
natural. But was there ever any domination which did not appear
natural to those who possessed it? There was a time when the
division of mankind into two classes, a small one of masters and a
numerous one of slaves, appeared, even to the most cultivated
minds, to be natural, and the only natural, condition of the human
race. No less an intellect, and one which contributed no less to
the progress of human thought, than Aristotle, held this opinion
without doubt or misgiving; and rested it on the same premises on
which the same assertion in regard to the dominion of men over
women is usually based, namely that there are different natures
among mankind, free natures, and slave natures; that the Greeks
were of a free nature, the barbarian races of Thracians and
Asiatics of a slave nature. But why need I go back to Aristotle?
Did not the slave-owners of the Southern United States maintain the
same doctrine, with all the fanaticism with which men ding to the
theories that justify their passions and legitimate their personal
interests? Did they not call heaven and earth to witness that the
dominion of the white man over the black is natural, that the black
race is by nature incapable of freedom, and marked out for slavery?
some even going so far as to say that the freedom of manual
labourers is an unnatural order of things anywhere. Again, the
theorists of absolute monarchy have always affirmed it to be the
only natural form of government; issuing from the patriarchal,
which was the primitive and spontaneous form of society, framed on
the model of the paternal, which is anterior to society itself,
and, as they contend, the most natural authority of all. Nay, for
that matter, the law of force itself, to those who could not plead
any other has always seemed the most natural of all grounds for the
exercise of authority. Conquering races hold it to be Nature’s own
dictate that the conquered should obey the conquerors, or as they
euphoniously paraphrase it, that the feebler and more unwarlike
races should submit to the braver and manlier. The smallest
acquaintance with human life in the middle ages, shows how
supremely natural the dominion of the feudal nobility overmen of
low condition appeared to the nobility themselves, and how
unnatural the conception seemed, of a person of the inferior class
claiming equality with them, or exercising authority over them. It
hardly seemed less so to the class held in subjection. The
emancipated serfs and burgesses, even in their most vigorous
struggles, never made any pretension to a share of authority; they
only demanded more or less of limitation to the power of
tyrannising over them. So true is it that unnatural generally means
only uncustomary, and that everything which is usual appears
natural. The subjection of women to men being a universal custom,
any departure from it quite naturally appears unnatural. But how
entirely, even in this case, the feeling is dependent on custom,
appears by ample experience. Nothing so much astonishes the people
of distant parts of the world, when they first learn anything about
England, as to be told that it is under a queen; the thing seems to
them so unnatural as to be almost incredible. To Englishmen this
does not seem in the least degree unnatural, because they are used
to it; but they do feel it unnatural that women should be soldiers
or Members of Parliament. In the feudal ages, on the contrary, war
and politics were not thought unnatural to women, because not
unusual; it seemed natural that women of the privileged classes
should be of manly character, inferior in nothing but bodily
strength to their husbands and fathers. The independence of women
seemed rather less unnatural to the Greeks than to other ancients,
on account of the fabulous Amazons (whom they believed to be
historical), and the partial example afforded by the Spartan women;
who, though no less subordinate by law than in other Greek states,
were more free in fact, and being trained to bodily exercises in
the same manner with men, gave ample proof that they were not
naturally disqualified for them. There can be little doubt that
Spartan experience suggested to Plato, among many other of his
doctrines, t of the social and political equality of the two sexes.

But, it will be said, the rule of men over women differs from all
these others in not being a rule a rule of force: it is accepted
voluntarily; women make no complaint, and are consenting parties to
it. In the first place, a great number of women do not accept it.
Ever since there have been women able to make their sentiments
known by their writings (the only mode of publicity which society
permits to them), an increasing number of them have recorded
protests against their present social condition: and recently many
thousands of them, headed by the most eminent women known to the
public, have petitioned Parliament for their admission to the
Parliamentary Suffrage The claim of women to be educated as
solidly, and in the same branches of knowledge, as men, is urged
with growing intensity, and with a great prospect of success; while
the demand for their admission into professions and occupations
hitherto closed against them, becomes every year more urgent.
Though there are not in this country, as there are in the United
States, periodical conventions and an organised party to agitate
for the Rights of Women, there is a numerous and active society
organised and managed by women, for the more limited object of
obtaining the political franchise. Nor is it only in our own
country and in America that women are beginning to protest, more or
less collectively, against the disabilities under which they
labour. France, and Italy, and Switzerland, and Russia now afford
examples of the same thing. How many more women there are who
silently cherish similar aspirations, no one can possibly know; but
there are abundant tokens how many would cherish them, were they
not so strenuously taught to repress them as contrary to the
proprieties of their sex. It must be remembered, also, that no
enslaved class ever asked for complete liberty at once. When Simon
de Montfort called the deputies of the commons to sit for the first
time in Parliament, did any of them dream of demanding that an
assembly, elected by their constituents)should make and destroy
ministries, and dictate to the king in affairs of State ? No such
thought entered into the imagination of the most ambitious of them.
The nobility had already these pretensions; the commons pretended
to nothing but to be exempt from arbitrary taxation, and from the
gross individual oppression of the king’s officers. It is a
political law of nature that those who are under any power of
ancient origin, never begin by complaining of the power itself, but
only of its oppressive exercise. There is never any want of women
who complain of ill-usage by their husbands. There would be
infinitely more, if complaint were not the greatest of all
provocatives to a repetition and increase of the ill-usage. It is
this which frustrates all attempts to maintain the power but
protect the woman against its abuses. In no other case (except that
of a child) is the person who has been proved judicially to have
suffered an injury, replaced under the physical power of the
culprit who inflicted it. Accordingly wives, even in the most
extreme and protracted cases of bodily ill-usage, hardly ever dare
avail themselves of the laws made for their protection: and if, in
a moment of irrepressible indignation, or by the interference of
neighbours, they are induced to do so, their whole effort
afterwards is to disclose as little as they can, and to beg off
their tyrant from his merited chastisement.

All causes, social and natural, combine to make it unlikely that
women should be collectively rebellious to the power of men. They
are so far in a position different from all other subject classes,
that their masters require something more from them than actual
service. Men do not want solely the obedience of women, they want
their sentiments. All men, except the most brutish, desire to have,
in the woman most nearly connected with them, not a forced slave
but a willing one, not a slave merely, but a favourite. They have
therefore put everything in practice to enslave their minds. The
masters of all other slaves rely, for maintaining obedience, on
fear; either fear of themselves, or religious fears. The masters of
women wanted more than simple obedience, and they turned the whole
force of education to effect their purpose. All women are brought
up from the very earliest years in the belief that their ideal of
character is the very opposite to that of men; not self will, and
government by self-control, but submission, and yielding to the
control of other. All the moralities tell them that it is the duty
of women, and all the current sentimentalities that it is their
nature, to live for others; to make complete abnegation of
themselves, and to have no life but in their affections. And by
their affections are meant the only ones they are allowed to have –
– those to the men with whom they are connected, or to the children
who constitute an additional and indefeasible tie between them and
a man. When we put together three things — first, the natural
attraction between opposite sexes; secondly, the wife’s entire
dependence on the husband, every privilege or pleasure she has
being either his gift, or depending entirely on his will; and
lastly, that the principal object of human pursuit, consideration,
and all objects of social ambition, can in general be sought or
obtained by her only through him, it would be a miracle if the
object of being attractive to men had not become the polar star of
feminine education and formation of character. And, this great
means of influence over the minds of women having been acquired, an
instinct of selfishness made men avail themselves of it to the
utmost as a means of holding women in subjection, by representing
to them meekness, submissiveness, and resignation of all individual
will into the hands of a man, as an essential part of sexual
attractiveness. Can it be doubted that any of the other yokes which
mankind have succeeded in breaking, would have subsisted till now
if the same means had existed, and had been so sedulously used, to
bow down their minds to it? If it had been made the object of the
life of every young plebeian to find personal favour in the eyes of
some patrician, of every young serf with some seigneur; if
domestication with him, and a share of his personal affections, had
been held out as the prize which they all should look out for, the
most gifted and aspiring being able to reckon on the most desirable
prizes; and if, when this prize had been obtained, they had been
shut out by a wall of brass from all interests not centring in him,
all feelings and desires but those which he shared or inculcated;
would not serfs and seigneurs, plebeians and patricians, have been
as broadly distinguished at this day as men and women are? and
would not all but a thinker here and there, have believed the
distinction to be a fundamental and unalterable fact in human

The preceding considerations are amply sufficient to show that
custom, however universal it may be, affords in this case no
presumption, and ought not to create any prejudice, in favour of
the arrangements which place women in social and political
subjection to men. But I may go farther, and maintain that the
course of history, and the tendencies of progressive human society,
afford not only no presumption in favour of this system of
inequality of rights, but a strong one against it; and that, so far
as the whole course of human improvement up to the time, the whole
stream of modern tendencies, warrants any inference on the subject,
it is, that this relic of the past is discordant with the future,
and must necessarily disappear.

For, what is the peculiar character of the modern world– the
difference which chiefly distinguishes modern institutions, modern
social ideas, modern life itself, from those of times long past? It
is, that human beings are no longer born to their place in life,
and chained down by an inexorable bond to the would be infinitely
more, if complaint were not the greatest of all provocatives to a
repetition and increase of the ill-usage. It is this which
frustrates all attempts to maintain the power but protect the woman
against its abuses. In no other case (except that of a child) is
the person who has been proved judicially to have suffered an
injury, replaced under the physical power of the culprit who
inflicted it. Accordingly wives, even in the most extreme and
protracted cases of bodily ill-usage, hardly ever dare avail
themselves of the laws made for their protection: and if, in a
moment of irrepressible indignation, or by the interference of
neighbours, they are induced to do so, their whole effort
afterwards is to disclose as little as they can, and to beg off
their tyrant from his merited chastisement. All causes, social and
natural, combine to make it unlikely that women should be
collectively rebellious to the power of . men. They are so far in
a position different from all other subject classes, that their
masters require something more from them than actual service Men do
not want solely the obedience of women, they want their sentiments.
All men, except the most brutish, desire to have, in the woman most
nearly connected with them, not a forced slave but a willing one,
not a slave merely, but a favourite. They have therefore put
everything in practice to enslave their minds. The masters of all
other slaves rely, for maintaining obedience, on fear; either fear
of themselves, or religious fears. The masters of women wanted more
than simple obedience, and they turned the whole force of education
to effect their purpose. All women are brought up from the very
earliest years in the belief that their ideal of character is the
very opposite to that of men; not self-will, and government by
self-control, but submission, and yielding to the control of
others. All the moralities tell them that it is the duty of women,
and all the current sentimentalities that it is their nature, to
live for others; to make complete abnegation of themselves, and to
have no life but in their affections. And by their affections are
meant the only ones they are allowed to have–those to the men with
whom they are connected, or to the children who constitute an
additional and indefeasible tie between them and a man. When we put
together three things–first, the natural attraction between
opposite sexes; secondly, the wife’s entire dependence on the
husband, every privilege or pleasure she has being either his gift,
or depending entirely on his will; and lastly, that the principal
object of human pursuit, consideration, and all objects of social
ambition, can in general be sought or obtained by her only through
him, it would be a miracle if the object of being attractive to men
had not become the polar star of feminine education and formation
of character. And, this great means of influence over the minds of
women having been acquired, an instinct of selfishness made men
avail themselves of it to the utmost as a means of holding women in
subjection, by representing to them meekness, submissiveness, and
resignation of all individual will into the hands of a man, as an
essential part of sexual attractiveness. Can it be doubted that any
of the other yokes which mankind have succeeded in breaking, would
have subsisted till now if the same means had existed, and had been
so sedulously used, to bow down their minds to it? If it had been
made the object of the life of every young plebeian to find
personal favour in the eyes of some patrician, of every young serf
with some seigneur; if domestication with him, and a share of his
personal affections, had been held out as the prize which they all
should look out for, the most gifted and aspiring being able to
reckon on the most desirable prizes; and if, when this prize had
been obtained, they had been shut out by a wall of brass from all
interests not centring in him, all feelings and desires but those
which he shared or inculcated; would not serfs and seigneurs,
plebeians and patricians, have been as broadly distinguished at
this day as men and women are? and would not all but a thinker here
and there, have believed the distinction to be a fundamental and
unalterable fact in human nature? The preceding considerations are
amply sufficient to show that custom, however universal it may be,
affords in this case no presumption, and ought not to create any
prejudice, in favour of the arrangements which place women in
social and political subjection to men. But I may go farther, and
maintain that the course of history, and the tendencies of
progressive human society, afford not only no presumption in favour
of this system of inequality of rights, but a strong one against
it; and that, so far as the whole course of human improvement up to
the time, the whole stream of modern tendencies, warrants any
inference on the subject, it is, that this relic of the past is
discordant with the future, and must necessarily disappear. For,
what is the peculiar character of the modern world– the difference
which chiefly distinguishes modern institutions, modern social
ideas, modern life itself, from those of times long past? It is,
that human beings are no longer born to their place in life, and
chained down by an inexorable bond to the place they are born to,
but are free to employ their faculties, and such favourable chances
as offer, to achieve the lot which may appear to them most
desirable. Human society of old was constituted on a very different
principle. All were born to a fixed social position, and were
mostly kept in it by law, or interdicted from any means by which
they could emerge from it. As some men are born white and others
black, so some were born slaves and others freemen and citizens;
some were born patricians, others plebeians; some were born feudal
nobles, others commoners and roturiers. A slave or serf could never
make himself free, nor, except by the will of his master, become
so. In most European countries it was not till towards the close of
the middle ages, and as a consequence of the growth of regal power,
that commoners could be ennobled. Even among nobles, the eldest son
was born the exclusive heir to the paternal possessions, and a long
time elapsed before it was fully established that the father could
disinherit him. Among the industrious classes, only those who were
born members of a guild, or were admitted into it by its members,
could lawfully practise their calling within its local limits; and
nobody could practise any calling deemed important, in any but the
legal manner–by processes authoritatively prescribed.
Manufacturers have stood in the pillory for presuming to carry on
their business by new and improved methods. In modern Europe, and
most in those parts of it which have participated most largely in
all other modern improvements, diametrically opposite doctrines now
prevail. Law and government do not undertake to prescribe by whom
any social or industrial operation shall or shall not be conducted,
or what modes of conducting them shall be lawful. These things are
left to the unfettered choice of individuals. Even the laws which
required that workmen should serve an apprenticeship, have in this
country been repealed: there being ample assurance that in all
cases in which an apprenticeship is necessary, its necessity will
suffice to enforce it. The old theory was, that the least possible
should be left to the choice of the individual agent; that all he
had to do should, as far as practicable, be laid down for him by
superior wisdom. Left to himself he was sure to go wrong. The
modern conviction, the fruit of a thousand years of experience, is,
that things in which the individual is the person directly
interested, never go right but as they are left to his own
discretion; and that any regulation of them by authority, except to
protect the rights of others, is sure to be mischievous. This
conclusion slowly arrived at, and not adopted until almost every
possible application of the contrary theory had been made with
disastrous result, now (in the industrial department) prevails
universally in the most advanced countries, almost universally in
all that have pretensions to any sort of advancement. It is not
that all processes are supposed to be equally good, or all persons
to be equally qualified for everything; but that freedom of
individual choice is now known to be the only thing which procures
the adoption of the best processes, and throws each operation into
the hands of those who are best qualified for it. Nobody thinks it
necessary to make a law that only a strong-armed man shall be a
blacksmith. Freedom and competition suffice to make blacksmiths
strong-armed men, because the weak armed can earn more by engaging
in occupations for which they are more fit. In consonance with this
doctrine, it is felt to be an overstepping of the proper bounds of
authority to fix beforehand, on some general presumption, that
certain persons are not fit to do certain things. It is now
thoroughly known and admitted that if some such presumptions exist,
no such presumption is infallible. Even if it be well grounded in
a majority of cases, which it is very likely not to be, there will
be a minority of exceptional cases in which it does not hold: and
in those it is both an injustice to the individuals, and a
detriment to society, to place barriers in the way of their using
their faculties for their own benefit and for that of others. In
the cases, on the other hand, in which the unfitness is real, the
ordinary motives of human conduct will on the whole suffice to
prevent the incompetent person from making, or from persisting in,
the attempt.

If this general principle of social and economical science is not
true; if individuals, with such help as they can derive from the
opinion of those who know them, are not better judges than the law
and the government, of their own capacities and vocation; the world
cannot too soon abandon this principle, and return to the old
system of regulations and disabilities. But if the principle is
true, we ought to act as if we believed it, and not to ordain that
to be born a girl instead of a boy, any more than to be born black
instead of white, or a commoner instead of a nobleman, shall decide
the person’s position through all life–shall interdict people from
all the more elevated social positions, and from all, except a few,
respectable occupations. Even were we to admit the utmost that is
ever pretended a to the superior fitness of men for all the
functions now reserve to them, the same argument applies which
forbids a legal qualification for Members of Parliament. If only
once in a dozen years the conditions of eligibility exclude a fit
person, there is a real loss, while the exclusion of thousands of
unfit persons is no gain; for if the constitution of the electoral
body disposes them to choose unfit persons, there are always plenty
of such persons to choose from. In all things of any difficulty and
importance, those who can do them well are fewer than the need,
even with the most unrestricted latitude of choice: and any
limitation of the field of selection deprives society of some
chances of being served by the competent, without ever saving it
from the incompetent.

At present, in the more improved countries, the disabilities of
women are the only case, save one, in which laws and institutions
take persons at their birth, and ordain that they shall never in
all their lives be allowed to compete for certain things. The one
exception is that of royalty. Persons still are born to the
throne; no one, not of the reigning family, can ever occupy it, and
no one even of that family can, by any means but the course of
hereditary succession, attain it. All other dignities and social
advantages are open to the whole male sex: many indeed are only
attainable by wealth, but wealth may be striven for by anyone, and
is actually obtained by many men of the very humblest origin. The
difficulties, to the majority, are indeed insuperable without the
aid of fortunate accidents; but no male human being is under any
legal ban: neither law nor opinion superadd artificial obstacles to
the natural ones. Royalty, as I have said, is excepted: but in this
case everyone feels it to be an exception–an anomaly in the modern
world, in marked opposition to its customs and principles, and to
be justified only by extraordinary special expediences, which,
though individuals and nations differ in estimating their weight,
unquestionably do in fact exist. But in this exceptional case, in
which a high social function is, for important reasons, bestowed on
birth instead of being put up to competition, all free nations
contrive to adhere in substance to the principle from which they
nominally derogate; for they circumscribe this high function by
conditions avowedly intended to prevent the person to whom it
ostensibly belongs from really performing it; while the person by
whom it is performed, the responsible minister, does obtain the
post by a competition from which no full-grown citizen of the male
sex is legally excluded. The disabilities, therefore, to which
women are subject from the mere fact of their birth, are the
solitary examples of the kind in modern legislation. In no instance
except this, which comprehends half the human race, are the higher
social functions closed against anyone by a fatality of birth which
no exertions, and no change of circumstances, can overcome; for
even religious disabilities (besides that in England and in Europe
they have practically almost ceased to exist) do not close any
career to the disqualified person in case of conversion.

The social subordination of women thus stands out an isolated fact
in modern social institutions; a solitary breach of what has become
their fundamental law; a single relic of an old world of thought
and practice exploded in everything else, but retained in the one
thing of most universal interest; as if a gigantic dolmen, or a
vast temple of Jupiter Olympius, occupied the site of St. Paul’s
and received daily worship, while the surrounding Christian
churches were only resorted to on fasts and festivals. This entire
discrepancy between one social fact and all those which accompany
it, and the radical opposition between its nature and the
progressive movement which is the boast of the modern world, and
which has successively swept away everything else of an analogous
character, surely affords, to a conscientious observer of human
tendencies, serious matter for reflection. It raises a prima facie
presumption on the unfavourable side, far outweighing any which
custom and usage could in such circumstances create on the
favourable;and should at least suffice to make this, like the
choice between republicanism and royalty, a balanced question.

The least that can be demanded is, that the question should not be
considered as prejudged by existing fact and existing opinion, but
open to discussion on its merits, as a question of justice and
expediency: the decision on this, as on any of the other social
arrangements of mankind, depending on what an enlightened estimate
of tendencies and consequences may show to be most advantageous to
humanity in general, without distinction of sex. And the discussion
must be a real discussion, descending to foundations, and not
resting satisfied with vague and general assertions. It will not
do, for instance to assert in general terms, that the experience of
mankind has pronounced in favour of the existing system. Experience
cannot possibly have decided between two courses, so long as there
has only been experience of one. If it be said that the doctrine of
the equality of the sexes rests only on theory, it must be
remembered that the contrary doctrine also has only theory to rest
upon. All that is proved in its favour by direct experience, is
that mankind have been able to exist under it, and to attain the
degree of improvement and prosperity which we now see; but whether
that prosperity has been attained sooner, or is now greater, than
it would have been under the other system, experience does not say.
on the other hand, experience does say, that every step in
improvement has been so invariably accompanied by a step made in
raising the social position of women, that historians and
philosophers have been led to adopt their elevation or debasement
as on the whole the surest test and most correct measure of the
civilisation of a people or an age. Through all the progressive
period of human history, the condition of women has been
approaching nearer to equality with men. This does not of itself
prove that the assimilation must goon to complete equality; but it
assuredly affords some presumption that such is the case.

Neither does it avail anything to say that the nature of the two
sexes adapts them to their present functions and position, and
renders these appropriate to them. Standing on the ground of common
sense and the constitution of the human mind, I deny that anyone
knows, or can know, the nature of the two sexes, as long as they
have only been seen in their present relation to one another. If
men had ever been found in society without women, or women without
men, or if there had been a society of men and women in which the
women were not under the control of the men, something might have
been positively known about the mental and moral differences which
may be inherent in the nature of each. What is now called the
nature of women is an eminently artificial thing–the result of
forced repression in some directions, unnatural stimulation in
others. It may be asserted without scruple, that no other class of
dependents have had their character so entirely distorted from its
natural proportions by their relation with their masters; for, if
conquered and slave races have been, in some respects, more
forcibly repressed, whatever in them has not been crushed down by
an iron heel has generally been let alone, and if left with any
liberty of development, it has developed itself according to its
own laws; but in the case of women, a hot-house and stove
cultivation has always been carried on of some of the capabilities
of their nature, for the benefit and pleasure of their masters
Then, because certain products of the general vital force sprout
luxuriantly and reach a great development in this heated atmosphere
and under this active nurture and watering, while other shoots from
the same root, which are left outside in the wintry air, with ice
purposely heaped all round them, have a stunted growth, and some
are burnt off with fire and disappear; men, with that inability to
recognise their own work which distinguishes the unanalytic mind,
indolently believe that the tree grows of itself in the way they
have made it grow, and that it would die if one half of it were not
kept in a vapour bath and the other half in the snow.

Of all difficulties which impede the progress of thought, and the
formation of well-grounded opinions on life and social
arrangements, the greatest is now the unspeakable ignorance and
inattention of mankind in respect to the influences which form
human character. Whatever any portion of the human species now are,
or seem to be, such, it is supposed, they have a natural tendency
to be: even when the most elementary knowledge of the circumstances
in which they have been placed, clearly points out the causes that
made them what they are. Because a cottier deeply in arrears to his
landlord is not industrious, there are people who think that the
Irish are naturally idle. Because constitutions can be overthrown
when the authorities appointed to execute them turn their arms
against them, there are people who think the French incapable of
free government. Because the Greeks cheated the Turks, and the
Turks only plundered the Greeks, there are persons who think that
the Turks are naturally more sincere: and because women, as is
often said, care nothing about politics except their personalities,
it is supposed that the general good is naturally less interesting
to women than to men. History, which is now so much better
understood than formerly, teaches another lesson: if only by
showing the extraordinary susceptibility of human nature to
external influences, and the extreme variableness of those of its
manifestations which are supposed to be most universal and uniform.
But in history, as in travelling, men usually see only what they
already had in their own minds; and few learn much from history,
who do not bring much with them to its study.

Hence, in regard to that most difficult question, what are the
natural differences between the two sexes–a subject on which it is
impossible in the present state of society to obtain complete and
correct knowledge–while almost everybody dogmatises upon it,
almost all neglect and make light of the only means by which any
partial insight can be obtained into it. This is, an analytic study
of the most important department of psychology, the laws of the
influence of circumstances on character. For, however great and
apparently ineradicable the moral and intellectual differences
between men and women might be, the evidence of there being natural
differences could only be negative. Those only could be inferred to
be natural which could not possibly be artificial–the residuum,
after deducting every characteristic of either sex which can admit
of being explained from education or external circumstances. The
profoundest knowledge of the laws of the formation of character is
indispensable to entitle anyone to affirm even that there is any
difference, much more what the difference is, between the two sexes
considered as moral and rational beings; and since no one, as yet,
has that knowledge (for there is hardly any subject which, in
proportion to its importance, has been so little studied), no one
is thus far entitled to any positive opinion on the subject.
Conjectures are all that can at present be made;conjectures more or
less probable, according as more or less authorised by such
knowledge as we yet have of the laws of psychology, as applied to
the formation of character.

Even the preliminary knowledge, what the differences between the
sexes now are, apart from all question as to how they are made what
they are, is still in the crudest and most’ incomplete state.
Medical practitioners and physiologists have ascertained, to some
extent, the differences in bodily constitution; and this is an
important element to the psychologist: but hardly any medical
practitioner is a psychologist. Respecting the mental
characteristics of women; their observations are of no more worth
than those of common men. It is a subject on which nothing final
can be known, so long as those who alone can really know it, women
themselves, have given but little testimony, and that little,
mostly suborned. It is easy to know stupid women. Stupidity is much
the same all the world over. A stupid person’s notions and feelings
may confidently be inferred from those which prevail in the circle
by which the person is surrounded. Not so with those whose opinions
and feelings are an emanation from their own nature and faculties.
It is only a man here and there who has any tolerable knowledge of
the character even of the women of his own family. I do not mean,
of their capabilities; these nobody knows, not even themselves,
because most of them have never been called out. I mean their
actually existing thoughts and feelings. Many a man think she
perfectly understands women, because he has had amatory relations
with several, perhaps with many of them.

If he is a good observer, and his experience extends to quality as
well as quantity, he may have learnt something of one narrow
department of their nature–an important department, no doubt. But
of all the rest of it, few persons are generally more ignorant,
because there are few from whom it is so carefully hidden. The most
favourable case which a man can generally have for studying the
character of a woman, is that of his own wife: for the
opportunities are greater, and the cases of complete sympathy not
so unspeakably rare. And in fact, this is the source from which any
knowledge worth having on the subject has, I believe, generally
come. But most men have not had the opportunity of studying in this
way more than a single case: accordingly one can, to an almost
laughable degree, infer what a man’s wife is like, from his
opinions about women in general. To make even this one case yield
any result, the woman must be worth knowing, and the man not only
a competent judge, but of a character so sympathetic in itself, and
so well adapted to hers, that he can either read her mind by
sympathetic intuition, or has nothing in himself which makes her
shy of disclosing it, Hardly anything, I believe, can be more rare
than this conjunction. It often happens that there is the most
complete unity of feeling and community of interests as to all
external things, yet the one has as little admission into the
internal life of the other as if they were common acquaintance.
Even with true affection, authority on the one side and
subordination on the other prevent perfect confidence. Though
nothing may be intentionally withheld, much is not shown. In the
analogous relation of parent and child, the corresponding
phenomenon must have been in the observation of everyone. As
between father and son, how many are the cases in which the father,
in spite of real affection on both sides, obviously to all the
world does not know, nor suspect, parts of the son’s character
familiar to his companions and equals. The truth is, that the
position of looking up to another is extremely unpropitious to
complete sincerity and openness with him. The fear of losing ground
in his opinion or in his feelings is so strong, that even in an
upright character, there is an unconscious tendency to show only
the best side, or the side which, though not the best, is that
which he most likes to see: and it may be confidently said that
thorough knowledge of one another hardly ever exists, but between
persons who, besides being intimates, are equals. How much more
true, then, must all this be, when the one is not only under the
authority of the other, but has it inculcated on her as a duty to
reckon everything else subordinate to his comfort and pleasure, and
to let him neither see nor feel anything coming from her, except
what is agreeable to him. All these difficulties stand in the way
of a man’s obtaining any thorough knowledge even of the one woman
whom alone, in general, he has sufficient opportunity of studying.
When we further consider that to understand one woman is not
necessarily to understand any other woman; that even if he could
study many women of one rank, or of one country, he would not
thereby understand women of other ranks or countries; and even if
he did, they are still only the women of a single period of
history; we may safely assert that the knowledge which men can
acquire of women, even as they have been and are, without reference
to what they might be, is wretchedly imperfect and superficial, and
always will be so, until women themselves have told all that they
have to tell.

And this time has not come; nor will it come otherwise than
gradually. It is but of yesterday that women have either been
qualified by literary accomplishments or permitted by society, to
tell anything to the general public. As yet very few of them dare
tell anything, which men, on whom their literary success depends,
are unwilling to hear. Let us remember in what manner, up to a very
recent time, the expression, even by a male author, of uncustomary
opinions, or what are deemed eccentric feelings, usually was, and
in some degree still is, received; and we may form some faint
conception under what impediments a woman, who is brought up to
think custom and opinion her sovereign rule, attempts to express in
books anything drawn from the depths of her own nature. The
greatest woman who has left writings behind her sufficient to give
her an eminent rank in the literature of her country, thought it
necessary to prefix as a motto to her boldest work, ” Un homme peut
braver l’opinion; une femme doit s’y soumettre.” [1] The greater
part of what women write about women is mere sycophancy to men. In
the case of unmarried women, much of it seems only intended to
increase their chance of a husband. Many, both married and
unmarried, overstep the mark, and inculcate a servility beyond what
is desired or relished by any man, except the very vulgarest. But
this is not so often the L case as, even at a quite late period, it
still was. Literary women I are becoming more free-spoken, and more
willing to express their real sentiments. Unfortunately, in this
country especially, they are themselves such artificial products,
that their sentiments are compounded of a small element of
individual observation and consciousness, and a very large one of
acquired associations. This will be less and less the case, but it
will remain true to a great extent, as long as social institutions
do not admit the same free development of originality in women
which is possible to men. When that time comes, and not before, we
shall see, and not merely hear, as much as it is necessary to know
of the nature of women, and the adaptation of other things to it.

I have dwelt so much on the difficulties which at present obstruct
any real knowledge by men of the true nature of women, because in
this as in so many other things “opinio copiae inter maximas causas
inopiae est”; and there is little chance of reasonable thinking on
the matter while people flatter themselves that they perfectly
understand a subject of which most men know absolutely nothing, and
of which it is at present impossible that any man, or all men taken
together, should have knowledge which can qualify them to lay down
the law to women as to what is, or is not, their vocation. Happily,
no such knowledge is necessary for any practical purpose connected
with the position of women is relation to society and life. For,
according to all the principles involved in modern society, the
question rests with women themselves–to be decided by their own
experience, and by the use of their own faculties. There are no
means of finding what either one person or many can do, but by
trying–and no means by which anyone else can discover for them
what it is for their happiness to do or leave undone.

One thing we may be certain of–that what is contrary to women’s
nature to do, they never will be made to do by simply giving their
nature free play. The anxiety of mankind to interfere in behalf of
nature, for fear lest nature should not succeed m effecting its
purpose, is an altogether unnecessary solicitude. What women by
nature cannot do, it is quite superfluous to forbid them from
doing. What they can do, but not so well as the men who are their
competitors, competition suffices to exclude them from; since
nobody asks for protective duties and bounties in favour of women;
it is only asked that the present bounties and protective duties in
favour of men should be recalled. If women have a greater natural
inclination for somethings than for others, there is no need of
laws or social inculcation to make the majority of them do the
former in preference to the latter. Whatever women’s services are
most wanted for, the free play of competition will hold out the
strongest inducements to them to undertake. And, as the words
imply, they are most wanted for the things for which they are most
fit; by the apportionment of which to them, the collective
faculties of the two sexes can be applied on the whole with the
greatest sum of valuable result. The general opinion of men is
supposed to be, that the natural vocation of a woman is that of a
wife and mother. I say, is supposed to be, because, judging from
acts–from the whole of the present constitution of society–one
might infer that their opinion was the direct contrary. They might
be supposed to think that the alleged natural vocation of women was
of all things the most repugnant to their nature; insomuch that if
they are free to do anything else–if any other means of living or
occupation of their time and faculties, is open, which has any
chance of appearing desirable to them- there will not be enough of
them who will be willing to accept the condition said to be natural
to them. If this is the real opinion of men in general, it would be
well that it should be spoken out. I should like to hear somebody
openly enunciating the doctrine (it is already implied in much that
is written on the subJect)- It is necessary to society that women
should marry and produce children. They will not do so unless they
are compelled. Therefore it is necessary to compel them. ” The
merits of the case would then be clearly defined. It would be
exactly that of the slave-holders of South Carolina and Louisiana.
” It is necessary that cotton and sugar should be grown. White men
cannot produce them. Negroes will not, for any wages which we
choose to give. Ergo they must be compelled. ” An illustration
still closer to the point is that of impressment. Sailors must
absolutely be had to defend the country. It often happens that they
will not voluntarily enlist. Therefore there must be the power of
forcing them. How often has this logic been used!and, but for one
flaw in it, without doubt it would have been successful up to this
day. But lt is open to the retort– First pay the sailors the
honest value of their labour. When you have made it as well worth
their while to serve you, as to work for other employers, you will
have no more difficulty than others have in obtaining their
services. To this there is no logical answer except”I will not”:
and as people are now not only ashamed, but are not desirous, to
rob the labourer of his hire, impressment is no longer advocated.
Those who attempt to force women into marriage by closing all other
doors against them, lay themselves open to a similar retort. If
they mean what they say, their opinion must evidently be, that men
do not render the married condition so desirable to women, as to
induce them to accept it for its own recommendations. It is not a
sign of one’s thinking the boon one offers very attractive, when
one allows only Hobson’s choice, “that or none. ” And here, I
believe, is the clue to the feelings of those men, who have a real
antipathy to the equal freedom of women. I believe they are afraid,
not lest women should be unwilling to marry, for I do not think
that anyone in reality has that apprehension; but lest they should
insist that marriage should be on equal conditions; lest all women
of spirit and capacity should prefer doing almost anything else,
not in their own eyes degrading, rather than marry, when marrying
is giving themselves a master, and a master too of all their
earthly possessions. And truly, if this consequence were
necessarily incident to marriage, I think that the apprehension
would be very well founded. I agree in thinking it probable that
few women, capable of anything else, would, unless under an
irresistible entrainement, rendering them for the time insensible
to anything but itself, choose such a lot, when any other means
were open to them of filling a conventionally honourable place in
life: and if men are determined that the law of marriage shall be
a law of despotism, they are quite right, in point of mere policy,
in leaving to women only Hobson’s choice. But, in that case, all
that has been done in the modern world to relax the chain on the
minds of women, has been a mistake. They never should have been
allowed to receive a literary education. Women who read, much more
women who write, are, in the existing constitution of things, a
contradiction and a disturbing element: and it was wrong to bring
women up with any acquirements but those of an odalisque, or of a
domestic servant.


[1]  Title-page of Mme de Stael’s Delphine.

                           CHAPTER II

It will be well to commence the detailed discussion of the subject
by the particular branch of it to which the course of our
observations has led us: the conditions which the laws of this and
all other countries annex to the marriage contract. Marriage being
the destination appointed by society for women, the prospect they
are brought up to, and the object which it is intended should be
sought by all of them, except those who are too little attractive
to be chosen by any man as his companion; one might have supposed
that everything would have been done to make this condition as
eligible to them as possible, that they might have no cause to
regret being denied the option of any other. Society, however, both
in this, and, at first, in all other cases, has preferred to attain
its object by foul rather than fair means: but this is the only
case in which it has substantially persisted in them even to the
present day. Originally women were taken by force, or regularly
sold by their father to the husband. Until a late period in
European history, the father had the power to dispose of his
daughter in marriage at his own will and pleasure, without any
regard to hers. The Church, indeed, was so far faithful to a better
morality as to require a formal “yes” from the woman at the
marriage ceremony; but there was nothing to show that the consent
was other than compulsory; and it was practically impossible for
the girl to refuse compliance if the father persevered, except
perhaps when she might obtain the protection of religion by a
determined resolution to take monastic vows. After marriage, the
man had anciently (but this was anterior to Christianity) the power
of life and death over his wife. She could invoke no law against
him; he was her sole tribunal and law. For a long time he could
repudiate her, but she had no corresponding power in regard to him.
By the old laws of England, the husband was called the lord of the
wife; he was literally regarded as her sovereign, inasmuch that the
murder of a man by his wife was called treason (petty as
distinguished from high treason), and was more cruelly avenged than
was usually the case with high treason, for the penalty was burning
to death. Because these various enormities have fallen into disuse
(for most of them were never formally abolished, or not until they
had long ceased to be practised) men suppose that all is now as it
should be in regard to the marriage contract; and we are
continually told that civilisation and Christianity have restored
to the woman her just rights. Meanwhile the wife is the actual bond
servant of her husband: no less so, as far as legal obligation
goes, than slaves commonly so called. She vows a livelong obedience
to him at the altar, and is held to it all through her life by law.
Casuists may say that the obligation of obedience stops short of
participation in crime, but it certainly extends to everything
else. She can do no act whatever but by his permission, at least
tacit. She can acquire no property but for him; the instant it
becomes hers, even if by inheritance, it becomes ipso facto his. In
this respect the wife’s position under the common law of England is
worse than that-of slaves in the laws of many countries: by the
Roman law, for example, a slave might have his peculium, which to
a certain extent the law guaranteed to him for his exclusive use.
The higher classes in this country have given an analogous
advantage to their women, through special contracts setting aside
the law, by conditions of pin-money, etc. : since parental feeling
being stronger with fathers than the class feeling of their own
sex, a father generally prefers his own daughter to a son-in-law
who is a stranger to him. By means of settlements, the rich usually
contrive to withdraw the whole or part of the inherited property of
the wife from the absolute control of the husband: but they do not
succeed in keeping it under her own control; the utmost they can do
only prevents the husband from squandering it, at the same time
debarring the rightful owner from its use. The property itself is
out of the reach of both; and as to the income derived from it, the
form of settlement most favourable to the wife (that called “to her
separate use”) only precludes the husband from receiving it instead
of her: it must pass through her hands, but if he takes it from her
by personal violence as soon as she receives it, he can neither be
punished, nor compelled to restitution. This is the amount of the
protection which, under the laws of this country, the most powerful
nobleman can give to his own daughter as respects her husband. In
the immense majority of cases there is no settlement: and the
absorption of all rights, all property, as well as all freedom of
action, is complete. The two are called ” one person in law, ” for
the purpose of inferring that whatever is hers is his, but the
parallel inference is never drawn that whatever is his is hers; the
maxim is not applied against the man, except to make him
responsible to third parties for her acts, as a master is for the
acts of his slaves or of his cattle. I am far from pretending that
wives are in general no better treated than slaves; but no slave is
a slave to the same lengths, and in so full a sense of the word, as
a wife is. Hardly any slave, except one immediately attached to the
master’s person, is a slave at all hours and all minutes; in
general he has, like a soldier, his fixed task, and when it is
done, or when he is off duty, he disposes, within certain limits,
of his own time, and has a family life into which the master rarely
intrudes. “Uncle Tom ” under his first master had his own life in
his “cabin, ” almost as much as any man whose work takes him away
from home, is able to have in his own family. But it cannot be so
with the wife. Above all, a female slave has (in Christian
countries) an admitted right, and is considered under a moral
obligation, to refuse to her master the last familiarity. Not so
the wife: however brutal a tyrant she may unfortunately be chained
to–though she may know that he hates her, though it may be his
daily pleasure to torture her, and though she may feel it
impossible not to loathe him–he can claim from her and enforce the
lowest degradation of a human being, that of being made the
instrument of an animal function contrary to her inclinations.
While she is held in this worst description of slavery as to her
own person, what is her position in regard to the children in whom
she and her master have a joint interest? They are by law his
children. He alone has any legal rights over them. Not one act can
she do towards or in relation to them, except by delegation from
him. Even after he is dead she is not their legal guardian, unless
he by will has made her so. He could even send them away from her,
and deprive her of the means of seeing or corresponding with them,
until this power was in some degree restricted by Serjeant
Talfourd’s Act. This is her legal state. And from this state she
has no means of withdrawing herself. If she leaves her husband, she
can take nothing with her, neither her children nor anything which
is rightfully her own. If he chooses, he can compel her to return,
by law, or by physical force; or he may content himself with
seizing for his own use anything which she may earn, or which may
be given to her by her relations. It is only legal separation by a
decree of a court of justice, which entitles her to live apart,
without being forced back into the custody of an exasperated
jailer–or which empowers her to apply any earnings to her own use,
without fear that a man whom perhaps she has not seen for twenty
years will pounce upon her some day and carry all off. This legal
separation, until lately, the courts of justice would only give at
an expense which made it inaccessible to anyone out of the higher
ranks. Even now it is only given in cases of desertion, or of the
extreme of cruelty; and yet complaints are made every day that it
is granted too easily. Surely, if a woman is denied any lot in life
but that of being the personal body-servant of a despot, and is
dependent for everything upon the chance of finding one who may be
disposed to make a favourite of her instead of merely a drudge, it
is a very cruel aggravation of her fate that she should be allowed
to try this chance only once. The natural sequel and corollary from
this state of things would be, that since her all in life depends
upon obtaining a good master, she should be allowed to change again
and again until she finds one. I am not saying that she ought to be
allowed this privilege. That is a totally different consideration.
The question of divorce, in the sense involving liberty of
remarriage, is one into which it is foreign to my purpose to enter.
All I now say is, that to those to whom nothing but servitude is
allowed, the free choice of servitude is the only, though a most
insufficient, alleviation. Its refusal completes the assimilation
of the wife to the slave–and the slave under not the mildest form
of slavery: for in some slave codes the slave could, under certain
circumstances of ill usage, legally compel the master to sell him.
But no amount of ill usage, without adultery superadded, will in
England free a wife from her tormentor.

I have no desire to exaggerate, nor does the case stand in any need
of exaggeration. I have described the wife’s legal position, not
her actual treatment. The laws of most countries are far worse than
the people who execute them, and many of them are only able to
remain laws by being seldom or never carried into effect. If
married life were all that it might be expected to be, looking to
the laws alone, society would be a hell upon earth. Happily there
are both feelings and interests which in many men exclude, and in
most, greatly temper, the impulses and propensities which lead to
tyranny: and of those feelings, the tie which connects a man with
his wife affords, in a normal state of things, incomparably the
strongest example. The only tie which at all approaches to it. that
between him and his children, tends, in all save exceptional cases,
to strengthen, instead of conflicting with, the first. Because this
is true; because men in general do not inflict, nor women suffer,
all the misery which could be inflicted and suffered if the full
power of tyranny with which the man is legally invested were acted
on; the defenders of the existing form of the institution think
that all its iniquity is justified, and that any complaint is
merely quarrelling with the evil which is the price paid for every
great good. But the mitigations in practice, which are compatible
with maintaining in full legal force this or any other kind of
tyranny, instead of being any apology for despotism, only serve to
prove what power human nature possesses of reacting against the
vilest institutions, and with what vitality the seeds of good as
well as those of evil in human character diffuse and propagate
themselves. Not a word can be said for despotism in the family
which cannot be said for political despotism. Every absolute king
does not sit at his window to enjoy the groans of his tortured
subjects, nor strips them of their last rag and turns them out to
shiver in the road The despotism of Louis XVI was not the despotism
of Philippe le Bel, or of Nadir Shah, or of Caligula; but it was
bad enough to justify the French Revolution, and to palliate even
its horrors. If an appeal be made to the intense attachments which
exist between wives and their husbands, exactly as much may be said
of domestic slavery. It was quite an ordinary fact in Greece and
Rome for slaves to submit to death by torture rather than betray
their masters. In the proscriptions of the Roman civil wars it was
remarked that wives and slaves were heroically faithful, sons very
commonly treacherous. Yet we know how cruelly many Romans treated
their slaves. But in truth these intense individual feelings
nowhere rise to such a luxuriant height as under the most atrocious
institutions. It IS part of the irony of life, that the strongest
feelings of devoted gratitude of which human nature seems to be
susceptible, are called forth in human beings towards those who,
having the power entirely to crush their earthly existence,
voluntarily refrain from using that power. How great a place in
most men this sentiment fills, even in religious devotion, it would
be cruel to inquire. We daily see how much their gratitude to
Heaven appears to be stimulated by the contemplation of
fellow-creatures to whom God has not been so merciful as he has to

Whether the institution to be defended is slavery, political
absolutism, or the absolutism of the head of a family, we are
always expected to judge of it from its best instances; and we are
presented with pictures of loving exercise of authority on one
side, loving submission to it on the other–superior wisdom
ordering all things for the greatest good of the dependents, and
surrounded by their smiles and benedictions. All this would be very
much to the purpose if anyone pretended that there are no such
things as goodmen. Who doubts that there may be great goodness, and
great happiness, and great affection, under the absolute government
of a good man? Meanwhile, laws and institutions require to be
adapted, not to good men, but to bad. Marriage is not an
institution designed fora select few. Men are not required, as a
preliminary to the marriage ceremony, to prove by testimonials that
they are fit to be trusted with the exercise of absolute power. The
tie of affection and obligation to a wife and children is very
strong with those whose general social feelings are strong, and
with many who are little sensible to any other social ties; but
there are all degrees of sensibility and insensibility to it, as
there are all grades of goodness and wickedness in men, down to
those whom no ties will bind, and on whom society has no action but
through its ultima ratio, the penalties of the law. In every grade
of this descending scale are men to whom are committed all the
legal powers of a husband. The vilest malefactor has some wretched
woman tied to him, against whom he can commit any atrocity except
killing her, and, if tolerably cautious, can do that without much
danger of the legal penalty. And how many thousands are there among
the lowest classes in every country, who, without being in a legal
sense malefactors in any other respect, because in every other
quarter their aggressions meet with resistance, indulge the utmost
habitual excesses of bodily violence towards the unhappy wife, who
alone, at least of grown persons, can neither repel nor escape from
their brutality; and towards whom the excess of dependence inspires
their mean and savage natures, not with a generous forbearance, and
a point of honour to behave well to one whose lot in life is
trusted entirely to their kindness, but on the contrary with a
notion that the law has delivered her to them as their thing, to be
used at their pleasure, and that they are not expected to practise
the consideration towards her which is required from them towards
everybody else. The law, which till lately left even these
atrocious extremes of domestic oppression practically unpunished,
has within these few years made some feeble attempts to repress
them. But its attempts have done little, and cannot be expected to
do much, because it is contrary to reason and experience to suppose
that there can be any real check to brutality, consistent with
leaving the victim still in the power of the executioner. Until a
conviction for personal violence, or at all events a repetition of
it after a first conviction, entitles the woman ipso facto to a
divorce, or at least to a judicial separation, the attempt to
repress these “aggravated assaults ” by legal penalties will break
down for want of a prosecutor, or for want of a witness.

When we consider how vast is the number of men, in any great
country, who are little higher than brutes, and that this never
prevents them from being able, through the law of marriage, to
obtain a victim, the breadth and depth of human misery caused in
this shape alone by the abuse of the institution swells to
something appalling. Yet these are only the extreme cases. They are
the lowest abysses, but there is a sad succession of depth after
depth before reaching them. In domestic as in political tyranny,
the case of absolute monsters chiefly illustrates the institution
by showing that there is scarcely any horror which may not occur
under it if the despot pleases, and thus setting in a strong light
what must be the terrible frequency of things only a little less
atrocious. Absolute fiends are as rare as angels, perhaps rarer:
ferocious savages, with occasional touches of humanity, are however
very frequent: and in the wide interval which separates these from
any worthy representatives of the human species, how many are the
forms and gradations of animalism and selfishness, often under an
outward varnish of civilisation and even cultivation, living at
peace with the law, maintaining a creditable appearance to all who
are not under their power, yet sufficient often to make the lives
of all who are so, a torment and a burthen to them ! It would be
tiresome to repeat the commonplaces about the unfitness of men in
general for power, which, after the political discussions of
centuries, everyone knows by heart, were it not that hardly anyone
thinks of applying these maxims to the case in which above all
others they are applicable, that of power, not placed in the hands
of a man here and there, but offered to every adult male, down to
the basest and most ferocious. It is not because a man is not known
to have broken any of the Ten Commandments, or because he maintains
a respectable character in his dealings with those whom he cannot
compel to have intercourse with him, or because he does not fly out
into violent bursts of ill-temper against those who are not obliged
to bear with him, that it is possible to surmise of what sort his
conduct will be in the unrestraint of home. Even the commonest men
reserve the violent, the sulky, the undisguisedly selfish side of
their character for those who have no power to withstand it.
The relation of superiors to dependents is the nursery of these
vices of character, which, wherever else they exist, are an
overflowing from that source. A man who is morose or violent to his
equals, is sure to be one who has lived among inferiors, whom he
could frighten or worry into submission. If the family in its best
forms is, as it is often said to be, a school of sympathy,
tenderness, and loving forgetfulness of self, it is still oftener,
as respects its chief, a school of wilfulness, overbearingness,
unbounded selfish indulgence, and a double-dyed and idealised
selfishness, of which sacrifice itself is only a particular form:
the care for the wife and children being only care for them as
parts of the man’s own interests and belongings, and their
individual happiness being immolated in every shape to his smallest
preferences. What better is to be looked for under the existing
form of the institution? We know that the bad propensities of human
nature are only kept within bounds when they are allowed no scope
for their indulgence. We know that from impulse and habit, when not
from deliberate purpose, almost everyone to whom others yield, goes
on encroaching upon them, until a point is reached at which they
are compelled to resist. Such being the common tendency of human
nature; the almost unlimited power which present social
institutions give to the man over at least one human being– the
one with whom he resides, and whom he has always present — this
power seeks out and evokes the latent germs of selfishness in the
remotest corners of his nature–fans its faintest sparks and
smouldering embers–offers to him a licence for the indulgence of
those points of his original character which in all other relations
he would have found it necessary to repress and conceal, and the
repression of which would in time have become a second nature. I
know that there is another side to the question. I grant that the
wife, if she cannot effectually resist, can at least retaliate;
she, too, can make the man’s life extremely uncomfortable, and by
that power is able to carry many points which she ought, and many
which she ought not, to prevail in. But this instrument of
self-protection–which may be called the power of the scold, or the
shrewish sanction–has the fatal defect, that it avails most
against the least tyrannical superiors, and in favour of the least
deserving dependents. It is the weapon of irritable and self-willed
women; of those who would make the worst use of power if they
themselves had it, and who generally turn this power to a bad use.
The amiable cannot use such an instrument, the high minded disdain
it. And on the other hand, the husbands against whom it is used
most effectively are the gentler and more inoffensive; those who
cannot be induced, even by provocation, to resort to any very harsh
exercise of authority. The wife’s power of being disagreeable
generally only establishes a counter-tyranny, and makes victims in
their turn chiefly of those husbands who are least inclined to be

What is it, then, which really tempers the corrupting effects of
the power, and makes it compatible with such amount of good as we
actually see? Mere feminine blandishments. though of great effect
in individual instances, have very little effect in modifying the
general tendencies of the situation; for their power only lasts
while the woman is young and attractive, often only while her charm
is new, and not dimmed by familiarity; and on many men they have
not much influence at any time. The real mitigating causes are, the
personal affection which is the growth of time in so far as the
man’s nature is susceptible of it and the woman’s character
sufficiently congenial with his to excite it; their common
interests as regards the children, and their general community of
interest as concerns third persons(to which however there are very
great limitations); the real importance of the wife to his daily
comforts and enjoyments, and the value he consequently attaches to
her on his personal account, which, in a man capable of feeling for
others, lays the foundation of caring for her on her own; and
lastly, the influence naturally acquired over almost all human
beings by those near to their persons (if not actually disagreeable
to them): who, both by their direct entreaties, and by the
insensible contagion of their feelings and dispositions, are often
able, unless counteracted by some equally strong personal
influence, to obtain a degree of command over the conduct of the
superior, altogether excessive and unreasonable. Through these
various means, the wife frequently exercises even too much power
over the man; she is able to affect his conduct in things in which
she may not be qualified to influence it for good–in which her
influence may be not only unenlightened, but employed on the
morally wrong side; and in which he would act better if left to his
own prompting. But neither in the affairs of families nor in those
of states is power a compensation for the loss of freedom. Her
power often gives her what she has no right to, but does not enable
her to assert her own rights. A Sultan’s favourite slave has slaves
under her, over whom she tyrannises; but the desirable thing would
be that she should neither have slaves nor be a slave. By entirely
sinking her own existence in her husband; by having no will (or
persuading him that she has no will) but his, in anything which
regards their joint relation, and by making it the business of her
life to work upon his sentiments, a wife may gratify herself by
influencing, and very probably perverting, his conduct, in those of
his external relations which she has never qualified herself to
judge of, or in which she is herself wholly influenced by some
personal or other partiality or prejudice. Accordingly, as things
now are, those who act most kindly to their wives, are quite as
often made worse, as better, by the wife’s influence, in respect to
all interests extending beyond the family. She is taught that she
has no business with things out of that sphere; and accordingly she
seldom has any honest and conscientious opinion on them; and
therefore hardly ever meddles with them for any legitimate purpose,
but generally for an interested one. She neither knows nor cares
which is the right side in politics, but she knows what will bring
in money or invitations, give her husband a title, her son a place,
or her daughter a good marriage.

But how, it will be asked, can any society exist without
government? In a family, as in a state, some one person must be the
ultimate ruler. Who shall decide when married people differ in
opinion? Both cannot have their way, yet a decision one way or the
other must be come to.

It is not true that in all voluntary association between two
people, one of them must be absolute master: still less that the
law must determine which of them it shall be. The most frequent
case of voluntary association, next to marriage, is partnership in
business: and it is not found or thought necessary to enact that in
every partnership, one partner shall have entire control over the
concern, and the others shall be bound to obey his orders. No one
would enter into partnership on terms which would subject him to
the responsibilities of a principal, with only the powers and
privileges of a clerk or agent. If the law dealt with other
contracts as it does with marriage, it would ordain that one
partner should administer the common business as if it was his
private concern; that the others should have only delegated powers;
and that this one should be designated by some general presumption
of law, for example as being the eldest. The law never does this:
nor does experience show it to be necessary that any theoretical
inequality of power should exist between the partners, or that the
partnership should have any other conditions than what they may
themselves appoint by their articles of agreement. Yet it might
seem that the exclusive power might be conceded with less danger to
the rights and interests of the inferior, in the case of
partnership than in that of marriage, since he is free to cancel
the power by withdrawing from the connexion. The wife has no such
power, and even if she had, it is almost always desirable that she
should try all measures before resorting to it.

It is quite true that things which have to be decided everyday, and
cannot adjust themselves gradually, or wait for a compromise, ought
to depend on one will; one person must have their sole control. But
it does not follow that this should always be the same person. The
natural arrangement is a division of powers between the two; each
being absolute in the executive branch of their own department, and
any change of system and principle requiring the consent of both.
The division neither can nor should be pre-established by the law,
since it must depend on individual capacities and suitabilities. If
the two persons chose, they might pre-appoint it by the marriage
contract, as pecuniary arrangements are now often pre-appointed.
There would seldom be any difficulty in deciding such things by
mutual consent, unless the marriage was one of those unhappy ones
in which all other things, as well as this, become subjects of
bickering and dispute. The division of rights would naturally
follow the division of duties and functions; and that is already
made by consent, or at all events not by law, but by general
custom, modified and modifiable at the pleasure of the persons

The real practical decision of affairs, to whichever may be given
the legal authority, will greatly depend, as it even now does, upon
comparative qualifications. The mere fact that he is usually the
eldest, will in most cases give the preponderance to the man; at
least until they both attain a time of life at which the difference
in their years is of no importance. There will naturally also be a
more potential voice on the side, whichever it is, that brings the
means of support. Inequality from this source does not depend on
the law of marriage, but on the general conditions of human
society, as now constituted. The influence of mental superiority,
either general or special, and of superior decision of character,
will necessarily tell for much. It always does so at present. And
this fact shows how little foundation there is for the apprehension
that the powers and responsibilities of partners in life (as of
partners in business), cannot be satisfactorily apportioned by
agreement between themselves. They always are so apportioned,
except in cases in which the marriage institution is a failure.
Things never come to an issue of downright power on one side, and
obedience on the other, except where the connexion altogether has
been a mistake, and it would be a blessing to both parties to be
relieved from it. Some may say that the very thing by which an
amicable settlement of differences becomes possible, is the power
of legal compulsion known to be in reserve; as people submit to an
arbitration because there is a court of law in the background,
which they know that they can be forced to obey. But to make the
cases parallel, we must suppose that the rule of the court of law
was, not to try the cause, but to give judgment always for the same
side, suppose the defendant. If so, the amenability to it would be
a motive with the plaintiff to agree to almost any arbitration, but
it would be just the reverse with the defendant. The despotic power
which the law gives to the husband may be a reason to make the wife
assent to any compromise by which power is practically shared
between the two, but it cannot be the reason why the husband does.
That there is always among decently conducted people a practical
compromise, though one of them at least is under no physical or
moral necessity of making it, shows that the natural motives which
lead to a voluntary adjustment of the united life of two persons in
a manner acceptable to both, do on the whole, excepting
unfavourable cases, prevail. The matter is certainly not improved
by laying down as an ordinance of law, that the superstructure of
free government shall be raised upon a legal basis of despotism on
one side and subjection on the other, and that every concession
which the despot makes may, at his mere pleasure, and without any
warning, be recalled. Besides that no freedom is worth much when
held on so precarious a tenure, its conditions are not likely to be
the most equitable when the law throws so prodigious a weight into
one scale; when the adjustment rests between two persons one of whom
is declared to be entitled to everything, the other not only
entitled to nothing except during the good pleasure of the first,
but under the strongest moral and religious obligation not to rebel
under any excess of oppression.

A pertinacious adversary, pushed to extremities, may say, that
husbands indeed are willing to be reasonable, and to make fair
concessions to their partners without being compelled to it, but
that wives are not: that if allowed any rights of their own, they
will acknowledge no rights at all in anyone else, and never will
yield in anything, unless they can be compelled, by the man’s mere
authority, to yield in everything. This would have been said by
many persons some generations ago, when satires on women were in
vogue, and men thought it a clever thing to insult women for being
what men made them. But it will be said by no one now who is worth
replying to. It is not the doctrine of the present day that women
are less susceptible of good feeling, and consideration for those
with whom they are united by the strongest ties, than men are. On
the contrary, we are perpetually told that women are better than
men, by those who are totally opposed to treating them as if they
were as good; so that the saying has passed into a piece of
tiresome cant, intended to put a complimentary face upon an injury,
and resembling those celebrations of royal clemency which,
according to Gulliver, the king of Lilliput always prefixed to his
most sanguinary decrees. If women are better than men in anything,
it surely is in individual self-sacrifice for those of their own
family. But I lay little stress on this, so long as they are
universally taught that they are born and created for
self-sacrifice. I believe that equality of rights would abate the
exaggerated self-abnegation which is the present artificial ideal
of feminine character, and that a good woman would not be more
self-sacrificing than the best man: but on the other hand, men
would be much more unselfish and self-sacrificing than at present,
because they would no longer be taught to worship their own will as
such a grand thing that it is actually the law for another rational
being. There is nothing which men so easily learn as this
self-worship: all privileged persons, and all privileged classes,
have had it. The more we descend in the scale of humanity, the
intenser it is; and most of all in those who are not, and can never
expect to be, raised above anyone except an unfortunate wife and
children. The honourable exceptions are proportionally fewer than
in the case of almost any other human infirmity. Philosophy and
religion, instead of keeping it in check, are generally suborned to
defend it; and nothing controls it but that practical feeling of
the equality of human beings, which is the theory of Christianity,
but which Christianity will never practically teach, while it
sanctions institutions grounded on an arbitrary preference of one
human being over another.

There are, no doubt, women, as there are men, whom equality of
consideration will not satisfy; with whom there is no peace while
any will or wish is regarded but their own. Such persons are a
proper subject for the law of divorce. They are only fit to live
alone, and no human beings ought to be compelled to associate their
lives with them. But the legal subordination tends to make such
characters among women more, rather than less, frequent. If the man
exerts his whole power, the woman is of course crushed: but if she
is treated with indulgence, and permitted to assume power, there is
no rule to set limits to her encroachments. The law, not
determining her rights, but theoretically allowing her none at all,
practically declares that the measure of what she has a right to,
is what she can contrive to get.

The equality of married persons before the law, is not only the
sole mode in which that particular relation can be made consistent
with justice to both sides, and conducive to the happiness of both,
but it is the only means of rendering the daily life of mankind, in
any high sense, a school of moral cultivation. Though the truth may
not be felt or generally acknowledged for generations to come, the
only school of genuine moral sentiment is society between equals.
The moral education of mankind has hitherto emanated chiefly from
the law of force, and is adapted almost solely to the relations
which force creates. In the less advanced states of society, people
hardly recognise any relation with their equals. To be an equal is
to be an enemy. Society, from its highest place to its lowest, is
one long chain, or rather ladder, where every individual is either
above or below his nearest neighbour, and wherever he does not
command he must obey. Existing moralities, accordingly, are mainly
fitted to a relation of command and obedience. Yet command and
obedience are but unfortunate necessities of human life: society in
equality is its normal state. Already in modern life, and more and
more as it progressively improves, command and obedience become
exceptional facts in life, equal association its general rule. The
morality of the first ages rested on the obligation to submit to
power; that of the ages next following, on the right of the weak to
the forbearance and protection of the strong. How much longer is
one form of society and life to content itself with the morality
made for another ? We have had the morality of submission, and the
morality of chivalry and generosity; the time is now come for the
morality of justice. Whenever, in former ages, any approach has
been made to society in equality, Justice has asserted its claims
as the foundation of virtue. It was thus in the free republics of
antiquity. But even in the best of these, the equals were limited
to the free male citizens; slaves, women, and the unenfranchised
residents were under the law of force. The joint influence of Roman
civilisation and of Christianity obliterated these distinctions,
and in theory (if only partially in practice) declared the claims
of the human being, as such, to be paramount to those of sex,
class, or social position. The barriers which had begun to be
levelled were raised again by the northern conquests; and the whole
of modern history consists of the slow process by which they have
since been wearing away. We are entering into an order of things in
which justice will again be the primary virtue; grounded as before
on equal, but now also on sympathetic association; having its root
no longer in the instinct of equals for self protection, but in a
cultivated sympathy between them; and no one being now left out,
but an equal measure being extended to all. It is no novelty that
mankind do not distinctly foresee their own changes, and that their
sentiments are adapted to past, not to coming ages. To see the
futurity of the species has always been the privilege of the
intellectual elite, or of those who have learnt from them; to have
the feelings of that futurity has been the distinction, and usually
the martyrdom, of a still rarer elite. Institutions, books,
education, society, all go on training human beings for the old,
long after the new has come; much more when it is only coming. But
the true virtue of human beings is fitness to live together as
equals; claiming nothing for themselves but what they as freely
concede to everyone else; regarding command of any kind as an
exceptional necessity, and in all cases a temporary one; and
preferring, whenever possible, the society of those with whom
leading and following can be alternate and reciprocal. To these
virtues, nothing in life as at present constituted gives
cultivation by exercise. The family is a school of despotism, in
which the virtues of despotism, but also its vices, are largely
nourished. Citizenship, in free countries, is partly a school of
society in equality; but citizenship fills only a small place in
modern life, and does not come near the daily habits or inmost
sentiments. The family, justly constituted, would be the real
school of the virtues of freedom. It is sure to be a sufficient one
of everything else. It will always be a school of obedience for the
children, of command for the parents. What is needed is, that it
should be a school of sympathy in equality, of living together in
love, without power on one side or obedience on the other. This it
ought to be between the parents. It would then be an exercise of
those virtues which each requires to fit them for all other
association, and a model to the children of the feelings and
conduct which their temporary training by means of obedience is
designed to render habitual, and therefore natural, to them. The
moral training of mankind will never be adapted to the conditions
of the life for which all other human progress is a preparation,
until they practise in the family the same moral rule which is
adapted to the normal constitution of human society. Any sentiment
of freedom which can exist in a man whose nearest and dearest
intimacies, are with those of whom he is absolute master, is not
the genuine or Christian love of freedom, but, what the love of
freedom generally was in the ancients and in the middle ages—an
intense feeling of the dignity and importance of his own
personality; making him disdain a yoke for himself, of which he has
no abhorrence whatever in the abstract, but which he is abundantly
ready to impose on others for his own interest or glorification.

I readily admit (and it is the very foundation of my hopes) that
numbers of married people even under the present law (in the higher
classes of England probably a great majority), live in the spirit
of a just law of equality. Laws never would be improved, if there
were not numerous persons whose moral sentiments are better than
the existing laws. Such persons ought to support the principles
here advocated; of which the only object is to make all other
married couples similar to what these are now. But persons even of
considerable moral worth, unless they are also thinkers, are very
ready to believe that laws or practices, the evils of which they
have not personally experienced, do not produce any evils, but (if
seeming to be generally approved of) probably do good, and that it
is wrong to object to them. It would, however, be a great mistake
in such married people to suppose, because the legal conditions of
the tie which unites them do not occur to their thoughts once in a
twelve month, and because they live and feel in all respects as if
they were legally equals, that the same is the case with all other
married couples, wherever the husband is not a notorious ruffian.
To suppose this, would be to show equal ignorance of human nature
and of fact. The less fit a man is for the possession of power–the
less likely to be allowed to exercise it over any person with that
person’s voluntary consent–the more does he hug himself in the
consciousness of the power the law gives him, exact its legal
rights to the utmost point which custom (the custom of men like
himself) will tolerate, and take pleasure in using the power,
merely to enliven the agreeable sense of possessing it. What is
more; in the most naturally brutal and morally uneducated part of
the lower classes, the legal slavery of the woman, and something in
the merely physical subjection to their will as an instrument,
causes them to feel a sort of disrespect and contempt towards their
own wife which they do not feel towards any other woman, or any
other human being, with whom they come in contact; and which makes
her seem to them an appropriate subject for any kind of indignity.
Let an acute observer of the signs of feeling, who has the
requisite opportunities, judge for himself whether this is not the
case: and if he finds that it is, let him not wonder at any amount
of disgust and indignation that can be felt against institutions
which lead naturally to this depraved state of the human mind.

We shall be told, perhaps, that religion imposes the duty of
obedience; as every established fact which is too bad to admit of
any other defence, is always presented to us as an injunction of
religion. The Church, it is very true, enjoins it in her
formularies, but it would be difficult to derive any such
injunction from Christianity. We are told that St. Paul said,
“Wives, obey your husbands”: but he also said, “Slaves, obey your
masters. ” It was not St. Paul’s business, nor was it consistent
with his object, the propagation of Christianity, to incite anyone
to rebellion against existing laws. The Apostle’s acceptance of all
social institutions as he found them, is no more to be construed as
a disapproval of attempts to improve them at the proper time, than
his declaration, “The powers that be are ordained of God, ” gives
his sanction to military despotism, and to that alone, as the
Christian form of political government, or commands passive
obedience to it. To pretend that Christianity was intended to
stereotype existing forms of government and society, and protect
them against change, is to reduce it to the level of Islamism or of
Brahminism. It is precisely because Christianity has not done this,
that it has been the religion of the progressive portion of
mankind, and Islamism, Brahminism, etc. have been those of the
stationary portions; or rather (for there is no such thing as a
really stationary society) of the declining portions. There have
been abundance of people, in all ages of Christianity, who tried to
make it something of the same kind; to convert us into a sort of
Christian Mussulmans, with the Bible for a Koran, prohibiting all
improvement: and great has been their power, and many have had to
sacrifice their lives in resisting them. But they have been
resisted, and the resistance has made us what we are, and will yet
make us what we are to be.

After what has been said respecting the obligation of obedience, it
is almost superfluous to say anything concerning the more special
point included in the general one–a woman’s right to her own
property; for I need not hope that this treatise can make any
impression upon those who need anything to convince them that a
woman’s inheritance or gains ought to be as much her own after
marriage as before. The rule is simple: whatever would be the
husband’s or wife’s if they were not married, should be under their
exclusive control during marriage; which need not interfere with
the power to tie up property by settlement, in order to preserve it
for children. Some people are sentimentally shocked at the idea of
a separate interest in money matters as inconsistent with the ideal
fusion of two lives into one. For my own part, I am one of the
strongest supporters of community of goods, when resulting from an
entire unity of feeling in the owners, which makes all things
common between them. But I have no relish for a community of goods
resting on the doctrine, that what is mine is yours, but what is
yours is not mine; and I should prefer to decline entering into
such a compact with anyone, though I were myself the person to
profit by it.

This particular injustice and oppression to women, which is, to
common apprehensions, more obvious than all the rest, admits of
remedy without interfering with any other mischiefs: and there can
belittle doubt that it will be one of the earliest remedied.
Already, in many of the new and several of the old States of the
American Confederation, provisions have been inserted even in the
written Constitutions, securing to women equality of rights in this
respect: and thereby improving materially the position, in the
marriage relation, of those women at least who have property, by
leaving them one instrument of power which they have not signed
away; and preventing also the scandalous abuse of the marriage
institution, which is perpetrated when a man entraps a girl into
marrying him without a settlement, for the sole purpose of getting
possession of her money. When the support of the family depends,
not on property, but on earnings, the common arrangement, by which
the man earns the income and the wife superintends the domestic
expenditure, seems to me in general the most suitable division of
labour between the two persons. If, in addition to the physical
suffering of bearing children, and the whole responsibility of
their care and education in early years, the wife undertakes the
careful and economical application of the husband’s earnings to the
general comfort of the family; she takes not only her fair share,
but usually the larger share, of the bodily and mental exertion
required by their joint existence. If she undertakes any additional
portion, it seldom relieves her from this, but only prevents her
from performing it properly. The care which she is herself disabled
from taking of the children and the household, nobody else takes;
those of the children who do not die, grow up as they best can, and
the management of the household is likely to be so bad, as even in
point of economy to be a great drawback from the value of the
wife’s earnings. In another wise just state of things, it is not,
therefore, I think, a desirable custom, that the wife should
contribute by her labour to the income of the family. In an unjust
state of things, her doing so may be useful to her, by making her
of more value in the eyes of the man who is legally her master;
but, on the other hand, it enables him still farther to abuse his
power, by forcing her to work, and leaving the support of the
family to her exertions, while he spends most of his time in
drinking and idleness. The power of earning is essential to the
dignity of a woman, if she has not independent property. But if
marriage were an equal contract, not implying the obligation of
obedience; if the connexion were no longer enforced to the
oppression of those to whom it is purely a mischief, but a
separation, on just terms (I do not now speak of a divorce), could
be obtained by any woman who was morally entitled to it; and if she
would then find all honourable employments as freely open to her as
to men; it would not be necessary for her protection, that during
marriage she should make this particular use of her faculties. Like
a man when he chooses a profession, so, when a woman marries, it
may in general be understood that she makes choice of the
management of a household, and the bringing up of a family, as the
first call upon her exertions, during as many years of her life as
may be required for the purpose; and that she renounces, not all
other objects and occupations, but all which are not consistent
with the requirements of this. The actual exercise, in a habitual
or systematic manner, of outdoor occupations, or such as cannot be
carried on at home, would by this principle be practically
interdicted to the greater number of married women. But the utmost
latitude ought to exist for the adaptation of general rules to
individual suitabilities; and there ought to be nothing to prevent
faculties exceptionally adapted to any other pursuit, from obeying
their vocation notwithstanding marriage: due provision being made
for supplying otherwise any falling-short which might become
inevitable, in her full performance of the ordinary functions of
mistress of a family. These things, if once opinion were rightly
directed on the subject, might with perfect safety be left to be
regulated by opinion, without any interference of law.

                           CHAPTER III

On the other point which is involved in the just equality of women,
their admissibility to all the functions and occupations hitherto
retained as the monopoly of the stronger sex, I should anticipate
no difficulty in convincing anyone who has gone with me on the
subject of the equality of women in the family. I believe that
their disabilities elsewhere are only clung to in order to maintain
their subordination in domestic life; because the generality of the
male sex cannot yet tolerate the idea of living with an equal. Were
it not for-that, I think that almost everyone, in the existing
state of opinion in politics and political economy, would admit the
injustice of excluding half the human race from the greater number
of lucrative occupations, and from almost all high social
functions; ordaining from their birth either that they are not, and
cannot by any possibility become, fit for employments which are
legally open to the stupidest and basest of the other sex, or else
that however fit they may be, those employments shall be
interdicted to them, in order to be preserved for the exclusive
benefit of males. In the last two centuries, when (which was seldom
the case) any reason beyond the mere existence of the fact was
thought to be required to justify the disabilities of women, people
seldom assigned as a reason their inferior mental capacity; which,
in times when there was a real trial of personal faculties (from
which all women were not excluded) in the struggles of public life,
no one really believed in. The reason given in those days was not
women’s unfitness, but the interest of society, by which was meant
the interest of men: just as the raison d ‘etat, meaning the
convenience of the government, and the support of existing
authority, was deemed a sufficient explanation and excuse for the
most flagitious crimes. In the present day, power holds a smoother
language, and whomsoever it oppresses, always pretends to do so for
their own good: accordingly, when anything is forbidden to women,
it is thought necessary to say, and desirable to believe, that they
are incapable of doing it, and that they depart from their real
path of success and happiness when they aspire to it. But to make
this reason plausible (I do not say valid), those by whom it is
urged must be prepared to carry it to a much greater length than
anyone ventures to do in the face of present experience. It is not
sufficient to maintain that women on the average are less gifted
then men on the average, with certain of the higher mental
faculties, or that a smaller number of women than of men are fit
for occupations and functions of the highest intellectual
character. It is necessary to maintain that no women at all are fit
for them, and that the most eminent women arc inferior in mental
faculties to the most mediocre of the men on whom those functions
at present devolve. For if the performance of the function is
decided either by competition, or by any mode of choice which
secures regard to the public interest, there needs be no
apprehension that any important employments will fall into the
hands of women inferior to average men, or to the average of their
male competitors. The only result would be that there would be
fewer women than men in such employments; a result certain to
happen in any case, if only from the preference always likely to be
felt by the majority of women for the one vocation in which there
is nobody to compete with them. Now, the most determined
depreciator of women will not venture to deny, that when we add the
experience of recent times to that of ages past, women, and not a
few merely, but many women, have proved themselves capable of
everything, perhaps without a single exception, which is done by
men, and of doing it successfully and creditably. The utmost that
can be said is, that there arc many things which none of them have
succeeded in doing as well as they have been done by some men–many
in which they have not reached the very highest rank. But there are
extremely few, dependent only on mental faculties, in which they
have not attained the rank next to the highest. Is not this enough,
and much more than enough, to make it a tyranny to them, and a
detriment to society, that they should not be allowed to compete
with men for the exercise of these functions ? Is it not a mere
truism to say, that such functions are often filled by men far less
fit for them than numbers of women, and who would be beaten by
women in any fair field of competition? What difference does it
make that there may be men somewhere, fully employed about other
things, who may be still better qualified for the things in
question than these women? Does not this take place in all
competitions? Is there so great a superfluity of men fit for high
duties, that society can afford to reject the service of any
competent person? Are we so certain of always finding a man made to
our hands for any duty or function of social importance which falls
vacant, that we lose nothing by putting a ban upon one half of
mankind, and refusing beforehand to make their faculties available,
however distinguished they may be? And even if we could do without
them, would it be consistent with justice to refuse to them their
fair share of honour and distinction, or to deny to them the equal
moral right of all human beings to choose their occupation (short
of injury to others) according to their own preferences, at their
own risk? Nor is the injustice confined to them: it is shared by
those who are in a position to benefit by their services. To ordain
that any kind of persons shall not be physicians, or shall not be
advocates, or shall not be Members of Parliament, is to injure not
them only, but all who employ physicians or advocates, or elect
Members of Parliament, and who are deprived of the stimulating
effect of greater competition on the exertions of the competitors,
as well as restricted to a narrower range of individual choice.

It will perhaps be sufficient if I confine myself, in the details
of my argument, to functions of a public nature: since, if I am
successful as to those, it probably will be readily granted that
women should be admissible to all other occupations to which it is
at all material whether they are admitted or not. And here let me
begin by marking out one function, broadly distinguished from all
others, their right to which is entirely independent of any
question which can be raised concerning their faculties. I mean the
suffrage, both parliamentary and municipal. The right to share in
the choice of those who are to exercise a public trust, is
altogether a distinct thing from that of competing for the trust
itself. If no one could vote for a Member of Parliament who was not
fit to be a candidate, the government would be a narrow oligarchy
indeed. To have a voice in choosing those by whom one is to be
governed, is a means of self-protection due to everyone, though he
were to remain for ever excluded from the function of governing:
and that women are considered fit to have such a choice, may be
presumed from the fact, that the law already gives it to women in
the most important of all cases to themselves: for the choice of
the man who is to govern a woman to the end of life, is always
supposed to be voluntarily made by herself. In the case of election
to public trusts, it is the business of constitutional law to
surround the right of suffrage with all needful securities and
limitations; but whatever securities are sufficient in the case of
the male sex, no others need be required in the case of women.
Under whatever conditions, and within whatever limits, men are
admitted to the suffrage, there is not a shadow of justification
for not admitting women under the same. The majority of the women
of any class are not likely to differ in political opinion from the
majority of the men of the same class, unless the question be one
in which the interests of women, as such, are in some way involved;
and if they are so, women require the suffrage, as their guarantee
of just and equal consideration. This ought to be obvious even to
those who coincide in no other of the doctrines for which I
contend. Even if every woman were a wife, and if every wife ought
to be a slave, all the more would these slaves stand in need of
legal protection: and we know what legal protection the slaves
have, where the laws are made by their masters.

With regard to the fitness of women, not only to participate in
elections, but themselves to hold offices or practise professions
involving important public responsibilities; I have already
observed that this consideration is not essential to the practical
question in dispute: since any woman, who succeeds n an open
profession, proves by that very fact that she is qualified for it.
And in the case of public offices, if the political system of the
country is such as to exclude unfit men, it will equally exclude
unfit women: while if it is not, there is no additional evil in the
fact that the unfit persons whom it admits may be either women or
men. As long therefore as it is acknowledged that even a few women
may be fit for these duties, the laws which shut the door on those
exceptions cannot bc justified by any opinion which can be held
respecting the capacities of women in general. But, though this
last consideration is not essential, it is far from being
irrelevant. An unprejudiced view of it gives additional strength to
the arguments against the disabilities of women, and reinforces
them by high considerations of practical utility.

Let us first make entire abstraction of all psychological
considerations tending to show, that any of the mental differences
supposed to exist between women and men are but the natural effect
of the differences in their education and circumstances, and
indicate no radical difference, far less radical inferiority, of
nature. Let us consider women only as they already are, or as they
are known to have been; and the capacities which they have already
practically shown. What they have done, that at least, if nothing
else, it is proved that they can do. When we consider how
sedulously they are all trained away from, instead of being trained
towards, any of the occupations or objects reserved for men, it is
evident that I am taking a very humble ground for them, when I rest
their case on what they have actually achieved. For, in this case,
negative evidence is worth little,-while any positive evidence is
conclusive. It cannot be inferred to be impossible that a woman
should be a Homer, or an Aristotle, or a Michael Angelo, or a
Beethoven, because no woman has yet actually produced works
comparable to theirs in any of those lines of excellence. This
negative fact at most leaves the question uncertain, and open to
psychological discussion. But it is quite certain that a woman can
be a Queen Elizabeth, or a Deborah, or a Joan of Arc, since this is
not inference, but fact. Now it is a curious consideration, that
the only things which the existing law excludes women from doing,
are the things which they have proved that they are able to do.
There is no law to prevent a woman from having written all the
plays of Shakespeare, or composed all the operas of Mozart. But
Queen Elizabeth or Queen Victoria, had they not inherited the
throne, could not have been entrusted with the smallest of the
political duties, of which the former showed herself equal to the

If anything conclusive could be inferred from experience, without
psychological analysis, it would be that the things which women are
not allowed to do are the very ones for which they are peculiarly
qualified; since their vocation for government has made its way,
and become conspicuous, through the very few opportunities which
have been given; while in the lines of distinction which apparently
were freely open to them, they have by no means so eminently
distinguished themselves.

We know how small a number of reigning queens history presents, in
comparison with that of kings. of this smaller number a far larger
proportion have shown talents for rule; though many of them have
occupied the throne in difficult periods. It is remarkable, too,
that they have, in a great number of instances, been distinguished
by merits the most opposite to the imaginary and conventional
character of women: they have been as much remarked for the
firmness and vigour of their rule, as for its intelligence. When,
to queens and empresses, we add regents, and viceroys of provinces,
the list of women who have been eminent rulers of mankind swells to
a great length.[1] This fact is so undeniable, that someone, long
ago, tried to retort the argument, and turned the admitted truth
into an additional insult, by saying that queens are better than
kings, because under kings women govern, but under queens, men.

It may seem a waste of reasoning to argue against a bad joke; but
such things do affect people’s minds; and I have heard men quote
this saying, with an air as if they thought that there was
something in it. At any rate, it will serve as anything, else for
a starting-point in discussion. I say, then, that it is not true
that under kings, women govern. Such cases are entirely
exceptional: and weak kings have quite as often governed ill
through the influence of male favourites, as of female. When a king
is governed by a woman merely through his amatory propensities,
good government is not probable, though even then there are
exceptions. But French history counts two kings who have
voluntarily given the direction of affairs during many years, the
one to his mother, the other to his sister: one of them, Charles
VIII, was a mere boy, but in doing so he followed the intentions of
his father Louis XI, the ablest monarch of his age. The other,
Saint Louis, was the best, and one of the most vigorous rulers,
since the time of Charlemagne. Both these princesses ruled in a
manner hardly equalled by any prince among their contemporaries.
The Emperor Charles the Fifth, the most politic prince of his time,
who had as great a number of able men in his service as a ruler
ever had, and was one of the least likely of all sovereigns to
sacrifice his interest to personal feelings, made two princesses of
his family successively Governors of the Netherlands, and kept one
or other of them in that post during his whole life (they were
afterwards succeeded by a third). Both ruled very successfully, and
one of them, Margaret of Austria, as one of the ablest politicians
of the age. So much for one side of the question. Now as to the
other. When it is said that under queens men govern, is the same
meaning to be understood as when kings are said to be governed by
women ? Is it meant that queens choose as their instruments of
government, the associates of their personal pleasures? The case is
rare even with those who are as unscrupulous on the latter point as
Catherine II: and it is not in these cases that the good
government, alleged to arise from male influence, is to be found.
If it be true, then, that the administration is in the hands of
better men under a queen than under an average king, it must be
that queens have a superior capacity for choosing them; and women
must be better qualified than men both for the position of
sovereign, and for that of chief minister; for the principal
business of a Prime Minister is not to govern in person, but to
find the fittest persons to conduct every department of public
affairs. The more rapid insight into character, which is one of the
admitted points of superiority in women over men, must certainly
make them, with anything like parity of qualifications in other
respects, more apt than men in that choice of instruments, which is
nearly the most important business of everyone who has to do with
governing mankind. Even the unprincipled Catherine de Medici could
feel the value of a Chancellor de l’Hopital. But it is also true
that most great queens have been great by their own talents for
government, and have been well served precisely for that reason.
They retained the supreme direction of affairs in their own hands:
and if they listened to good advisers, they gave by that fact the
strongest proof that their judgment fitted them for dealing with
the great questions of government.

Is it reasonable to think that those who are fit for the greater
functions of politics, are incapable of qualifying themselves for
the less? Is there any reason in the nature of things, that the
wives and sisters of princes should, whenever called on, be found
as competent as the princes themselves to their business, but that
the wives and sisters of statesmen, and administrators, and
directors of companies, and managers of public institutions, should
be unable to do what is done by their brothers and husbands? The
real reason is plain enough; it is that princesses, being more
raised above the generality of men by their rank than placed below
them by their sex, have never been taught that it was improper for
them to concern themselves with politics; but have been allowed to
feel the liberal interest natural to any cultivated human being, in
the great transactions which took place around them, and in which
they might be called on to take a part. The ladies of reigning
families are the only women who are allowed the same range of
interests and freedom of development as men; and it is precisely in
their case that there is not found to be any inferiority. Exactly
where and in proportion as women’s capacities for government have
been tried, in that proportion have they been found adequate.

This fact is in accordance with the best general conclusions which
the world’s imperfect experience seems as yet to suggest,
concerning the peculiar tendencies and aptitudes characteristic of
women, as women have hitherto been. I do not say, as they will
continue to be; for, as I have already said more than once, I
consider it presumption in anyone to pretend to decide what women
are or are not, can or cannot be, by natural constitution. They
have always hitherto been kept, as far as regards spontaneous
development, in so unnatural a state, that their nature cannot but
have been greatly distorted and disguised; and no one can safely
pronounce that if women’s nature were left to choose its direction
as freely as men’s, and if no artificial bent were attempted to be
given to it except that required by the conditions of human
society, and given to both sexes alike, there would be any material
difference, or perhaps any difference at all, in the character and
capacities which would unfold themselves. I shall presently show,
that even the least contestable of the differences which now exist,
are such as may very well have been produced merely by
circumstances, without any difference of natural capacity. But,
looking at women as they are known in experience, it may be said of
them, with more truth than belongs to most other generalisations on
the subject, that the general bent of their talents is towards the
practical. This statement is conformable to all the public history
of women, in the present and the past. It is no less borne out by
common and daily experience. Let us consider the special nature of
the mental capacities most characteristic of a woman of talent.
They are all of a kind which fits them for practice, and makes them
tend towards it. What is meant by a woman’s capacity of intuitive
perception? It means, a rapid and correct insight into present
fact. It has nothing to do with general principles. Nobody ever
perceived a scientific law of nature by intuition, nor arrived at
a general rule of duty or prudence by it. These are results of slow
and careful collection and comparison of experience; and neither
the men nor the women. of intuition usually shine in this
department, unless, indeed, the experience necessary is such as
they can acquire by themselves. For what is called their intuitive
sagacity makes them peculiarly apt in gathering such general truths
as can be collected from their individual means of observation.
When, consequently, they chance to be as well provided as men are
with the results of other people’s experience, by reading and
education (I use the word chance advisedly, for, in respect to the
knowledge that tends to fit them for the greater concerns of life,
the only educated women are the self-educated) they are better
furnished than men in general with the essential requisites of
skilful and successful practice. Men who have been much taught, are
apt to be deficient in the sense of present fact; they do not see,
in the facts which they are called upon to deal with, what is
really there, but what they have been taught to expect. This is
seldom the case with women of any ability. Their capacity of
“intuition” preserves them from it. With equality of experience and
of general faculties, a woman usually sees much more than a man of
what is immediately before her. Now this sensibility to the
present, is the main quality on which the capacity for practice, as
distinguished from theory, depends. To discover general principles,
belongs to the speculative faculty: to discern and discriminate the
particular cases in which they are and are not applicable,
constitutes practical talent: and for this, women as they now are
have a peculiar aptitude. I admit that there can be no good
practice without principles, and that the predominant place which
quickness of observation holds among a woman’s faculties, makes her
particularly apt to build overhasty generalisations upon her own
observation; though at the same time no less ready in rectifying
those generalisations, as her observation takes a wider range. But
the corrective to this defect, is access to the experience of the
human race; general knowledge–exactly the thing which education
can best supply. A woman’s mistakes are specifically those of a
clever self-educated man, who often sees what men trained in
routine do not see, but falls into errors for want of knowing
things which have long been known. Of course he has acquired much
of the pre-existing knowledge, or he could not have got on at all;
but what he knows of it he has picked up in fragments and at
random, as women do.

But this gravitation of women’s minds to the present, to the real,
to actual fact, while in its exclusiveness it is a source of
errors, is also a most useful counteractive of the contrary error.
The principal and most characteristic aberration of speculative
minds as such, consists precisely in the deficiency of this lively
perception and ever-present sense of objective fact. For want of
this, they often not only overlook the contradiction which outward
facts oppose to their theories, but lose sight of the legitimate
purpose of speculation altogether, and let their speculative
faculties go astray into regions not peopled with real beings,
animate or inanimate, even idealised, but with personified shadows
created by the illusions of metaphysics or by the mere entanglement
of words, and think these shadows the proper objects of the
highest, the most transcendant, philosophy. Hardly anything can be
of greater value to a man of theory and speculation who employs
himself not in collecting materials of knowledge by observation,
but in working them up by processes of thought into comprehensive
truths of science and laws of conduct, than to carry on his
speculations in the companionship, and under the criticism, of a
really superior woman. There is nothing comparable to it for
keeping his thoughts within the limits of real things, and the
actual facts of nature. A woman seldom runs wild after an
abstraction. The habitual direction of her mind to dealing with
things as individuals rather than in groups, and (what is closely
connected with it) her more lively interest in the present feelings
of persons, which makes her consider first of all, in anything
which claims to be applied to practice, in what manner persons will
be affected by it– these two things make her extremely unlikely to
put faith in any speculation which loses sight of individuals, and
deals with things as if they existed for the benefit of some
imaginary entity, some mere creation of the mind, not resolvable
into the feelings of living beings. Women’s thoughts are thus as
useful in giving reality to those of thinking men, as men’s
thoughts in giving width and largeness to those of women. In depth,
as distinguished from breadth, I greatly doubt if even now, women,
compared with men, are at any disadvantage.

If the existing mental characteristics of women are thus valuable
even in aid of speculation, they are still more important, when
speculation has done its work, for carrying out the results of
speculation into practice. For the reasons already given, women are
comparatively unlikely to fall into the common error of men, that
of sticking to their rules in a case whose specialities either take
it out of the class to which the rules are applicable, or require
a special adaptation of them. Let us now consider another of the
admitted superiorities of clever women, greater quickness of
apprehension. Is not this pre- eminently a quality which fits a
person for practice ? In action, everything continually depends
upon deciding promptly. In speculation, nothing does. A mere
thinker can wait, can take time to consider, can collect additional
evidence; he is not obliged to complete his philosophy at once,
lest the opportunity should go by. The power of drawing the best
conclusion possible from insufficient data is not indeed useless in
philosophy; the construction of a provisional hypothesis consistent
with all known facts is often the needful basis for further
inquiry. But this faculty is rather serviceable in philosophy, than
the main qualification for it: and, for the auxiliary as well as
for the main operation, the philosopher can allow himself any time
he pleases. He is in no need of the capacity of doing rapidly what
he does; what he rather needs is patience, to work on slowly until
imperfect lights have become perfect, and a conjecture has ripened
into a theorem. For those, on the contrary, whose business is with
the fugitive and perishable–with individual facts, not kinds of
facts–rapidity of thought is a qualification next only in
importance to the power of thought itself. He who has not his
faculties under immediate command, in the contingencies of action,
might as well not have them at all. He may be fit to criticise, but
he is not fit to act. Now it is in this that women, and the men who
are most like women, confessedly excel. The other sort of man,
however pre-eminent may be his faculties, arrives slowly at
complete command of them: rapidity of judgment and promptitude of
judicious action, even in the things he knows best, are the gradual
and late result of strenuous effort grown into habit.

It will be said, perhaps, that the greater nervous susceptibility
of women is a disqualification for practice, in anything but
domestic life, by rendering them mobile, changeable, too vehemently
under the influence of the moment, incapable of dogged
perseverance, unequal and uncertain in the power of using their
faculties. I think that these phrases sum up the greater part of
the objections commonly made to the fitness of women for the higher
class of serious business. Much of all this is the mere overflow of
nervous energy run to waste, and would cease when the energy was
directed to a definite end. Much is also the result of conscious or
unconscious cultivation; as we see by the almost total
disappearance of “hysterics” and fainting-fits, since they have
gone out of fashion. Moreover, when people are brought up, like
many women of the higher classes (though less so in our own country
than any other), a kind of hot-house plants, shielded from the
wholesome vicissitudes of air and temperature, and untrained in any
of the occupations and exercises which give stimulus and
development to the circulatory and muscular system, while their
nervous system, especially in its emotional department, is kept in
unnaturally active play; it is no wonder if those of them who do
not die of consumption, grow up with constitutions liable to
derangement from slight causes, both internal and external, and
without stamina to support any task, physical or mental, requiring
continuity of effort. But women brought up to work for their
livelihood show none of these morbid characteristics, unless indeed
they are chained to an excess of sedentary work in confined and
unhealthy rooms. Women who in their early years have shared in the
healthful physical education and bodily freedom of their brothers,
and who obtain a sufficiency of pure air and exercise in
after-life, very rarely have any excessive susceptibility of nerves
which can disqualify them for active pursuits. There is indeed a
certain proportion of persons, in both sexes, in whom an unusual
degree of nervous sensibility is constitutional, and of so marked
a character as to be the feature of their organisation which
exercises the greatest influence over the whole character of the
vital phenomena. This constitution, like other physical
conformations, is hereditary, and is transmitted to sons as well as
daughters; but it is possible, and probable, that the nervous
temperament (as it is called) is inherited by a greater number of
women than of men. We will assume this as a fact: and let me then
ask, are men of nervous temperament found to be unfit for the
duties and pursuits usually followed by men? If not, why should
women of the same temperament be unfit for them? The peculiarities
of the temperament are, no doubt, within certain limits, an
obstacle to success in some employments, though an aid to it in
others. But when the occupation is suitable to the temperament, and
sometimes even when it is unsuitable, the most brilliant examples
of success are continually given by the men of high nervous
sensibility. They are distinguished in their practical
manifestations chiefly by this, that being susceptible of a higher
degree of excitement than those of another physical constitution,
their powers when excited differ more than in the case of other
people, from those shown in their ordinary state: they are raised,
as it were, above themselves, and do things with ease which they
are wholly incapable of at other times. But this lofty excitement
is not, except in weak bodily constitutions, a mere flash, which
passes away immediately, leaving no permanent traces, and
incompatible with persistent and steady pursuit of an object. It is
the character of the nervous temperament to be capable of sustained
excitement, holding out through long-continued efforts. It is what
is meant by spirit. It is what makes the high-bred racehorse run
without slackening speed till he drops down dead. It is what has
enabled so many delicate women to maintain the most sublime
constancy not only at the stake, but through a long preliminary
succession of mental and bodily tortures. It is evident that people
of this temperament are particularly apt for what may be called the
executive department of the leadership of mankind. They are the
material of great orators, great preachers, impressive diffusers of
moral influences. Their constitution might be deemed less
favourable to the qualities required from a statesman in the
cabinet, or from a judge. It would be so, if the consequence
necessarily followed that because people are excitable they must
always be in a state of excitement. But this is wholly a question
of training. Strong feeling is the instrument and element of strong
self-control: but it requires to be cultivated in that direction.
When it is, it forms not the heroes of impulse only, but those also
of self-conquest. History and experience prove that the most
passionate characters are the most fanatically rigid in their
feelings of duty, when their passion has been trained to act in
that direction. The judge who gives a just decision in a case where
his feelings are intensely interested on the other side, derives
from that same strength of feeling the determined sense of the
obligation of justice, which enables him to achieve this victory
over himself. The capability of that lofty enthusiasm which takes
the human being out of his every-day character, reacts upon the
daily character itself. His aspirations and powers when he is in
this exceptional state, become the type with which he compares, and
by which he estimates, his sentiments and proceedings at other
times: and his habitual purposes assume a character moulded by and
assimilated to the moments of lofty excitement, although those,
from the physical nature of a human being, can only be transient.
Experience of races, as well as of individuals, does not show those
of excitable temperament to be less fit, on the average, either for
speculation or practice, than the more unexcitable. The French, and
the Italians, are undoubtedly by nature more nervously excitable
than the Teutonic races, and, compared at least with the English,
they have a much greater habitual and daily emotional life: but
have they been less great in science, in public business, in legal
and judicial eminence, or in war? There is abundant evidence that
the Greeks were of old, as their descendants and successors still
are, one of the most excitable of the races of mankind. It is
superfluous to ask, what among the achievements of men they did not
excel in. The Romans, probably, as an equally southern people, had
the same original temperament: but the stern character of their
national discipline, like that of the Spartans, made them an
example of the opposite type of national character; the greater
strength of their natural feelings being chiefly apparent in the
intensity which the same original temperament made it possible to
give to the artificial. If these cases exemplify what a naturally
excitable people may be made, the Irish Celts afford one of the
aptest examples of what they are when left to themselves; (if those
can be said to be left to themselves who have been for centuries
under the indirect influence of bad government, and the direct
training of a Catholic hierarchy and of a sincere belief in the
Catholic religion). The Irish character must be considered,
therefore, as an unfavourable case: yet, whenever the circumstances
of the individual have been at all favourable, what people have
shown greater capacity for the most varied and multifarious
individual eminence? Like the French compared with the English, the
Irish with the Swiss, the Greeks or Italians compared with the
German races, so women compared with men may be found, on the
average, to do the same things with some variety in the particular
kind of excellence. But, that they would do them fully as well on
the whole, if their education and cultivation were adapted to
correcting instead of aggravating the infirmities incident to their
temperament, I see not the smallest reason to doubt.

Supposing it, however, to be true that women’s minds are by nature
more mobile than those of men, less capable of persisting long in
the same continuous effort, more fitted for dividing their
faculties among many things than for travelling in any one path to
the highest point which can be reached by it: this may be true of
women as they now are (though not without great and numerous
exceptions), and may account for their having remained behind the
highest order of men in precisely the things in which this
absorption of the whole mind in one set of ideas and occupations
may seem to be most requisite. Still, this difference is one which
can only affect the kind of excellence, not the excellence itself,
or its practical worth: and it remains to be shown whether this
exclusive working of a part of the mind, this absorption of the
whole thinking faculty in a single subject, and concentration of it
on a single work, is the normal and healthful condition of the
human faculties, even for speculative uses. I believe that what is
gained in special development by this concentration, is lost in the
capacity of the mind for the other purposes of life; and even in
abstract thought, it is my decided opinion that the mind does more
by frequently returning to a difficult problem, than by sticking to
it without interruption. For the purposes, at all events, of
practice, from its highest to its humblest departments, the
capacity of passing promptly from one subject of consideration to
another, without letting the active spring of the intellect run
down between the two, is a power far more valuable; and this power
women pre-eminently possess, by virtue of the very mobility of
which they are accused. They perhaps have it from nature, but they
certainly have it by training and education; for nearly the whole
of the occupations of women consist in the management of small but
multitudinous details, on each of which the mind cannot dwell even
for a minute, but must pass on to other things, and if anything
requires longer thought, must steal time at odd moments for
thinking of it. The capacity indeed which women show for doing
their thinking in circumstances and at times which almost any man
would make an excuse to himself for not attempting it, has often
been noticed: and a woman’s mind, though it may be occupied only
with small things, can hardly ever permit its elf to be vacant, as
a man’s so often is when not engaged in what he chooses to consider
the business of his life. The business of a woman’s ordinary life
is things in general, and can as little cease to go on as the world
to go round.

But (it is said) there is anatomical evidence of the superior
mental capacity of men compared with women: they have a larger
brain. I reply, that in the first place the fact itself is
doubtful. It is by no means established that the brain of a woman
is smaller than that of a man. If it is inferred merely because a
woman’s bodily frame generally is of less dimensions than a man’s,
this criterion would lead to strange consequences. A tall and
large-boned man must on this showing be wonderfully superior in
intelligence to a small man, and an elephant or a whale must
prodigiously excel mankind. The size of the brain in human beings,
anatomists say, varies much less than the size of the body, or even
of the head, and the one cannot be at all inferred from the other.
It is certain that some women have as large a brain as any man. It
is within my knowledge that a man who had weighed many human
brains, said that the heaviest he knew of, heavier even than
Cuvier’s (the heaviest previously recorded), was that of a woman.
Next, I must observe that the precise relation which exists between
the brain and the intellectual powers is not yet well understood,
but is a subject of great dispute. That there is a very close
relation we cannot doubt. The brain is certainly the material organ
of thought and feeling: and (making abstraction of the great
unsettled controversy respecting the appropriation of different
parts of the brain to different mental faculties) I admit that it
would be an anomaly, and an exception to all we know of the general
laws of life and organisation, if the size of the organ were wholly
indifferent to the function; if no accession of power were derived
from the great magnitude of the instrument. But the exception and
the anomaly would be fully as great if the organ exercised
influence by its magnitude only. In all the more delicate
operations of nature–of which those of the animated creation are
the most delicate, and those of the nervous system by far the most
delicate of these–differences in the effect depend as much on
differences of quality in the physical agents, as on their
quantity: and if the quality of an instrument is to be tested by
the nicety and delicacy of the work it can do, the indications
point to a greater average fineness of quality in the brain and
nervous system of women than of men. Dismissing abstract difference
of quality, a thing difficult to verify, the efficiency of an organ
is known to depend not solely on its size but on its activity: and
of this we have an approximate measure in the energy with which the
blood circulates through it, both the stimulus and the reparative
force being mainly dependent on the circulation. It would not be
surprising– it is indeed an hypothesis which accords well with the
differences actually observed between the mental operations of the
two sexes–if men on the average should have the advantage in the
size of the brain, and women in activity of cerebral circulation.
The results which conjecture, founded on analogy, would lead us to
expect from this difference of organisation, would correspond to
some of those which we most commonly see. In the first place, the
mental operations of men might be expected to be slower. They would
neither be so prompt as women in thinking, nor so quick to feel.
Large bodies take more time to get into full action. on the other
hand, when once got thoroughly into play, men’s brain would bear
more work. It would be more persistent in the line first taken; it
would have more difficulty in changing from one mode of action to
another, but, in the one thing it was doing, it could go on longer
without loss of power or sense of fatigue. And do we not find that
the things in which men most excel women are those which require
most plodding and long hammering at a single thought, while women
do best what must be done rapidly ? A woman’s brain is sooner
fatigued, sooner exhausted; but given the degree of exhaustion, we
should expect to find that it would recover itself sooner. I repeat
that this speculation is entirely hypothetical; it pretends to no
more than to suggest a line of inquiry. I have before repudiated
the notion of its being yet certainly known that there is any
natural difference at all in the average strength or direction of
the mental capacities of the two sexes, much less what that
difference is. Nor is it possible that this should be known, so
long as the psychological laws of the formation of character have
been so little studied, even in a general way, and in the
particular case never scientifically applied at all; so long as the
most obvious external causes of difference of character are
habitually disregarded–left unnoticed by the observer, and looked
down upon with a kind of supercilious contempt by the prevalent
schools both of natural history and of mental philosophy: who,
whether they look for the source of what mainly distinguishes human
beings from one another, in the world of matter or in that of
spirit, agree in running down those who prefer to explain these
differences by the different relations of human beings to society
and life.

To so ridiculous an extent are the notions formed of the nature of
women, mere empirical generalisations, framed, without philosophy
or analysis, upon the first instances which present themselves,
that the popular idea of it is different in different countries,
according as the opinions and social circumstances of the country
have given to the women living in it any speciality of development
or non-development. An oriental thinks that women are by nature
peculiarly voluptuous; see the violent abuse of them on this ground
in Hindoo writings. An Englishman usually thinks that they are by
nature cold. The sayings about women’s fickleness are mostly of
French origin; from the famous distich of Francis the First, upward
and downward. In England it is a common remark, how much more
constant women are than men. Inconstancy has been longer reckoned
discreditable to a woman, in England than in France; and
Englishwomen are besides, in their inmost nature, much more subdued
to opinion. It may be remarked by the way, that Englishmen are in
peculiarly unfavourable circumstances for attempting to judge what
is or is not natural, not merely to women, but to men, or to human
beings altogether, at least if they have only English experience to
go upon: because there is no place where human nature shows so
little of its original lineaments. Both in a good and a bad sense,
the English are farther from a state of nature than any other
modern people. They are, more than any other people, a product of
civilisation and discipline. England is the country in which social
discipline has most succeeded, not so much in conquering, as in
suppressing, whatever is liable to conflict with it. The English,
more than any other people, not only act but feel according to
rule. In other countries, the taught opinion, or the requirement of
society, may be the stronger power, but the promptings of the
individual nature are always visible under it, and often resisting
it: rule may be stronger than nature, but nature is still there. In
England, rule has to a great degree substituted itself for nature.
The greater part of life is carried on, not by following
inclination under the control of rule, but by having no inclination
but that of following a rule. Now this has its good side doubtless,
though it has also a wretchedly bad one; but it must render an
Englishman peculiarly ill-qualified to pass a judgment on the
original tendencies of human nature from his own experience. The
errors to which observers elsewhere are liable on the subject, are
of a different character. An Englishman is ignorant respecting
human nature, a Frenchman is prejudiced. An Englishman’s errors are
negative, a Frenchman’s positive. An Englishman fancies that things
do not exist, because he never sees them; a Frenchman thinks they
must always and necessarily exist, because he does see them. An
Englishman does not know nature, because he has had no opportunity
of observing it; a Frenchman generally knows a great deal of it,
but often mistakes it, because he has only seen it sophisticated
and distorted. For the artificial state superinduced by society
disguises the natural tendencies of the thing which is the subject
of observation, in two different ways: by extinguishing the nature,
or by transforming it. In the one case there is but a starved
residuum of nature remaining to be studied; in the other case there
is much, but it may have expanded in any direction rather than that
in which it would spontaneously grow.

I have-said that it cannot now be known how much of the existing
mental differences between men and women is natural and how much
artificial; whether there are any natural differences at all; or,
supposing all artificial causes of difference to be withdrawn, what
natural character would be revealed I am not about to attempt what
I have pronounced impossible: but doubt does not forbid conjecture,
and where certainty is unattainable, there may yet be the means of
arriving at some degree of probability. The first point, the origin
of the differences actually observed, is the one most accessible to
speculation; and I shall attempt to approach it, by the only path
by which it can be reached; by tracing the mental consequences of
external influences. We cannot isolate a human being from the
circumstances of his condition, so as to ascertain experimentally
what he would have been by nature. but we can consider what he is,
and what his circumstances have been, and whether the one would
have been capable of producing the other.

Let us take, then, the only marked case which observation affords,
of apparent inferiority of women to men, if we except the merely
physical one of bodily strength. No production in philosophy,
science, or art, entitled to the first rank, has been the work of
a woman. Is there any mode of accounting for this, without
supposing that women are naturally incapable of producing them?

In the first place, we may fairly question whether experience has
afforded sufficient grounds for an induction. It is scarcely three
generations since women, saving very rare exceptions have begun to
try their capacity in philosophy, science, or art. It is only in
the present generation that their attempts have been at all
numerous; and they are even now extremely few, everywhere but in
England and France. It is a relevant question, whether a mind
possessing the requisites of first rate eminence in speculation or
creative art could have been expected, on the mere calculation of
chances, to turn up during that lapse of time, among the women
whose tastes and personal position admitted of their devoting
themselves to these pursuits In all things which there has yet been
time for–in all but the very highest grades in the scale of
excellence, especially in the department in which they have been
longest engaged, literature (both prose and poetry)–women have
done quite as much, have obtained fully as high prizes and as many
of them, as could be expected from the length of time and the
number of competitors. If we go back to the earlier period when
very few women made the attempt, yet some of those few made it with
distinguished success. The Greeks always accounted Sappho among
their great poets; and we may well suppose that Myrtis, said to
have been the teacher of Pindar, and Corinna, who five times bore
away from him the prize of poetry, must at least have had
sufficient merit to admit of being compared with that great name.
Aspasia did not leave any philosophical writings; but it is an
admitted fact that Socrates resorted to her for instruction, and
avowed himself to have obtained it.

If we consider the works of women in modem times, and contrast them
with those of men, either in the literary or the artistic
department, such inferiority as may be observed resolves itself
essentially into one thing: but that is a most material one;
deficiency of originality. Not total deficiency; for every
production of mind which is of any substantive value, has an
originality of its own–is a conception of the mind itself, not a
copy of something else. Thoughts original, in the sense of being
unborrowed–of being derived from the thinker’s own observations or
intellectual processes–are abundant in the writings of women. But
they have not yet produced any of those great and luminous new
ideas which form an era in thought, nor those fundamentally new
conceptions in art, which open a vista of possible effects not
before thought of, and found a new school. Their compositions are
mostly grounded on the existing fund of thought, and their
creations do-not deviate widely from existing types. This is the
sort of inferiority which their works manifest: for in point of
execution, in the detailed application of thought, and the
perfection of style, there is no inferiority. Our best novelists in
point of composition, and of the management of detail, have mostly
been women; and there is not in all modern literature a more
eloquent vehicle of thought than the style of Madame de Stael, nor,
as a specimen of purely artistic excellence, anything superior to
the prose of Madame Sand, whose style acts upon the nervous system
like a symphony of Haydn or Mozart. High originality of conception
is, as I have said, what is chiefly wanting. And now to examine if
there is any manner in which this deficiency can be accounted for.

Let us remember, then, so far as regards mere thought, that during
all that period in the world’s existence, and in the progress of
cultivation, in which great and fruitful new truths I could be
arrived at by mere force of genius, with little precious study and
accumulation of knowledge–during all that time women did not
concern themselves with speculation at all. From the days of
Hypatia to those of the Reformation, the illustrious Heloisa is
almost the only woman to whom any such achievement might have been
possible; and we know not how great a capacity of speculation in
her may have been lost to mankind by the misfortunes of her life.
Never since any considerable number of women have began to
cultivate serious thought, has originality been possible on easy
terms. Nearly all the thoughts which can be reached by mere
strength of original faculties, have long since been arrived at;
and originality, in any high sense of the word, is now scarcely
ever attained but by minds which have undergone elaborate
discipline, and are deeply versed in the results of previous
thinking. It is Mr. Maurice, I think, who has remarked on the
present age, that its most original thinkers are those who have
known most thoroughly what had been thought by their; predecessors:
and this will always henceforth be the case. Every fresh stone in
the edifice has now to be placed on the top of so many others, that
a long process of climbing, and of carrying up materials, has to be
gone through by whoever aspires to take a share in the present
stage of the work. How many women are there who have gone through
any such process ? Mrs. Somerville, alone perhaps of women, knows
as much of mathematics as is now needful for making any
considerable mathematical discovery: is it any proof of inferiority
in women, that she has not happened to be one of the two or three
persons who in her lifetime have associated their names with some
striking advancement of the science? Two women, since political
economy has been made a science, have known enough of it to write
usefully on the subject: of how many of the innumerable men who
have written on it during the same time, is it possible with truth
to say more? If no woman has hitherto been a great historian, what
woman has had the necessary erudition? If no woman is a great
philologist, what woman has studied Sanscrit and Slavonic, the
Gothic of Ulphila and the Persic of the Zendavesta? Even in
practical matters we all know what is the value of the originality
of untaught geniuses. It means, inventing over again in its
rudimentary form something already invented and improved upon by
many successive inventors. When women have had the preparation
which all men now require to be eminently original, it will be time
enough to begin judging by experience of their capacity for

It no doubt often happens that a person, who has not widely and
accurately studied the thoughts of others on a subject, has by
natural sagacity a happy intuition, which he can suggest, but
cannot prove, which yet when matured may be an important addition
to knowledge: but even then, no justice can be done to it until
some other person, who does possess the previous acquirements,
takes it in hand, tests it, gives it a scientific or practical
form, and fits it into its place among the existing truths of
philosophy or science. Is it supposed that such felicitous thoughts
do not occur to women? They occur by hundreds to every woman of
intellect. But they are mostly lost, for want of a husband or
friend who has the other knowledge which can enable him to estimate
them properly and bring them before the world: and even when they
are brought before it, they generally appear as his ideas, not
their real author’s. Who can tell how many of the most original
thoughts put forth by male writers, belong to a woman by
suggestion, to themselves only by verifying and working out ? If I
may judge by my own case, a very large proportion indeed.

If we turn from pure speculation to literature in the narrow sense
of the term, and the fine arts, there is.a very obvious reason why
women’s literature is, in its general conception and in its main
features, an imitation of men’s. Why is the Roman literature, as
critics proclaim to satiety, not original, but an imitation of the
Greek ? Simply because the Greeks came first. If women lived in a
different country from men, and had never read any of their
writings, they would have had a literature of their own. As it is,
they have not created one, because they found a highly advanced
literature already created. If there had been no suspension of the
knowledge of antiquity, or if the Renaissance had occurred before
the Gothic cathedrals were built, they never would have been built.
We see that, in France and Italy, imitation of the ancient
literature stopped the original development even after it had
commenced. All women who write are pupils of the great male
writers. A painter’s early pictures, even if he be a Raffaello, are
undistinguishable in style from those of his master. Even a Mozart
does not display his powerful originality in his earliest pieces.
What years are to a gifted individual, generations are to a mass.
If women’s literature is destined to have a different collective
character from that of men, depending on any difference of natural
tendencies, much longer time is necessary than has yet elapsed,
before it can emancipate itself from the influence of accepted
models, and guide itself by its own impulses. But if, as I believe,
there will not prove to be any natural tendencies common to women,
and distinguishing their genius from that of men, yet every
individual writer among them has her individual tendencies, which
at present are still subdued by the influence of precedent and
example: and it will require generations more, before their
individuality is sufficiently developed to make head against that

It is in the fine arts, properly so called, that the prima facie
evidence of inferior original powers in women at first sight
appears the strongest: since opinion (it may be said) does not
exclude them from these, but rather encourages them, and their
education, instead of passing over this department, is in the
affluent classes mainly composed of it. Yet in this line of
exertion they have fallen still more short than in many others, of
the highest eminence attained by men. This shortcoming, however,
needs no other explanation than the familiar fact, more universally
true in the fine arts than in anything else; the vast superiority
of professional persons over amateurs. Women in the educated
classes are almost universally taught more or less of some branch
or other of the fine arts, but not that they may gain their living
or their social consequence by it. Women artists are all amateurs.
The exceptions are only of the kind which confirm the general
truth. Women. are taught music, I but not for the purpose of
composing, only of executing it: and accordingly it is only as
composers, that men, in music, are superior to women. The only one
of the fine arts which women do follow, to any extent, as a
profession, and an occupation for life, is the histrionic; and in
that they are confessedly equal, if not superior, to men. To make
the comparison fair, it should be made between the productions of
women in any branch of art, and those of men not following it as a
profession. In musical composition, for example, women surely have
produced fully as good things as have ever been produced by male
amateurs. There are now a few women, a very few, who practise
painting as a profession, and these are already beginning to show
quite as much talent as could be expected. Even male painters (pace
Mr. Ruskin) have not made any very remarkable figure these last
centuries, and it will be long before they do so. The reason why
the old painters were so greatly superior to the modern, is that a
greatly superior class of men applied themselves to the art. In the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Italian painters were the
most accomplished men of their age. The greatest of them were men
of encyclopaedical acquirements and powers, like the great men of
Greece. But in their times fine art was, to men’s feelings and
conceptions, among the grandest things in which a human being could
excel; and by it men were made,- what only political or military
distinction now makes them, the companions of sovereigns, and the
equals of the highest nobility. In the present age, men of anything
like similar calibre find something more-important to do, for their
own fame and the uses of the modern world, than painting: and it is
only now and then that a Reynolds or a Turner (of whose relative
rank among eminent men I do not pretend to an opinion) applies
himself to that art. Music belongs to a different order of things:
it does not require the same general powers of mind, but seems more
dependent on a natural gift: and it may be thought surprising that
no one of the great musical composers has been a woman. But even
this natural gift, to be made available for great creations,
requires study, and professional devotion to the pursuit. The only
countries which have produced first-rate composers, even of the
male sex, are Germany and Italy– countries in which, both in point
of special and of general cultivation, women have remained far
behind France and England, being generally (it may be said without
exaggeration) very little educated, and having scarcely cultivated
at all any of the higher faculties of mind. And in those countries
the men who are acquainted with the principles of musical
composition must be counted by hundreds, or more probably by
thousands, the women barely by scores: so that here again, on the
doctrine of averages, we cannot reasonably expect to see more than
one eminent woman to fifty eminent men; and the last three
centuries have not produced fifty eminent male composers either in
Germany or in Italy.

There are other reasons, besides those which we have now given,
that help to explain why women remain behind men, even in the
pursuits which are open to both. For one thing, very few women have
time for them. This may seem a paradox; it is an undoubted social
fact. The time and thoughts of every woman have to satisfy great
previous demands on them for things practical. There is, first, the
superintendence of the family and the domestic expenditure, which
occupies at least one woman in every family, generally the one of
mature years and acquired experience; unless the family is so rich
as to admit of delegating that task to hired agency, and submitting
to all the waste and malversation inseparable from that mode of
conducting it. The superintendence of a household, even when not in
other respects laborious, is extremely onerous to the thoughts; it
requires incessant vigilance, an eye which no detail escapes, and
presents questions for consideration and solution, foreseen and
unforeseen, at every hour of the day, from which the person
responsible for them can hardly ever shake herself free. If a woman
is of a rank and circumstances which relieve her in a measure from
these cares, she has still devolving on her the management for the
whole family of its intercourse with others — of what is called
society, and the less the call made on her by the former duty, the
greater is always the development of the latter: the dinner
parties, concerts, evening parties, morning visits, letter-writing,
and all that goes with them. All this is over and above the
engrossing duty which society imposes exclusively on women, of
making themselves charming. A clever woman of the higher ranks
finds nearly a sufficient employment of her talents in cultivating
the graces of manner and the arts of conversation. To look only at
the outward side of the subject: the great and continual exercise
of thought which all women who attach any value to dressing well (I
do not mean expensively, but with taste, and perception of natural
and of artificial convenance) must bestow upon their own dress,
perhaps also upon that of their daughters, would alone go a great
way towards achieving respectable results in art, or science, or
literature, and does actually exhaust much of the time and mental
power they might have to spare for either.[2] If it were possible
that all this number of little practical interests (which are made
great to them) should leave them either much leisure, or much
energy and freedom of mind, to be devoted to art or speculation,
they must have a much greater original supply of active faculty
than the vast majority of men. But this is not all. Independently
of the regular offices of life which devolve upon a woman, she is
expected to have her time and faculties always at the disposal of
everybody. If a man has not a profession to exempt him from such
demands, still, if he has a pursuit, he offends nobody by devoting
his time to it; occupation is received as a valid excuse for his
not answering to every casual demand which may be made on him. Are
a woman’s occupations, especially her chosen and voluntary ones,
ever regarded as excusing her from any of what are termed the calls
of society ? Scarcely are her most necessary and recognised duties
allowed as an exemption. It requires an illness in the family, or
something else out of the common way, to entitle her to give her
own business the precedence over other people’s amusement. She must
always be at the beck and call of somebody, generally of everybody.
If she has a study or a pursuit, she must snatch any short interval
which accidentally occurs to be employed in it. A celebrated woman,
in a work which I hope will some day be published, remarks truly
that everything a woman does is done at odd times. Is it wonderful,
then, if she does not attain the highest eminence in things which
require consecutive attention, and the concentration on them of the
chief interest of life ? Such is philosophy, and such, above all,
is art, in which, besides the devotion of the thoughts and
feelings, the hand also must be kept in constant exercises to
attain high skill.

There is another consideration to be added to all these. In the
various arts and intellectual occupations, there is a degree of
proficiency sufficient for living by it, and there is a higher
degree on which depend the great productions which immortalise a
name. To the attainment of the former, there are adequate motives
in the case of all who follow the pursuit professionally: the other
is hardly ever attained where there is not, or where there has not
been at some period of life, an ardent desire of celebrity. Nothing
less is commonly a sufficient stimulus to undergo the long and
patient drudgery, which, in the case even of the greatest natural
gifts, is absolutely required for great eminence in pursuits in
which we already possess so many splendid memorials of the highest
genius. Now, whether the cause be natural or artificial, women
seldom have this eagerness for fame. Their ambition is generally
confined within narrower bounds. The influence they seek is over
those who immediately surround them. Their desire is to be liked,
loved, or admired, by those whom they see with their eyes: and the
proficiency in knowledge, arts, and accomplishments, which is
sufficient for that, almost always contents them. This is a trait
of character which cannot be left out of the account in judging of
women as they are. I do not at all believe that it is inherent in
women. It is only the natural result of their circumstances. The
love of fame in men is encouraged by education and opinion: to ”
scorn delights and live laborious days ” for its sake, is accounted
the part of “noble minds,” even if spoken of as their “last
infirmity,” and is stimulated by the access which fame gives to all
objects of ambition, including even the favour of women; while to
women themselves all these objects are closed, and the desire of
fame itself considered daring and unfeminine. Besides, how could it
be that a woman’s interests should not be all concentrated upon the
impressions made on those who come into her daily life, when
society has ordained that all her duties should be to them, and has
contrived that all her comforts should depend on them? The natural
desire of consideration from our fellow-creatures is as strong in
a woman as in a man; but society has so ordered things that public
consideration is, in all ordinary cases, only attainable by her
through the consideration of her husband or of her male relations,
while her private consideration is forfeited by making herself
individually prominent, or appearing in any other character than
that of an appendage to men. Whoever is in the least capable of
estimating the influence on the mind of the entire domestic and
social position and the whole habit of a life, must easily
recognise in that influence a complete explanation of nearly all
the apparent differences between women and men, including the whole
of those which imply any inferiority.

As for moral differences, considered as distinguished from
intellectual, the distinction commonly drawn is to the advantage of
women. They are declared to be better than men; an empty
compliment, which must provoke a bitter smile from every woman of
spirit, since there is no other situation in life in which it is
the established order, and considered quite natural and suitable,
that the better should obey the worse. If this piece of idle talk
is good for anything, it is only as an admission by men, of the
corrupting influence of power; for that is certainly the only truth
which the fact, if it be a fact, either proves or illustrates. And
it is true that servitude, except when it actually brutalises,
though corrupting to both, is less so to the slaves than to the
slave-masters. It is wholesomer for the moral nature to be
restrained, even by arbitrary power, than to be allowed to exercise
arbitrary power without restraint. Women, it is said, seldomer fall
under the penal law– contribute a much smaller number of offenders
to the criminal calendar, than men. I doubt not that the same thing
may be said, with the same truth, of negro slaves. Those who are
under the control of others cannot often commit crimes, unless at
the command and for the purposes of their masters. I do not know a
more signal instance of the blindness with which the world,
including the herd of studious men, ignore and pass over all the
influences of social circumstances, than their silly depreciation
of the intellectual, and silly panegyrics on the moral, nature of

The complimentary dictum about women’s superior moral goodness may
be allowed to pair off with the disparaging one respecting their
greater liability to moral bias. Women, we are told, are not
capable of resisting their personal partialities: their judgment in
grave affairs is warped by their sympathies and antipathies.
Assuming it to be so, it is still to be proved that women are
oftener misled by their personal feelings than men by their
personal interests. The chief difference would seem in that case to
be, that men are led from the course of duty and the public
interest by their regard for themselves, women (not being allowed
to have private interests of their own) by their regard for
somebody else. It is also to be considered, that all the education
which women receive from society inculcates on them the feeling
that the individuals connected with them are the only ones to whom
they owe any duty –the only ones whose interest they are called
upon to care for; while, as far as education is concerned, they are
left strangers even to the elementary ideas which are presupposed
in any intelligent regard for larger interests or higher moral
objects. The complaint against them resolves itself merely into
this, that they fulfil only too faithfully the sole duty which they
are taught, and almost the only one which they are permitted to

The concessions of the privileged to the unprivileged are so seldom
brought about by any better motive than the power of the
unprivileged to extort them, that any arguments against the
prerogative of sex are likely to be little attended to by the
generality, as long as they are able to say to themselves that
women do not complain of it. That fact certainly enables men to
retain the unjust privilege some time longer; but does not render
it less unjust. Exactly the same thing may be said of the women in
the harem of an oriental: they do not complain of not being allowed
the freedom of European women. They think our women insufferably
bold and unfeminine. How rarely it is that even men complain of the
general order of society; and how much rarer still would such
complaint be, if they did not know of any different order existing
anywhere else. Women do not complain of the general lot of women;
or rather they do, for plaintive elegies on it are very common in
the writings of women, and were still more so as long as the
lamentations could not be suspected of having any practical object.
Their complaints are like the complaints which men make of the
general unsatisfactoriness of human life; they are not meant to
imply blame, or to plead for any change. But though women do not
complain of the power of husbands, each complains of her own
husband, or of the husbands of her friends. It is the same in all
other cases of servitude, at least in the commencement of the
emancipatory movement. The serfs did not at first complain of the
power of their lords, but only of their tyranny. The commons began
by claiming a few municipal privileges; they next asked an
exemption for themselves from being taxed without their own
consent; but they would at that time have thought it a great
presumption to claim any share in the king’s sovereign authority.
The case of women is now the only case in which to rebel against
established rules is still looked upon with the same eyes as was
formerly a subject’s claim to the I right of rebelling against his
king. A woman who joins in any movement which her husband
disapproves, makes herself a martyr, without even being able to be
an apostle, for the husband can legally put a stop to her
apostleship. Women cannot be expected to devote themselves to the
emancipation of women, until men in considerable number are
prepared to join with them in the undertaking.


[1]  Especially is this true if we take into consideration Asia as
well as Europe. If a Hindoo principality is strongly, vigilantly,
and economically governed; if order is preserved without
oppression; if cultivation is extending, and the people prosperous,
in three cases out of four that principalityis under a woman’s
rule. This fact, to me an entirely unexpected one, I have collected
from a long knowledge of Hindoo governments. There are many such
instances: for though, by Hindoo institutions, a woman cannot
reign, she is the legal regent of a kingdom during the minority of
the heir; and minorities are frequent, the lives of the male rulers
being so often prematurely terminated through the effect of
inactivity and sensual excesses. When we consider that these
princesses have never been seen in public, have never conversed
with any man not of their own family except from behind a curtain,
that they do not read, and if they did there is no book in their
languages which ca give them the smallest instruction on political
affairs; the example they afford of the natural capacity of women
for government is very striking.

[2]  “It appears to be the same right turn of mind which enables a
man to acquire the truth, or just idea of what is right, in the
ornaments, as in the more stable principles of art. It has still
the same centre of perfection, though it is the centre of a smaller
circle. –To illustrate this by fashion of dress, in which there is
allowed to be a good or bad taste. The component parts of dress are
continually changing from great to little, from short to long; but
the general form still remains; it is still the same general dress
which is comparatively fixed , though on a very slender foundation;
but it is on this which fashion must rest. He who invents with the
most success, or dresses in the best taste, would probably, from
the same sagacity employed to greater purposes, have discovered
equal skill, or have formed the same correct taste, in the highest
labours of art.” — Sir Joshua Reynold’s Discourses, Disc. vii.

                           CHAPTER IV

There remains a question, not of less importance than those already
discussed, and which will be asked the most importunately by those
opponents whose conviction is somewhat shaken on the main point.
What good are we to expect from the changes proposed in our customs
and institutions? Would mankind be at all better off if women were
free? If not, why disturb their minds, and attempt to make a social
revolution in the name of an abstract right?  It is hardly to be
expected that this question will be asked in respect to the change
proposed in the condition of women in marriage. The sufferings,
immoralities, evils of all sorts, produced in innumerable cases by
the subjection of individual women to individual men, are far too
terrible to be overlooked. Unthinking or uncandid persons, counting
those cases alone which are extreme, or which attain publicity, may
say that the evils are exceptional; but no one can be blind to
their existence, nor, in many cases, to their intensity. And it is
perfectly obvious that the abuse of the power cannot be very much
checked while the power remains. It is a power given, or offered,
not to good men, or to decently respectable men, but to all men;
the most brutal, and the most criminal. There is no check but that
of opinion, and such men are in general within the reach of no
opinion but that of men like themselves. If such men did not
brutally tyrannise over the one human being whom the law compels to
bear everything from them, society must already have reached a
paradisiacal state. There could be no need any longer of laws to
curb men’s vicious propensities. Astraea must not only have
returned to earth, but the heart of the worst man must have become
her temple. The law of servitude in marriage is a monstrous
contradiction to all the principles of the modern world, and to all
the experience through which those principles have been slowly and
painfully worked out. It is the sole case, now that negro slavery
has been abolished, in which a human being in the plenitude of
every faculty is delivered up to the tender mercies of another
human being, in the hope forsooth that this other will use the
power solely for the good of the person subjected to it. Marriage
is the only actual bondage known to our law. There remain no legal
slaves, except the mistress of every house.  It is not, therefore,
on this part of the subject, that the question is likely to be
asked, Cui bono ~ We may be told that the evil would outweigh the
good, but the reality of the good admits of no dispute. In regard,
however, to the larger question, the removal of women’s
disabilities–their recognition as the equals of men in all that
belongs to citizenship–the opening to them of all honourable
employments, and of the training and education which qualifies for
those employments–there are many persons for whom it is not enough
that the inequality has no just or legitimate defence; they require
to be told what express advantage would be obtained by abolishing
it.  To which let me first answer, the advantage of having the most
universal and pervading of all human relations regulated by justice
instead of injustice. The vast amount of this gain to human nature,
it is hardly possible, by any explanation or illustration, to place
in a stronger light than it is placed by the bare statement, to
anyone who attaches a moral meaning to words. All the selfish
propensities, the self-worship, the unjust self-preference, which
exist among mankind, have their source and root in, and derive
their principal nourishment from, the present constitution of the
relation between men and women. Think what it is to a boy, to grow
up to manhood in the belief that without any merit or any exertion
of his own, though he may be the most frivolous and empty or the
most ignorant and stolid of mankind, by the mere fact of being born
a male he is by right the superior of all and every one of an
entire half of the human race: including probably some whose real
superiority to himself he has daily or hourly occasion to feel; but
even if in his whole conduct he habitually follows a woman’s
guidance, still, if he is a fool, she thinks that of course she is
not, and cannot be, equal in ability and judgment to himself; and
if he is not a fool, he does worse–he sees that she is superior to
him, and believes that, notwithstanding her superiority, he is
entitled to command and she is bound to obey. What must be the
effect on his character, of this lesson ? And men of the cultivated
classes are often not aware how deeply it sinks into the immense
majority of male minds. For, among right-feeling and wellbred
people, the inequality is kept as much as possible out of sight;
above all, out of sight of the children. As much obedience is
required from boys to their mother as to their father: they are not
permitted to domineer over their sisters, nor are they accustomed
to see these postponed to them, but the contrary; the compensations
of the chivalrous feeling being made prominent, while the servitude
which requires them is kept in the background. Well brought-up
youths in the higher classes thus often escape the bad influences
of the situation in their early years, and only experience them
when, arrived at manhood, they fall under the dominion of facts as
they really exist. Such people are little aware, when a boy is
differently brought up, how early the notion of his inherent
superiority to a girl arises in his mind; how it grows with his
growth and strengthens with his strength; how it is inoculated by
one schoolboy upon another; how early the youth thinks himself
superior to his mother, owing her perhaps forbearance, but no-real
respect; ana how sublime and sultan-like a sense of superiority he
feels, above all, over the woman whom he honours by admitting her
to a partnership of his life. Is it imagined that all this does not
pervert the whole manner of existence of the man, both as an
individual and as a social being? It is an exact parallel to the
feeling of a hereditary king that he is excellent above others by
being born a king, or a noble by being born a noble. The relation
between husband and wife is very like that between lord and vassal,
except that the wife is held to more unlimited obedience than the
vassal was. However the vassal’s character may have been affected,
for better and for worse, by his subordination, who can help seeing
that the lord’s was affected greatly for the worse? whether he was
led to believe that his vassals were really superior to himself, or
to feel that he was placed in command over people as good as
himself, for no merits or labours of his own, but merely for
having, as Figaro says, taken the trouble to be born. The
self-worship of the monarch, or of the feudal superior, is matched
by the self-worship of the male. Human beings do not grow up from
childhood in the possession of unearned distinctions, without
pluming themselves upon them. Those whom privileges not acquired by
their merit, and which they feel to be disproportioned to it,
inspire with additional humility, are always the few, and the best
few. The rest are only inspired with pride, and the worst sort of
pride, that which values itself upon accidental advantages, not of
its own achieving. Above all, when the feeling of being raised
above the whole of the other sex is combined with personal
authority over one individual among them; the situation, if a
school of conscientious and affectionate forbearance to those whose
strongest points of character are conscience and affection, is to
men of another quality a regularly constituted academy or gymnasium
for training them in arrogance and overbearingness; which vices, if
curbed by the certainty of resistance in their intercourse with
other men, their equals, break out towards all who are in a
position to be obliged to tolerate them, and often revenge
themselves upon the unfortunate wife for the involuntary restraint
which they are obliged to submit to elsewhere.   The example
afforded, and the education given to the sentiments, by laying the
foundation of domestic existence upon a relation contradictory to
the first principles of social justice must, from the very nature
of man, have a perverting influence of such magnitude, that it is
hardly possible with our present experience to raise our
imaginations to the conception of so great a change for the better
as would be made by its removal. All that education and
civilisation are doing to efface the influences on character of the
law of force, and replace them by those of justice, remains merely
on the surface, as long as the citadel of the enemy is not
attacked. The principle of the modern movement in morals and
politics, is that conduct, and conduct alone, entitles to respect:
that not what men are, but what they do, constitutes their claim to
deference; that, above all, merit, and not birth, is the only
rightful claim to power and authority. If no authority, not in its
nature temporary, were allowed to one human being over another,
society would not be employed in building up propensities with one
hand which it has to curb with the other. The child would really,
for the first time in man’s existence on earth, be trained in the
way he should go, and when he was old there would be a chance that
he would not depart from it. But so long as the right of the strong
to power over the weak rules in the very heart of society, the
attempt to make the equal right of the weak ~h~. principle of its
outward actions will always be an uphill struggle; for the law of
justice, which is also that of Christianity, will never get
possession of men’s inmost sentiments; they will be working against
it, even when bending to it.   The second benefit to be expected
from giving to women the free use of their faculties, by leaving
them the free choice of their employments, and opening to them the
same field of occupation and the same prizes and encouragements as
to other human beings, would be that of doubling the mass of mental
faculties available for the higher service of humanity. Where there
is now one person qualified to benefit mankind and promote the
general improvement, as a public teacher, or an administrator of
some branch of public or social affairs, there would then be a
chance of two. Mental superiority of any kind is at present
everywhere so much below the demand; there is such a deficiency of
persons competent to do excellently anything which it requires any
considerable amount of ability to do; that the loss to the world,
by refusing to make use of one half of the whole quantity of talent
it possesses, is extremely serious. It is true that this amount of
mental power is not totally lost. Much of it is employed, and would
in any case be employed, in domestic management, and in the few
other occupations open to women; and from the remainder indirect
benefit is in many individual cases obtained, through the personal
influence of individual women over individual men. But these
benefits are partial; their range is extremely circumscribed; and
if they must be admitted, on the one hand, as a deduction from the
amount of fresh social power that would be acquired by giving
freedom to one-half of the whole sum of human intellect, there must
be added, on the other, the benefit of the stimulus that would be
given to the intellect of men by the competition; or (to use a more
true expression) by the necessity that would be imposed on them of
deserving precedency before they could expect to obtain it.  This
great accession to the intellectual power of the species, and to
the amount of intellect available for the good management of its
affairs, would be obtained, partly, through the better and more
complete intellectual education of women, which would then improve
pari passu with that of men. Women in general would be brought up
equally capable of understanding business, public affairs, and the
higher matters of speculation, with men In the same class of
society; and the select few of the one as well as of the other sex,
who were qualified not only to comprehend what is done or thought
by others, but to think or do something considerable themselves,
would meet with the same facilities for improving and training
their capacities in the one sex as in the other. In this way, the
widening of the sphere of action for women would operate for good,
by raising their education to the level of that of men, and making
the one participate in all improvements made in the other. But
independently of this, the mere breaking down of the barrier would
of itself have an educational virtue of the highest worth. The mere
getting rid of the idea that all the wider subjects of thought and
action, all the things which are of general and not solely of
private interest, are men’s business, from which women are to be
warned off–positively interdicted from most of it, coldly
tolerated in the little which is allowed them–the mere
consciousness a woman would then have of being a human being like
any other, entitled to choose her pursuits, urged or invited by the
same inducements as anyone else to interest herself in whatever is
interesting to human beings, entitled to exert the share of
influence on all human concerns which belongs to an individual
opinion, whether she attempted actual participation in them or
not–this alone would effect an immense expansion of the faculties
of women, as well as enlargement of the range of their moral
sentiments.   Besides the addition to the amount of individual
talent available for the conduct of human affairs, which certainly
are not at present so abundantly provided in that respect that they
can afford to dispense with one-half of what nature proffers; the
opinion of women would then possess a more beneficial, rather than
a greater, influence upon the general mass of human belief and
sentiment. I say a more beneficial, rather than a greater
influence; for the influence of women over the general tone of
opinion has always, or at least from the earliest known period,
been very considerable. The influence of mothers on the early
character of their sons, and the desire of young men to recommend
themselves to young women, have in all recorded times been
important agencies in the formation of character, and have
determined some of the chief steps in the progress of civilisation.
Even in the Homeric age, [Greek word deleted] towards the [Greek
phrase deleted] is an acknowledged and powerful motive of action in
the great Hector. The moral influence of women has had two modes of
operation. First, it has been a softening influence. Those who were
most liable to be the victims of violence, have naturally tended as
much as they could towards limiting its sphere and mitigating its
excesses. Those who were not taught to fight, have naturally
inclined in favour of any other mode of settling differences rather
than that of fighting. In general, those who have been the greatest
sufferers by the indulgence of selfish passion, have been the most
earnest supporters of any moral law which offered a means of
bridling passion. Women were powerfully instrumental in inducing
the northern conquerors to adopt the creed of Christianity, a creed
so much more favourable to women than any that preceded it. The
conversion of the Anglo-Saxons and of the Franks may be said to
have been begun by the wives of Ethelbert and Clovis. The other
mode in which the effect of women’s opinion has been conspicuous,
is by giving, a powerful stimulus to those qualities in men, which,
not being themselves trained in, it was necessary for them that
they should find in their protectors. Courage, and the military
virtues generally, have at all times been greatly indebted to the
desire which men felt of being admired by women: and the stimulus
reaches far beyond this one class of eminent qualities, since, by
a very natural effect of their position, the best passport to the
admiration and favour of women has always been to be thought highly
of by men. From the combination of the two kinds of moral influence
thus exercised by women, arose the spirit of chivalry: the
peculiarity ~,f which is, to aim at combining the highest standard
of the warlike qualities with the cultivation of a totally
different class of virtues–those of gentleness, generosity, and
self-abnegation, towards the non-military and defenseless classes
generally, and a special submission and worship directed towards
women; who were distinguished from the other defence- less classes
by the high rewards which they had it in their power voluntarily to
bestow on those who endeavoured to earn their favour, instead of
extorting their subjection. Though the practice of chivalry fell
even more sadly short of its theoretic standard than practice
generally falls below theory, it remains one of the most precious
monuments of the moral history of our race; as a remarkable
instance of a concerted and organised attempt by a most
disorganised and distracted society, to raise up and carry into
practice a moral ideal greatly in advance of its social condition
and institutions; so much so as to have been completely frustrated
in the main object, yet never entirely inefficacious, and which has
left a most sensible, and for the most part a highly valuable
impress on the ideas and feelings of all subsequent times.  The
chivalrous ideal is the acme of the influence of women’s sentiments
on the moral cultivation of mankind: and if women are to remain in
their subordinate situation, it were greatly to be lamented that
the chivalrous standard should have passed away, for it is the only
one at all capable of mitigating the demoralising influences of
that position. But the changes in the general state of the species
rendered inevitable the substitution of a totally different ideal
of morality for the chivalrous one. Chivalry was the attempt to
infuse moral elements into a state of society in which everything
depended for good o~ evil on individual prowess, under the
softening influences of individual delicacy and generosity. In
modern societies, all things, even in the military department of
affairs, are decided, not by individual effort, but by the combined
operations of numbers; while the main occupation of society has
changed from fighting to business, from military to industrial
life. The exigencies of the new life are no more exclusive of the
virtues of generosity than those of the old, but it no longer
entirely depends on them. The main foundations of the moral life of
modern times must be justice and prudence; the respect of each for
the rights of every other, and the ability of each to take care of
himself. Chivalry left without legal check all forms of wrong which
reigned unpunished throughout society; it only encouraged a few to
do right in preference to wrong, by the direction it gave to the
instruments of praise and admiration. But the real dependence of
morality must always be upon its penal sanctions–its power to
deter from evil. The security of society cannot rest on merely
rendering honour to right, a motive so comparatively weak in all
but a few, and which on very many does not operate at all. Modern
society is able to repress wrong through all departments of life,
by a fit exertion of the superior strength which civilisation has
given it, and thus to render the existence of the weaker members of
society (no longer defenseless but protected by law) tolerable to
them, without reliance on the chivalrous feelings of those who are
in a position to tyrannise. The beauties and graces of the
chivalrous character are still what they were, but the rights of
the weak, and the general comfort of human life, now rest on a far
surer and steadier support; or rather, they do so in every relation
of life except the conjugal.  At present the moral influence of
women is no less real, but it is no longer of so marked and
definite a character: it has more nearly merged in the general
influence of public opinion. Both through the contagion of
sympathy, and through the desire of men to shine in the eyes of
women, their feelings have great effect in keeping alive what
remains of the chivalrous ideal–in fostering the sentiments and
continuing the traditions of spirit and generosity. In these points
of character, their standard is higher than that of men; in the
quality of justice, somewhat lower. As regards the relations of
private life it may be said generally, that their influence is, on
the whole, encouraging to the softer virtues, discouraging to the
sterner: though the statement must be taken with all the
modifications dependent on individual character. In the chief of
the greater trials to which virtue is subject in the concerns of
life–the conflict between interest and principle–the tendency of
women’s influence- is of a very mixed character. When the principle
involved happens to be one of the very few which the course of
their religious or moral education has strongly impressed upon
themselves, they are potent auxiliaries to virtue: and their
husbands and sons are often prompted by them to acts of abnegation
which they never would have been capable of without that stimulus.
But, with the present education and position of women, the moral
principles which have been impressed on them cover but a
comparatively small part of the field of virtue, and are, moreover,
principally negative; forbidding particular acts, but having little
to do with the general direction of the thoughts and purposes. I am
afraid it must be said, that disinterestedness in the general
conduct of life–the devotion of the energies to purposes which
hold out no promise of private advantages to the family–is very
seldom encouraged or supported by women’s influence. It is small
blame to them that they discourage objects of which they have not
learnt to see the advantage, and which withdraw their men from
them, and from the interests of the family. But the consequence is
that women’s influence is often anything but favourable to public
virtue.  Women have, however, some share of influence in giving the
tone to public moralities since their sphere of action has been a
little widened, and since a considerable number of them have
occupied themselves practically in the promotion of objects
reaching beyond their own family and household. The influence of
women counts for a great deal in two of the most marked features of
modern European life–its aversion to war, and its addiction to
philanthropy. Excellent characteristics both; but unhappily, if the
influence of women is valuable in the encouragement it gives to
these feelings in general, in the particular applications the
direction it gives to them is at least as often mischievous as
useful. In the philanthropic department more particularly, the two
provinces chiefly cultivated by women are religious proselytism and
charity. Religious proselytism at home, is but another word for
embittering of religious animosities: abroad, it is usually a blind
running at an object, without either knowing or heeding the fatal
mischiefs–fatal to the religious object itself as well as to all
other desirable objects –which may be produced by the means
employed. As for charity, it is a matter in which the immediate
effect on the persons directly concerned, and the ultimate
consequence to the general good, are apt to be at complete war with
one another: while the education given to women–an education of
the sentiments rather than of the understanding–and the habit
inculcated by their whole life, of looking to immediate effects on
persons, and not to remote effects on classes of persons– make
them both unable to see, and unwilling to admit, the ultimate evil
tendency of any form of charity or philanthropy which commends
itself to their sympathetic feelings. The great and continually
increasing mass of unenlightened and shortsighted benevolence,
which, taking the care of people’s lives out of their own hands,
and relieving them from the disagreeable consequences of their own
acts, saps the very foundations of the self-respect, self-help, and
self-control which are the essential conditions both of individual
prosperity and of social virtue– this waste of resources and of
benevolent feelings in doing harm instead of good, is immensely
swelled by women’s contributions, and stimulated by their
influence. Not that this is a mistake likely to be made by women,
where they have actually the practical management of schemes of
beneficence. It sometimes happens that women who administer public
charities–with that insight into present fact, and especially into
the minds and feelings of those with whom they are in immediate
contact, in which women generally excel men– recognise in the
clearest manner the demoralising influence of the alms given or the
help afforded, and could give lessons on the subject to many a male
political economist. But women who only give their money, and are
not brought face to face with the effects it produces, how can they
be expected to foresee them ? A woman born to the present lot of
women, and content with it, how should she appreciate the value of
self-dependence ? She is not self-dependent; she is not taught
self-dependence; her destiny is to receive everything from others,
and why should what is good enough for her be bad for the poor? Her
familiar notions of good are of blessings descending from a
superior. She forgets that she is not free, and that the poor are;
that if what they need is given to them unearned, they cannot be
compelled to earn it: that everybody cannot be taken care of by
everybody, but there must be some motive to induce people to take
care of themselves; and that to be helped-to help themselves, if
they are physically capable of it, is the only charity which proves
to be charity in the end.  These considerations show how usefully
the part which women take in the formation of general opinion,
would be modified for the better by that more enlarged instruction,
and practical conversancy with the things which their opinions
influence, that would necessarily arise from their social and
political emancipation. But the improvement it would work through
the influence they exercise, each in her own family, would be still
more remarkable.  It is often said that in the classes most exposed
to temptation, a man’s wife and children tend to keep him honest
and respectable, both by the wife’s direct influence, and by the
concern he feels for their future welfare. This may be so, and no
doubt often is so, with those who are more weak than wicked; and
this beneficial influence would be preserved and strengthened under
equal laws; it does not depend on the woman’s servitude, but is, on
the contrary, diminished by the disrespect which the inferior class
of men always at heart feel towards those who are subject to their
power. But when we ascend higher in the scale, we come among a
totally different set of moving forces. The wife’s influence tends,
as far as it goes, to prevent the husband from falling below the
common standard of approbation of the country. It tends quite as
strongly to hinder him from rising above it. The wife is the
auxiliary of the common public opinion. A man who is married to a
woman his inferior in intelligence, finds her a perpetual dead
weight, or, worse than a dead weight, a drag, upon every aspiration
of his to be better than public opinion requires him to be. It is
hardly possible for one who is in these bonds, to attain exalted
virtue. If he differs in his opinion from the mass–if he sees
truths which have not yet dawned upon them, or if, feeling in his
heart truths which they nominally recognise, he would like to act
up to those truths more conscientiously than the generality of
mankind– to all such thoughts and desires, marriage is the
heaviest of drawbacks, unless he be so fortunate as to have a wife
as much above the common level as he himself is.  For, in the first
place, there is always some sacrifice of personal interest
required; either of social consequence, or of pecuniary means;
perhaps the risk of even the means of subsistence. These sacrifices
and risks he may be willing to encounter for himself; but he will
pause before he imposes them on his family. And his family in this
case means his wife and daughters; for he always hopes that his
sons will feel as he feels himself, and that what he can do
without, they will do without, willingly, is the same cause. But
his daughters- -their marriage may depend upon it: and his wife,
who is unable to enter into or understand the objects for which
these sacrifices are made– who, if she thought them worth any
sacrifice, would think so on trust, and solely for his sake–who
could participate in none of the enthusiasm or the self-approbation
he himself may feel, while the things which he is disposed to
sacrifice are all in all to her; will not the best and most
unselfish man hesitate the longest before bringing on her this
consequence? If it be not the comforts of life, but only social
consideration, that is at stake, the burthen upon his conscience
and feelings is still very severe. Whoever has a wife and children
has given hostages to Mrs. Grundy. The approbation of that
potentate may be a matter of indifference to him, but it is of
great importance to his wife. The man himself may be above opinion,
or may find sufficient compensation in the opinion of those of his
own way of thinking. But to the women connected with him, he can
offer no compensation. The almost invariable tendency of the wife
to place her influence in the same scale with social consideration,
is sometimes made a reproach to women, and represented as a
peculiar trait of feebleness and childishness of character in them:
surely with great injustice. Society makes the whole life of a
woman, in the easy classes, a continued self sacrifice; it exacts
from her an unremitting restraint of the whole of her natural
inclinations, and the sole return it makes to her for what often
deserves the name of a martyrdom, is consideration. Her
consideration is inseparably connected with that of her husband,
and after paying the full price for it, she finds that she is to
lose it, for no reason of which she can feel the cogency. She has
sacrificed her whole life to it, and her husband will not sacrifice
to it a whim, a freak, an eccentricity; something not recognised or
allowed for by the world, and which the world will agree with her
in thinking a folly, if it thinks no worse ! The dilemma is hardest
upon that very meritorious class of men, who, without possessing
talents which qualify them to make a figure among those with whom
they agree in opinion, hold their opinion from conviction, and feel
bound in honour and conscience to serve it, by making profession of
their belief, and giving their time, labour, and means, to anything
undertaken in its behalf. The worst case of all is when such men
happen to be of a rank and position which of itself neither gives
them, nor excludes them from, what is considered the best society;
when their admission to it depends mainly on what is thought of
them personally–and however unexceptionable their breeding and
habits, their being identified with opinions and public conduct
unacceptable to those who give the tone to society would operate as
an effectual exclusion. Many a woman flatters herself (nine times
out of ten quite erroneously) that nothing prevents her and her
husband from moving in the highest society of her
neighbourhood–society in which others well known to her, and in
the same class of life, mix freely–except that her husband is
unfortunately a Dissenter, or has the reputation of mingling in low
radical politics. That it is, she thinks, which hinders George from
getting a commission or a place, Caroline from making an
advantageous match, and prevents her and her husband from obtaining
invitations, perhaps honours, which, for aught she sees, they are
as well entitled to as some folks. With such an influence in every
house, either exerted actively, or operating all the more
powerfully for not being asserted, is it any wonder that people in
\general are kept down in that mediocrity of respectability which
is becoming a marked characteristic of modern times?  There is
another very injurious aspect in which the effect, not of women’s
disabilities directly, but of the broad line of difference which
those disabilities create between the education and character of a
woman and that of a man, requires to be considered. Nothing can be
more unfavourable to that union of thoughts and inclinations which
is the ideal of married life. Intimate society between people
radically dissimilar to one another, is an idle dream. .Unlikeness
may attract, but it is likeness which retains; and in proportion to
the likeness is the suitability of the individuals to give each
other a happy life. While women are so unlike men, it is not
wonderful that selfish men should feel the need of arbitrary power
in their own hands, to arrest in limine the life-long conflict of
inclinations, by deciding every question on the side of their own
preference. When people are extremely unlike, there can be no real
identity of interest. Very often there is conscientious difference
of opinion between married people, on the highest points of duty.
Is there any reality in the marriage union where this takes place?
Yet it is not uncommon anywhere, when the woman has any earnestness
of character; and it is a very general case indeed in Catholic
countries, when she is supported in her dissent by the only other
authority to which she is taught to bow, the priest. With the usual
barefacedness of power not accustomed to find itself disputed, the
influence of priests over women is attacked by Protestant and
Liberal writers, less for being bad in itself, than because it is
a rival authority to the husband, and raises up a revolt against
his infallibility. In England, similar differences occasionally
exist when an Evangelical wife has allied herself with a husband of
a different quality; but in general this source at least of
dissension is got rid of, by reducing the minds of women to such a
nullity, that they have no opinions but those of Mrs. Grundy, or
those which the husband tells them to have. When there is no
difference of opinion, differences merely of taste may be
sufficient to detract greatly from the happiness of married life.
And though it may stimulate the amatory propensities of men, it
does not conduce to married happiness, to exaggerate by differences
of education whatever may be the native differences of the sexes.
If the married pair are well-bred and well-behaved people, they
tolerate each other’s tastes; but is mutual toleration what people
look forward to, when they enter into marriage? These differences
of inclination will naturally make their wishes different, if not
restrained by affection or duty, as to almost all domestic
questions which arise. What a difference there must be in the
society which the two persons will wish to frequent, or be
frequented by ! Each will desire associates who share their own
tastes: the persons agreeable to one, will be indifferent or
positively disagreeable to the other; yet there can be none who are
not common to both, for married people do not now live in different
parts of the house and have totally different visiting lists, as in
the reign of Louis XV. They cannot help having different wishes as
to the bringing up of the children: each wi]l wish to see
reproduced in them their own tastes and sentiments: and there is
either a compromise, and only a half satisfaction to either, or the
wife has to yield–often with bitter suffering; and, with or
without intention, her occult influence continues to counterwork
the husband’s purposes.   It would of course be extreme folly to
suppose that these differences of feeling and inclination only
exist because women are brought up differently from men, and that
there would not be differences of taste under any imaginable
circumstances. But there is nothing beyond the mark in saying that
the distinction in bringing up immensely aggravates those
differences, and renders them wholly inevitable. While women are
brought up as they are, a man and a woman will but rarely find in
one another real agreement of tastes and wishes as to daily life.
They will generally have to give it up as hopeless, and renounce
the attempt to have, in the intimate associate of their daily
life, that idem velle, idem nolle, which is the recognised bond of
any society that is really such: or if the man succeeds in
obtaining it, he does so by choosing a woman who is so complete a
nullity that she has no velle or nolle at all, and is as ready to
comply with one thing as another if anybody tells her to do so.
Even this calculation is apt to fail; dullness and want of spirit
are not always a guarantee of the submission which is so
confidently expected from them. But if they were, is this the ideal
of marriage ? What, in this case, does the man obtain by it, except
an upper servant, a nurse, or a mistress? on the contrary, when
each of two persons, instead of being a nothing, is a something;
when they are attached to one another, and are not too much unlike
to begin with; the constant partaking in the same things, assisted
by their sympathy, draws out the latent capacities of each for
being interested in the things which were at first interesting only
to the other; and works a gradual assimilation of the tastes and
characters to one another, partly by the insensible modification of
each, but more by a real enriching of the two natures, each
acquiring the tastes and capacities of the other in addition to its
own. This often happens between two friends of the same sex, who
are much associated in their daily life: and it would be a common,
if not the commonest, case in marriage, did not the totally
different bringing up of the two sexes make it next to an
impossibility to form a really well-assorted union. Were this
remedied, whatever differences there might still be in individual
tastes, there would at least be, as a general rule, complete unity
and unanimity as to the great objects of life. When the two persons
both care for great objects, and are a help and encouragement to
each other in whatever regards these, the minor matters on which
their tastes may differ are not all-important to them; and there is
a foundation for solid friendship, of an enduring character, more
likely than anything else t~ make it, through the whole of life, a
greater pleasure to each to give pleasure to the other, than to
receive it.  I have considered, thus far, the effects on the
pleasures and benefits of the marriage union which depend on the
mere unlikeness between the wife and the husband: but the evil
tendency is prodigiously aggravated when the unlikeness is
inferiority. Mere unlikeness, when it only means difference of good
qualities, may be more a benefit in the way of mutual improvement,
than a drawback from comfort. When each emulates, and desires and
endeavours to acquire, the other’s peculiar qualities
the difference does not produce diversity of interest, but
increased identity of it, and makes each still more valuable to the
other. But when one is much the inferior of the to in mental
ability and cultivation, and is not actively attempting by the
other’s aid to rise to the other’s level, the whole influence of
the connexion upon the development of the superior of the two is
deteriorating: and still more so in a tolerably happy marriage than
in an unhappy one. It is not with impunity that the superior in
intellect shuts himself up with an inferior, and elects that
inferior for his chosen, and sole completely intimate, associate.
Any society which is not improving is deteriorating: and the more
so, the closer and more familiar it is. Even a really superior man
almost always begins to deteriorate when he is habitually (as the
phrase is) king of his company: and in his most habitual company
the husband who has a wife inferior to him is always so. While his
self-satisfaction is incessantly ministered to on the one hand, on
the other he insensibly imbibes the modes of feeling, and of
looking at things, which belong to a more vulgar or a more limited
mind than his own. This evil differs from many of those which have
hitherto been dwelt on, by being an increasing one. The association
of men with women in daily life is much closer and more complete
than it ever was before. Men’s life is more domestic. Formerly,
their pleasures and chosen occupations were among men, and in men’s
company: their wives had but a fragment of their lives. At the
present time, the progress of civilisation, and the turn of opinion
against the rough amusements and convivial excesses which formerly
occupied most men in their hours of relaxation– together with (it
must be said) the improved tone of modern feeling as to the
reciprocity of duty which binds the husband towards the wife–have
thrown the man very much more upon home and its inmates, for his
personal and social pleasures: while the kind and degree of
improvement which has been made in women’s education, has made them
in some degree capable of being his companions in ideas and mental
taste, while leaving them, in most cases, still hopelessly inferior
to him. His desire of mental communion is thus in general satisfied
by a communion from which he learns nothing. An unimproving and
unstimulating companionship is substituted for (what he might
otherwise have been obliged to seek) the society of his equals in
powers and his fellows in the higher pursuits. We see, accordingly,
that young men of the greatest promise generally cease to improve
as soon as they marry, and, not improving, inevitably degenerate.
If the wife does not push the husband forward, she always holds him
back. He ceases to care for what she does not care for; he no
longer desires, and ends by disliking and shunning, society
congenial to his former aspirations, and which would now shame his
falling-off from them; his higher faculties both of mind and heart
cease to be called into activity. And this change coinciding with
the new and selfish interests which are created by the family,
after a few years he differs in no material respect from those who
have never had wishes for anything but the common vanities and the
common pecuniary objects.  What marriage may be in the case of two
persons of cultivated faculties, identical in opinions and
purposes, between whom there exists that best kind of equality,
similarity of powers and capacities with reciprocal superiority in
them–so that each can enjoy the luxury of looking up to the other,
and can have alternately the pleasure of leading and of being led
in the path of development–I will not attempt to describe. To
those who can conceive it, there is no need; to those who cannot,
it would appear the dream of an enthusiast. But I maintain, with
the profoundest conviction, that this, and this only, is the ideal
of marriage; and that all opinions, customs, and institutions which
favour any other notion of it, or turn the conceptions and
aspirations connected with it into any other direction, by whatever
pretences they may be coloured, are relics of primitive barbarism.
The moral regeneration of mankind will only really commence, when
the most fundamental of the social relations is placed under the
rule of equal justice, and when human beings learn to cultivate
their strongest sympathy with an equal in nights and in
cultivation.  Thus far, the benefits which it has appeared that the
world would gain by ceasing to make sex a disqualification for
privileges and a badge of subjection, are social rather than
individual; consisting in an increase of the general fund of
thinking and acting power, and an improvement in the general
conditions of the association of men with women. But it would be a
grievous understatement of the case to omit the most direct benefit
of all, the unspeakable gain in private happiness to the liberated
half of the species; the difference to them between a life of
subjection to the will of others, and a life of rational freedom.
After the primary necessities of food and raiment, freedom is the
first and strongest want of human nature. While
mankind are lawless, their desire is for lawless freedom. When they
have learnt to understand the meaning of duty and the value of
reason, they incline more and more to be guided and restrained by
these in the exercise of their freedom; but they do not therefore
desire freedom less; they do not become disposed to accept the will
of other people as the representative and interpreter of those
guiding principles. on the contrary, the communities in which the
reason has been most cultivated, and in which the idea of social
duty has been most powerful, are those which have most strongly
asserted the freedom of action of the individual–the liberty of
each to govern his conduct by his own feelings of duty, and by such
laws and social restraints as his own conscience can subscribe to.
 He who would rightly appreciate the worth of personal independence
as an element of happiness, should consider the value he himself
puts upon it as an ingredient of his own. There is no subject on
which there is a greater habitual difference of judgment between a
man judging for himself, and the same man judging for other people.
When he hears others complaining that they are not allowed freedom
of action–that their own will has not sufficient influence in the
regulation of their affairs–his inclination is, to ask, what are
their grievances ? what positive damage they sustain? and in what
respect they consider their affairs to be mismanaged ? and if they
fail to make out, in answer to these questions, what appears to him
a sufficient case, he turns a deaf ear, and regards their complaint
as the fanciful querulousness of people whom nothing reasonable
will satisfy. But he has a quite different standard of judgment
when he is deciding for himself. Then, the most unexceptionable
administration of his interests by a tutor set over him, does not
satisfy his feelings: his personal exclusion from the deciding
authority appears itself the greatest grievance of all, rendering
it superfluous even to enter into the question of mismanagement. It
is the same with nations. What citizen of a free country would
listen to any offers of good and skilful administration, in return
for the abdication of freedom? Even if he could believe that good
and skilful administration can exist among a people ruled by a will
not their own, would not the consciousness of working out their own
destiny under their own moral responsibility be a compensation to
his feelings for great rudeness and imperfection in the details of
public affairs ? Let him rest assured that whatever he feels on
this point, women feel in a fully equal degree. Whatever has been
said or written, from the time of Herodotus to the present, of the
ennobling influence of free government–the nerve and spring which
it gives to all the faculties, the larger and higher objects which
it presents to the intellect and feelings, the more unselfish
public spirit, and calmer and broader views of duty, that it
engenders, and the generally loftier platform on which it elevates
the individual as a moral, spiritual, and social being–is every
particle as true of women as of men. Are these things no important
part of individual happiness ? Let any man call to mind what he
himself felt on emerging from boyhood–from the tutelage and
control of even loved and affectionate elders–and entering upon
the responsibilities of manhood. Was it not like the physical
effect of taking off a heavy weight, or releasing him from
obstructive, even if not otherwise painful, bonds? Did he not feel
twice as much alive, twice as much a human being, as before ? And
does he imagine that women have none of these feelings? But it is
a striking fact, that the satisfactions and mortifications of
personal pride, though all in all to most men when the case is
their own, have less allowance made for them in the case of other
people, and are less listened to as a ground or a justification of
conduct, than any other natural human feelings; perhaps because men
compliment them in their own case with the names of so many other
qualities, that they are seldom conscious how mighty an influence
these feelings exercise in their own lives. No less large and
powerful is their part, we may assure ourselves, in the lives and
feelings of women. Women are schooled into suppressing them in
their most natural and most healthy direction, but the internal
principle remains, in a different outward form. An active and
energetic mind, if denied liberty, will seek for power: refused the
command of itself, it will assert its personality by attempting to
control others. To allow to any human beings no existence of their
own but what depends on others, is giving far too high B premium on
bending others to their purposes. Where liberty cannot be hoped
for, and power can, power becomes the grand object of human desire;
those to whom others will not leave the undisturbed management of
their own affairs, will compensate themselves, if they can, by
meddling for their own purposes with the affairs of others. Hence
also women’s passion for personal beauty, and dress and display;
and all the evils that flow from it, in the way of mischievous
luxury and social immorality. The love of power and the love of
liberty are in eternal antagonism. Where there is least liberty,
the passion for power is the most ardent and unscrupulous. The
desire of power over others can only cease to be a depraving agency
among mankind, when each of them individually is able to do without
it: which can only be where respect for liberty in the personal
concerns of each is an established principle.   But it is not only
through the sentiment of personal dignity, that the free direction
and disposal of their own faculties is a source of individual
happiness, and to be fettered and restricted in it, a source of
unhappiness, to human beings, and not least to women. There is
nothing, after disease, indigence, and guilt, so fatal to the
pleasurable enjoyment of life as the want o~ a worthy outlet for
the active faculties. Women who have the cares of a family, and
while they have the cares of a family, have this outlet, and it
generally suffices for them: but what of the greatly increasing
number of women, who have had no opportunity of exercising the
vocation which they are mocked by telling them is their proper one?
What of the women whose children have been lost to them by death or
distance, or have grown up, married, and formed homes of their own?
There are abundant examples of men who, after a life engrossed by
business, retire with a competency to the enjoyment, as they hope,
of rest, but to whom, as they are unable to acquire new interests
and excitements that can replace the old, the change to a life of
inactivity brings ennui, melancholy, and premature death. Yet no
one thinks of the parallel case of so many worthy and devoted
women, who, having paid what they are told is their debt to
society–having brought up a family blamelessly to manhood and
womanhood–having kept a house as long as they had a house needing
to be kept–are deserted by the sole occupation for which they have
fitted themselves; and remain with undiminished activity but with
no employment for it, unless perhaps a daughter or daughter-in-law
is willing to abdicate in their favour the discharge of the same
functions in her younger household. Surely a hard lot for the old
age of those who have worthily discharged, as long as it was given
to them to discharge, what the world accounts their only social
duty. Of such women, and of those others to whom this duty has not
been committed at all–many of whom pine through life with the
consciousness of thwarted vocations, and activities which are not
suffered to expand–the only resources, speaking generally, are
religion and charity. But their religion, though it may be one of
feeling, and of ceremonial observance, cannot be a religion of
action, unless in the form of charity. For charity many of them are
by nature admirably fitted; but to practise it usefully, or even
without doing mischief, requires the education, the manifold
preparation, the knowledge and the thinking powers, of a skilful
administrator. There are few of the administrative functions of
government for which a person would not be fit, who is fit to
bestow charity usefully. In this as in other cases (pre-eminently
in that of the education of children), the duties permitted to
women cannot be performed properly, without their being trained for
duties which, to the great loss of society, are not permitted to
them. And here let me notice the singular way in which the question
of women’s disabilities is frequently presented to view, by those
who find it easier to draw a ludicrous picture of what they do not
like, than to answer the arguments for it. When it is suggested
that women’s executive capacities and prudent counsels might
sometimes be found valuable in affairs of State, these lovers of
fun hold up to the ridicule of the world, as sitting in Parliament
or in the Cabinet, girls in their teens, or young wives of two or
three and twenty, transported bodily, exactly as they are, from the
drawing-room to the House of Commons. They forget that males are
not usually selected at this early age for a seat in Parliament, or
for responsible political functions. Common sense would tell them
that if such trusts were confided to women, it would be to such as
having no special vocation for married life, or preferring another
employment of their faculties (as many women even now prefer to
marriage some of the few honourable occupations within their
reach), have spent the best years of their youth in attempting to
qualify themselves for the pursuits in which they desire to engage;
or still more frequently perhaps, widows or wives of forty or
fifty, by whom the know- ledge of life and faculty of government
which they have acquired in their families, could by the aid of
appropriate studies be made available on a less contracted scale.
There is no country of Europe in which the ablest men have not
frequently experienced, and keenly appreciated, the value of the
advice and help of clever and experienced women of the world, in
the attainment both of private and of public objects; and there are
important matters of public administration to which few men are
equally competent with such women; among others, the detailed
control of expenditure. But what we are now discussing is not the
need which society has of the services of women in public business,
but the dull and hopeless life to which it so often condemns them,
by forbidding them to exercise the practical abilities which many
of them are conscious of, in any wider field than one which to some
of them never was, and to others is no longer, open. If there is
anything vitally important to the happiness of human beings, it is
that they should relish their habitual pursuit. This requisite of
an enjoyable life is very imperfectly granted, or altogether
denied, to a large part of mankind; and by its absence many a life
is a failure, which is provided, in appearance, with every
requisite of success. But if circumstances which society is not yet
skilful enough to overcome, render such failures often for the
present inevitable, society need not itself inflict them. The
injudiciousness of parents, a youth’s own inexperience, or the
absence of external opportunities for the congenial vocation, and
their presence for an uncongenial, condemn numbers of men to pass
their lives in doing one thing reluctantly and ill, when there are
other things which they could have done well and happily. But on
women this sentence is imposed by actual law, and by customs
equivalent to law. What, in unenlightened societies, colour, race,
religion, or in the case of a conquered country, nationality, are
to some men, sex is to all women; a peremptory exclusion from
almost all honourable occupations, but either such as cannot be
fulfilled by others, or such as those others do not think worthy of
their acceptance. Sufferings arising from causes of this nature
usually meet with so little sympathy, that few persons are aware of
the great amount of unhappiness even now produced by the feeling of
a wasted life. The case will be even more frequent, as increased
cultivation creates a greater and greater disproportion between the
ideas and faculties- of women, and the scope which society allows
to their activity.   When we consider the positive evil caused to
the disqualified half of the human race by their
disqualification–first in the loss of the most inspiriting and
elevating kind of personal enjoyment, and next in the weariness,
disappointment, and profound dissatisfaction with life, which are
so often the substitute for it; one feels that among all the
lessons which men require for carrying on the struggle against the
inevitable imperfections of their lot on earth, there is no lesson
which they more need, than not to add to the evils which nature
inflicts, by their jealous and prejudiced restrictions on one
another. Their vain fears only substitute other and worse evils for
those which they are idly apprehensive of: while every restraint on
the freedom of conduct of any of their human fellow-creatures
(otherwise than by making them responsible for any evil actually
caused by it), dries up pro tanto the principal fountain of human
happiness, and leaves the species less rich, to an inappreciable
degree, in all that makes life valuable to the individual human

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