Hello! Here in Smolensk butcher shop, Student Arkady has brought us letter from Times of London, 15 October 1912.
Votes for women? I already do!
Female Suffrage is not one of those issues that conveniently divide into left and right. There are a small number of Conservatives who, despite belonging to a party whose official position is to doubt whether women are actually human, have been brow-beaten by their virago wives into tacit support for women’s votes in the interests of quieter evenings at the bridge club. And there are a number of Liberals who oppose the vote, in the teeth of their party’s admission that women are indeed some kind of addendum to homo sapiens, albeit, for some, an ill-considered and highly regrettable one, and consequent concession that women should have the right to vote, once they have achieved some kind of social and accordingly moral consequence, say at the age of 85.
One such am I.
Now it should be understood that my opposition to the machinations of Mrs Pankhurst and her associates does not stem from a fundamental repudiation of the status of women per se. In fact, I am somewhat in the van of my party on this matter. I will concede, almost without qualification, that women are indeed human, rational, possessed of developing brains and, to the best of my knowledge, probably fully sentient and conscious. My opposition springs from the very nature of voting itself.
For to vote is to choose.
It is to spare women this responsibility that I would withhold the vote from them. Men, and especially those who govern and set the limits upon what is to be debated, determining what are sound and arguable positions, and what are not, are fulfilled, their baser needs already met, in standing, in wealth, in comfort, yes, even in the satisfactions of the body. Men are experienced in the world and its affairs. Men are capable of distinguishing between their immediate desires and the greater good. Men vote accordingly with objectivity and the interests of all in plain view. Yet women, untutored in the office and responsibility of voting, unused, of course, even to the rule of their households, their inheritance, their financial affairs, and unschooled in the government of their bodies and their lusts, let alone the government of a free people, might incline towards base and selfish motives in their choices at the ballot box.
Now it is plain from a number of recent publications, notably emanating from the decadent and cosmopolitan parlours of the Austro-Hungarian empire, that women, after millennia of oblivion on the matter, have started to discover that they possess bodies. Let me be clear. I am not absolutely opposed to this development and am advised by some of my peers, especially frequenters of Madam Jojo’s, that there may be collateral benefits for men. But to step from this emergent, and necessarily immature, ill-developed and partial female insight – for after all, do not most women still rely for their knowledge of their duties and position in these matters on the warm and tender lectures of their husbands upon their wedding nights, and would not most prefer it to remain so? – to step from this, I say, to a situation where women might cast their votes on matters affecting personal, congressional and familial morality, is too sudden a development. Let us prudently withhold it from the fair sex until such time as they have caught up with men on these matters - necessarily and regrettably, owing to the lateness of their awakening, many centuries hence.
Why, I recently heard a woman say that it was an unjust and unlawful intrusion upon the intercourse of persons that employers continued to discriminate against women whose practices had led to them rearing illegitimate children out of wedlock and that parliament should vote to prevent this. She then went on to speak of practices attributed to the poet Lesbia – which, to be sure, I cannot believe exist outside the realms of fancy and must regret that the conversation has haunted my dreams recurrently since with its grosser images – and even construed as “tyrannous” the prohibitions against the sodomitic practices of the ancient Greeks inscribed in our just laws. There speaks one, I thought, who has not endured the necessary training for dispassion in public life of an English public school. There all vices are tasted, then judiciously repressed in icy showers, then confined to the places they belong, the back streets, far from the gaze of all, to the protection of women’s innocency.
It is not for nothing that in our glorious history, we have placed above women (and uxorious and effeminate men) a race of male prelates to counsel on these matters. (And though I am myself no Roman, it is enviable among the Catholics that their clerisy of the good and true is one of virginal and pure men, who speak therefore on the business of the flesh without any contingent interest, lost as they are among the divine fragrances of their churches and the smiling faces of their choirboys.)
It is accordingly right, at least for the foreseeable future, that on those same rare occasions when issues of interpersonal conduct, of procreation and the flesh, intrude upon our great national business, it shall be men, sent to parliament by men, who shall determinate. For notwithstanding the growth of women’s interest in the wretched business of carnality, what grave risk there is that curiosity shall kill the cat, or rather the innocent Catherine and the luminous Kitty.
Moreover, even the humdrum and routine business of a parliament would suffer from the obtrusion of the fair ones. Let us conceive of circumstances in which the vote were conferred on a lady. And let us imagine her voting on a matter of foreign policy. She, being unversed in the subtleties of Belgian neutrality, but having modest enough literacy to read some ill-advised pamphlet, might incline her vote towards the Peace faction. This would see us overrun by the murderous Hun, whose violence would lead to acts of brutality, horror and death, and worse, rapine perpetrated on our very lady, oh so well intentioned! What a hideous consequence of miscegenated Germano-English, Saxon-Anglo-Saxon offspring she would then be left with. Too late then the ballot box! For no decision voted for through ballot boxes and enacted by parliamentarians could ever prevent the birth of this same child of violence into the world of men, to the shame of the woman and disfigurement of our people. Too late, too late, laments our now cowed and lowly stooping Amazon, too late to vote for the War faction (whose brave deployment in Flanders and in France of our unrivalled armies, with their modern militarism and glorious leadership, will see the Kaiser swiftly and almost bloodlessly routed from the field).
As even that well known advocate of women’s rights, the late lamented Lord Christopher of Contramundum, who was so much the defender of women as to aver that they should at once quit the music hall and desist from comical entertainments to avoid the opprobrium consequent upon their not being funny, yes, as even such a redoubtable defender of women as this same figure did say of exercising the vote: it could not be done “without stopping hearts and breaking bones”.
It is for this reason that I declare that should the vote ever be granted women, I will undertake to exercise it for my wife and my daughters. For though some will argue that they know what they are about, I know that they are chaste. They are my superiors. They are innocents. Their purity elevates them high above me. I would have them stay so for as long as the march of modernity permits. But their pure superiority disqualifies them from voting. For if they should vote on matters that seem to concern them, but upon which they are ultimately ignorant, they would lose their innocent advantages, become befuddled, incapable of seeing reason, and so would make decisions selfishly, to their detriment and the detriment of others. And so, though no friend to reaction, I will side with reaction, in the liberal cause, to defend our women, and their unintended victims, from themselves.