“Deep and tenacious human habits”

The sexes tend, without any coercion, to come together. Consequently, in all moralising or legislating about sex, we must constantly allow for an element that does not exist in any other caste, section, or division. When we see that a chief wears a sword, while his serf does not wear a sword, we shall be roughly safe in supposing that this is because the lord prefers the serf swordless. When we see (in pretty recent Irish history) an Englishman allowed to carry firearms, but an Irishman not allowed to carry firearms, we may venture timidly to suppose that it is the Englishman who has arranged this, and not the Irishman. But it is not true that when we find the man smoking a pipe and the woman not smoking one that the veto must have come from the man. It may have come from the differentiation demanded on each side by the desire to attract the other.

No tyrants wish to please their slaves, and few sensible slaves do much to please their tyrants; and for this reason men and women never have been, and never can be, merely in the relationship of tyrants and slaves. There may have been a good deal of tyranny mixed up with it; there has been, and not male tyranny only. But this evil element can never be detected or destroyed but by a sane analysis, which will recognize the element of inevitable attraction. Marriage is not a hammer, but a magnet. The family does not rest on force, but on sex. And the upshot of it is that most of the ancient customs of the sexes are conveniences: not things imposed by one party, but things equally desired by both. I am not here speaking of laws and statutes (many of which, I think, are really unjust), but of certain deep and tenacious human habits, as the disproportionate emphasis on bodily dignity in the female or bodily hardihood in the male. These were never imposed; they are the oldest and freest things in the world.

The Illustrated London News, 29 April 1911.

Published in: on August 3, 2011 at 9:17 am  Comments (1)  

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