“A sort of sharp practice”

Once I had a private dispute with a lady about Feminism, in which the strange and stubborn resolution to answer only one set of arguments came to an abrupt and rather extraordinary end. Hearing I was opposed to Female Suffrage, the lady, in the good old stiff style … began to belabour what she supposed to be my opinions. I despised women because the scientists said they had smaller heads. I thought they were weak and hysterical; I thought that might was right, and so on. It was long before I had a chance of explaining that I do not despise women, that I do not believe scientists, that I do not think that might is right, or that big heads are big brains, and that, in my opinion, women are not weak and are not hysterical.

Whereupon this extraordinary woman sprang up, stamped with both feet at once and cried out, “But we are weak and hysterical, I tell you we are!” She protested, almost with tears in her eyes, that her cranium was of contemptible dimensions. She dared me to maintain that women had any admirable qualities at all.

I have never understood this outburst; but I have often fancied that it had something to do with the strange debating-club notion that advancing the conventional argument is an act of fairness to the company; that giving one’s own reasons, and not the official reasons, is “paradox” and a sort of sharp practice; that “both sides” of a thing are always (as in Euclid) greater than the third side. But there is always a third side: two sides cannot enclose a space. Perhaps the lady thought I was cheating; perhaps she thought that sneering at the female skull was a polite form for introducing a subject; perhaps she thought I was not “playing the game.” Well, that is just it: I am not playing the game. Or perhaps she was mad.

— The Illustrated London News, 3 June 1911.

Published in: on August 21, 2013 at 7:59 am  Leave a Comment  

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