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    The Suffragist

    by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
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    Rightly or wrongly, it is certain that a man both liberal and chivalric,
    can and very often does feel a dis-ease and distrust touching those
    political women we call Suffragettes. Like most other popular sentiments,
    it is generally wrongly stated even when it is rightly felt. One part of
    it can be put most shortly thus: that when a woman puts up her fists to a
    man she is putting herself in the only posture in which he is not afraid
    of her. He can be afraid of her speech and still more of her silence; but
    force reminds him of a rusted but very real weapon of which he has grown
    ashamed. But these crude summaries are never quite accurate in any matter
    of the instincts. For the things which are the simplest so long as they
    are undisputed invariably become the subtlest when once they are disputed:
    which was what Joubert meant, I suppose, when he said, "It is not hard to
    believe in God if one does not define Him." When the evil instincts of
    old Foulon made him say of the poor, "Let them eat grass," the good and
    Christian instincts of the poor made them hang him on a lamppost with his
    mouth stuffed full of that vegetation. But if a modern vegetarian
    aristocrat were to say to the poor, "But why don't you like grass?" their
    intelligences would be much more taxed to find such an appropriate
    repartee. And this matter of the functions of the sexes is primarily a
    matter of the instincts; sex and breathing are about the only two things
    that generally work best when they are least worried about. That, I
    suppose, is why the same sophisticated age that has poisoned the world
    with Feminism is also polluting it with Breathing Exercises. We plunge at
    once into a forest of false analogies and bad blundering history; while
    almost any man or woman left to themselves would know at least that sex is
    quite different from anything else in the world.

    There is no kind of comparison possible between a quarrel of man and woman
    (however right the woman may be) and the other quarrels of slave and
    master, of rich and poor, or of patriot and invader, with which the
    Suffragists deluge us every day. The difference is as plain as noon;
    these other alien groups never came into contact until they came into
    collision. Races and ranks began with battle, even if they afterwards
    melted into amity. But the very first fact about the sexes is that they
    like each other. They seek each other: and awful as are the sins and
    sorrows that often come of their mating, it was not such things that made
    them meet. It is utterly astounding to note the way in which modern
    writers and talkers miss this plain, wide, and overwhelming fact: one
    would suppose woman a victim and nothing else. By this account ideal,
    emancipated woman has, age after age, been knocked silly with a stone axe.
    But really there is no fact to show that ideal, emancipated woman was
    ever knocked silly; except the fact that she is silly. And that might
    have arisen in so many other ways. Real responsible woman has never been
    silly; and any one wishing to knock her would be wise (like the
    streetboys) to knock and run away. It is ultimately idiotic to compare
    this prehistoric participation with any royalties or rebellions. Genuine
    royalties wish to crush rebellions. Genuine rebels wish to destroy kings.
    The sexes cannot wish to abolish each other; and if we allow them any
    sort of permanent opposition it will sink into something as base as a
    party system.

    As marriage, therefore, is rooted in an aboriginal unity of instincts, you
    cannot compare it, even in its quarrels, with any of the mere collisions
    of separate institutions. You could compare it with the emancipation of
    negroes from planters--if it were true that a white man in early youth
    always dreamed of the abstract beauty of a black man. You could compare
    it with the revolt of tenants against a landlord--if it were true that
    young landlords wrote sonnets to invisible tenants. You could compare it
    to the fighting policy of the Fenians--if it were true that every normal
    Irishman wanted an Englishman to come and live with him. But as we know
    there are no instincts in any of these directions, these analogies are not
    only false but false on the cardinal fact. I do not speak of the
    comparative comfort or merit of these different things: I say they are
    different. It may be that love turned to hate is terribly common in
    sexual matters: it may be that hate turned to love is not uncommon in the
    rivalries of race or class. But any philosophy about the sexes that
    begins with anything but the mutual attraction of the sexes, begins with a
    fallacy; and all its historical comparisons are as irrelevant and
    impertinent as puns.

    But to expose such cold negation of the instincts is easy: to express or
    even half express the instincts is very hard. The instincts are very much
    concerned with what literary people call "style" in letters or more vulgar
    people call "style" in dress. They are much concerned with how a thing is
    done, as well as whether one may do it: and the deepest elements in their
    attraction or aversion can often only be conveyed by stray examples or
    sudden images. When Danton was defending himself before the Jacobin
    tribunal he spoke so loud that his voice was heard across the Seine, in
    quite remote streets on the other side of the river. He must have
    bellowed like a bull of Bashan. Yet none of us would think of that
    prodigy except as something poetical and appropriate. None of us would
    instinctively feel that Danton was less of a man or even less of a
    gentleman, for speaking so in such an hour. But suppose we heard that
    Marie Antoinette, when tried before the same tribunal, had howled so that
    she could be heard in the Faubourg St. Germain--well, I leave it to the
    instincts, if there are any left. It is not wrong to howl. Neither is it
    right. It is simply a question of the instant impression on the artistic
    and even animal parts of humanity, if the noise were heard suddenly like a
    gun.

    Perhaps the nearest verbal analysis of the instinct may be found in the
    gestures of the orator addressing a crowd. For the true orator must
    always be a demagogue: even if the mob be a small mob, like the French
    committee or the English House of Lords. And "demagogue," in the good
    Greek meaning, does not mean one who pleases the populace, but one who
    leads it: and if you will notice, you will see that all the instinctive
    gestures of oratory are gestures of military leadership; pointing the
    people to a path or waving them on to an advance. Notice that long sweep
    of the arm across the body and outward, which great orators use naturally
    and cheap orators artificially. It is almost the exact gesture of the
    drawing of a sword.

    The point is not that women are unworthy of votes; it is not even that
    votes are unworthy of women. It is that votes are unworthy of men, so
    long as they are merely votes; and have nothing in them of this ancient
    militarism of democracy. The only crowd worth talking to is the crowd
    that is ready to go somewhere and do something; the only demagogue worth
    hearing is he who can point at something to be done: and, if he points
    with a sword, will only feel it familiar and useful like an elongated
    finger. Now, except in some mystical exceptions which prove the rule,
    these are not the gestures, and therefore not the instincts, of women.
    No honest man dislikes the public woman. He can only dislike the
    political woman; an entirely different thing. The instinct has nothing to
    do with any desire to keep women curtained or captive: if such a desire
    exists. A husband would be pleased if his wife wore a gold crown and
    proclaimed laws from a throne of marble; or if she uttered oracles from
    the tripod of a priestess; or if she could walk in mystical motherhood
    before the procession of some great religious order. But that she should
    stand on a platform in the exact altitude in which he stands; leaning
    forward a little more than is graceful and holding her mouth open a little
    longer and wider than is dignified--well, I only write here of the facts
    of natural history; and the fact is that it is this, and not publicity or
    importance, that hurts. It is for the modern world to judge whether such
    instincts are indeed danger signals; and whether the hurting of moral as
    of material nerves is a tocsin and a warning of nature.
    If you're writing a The Suffragist essay and need some advice, post your Gilbert Keith Chesterton essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

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