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Another objection sometimes urged against women's suffrage is that most women are Conservatives, and that their enfranchisement would consequently have a reactionary influence on politics. But this is an objection, not so much to women's suffrage, as to representative government. Do those who object to the enfranchisement of women, on the ground that they are usually Conservatives, think that all Conservatives ought to be disfranchised ? Surely representative institutions require that all differences of opinion should have their due and proportionate weight in the legislature. No class of persons should be excluded on account of their political opinions. What would be thought of a Conservative who gravely asserted that all Dissenters should be disfranchised because they are generally Liberals? It would be almost dangerous even to suggest the hard names which such a misguided person would be called by the very people who oppose women's suffrage because most women are Conservatives. And yet the two cases are exactly parallel, and equally antagonistic to the fundamental principle of representative government. A representative system which excludes half the community from representation surely is a farce. The question ought not to be, “How will women vote if they have the franchise ?” but, “ Is representative government the best form of government that can be devised ?” If the answer is in the affirmative, the exclusion of women from electoral rights can in no way be justified.
Sometimes it is said that the indulgence and courtesy with which women are now treated by men, would cease if women exercised all the rights and privileges of citizenship. Let it be granted that women would no longer be treated with exceptional courtesy and indulgence if they had electoral power; and then let us inquire, what this courtesy and this indulgence really amount to. They certainly are not valueless, but let us see of what sort of things they consist. Women are usually assisted in and out of carriages; they take precedence of men in entering and leaving a room; the door also is frequently opened for them; they are helped first at dinner; and they are always permitted to walk on the inside side of the pavement. Besides these there are more substantial privileges, such as being allowed to monopolise the seats in a room or a railway carriage in those cases where some of those present are obliged to stand. It would be unwise to underrate these little amenities of social life; they are very harmless, and perhaps even pleasant, in their way; but it must be confessed that their practical value is small indeed, especially if the price paid for them consists of all the rights and privileges of citizenship. If the courtesy of men to women is bought at this price, it must not be forgotten that the sale is compulsory, and can in no case be regarded as a free contract. But would women really lose all the politeness now shown to them if their right to the franchise were recognised? At elections it is not usually the case that those who have votes are treated with the least consideration; but, apart from this, how would the courtesy of every-day life be affected by the extension of the suffrage to women ? Some of the mere forms of politeness, which have no practical value, might gradually fall into disuse; but surely true politeness, which is inseparably associated with real kindness of heart, would not suffer any decrease from the extension of the suffrage to women.
It is sometimes said that the physique of a woman is so delicate, that she could not stand the excitement of political life. This argument would be more comprehensible if women were entirely debarred from mixing with the outside world; but, as it is, there is nothing to prevent women from sharing the general excitement caused by an election. It is notorious some women do share it. But suppose it were satisfactorily proved that the health of some women would be injured by the excitement caused by taking part in elections, is that a reason why all women should be excluded from political power ? The health of many men is frequently injured by excessive political work and excitement. Instances of such cases must occur to every one. The illness from which Mr. Bright is now suffering, and the extreme exhaustion of the Prime Minister at the end of last session, were both, doubtless, produced by the mental strain attendant on too much political work. But such facts furnish no argument against the exercise of political power by these eminent persons. We all hope that the only practical result of their maladies will be to make them more solicitous of their own health than they have hitherto been. It may safely be left to the inhabitants of a free country to take the necessary precautions for preserving their health ; and if any woman found that the excitement of elections endangered either her mind or her body, no Act of Parliament would be required to induce her to withdraw from political strife.
Perhaps the objection to women's suffrage which operates most powerfully with the majority of people is, that the exercise of political power by women is repugnant to the feelings, and quite at variance with a due sense of propriety. In Turkey, a woman who walked out with her face uncovered would be considered to have lost all sense of propriety; her conduct would be highly repugnant to the feelings of the community. In China, a woman who refused to pinch her feet to about a third of their natural size would be looked upon as entirely destitute of female refinement. We censure these customs as ignorant, and the feelings on which they are based as devoid of the sanction of reason. It is therefore clear that it is not enough, in order to prove the undesirability of the enfranchisement of women, to say that it is repugnant to the feelings. It must further be inquired to what feelings women's suffrage is repugnant, and whether these feelings are “necessary and eternal,” or, “ being the result of custom, they are changeable and evanescent." There seems to be little difficulty in proving that these feelings belong to the latter class. In the first place, a feeling that is necessary and eternal must be consistent; and the feeling of repugnance towards the exercise of political power by women is not consistent; for no one feels this repugnance towards the exercise of political power by the Queen. In the second place, it has been previously shown that the equal freedom of all is a necessary pre-requisite of the fulfilment of the Divine will, and that the equal freedom of a part of the community is destroyed if it is deprived of political power; and can it be asserted that the Supreme Being has implanted in man necessary and eternal feelings in opposition to his own will? Again : the state of popular feeling as to what women may and may not do is constantly changing in the same country, and even in the mind of the same individual; the feelings on this subject also differ in different classes of the community; it is consequently quite impossible to say that these feelings are necessary and eternal; they are, therefore, the result of custom, changeable and evanescent, and are destined to be modified by advancing civilisation.
It may be that a great deal of the repugnance which undoubtedly exists against women taking part in politics, arises from the disturbance and disorder which are too often the disgraceful characteristics of elections in this country. The adoption of the ballot and the abolition of nominations which will almost certainly take place before the next dissolution, will in all probability cause elections to be conducted with order and tranquillity. But the danger of women proceeding to polling places under the present system is greatly exaggerated. This is a point on which a small amount of experience is worth a great deal of theorising. At the general elections of 1865 and 1868, I went round to many of the polling places in several large boroughs. On most of these occasions I was accompanied only by a young girl, and no incident whatever took place which could have alarmed or annoyed any one. My experience on this point has always been the same, and it is corroborated by the experience of all ladies with whom I am acquainted, who, like myself, have tested by personal experiment whether it is either unpleasant or unsafe for a woman to go to a polling place. There are surely few men so unmanly as wilfully to annoy a well-conducted woman in the discharge of what she believed to be a public duty.
Many thousands of women have recorded their votes at the poll of the municipal elections. There is frequently quite as much bribery, drunkenness, and excitement at these elections as at the parliamentary elections, and yet I do not remember hearing of any instance in which a woman was subjected to insult or roughness in recording her vote at the municipal elections.
MILLICENT GARRETT FAWCETT.
A SHORT ANSWER TO MR. MORLEY'S SHORT LETTER.'
“Surely a day is coming when it will be known again what virtue is in purity and continence of life ; how divine is the blush of young human cheeks ; how high, beneficent, sternly irrevocable is the duty laid on every creature in regard to these particulars. Well, if such a day never come, then I perceive much else will never come! Magnanimity and depth of insight will never come; heroic purity of heart and of eye ; noble pious valour to amend us and the age of bronze and lacquer, how can they ever come?”-THOMAS CARLYLE.
I HAVE read your letter with surprise, because I have not forgotten that at a meeting of the Woman's Suffrage Society last year, you were one of the most eloquent supporters of their movement; not on the narrow ground of the actual fitness of many intelligent women to exercise the right of citizenship, but on the broad ground of principle and justice.
You told us on that occasion (I believe I am quoting correctly the spirit, though not the letter of your address) that in a recent electoral contest you had been opposed, upon very illogical grounds, by the ignorant women of the place; but that such opposition could not blind you to the fact that it is unjust that laws equally affecting both halves of the human race, should be framed by one half only.
Is not the burden of that injustice increased when laws penally affecting one half of the human race only, are framed solely by the other half ?
Another cause of surprise to me is, that, instead of dovoting your wellknown powers of logic solely to the task of convincing us that we are mistakon in our aim, you concentrate much intellectual energy on the easier but less important task of pointing out to us that we have defended our aim weakly ; instead of proving to us that we are in error in the special case, you reprove us for the manifold errors you believe we have committed in the past.
But, to spare your space and time, let us pass over-as immaterial to the point at issue—the question whether the circulars which have so much disturbed you are well or ill written. I am willing oven,-if it will lessen your annoyance,—to admit that we have used precisely the arguments we ought not to have used, and avoided precisely the arguments we ought to have used.
I will also crave your permission to leave aside the question of our past misdeeds towards our servants and towards “women who have once gone wrong.” If it can be shown that we are right in our belief that a great injury is done to our unhappy and degraded sisters by the Contagious Diseases Acts, that fact will be none the less true because we may have been habitually wrong in the government of our homes. The school-boy argument of “you're another” is neither very logical nor very impressive at any time, and it is altogether unsuited to a subject so sad and grave as the one we have to treat.2
The only really serious question between us is, whether the Contagious Diseases Acts are beneficial or injurious to the Nation.
(1) See Fortnightly Review for March.
(2) Since I wrote the above, it has been suggested to me that there is nothing in your letter to show that you intended to include the ladies of the committee in your reproof; VOL. VIT. N.S.
You, in common with the rest of our opponents (doubtless on account of the “weakness” and “windiness" of our language), have entirely misconceived the meaning of our agitation for the repeal of these Acts.
You tell us that we seek “to resist a humane and expedient measure for lessening disease.”
We answer that our opposition to the Acts is based upon the conviction that they are neither humane nor expedient.
You tell us that "the most competent persons are of opinion that the effect of such regulations is to check disease.” · We answer that Dr. Balfour of the War Office; Mr. Simon, Medical Officer to the Privy Council; Dr. Burnays, Lecturer on Physiology at King's College; Dr. Stallard, of the Lancet; Dr. Druit, of the Medical Times and Gazette ; Dr. Chapman, author of the exhaustive article on Prostitution in the Westminster Review; Dr. Drysdale, Dr. Bell Taylor, Dr. Webster, Mr. Holmes Coote of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, &c., &c., are all of them “ competent persons."
We answer that the fifty medical men of Nottingham, whose “minute and erudite protest upon medical grounds extremely difficult to answer" is referred to in the forcible article against the Acts in the Daily Telegraph of the 15th March, are also “competent persons.”
We answer that we have carefully studied the evidence of the first of the gentlemen I have named before the Parliamentary Committee, and the Official Report of the second, that we have heard and read the spoken and written protests of all the others; and that all these authorities confirm our view that the ulterior effect of such regulations is not to check disease, but to diffuse it over a wider area, and for reasons which they give in detail, to render it ultimately more difficult of extirpation.
The medical profession, so far as it has spoken at all, is, to say the least, divided in opinion on the subject; and of the five medical papers published in London, three are against the Acts, one is wavering, and only one is in favour of them.
You say, “It is somewhat of a paradox for the Ladies' Association out of compassion” (for prostitutes) “ to suppress the tending of the sick.”
We answer that, in the very circular which has so grievously troubled you, we declare our conviction that “comprehensive remedial? mseasures are urgently called for, to which it will be necessary to direct public attention, 80 soon as the existing Acts are repealed ;” and, indeed, one of the practical grounds upon which we seek the repeal of the existing Acts is, our belief that they stand in the way of all largely “humane and expedient measures" for the permanent “ lessening of disease.”
But what appears most to disturb your equanimity is our declaration that “even if these Acts were proved capable of stopping the ravages of disease, we should still declare them worthy of our strongest reprobation.” but I think I am right in supposing that we are included in the blame; for to tell us that although we are serious-minded and benevolent in our daily lives, some other ladies are frivolous and ungentle, would, obviously, have no bearing on the subject in question.
(1) At the recent meetings on the subject held in the rooms of the Social Science Association.
(2) Some of the remedial measures suggested by our able and distinguished opponent, Mr. Acton, in his work on Prostitution, appear to us admirable. We hope to profit by them in our efforts " for the lessening of disease" so soon as these Acts are repealed.