Helen Hamilton Gardener

Woman as an Annex - May 18, 1893

Helen Hamilton Gardener
May 18, 1893— Chicago, Illinois
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This speech was read before the World's Congress of Representative Women in Chicago on May 18, 1893. It was reprinted in Gardener's book "Fact and Fictions of Life."

Ladies and Gentlemen:—If it were not often tragic and always humiliating, it would be exceedingly amusing to observe the results of a method of thought and a civilization which has proceeded always upon the idea that man is the race and that woman is merely an annex to him and because of his desires, needs and dictum.

Strangely enough, the bigotry or sex bias and pride does not carry this theory below the human animal. Among scientists and evolutionists, and, indeed, even among the various religious explanations of the source and cause of things, the male and female of all species of animals, birds and insects come into life and tread its paths together and as equals. The male tiger does not assume to teach his mate what her "sphere" is, and the female hippopotamus is supposed to have sufficient brain power of her own to enable her to live her own life and plan her own occupations, decide upon her own needs and generally regulate her own existence, without being compelled to call upon the gentleman of her family in particular, and all of the gentlemen of her species in general, to decide for her when she is doing the proper thing. The laws of their species are not made and executed by one sex for the other, and the same food, sun, covering, educational and general conduct and opportunities of life which open to the one sex are equally open and free for the other. No protective tariff is put upon masculine prerogative to enable him to control all the necessaries of life for both sexes, to assure to him all the best opportunities, occupations, education and results of achievement which is the common need of their kind. In short, the female is in no way his subordinate.

In captivity it is the female which has been, as a rule, most prized, best cared for and preserved. In the barnyard, field and stable alike, it is deemed wise to sell or kill most of the males. They are looked upon as good food, so to speak, but not as useful citizens. What they add to the world is not thought so much of—their capacities for the future are less valued than are those of the other sex. Even the man-made, religious legends bring all of these animals into life in pairs. Neither has precedence of the other. Neither is subject to the other.

But when it comes to the human animal—the final blossom of creative thought, as religionists word it, or of universal energy, as scientists put it—the male, for the first time, becomes the whole idea. A helpmate for him is an after-thought, and according to man's teaching up to the present time, an after-thought only half matured and very badly executed. In spite of all the practice on other pairs—one of each sex—it remained for the Almighty, or nature, to make the mistake (for the first time) of creating the human race with one of its halves a mere "annex" to the other. A subject. A subordinate. Without brains to do its own thinking, without judgment to be its own guide. This blunder is not made with any other pair. In the case of all other animals each sex has its own brain power with which it directs its own affairs, makes its own laws of conduct, and so preserves its own individuality, its personal liberty, its freedom of action and of development.

I am not ignorant of, nor do I forget, the scientific fact that in nature among ants, birds and beasts there are tribes and communities where some are slaves or are subject to others; but what I do assert is this, that this is not a sex distinction or degradation. It is not infrequently the males who are the subjects in these communities where liberty is not equal and where, therefore, the very basic principal of equality is impossible or unknown. And did it ever occur to you that a community or a people which recognizes in its fundamental laws and customs—in its very forms of expression—that it is right to preserve inequality of opportunity, of education, of emolument and of conduct has yet to learn the meaning of the words "liberty" and "justice?"

Nowhere in all nature is the mere fact of sex—and that the race-producing sex—made a reason for fixed inequality of liberty, of subjugation, of subordination and of determined inferiority of opportunity in education, in acquirement, in position—in a word, in freedom. Nowhere until we reach man!

Here, where for the first time in nature there enter artificial social conditions and needs, these artificial demands coupled with the great fact of maternity (everywhere else in nature absolutely under its own control), maternity under sex subjection, linked with financial dependence upon the one not so burdened, has fixed this subordinate status upon that part of the race which is the producer of the race. This fact alone is enough to account for the slow, the distorted, the diseased and the criminal progress of humanity.

Subordinates cannot give lofty character. Servile temperaments cannot blossom into liberty-loving, liberty-giving descendants. Many of the lower animals destroy their young if they are born in captivity. They demand that maternity shall be free. Free from man's conditions or captivity, as it always has been free from the tyranny of sex control in their own species.

It is the fashion in this country now-a-days to say that women are treated as equals. Some of the most progressive and best of men truly believe what they say in this regard. One of our leading daily papers, which insists that this is true, and even goes so far as to say that American gentlemen believe in and act upon the theory that their mothers and daughters are of a superior quality—and are always of the very first consideration to and by men—recently had an editorial headlined "Universal Suffrage the Birthright of the Free Born." I read it through, and if you will believe me, the writer had so large a bump of sex arrogance that he never once thought of one-half of humanity in the entire course of an elaborate and eloquent two-column article! "Universal" suffrage did not touch but one sex. There was but one sex "free born." There was but one which was born with "rights." The words "persons," "citizens," "residents of the state" and all similar terms were used quite freely, but not once did it dawn upon the mind of the writer that every one of those words, every argument for freedom, every plea for liberty and justice, equality and right, applied to the human race and not merely to one-half of that race.

Sex bias, sex arrogance, sex pride, sex assumption is so ingrained that it simply does not occur to the male logicians, scientists, philosophers and politicians that there is a humanity. They see, think of and argue for and about only a sex of man—with an annex to him—woman. They call this the race; but they do not mean the race—they mean men. They write and talk of "human beings;" of their needs, their education, their capacity and development; but they are not thinking of humanity at all. They are thinking of, planning for and executing plans which subordinate the race—the human entity—to a subdivision, the mark and sign of which is the lowest and most universal possession of male nature—the mere procreative instinct and possibility. And this has grown to be the habit of thought until in science, in philosophy, in religion, in law, in politics—one and all—we must translate all language into other terms than those used. For the word "universal" we must read "male;" for the "people," the "nation," we must read "men." The "will of the majority—majority rule"—really means the larger number of masculine citizens. And so with all our common language, it is in a false tense. It is mere democratic verbal gymnastics, clothing the same old monarchial, aristocratic mental beliefs, with man now the "divine right" ruler and with woman his subject and perquisite. Its gender is misstated and its import multiplied by two. It does not mean what it says, and it does not say what it means.

Our thoughts are adjusted to false verbal forms, and so the thoughts do not ring true. They are merely hereditary forms of speech. All masculine thought and expression up to the present time has been in the language of sex, and not in the language of race; and so it has come about that the music of humanity has been set in one key and played on one chord.

It has been well said that an Englishman cannot speak French correctly until he has learned to think in French. It is far more true that no one can speak or write the language of human liberty and equality until he has learned to think in that language, and to feel without stopping to argue with himself, that right is not masculine only and that justice knows no sex. Were the claim to superior opportunity, status and position based upon capacity, character or wealth, upon perfection of form or grace of bearing, one could understand, if not accept, the reasonableness of the position, for it would then rest upon some sort of recognized superiority, but while it is based upon sex—a mere accident of form carrying with it a brute instinct, which is not even glorified by the capacity to produce, and seldom throughout nature, to suffer for and protect the blossom of that instinct—surely no lower, less vital or more degraded a basis could possibly be chosen.

Not long ago a heated argument arose here in Chicago over the teaching of German in the public schools. This argument was used by one of the leading contestants in one of the leading journals: "The whole amount of education that 95 per cent, of our public school pupils receive is lamentably small. It is far less than we could wish it to be. Most of these children, who are to be the citizens, and by their ballots the rulers of this nation, can often remain but a few years in the schoolroom. For the average American citizen who is not a professional man, or who is not destined for diplomatic service abroad, English can afford all the mental and intellectual pabulum needed."

Now here is an amusing and also a humiliating illustration of the way these matters are handled, and it is for that reason, only, that I have used a local question here. "Ninety-five per cent, of our public school pupils," etc., "by their ballots are to be rulers of the nation," etc., "future citizens," forsooth! Now it simply did not occur to the gentleman who wrote this, and to the hundreds who so write and speak daily, that the most of those 95 per cent have no ballots, do not "rule," are not "future citizens," but that they belong to the proscribed sex, have committed the crime of being girls, even before they entered the public schools, and so have permanently outlawed themselves for citizenship in this glorious republic of "equals." But his entire argument (made upon so large a per cent) really rests upon a much smaller number. But the girls made good ballast for the argument. They answered to fill in the "awful example," but they are not allowed the justice of real citizenship, nor to be the future "rulers" for and because of whom the whole argument is made, for whose educational rights and needs, alone, because of their future ballots, he cares so tenderly. It will not do to attempt to avoid this issue by the hackneyed plea. "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world." Every one knows that this is not true in the sense in which it is used. It is true, alas! In a sense never dreamed of by politician and publican.

It is true that the degraded status of maternity has ruled and does rule the world, in that it has been, and is, the most potent power to keep the race from lofty achievement. Subject mothers never did, and subject mothers never will, produce a race of free, well poised, liberty-loving, justice-practicing children. Maternity is an awful power. It blindly strikes back at injustice with a force that is a fearful menace to mankind. And the race which is born of mothers who are harassed, bullied, subordinated and made the victims of blind passion or power, or of mothers who are simply too petty and self-debased to feel their subject status, cannot fail to continue to give the horrible spectacles we have always had of war, of crime, of vice, of trickery, of double-dealing, of pretense, of lying, of arrogance, of subserviency, of incompetence, of brutality, and, alas! of insanity, idiocy and disease added to a fearful and unnecessary mortality.

To a student of anthropology and heredity it requires no great brain power to trace these results to causes. We need only remember that the mental, as well as the physical conditions, capacities and potentialities are inherited, to understand how the dead level of hopeless mediocrity must be preserved as the rule of the race so long as the potentialities of that race must be filtered always through and take its impetus from a mere annex to man's power, ambition, desires and opinions.

Let me respond right here to those who will—who always do—insist that woman is not so held to-day at least in England and America. That her present status is a dignified, an equal or even a superior one. I will illustrate: In a recent speech by the Hon. William E. Gladstone he pleaded most eloquently and earnestly for the right of Irishmen to rule and govern themselves. Among many other things he said: "The principal weapons of the opposition are bold assertion, persistent exaggeration, constant misconstruction and copious, arbitrary and baseless prophecies. True there are conflicting financial arrangements to be dealt with, but among the difficulties nothing exists which ought to abash or terrify men desirous to accomplish a great object. For the first time in ninety years the bill will secure the supremacy of parliament as founded upon right as well as backed by power."

Had these remarks been made with an eye single to the "woman question," they could not have been more exactly descriptive of the facts in the case; but with Irishmen only on his mind he continued thus: "The persistent distrust of the Irish people, despite all they can do, comes simply to this, that they are to be pressed below the level of civilized mankind. When the boon of self government is given to the British colonies is Ireland alone to be excepted from its blessings? To deny Ireland home rule is to say that she lacks the ordinary faculties of humanity."

He said "Irish people," but he meant Irish men only. But see to what his argument leads. He says it is "pressing them below the level of civilized mankind" to deny them the right to stand erect, to use their own brains and wills in their own government; and a great party in his own country and a great party in this country echo with mad enthusiasm his opinions—for men! They call it "mankind." They mean one-half of mankind only, for not even Mr. Gladstone is able to rise high enough above his sex bias to see that the denial of all self-government, all representation in the making of the laws she is to obey "presses woman below the level of civilized mankind." Words cease to have a par value even with the stickler for verbal accuracy the instant their own arguments are applied to the other sex. Eloquently men can and do portray the wrongs, the outrages, the abuses which always have arisen, which always must arise from class legislation—from that condition which makes it impossible for one class or condition of citizens of a country to make their needs, desires, preferences and opinions felt in the organic law of their country on an equal and level footing with their fellows. Men have needed no great ability to enable them to prove that tyranny unspeakable always did and always will follow unlimited power over others so long as their arguments applied between man and man, but the instant the identical arguments are used to apply between man and woman that instant their whole attitude changes.

That instant words lose all par value. That instant all men, including those who have but just waxed eloquent over the injustice and the real danger of permitting inequality before the law, become aristocrats. Claiming to be the logical sex, man throws logic to the winds. Claiming to have fought and bled to enthrone "liberty," he forgets its very name! Asserting that in his own hand alone can the scales of justice be held level, he makes of justice, of liberty and of equality a mockery and a pretense! He has so far read all of those words in the masculine gender only. He has not yet learned to think them in a universal language. He stultifies his every utterance and makes of his mind a jailer, and of his laws slave drivers, for all who cannot by physical force wrench from him the right to their own liberty and to their human status of equality of opportunity.

Men have everywhere grown to believe that they have been born and that they rule women by divine right. Woman is a mere annex to and for his glory. She exists for him to rule, to think for, to adore, to tolerate or to abuse as he sees fit, or as is his type or nature. Her appeal must not be to an equal standard of justice which she has helped to frame, administer and live by; but it must be to his generosity, his tenderness, his toleration or his chivalry—in short, to his absolute power over her. "No people can be free without an equal legal footing for all of its citizens!" exclaims the statesman, and drums beat and trumpets blare and men march and countermarch in enthusiastic response to the sentiment. "We must have a government of the people, by the people, for the people" is cheered to the echo whenever heard, and nobody realizes that what is meant always is a government of men, by men, for men, with woman as an annex.

Only three weeks ago all of our papers had leaders, editorials and cablegrams to announce that "universal suffrage has been granted in Belgium." They all grew enthusiastic over it. One of our leading New York editors said (and I use his editorial simply because it is a very good example of what almost all of our important journals said):

"The triumph of the Belgian democracy is an event of the first significance. The masses had long appealed in vain for a removal of the property qualification which restricted the right of suffrage to 140,000 persons out of a population of over 6,-000,000 but the chambers, dominated by the wealthy classes, resolutely refused to comply with the demand until a dangerous revolution was inaugurated.

"Even now the change in the constitution granting universal suffrage is coupled with the right of plural voting by the property-owners, but it is quite certain that this obnoxious feature will be soon abandoned by the chambers and universal suffrage will prevail, as in the adjoining nations of France and Germany.

"When these newly enfranchised electors choose the next legislature important changes may be expected in the laws applicable to the employment of labor, which have hitherto been framed solely in the interest of the mine-owners and the manufacturers. Fortunately for the king, he seems to be in sympathy with this effort of the masses to acquire a fair representation in the government. In the recent riots the hostility of the people was directed against the assembly rather than against the crown. It is very evident that the democratic spirit is gaining ground throughout Europe. Its influence is manifest in the home rule movement in England, in the hostility to the army bill in Germany, and in the rapid changes of the ministers of France. It steadily advances in every direction and never loses ground once acquired. It progresses peacefully if it can, but forcibly if it must. Its triumph in Belgium is one of the signs of the times in the old world."

"The people" are all male in Belgium, in France, Germany and America, or else all of these statements are mere figures of speech, are wholly untrue, for the women of Belgium, of France, of Germany—and, alas! of democratic America, were not even thought of when the words "people," "citizens," "masses," "laborers," etc., were used. They are counted in the estimates of the population as all of these. They are used to fill vacancies, to swell estimates, to round out statistics, but in the result of these arguments and statistics, in the victories won for liberty to the individual, woman has no part. She is the one outlaw in human progress. In a recent magazine this passage occurs:

"Austria.—On April 2 Dr. Victor Adler, a socialist leader, spoke to about 4,000 workingmen in favor of universal suffrage. He said that two-thirds of the adult men had not the suffrage. Only half-civilized countries, like Russia and Spain, now placed their citizens in such inequality before the law. The workingmen of Austria had never before this winter suffered such hardships, and now in Vienna 26,000 workmen were without shelter."

Yet there is no report that Dr. Adler nor the editor of the magazine, who waxed eloquent over it, saw any special "hardship" or "inequality" in a degraded status for all women. "Universal suffrage," indeed! And has Austria no women citizens? Were the working women who have not the ballot, better sheltered than the men? Or do they need no shelter? Another editor says: "Don't talk about a free ballot while the bread of the masses is in the giving of the classes."

Yet, had a venturesome girl type-setter made it read, "Don't talk about a free ballot, a democracy or freedom while the bread of women is in the giving of men," the editor would have said: "She is insane, and besides that, she is talking unwomanly nonsense."

It is the same in science, in literature, in religion. All estimates are made on and for the "human race," "the people of a country," etc. The "will of the people" is spoken of; we are told all about the brain size and capacity and convolutions, etc., of the different "peoples"; we hear learned discourses about it all, and when you sift them, woman—one-half of the race talked about—is used always simply and only as ballast, as filling to make a point in man's favor. She does not figure in the benefits. He is the race—she his annex.

Not long ago an amusing illustration of this came to my knowledge. As you may perhaps know, there is more money invested in life insurance than in any other great financial enterprise in the world.

This is the way insurance experts look at the woman question. The estimates of longevity, desirability of risk, etc., are based upon male standards. This is not in itself unnatural or unreasonable, since men have been the chief insurers, but few companies, indeed, being willing to insure women at all. But not long ago a lady applied for a policy on her life in a first-class company. She had three little children for whom she wished to provide in case of her death. She believed that she could properly support them so long as she lived. To her surprise she was told that the rate at which she must pay was $5 on each $1,000 more than her brother had to pay at the same age. She asked the actuary—a very profound man—why this was so. He told her that women had been found to be not so good risks as men, since they were subject to more dangers of death than were men, and that to make the companies safe it had been found necessary to charge women a higher rate.

She had heard much and eloquently all her life long of the dangers of men's lives; of the shielded, sheltered state of feminine humanity, and she had never dreamed that it was—from a mortuary point of view—"extra hazardous" to be a woman. She assumed, however, that it must be so and paid her extra hazardous premium, just as if she belonged to the army or was a blaster or miner or "contemplated going up in a balloon." A short time afterward her mother, an elderly lady, had some money to invest. She did not wish to care for it herself, as she had never had the least business experience. She applied to the same actuary to know how much of an annual income or annuity she could buy for the sum she had. He figured on it for a while and told her. It was a good deal less than a man could get for the same amount. She had the temerity to ask why.

"Well," said the actuary, gazing benignly over his glasses at her in a congratulatory fashion, "you see women live longer than men do—"

"But you told my daughter that they did not live so long, and so she pays at a higher rate on insurance to make you safe lest she should die too young. Now you charge me more for an annuity on the theory that a woman lives longer than a man."

"Well," said he, readjusting his glasses and going carefully over the mortuary table again, "that does seem to be the fact. If a woman assures her life she beats the company by dying sooner than a man and if she takes an annuity she beats us by living longer than he would. Don't know how it happens, but we charge extra to cover the facts as we find 'em."

Such is masculine logic upon feminine perversity even in death.

Yet men say that they understand us and our needs so much better than we do ourselves that they abandon all of their reasoning, logic, enthusiasm and beliefs on the great fundamental principles of justice, equality, liberty and law the moment their own arguments are applied to women instead of to "labor," the "Irish question" or to any other phase of class legislation as applied between man and man. The fact is simply and only this, that the arrogance of sex power and perversion is now so thoroughly ingrained that man really believes himself to be—by divine right—the human race and that woman is his perquisite. He has no universal language. He thinks in the language of sex. But more than this, and worse than this, he insists upon no one else being allowed to think in the language of humanity, and to translate that thought into action.