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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Psychology of the Suffragette
By Andrew Macphail (1864–1938)
 
From ‘Essays in Fallacy’

TO get at the root of the matter, we must understand the essential character of the feminine nature, and if we discover that it is good, neutral, or bad, we must remember that man has made it so. The praise or blame is to us. Therefore we are in reality investigating ourselves. There is a German saying: From a woman you can learn nothing of a woman. As Immanuel Kant explains it: woman does not betray her secret. And yet, the only secret which is well kept is that which is no secret at all. Possibly this is the reason why women and Freemasons have been so successful in guarding theirs. The revelation which women in their writings make of themselves is incomplete because they are incapable of that intellectual effort by which complete detachment is obtained. All the “Confessions” have been done by men, St. Augustine, Montaigne, Pepys, Rousseau, Amiel, and by those immodest writers of the past ten years whose confessions are so tiresome because they have so little to confess, and therefore experience none of that reminiscitory pleasure which makes the confessional so popular.  1
  It was a reflection of Joseph de Maistre: “I do not know what the heart of a rascal may be; I know what is in the heart of an honest man: it is horrible.” Only a man is capable of making this true reflection and of confessing not alone faults which do not dishonor, but secrets which are ridiculous and mortal sins which are without extenuation. One may well believe that Chateaubriand in his ‘Mémoires d’Outre-tombe,’ Lamartine in his ‘Confidences,’ Renan in his ‘Souvenirs,’ even without being consciously insincere or lacking in veracity, refrained from mentioning those cruelly painful reminiscences with which Rousseau scourged himself; but one is considered simple-minded indeed who believes that George Sand tells us as much as she can remember in ‘L’Histoire de ma Vie.’ This charge which Mr. Jules Lemaître brings against George Sand finds its explanation in the fact that women really do forget. A man will deliberately revive the remembrance of past sins for his present amendment, and evil being turned into good, the sin is forgiven. A woman forgets an act of meanness because it made no impression upon her mind when she committed it. She does not understand the nature of it. She forgives an act of meanness which a woman commits against her because they understand each other so well.  2
  To arrive at an apprehension of this condition of non-morality, we must go back to the beginning of created beings, when the problems of physiology were reduced to their simplest forms, and the problems of psychology and ethics had not yet made their appearance; when the presence of life was revealed only by the appearance of movement. As we see the living being in its lowest form, it merely moves, eats, grows, reproduces itself, and dies. It is contractile, irritable, receptive, assimilative, metabolic, secretory, respiratory, and reproductive, as the books on science say. This seems a great deal, but in reality it is very little, for it does not differentiate an amœba from a man.  3
  The evolution of the animal kingdom began with the acquirement of the first rudiments of a morality. The original amœba was content to wait until its food arrived in a faint swirl of water. We can well imagine that, by some circumstance which was apparently fortuitous but in reality due to the operation of the law of gravity and of those principles which underlie the distribution of air, the food was brought in unusual quantity or at an unnecessary moment. The creature, being already surfeited, was quite willing that the nutriment should go to a rival. The satisfaction which was experienced as a result of comfortable physical distention was attributed to an act of self-abnegation, and so the foundation of morality was laid.  4
  This illustration may be made more obvious, and perhaps less absurd, if we consider the situation of the savage reclining before the fire with his family in the sanctity of his cave after a successful day’s chase, and a surfeit upon the rude but efficient cookery of those days. We shall not be wrong if we surmise that an emotion of gratitude might arise in his breast towards the giver of so much good and of commiseration of a less fortunate neighbor. This laudable sentiment might induce him to share the food which was yet uneaten, especially if—not to credit him with too high and disinterested a morality—he recalled that on previous occasions his surplus store had perished by decay. Certainly he would not feel disposed to interfere with his neighbor’s chase, and so the principles of justice would be established. It is not improbable that his neighbor at some future time would do as he had been done by, and accordingly the growth of morality and the bonds of amity would be strengthened. In due course game laws would make their appearance, and out of that would arise a system of jurisprudence to cover the various problems which must have faced a growing, though simple, civilization.  5
  If now it be true that morality had its origin in the mental and physical activities attendant upon the procuring of food, and since these activities were exercised chiefly by the male, it follows that the female who was not brought under the influence of a favorable environment would remain non-moral. She did not come in contact with the world, as the saying is, and continued unlearned, wanting the hard lesson of experience. Something of a similar nature is still witnessed in the case of those clerics who deal habitually with women, of schoolmasters and professors whose world is merely that which is encountered within the walls of a class-room, and of writers whose observation does not extend beyond their closets. The characteristics of the feminine nature are found in them. They are considered virtuous because the problems of morality have never presented themselves.  6
  Shut out from the world, the primitive woman was not free to develop an independent life. She adapted herself to the man. His views were her views; his dislikes were shared by her, and she adopted his opinions ready-made. She preferred to be dependent, and agreed that the man should continue to mold her mentality. This destruction of her personality and departure from her line of life became so permanent that she enjoyed it. Her sense of personal value was lost. It was found in external things, her beauty, her adornment, her children, or her husband. This lightness of regard for their own personality still persists, as we may see in the readiness with which a woman exchanges her own name for another, not once, but under certain circumstances—after a period of half-luxurious sorrow and self-conscious demureness—twice, or yet again, and each time with the greater alacrity. Without freedom there can be no free will, and without free will there can be no character.  7
  The primitive man in the contest with his environment developed an ethic, a logic, and a morality, because he was free. Deprived of freedom, the primitive woman remained servile in disposition; tyrannical when occasion offered, because the servant ever makes the worst master; unjust, since she was protected against the penalty of injustice; unsympathetic and heartless, because there was no occasion for a wide and disinterested charity; mindless because there was another to think for her. Trained to accept the conventions which the man imposed upon her, she easily submitted to the conventions devised by her own sex, and became imitative even in the clothes which she wore, in the method of adornment which she adopted, in the sentiments which she entertained, and in the opinions which she expressed. In time, however, she adapted herself to her environment, and developed a kind of ethic of her own, which was entirely adequate for the circumstances in which she was placed, but breaks down hopelessly in a wider sphere of activity.  8
  As if it were not enough that the woman was deprived of these incentives to the acquisition of a morality, she was made the victim of man’s unconscious egoism and his conscious duplicity. Men in common with other males are subject at times to a curious psychical and physical condition which is familiarly known as “being in love.” The first symptom of this mental disorder is an entire incapacity to perceive the truth. He creates an ideal woman, the woman of poetry and other romantical writings. He attributes to her, or rather projects into the ideal, his own qualities of truthfulness, modesty, justice, charity, sympathy, fortitude, and beauty. To employ the jargon of the theologians, this ideal woman is anthropomorphic. A man who is in love with a woman is really in love with himself, but neither the one nor the other is aware of the fact. He begins by deceiving himself and ends by deceiving her, for a time at least, and her future life consists in the employment of every resource to encourage and maintain the fiction. It is not the real woman whom he loves, but a spurious personality. To succeed in retaining this love, she is obliged to live the life of the image which he has created, and ends by destroying her inner self. And yet, under present conditions, that woman succeeds best who is most successful in maintaining this illusion in the minds of both.  9
  This practice of loving and believing a lie is, I suspect, the fons et origo of all that is evil in our civilization. Few men and no women are free from the vice. Even the intelligent fall into the easy habit. In an important city the editing of a newspaper was entrusted to ten of the most righteous women to be found therein, and yet they assigned the prize which had been offered for the best expression of appreciation of their labors to a man who affirmed that their literary product would overwhelm the city “with a deluge of sweetness and light.” The second prize went to a woman who predicted that much good would be effected “by their wisdom, their wit, and their might.”  10
  And this leads one to the observation that nearly all writing is an endeavor to minister to this desire for self-deception. Comparatively few men who have attained to the great age of forty years indulge in the pastime of reading. Their experience has taught them that the motive of nearly all writing is the desire for notoriety, either in this life or in the minds of those who are to come. They are wise enough to write their own books; but being wise, they abstain. They regard it as a delusion that all who are capable of reading are also capable of writing. As well might a man believe that he had a peculiar aptitude for herding sheep and playing the bagpipes, because he was born in the Highlands of Scotland. This desire of women to be deceived accounts for that insincere writing which is found in nearly all novels, and in all of those she-papers which fatten upon their credulity. Reading, then, becomes a vapid and frivolous amusement for dazing the mind, and a book no better than a lap-dog.  11
  Nor does art thrive any better than literature in this atmosphere of feminism. Art has to do with the beauty of utility, of truth. A woman learns by instinct, possibly by experience, that personal beauty does not imply morality, and as it is with her own personality she is most concerned, a secret distrust in all beauty, even the beauty of art, is instilled into her mind. Accordingly the pictures which are painted to please her must have a superficial prettiness, and the houses which are erected for her use will best serve her purpose if, instead of simplicity, they display a decorated cosiness and have sufficient cupboards for the accommodation of her cast-off finery.  12
  The superfluous top-hamper of civilization, which makes living difficult for the rich and impossible for the poor, continues to burden humanity because women will have it so. A world of iniquity is created out of their desire for change. It is not love of beauty which suddenly reveals to a woman that last year’s adornment is hideous, but the desire to change one form of ugliness for another. If she possessed that sense of beauty which comes from sincerity, and that in turn from freedom, she would once and for all agree upon some practice of adornment combined with utility, which would have a reasonable degree of permanency, rather than submit to the tyranny of an organized band of mercenaries, who exist for the purpose of exploiting her femininity. This passion in women for splendid apparel arises from their suspicion that they are not in reality beautiful, but have only been told so by men whose senses they suspect are dulled by passion.  13
  The value of the exercise of the suffrage by a woman is that it will serve to emancipate her from herself in so far as it emancipates her from men. In the present state of affairs, which is based on the Oriental conception that a woman is a chattel, a private possession, born to serve and be dependent upon man, she has no complete existence in herself. She obtains the sense of full existence only through her husband and children, just as the Mussulman woman attains to the chief desire of her heart if she is chosen to give a son to the Pattisah. She stands ready to be made wife or mother, that she may acquire that gift; and her love is the mental sense of satisfaction that she is about to be redeemed.  14
  Looked at narrowly, this attempt on the part of women to emancipate themselves would appear to be nothing more than the expression of a desire to enlarge the range of their caprice, for which not even marriage, the old and sovereign remedy, is any longer efficacious. In reality the reason lies much deeper. It is a blind striving for the pure air of freedom, for escape from a bondage in which only the qualities of the servile have had room for development. Until women cease to believe the pretty lies which men tell them, that they are only a little lower than the angels, and discover the real bondage, their own nature, from which they must emancipate themselves, they will not proceed with any degree of seriousness. They will not convince the world until they themselves are convinced. Analysis they consider detraction, and fly from investigation in wild alarm. Upon this subject there is a considerable body of information in the writings of satirists, dramatists, and theologians, ancient and modern; but it is decried as slander, whether uttered by St. Paul, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, or Otto Weininger.  15
  This violent effort to attain to freedom is bound to be associated with a form of disorderliness which the common mind describes as hysterical. All disorder in itself is bad. It is intolerable only when it is meaningless. It is decried because it is misunderstood. Any consideration of the mind of the suffragette would be quite inadequate without some mention of those complex manifestations which are known as hysteria. Of this too I shall offer an explanation in support of my argument. It is a sign of the striving after a higher morality, of an attempt to “convert nothing into something,” to put on a new nature, to acquire personality, distinction, character, and mind. Up to a certain point the woman accepts her femininity and all that is implied thereby with unquestioning obedience, taking it at its masculine value. In the absence of an external controlling influence there comes a divine discontent with that negative condition of existence, and she becomes imbued with moral ideas which are foreign to her normal mind and opposed to her real nature. In reality she puts on a superficial, sham self, and yet is incapable of perceiving the spuriousness of it. This new personality shows itself in self-confidence, independence, assertiveness, a punctilious sincerity, and painful candor in speech and action. This artificial imitation of the masculine morality with which she has overlaid her femininity, at the touch of some rough reality flies in pieces, and the conflict between her real nature and this unnatural self produces those phenomena which are known as hysteria. It is a contest between what she knows to be true and what she suspects is false.  16
  A woman in this condition is a piteous and degrading spectacle, exposing her femininity naked yet unashamed, and revealing the whole record of development in its continuous progress through those stages which we designate as plant, beast, and savage life. To the psychologist the phenomenon is full of interest and fruitful of instruction, but it recalls the fearful image conjured up by the words:
  “And Satan yawning on his brazen seat,
Toys with the screaming thing his fiends have flayed.”
  17
  This demand for the suffrage is in reality an attempt to arrive at a higher morality, to attain to consideration in virtue of goodness and not of charm. The real opponents are the women who master men by that easy device, and all men who find it so comfortable to succumb, because they find it so alluring. There is an active and a passive conspiracy working to the same end that women shall not be free. There is no creature in the world who is so irritating to the woman who is merely good as the woman who is merely charming, and therefore in a condition of negative morality. The most efficient means to destroy the force of any charm is to investigate its origin, a task to which those who are striving for emancipation would do well to apply themselves. It is not enough that they have relinquished this quality in themselves. They can succeed only when they have removed its possession from others.  18
  The struggle for freedom from their own nature will, not be easy. The habits acquired during countless ages are all but ineradicable; yet progress may appear in the exchange of one bondage for another. One would say that the noble army of martyrs who have attacked the inner sanctuary of the British Constitution had emancipated themselves from every restraint and destroyed the last attraction between themselves and living men; and yet their next act was to bind themselves with physical chains to those stone images of male humanity which stand in the Hall of St. Stephen. This thing is an allegory.  19
  I am not blind to certain perils which lie in the way; but I think they have been exaggerated and will tend to cure themselves. Voting implies being voted for, and men are so fatuous that they will vote for the woman who has a pleasing personality and skill in the adornment of her person, rather than for a candidate of commanding intellect and skill in the public use of her tongue. Then will arise another noble band of martyrs after the discovery of how little men’s votes for women are influenced by reason and how much by charm. They will declare that man shall no longer have the opportunity of being silly, and they will banish their charming sisters from public life.  20
  There is nothing which a man who is left to himself desires so ardently as he desires the feminine. To attain to it he will commit the last infamy, descending to the level of the beast from which he has arisen, even whilst he despises himself for the surrender of that morality which he has so laboriously acquired. This interdependence of good and evil constitutes the riddle of the universe; and yet it is out of this conflict between the lower and the higher that our civilization, as we know it, has arisen. The woman exercises her power by means of a charm, by which she allures and then captivates. The “fountain” of this charm is love, and its essence “pleasant to the eyes” like that fruit which first attracted the Universal Dame herself.  21
  If the power of this charm were unchecked, it would reabsorb the masculine idea into the feminine, so earnestly is it desired by men. It is the business of women to see to it that this charm is exercised with due restraint. Every child knows that a charm is broken by speech, and if the injunction taceat mulier were observed, the masculine would be delivered into an eternal bondage. If all women at all times behaved themselves in accordance with the principles of the eternal feminine, which are those of appearance and beauty, men would become so enamored of it that they would mold their lives by it and eventually transform themselves into women.  22
  Compare the power of the woman who sits, and looks, and exercises her charm in silence and mystery with her who says an inane thing three times over with the intention of being interesting and vivacious, or a foolish thing rather than remain silent; with her who votes and speaks in the councils, even though she speak with the tongue of a man and reveal all knowledge; with her who brawls in public places, and even gives her body to the Holloway gaol, and we shall discover the essential reason why women should be encouraged to do these things, namely, that they shall be induced to tell the truth about themselves and so liberate men in some degree from the power of their charm, that reason may govern life.  23
  The women who are not satisfied with the status of wife and mother and are striving to educate themselves into fitting “companions” for their husbands and sons by attending lectures and reading magazines are unaware of the power of this charm, and are suffering from an exaggerated notion of the kind of companionship for which men are capable. They magnify the masculine intelligence unduly. What a piece of work is a man! they exclaim in rhapsody, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god, the beauty of the world! In reality this “paragon of animals” desires a woman more ardently than he desires a talking book, agreeing, if he is sensible, with that eminent divine, John Calvin, when he declared, “The only beauty that can please my heart is one that is gentle, chaste, modest, economical, patient, and, finally, careful of her husband’s health.”  24
  The real grievance from which women suffer is that their authority and claim to consideration is based upon a principle which is non-ethical and of no inherent value in their eyes. Their way of escape lies in convincing men that they also should arrive at a like estimate of its fallibility. This can best be done by setting up truth in opposition to falsehood, which is the most subtle method of iconoclasm, the most powerful for breaking down an eidolon in which the affections are inordinately fixed, since the deity and the devotee can then make mutual inferences. To keep the matter scientific and impersonal, they might begin by an investigation into the nature of the troglodytic woman, disclosing her characteristics, assigning them to their proper cause, and estimating what proportion still remains. The opinion requires corroboration that women have been more successful than men in purging away those qualities which were inherent in the primitive nature. Indeed to the most careful observer there is some evidence that jealousy has not entirely given way to justice, heartlessness to charity, pride to dignity, shamelessness to modesty, selfishness to sympathy, and the desire of provoking compassion to a self-reliant fortitude.  25
  This investigation might properly be undertaken by the various Councils of Women, even at the risk of excluding those subjects upon which they possess no especial information, such as the effect of narcotics and intoxicants upon the masculine frame. A frank pronouncement from this high quarter would be free from the taunt that it was merely slander, diatribe, or vituperation. To make the inquiry sufficiently extensive, it might be well to appoint a committee of men to prepare an agendum for the meeting, a labor in which I would willingly bear a part, having a desire for specific information upon certain points, namely: why up to a certain age a younger sister dislikes the elder, and between certain ages a mother is averse to her daughter; why the law of modesty in apparel is not constant at nine o’clock in the evening and nine o’clock in the morning; why it is painful for a woman to witness another advancing in social status; why female beauty and an adornment which heightens it does not excite an emotion of universal pleasure; why women make good nurses, if it is not because they are lacking in sympathy.  26
  For women, then, there are two lines of conduct open, and only two. Either they must remain within the cave, as “sisters to the flowers,” in an environment suitable for the development of such qualities as may be developed from the essentially feminine nature, an easy docility, a pleasurable obedience, meekness, forbearance, long-suffering, patience, silence; as objects upon which men may lavish protection, kindness, benevolence, affection, and so stimulate their own masculine morality, and redeem themselves in virtue of the love which is created thereby: or they must aspire to a perfect freedom; casting aside the curb of sex and freeing themselves from the tyranny of kith and kin, they must come out into the world and remain out in the full glare of the sun, ruthlessly exposing their nature to the rough environment whereby its imperfections will be scourged and chastened away. Possibly that nature might perish in the process before a new one was created, and in any event it might be nothing more than a close approximation to the male.  27
  There is no middle station, half in and half out, exposing the evil and doing nothing for its amendment. This tentative standing-ground merely permits of a sudden release of the nature of the primitive woman in all its nakedness unchecked from within and uncontrolled from without. The spectacle is so revolting, I fear, that most women would turn back with grief and hatred of it to their old rule, rather than strive with a full purpose and endeavor after a new obedience. That is the essential difficulty with which those women have to contend, who would lead their sisters out of bondage. Their real enemies are of their own household, who hate to see this revelation that women make of themselves, which affords to vulgar satirists congenial exercise of their irony and scoff, for the torment or amusement of those who, like themselves, by continually regarding humanity as it is, have developed a capacity for analysis at the expense of a certain dryness and hardness of heart.  28
  These satirists smile and whisper in our ear that the emancipation of women is intended only to enlarge the bounds of their caprice; that their performance is of no immediate interest to the man, and only of very remote benefit to the woman; that, when he grows tired of the farce, he will cast her out of the cave and leave her to her own device as he was left in the day of his creation. From this they conclude that a race which allows itself to be brought to such an impasse is not worth reproducing, and we cannot blame them too severely. It is on account of their perception of this fact that the women of primitive communities deal faithfully with their unruly sisters lest a worse thing befall themselves. There is a choice between the good and the best as there is between the evil and the good; and women must find in freedom compensation for having cast out the imputed sacredness from their lives; and, in watching the gyrations of their souls, some recompense for that calm leisure in which they were wont to dream.  29
  This then is the end of the argument in favor of the suffragette, which is developed out of her own psychology. Women have obtained their places in the world because they are desired by men on grounds which are not of the highest ethical quality; but these are the only grounds upon which men will consent to endure the burden of carrying on a society, about whose invention they were not consulted. We are now—men and women, not as opponents but as companions in a misery which we should do our best to assuage by mutual help—face to face with the real problem: Shall we allow the evil to endure, or even suffer the good to remain as the enemy of the best, saying with the sluggard, a little more sleep, a little more slumber; or shall we strive after the higher morality, even losing our life that we may save it?  30
  It is no bar to the argument that it faces the extinction of the species to which we belong. In a question of morality consequences do not count. We did not create ourselves. The responsibility of ceasing to exist does not rest upon us. It is in reality a question of conduct, and upon that we can always get information if we inquire of Him whose genius for right living was such that a large proportion of mankind have agreed upon Him as the chief exemplar and pattern of pure righteousness. The problem presented itself to Him. He answered it in specific terms. Three times and in separate places are the question and answer recorded in words which are almost identical: What good thing shall I do that I may inherit eternal life; what lack I yet? What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? What shall I do to inherit eternal life? To convince us that the answer is not one of special application, the question is repeated thrice in general terms and so recorded: Who then can be saved? Who then can be saved? Who then can be saved? The answer invariably is that those who would inherit everlasting life must first forsake certain things which are specifically set forth, and the enumeration ends in all cases with “woman.” One is quite prepared to be told that Paul was ill-informed or ill-natured, when he declared that even the intimacy with a woman which is implied by marriage is a drag in the attempt after a higher life, and yet protest, in face of that exegetic feat which attributes the insertion of the fatal word to a monkish hand, that Jesus really meant something when He said that she must be forsaken.  31
  All things are working toward this divine end by making it easy to forsake the woman. As that kind of intelligence is developed by higher education, as it is called with a certain degree of assumption, which consists in an increased capacity for the recollection of unrelated statements, a measure of value is created which men can understand. They are dealing in their own currency. Pedantry they have already witnessed, and the instructed woman is even less adorable than a professor. An imitation of the garb which is customary in the male at once suggests the form which it is intended to conceal and a comparison with the standards of abstract beauty. When women place themselves in situations for which they are not qualified by their nature to fill with obvious advantage they become a ridiculous caricature of themselves. The mind of the suffragette appears to possess a peculiar aptitude for that absurdity which makes a man impatient and finally contemptuous of all femininity, and resolute to adhere to his own ideal. A woman may be foolish and yet be charming. She emancipates herself when she becomes an object of aversion.  32
 
 
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