Greater vigor of character

James Fitzjames Stephen was a forthright kind of guy. Blunt, even. As such he offers a useful window into the most forthright kind of imperturbable contempt for women.

From chapter 5 of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, in which he disagrees with John Stuart Mill’s views on gender equality.

Now, if society and government ought to recognize the inequality of age as the foundation of an inequality of rights of this importance, it appears to me at least equally clear that they ought to recognize the inequality of sex for the same purpose, if it is a real inequality. Is it one? There are some propositions which it is difficult to prove, because they are so plain, and this is one of them. The physical differences between the two sexes affect every part of the human body, from the hair of the head to the sole of the feet, from the size and density of the bones to the texture of the brain and the character of the nervous system. Ingenious people may argue about any thing, and Mr. Mill does say a great number of things about women which, as I have already observed, I will not discuss; but all the talk in the world will never shake the proposition that men are stronger than women in every shape. They have greater muscular and nervous force, greater intellectual force, greater vigor of character.

See what he did there? It’s not just that women are physically smaller and less muscular and strong, it’s also that they’re stupid and  generally feeble. They’re just less in every way.

This general truth, which has been observed under all sorts of circumstances and in every age and country, has also in every age and country led to a division of labor between men and women, the general outline of which is as familiar and as universal as the general outline of the differences between them. These are the facts, and the question is, whether the law and public opinion ought to recognize this difference. How it ought to recognize it, what difference it ought to make between men and women as such, is quite another question. The first point to consider is, whether it ought to treat them as equals, although, as I have shown, they are not equals, because men are the stronger.

See what he did there? He hadn’t “shown” anything, he’d simply announced it.

 I will take one or two illustrations. Men, no one denies, may, and in some cases ought to, be liable to compulsory military service. No one, I suppose, would hesitate to admit that, if we were engaged in a great war, it might become necessary, or that if necessary it would be right, to have a conscription both for the land and for the sea service. Ought men and women to be subject to it indiscriminately? If any one says that they ought, I have no more to say, except that he has got into the region at which argument is useless.

See what he did there? Of course you do.

But if it is admitted that this ought not to be done, an inequality of treatment founded on a radical inequality between the two sexes is admitted, and, if this admission is once made, where are you to draw the line?

Where it seems best to draw it, which will probably change over time. It’s not some tragic permanent imponderable, it’s a practical question that can be discussed and figured out, and subject to improvement with experience and changing ideas. That’s been happening.

Turn from the case of liability to military service to that of education, which in Germany is rightly regarded as the other great branch of state activity, and the same question presents itself in another shape. Are boys and girls to be educated indiscriminately, and to be instructed in the same things? Are boys to learn to sew, to keep house, and to cook, as girls unquestionably ought to be, and are girls to play at cricket, to row, and be drilled like boys? I cannot argue with a person who says Yes.

See what he did there? Again?

 A person who says No admits an inequality between the sexes on which education must be founded, and which it must therefore perpetuate and perhaps increase.

But I didn’t say No, I said Yes, and you refused to argue with me. I call that feeble.



  1. machintelligence says

    Those were supposed to be rhetorical questions, with the “truths” proved by assertion. He wouldn’t have argued with you anyway: he said so twice.

  2. Alukonis, metal ninja says

    You heard it here first: might makes right!

    That means any guy that a woman can beat up has to cook and sew while she goes and plays cricket! Then he has to do her stinky cricket laundry. Also if a guy can beat up another guy, the weaker guy must again be stuck with that icky domestic stuff. Boy this doesn’t resemble conquering nations and slavery at all!

    I like how we’re just going to go ahead and regress to the point where we’re indistinguishable from chimpanzees, and the only thing that matters is whether you can physically overpower someone else. I’m sure that couldn’t go wrong in any way at all! Now excuse me, I have to go tear someone’s face off to exert my dominance.

  3. GordonWillis says

    There are some propositions which it is difficult to prove, because they are so plain

    Game, set and match then. Why question the self-evident? So the Saudis are right about one thing, after all. That must be such a relief.

  4. Dan says

    And don’t forget, Stephen was a *judge*, and in some ways a relatively progressive one (he reformed the Indian justice system, for example). But, you read what he’s saying against Mill here, and you have to think: this guy was a *judge*, and shudder.

  5. michaelpowers says

    When my daughter was 8, I began to teach her some basic self-defense tactics. Turns out she was a natural born warrior. Before I knew it, I had taught her all I could, at which point she suggested martial arts. I had begun all this with her safety in mind. There would come a time when I wasn’t around to protect her. I found it both amusing, and worrisome that I would now have to consider other people’s safety.

    So we had a talk. I explained to her that violence was to be used as a last resort, and just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. We discussed reason, and anger and other things. I was pleased that her thinking was along the same lines as mine.

    She’s in college now. One of the kindest, smartest, most gentle people you could hope to meet. But if you ever came at her with the intent of doing her harm, don’t expect mercy.

  6. smrnda says

    Doesn’t the belief that men have great intellectual ‘vigor’ than women now kind of not the case, with girls (at least in the US) outperforming boys in school and women getting more college degrees? Also, how much ‘evidence’ is there about sex-based differences in cognitive abilities? I recall that Simon Baron-Cohen’s experiment that showed boy babies payed more attention to mobiles and girl babies to pictures of faces was not able to be reproduced by anyone else for example.

  7. says

    Dan – quite. Plus he’s read Mill on the subject, so he’s seen the hothouse argument, but it made no impression on him whatsoever. That which he sees in Victorian Kensington is simply How Things Are, and if you disagree you’re so crazy that he will end the discussion.

  8. says

    Is this a modern guy or an old fashioned guy or a modern guy who’s old fashioned? I won’t read all that propaganda, cuz I’m too busy and WAY too tired today. But let’s study real science re: sexes and genders. And there are WAAAAY more than two!

  9. smhll says

    I’m kind of cackling with glee at the thought that I can someday take rights away from some frail old men, because if they aren’t physically strong, they don’t deserve rights. Cackle. (OK, I’m kidding.)

  10. sailor1031 says

    As a judge he presided over a couple of highly controversial trials which were probably grave miscarriages of justice…but from his writing here he seems to be just a typical victorian upperclass overprivileged male – with all the mental baggage thereto appurtaining. The problem that we have is that these attitudes are highly extant today.

    As for conscription, it was a very bad idea. Had there been no conscription,and things just left to the small professional armies of the day WW1 really would have been ‘over by christmas’.

  11. says

    Wow. Men and women have different hair, and this somehow is pertinent to his conclusion that men are stronger…

    Your piece led me to look up some more about J FitzJ S, and I see that Mark Hussey says he “was driven from his position as a High Court judge after a famous murder trial in which he prejudiced the jury against the defendant, Mrs. Maybrick, by accusing her of adultery and saying that women who committed adultery were naturally murderers.”

    Oh, dear.

    As for boys learning to sew, my father, growing up on the Gulf Coast near the Mississippi-Louisiana line 80 years ago, was taught to cook and sew in school. Boys were expected to learn to mend a torn seam and to boil or fry an egg at least, and when I got to college and found that there were guys who didn’t know how to sew a button on, I was astonished. These are survival skills. And they knew it as far back as the Depression, even down in the Deep South.


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