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The Idea Of Female Inferiority

It is an opinion pretty well established, that in strength of mind, as well as of body, men are greatly superior to women.

Men are endowed with boldness and courage, women are not. The reason is plain, these are beauties in our character; in theirs they would be blemishes. Our genius often leads to the great and the arduous; theirs to the soft and the pleasing; we bend our thoughts to make life convenient; they turn theirs to make it easy and agreeable. If the endowments allotted to us by nature could not be easily acquired by women, it would be as difficult for us to acquire those peculiarly allotted to them. Are we superior to them in what belongs to the male character? They are no less so to us, in what belongs to the female character.

Would it not appear rather ludicrous to say, that a man was endowed only with inferior abilities, because he was not expert in the nursing of children, and practising the various effeminacies which we reckon lovely in a woman? Would it be reasonable to condemn him on these accounts? Just as reasonable, as it is to reckon women inferior to men, because their talents are in general not adapted to tread the horrid path of war, nor trace the mazes and intricacies of science.

The idea of the inferiority of female nature has drawn after it several others the most absurd, unreasonable, and humiliating to the sex. Such is the pride of man, that in some countries he has considered immortality as a distinction too glorious for women. Thus degrading the fair partners of his nature, he places them on a level with the beasts that perish.

As the Asiatics have, time immemorial, considered women as little better than slaves, this opinion probably originated among them. The Mahometans, both in Asia and Europe, are said, by a great variety of writers, to entertain this opinion.

Lady Montague, in her letters, has opposed this general assertion of the writers concerning the Mahometans; and says that they do not absolutely deny the existence of female souls, but only hold them to be of a nature inferior to those of men; and that they enter not into the same, but into an inferior paradise, prepared for them on purpose. Lady Montague, and the writers whom she has contradicted, may perhaps be both right. The former might be the opinion which the Turks brought with them from Asia; and the latter, as a refinement upon it they may have adopted by their intercourse with the Europeans.

This opinion, however, has had but few votaries in Europe: though some have even here maintained it, and assigned various reasons for so doing. Among these, the following laughable reason is not the least particular—“In the Revelations of St. John the divine,” said one, whose wife was a descendant of the famous Xantippe, “you will find this passage: And there was silence in heaven for about the space of half an hour. Now, I appeal to any one, whether that could possibly have happened, had there been any women there? And, since there are none there, charity forbids us to imagine that they are all in a worse place; therefore it follows that they have no immortal part: and happy is it for them, as they are thereby exempted from being accountable for all the noise and disturbance they have raised in this world.”

In a very ancient treatise, called the Wisdom of all Times, ascribed to Hushang, one of the earliest kings of Persia, are the following remarkable words: “The passions of men may, by long acquaintance, be thoroughly known; but the passions of women are inscrutable; therefore they ought to be separated from men, lest the mutability of their tempers should infect others.”

Ideas of a similar nature seem to have been at this time, generally diffused over the East. For we find Solomon, almost every where in his writings, exclaiming against women; and, in the Apocrypha, the author of Ecclesiasticus is still more illiberal in his reflections.

Both these authors, it is true, join in the most enraptured manner to praise a virtuous woman; but take care at the same time to let us know, that she is so great a rarity as to be very seldom met with.

Nor have the Asiatics alone been addicted to this illiberality of thinking concerning the sex. Satirists of all ages and countries, while they flattered them to their faces, have from their closets scattered their spleen and ill-nature against them. Of this the Greek and Roman poets afford a variety of instances; but they must nevertheless yield the palm to some of our moderns. In the following lines, Pope has outdone every one of them:

“Men some to pleasure, some to business take;

But every woman is at heart—a rake.”

Swift and Dr Young have hardly been behind this celebrated splenetic in illiberality. They perhaps were not favorites of the fair, and in revenge vented all their envy and spleen against them. But a more modern and accomplished writer who by his rank in life, by his natural and acquired graces, was undoubtedly a favorite, has repaid their kindness by taking every opportunity of exhibiting them in the most contemptible light. “Almost every man,” says he, “may be gained some way, almost every woman any way, can any thing exhibit a stronger caution to the sex? ”

It is fraught with information; and it is to be hoped they will use it accordingly.

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