Man's Wrongs ("Dux Femina Facti") (1868)



Whenever one takes up a paper now-a-days, or goes into a public meeting, or attends a party, he is met by the words, Woman’s Rights. Most people, I fancy, have a very vague opinion as to what is meant by these words; but so much the more, perhaps, do they absorb public attention, to the exclusion of other topics, which the mens vacua (do not translate this by vacant mind, for you would be wrong) is apt to regard more pressing, if not more interesting. Reconstruction and finance hardly receive more discussion, or are more persistently forced upon us, will we, nill we. The end of a political crisis, such as we have just passed through (shall I say?) is, perhaps, a favorable time for originating and circulating all sorts of theories and excitements; and we may hope that, when things reach a more settled state, Mrs. Susan B. Anthony, Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Miss Anna E. Dickinson, will step aside for—what I hope I may be pardoned for calling—more attractive objects.

But, meanwhile (and this is my reason for writing this article), I do not think that they have the wrongs all on their side. Even my personal acquaintance with women teaches me so much. And how small an acquaintance with woman a student in Harvard has, who lives out of Massachusetts, and knows no one in town, only those can know who are themselves in like unhappy plight. But there are some women that even we have to meet; and by these women, I do not hesitate to say, our rights, as men and humans, are shamelessly and constantly invaded.

First, there is the Goody. Coming to your room soon after breakfast, the following scene invariably takes place. You sit down to take a last hasty and necessary look at your early recitation. Enter the Goody; who proceeds to inveigh, perhaps, at your practice of taking a daily morning bath. If you suggest considerations of cleanliness and hygiene, she retorts, conclusively, of course, —women always do,— that your water, after you have emerged from your bath, is yet tolerably clear and free from dirt. Meaning, apparently, that there is no occasion to bathe until you are – excuse the word—filthy. Which opinion, even backed as it is by her example, you have some objections to adopting. Again, if it is near Christmas, she torments you with plaintive allusions, and delicate hints, and sprightly anecdotes, apropos of nothing, as to how J.B., or P.Q., or X.Z., once presented her with a turkey, or a barrel of flour, or some money, or some other confounded remembrance, that affords her text for innumerable and endless sermons. If you gently remonstrate with her, because she doesn’t dust your room more than once a month, of course you have the assurance that, when she goes into the next room, she rails incoherently, for, every once in a while, she regales you with a tirade against the man overheard, who said,— and is, —and does,— and will be – Heaven knows what all. If you indulge her by answering her, or speaking to her, she finds fresh inducement to continue. If you say nothing, she still mumbles and mutters all the time she is in the room; and so, the only way, generally (for you cannot swear of course), is to grin and bear it, and dead, as well, from want of the half-hour destroyed by this woman.

Then there is one’s washwoman. When, as is frequently the case, you find, on counting your wash, that in place of the seven collars put in, only four have come out, you get no satisfaction in attempting to reason with her on her arithmetic; for she, passing over the superficial loss of three collars, goes to the root of the matter directly, and with much bitterness of language, directed at you apparently, and with that rare logical mind found in woman occasionally, proceeds to inform you that her rent has been raised, which of course settles the matter, and leaves no more to be said. If you suggest that you have no desire whatever to to appropriate Mr. S.’s shirts, a laughing allusion to the depth of the snow, or the price of provisions, again clears the matter up.

Then, as if those women whom you have to meet were not enough, you are constantly liable to encounter some dragon in the cars, on the street, at the theatre, who makes life, for the time, a burden. On one occasion, having been in town to transact some business, I took my seat quietly, and began looking around at my fellow-passengers. After a short time, my attention was aroused by an altercation going on between the conductor and the woman next me. It appeared that she had offered some ticket, or money, which the conductor refused to take. Now, it is the firm belief of these women that they know every one’s business, and no man his own. Consequently, they dispute every official act or statement with a coolness and positiveness that, to the weak mind of man, are wonderful. The woman in question said it should be good, and the conductor said it was not good, whereupon followed an every-day version of the dialogue between Lear and Kent –

Lear. No.

Kent. Yes.

L. No, I say.

K. I say, yea.

L. No, no; they would not.

K. Yes, they have.

L. By Jupiter, I swear, no.

K. By Juno, I swear, ay.

This discussion having gone on some time, the few cents were finally paid; and then, to my boundless disgust, fright, dismay, and confusion, she turned round full on me, and read me, to whom the controversy had not the remotest interest, a lecture, which was divided into three heads. I. An expression of her disregard for the money, and interest solely in the principle of the thing; II. The duties of horse-car officials in general; and, III. Of the Union R.R. Co. in particular. All of which, by directing the attention of the whole car on me, covered me with shame, and interrupted a very pleasant flirtation I was successfully conducting.

I have noticed, in general, that the loudest and longest talkers are the strongest advocates of woman suffrage, and all its “heritage of woe.” In view of this fact, I have hit on a brilliant plan, that will cut one way at least. Let us give the suffrage to all women who will for ever after, to put it plainly, hold their tongues; and I think the advantage would be cheap at the price. And our own particular lady friends need not be alarmed, for this would have no bearing on them. But things being as they are, if we hear much more of Woman’s Rights, we shall have good reason to avail ourselves of our chance to raise a counter-cry of Man’s Wrongs.