On the Material Relations of Sex

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MUCH interest is displayed at present in the development of woman, both as to her personal characteristics, and in her relations to her surroundings in human society. It is justly said that the civilisation of a nation may be measured by the degree of humanity displayed by its men towards its women. This is for the reason that, since women are the weaker sex, man has only ethical reasons for self-restraint in his treatment of her. Nowhere is the sex-interest under better ethical control than in the United States; and it is in this country also that we hear the most of reforms which are necessary in order that woman may attain a further development, and assume a higher position in relation to the state. This being the case, it is extremely important that the foundation facts, or in other words the necessary natural conditions, under which the sexes co-operate in society, should be fully understood. That they are not understood, or that they are intentionally ignored in some quarters, is evident to any one who reads the current literature of the subject.

The relation of the male man to his environment involves the usual struggle for existence more or less active. His piece de resistance is the mineral and vegetable world and its atmosphere, and his antagonist is his fellow man. The former generally yields more or less abundantly to his solicitations. What he gets from his fellow man is acquired through the necessities of the latter, and the benefit may be mutual, or it may be all on one side. His best friend may unconsciously and unintentionally, in the regular order of trade, reduce him to beggary, or compel him, as an alternative, to emigrate to a distant land. Such results are more frequent as population increases. To maintain himself against the destructive forces of nature, such as cold, heat, rains, tempests, fires, blights, etc., is his necessary occupation. If he pursue a profession, or if he be in trade, he must supply the actual needs of his fellow man, and beware that competition and monopoly do not deprive him of all return for his labor.

Woman, considered by herself, is subject to identical conditions. Her needs are the same and her environment is the same. But she is not so well endowed as man to supply the one or to meet the other. Her disabilities are of two kinds, physical and mental. The physical are : first, inferior muscular strength, and secondly, childbearing. The latter means more or less incompetence for active work at monthly periods, or several months of gestation and lactation, and some years of care of children. The mental disabilities are : first, inferior power of mental co-ordination) and secondly, greater emotional sensibility, which interferes more or less with rational action.<ref>This is, of course, only true where the sexes of the same subspecies or race are compared.</ref>

From these facts it is evident that, were woman of the same sex as man, that is, were she simply another kind of man, she would soon be eliminated from the earth under the operation of the ordinary law of the survival of the fittest. This need not be through any agencies different from those now actually in operation among men under the circumstances of peaceful trade. And such is often the actual history of male men who possess marked feminine characteristics. It does not follow from this, that some women might not sustain themselves apart from men, in agriculture, trade, and the professions. This is especially possible where the struggle is not very severe ; but in the cases which exist, few are really independent of male assistance, which has furnished the capital, either of cleared land, money, or as an appointing power. The general result, as above stated, is self-evident from the facts.

Remedies for this disability are frequently proposed. A higher education, while an unquestioned advantage, does not remove it. The ballot would only result in removing any disability of an artificial character which might exist, but could not effect those imposed by nature. There is no method of human contrivance by which the natural difficulty may be overcome.

But Nature has supplied a most effective remedy. Woman not being of the same sex as man, supplies a necessity which is almost universal, so that she is placed, if she exercise reasonable care, in a position better than that of man in relation to the struggle for existence. The antagonist of man, his fellow man, is eliminated from the list of the antagonists of woman, and that is an advantage which cannot be overestimated. Not only is man removed from the field as a competitor, but he becomes an active helper in resisting the forces of nature. More than this, he is willing under the circumstances, to divide with her what he extracts from both man and nature. . Were these the only benefits that woman derives from man they would constitute a sufficient reason for the usual preference which she displays for his protection, rather than for a life of independence. But she is herself possessed of a sex-interest which is satisfied by such a relation. Not only this, but her love of children constitutes a further inducement, which is highly effective in bringing about her customary relation with man.

It is self-evident then that any system which looks to a career for women independent of man, such as man pursues, is abnormal, and injurious to her interests.

The support and protection given by man to woman is then clearly rendered as an equivalent for the services she renders him in the capacity of a wife. It is universally implied, if not distinctly stated in the contract between them, that she shall not be the wife of some other man, and that the children she bears shall be also those of the male party to the contract, or the husband. It is not necessary that any such obligation should be entered into by the man, for the obvious reason that he does not bear children. If the woman violates this contract, the man is under no moral or legal obligation to support her. If the man has other wives he does not [ocr errors]

thereby forfeit protection and support of the wife, since she has none to offer him. This general fact would not prevent a woman possessed of wealth who supported a husband, from withdrawing such support in case he should become polygamous. But such a situation is so exceptional as to deserve but a passing notice in a consideration of the whole question.

It is frequently insisted that responsibility of man to woman in the matter of monogamic relations, is ethically the same as that of woman to man. This has not been the view of mankind generally, and it is distinctly negatived by the facts in the case. The marriage relation is clearly a contract in which the consideration on one side is support and protection, and the consideration on the other is monogamic wifehood, or the definite paternity of children and their care and education. The immediate reason why particular men and women marry particular women and men, is, or ought to be, love and affection ; but these admirable sentiments, are the offspring of natural conditions of sex, without which woman, and especially man, would not marry at all. And these natural conditions are clearly satisfied by the maintainance of the contract as above described. In order to further enforce this position I merely refer to the well-known fact that man cannot commit marital infidelity in the same sense that woman can, on account of his physical diversity. His unfaithfulness introduces no new blood into a family, and makes no defect in the inheritance, as does the same act on the part of the woman. The woman is in a position of trust, precisely like the responsible officers of a bank. It is in the power of both to defraud those who trust them. Hence it is that woman has been always held to stricter account in this matter than man, and always must be. For this reason the jealousy displayed by husbands is more justifiable than that displayed by wives ; and the result of marital infidelity on the part of wives is usually more disastrous to the offending parties. It is in consequence of these facts that there exists some difference in the ethical feelings of the sexes on this question. It is undoubtedly true that there are more women willing to live in polygamy than men willing to live'in polyandry, in spite of the verbal objections that women make to such a system in modern times. I do not now refer to promiscuity, in which the affections are in no wise concerned. In this everyway inferior relation, men are the most numerous offenders. It is for the reasons above stated that women are more monogamous in their tendencies than men. Not only does the question of support and protection during child-bearing and at other times make it more to their interest to be so, but they are more inclined to attach themselves to particular persons than men, on account of their superior affectional endowments. This is an inevitable result of their occupation in the family and with the family for countless ages, and is as much a product of their evolution, as is the superior rationality and self-control of the male sex.

The above picture may seem to some persons of progressive views on "the woman question" somewhat onesided. But the relation of man to the contract is not yet completely described. Meanwhile I refer to a sentiment attributed to a single woman, a teacher in a girls' school, I believe near Pittsburg, quoted by a lady writer in the Popular Science Monthly, several months ago. This lady, believing that the strength of the emotional elements of character in women constitutes a disability, and stands in the way of her so-called equality with man, had resolved to suppress that part of her nature, and to live a life free from its consequences. She hoped thus to attain a condition not only equal, but superior to that of men, and was prepared to teach the girls committed to her care that this was their duty to themselves and to the world. For this reason she would not marry. The fallacy in this reasoning consists in the omission of certain important premises. The principal one" of these is, that neither she nor any other woman can exterminate in a life-time, the heritage which woman has derived from the entire history of the human species, to say nothing of the inheritance from the ancestors of mankind, where the same traits exist in the diminished ratio of a smaller mentality. In order to accomplish this change in female character, it would be necessary that the same course should be pursued by many successive generations of women ; how many, it is impossible to calculate. This would require that such women should marry, which is what the lady whose views are referred to above, desired to avoid. In fact it is typical women who will marry, and typical women will be therefore produced to the end of time, unless some new system of sex relations shall be introduced.

It is sometimes suggested that a change in intersex relations is desirable in order to effect a fuller emancipation of women from present conditions. With the remark in passing, that the natural restraints imposed by the present marriage system on woman are not greater than those imposed on man, although different, we may refer to the alternative arrangement which has been sometimes adopted. This is that woman should be free from all obligation to fidelity to any particular man, and that man should be free from the obligation to support any particular woman. In other words it is sometimes proposed that we return to the primitive state of human society. Such a system has descended to us from ancient times, and it only needs to be mentioned to satisfy us that woman is the loser by it to a degree that is disastrous to the interests of society in every respect. It is only a being devoid of the developed traits of womanhood who could succeed in a polyandrous career, since she must renounce the pleasures of family life, even if she is exceptionally able to accumulate the means of support for her self and children in later years.

A second alternative, that woman may secure the support of one man, while her marital relations are polyandrous, is an impossible dream of the imagination. This could be only possible under the condition that the child-bearing sex should be the stronger sex, and fully capable of self-support and self-protection ; a condition which is not found in mankind.

A third alternative is the communistic relation where the state supports women and children, without inquiry as to parentage, and without reference to the monogamic or promiscuous relation of the sexes. Such a system, could it continue long enough, would result in the breaking up of the sentiment of conjugal affection which now characterises our race, and the destruction of marital fidelity. The question is whether or not this system would be preferable to that of monogamic marriage above described. As it is a proposition for the amelioration of the present condition of women, the decision should rest with them. The women of the white race would probably declare against it by a very large majority, were a vote to be taken. This vote would be, however, largely influenced by custom, and not by a deliberate conclusion derived from experience. Since experience of such system cannot be had at present, we are compelled to rely on such knowledge as we possess in the premises.

It may be safely assumed that the monogamic tendency is constitutional with the majority of women. In spite of curiosity and other inducements, the idea of love for a single person is deeply ingrained in her nature. It is an ideal to be realised somehow and at some time, and anything short of it is a disaster only to be endured through some irresistible necessity. No normal woman would hazard the risks to person and property involved in indefinite matrimonial relations. The idea of the family becomes the more fixed in proportion as it is realised in actual experience. In spite of pessimists and unfortunates, the mutual love of man and woman is a sentiment deeply seated in the nature of both. Its strength is attested by the enormous popularity of the literature of which it forms the theme, and of the drama where its history and vicissitudes are depicted. Men and women who underrate its power, or who attempt to resist its effects, are like dead leaves before the winds. Would men and women be satisfied with a system which should place these affections in constant suspense, and which should afford no safeguard for the protection of inexperience, or defense against the temporary effects of superficial attractions and repulsions ? I suspect not, for more would be lost than gained by such possibilities. Relief from unfortunate connections is certainly proper, but this can be had in such a way as to render it certain that the best interests of both parties are subserved, by a system of time contracts of marriage, such as I crudely suggested in The Open Court for November 1888. But the emotions of sex cannot be safely left without safeguards derived from the experience of mankind. This is not only on account of the force of these passions themselves, but because of the material necessities which are so intimately involved with them. The element of paternal interest will have to be eliminated from the man, and of conjugal fidelity from the woman before a communal system can be possible. And the absence of these traits is only characteristic of some of the lower races of men at the present time. Evolution has not weakened, but has greatly strengthened them, and it is not likely that our race will go backward in this respect.

Of course it may be asserted that this evolution has taken the wrong direction, and is not an improvement. I think the contrary may be shown to be true. The paternal instinct is as important to the adolescent stages of man as the maternal is for the period of infancy. Paternity stimulates the man to labor for the support and education of his children, and for their general well-being. Without such support many would die, reach an imperfect development, or become feeble members of society. The fidelity of the woman develops the same trait in man, and it stimulates him to the greatest exertions to secure her well-being also. Such forces as these cannot be withdrawn from society without infinite loss. It is the knowledge that this is my wife and that these are my children, that sustains more than half of human industry. With a communistic system these inducements would be withdrawn, and mankind would sink into comparative apathy, were it possible for the system to endure long enough.

It is evident that monogamic and polygamic systems are the only ones possible to modern society. The polygamic requires little notice because the general equality in numbers of the sexes deprives it of foundation. It is only possible where women are in excess, and where they are willing to sustain it. No man who is successfully married is likely to incur the additional obligations which it imposes. It may be therefore dismissed from notice with the further remark that it is not on the other hand deserving of the obloquy cast upon it by certain persons who are evidently "compounding for sins they have a mind to by damning those they're not inclined to."

The monogamic relation having been defined in the preceding paragraphs I recur to some of its obligations. I have spoken of the infidelity of woman as of a higher degree of criminality than that of man, and have shown the basis of justice on which this general sentiment rests. But it must not be forgotten that while he who hires a murderer, and he who receives stolen goods does not commit the actual crime, he is highly culpable, and shares in the condemnation which should follow it. In the case of the marital infidelity of the woman, he may be the greater criminal of the two, as the instigator to a deed which would not have been otherwise even suggested. In any case his folly is extraordinary, as he takes his life in his hands, and risks that of his partner; for men are wont to preserve their family rights by summary process. It would be incredible that such risks should be taken were it not that history and contemporary literature offer many examples. The few cases where palliating circumstances could be claimed would chiefly occur in countries where divorce laws do not exist.

The advantages to woman, arising from the monogamic relation, are then, support and protection, and undivided affection if she deserve it, together with the satisfaction of the conjugal and maternal instincts. In order to secure these advantages she must pursue a course towards her husband in some degree comparable to that by which her husband secures the confidence arid esteem of his fellow man. Faithfulness in adhering to contracts, and personal complaisance cover much of the ground. As regards the man, he must see to it, that he does nothing that tends to the disintegration of the family relations of other men. The ill disguised laudation of the infidelity of wives which is so prominent in French literature, is a mark of a low civilisation, and it rightly excites the disgust of all men who have any respect for their own rights. It looks as though certain French literature had been written by boys. Men who are responsible for such invasion of the rights of others, cannot expect better treatment themselves, and they must not be surprised if they are repaid in their own coin. While the preservation of the rights of the marriage contract lies primarily with woman, for natural reasons ; man is held by his fellow man to a strict accountability, and he attempts any invasion of them at his personal peril.

The principles above laid down are those out of which have grown our laws on the subject. Some women and men appear to think them unjust to women. It is true that in some respects, woman is at a disadvantage. This disadvantage is, however, of natural origin and cannot be overcome. On the other hand, she has a full equivalent in the advantages which she also derives from. the natural order of things. The result is that there is no real cause of complaint, unless it be that sometimes the gallantry of men towards women whom they do not know, leads them to do injustice to man in cases of dispute. And here is an advantage to women which is an offset to the injustice which they sometimes experience from the same source.. The correction of these faults is a part of the process of ethical development which is going on in human society. And perhaps the most effective agency in this development is the relation of the members of the family to each other, where affection takes the place of force, since it is the source of our deepest pleasures and our severest pains.

E. D. Cope.


Source: The Monist. I, 1 (October, 1890) 38-47.