RIGHTS AND WRONGS OF WOMEN
NO one denies the fact that women have wrongs; we wrangle only over the alphabet of amelioration. Some advocate her being unsexed as the best means of doing her justice; other propose her intellectual annihilation, and the further suppression of her individuality, on the homoeopathic principle of giving as a cure the cause of the disease.
How few open the golden gates which lead to the middle Sacred Way, whose stillness offends the noisy, and whose retirement disgusts the restless; the middle path of a noble, unpretending, redeeming, domestic usefulness: stretching out from Home, like the rays of a beautiful star, all over the world! Yet here have walked the holy women of all ages; a long line of saints and heroines; whose virtues have influenced countless generations, and who have done more for the advancement of humanity than all the Public Functions together. Not that the comparison bespeaks much, or is worthy of the sacred Truth.
A word with ye, O Public Functionists – ye damagers of a good cause by loading it with ridicule – ye assassins of truth, by burying it beneath exaggeration! A woman such as ye would make her – teaching, preaching, voting, judging, commanding a man-of-war, and charging at the head of a battalion – would simply be an amorphous monster, not worth the little finger of the wife we would all secure if we could, the tacens et placens uxor, the gentle helpmeet of our burdens, the soother of our sorrows, and the enhancer of our joys! Imagine a follower of a certain Miss Betsy Millar, who for twelve years commanded the Scotch brig, Cloetus – imagine such a one at the head of one’s table, with horny hands covered with fiery red scars and blackened with tar, her voice hoarse and cracked, her skin tanned and hardened, her language seasoned with nautical allusions and quarter-deck imagery, and her gait and step the rollicking roll of a bluff Jack-tar. She might be very estimable as a human being, honourable, brave, and generous, but she would not be a woman: she would not fulfill one condition of womanhood, and therefore she would be unfit and imperfect, unsuited to her place and unequal to her functions. What man (moderately sane) would prefer a woman who had been a sea captain ten or twelve years, to the most ordinary of piano-playing and flower-painting young ladies? Mindless as the one might be, the rough practicality of the other would be worse; and helpless as fashionable education makes young ladies, Heaven defend us from the virile energy of a race of Betsy Millars! Yet one philosopher has actually been found, who has had the moral courage to quote this lady’s career as proof that woman are fitted by nature for offices which men have always assumed to themselves, and that it would be a wise, and healthful, and a natural state of society which should man brigs with boarding-school girls, and appoint emancipated females as their commanders. We wish Mr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the heroic champion of Betsy Millar, no worse fate than to marry one of his favourate sea captainesses.
In the American Utopia that is to come, women are to be voters, barristers, members of congress, and judges. They are to rush to the polling-booth, and mount the hustings, defiant of brickbats and careless of eggs and cabbages. They are to mingle with the passions and violences of men by way of asserting their equality, and to take part in their vices by way of gaining their rights. They are to be barristers, too, with real blue bags, pleading for murderers and sifting the evidence of divorce cases; offices, no doubt, highly conducive to their moral advancement and the maintenance of their purity, but such as we, being of old-fashioned and eminently unenlightened school, would rather not see our wives or daughters engaged in. Of doctoresses we will say nothing. The care and the cure of the sick belong to women, as do all things gentle and loving. And though we can scarcely reconcile it with our present notions of the fitness of things, that a gentlewoman of refinement and delicacy should frequent dissecting-rooms among the crowd of young students, and cut up dead bodies and living ones as her mother cut out baby clothes, yet the care of the sick is so holy a duty, that if these terrible means are necessary, they are sanctified by the end, and God prosper those who undertake them! But they are not necessary. Women are better as medical assistants than as independent practitioners; their services are more valuable when obeying than when originating orders; and as nurses they do more good than doctors. Besides, it would be rather an inconvenient profession at times. A handsome woman, under forty – or over it – would be a dangerous doctor for most men; and as specialties in medicine and quackeries, it would be humbug and affectation to shrink from any cases. For, admitting the principle that woman’s mission – at least one of them – is to doctor, it must be extended in practice to all alike. And we may imagine various circumstances in which a young doctress would be somewhat embarrassing if not embarrassed; yet what are we to do when all the doctors are driven out of the field and we have no choice left us? And if women are to be our doctors, will they be only old women, and ugly ones – will there never be bright eyes or dimpled cheeks among them? It might be very delightful to be cured by a beautiful young woman, instead of a crabbed old man, yet for prudence sake we should recommend most wives and mothers to send for the crabbed old man when their husbands are ill, and to be particularly cautious of feminine M.D.’s in general.
One or two points of human nature the Public Functionists and emancipated women either sink or pervert. The instincts above all. The instinct of protection in woman they decline to know anything about; they see nothing sacred in the fact of maternity, no fulfillment of natural destiny in marriage, and they find no sanctifying power in the grace of self-sacrifice. These are in their eyes the causes of woman’s degradation. To be equal with man, she must join in the strife with him, wrestle for the distinctions, and scramble for the good places. She must no longer stand in the shade apart, shedding the blessing of peace and calmness on the combatants, when they return home, heated and weary, but she must be out in the blazing sun, toiling and fighting, too, and marking every victory by the grave-stone of some dear virtue, canonized since the world began. Homes deserted, children – the most solemn responsibility of all – given to a stranger’s hand, modesty, unselfishness, patience, obedience, endurance, all that has made angels of humanity must be trampled under foot, while the Emancipated Woman walks proudly forward to the goal of the glittering honours of public life, her true honours lying crushed beneath her, unnoticed. This these noisy gentry think will elevate woman.
Women have the grave legal and social wrongs, but will this absurd advocacy of exaggeration remedy them? The laws which deny the individuality of a wife, under the shallow pretence of a legal lie; which award different punishments for the same vice; the laws which class women with infants and idiots; and which recognize principles they neither extend nor act on; these are the real and substantial. Wrongs of Women, which will not, however, be amended by making them commanders in the navy or judges on the bench. To fling them into the thick of the strife would be but to teach them the egotism and hardness, the grasping selfishness, and the vain-glory of men, which it has been their mission, since the world began, to repress, to elevate, to soften, and to purify. Give woman public functions, and you destroy the very sprigs of her influence. For her influence is, and must be, moral more than intellectual – intellectual only as filtering through moral nature; and if you destroy that moral nature, if you weaken its virtues and sully its holiness, what of power or influence remains? She will gain place and lose power; she will gain honours and lose virtues; when she has pushed her father or son to the wall, and usurped the seats consecrated by nature to them alone. Yes, by nature; in spite of the denial of the Public Functionists. Her flaccid muscles, tender skin, highly nervous organization, and aptitude for internal injury, decide the question of offices involving hard body labour; while the predominance of instinct over reason, and feeling over intellect, as a rule, unfits her for judicial or legislative command. Her power is essential a silent and unseen moral influence; her functions are those of a wife and mother. The emancipatists rate these functions very lightly, compared with the duty and delight of hauling in main-top-sails or speechifying at an election. They seem to regard the maternal race as a race apart, a kind of necessary cattle, just to keep up the stock; and even of these natural drudges the most gifted souls may give up their children to the care of others, as queen-bees give their young to the workers. Yet no woman who does her duty faithfully to her husband would find her time unemployed, or her life incomplete. The education of her children alone would sufficiently employ any true hearted woman; for education is not a matter of school-hours, but of that subtle influence of example which makes every moment a seed-time of future good or ill. And the woman who is to gifted, too intellectual, to find scope for her mind and heart in the education of her child, who pants for a more important work than the training of an immortal soul, who prefers quarter-decks and pulpits to a still home and a school-desk, is not a sea captain, nor a preacher by mission – she is simply not a woman. She is a natural blunder, a mere unfinished sketch; fit neither for quarter-decks nor for home, able neither to command men nor to educate children.
But the true woman, for whose ambition a husband’s love and her children’s adoration are sufficient, who applies her military instincts to the discipline of her household, and whose legislative faculties exercise themselves in making laws for her nursery; whose intellect has field enough in her communion with her husband, and whose heart asks no other honours than his love and admiration; a woman who does not think it a weakness to attend to her toilette, and who does not distain to be beautiful; who believes in the virtue of glossy hair and well-fitting gowns, and who eschews rents and raveled edges, slipshod shoes, and audacious make-ups; a woman who speaks low, and who does not speak much; who is patient and gentle, and intellectual and industrious; who loves more than she reasons, and yet does not love blindly; who never scolds, and rarely argues, but who rebukes with a caress, and adjusts with a smile: a woman who is the wife we have all dreamt of once in our lives, and who is the mother we still worship in the backward distance of our past: such a woman as this does more for human nature, and more for woman’s cause, than all the sea captains, judges, barristers, and members of parliament put together – God-given and God-blessed as she is! If such a wife as this has leisure which she wishes to employ actively, she will always find an occupation, and of a right kind too. There are the poor and the sick round her home; she will visit them, and nurse them, and teach their children, and lecture their drunken husbands; she will fulfil her duty better thus than by walking the hospitals, or preaching on Sundays! There are meetings to attend also, and school committees, and clothing-clubs and ragged schools to organize; and her voice will sound more sweet and natural there than when shrieking through a speaking-trumpet or echoing in court. And there are books to read, and then to discuss by the fireside with her husband, when he comes home in the evening – though perhaps his attention may sometimes wander from the subject to her little foot, peeping out from under the flounces over the fender, or to the white hands stitching so busily, - and is not this better than a public lecture in a Bloomer costume? And then, perhaps, she can help her husband in his profession, write out a clear manuscript for his editor, or copy a deed, find out references and mark them for him, or perhaps correct his sermon, to the general advantage of his congregation, - which, we contend, is a fitter occupation than arguing divorce cases in a wig and blue bag, or floundering in the quagmires of theology in bands and a scholar’s hood. Our natural woman, too, loves her children, and looks after them; but the babies of our emancipated woman belong as much to the state as to her, and as much to chance as to either. Our natural woman plays with her children, and lets them pull down her thick hair into a curtain over her face, and ruffle even her clean gown with their tiny hands: but the emancipated woman holds baby-playing a degradation, and resigns it to servants and governesses.
Give us the quite wife, the good mother, the sweet, unselfish sister; give us women beautiful and womanly, and we will dispense with their twelve years’ service on board a brig, or two or three years’ close attendance in a dissecting-room. Give us gentlewomen, who believe in milliners, and know the art of needlework; who can sew on buttons and make baby-clothes; who, while they use their heads, do not leave their hands idle; who while claiming to be intellectual beings, claim also to be natural and loving beings – nay, even obedient and self-sacrificing beings, two virtues of the Old World which our Transatlantic Utopians count as no virtues at all. Oh, Transatlantic Utopians! Leave nature’s loveliest work alone! Let women have their rights, in Heaven’s name, but do not thrust then into places which they cannot fill, and give them functions they cannot perform – except to their own disadvantage, and the darkening of the brightest side of the world. Reflect (if ye ever do reflect) on the destiny of woman, which nature has graven on her soul and body; a wife, a mother, a help-meet and a friend; but not by mind or by person ever meant to be an inferior man, doing his work badly while neglecting her own. The shadow of man darkens the path of woman, and while walking by his side, she yet walks not in the same light with him. Her home is in the shade, and her duties are still and noiseless; his is in the broad daylight, and his works are stormy and tumultuous; but the one is the compliment of the other, and while he labours for her she watches for him, and energy and love leave nothing incomplete in their lives. Rest in the shade, dear woman! Find your happiness in love, in quiet, in home activity and in natural duties; turn as from your ruin from all those glaring images of honour which a weak ambition places before you.
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