Baltimore Evening Sun/August 10, 1910
Too late! Too late! The suffragettes have got us! Ten years ago they were mere fantastic scaramouches, unearthly giascutises, grotesque anthropophagi, to be laughed at on the burlesque stage and pursued with bloodhounds in real life. Today they are altogether too menacing to be regarded as comedians and altogether too elusive and resourceful to be pursued as game. In 10 years they themselves will do the laughing and the chasing. That is to say, I presume to lay it down as inevitable that within another decade. or at most, within two, the suffragettes of England and of the majority of the American states will have the ballot Let us admit it frankly: the dear girls are bound to win.
And why shouldn’t they? Justice and common sense are on their side. Have you ever heard a single valid argument against giving them what they want? Isn’t te present sovereignty of the male sex an obvious survival of ignorant and barbarous ages? What is there, after all, in the common contention that women haven’t intelligence enough to grapple with the great problems of state? Do the problems of state, then, demand intelligence of the highest order? If so, how does it happen that they are solved so satisfactorily by the male mob?
Women in War
And what validity is there in the contention that women should not vote because they are unable to defend the state in time of war? That was true, perhaps, in the time of the Roman legions, when success in war was measured by brute strength, but it is no longer true today, for the machine gun and the rifle have made the featherweight and the heavyweight of substantially equal value as soldiers. The average woman shows many military qualities. She has a considerable power of endurance, she has none of the average man’s horror of violence and bloodshed, and she is intensely emotional, and hence strongly patriotic. If it be argued against her that in a hand-to-hand tussle 100 men could easily get the better of 100 women, two answers may be made, the first being that hand-to-hand tussles are extremely rare in modern warfare, and the second being that in the wars of the future there will be women on both sides, and so neither side will have any advantage.
Enough of that disputation! The girls have won their case. They have demonstrated, to the satisfaction of every fair judge, that they are just as intelligent, in the mass, as their brothers, and just as well fitted to assume the burdens of citizenship, and in consequence they are gaining adherents by the thousand. It is too late to combat them with sneers and libels. In the long run they are certain to triumph. Therefore, it behooves us to consider the probable effect upon civilization and progress of their impending victory; for, though in the cardinal qualities of the citizen they are substantially identical with men, it is nevertheless an undoubted fact that many lesser differences separate the two sexes, and that the entrance of women into the business of government will introduce a number of essentially feminine ideas and vices into public life.
The Ideal of Justice
Men, as a class, are chiefly notable for their firm adherence to the ideal of justice, for their liking for a fair fight and a square deal. This ideal seems to lie at the back of every masculine mind. It is a part of the faith of ever man, good or bad, high or low. Among men of the lowest sort, such as politicians and yeggmen, for example, it is particularly conspicuous, since it is the only good ideal they show. And yet it seems to e almost entirely absent in women. Women are often gentle and sometimes merciful, but they are but rarely just. No doubt their exaggerated emotionalism is to blame. They find it impossible to separate the crime from the criminal, and impossible to see any good in an enemy. No woman since the world began has ever sent her own son to the gallows, and no woman since the world began has ever admitted the existence of even the commonest virtues in a critic of her gauds.
What will be the effect upon civilization, which is founded upon the masculine ideal of justice, when the feminine weakness begins to make itself manifest? I ask the question in all seriousness and without attempting to answer it. Will women, as they gain in political experience, grow more just, or will their ancient emotionalism persist, and so make them dangerous rulers? It is impossible to imagine a woman judge of a woman president. The more womanly the woman the more violent her antipathies, the more absurd her prejudices, the more firm her conviction that all who do not subscribe to the precise conventions she has been taught to adore are vile and unspeakable criminals. To the average woman the fact that a man chews tobacco is sufficient proof that he also beats his wife and eats with a knife, just as the fact that a woman smokes cigarettes is sufficient proof that she also drinks, gambles, tears the Commandments to tatters and hates children.
Purifying Our Cities
But perhaps we shall never have women judges. Let us hope not. The suffragettes, judging by their speeches, do not aspire to the bench. What they desire is to be given charge of what they call “public house-cleaning.” They promise to bring our cities to the verge of chemical purity, and all the while they denounce our male scavengers for the impurity now visible But is it likely, after all, that a city ruled by women would be cleaner than a city ruled by men? Are women, in point of fact, more cleanly than men?
I doubt it. Look into the backyards of any American city today. The business of keeping them clean is in the hands of women, and yet, taking them by and large, they are no cleaner than the back alleys, which are cared for by men. Is there, at bottom, any truth in the common assumption that women abhor the unclean? If so, how are we to account for the fact that even the most civilized of them are willing to smear their faces with powdered earths/ And to wear wisps of dyed hair from Breton peasants and Chinese corpses upon their heads? And to go about in skirts which drag in the filth of the streets?
Let us not forget these practical questions. Let us not forget that, even in the fields they hold for their own today, women are far from perfectly efficient. Let us not forgeet that the survival of the average baby depends upon the issue of a bitter conflict between some hard-working male physician on the one side and the child’s mother, grandmothers and aunts, with their panaceas and their superstitions, on the other.
(Source: University of North Texas Microfilm Collection)
The works of H.L. Mencken and other American journalists are now freely available at The Archive of American Journalism.