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Whether the Women are equally qualified with Men for Government and Public Office

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Whether the Women are equally qualified with Men for Government and Public Offices

from Man Superior to Woman, or A Vindication of Man’s Natural Right of Sovereign Authority over the Woman, by a Gentleman, London 1739, Chapter IV (pp. 34 - 46 )

Our Female Champion is in a very great Passion with Cato for excluding her Sex from all Government; and, I must own not without some Appearance of Reason. For it is certainly true that Cato was not the most well-bred Man who ever spoke of them. He had too little of the Courtier in him to flatter; and spoke too plain Truth not to set a pretty Lady, who wants to wear the Breeches, on pouting. But Sophia would have much more Reason to be angry with him, if he had been the only one of Opinion that Women are to be ever kept in Subjection. Whereas unluckily for them, all the greatest Sages of Antiquity, as well as the wisest Legislators of all Ages, have been of the same Mind. The greatest Poets, the most eminent Divines, the brightest Orators, the ablest Historians, the most skillful Physicians, and the profoundest Philosophers, in a Word, all who have been famous for excelling in Learning, Wisdom, and Parts, have condemn’d the Women to perpetual Subjection, as less noble, less perfect, and consequently inferior to Man. The Laws of all Common-wealths are so many Confirmations of the Subjection they have ever been in. Neither can the Man free them from this Subjection, without revolting against the Decree of Heaven, which appointed them Masters, as I have already shewn, and therefore need not repeat. There are not wanting other Texts of Scripture to confirm this Matter. Ecclesiasticus, Ch vii. absolutely forbids the Men to give Woman any Power over their Minds; and the Prophet Micab positively says of them, Keep the Doors of thy Mouth from her who lyeth in thy Bosom.

Agreeable to this are the Sentiments of the most eminent Divines and Father of the Church, “Woman”, says St Augustine, “can neither teach nor testify, and is alike unqualified to give Evidence or judgment, how must less then is she fit to govern?” and elsewhere he assigns the plain Reason why they ought to be subject to the Authority of the Men, “Natural Order”, says he, “among Mankind requires, that women should serve the Men, and children their Parents; Justice demanding that the lesser should serve the greater.” St Ambrose carries Reason yet farther to prove the Justice of the Authority which Men exert over them. “Adam was deceived by Eve, not Eve by Adam; The Woman enticed him to Sin, therefore is but just that she receive him for her Master whom she made her Accomplice, that she may no more be liable to fall thro’ feminine Frailty.” among the primitive Christians it was customary for the women to be married in Veils, and St Isidore gives us the Reason for it “that they might remember always to be submissive and humble to their Husbands.

How exactly of a Mind are the Divines and the Poets! Euripides tells us, that of all Animals, especially intellectual ones, Woman is the poorest Thing. Therefore, says Pittacus, “keep Womankind subject.”Tibullus says, “they are a cruel Generation void of all Faith.” Meander says almost the same, and adds that “when a Woman speaks with ”most Affability, it is then she is most to be dreaded." And if we believe Plautus “Once a Woman has any Mischief in her Head, Sickness, nay what is worst old Age, is less insupportable to her, than being thwarted in the Pursuit of it: Either let her complete it, or you make her completely miserable. But it by Chance or whim she attempts any Thing that is good, how soon is she tired and sick of it! Whatever you do, if she begins any Thing tolerable, never be afraid of her hurting herself; she’ll be sure to do little enough. For Women have a natural Genius for exceeding in Mischief, but are never guilty of excess in what is right.”

The greatest Orators are not the most favourable to them, and the best Character Cicero, one of the ablest, had to give them, was that they are a covetous Race, sovereignly ruled by the inordinate Love of Lucre. Nor are the Physicians a Jot more in their Interest. We are assured by Philo that the Women, according to the common received Opinion of that Faculty “are but a Kind of imperfect Men, that their Understandings are naturally weaker than ours, and that they are incapable of comprehending any Thing but what immediately falls under the Jurisdiction of their sensation.”

If we credit Historians, whose Opinions are the less to be suspected as being founded on the irrefragable Evidence of Experience, we shall find them every where a weak, inconsistent Generation, ever irrefissibly led away by some predominant passion, which enslaves and engrosses them. “The Fair sex (says Tacitus) is not only weak and unequal to Toil, but, if Truth may be spoken, cruel, ambitions, and greedy after Power.” Valerius Maximus goes yet farther and assures us that the Practice of Poison had still been known, if the cruel Artifice of that Sex had not made it necessary to enact Laws against it.

Cato then was not the only wise Man who thought the Women unfit to govern. The Sacred Writers tell us they are not to be trusted; divines, Poets, Orators, Physicians, and Historians agree that they are weak, silly, poor, fickle, cruel, ambitious Things, ever forward in Mischief, ever Sluggards in good. Pretty qualification truly to intitle them to Government and public Offices!

But let us suspend our Judgement till we hear what the Philosophers think. Those Oracles of Wisdom may perhaps be more their Friends, and then it will ill become us to be their Adversaries. Not at all; Aristotle tells us that “a City must needs be wretchedly govern’d which is govern’d by Women,” and well may he think so who tells us that “the Judgement of Boys is only imperfect, but that of Women is absolutely impotent.” Therefore, says an Anonymous Author, “when Things are cone to so bad a pass as to suffer an o;d Woman to reign, or interfere in State Affairs, nothing better is to be expected that to see her rend the State and involve it in Calamities and Confusion.” among Men the oldest are generally the fittest to govern, because the most confirm’d in Wisdom and Experience, but in Women, according to this Author, Age is incapable of any Wisdom: And no Wonder at it, when their Judgement is all Impotence.

To which if we add their natural Itch of tattling their invincible Curiosity, and their innate Aversion to Secrecy, it can no longer be doubted that they are absolutely unfit for public Government, and every Office connected with it. Nothing more requisite in one who is to be instrusted with Government, than a steadiness which no Curiosity can make giddy, and nothing more powerful to make a Woman give up the most important Interests of her own of others Curiosity. Secrecy is the very Soul of public Administration: Which to require from that Tongue-punished Race would be downright Barbarity. The Wise Romans were thoroughly convinced of the natural Incapacity of Women for keeping a Secret, and therefore were kind enough to them never to instrust any of them with one. Every one knows the Stratagem young Papirius was forced to make Use of to satisfy his Mother’s Curiosity, without betraying the Secrets of the Senate. Being one Day extremely solicited by her to reveal the Subject of that Morning’s Debate, to rid himself of her Importunities, he was reduced to the Necessity of feigning, that a Law was proposed to allow the Men a Plurality of Wives. There needed no more to alarm the whole Sex. Papirius’s Mother, spite of her solemn Engagements, divulges it to all the Women she knew, and they to as many more, till the whole Tribe of Wives, acquainted with it, formed themselves into a League, and began to make open Opposition to a Law so odious to them. How safe would the young Senator have been, had he been indiscreet enough to trust his tattling Mother with a real Secret as he did with a Fiction!

Plutarch tells us of another Senator, who, teazed by his wife, on the like Score, beyond all Power of Toleration, and unwilling to mortify her, told her that a Lark being seen to fly over the Senate house with a golden Helmet on his Head and a Spear on his Claws, the Augurs had been consulted, to know what it could portend. To make it appear the more like a real Secret, he had had the Precaution to exact from her the most solemn Vows of Privacy, affirming her that nothing less than his Life could atone for his divulging it to her, should it be known he had done so. But what Force could the Fear of a Husband’s Death have to make a Woman keep a Secret, who must herself burst or vent it? No Sooner had her Husband taken Leave of her, to return again to the Senate, than she eased herself of the intolerable Burden, and the Tale flew so swiftly about the City, that, before he got to his Journey’s End, he had it whispered in his Ear as a profound Secret, by on who supposed him to have been absent from the Senate. At his Return Home he charges his Wife with having undone him. But she, with a Confidence peculiar to that Sex, flatly denies her having divulged what he intrusted her with; and to silence him at once, of three Hundred Senators in the House, why should the Secret be supposed to come from you alone, says she? She had carried her Boldness yet farther, but for his stopping her Mouth by telling her, that it was a fiction of his own making.

Fulvius was far from coming off so well, but he must blame himself for knowing Womankind no better. We are obliged to Plutarch for the Account. Augustus displeased with Fulvius for disinheriting his own Nephews in Favour of Livia’s Children, blamed him for it; and he like a silly Oaf was weak enough to tell his Wife: She immediately tells the empress of it; and the empress upbraided the Emperor with it. So that the next Time Fulvius went to Court was to receive a severe Reprimand from Augustus, and the Pleasure of finding himself undone. And what did he get by returning Home to tell his Wife what she had done, and that he was resolved to stab himself? Why, no other Satisfaction, than to be answer’d that he was a Fool and deserved no better Fare, for living with her so long without finding out that she was a true Woman, and cou’d not keep a Secret.

What shall we say after this? Shall be agree with Sophia, that the Women are fit for Government and public Offices? Or shall we not rather conclude them absolutely unqualified for them; and that the Ancients were undoubtedly right in saying, that Women are no more to be trusted than their Wombs: These not being more liable to miscarry of their Fruits than they of the Trusts we deposite in them?

If England has been so wise to admit these Evils to reign over us when necessary to avoid greater Evils, is that any Proof that they are qualified for it? No, ‘twas not their Capacity, but our Prudence placed them on the Throne, to remove Occasions of Blood-shed and other ill Effects of civil Dissention. and tho’ it must be confess’d that during the Reign of some of our Women, this Nation has been in its most flourishing Condition; yet whether ought it be attributed to, the Capacity of the soft Cyphers placed over us, or the Wisdom of the Ministry which made them of some Account. Mere Adjectives of Nature, what use cou’d they have been of but for the substantial Support of their Counsel and Parliament? Into which none, not even themselves ever thought it worth while to introduce a Woman.

However, I am apt to think that the pretty fawning faces of these fair Creatures wou’d to a great Way towards wheedling us into the Folly of admitting them to a Share in public Offices, it we cou’d be discern in them the least Talent for governing their own families. Whereas without much study we need but step into the next House we can think of, where the Gray Mare is the better Horse, to find a Babylon of Anarchy and Confusion.

Belluina’s is the first in my Mind, let us pay her a Visit then. To do her Justice, nothing can be more decent than her Apartments, her whole House from the Cellars to the Stairs, from the Kitchen to the closet are so many varied Scenes of finish’d Neatness; not the meanest Piece of Furniture owes it’s situation to the Hand of Chance; every Table has it’s proper Post; every Picture it’s Fellow; there’s not a chair a Hair’s Breadth from it’s Place; not a Carpet but what is mathematically spread; nay woe to Mrs Betty if the very China is not as regularly disposed as the Features in her Ladyship’s Face. From such an orderly Economy in Trifles who wou’d not expect to find a little Commonwealth, where Peace and Decorum have taken up their Residence? But a Moment’s Patience, and the all-divulging Tea-Table will set you right. An insufferable Troop of ill train’d Brats are call’d in to expose their Want of Manners, and put yours to Train. Pretty Miss must throw your hat about, Master Jacky must put his Fingers in your Eyes, Charly in your Dish; and if Tommy, her Favorite for never doing what his Father bids him, shou’d offer to wipe his greasy Fingers on your Coat, you must suffer him to do so, or be as much in her Disgrace as John, who had his Head broke but an Hour ago, just where you see the Plaister, for hastily setting Veny upon the bare Ground to save my Lord from falling down Stairs. Happily for John he is in her Ladyship’s good Graces, or he had fared no better than Fanny the House-maid, who had Warning given her, for letting a Tea-cup fall to hinder the House from taking Fire. But this lucky Fellow, who is too much used to his Lady to be often guilty of such Mistakes, has absolutely rooted himself into his post by once leaving a Butt of Wine to run about the Cellar rather than let the Parrot call him twice. So despotic is Belluina in her family! Her children, sire never to be corrected but when they behave well, are incessently rude and unruly; and her Servants, never sure that her Ladyship will think what they do right, are always doing wrong, with as sedate a Confusion as the Workmen of Babel. If you call for a Teaspoon a Saucer is brought you: And if you have a mind for sugar you must call for the Milk-pot. But it’s time to leave this orderly Lady, Miss’s Cap you see is the tenth Part of an Inch awry; the Lightning in her Mother’s Looks are portentous of a Storm, and once it breaks out the House will be too hot for every one in it. Her Ladyship can bear any Thing but disorder in Trifles; but that like a true Woman she is so averse to, that she’ll rather throw herself, her Family and even her Country into Confusion, than suffer the Symmetry of a Curl or a Cap to be broken with Impunity. Whence it appears that all this excellent Lady’s Qualification for Government are owing to her happy Want of Sense to set others right, and Temper to curb herself when wrong.

Muccabella has a great deal more Temper but much less sense than Belluina. She can with incredible Calmness see her House a perpetual Dunghill, for Want of Brains to reflect how ill it becomes the Fortune she has, and the Figure she affects. She has a number of Servants, every one of which is too busy, in helping their Mistress to litter the Rooms, ever to be clean themselves: Neither is it fit they shou’d disgrace their Superiors by being less dirty than they are. About seven Months ago, before she was a Widow, I went for the first and last Time to Breakfast with her and her goury Husband and Family. The dirty Disorder of the Room I was introduced to offended me less that the Rankness of my company poison’d me. It is true I was forced to stand for some Time, every Chair in the Place being taken up with some greasy Heap; one with foul plates, another with the Lady’s Stays, and the rest with miscellaneous Muck. At length however I was help’d to a chair and Dish of excellent Coffee from a Silver Tea-board, placed on a large Table near my old goury Friend, and jumbled together with a mangled Piece of Beef, a Woman’s dirty Night-cap, a comb-brush, an old Stocking, and a Urinal. The conversation I was entertain’d with was of a Piece with the Persons who held it: ‘Twas a Argument between the Lady and her Husband, who wou’d fain have persuaded her that one clean Shift a Week cou’d not prejudice her Health. But with all her Meekness she had been put out of Temper, if Mamma’s own Daughter had not taken up the Argument, and insisted that the Trouble was needless when a Pair of Sleeves wou’d do as well. It must be thought I cou’d not be fond of staying in such a disorderly Jakes: Accordingly I took Leave never to return thither again. My old Friend follow’d my Example not long after: He died in about two Months, and was sent to rot in a deep tomb after having lived many Years buried in a disorderly Sink of Sluttery. However I have been lately inform’d that this Lady had put her Children in a terrible Fright, by turning cleanly at last. They are under dreadful Apprehensions of her marrying again; and not without some reason. For she has wash’d her Hands and Face twice sine my Friend’s Death, has the Dining-room swept once a week, and has shifted her more than three Times in one Fortnight. Whatever might be said of Muccabella the Wife, it cannot be disown’d that the Widow discovers a tolerable Disposition for Government, and public Offices. For if outward Cleanliness is any Proof of inward Neatness, and if an orderly Outside is an Indication of no Confusion within, why may not she be at least advanced to the Dignity of Mistress of Ceremonies at the Court?

Priscilla is akin to neither of the former: Not sinically nice nor carelessly sluttish. She loves Neatness and knows when she sees it, but has been too genteely bred to be able to give any Directions towards it. For the very Economy of her Table she is forced to depend upon the Discretion of her Servants: And if her House-keeper shou’d desert her, as a blind Man cou’d be to find out his Way without a Guide. This was a Secret to her Husband, till an unlucky Accident brought him acquainted with it. One Day when he was without a House-keeper he came Home and desired his Wife to add another Dish to the Table, because he shou’d bring an Acquaintance or two Home with him. She did as he order’d her; and the Gentlemen when they sat down had the solid Satisfaction of two Legs of Mutton and Turnips to feed on at the first Course. A Lady so versed in domestic Economy must needs be wondrous fit for public Government: Must she not?

In Justice to that Sex I must not put and End to this Subject without taking Notice of Prudentia. She is one of your notable Women, a tip-top Housewife I assure you. There’s not a Secret in Domestic Management unknown to her: She can metamorphose a Leg of Mutton to a Haunch of Venison, make the Lark transmigrate to an Ortolan, and transform English Hog’s Flesh, into as good Westphalia Ham as ever was imported into Great Britain. She is perfectly acquainted with the Mystery of making Butter and Cheese, Jellies, Conserves, Sweet-meats, Cordials, and what not. Gardening she is quite learned in, and at the Needle she is perfect Mistress. Nay she is a good Accomptant too. In short, nothing which relates to Economy comes amiss to her. And yet she is not vain of all these Accomplishments. For tho’ she does often plague us with her Differtations upon these Subjects; ‘tis ever with the commendable View of learning what she knows not, or shewing us how much she does know. So far is she from being proud that she has stoop’d to the humble Office of boiling an Egg; and, to show how fit she was to govern, she submitted once, in her Husband’s Life Time, to boil him a Pig pursuant to his own Request. But, such is the Fatality of that poor Sex, she has forfeited, since a Widow, all her Reputation of Wisdom, in the Management of her Children; tho’ she has but two to manage. Possess’d of a thousand Pounds a Year at her own Disposal, she has withstood the Temptation of a second match to lay up all for them; and has made not better Use of it than to ruin one by Excess and Extravagance, and the other by extreme Niggardliness. By giving her Daughter a Profusion of Money and Liberty, she has afforded her the Means to gain the title of Mother independent of Wedlock; and to make Amends for that Error in the Care of her Son, has kept him so short of Money, that to get rid of a twelve Peny Dun he has married a Fritter-Woman. Strange as this Circumstance is, ‘tis no less strange than true. Nevertheless Prudentia cannot be charged with Want of Love. All the Defect lyes in that Want of Talent for Government, which is so evident in that tender Sex. It can no longer then be doubted that those poor pretty Creatures must make a very sorry Figure in Government and public Offices, who appear so universally unqualified for the Administration of private Economy. But I fear I have proved this Matter too plainly to them, and therefore not to give them Pain of more ungrateful Truths on this Head, I shall follow whither Sophia leads me, that is to consider. ........

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