Sunday, January 12, 2003

Man Superior to Woman - Chapter One


Whether the Superiority of the Men over the Women be not founded on something more solid than Custom and Prejudice.

It cannot be denied that the ingenious Lady, whom I have to contend with, is, for a woman, no despicable adversary. The cause indeed she has undertaken to defend is none of the best. But bad as it is, she has been cautious enough to make use of all the means practicable to render her arguments, in the support of it, unanswerable. She could not, without a degree in blindness, possibly overlook the irrefragable authority of a practice founded upon a prescription as ancient as human nature. She knew that the superiority of man over woman was no novelty to either sex ever since Adam's time; and therefore imagined, as well she might, that it could be no easy matter to invert this disposition of things, so venerable from the single consideration of its antiquity, without removing the obstacle which custom put in her way, by lessening the regard which the most considerate are inclined to pay to it. This she has endeavoured to do, but how?Why truly by enumerating some few instances, in which mankind of both sexes have been led into error by a blind prejudice in favour of habitual ignorance, and not of practical positive custom: and those too instances of a particular nature, and in which all men were not concerned, as the disbelief of the Antipodes, the supposed spirits of machinery, and the fancied machinery of cartesian animals. Whereas to convince us that custom is never to be regarded, she should have instanced some one custom as universal with relation to place and time, as that of woman's subjection to man, in which mankind had confessedly found themselves in error.

As this is past her skill to do, it is plain she has run beyond her mark, and contrary to her design established an argument in favour of man's authority over woman on the very principle of custom, which she with so much industry and artifice laboured to undermine. For it cannot without rashness be doubted but that mankind being rational creatures and therefore not only directed, but even of themselves inclined, to do nothing without reason, they must have consulted reason for the introduction of such practices as have been universally received by both sexes in all places, and at all times. Insomuch that it is impossible for any in their senses to conceive that right reason and prudence had no hand in establishing the customs, which both oblige us to conform to, and which we cannot deviate from without breaking in upon order and decency.

Of this nature is the custom, if Sophia chooses to call it so, which directs the women to be subject and submissive to the heaven-derived authority of their natural sovereign man: a custom, which, whether right or wrong, must so nearly concern every individual of human nature, that neither sex could be supposed so indifferent to their happiness, as not to consult reason before they established or rejected it. And therefore, since both sexes from the creation unanimously established this practice and handed it down, through all ages to our own, it is the height of temerity to impute the power of men over women to inconsiderate custom, or to any cause inferior to reason and prudence.

. . . No, let any one affirm, if truth will permit, that the women were ever treated in any one nation made up of both sexes, upon a better footing than inferior subjects; fit at best only to be the upper servants in their families.

This is the light in which they have always been viewed here in England; the place in the world where the fair sex is the most regarded, and perhaps deserves most to be so. And every one knows how much worse they are looked upon in some countries where they are esteemed absolute slaves. In China they are confined to see no one but their husbands and children; and have their feet kept small on purpose to prevent their gadding. In Turkey they are pampered
prisoners at best. Almost throughout Asia, Africa and America wives are but housemaids for life. In most parts of Europe indeed they are treated a little more gently; though the difference is but little in Italy, and scarce discernible in Spain. In a word they are every where employed in nothing but what is low and servile. Their highest dignities are limited to housewifery, and their common use is to be kept for breeders. In England alone it is that they are raised to the
office of dissipators of our more intense thoughts, amusing lullers of our care and application, and a kind of under- companions to us, when reason is disposed to relax. Nor is it easy to comprehend how it is possible to raise them higher, with any show of reason, considering their natural incapacity for every thing above the sphere they actually move in. So that however the men might be disposed, and whatever endeavour they might make use of, to alter the present disposition of matters with regard to the fair-sex, it is absolutely impossible to succeed in it.

It is doubtless for this reason that the wisest of law-givers, in founding their common-wealths, have never once established any thing in favour of an equality between both sexes. Their laws, on the contrary, have tended only to confirm the women in an entire subjection to the men. The generality of the learned of all ages have advanced many things to the disadvantage of woman: but not one has ever thought of adding the least privilege to those we have in general agreed to allow them. Nay the wise of all times and places are so unanimous in the establishment of the men's sovereignty over women, that one should be apt to imagine they had conspired together; but for the evident impossibility, that so many persons of different ages, distant climes, and opposite interests, unknown to each other, should be able to combine with one another. Whence it is plain to a demonstration, that the state of subordination, which woman is in to man, must have been dictated at least by reason and prudence.

This alone might suffice to show how greatly the Lady my antagonist is overseen in imputing the power of our sex over her own to blind custom and inconsiderate prejudice. But what will confirm it still more, is the universal ease with which the women of all ages have supported this their condition. The general content with which they submit is a plain proof, that they look upon submission as a natural duty they owe to us; and that, conscious of the legalness of our authority, they pass the same judgment on their dependency as every man does. Insomuch that both sexes appear convinced that their souls are as different as their bodies, and that there ought to be as great distinction between the two sexes in all the functions of life as there is in that of instrumentally producing it. All which considered, no woman in her senses can doubt of the subjection of that sex to ours being dictated at least by the Laws of Nature and Reason. . . .

Her All is but a Show,
Rather than solid Virtue; all but a Rib,
Crooked by Nature.
Oh! why did God,
Creator wise, that peopled highest Heaven
With Spirits masculine, create at last
This Novelty on Earth! this fair Defect
Of Nature! and not fill the World at once
With Men, as Angels, without Feminine,
Or find some other Way to generate Mankind.
- Milton

Heaven took him sleeping when he Woman made,
Had Man been waking he had ne'er consented.
- Dryden

. . . Let it suffice that I have shown how much inferior to us they are, from their Creation, if considered in themselves, and now I shall proceed to examine a little farther with Sophia.