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lOlf PON : 




n^HE object of this Essay is to explain as 
-*- clearly as I am able, the grounds of an 
opinion Tvhich I have held from the very earliest 
period when I had formed any opinions at all on 
social or political matters, and which, instead of 
being weakened or modified, has been constantly 
growing stronger by the progress of 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 in itself, and now 
one of the chief hindrances to human improve- 
^jDQent ;^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 

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 
diflBculty of the case must lie in the insufiiciency 
or obscurity of the grounds of reason on which 


my conviction rests. The difficulty is that which 
exists in all cases in which there is a mass of 
feeling to be contended against. So long as 
an opinion is strongly rooted in the feelings, 
it gains rather than loses in stability 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, the worse it fares in argu- 
mentative contest, the more persuaded its adhe- 
rents are that their feeling must have some deeper 
ground, which the arguments do not reach ; 
and while the feeling remains, it is always throw- 
ing up fresh intrenchments of argument to repair 
any breach made in the old^ And there are so 
many causes tending to make the feelings con- 
nected with this subject the most intense and 
most deeply-rooted of all those which gather 
round and protect old institutions and customs, 
that we need not wonder to find them as yet less 
undermined and loosened than any of the rest 
by the progress of the great modern spiritual and 
social transition ; nor suppose that the barbarisms 
to which men cling longest must be less bar- 
barisms than those which they earlier shake oflF. 

/^n every respect the burthen is hard on those 
who attack an almost universal opinion.' They 
must be very fortunate as well as unusually 

capable if they obtain a bearing 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, the 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 innocenc^. If there is a difference of opinion 
about the reality of any alleged historical event, 
in which the feelings of men in general are not 
much interested, as the Siege of Troy for 
example, those who maintain that the event took 
place are expected to produce their proofs, before 
those who take the other side can be required to 
say anything; and at no time are these re- 
quired 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 sup- \ 
posed to be with those who are against liberty ; \ 
who contend for any restriction or prohibi- \ 
tion ; either any limitation of the general freedom | 
of human action, or any disqualification or dis- / 
parity 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 the 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 use- 
less for me to say that those who maintain the 
doctrine that men have a right to command and 
women are under an obligation to obey, or that 
men are fit for government and women unfit, are 
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 
allowed to men, having the double presumption 
against them that they are opposing freedom 
and recommending partiality, must be held to 
the strictest proof of their case, and unless their 
success be such as to exclude all doubt, the judg- 
ment ought to go 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 by those who take 
the other side of the question, but to imagine 
all that could be said by them — to find them 

in reasons, as well 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 this, and leave the opposite party 
with a host of unanswered arguments against 
them, and not a single unrefuted one on their side, 
I should be thought to have done little ; for - 
a cause supported on the one hand by universal ^ 
usage, and on the other by so great a preponde- ^ 
ranee of popular sentiment, is supposed to have a ; 
presumption in its favour, superior to any con- t 
viction which an appeal to reason has power to | 
produce in any intellects but those of a high class. ' 

I do not mention these difficulties to complain 
of them ; first, because it would be useless ; they 
are inseparable from having to contend through 
people's understandings against the hostility 
of their feelings and practical tendencies : and 
truly the understandings of the majority of man- 
kind would need to be much better cultivated than 
has ever yet been the case, before they can be 
asked to place such reliance in their own power 
of estimating arguments, as to give up practical 
principles in which they have been born and bred 
and which are the basis of much of the 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 t 


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 preju- 
dices of the reaction of the nineteenth century 
against the eighteenth, to accord to the unrea- 
soning 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 everything 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 of the false worships of 
the present day, of all of which it is now the 
piaiu support, will probably hold its ground until 
St gives way before a sound psychology, laying 
|bare the real root of much that is bowed down 
/to as the intention of Nature and the ordinance 
of God. As regards the present question, I am 
willing to accept the unfavourable conditions 
which the prejudice assigns to mc. I consent 
that established custom, and the general feeling, 
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 judg- 


ment sliould go against me, unless I can show 
that my judge has been tampered with. The con- 
cession 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 esta- 
blished, had been the result of a conscientious 
comparison between different modes of consti- 
tuting the government of society; if, after trying 
various other modes of social organization — 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 ob- 
\ ligation of obedience to the man with whom she 
\ has associated her destiny, was the arrangement 
\most conducive to the happiness and well being of 
l)oth; 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 thie 
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, cannoc 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 exist- 
ing 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 organized means | 
of asserting and protecting these rights, instead / 

\iof 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 being a mere affair of force 
between the master and the slave, became regu- 
larized 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 culti- 
vation, 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 uito 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 sup- 
posed to have, must be grounded on its having 
lasted till now, when so many other things which 
( — -came down fi'om the same odious som'ce 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 
V law of the strongest. 

That this statement should have the effect of 
a paradox, is in some respects creditable to the 
progress of civilization, and the improvement of 
the moral sentiments of mankind. We now live 
— that is to say, one or two of the most ad- 
vanced 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 
any one 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. How- 
ever any of our present institutions may have be- 
gun, it can only, they think, have been preserved 
to this period of advanced civilization by a well- 
grounded feeling of its adaptation to human na- 
ture, and conduciveness to the general good. They 
do not understand the great vitality and dura- 
bility 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 senti- 
ments of those who have power in their hands, 
become identified with retaining it; how slowly 
these bad institutions give way, one at a time, 
I 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 parti- 
cular 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. |lt was inevitable that 
this one case of a social relation grounded on force, 
would sur\dve 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 civilization, any more than 
domestic slavery among the Greeks jarred with 
their notion of themselves as a free peopl^ 

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 repre- 
sentatives of ages long past, are able to form any 
mental picture of what society then was. People 
are not aware how entirely, in former 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 shewing 


how exactly the regard due to the life, possessions, 
and entire earthly happiness of any class of per- 
sons, Tvas measured by what they had the power 
of enforcing; how all who made any resistance 
to authorities that had arms in their hands, how- 
ever 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, deser\ing 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 probable that this, except by 
persons of still worse than the average morality, 
was seldom done without some twinges of con- 
science. The ancient republics, being mostly 
grounded from the first upon some kind of 
mutual compact, 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 thougli 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 common- 
wealths ; the banishment of that primitive law 
even from so narrow a field, commenced the re- 
generation of human nature, by giving birth to 
sentiments of which experience soon demon- 
strated the immense value even for material in- 
terests, and which thenceforward only required 
to be enlarged, not created. Though slaves were 
no part of the commonM'ealth, 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 per- 
form. For more than a thousand years the 
Church kept up the contest, with hardly any per- 
ceptible 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 


15 -^i \ 

valued possessions to enricli the Chureli. 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 de- 
liverance 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 tyrannize 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 bour- 
geoisie 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 organization of the demo- 
cratic classes put an end to it sooner, by establish- 
ing equal laws and free national institutions. 

K people are mostly so little aware hoAV com- 
pletely, 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 afifairs 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 establish- 
ment, j 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, pre- 
sents features the most revolting to the feelings 



of all "\t1io look at it from an impartial position, 
was the law of civilized and Christian England 
Avithin the memory of persons now li\-ing : and 
in on.e half of Anglo-Saxon America three or 
four years ago^ not only did slavery exist^ but 
the slave trade, and the breeding of slaves ex- 
pressly 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 in- 
terest in favour of it, than of any other of the 
customary abuses of force : for its motive was 
the love of gain, unmixedand undisguised j and 
those who profited by it were a very small nu- 
merical 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 con\action that military 
despotism is a case of the law of force, ha\ing 
no other origin or justification. Yet in all the 
great nations of Europe except England it either 
stiU 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. i How different are these cases 
from that of the power of men over women ! I 
am not now prejudging the question of its justifi- 
ableness. I am showing how vastly more perma- 
nent it could not but be, even if not justifiable, 
than these other dominations which have never- 
theless lasted down to our own time. What- 
ever gratification of pride there is in the posses- 
sion 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.i Instead of being, to most of its supporters, 
a thing desirable chiefly in the abstract, or, like 
the political ends usually contended for by fac- 
tions, 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 every one 


who looks forward to being so. The clodhopper 
exercises^ or is 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 every one 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 inde- 
pendence 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 
difl&culty 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 

c 2 


by terrors. In the case of women, each indi- 
vidual 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 plea- 
sures or the alleviations of their own individual 
lot. \ If ever any system of privilege and en- 
forced subjection had its yoke tightly riveted 
on the necks of those who are kept down by it, 
this has. I have not yet shown that it is a 
wrong system : bat every one 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 civilized 
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 testi- 
monies 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 di\-ision of mankind into two 
classes,, a small one of masters and a numerous 
one of slaves^ appeared, even to the most culti- 
vated minds, to be a natural, and the only natural, 
condition of the human race. No less an in- 
tellect, 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 na- 
tures, 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 1 
go back to Aristotle V Did not the slaveowners 
of the Southern United States maintain the same 
doctrine, with all the fanaticism with which meu 
cling 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 inca- 
pable of freedom, and marked out for slavery ? 
some even going so far as to say that the freedom 
of manual labourers is an unnntm'al order of 
things anywhere. Again, the theorists of abso- 


lute 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. Conquer- 
ing 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 over men 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 emanci- 
pated 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 tyrannizing 
■^ over them. So true is it that unnatural gene- 

rally means only uncustomary, and that every- 


thing which is usual appea rs natura l. The sub- 
jection 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 parlia- 
ment. 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 un- 
natural to the Greeks than to other ancients, on 
account of the fabulous Amazons (whom they 
believed to be historical), and the partial example 
aflForded 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 natu- 



rally disqualified for them. There can be little 
doubt that Spartan experience suggested to Plato, 
among many other of his doctrines, that 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 
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 M'omen 
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 organized party to agitate for the lligLts 
of Women, there is a numerous and active Society 
organized and managed by woi.icn, 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 ivould cherish them, were they 
not so strenuously taught to repress them as con- 
trary to the proprieties of their sex. It must be 
remembered, also, that no jenslaved class ever f\ 
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 
affaii's 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 indi- 
vidual 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 wlio complain of ill usage by their hus- 
bands. There would be infinitely more, if com- 
plaint 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 phy- 
sical 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 eff^ort after- 
wards is to disclose as little as they can, and to 
beg off' their tyrant from his merited chastisement. 
^11 c auses, social and natural, combine to 
make it unlikely that women should be col- 
lectively rebellious to the power of men. They 
are so far in a position different from all other 
subject classes, that their masters require some- 
thing 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 govern- 
jnent 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. AYhen 
we put together three things — first, the naturalCT) 
attraction between opposite sexes ; secondly, the/^s 
wife's entire dependence on the husband, every 
privilege or pleasure she has being either hisV'-.; 
gift, or depending entirely on his will ; and lastly, 
that the principal object of human pursuit, consi- 
deration, 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 gi'cat means of influence over the minds 
of women ha^^ng been acquired, an instinct of 
selfishness made men avail tlicmselves 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 
as 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 
centering 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 tliere, have believed the dis- 
tinction to be a fundamental and unalterable fact 
in human nature ? 

The preceding considerations are amply suffi- 
cient 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,.j^ong,.one 
against it ; and that, so far as the whole course of 
human improvement up to this time, the whole 
stream of modern tendencies, warrants any in- 
ference on the subject, it is, that-thisL ^lic of the 
past is discordant with the future^ and naust 
necessarily disappear. 

For, what is the peculiar character of the 
modern world — the difference which chiefly dis- 
tinguishes 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 bom 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 posi- 
tion, and were mostly kept in it by law, or inter- 
dicted 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 dis- 
inherit 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 im- 
portant, in any but the legal manner — by pro- 
cesses 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 op- 
posite doctrines now prevail. Law and govern- 
ment 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 J 
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 mis- 
chievous. This conclusion, slowly arrived at, and 
not adopted until almost every possible applica- 
tion of the contrary theory had been made with 
disastrous result, now (in the industrial depart^ 
ment) 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 pro- 
cesses, 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. / Free- 
dom and competition suffice to make blacksmiths 
strong-armed men, because the weak-armed can 
earn more by engaging in occuj)ations 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 per- 
sons 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 incom- 
petent person from making, or from persisting 
in, the attempt. 

If this general principle of social and econo- 
mical 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^jiqbleman, 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 as to the 
superior fitness of men for all the functions now 
reserved 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 thou- 


sands of unfit persons is no gain ; for if the con- 
stitution 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 any one, 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 aiiy legal ban : neither 
law nor opinion superadd artificial obstacles to 


the natural ones. Royalty, as I have said, is 
excepted : but in this case every one feels it to be 
an exception — an anomaly in the modern world, 
in marked opposition to its customs and princi- 
ples, and to be justified only by extraordinary 
special expediencies, which, though individuals 
and nations differ in estimating their weighty 
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 
mei-e 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 any one 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 

D 2 


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 funda- 
mental 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. 
PauPs and received daily worship, while the sur- 
rounding Christian churches were only resojited^o 
on fasts and festivals. This entir e . di^icrepa jicy 
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 afibrds, to a con- 
scientious observer of human tendencies, serious 
matter for reflection. It raises a prima facie pre- 
sumption on the unfavourable side, far outweigh- 
ing 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, with- 
out 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 
t wo c ourses, so long as there has only been expe- 
' rience 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, ex- 
perience does not say. On the other hand, ex- 
perience 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 civilization 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 go on to complete 
equality ; but it assuredly affords some presump- 
tion that such is the case. 

Neither does it avail anything to say that the 
■Mature) 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 any one 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 natm'e of each. 
What is now called the nature of women is an 
eminently artificial thing — the result of forced 
repression in some directions, unnatural stimula- 


tion in others. It may be asserted without 
scruple, that no other class of dependents have 
had thgij, 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 atmo- 
sphere and under this active nurture and water- 
ing, while other shoots from the same root, which 
are left outside in the wintry air, with ice pur- 
posely heaped all round them, have a stunted 
growth, and some are burnt ofi" with fire and 
disappear ; men, with that inability to recognise 
their own work which distinguishes the un- 
analytic 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 difiiculties 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 in- 
fluences 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 land- 
lord is not industrious, there are j)eople who 
think that the Irish are naturally idle. Because 
constitutions can be overthrown when the autho- 
rities 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 show- 
ing the extraordinary susceptibility of human 
nature to external influences, and the extreme 


variableness of those of its manifestations wliich 
axe 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 ques- 
tion, what are the natural differences between 
the two sexes — a subject on which it is impossible 
in the present state of society to obtain com- 
plete and correct knowledge — while almost every- 
body dogmatizes upon it, almost all neglect and 
make light of the only means by which any 
partial insight can be obtained into it. sQiis is, 
an analytic study of the most important de- 
partment of psychology, the laws of the influence 
of cir cumstances on charactgrT? For, however 
great and apparently ineradicable the moral and 
intellectual differences between men and women 
might be, the evidence of their being natural 
differences could only be negative. Those only 
could be in^rred to be natural which could not 
possibly be artificial — the residuum, after de- 
ducting every characteristic of either sex which 
can admit of being explained from education or 
external circumstances. The profoundest know- 
ledge of the laws of the formation of character 
is indispensable to entitle any one to affirm even 
that there is any difference^ much more what 


the difference is^ between the two sexes con- 
sidered 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 moi'e or less authorized by such 
knoAvledge as we yet have of the laws of psy- 
chology, 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 incom- 
plete state. Medical practitioners and physio- 
logists 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, 
llespecting 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 feel- 


ings may confidently be inferred from those which 
prevail in the circle by which the person is sur- 
rounded. Not so with those whose opinions and 
feelings are an emanation from their own nature 
I and faculties. It is only a man here and there 
j who has any tolerable knowledge of the character 
1 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 thinks he 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 gene- 
rally 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 un- 
speakably 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 compe- 
tent 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 sub- 
ordination on the other prevent jierfect confi- 
dence. 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 every one. 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 auother is extremely unpropitious 
to complete sincerity and openness with him. 
The fear of losing ground in his opinion or in his 
feelings is so strongs that even in an upright cha- 
racter^ 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 : j and i t 
mavbe 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 study- 
ing. When we further consider that to under- 
stand 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 un- 
willing 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 impedi- 
ments 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 suflScient 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 pent braver 
I'opiniou ; une femme doit s^y soumettre.^^''^ The 
greater part of what women write about women 
is mere sycophancy to men. In the case of un- 
* Title-page of Mme. de Stael'8 " Delphine.'' 


married "women, milch 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 -o'hat is desired 
or relished by any man, excej)t the very vulgarest. 
But this is not so often the case as, even at a 
quite late period, it still was. Literary women 
are becoming more freespoken, 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 
obseiTation 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 copije inter 
maximas causas inopise est f 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 toge- 
ther, 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 in 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 jjcrson or many can dp, but by 
trying — and no means by which any one 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 mankinJ'^to interfere 
in behalf of nature, for fear lest nature should 
not succeed in effecting its purpose, is an alto- 
gether 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 Tvomen ; 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 some things 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. What- 
ever 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 th'em, the col- 
lective faculties of the two sexes can be applied 
on the whole with the greatest sum of valuable 

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 sub- 
ject) — " It is necessary to society that women 
should fiiarry 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 slaveholders 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 suc- 
cessful up to this day. But it 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 v;i\\ 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 them- 
selves open to a simiLir retort. If they mean 
what they say, their opinion must e\4dently 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 any one 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 marry- 
ing 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 entraine- 
ment, rendering them for the time insensible 
to anything but itself, choose such a lot, when 
any other means were open to them of hlling 
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 
lat 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 con- 
ti<adiction and a disturbing element : and it was 
wBong to bring women up with any acquire- 
pients but those of an odalisque, or of a domestic 



IT will be well to commence the detailed dis- 
cussion of the subject by the particular 
branch of it to which the course of our observa- 
tions has led us : the conditions which the laws 
of this and all other countries annex to the 
marriage contract. Marriage being- the destina- 
tion appointed by society for women, the prospect 
they are brought up to, and the object which itj 
is intended should be sought by all of them, ex- 
cept 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 shew that the consent was other than 
compulsory ; and it was practically impossible for 
the gii'l to refuse compliance if the father perse- 
vered, 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 Christi- 
anity) 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 corre- 
sponding 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 distin- 
guished 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 civilization and 
Christianity have restored to the "svoman 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 lifelong 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, y 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 advan- 
tage to their women, through special contracts 
setting aside the law, by conditions of pin-money, 
&c. : 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 with- 


draw 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 hus- 
band. 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 Tvord^ as a Avife 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 owi 
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 fami- 
liarity. 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 degrada- 
tion of a human being, that of being made the 
instrument of ^n animal function contrary to her 
inclinations. While she is held in this worst de- 
scription of slavery as to her own person, what 
is her position in regard to the children in 
whoih 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 delega- 
tion from him. Even after he is dead she is 
not their legal guardian, unless he by will haa 
made her so. He could even send them away 
from her, and deprive her of the means of seeing 
or corresponding Avith 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 inacces- 
sible to any one 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, inthe 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 assimila- 
tion 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 im- 
pulses 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 in- 
vested 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 miti- 


gations in practice^ Avhicli 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 XYI. was not the despotism of Philippe 
le Bel, or of Nadir Shah, or of Caligula; but 
it was bad enough to justify the French Revolu- 
tion, 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 pro- 
scriptions 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 in- 


dividual feelings nowliere 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 tOAvards those a\1io, 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 con- 
templation of fellow-creatures to whom God 
has not been so merciful as he has to themselves. 
"Whether the institution to be defended is 
slavery, political absolutism, or the absolutism of 
the bead 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 sur- 
rounded by their smiles and benedictions. All 
this would be very much to the purpose if any 
one pretended that there are no such things as 
good men. 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. ^NFarriage 
is not an institution designed for a select few. 
Men are not required, as a preliminary to the 
marriage ceremony, to prove by testimonials that 
they are fit to be trusted -svith the exercise of 
absolute power. The tie of affection and obliga- 
tion to a wife and children is very strong with 
those whose general social feelings are strong, 
and M'ith 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 gooduess 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 to- 
wards 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 un- 
punished, 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 expe- 
rience 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^ tliroiigli the law of marriage, 
to obtain a victim, the breadth and depth of 
human misery caused in this shape alone bv the 
abuse of the institution swells to something ap- 
palling. 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 g, strong light 
what must be the terrible frequency of things 
only a little less atrocious. Absolute tiends are 
as rare as angels, perhaps rarer : ferocious 
savages, with occasional touches of humanity, are 
however very frequent : and ia the wide interval 
which separates these fi'om any worthy represen- 
tatives of the human species_, how many are the 
forms and gradations of animalism and selfish- 
ness, often under an outward varnish of civiliza- 
tion 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, every 


one knows by heart, were it not that hardly any 
one 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 com- 
monest 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 submis- 
sion. 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, over- 
bearingness. unbounded self-indulgence, and a 


double-dyed and idealized selfishness, of whicli 
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 pre- 
ferences. "VMiat 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 delibe- 
rate purpose, almost every one 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 — oflPers to him a license for the indulgence 
of those points of his original character which 
in all other relations he would have found it ne- 
cessary 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 

F 2 


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 un- 
comfortable, and by that power is able to carry 
maDY points which she ought, and many which 
she ought not, to prevail in. But this instru- 
ment 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 them- 
selves had it, and who generally turn this power 
to a bad use. The amiable cannot use such an 
instrument, the highminded 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 exer- 
cise 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. 


thougli 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 chil- 
dren, 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 na- 
turally acquired over almost all human beings by 
those near to their persons (if not actually disagree- 
able to them) : who, both by their direct entreaties, 
and by the insensible contagion of their feelings 
and dispositions, are often able, unless counter- 
acted by some equally strong personal influence, 
to obtain a degree of command over the conduct 
of the superior, altogether excessive and un- 
reasonable. 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 Sultanas favourite slave has slaves 
under her, over whom she tyrannizes ; 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 rela- 
tion, and by making it the business of her life 
to work upon his sentiments, a wife may gratify 
herself by influencing, and very probably per-* 
verting, his conduct, in those of his external re- 
lations which she has never qualified herself to 
judge of, or in which she is herself wholly in- 
fluenced 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 
uo business "with things out of that sphere ; and 
accordingly she seldom has any honest and con- 
scientious opinion on them ; and therefore hardly 
ever meddles with them for any legitimate pur- 
pose, 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, som^_ _one_j)erson 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 partner- 
ship, one partner shall have entire control over 
the concern, and the others shall be bouud to 
obey his orders. No one would enter into part- 
nership on terms which would subject him to the 
responsibilities of a principal, with only the 


jjowers 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 otiiers 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 po*ver 
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 ex- 
clusive 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 with- 
drawing 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 every day, and cannot adjust them- 
selves gradually, or wait for a compromise, ought 
to depend on one Mill : 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 cliange 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 suita- 
bihties. If the two persons chose, they might 
pre-appoint it by the marriage contract, as pe- 
cuniaiy arrangements are now often pre-ap- 
pointed. 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 natiu'ally follow the division of 
duties and functions ; and that is ah'cady made 
by consent, or at all events not by law, but by 
general custom, modified and modifiable at the 
pleasure of the persons concerned. 

The real practical decision of aSairs, to which- 
ever may be given the legal authority, will gi'catly 
depend, as it even now does, upon comparative 
qualifications. The mere fact that he is usually 
the eldest, will in most cases give the prepon- 
derance to the man ; at least until they both 
attain a time of life at which the difi'erence 
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 Ieay of marriage, but on the 
general conditions of human society, as now 
constituted. The influence of mental supe- 
riority, 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 agree- 
ment between themselves. They always are so 
apportioned, except in cases in which the mar- 
riage institution is a failure. Tilings 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 
difi'erences becomes possible, is the power of 
legal compulsion knoAvn 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 -woLild be a motive Avith 
the plaintiff to agree to almost any arbiti'ation, 
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, except in 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 extremi- 
ties, 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 any one else, and never will yield in any- 
thing, 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 in- 
sult 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 com- 
plimentary face upon an injury, and resembling 


those celebrations of royal clemency which, ac- 
cording 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, 
■^at equality of rights would abate the exagge- 
rated self-abnegation which is the present arti- 
ficial 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 
grand thing that it is actually the law for anothei 
rational beingTl^ There is nothing which men so 
easily learn as this self- worship : all privileged 
persons, and all pri^dleged 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 
any one except an unfortunate wife and children. 
The honourable exceptions are proportionally 
fewer than in the case of almost any other hu- 
man 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 asso- 
ciate their lives with them. But the legal sub- 
ordination 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 encroach- 
ments. The law, not determining her rights, but 
theoretically allowing her none at all, practically 
declares that the measure of what s he 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 acknow- 
ledged for generations to come, the only school 
of genuine moral sentiment is society between 
equals. The moral education of mankind has 
hitherto emanated chiefly fi-om 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, fi'om its highest place 
to its lowest, is one long chain, or rather ladder, 
where every indi^ddual 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 


tlie morality of submission^ and tlie 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 
civilization 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 Avhole 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 tteir sentiments are adapted to past, 
not to coming ages. To see the futurity of the 
species has always been the privilege of the intel- 
lectual 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, edu- 
cation, society, all go on training human beings 
for the old, long after the new has come ; much 
more when it is only coming. I But the true 
virtue of human beings is fitness f^TIve together 
as equals ; claiming nothing for themselves but 
what they as freely concede to every one else; 
regarding command of any kind as an excep- 
tional necessity, and in all cases a temporary 
one ; and prefemng, whenever possible, the 
society of those with whom leading and fol- 
lowing can be alternate and reciprocal. To 
these virtues, nothing in life as at present con- 
stituted gives cultivation by exercise. 1 The 
family is a school of despot ism, 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. iWhat is needed 
is, that it should be ja school of sympathy in 
equality ;, of living together in love, without 
power on one side or obedience on the other J 
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 associa- 
tion, and a model to the children of the feelings 
and conduct which their temporaiy training by 
means of obedience is designed to render habitual, 
and therefore natural, to them. The moral train- 
1 / ing of mankind wDl never be adapted to the 
\j conditions of the life for which all other human 
I progress is a preparation, until they practise in 
V the family the same moral rule which is adapted 
\ to the normal constitution of human society.! 
Any sentiment of fi'eedom which can exist in 
a man whose nearest and dearest intimacies are 
with those of whom he is absolute inaster, 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 abun- 
dantly 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 spiriFoT a just law of equality. Laws never 
would be improved, if there were not nume- 
rous 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 con- 
ditions of the tie which unites them do not occur 
to their thoughts once in a twelvemonth, and be- 
cause 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 possess- 
ing it. ^\Tiat is more ; in the most naturally 
brutal and morally uneducated part of the lower 
classes, the legal slavery of the woman, and some- 
thing 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 opportuni- 
ties, 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 


ill lier 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. PauVs business, 
nor was it consistent with his object, the propa- 
gation of Christianity, to incite any one to rebel- 
lion against existing laws. The apostle's accep- 
tance 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 sariction to mili- 
tary despotism, and to that alone, as the 
Christian form of political government, or com- 
mands 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, 
&c., 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, prohi- 
biting 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 ob- 
ligation 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 betw'ccn them. But I have no relish 
for a community of goods resting on the doc-i 


trine, that ■^liat is mine is yours bnt what is 
yours is not mine ; and I should prefer to de- 
cline entering into such a compact with any 
one, 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 be little doubt that it -will be one of 
the earliest remedied. Already, in many of the 
new and several of the old States of the Ame- 
rican Confederation, provisions have been in- 
serted even in the written Constitutions, securing 
to women equality of rights in this res[)ect : and 
thereby improving materially the position, in 
the marriage relation, of those women at least 
who have property, by leaving them one instru- 
ment 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 
wldch 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 chil- 
dren 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 an otherwise 
just state of things, it is not, therefore, I think, 
a desirable custom, that the wife should con- 
tribute 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 exer- 
tion?, while he spends most of his time in drink- 


ing and idleness. The po wer of ea,in\n^ is essen- 
tial to Jthe^ dignity of a womanj^ if she ^hgg not 
incigpendeut property. Bat if marriage ^-ere an 
equal contract, not implying the obligation of 
obedience ; if the connexion ^vere no longer en- 
forced 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 fi'eely open to her as 
to men ; it would not be necessary for her pro- 
tection^ that during marriage she should make 
this particular use of her faculties. Like a mafi 
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 house- I 
hold, 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 pur- 
pose ; and that she renounces, not all other ob- 
jects and occupations, but all which are not 
consistent with the requii'ements of this. The 
actual exercise, in a habitual or systematic 
manner, of outdoor occupations, or such as 
cannot be carried on at home, wouhl 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 excep- 
tionally adapted to any other pursuit, from 
obeying their vocation notwithstanding mar- 
riage : 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. 



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 
any one 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 do- 
mestic 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 every one, 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 ; or- 
daining 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 centimes, "nhcn (which was seldom the case) 
any reason beyond the mere existence of the fact 
was thought to be required to justify the disabili- 
ties of women, people seldom assigned as a reason 
their inferior mental capacity ; which, in times 
when there Avas 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 flagi- 
tious 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 any one 
ventures to do in the face of present experience. 
It is not sufficient to maintain that women on 


the average are less gifted tlian men on the 
average, Avith 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 
are 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 -woidd 
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 depre- 
dator 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 excep- 
tion, which is done by men, and of doing it suc- 
cessfully and creditably. The utmost that can be 


said is, tliat there are 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 
docs 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 super- 
fluity 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 veithout 


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 in- 
justice 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 pliysici9,us or advocates, 
or elect members of parliament, and who are 
deprived of the stimulating efffect of greater com- 
petition on the exertions of the competitors, as 
well as restricted to a narrower range of indi- 
vidual choice. 

It will perhaps be sufficient if I confine 
myself, in the details of my argument, to func- 
tions 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 dis- 
tinguished 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 trusty 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 govern- 
ment would be a narrow oligarchy indeed. To 
have a voice in choosiug those by whom one is 
to be governed, is a means of self-protection due 
to every one, 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 limita- 
tions; 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 sufirage, 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 iu which the interests of 
women, as such, are in some way involved ; and if 
they are so, women require the suflFrage, 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 in 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 iu 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 be justified by 
any opinion which can be held respecting the 




capacities of women in general. But, tliougli 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 at 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 evi- 
dence 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 Beet- 
hoven, because no woman has yet actually pro- 


duced 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 Tvoman 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 consi- 
deration, 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 ha^-ing 
written all the plays of Shakspeare, or composed 
all the operas of ]Mozart. But Queen Elizabeth 
or Queen Victoria, had they not inherited the 
throne, could not have been intrusted with the 
smallest of the political duties, of which the 
fonner showed herself equal to the greatest. 

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 con- 
spicuous, 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 dis- 
tinguished themselves. We know how small a 
number of reigning queens history presents, in 

H 2 


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, iu a great 
number of instances, been distinguished by merits 
the most opposite to the imaginary and conven- 
tional 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 vice- 
roys of provinces, the list of women who have 
been eminent rulers of mankind swells to a great 
length."^ This fact is so undeniable, that some 
one, long ago, tried to retort the argument, and 
turned the admitted truth into an additional 
insult, by saying that queens are better than 

* Especially is tbis true if we take into consideration Asia 
as well as Europe. If a Hindoo principality is strongly, vigi- 
lantly, and economically governed ; if ordrr is preserved without 
oppression; if cultivation is extending, and the people prosperous, 
in three cases out of four that principality is under a woman's 
rule. This fact, to me an entirely unexpected one, I have col- 
lected from a long official 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 efl'ect 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 be- 
hind a curtain, that they do not read, and if they did, there is no 
book in their languages which can give them the smallest in- 
struction on political affairs ; the example they afford of the na- 
tural capacity of women for government is very striking. 


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 well 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 inten- 
tions 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 cotemporaries. 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, w&,s 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 sove- 
reign, 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 jjublic 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 im- 
portant business of every one who has to do with 
governing mankind. Even the unprincipled 
Catherine de' Medici could feel the value of a 
Chancellor de THopital. But it is also true 
that most great queens have been great by their 
own taleuts 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 in- 
capable 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 enougli; 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 famili es are t he 
only women Mho are allowed the same range of 
interests and freedom of development as aicn ; 
^ 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 govern- 
ment 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 charac- 
teristic 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 any one 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 develop- 
ment, in so unnatural a state, that their nature 




cannot but have been greatly distorted and dis- 
guised ; and no one can safely pronounce that if 
TTomen's nature were left to choose its direction as 
freely as men^s^ and if no artificial bent were at- 
tempted 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 diflPe- 
rence, or perhaps any difference at all, in the 
character and capacities which would unfold 
themselves. I shall presently show, that even 
th e leas t 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^ """ith more truth than belongs 
to most other generalizations 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 prin- 


ciples. 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 com- 
parison of experience ; and neither the men nor 
the women of intuition usually shine in this de- 
partment^ 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 " in- 
tuition " preserves them from it. With equality 
of exp erience and of general faculti es^ a woman 


usually sees m uch m jB W^ t h an a man of what 
is immediately before her. Now tins seusibility 
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 dis- 
criminate 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 obser- 
vation holds among a woman's faculties, makes 
her particularly apt to build over-hasty gene- 
ralizations upon her own observation ; though at 
the same time no less ready in rectifying those 
generalizations, 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 spe- 
cifically 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 know- 
ledge, or he could not have got on at all; but 
what he knows of it he has picked up in frag- 
ments and at random, as women do. 


But this gravitation of women''s minds to 
the present, to the real, to actual fact, Avhile 
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 per- 
ception 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 legiti- 
mate purpose of speculation altogether, and let 
their speculative faculties go astray into regions 
not peopled with real beings, animate or inani- 
mate, even idealized, 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 col- 
lecting 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 -svoman 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 afiected 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. 

Ifthe 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 specula- 
tion, 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 con- 
clusion 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 capa- 
city of doing rapidly what he does ; what he rather 
needs is patience, to work on slowly until imper- 
fect 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 "svlio 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 
criticize, 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 efibrt grown into 

r,It will be said, perhaps, that the greater 
nervous susceptibility of women is a disqualifica- 
tion for practice, in anything but domestic life, 
by rendering them mobile, changeable, too 
vehemently under the influeace 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 
busi ness. J 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 un- 
conscious cultivation ; as we see by the almost 
tota,l disappearance of " hysterics^^ and fainting 
fits, since they have gone out of fashion. More- 


over, "when people are brotiglit up, like many 
women of the higher classes (though less so in 
our own coimtr^^ than in any other) a kind of hot- 
house plants, shielded from the wholesome vicissi- 
tudes 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 tho3e 
of them Avho 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 liveli- 
hood show none of these morbid characteristics, 
unless indeed they are cliaincd 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 free- 
dom of their brothers, and who obtain a sutiB- 
ciency of pure air and exercise in after-life, very 
rarely have any excessive susceptibility of nerves 
which can disqualify them for active pm'suits. 
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 


organization wliicli exercises the greatest influence 
over the whole character of the vital phenomena. 
This constitution, like otherphysical conformations, 
is hereditaiy, and is transmitted to sons as well 
as daughters ; but it is possible, and probable, that 
the nervous temperament (as it is called) is in- 
herited by a greater number of women than of 
men. We Avill 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 
arc continually given by the men of high nervous 
sensibility. They are distinguished in their prac- 
tical 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 excite- 
ment is not, except in weak bodily constitutions, 



a mere flashy wliich 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 sub- 
lime 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 aj)t for what may 
be called the executive department of the leader- 
ship 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 re- 
quired from a statesman in the cabinet, or from 
a judge. It would be so, if the consequence 
necessarily followed that because people are ex- 
citable they must always be in a state of excite- 
ment. 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 fana- 
tically rigid in their feelings of duty, when their 
passion has been trained to act in that direction. 
The judge who gives a just decision io 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 en- 
thusiasm 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 esti- 
mates, his sentiments and proceedings at other 
times : and his habitual purposes assume a cha- 
racter moulded by and assimilated to the mo- 
ments 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 tem- 
perament to be less fit, on the average, either 
for speculation or practice, than the more unex- 
citable. The French, and the Italians, are un- 
doubtedly 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 man- 
kind. 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 in- 
dividual 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 ex- 
cellence. 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 then* tem- 
perament, 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 difierence 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 with- 
out interruption. For the pm'poscs, at all events, 
of practice, from its highest to its humblest de- 
partments, 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 hav^e it from 
nature, but they certainly have it by training 
and education ; for nearly the whole of the occu- 
pations 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 itself 
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 

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 prodi- 
giously 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 Cuv^er's (the heaviest pre- 


viously 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 organization, if the size of the 
organ were wholly indifferent to the function; if 
no accession of power were derived from the 
greater magnitude of the instrument. But the 
exception and the anomaly would be fully as 
great if the organ exercised influence by its 
mai^nitude only. In all the more delicate opera- 
tioi.s 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 in- 
strument is to be tested by the nicety and deli- 
cacy 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 cir- 
culation. The results which conjecture, founded 
on analogy, would lead us to expect from this 
difference of organization, 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 per- 
sistent 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 hypo- 
thetical ; it pretends to no more than to suggest 
a line of enquiry. 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 ca- 
pacities 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 un- 
noticed by the observer, and looked down upon 
with a kind of supercilious contempt by the 
])revalcnt 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 


diiferent relations of human beings to society 
and life. 

To so ridiculous an extent are the notions 
formed of the nature of women, mere empirical 
generalizations, 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 li\'ing in it any speciality of develop- 
ment or non-development. An Oriental thinks 
that women are by nature peculiarly voluptuous ; 
see the violent abuse of them ou this ground in 
Hindoo writings. An Englishman usually thinks 
that they are by nature cold. The sayings about 
womeu^s fickleness are mostly of French origin ; 
from the famous distich of Francis the First, up- 
ward and downward. In England it is a common 
remark, how much m ore constant women are than 
men. Inconstancy has been longer reckoned dis- 
creditable 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 attempt- 
ing to judge what is or is not natural, not merely 
to women, but to men, or to human beings alto- 
gether, at least if they have only English expe- 
rience to go upon : because there is no place where 


human nature shows so little of its original linea- 
ments. Both in a good and a bad sense, the Eng- 
lish are farther from a state of nature than any 
other modern people. They are, more than any 
other people, a product of civilization 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 tlian 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 else- 
where 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 Englisliman fancies that things do 
not exist,because he never sees them; aFrenchman 
thinks they must always and necessarily exist, 
because he does see them. An Englishman does 
not know nature, because he has had no oppor- 
tunity of observing it; a Frenchman generally 
knows a great deal of it, but often mistakes it, 
because he has only seen it sophisticated and dis- 
torted. 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 w^ould 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 arti- 
ficial ; Avhether 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 w^here certainty is unat- 
tainable, there may yet be the means of ar- 
riving at some degree of piobability. The first 
point, the origin of the differences actually 


observed, is the one most accessible to specula- 
tion ; 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 cir- 
cumstances of his condition, so as to ascertain ex- 
perimentally what he would have been by nature ; 
but we can consider w^hat he is, and what his cir- 
cumstances 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 philo- 
sophy, 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 

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 tliat 
their attempts have been at all numerous ; and 
they are even now extremely few, everywhere but 
in England and France. It is a relevant ques- 
tion, 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 depart- 
ment 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 com- 
petitors. 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 Cor inn a, 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 modern 
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 ; defieiency of originality. Not 
total deficiency ; for every production of mind 
which is of any substantive value, has an origi- 
nality of its own — is a conception of the mind 
itself, not a copy of something else. Tlioughts 
original, in the sense of being unborrowed — of 
being derived from the thinker's own observations 
or intelL'Ctual 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 groimded 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 exe- 
cution, 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 saidj what is chiefly wanting. And now to 
examine if there is any manner in which this 
deficiency can be accounted for. 

Let us rememberj then^ so far as regards 
mere thought, that during all that period in the 
world's existence, and in the progress of cultiva- 
tion, in which great and fruitful new truths 
could be arrived at by mere force of genius, 
with little previous 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 origi- 
nality 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 otiiers, 
that a long process of climbing^ and of carrying 
up materials, has to be gone through by whoever 
aspnes 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 M rite 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 neces- 
sary erudition ? If no woman is a great philo- 
logist, what woman has studied Sanscrit and 
Slavonic, the Gothic of Ulphila and the Persic 
of the Zendavesta? Even in practical matters 


we all kuow 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. T\Tien 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 im- 
portant addition to knowledge : but even then, 
no justice can be done to it until some other 
person, who does possess the previous acquire- 
ments, 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 

B 2 


original tliouglits 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 

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 difiFercnt 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 ad- 
vanced 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 com- 
menced. All women who write are pupils of the 
great male writers. A painter's early pictures, 
even if he be a Rafiaelle, 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 indi- 
vidual^ 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 ac- 
cepted models, and guide itself by its own im- 
pulses. But if, as I believe, there wiU not prove 
to be any, natural tendencies common to women, 
and distinguishing their genius from that of men, 
yet every indi\idual writer among them has her 
individual tendencies, which at present are still 
subdued by the influence of precedent and ex- 
ample : and it will require generations more, before 
their individuality is sufficiently developed to make 
head against that influence. 

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 afflrent 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 explana- 
tion 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 uni- 
versally 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, bat 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 braiich 
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 tlie modern, is that 
a greatly superior class of men applied themselves 
to the art. In the fourteenth and fifteenth cen- 
turies the Italian painters were the most accom- 
plished men of their age. The greatest of them were 
men of encyclopsedical acquirements and powers^ 
like the great men of Greece. But in their 
times fine art was, to men^s feelings and concep- 
tions, 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 dependant 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 -wliicli, 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 edu- 
cated, 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 thatmode 
of conducting it. The superintendence of a house- 
hold, even when not in other resj)ects laborious, is 
extremely onerous to the thoughts ; it requires 
incessant vigilance, an eye which no detail escapes, 
and presents questions for consideration and solu- 
tion, 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 em- 
ployment 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 aehie^dng 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.* 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 specula- 
tion, 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 oflFends 
nobody by devoting his time to it ; occupation is 

* "It appears to be the same right turn of mind which enables 
a man to acquire the truth, or the 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 the 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 itison 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 Reynolds' Discourses, 
Disc. vii. 


received as a valid excuse for his not answering 
to every casual demand ■vrhicli may be made on 
him. Are a woman^s occupations, especially her 
chosen and voluntary ones, ever regarded as excus- 
ing 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 con- 
secutive 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 exercise 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 suffi- 
cient for living by it, and there is a higher 


degree on wliicli depend the great productions 
which immortalize a name. To the attainment 
of the former^ there are adequate motives in the 
case of all who follow the pui'suit professionally : 
the other is hardly ever attained where there is 
not, or where there has not been at some period 
of lifcj 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 pui'suits 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 ad- 
mired, by those whom they see with their eyes : 
and the proficiency in knowledge, arts, and ac- 
complishments, which is sufficient for that, almost 
always contents them. This is a trait of cha- 
racter 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 edu- 
cation 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^ in- 
cluding even the favour of women; "^hile 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 concen- 
trated upon the impressions made on those who 
come into her daily life, when society has or- 
dained that all her duties should be to them, and 
has conti'ived 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 in- 
fluence a complete explanation of nearly all the 
apparent dififerences between women and men, 
including the whole of those which imply any 


As for moral differences^ considered as dis- 
tinguished from intellectual, the distinction com- 
monly 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 esta- 
blished 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 servi- 
tude, except when it actually brutalizes, though 
corrupting to both, is less so to the slaves than 
to the slave-masters. It is wholcsomcr 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 


lierd 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 women. 

The complimentary dictum about women^s 
superior moral goodness may be allowed to pair 
ofl;' with the disparaging one respecting their 
greater liability to moral bias. AYomen, 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 coui'se of duty 
and the public interest by their regard for them- 
selves, women (not being allowed to have private 
interests of their own) by their regard for some- 
body else. It is also to be considered, that aU 
the education which women receive from society 
inculcates on them the feeling that the indi^'iduals 
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 presup- 
posed in any intelligent regard for larger in- 
terests 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 practise. 

The concessions of the privileged to the un- 
privileged 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. Tliat 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 unfemi- 
nine. 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 any- 
where 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 com- 
plain 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 tyi'anny. The Commons began by 
claiming a few municipal privileges; they next 
asked an exemption for themselvps 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 autho- 
rity. 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 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. 



THERE remains a question, not of less im- 
portance than tliose already discussed, and 
which will be asked the most importunately by 
those opponents whose conviction is somewhat 
shaken on the main point. "V^Tiat good are we 
to expect from the changes proposed in our 
customs and institutions? Would mankind be 
at all better oflf 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 indi- 
vidual M'oraen to individual men, are far too 
terrible to be overlooked. Unthinking or un- 
candid 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 
tyrannize 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 con- 
tradiction 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 ahumanbeinginthe pleni- 
tude 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. 

L 2 


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, ho-wevcr, 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 employ- 
ments — there arc many persons for whom it is 
not enough that the inequality has no just or 
legitimate defence; they I'cquire to be told 
what express advantage would be obtained by 
abolishing it. 

To which let me first answer, the advantage of 
having the most \inivcrsal 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 expla- 
nation or illustration, to place in a stronger light 
than it is placed by the bare statement, to any one 
who attaches a moral meaning to words. All the 
selfish propensities, the self-worshi}),theunjustself- 
prcference, 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 wors&— he'sees that she 
is superior to him, and believes that, notwithstand- 
ing 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 well-bred 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 tlieir mother 
as to their father : they are not permitted to 
domineer over their sisters, nor are they accus- 
tomed 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 tlie higher classes 
thus often escape the bad influences of the situa- 
tion 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 
groMS with his growth and strengthens with his 
strength ; how it is inoculated by one schoolboy 
upon another ; how early the youth thinks him- 
self superior to his mother, owing her perhaps 
forbearance, but no real respect ; and 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 in- 
dividual 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 vassaFs character may have 
beeu 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 tliat his vassals were really superior 
to himself, or to feel that he was placed in com- 
mand 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 supe- 
rior, is matched by the self-worship of the male. 
Human beings do not grow up from childhood iu 
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 
achie\'ing. Above all, when the feeling of being 
raised above the whole of the other sex is com- 
bined with personal authority over one indiridual 
among them ; the situation, if a school of con- 
scientious and affectionate forbearance to those 
whose strongest points of character are conscience 
and affection, is to men of another quahty a re- 
gularly 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 them- 


selves upon the unfortunate wife for the involun- 
tary restraint which they are obliged to submit to 

The example afiforded, 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 influ- 
ence of such magnitude, that it is hardly possible 
with our present experience to raise our imagi- 
nations to the conception of so great a change 
for the better as would be made by its removal. 
All that education and ciWlization are doing to 
efface the influences on character of the law of 
force, and replace them by those of justicc,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, con- 
stitutes 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 Avould not be em- 
ployed 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 lie 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 the 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 leav- 
ing them the free choice of their employments, 
and opening to them the same field of occupation 
and the same prizes and encoui'agements 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 pub- 
lic 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 con- 
siderable 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 em- 
ployed, 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 ft'om 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 withjthat 
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 any 
one else to interest herself in whatever is in- 
teresting 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 amoimt of indi- 
vidual talent available for the conduct of human 
affairs, which certainly arc 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 
Avomen 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 cha- 
racter, and have determined some of the chief 
steps in the progress of civilization. Even in 
the Homeric age, a'iSu)i; towards the TptoaBaq 
aXKiaiTTtTrXovQ is an acknowledged and powerful 
motive of action in the great Hector. The moral 
influence of women has had two modes of opera- 
tion. 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 hy 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 instnimental 
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 gi^ang a powerful stimulus to 
those qualities in men, which, not being them- 
selves 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 ad- 
miration and favour of women has always been ^^ 
to be thought highly of by men. From the 
combination of the two kinds of moral in- 
fluence thas exercised by women, arose the spirit 


of chivalry : the peculiarity of 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 
defenceless classes generally, and a special sub- 
mission and worship directed towards women; who 
were distinguished fi"om the other defenceless 
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. Tliough the practice of 
chivalry fell even more sadly short of its tlieoretic 
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 in- 
stance of a concerted and organized attempt by a 
most disorganized 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 fmstrated 
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 stan- 
dard should have passed away, for it is the only 
one at all capable of mitigating the demoralizing; 
influences of that position. But the changes in 
the general state of the species rendered inevi- 
table 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 
or evil on individual prowess, under the softening 
influences of indi^ddual delicacy and generosity. 
In modern societies, all things, even in the military 
department of affairs, are decided, not by indi- 
vidual effort, but by the combined operations of 
numbers ; while the main occupation of society 
has changed from fighting to business, from mili- 
tary 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 foun- 
dations 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 
encom-aged a few to do right in preference to 
wrong, by the direction it gave to the instruments 
of praise and admiration. But the real depen- 



dence 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 civiliza- 
tion has given it, and thus to render the exis- 
tence of the weaker members of society (no 
longer defenceless but protected by law) tole- 
rable to them, without reliance on the chivalrous 
feelings of those who arc in a position to tyran- 
nize. The beauties and graces of the chivalrous 
character are still what they were, but the rights 
of the weak, aud the general comfort of human 
life, now rest on a far surer and steadier suj)port; 
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 marke 
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 cliaracter, 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, 
disc ouraging to the s tumer : though the state- 
ment 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 be- 
tween interest and principle — the tendency of 
women^s influence is of a very mi}ived character. 
"WTien the principle involved happens to be one 
of the very few which the course of their reli- 
gious 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 ; forbid- 
ding particular acts, but ha^ang little to do with 
the general direction of the thoughts and pur- 
poses. I am afraid it must be said, that disinte- 
restedness 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 with- 
draw their men from them, and from the interests 
of the family. But the consequence is that 
women^s influence is often anything but favour- 
able 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 addic- 
tion 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 de- 
partment more particularly, the two provinces 
chiefly cultivated by women are religious prose- 
lytism 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, witbout either know- 
ing 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 incul- 
cated by their whole life, of looking to imme- 
diate 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 feel- 
ings. 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 condi- 
tions both of individual prosperity and of social 
virtue — this waste of resources and of benevolent 
feelings in doing harm instead of good, is im- 
mensely swelled by women's contributions, and 
stimidated by their influence. Not that this is 

M 2 


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 gene- 
rally excel men — recognise in the clearest manner 
the demoralizing influence of the alms given or 
the lielp 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-de- 
pendent ; she is not taught self-dependence ; her 
destiny is to receive everything from others, and 
M'hy 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 un- 
earned, 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 itj is the only charity which proves to be 
charity in the end. 

These considerations shew 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 im- 
provement 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 ex- 
posed to temptation_, a man^s wife and children 
tend to keep him honest and respectable, both by 
the wife^s du'cct influence, and by the concern he 
feels for their future welfare. This may be so, 
and no doubt often is sOj with those who are 
more weak than wicked; and this beneficial in- 
fluence would be preserved and strengthened 
under equal laws; it does not depend on the 
woman's servitude, but is, on the contrary, dimi- 
nished by the disrespect which the inferior class 
of men always at heart feel towards those who 
are subject to their power. Bat when we ascend 
higher in the scale, we come among a totally 
different set of moving forces. The wife's in- 
fluence 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 conscien- 
tiously 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 ; per- 
haps 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 witliout; willingly, in the same cause. 
But his daughters — their marriage may depend 
upon it : and his wife, who is unahle 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 can 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 conse- 
quence ? 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. "WTioever has a wife and children 
has given hostages to ]Mrs. Grundy. The appro- 
bation of that potentate may be a matter of in- 
difference 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 conside- 
ration 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 sacri- 
fice to it a whim, a freak, an eccentricity ; some- 
thing 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, Avithout 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 unex- 


ceptionable their breeding and habits, their being 
identified with opinions and public conduct un- 
acceptable to those who give the tone to society 
would operate as an effectual exclusion. Many 
a woman flatters herseK (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 unfortu- 
nately 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 hus- 
band fi'om 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 dis- 
abihties create between the education and cha- 
racter of a woman and that of a man, requires to 


be considered. Nothing can be more unfavour- 
able 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. A^liile 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 barcfacedness of power 
not accustomed to find itself disputed, the in- 
fluence of priests over women is attacked by Pro- 
testant 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 infal- 


libility. In England, similar differences occa- 
sionally exist when an Evangelical -vvife 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 suffi- 
cient 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 diffe- 
rences 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 diffe- 
rence 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 disagTceable to the other ; 
yet there can be none who are not common to 
both, for married people do not now live in dif- 


ferent parts of the house and have totally diffe- 
rent visiting lists, as in the reign of Louis XV. 
They cannot help ha\dng different wishes as to 
the bringing up of the children : each will wish to 
see reproduced in them their own tastes and senti- 
ments : 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 diffe- 
rently from men, and that there would not be 
differences of taste under any imaginable circum- 
stances. 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 agree- 
ment 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 
witli one thing as another if anybody tells her to 
do so. Even this calculation is apt to fail ; dul- 
ness and want of spirit are not always a guarantee 
of the submission which is so confidently expected y 
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 ac- 
quiring 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 asso- 
ciated 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 lie, 
as a general rule, complete unity and unanimity as 
to the great objects of life. When the two per- 
sons both care for gi'cat 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 eudiiring character, more likely than anything 
else to 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 imlikeness between the wife 
and the husband : but the evil tendency is pro- 
digiously aggravated when the unlikcness is in- 
feriority. 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 two 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 maiTiage 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 im- 
proving, 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 civilization, and the turn of 
opinion against the rough amusements and con- 
vivial excesses which formerly occupied most men 


in their hours of relaxation — together with (it 
must be said) the improved tone of modern feel- 
ing 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 tastes, 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 im- 
proving, 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-oflF from them ; his higher faculties 
both of mind and heart cease to be called into acti- 
vity. And this change coinciding with the new and 


selfish interests whicli are created by the family, 
after a few years he differs in no material respect 
from those "who have never had "wishes for any- 
thing but the common vanities and the common 
pecuniary objects. 

What marriage may be in the case of two 
persons of cultivated faculties, identical in opi- 
nions 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 develop- 
ment — 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 
con"vdction, that this, and this only, is the ideal of 
marriage ; and that all opinions, customs, and in- 
stitutions which favour any other notion of it, or 
turn the conceptions and aspirations connected 
"with it into any other direction, by whatever pre- 
tences they may be coloured, are relics of primitive 
barbarism. The moral regeneration of mankind 
"will only really commence, when the most funda- 
mental 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 rights and in cultivation. 
— jj 


Thus far, the benefits which it has appeared 
that the world would gain by ceasing to make 
sex a disqualificutiou for privileges and a badge 
of subjection, arc 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 gcHn 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 man- 
kind arc lawless, their desire is tor lawless free- 
dom. When they have learnt to understand the 
meaning of duty and the value of reason, they 
incline more and more to be guided and resti'ained 
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 inter- 
preter of those guiding principles. On the con- 
trary, 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 tlie individual — the libcrt} 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 happi- 
ness, 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 diffe- 
rence of judgment between a man judging for 
himself, and the same man judging for other 
people. "WTien he hears others complaining that 
they are not allowed freedom of action — that their 
own will has not sufficient influence in the regu- 
lation 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 answei" 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 

N 2 


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 abdica- 
tion of freedom ? Even if he could believe that 
good and skilful administration can exist among 
a people ruled by a will not thcii* own, would 
not the consciousness of working out their 
own destiny under their own moral respon- 
sibility be a compensation to his feelings for 
great rudeness and imperfection in the details of 
public affairs? Let him rest assured that what- 
ever 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 plat- 
form 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 weighty 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 in- 
ternal principle remains, in a different outward 
form. An active and energetic mind, if denied 
liberty, will seek for power : refused the com- 
mand of itself, it w^ill 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 a premium on bending others to their pur- 


poses. 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 per- 
sonal 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 de- 
praving agency among mankind, when each of 
them individually is able to do without it : which 
can only be where respect for liberty in the per- 
sonal concerns of each is an established principle. 
But it is not only through the sentiment of 
personal dignity, that the free direction and dis- 
posal of their own faculties is a source of indi- 
vidual happiness, and tobe fettered and restricted in 
it, a source of unhappincss, 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 of 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 


suflBces for them : but -what of the greatly in- 
creasing number of women, who have had no 
opportunity of exercisiug 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 func- 
tions 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 acti- 
vities which are not suffered to expand — the 
only resources, speaking generally, are religion 
and charity. But their religion, though it may 
he 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 know- 
ledge and the thinking powers, of a skilful ad- 
ministrator. 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 per- 
mitted 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 Com- 
mons. They forget that males are not usually 
selected at this early age for a seat in Par- 
liament, 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 mar- 
ried life, or preferring another employment of 
their faculties (as many women even now prefer 
to marriage some of the few honourable occupa- 
tions 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 
knowledge of life and faculty of government 
which they have acquired in their families, could 
by the aid of appropriate studies be made avail- 
able 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 attain- 
ment both of private and of public objects; and 


there are important matters of public administra- 
tion 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'ser\4ces of women in public business, but the 
dull and hopeless life to which it so often con- 
demns them, by forbidding them to exercise the 
practical abilities which many of them arc con- 
scious 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 im- 
portant to the happiness of human beings, it is 
that they should relish tlicir liabitual pursuit. 
This requisite of an enjoyable life is very imper- 
fectly 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 over- 
come, 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 oppor- 
tunities for the congenial vocation, and their 
presence for an uncongenial, condemn numbers 
of men to pass their lives in doing one thing reluc- 
tantly anrl ill, when there are other things which 
they could have done well and happily. But on 


women tliis 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 unha ppiness even now p ro- 
duced by the feeling of a wasted life. The case 
wHl be even more frequent, as increased cultiva- 
tion 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 eidl caused to 
the disqualified half of the human race by their 
disqualification — first in the loss of the most in- 
spiriting and elevating kind of personal enjoy- 
ment, 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 T;o 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 arc 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 huinau^iappiness, and 
leaves the species less rich, to an inappreciable 
degree, in all that makes life valuable to the 
individual human being. 




OEC 5 1974 




HQ Mill, John Stuart 

1596 The subjection of women 



Sig. Sani