A Small Sample from Man Superior to Woman
on The Thinking Man's CDROM
I N T R O D U C T I O N
The very great tenderness, I have always expressed and really felt for the fair-sex, would by no means suffer me now to exert my pen against that delicate part of the creation which has hitherto engrossed my best wishes; if justice to my own sex, a disinterested zeal for the prosperity of the other, and an invincible love of truth, did not oblige me to render them service by opposing them.
Nature, ever reminding me that I was born of a woman, bids me respect that endearing name: yet honour, not allowing me to forget by whom I was begotten, forbids me to derogate from the dignity of man. However generosity then may incline me to favour the women, by overlooking their real imperfections, and putting an advantageous gloss on their little merits; it is an act of justice I owe to my own sex to defend its prerogatives, when openly attacked by the too daring ambition of the other.
From the beginning of the world till now, our sex has enjoyed an undisputed sovereignty over the other, and their joint consent in all ages sufficiently proves our possession not usurped. Hitherto, the women, conscious of their own inabilities, have cheerfully acknowledged the authority which wisdom gives to men over them, content with the soft dominion which love secures to them over the men. In a word the little glimmering of reason, which Heaven bestowed on them out of compassion to us, that they might be in some degree a sort of rational amusement to us, was sufficient to convince them of the justness of their subjection. And so far from accusing Nature of partiality in making them vassals to us, they were sensible that she had been but too bountiful in bestowing on them the privilege of reigning in the hearts of their lords: a privilege which we have hitherto been too generous to grudge them; having no danger to apprehend from leaving our hearts in the keeping of women, while the heads of the fair-keepers themselves were in due subjection to our own.
But the case must necessarily alter from the minute that sex forgets its allegiance to us. Once the women presume to call in question the great duty of vassalage to us, it must be time to withdraw our hearts from their power. They can no longer be safe in the custody of such women as refuse to submit their heads to our authority.
The joint industry of the fair of all times, in labouring to make themselves agreeable to us, is a standing proof that that is the great business they were created for, and that the acquiring our love and esteem is the highest end their ambition ought to soar to; as the possession of both is the great and sole happiness they are capable of enjoying in this life. But how can they hope ever to reach either, without persevering in the use of those methods which alone can render them worthy to obtain what they aim at. How shall they appear any longer agreeable in our eyes, once they throw off that modesty and subjection which alone can give even their native charms the force to please us? What title will they have left to our favour and indulgence, from the moment they begin to dispute our power and prerogative over them? In a word, if, instead of making use of the little complaisances we have for their weakness to redouble their obedience and fidelity to us, they aspire to become our equals; ought we not, in justice to ourselves and for instruction to them, to show them that it has been owing to our own generosity more than to any right they claim, that we have not hitherto treated them only as our less useful slaves?
However one should be apt to imagine that women had their own interest more at heart than to reduce us to this extremity. Who could conceive that any one of that sex should be so much an enemy to herself and the rest, as to risk the forfeiture of that liberty which the men have so graciously raised them to, merely for the sake of grasping at a libertinism which they are sure of never attaining to? And yet, inconceivable as it is, our own times can show a very recent instance of it in a Lady, who, perhaps, for the sake of becoming an author, has taken abundance of pains to convince us that there is no excess of extravagance which that sex cannot attempt; and no presumption in them which merits our surprise.
Every one will be able to guess that I am speaking of SOPHIA, that enlightened Lady, who, after a prescription which scarce any duration but that of eternity can out-date, has surprisingly found out that man is not superior to woman in any thing but what she pleases to call brutal strength. So extravagant an assertion cannot but be attended with very fatal consequences to both sexes, if listened to by the women: and what will not woman listen to which flatters her vanity, ambition, curiosity or love of change?
For women have fantastic constitutions,
Inconstant as their wishes, ever wavering
And never fixed. - Ven. Pres.
. . . To show them how much I am their friend, and how sincerely I wish to preserve them in that degree which the generosity of the men has lifted them to, I shall here render them all the service their tender capacities will permit me to do, by endeavouring to open their eyes to the discovery of the gay illusions of this aspiring Lady; that they may not become the dupes of her friendly but mistaken zeal for them, which might otherwise do them more mischief than their greatest enemies could wish done, or than their native charms could possibly repair.
This dexterous female, to give us a sample of the expertness of her sex at invention, has artfully enough thrown in a caveat against any man's being judge of the equality or inferiority of merit in women, as compared with men: because truly the men are to be considered as parties concerned, and therefore must all be partial in their judgment. However, I must beg leave to observe, that though it be true that the generality of both sexes are weak enough to give prejudice and interest the preference to truth and justice, yet even Sophia herself cannot be so rashly censorious as to imagine that all are unjust alike. And therefore she must own that some few men may be found among us, who, supposing their interest to be ever so nearly concerned, would nevertheless be honest enough to acknowledge the women for their equals, if there was the least appearance of reason in their favour; and to make them every concession they had a right to demand.
For my own part at least I have so indefeasible a right to be ranked in the number of those few, that the most jealous of their sex cannot dispute my title. For on one side, I can have no interest to bias me, having nothing to hope or fear from my own sex, and expecting as little from the opposite. And on the other, if I have received any partiality or inclination, it is all for the women. I do not say this out of any ambition of being judge in so unthankful an affair, in which it will be impossible to do justice to one party without giving the other offence. And I of all men have the least reason to court the occasion of displeasing those amiable creatures; who cannot myself give them the slightest pain without sharing with them in it.
Instead therefore of taking upon me the office of deciding the merit of the fair-sex, and the degree they ought to stand in comparatively with the men, I shall leave it to themselves to be the judges in their own cause, after I have fairly stated what is worthy observation on both sides of the debate. For I can by no means apprehend anything from their partiality, or prejudice, when I consider how much it is to their own advantage to be just to the men, and how seldom they are guilty of disregarding their own private interests.
The more suspicious part of our sex may perhaps think it dangerous to trust the woman to judge of anything where reason is concerned, on account of the weakness of their intellects, which seldom can reach higher than a head-dress. But to remove all objections of this kind, I shall endeavour to make the matter plain to them, by treating it in the most familiar manner. And as well to prevent their weakening the little understanding they have by keeping it too much upon the stretch, as to save them from exposing their slight- pinioned fancy to the resistless beams of scrutiny by soaring above their capacity, I shall do my utmost to make reason stoop to their comprehension, by confining myself entirely to their sphere. In doing this I know it will be expected that I take notice of whatever may seem worthy of any in the pretty whimsical treatise with which Sophia has thought fit to divert the public: and therefore I shall follow the method she has pointed out to me. However I must beg to be excused from being accessary to her losing herself and her partisans in the maze of theory, a ground too holy for female feet to tread with impunity. No; practice is the boundary of their province; and therefore I shall wholly confine myself, in this little treatise, to practical reasoning, except where I am obliged to step aside to recover my bewildered fair antagonist from the danger of straying out of her latitude.
It will be a needless repetition, to say that my only motive in opposing this Lady is the desire of seconding her good intention, by doing effectual service to her sex; as my only view in laying open their foibles is the hope I conceive of rendering them less pernicious to themselves. However, tender as I design to be in handling the faults of these delicate creatures, I am sensible that an operation of this kind cannot but give them some smart. Nevertheless resolved, like an honest surgeon, to conquer the little reluctances of a heart disposed to compassion, I shall rather choose to give them a little momentary pain, than suffer them out of false tendencies to risk a more fatal mortification. The little uneasiness, which the probing of their blemishes may occasion, will be amply atoned for by the gangrene it will prevent; especially since natural propensity towards them will incline me to use them as gently as possible. Not that I can think of seeing a delirious man fond of the man which trepans him. I only flatter myself that once they have received benefit enough from it to be sensible of the necessity of it, they will thank me for my labour: a labour in which neither passion nor prejudice, and much less interest, could have any share, with one whose age and state of life raise him above being biased by the smiles of their sex, or the frowns of his own. So that even those pretty incurables, whom nothing will be sufficient to prevail with to consider me in any other light than that of an enemy, cannot without injustice deny me to be a generous one: though how far I am from being one at all will best appear in the conclusion of this little piece. And therefore relying on the uprightness of my own intentions, and the manner of executing them. I shall confidently proceed to the subject in question. But before we descend to particulars, it will not be improper to examine in general,