Part 5 (1/2)

This was the male champion. I do not venture upon the cruelty of comparing his bombastic flummeries to the clear reasoning of a woman of like fame and position; all I ask of you is that you weigh them, for sense, for shrewdness, for intelligent grasp of obscure relations, for intellectual honesty and courage, with the ideas of the average midwife.

34. The Suffragette

I have spoken with some disdain of the suffragette. What is the matter with her, fundamentally, is simple: she is a woman who has stupidly carried her envy of certain of the superficial privileges of men to such a point that it takes on the character of an obsession, and makes her blind to their valueless and often chiefly imaginary character. In particular, she centres this frenzy of hers upon one definite privilege, to wit, the alleged privilege of promiscuity in amour, the modern droit du seigneur. Read the books of the chief lady Savonarolas, and you will find running through them an hysterical denunciation of what is called the double standard of morality; there is, indeed, a whole literature devoted exclusively to it. The existence of this double standard seems to drive the poor girls half frantic. They bellow raucously for its abrogation, and demand that the frivolous male be visited with even more idiotic penalties than those which now visit the aberrant female; some even advocate gravely his mutilation by surgery, that he may be forced into rect.i.tude by a physical disability for sin.

All this, of course, is hocus-pocus, and the judicious are not deceived by it for an instant. What these virtuous bel dames actually desire in their hearts is not that the male be reduced to chemical purity, but that the franchise of dalliance be extended to themselves. The most elementary acquaintance with Freudian psychology exposes their secret animus. Unable to ensnare males under the present system, or at all events, unable to ensnare males sufficiently appetizing to arouse the envy of other women, they leap to the theory that it would be easier if the rules were less exacting. This theory exposes their deficiency in the chief character of their s.e.x: accurate observation. The fact is that, even if they possessed the freedom that men are supposed to possess, they would still find it difficult to achieve their ambition, for the average man, whatever his stupidity, is at least keen enough in judgment to prefer a single wink from a genuinely attractive woman to the last delirious favours of the typical suffragette. Thus the theory of the whoopers and snorters of the cause, in its esoteric as well as in its public aspect, is unsound. They are simply women who, in their tastes and processes of mind, are two-thirds men, and the fact explains their failure to achieve presentable husbands, or even consolatory betrayal, quite as effectively as it explains the ready credence they give to political an philosophical absurdities.

35. A Mythical Dare-Devil

The truth is that the picture of male carnality that such women conjure up belongs almost wholly to fable, as I have already observed in dealing with the sophistries of Dr. Eliza Burt Gamble, a paralogist on a somewhat higher plane. As they depict him in their fevered treatises on illegitimacy, white-slave trading and ophthalmia neonatorum, the average male adult of the Christian and cultured countries leads a life of gaudy lubricity, rolling magnificently from one liaison to another, and with an almost endless queue of ruined milliners, dancers, charwomen, parlour-maids and waitresses behind him, all dying of poison and despair. The life of man, as these furiously envious ones see it, is the life of a leading actor in a boulevard revue. He is a polygamous, multigamous, myriadigamous; an insatiable and unconscionable debauche, a monster of promiscuity; prodigiously unfaithful to his wife, and even to his friends' wives; fathomlessly libidinous and superbly happy.

Needless to say, this picture bears no more relation to the facts than a dissertation on major strategy by a military ”expert” promoted from dramatic critic. If the chief suffragette scare mongers (I speak without any embarra.s.sing naming of names) were attractive enough to men to get near enough to enough men to know enough about them for their purpose they would paralexia the Dorcas societies with no such cajoling libels.

As a matter of sober fact, the average man of our time and race is quite incapable of all these incandescent and intriguing divertis.e.m.e.nts. He is far more virtuous than they make him out, far less schooled in sin far less enterprising and ruthless. I do not say, of course, that he is pure in heart, for the chances are that he isn't; what I do say is that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, he is pure in act, even in the face of temptation. And why? For several main reasons, not to go into minor ones. One is that he lacks the courage. Another is that he lacks the money. Another is that he is fundamentally moral, and has a conscience.

It takes more sinful initiative than he has in him to plunge into any affair save the most casual and sordid; it takes more ingenuity and intrepidity than he has in him to carry it off; it takes more money than he can conceal from his consort to finance it. A man may force his actual wife to share the direst poverty, but even the least vampirish woman of the third part demands to be courted in what, considering his station in life, is the grand manner, and the expenses of that grand manner scare off all save a small minority of specialists in deception.

So long, indeed, as a wife knows her husband's income accurately, she has a sure means of holding him to his oaths.

Even more effective than the fiscal barrier is the barrier of poltroonery. The one character that distinguishes man from the other higher vertebrate, indeed, is his excessive timorousness, his easy yielding to alarms, his incapacity for adventure without a crowd behind him. In his normal incarnation he is no more capable of initiating an extra-legal affair--at all events, above the mawkish harmlessness of a flirting match with a cigar girl in a cafe-than he is of scaling the battlements of h.e.l.l. He likes to think of himself doing it, just as he likes to think of himself leading a cavalry charge or climbing the Matterhorn. Often, indeed, his vanity leads him to imagine the thing done, and he admits by winks and blushes that he is a bad one. But at the bottom of all that tawdry pretence there is usually nothing more material than an oafish smirk at some disgusted shop-girl, or a of s.h.i.+ns under the table. Let any woman who is disquieted by reports of her husband's derelictions figure to herself how long it would have taken him to propose to her if left to his own enterprise, and then let her ask herself if so pusillanimous a creature could be imaged in the role of Don Giovanni.

Finally, there is his conscience--the acc.u.mulated sediment of ancestral faintheartedness in countless generations, with vague religious fears and superst.i.tions to leaven and mellow it. What! a conscience? Yes, dear friends, a conscience. That conscience may be imperfect, inept, unintelligent, brummagem. It may be indistinguishable, at times, from the mere fear that someone may be looking. It may be shot through with hypocrisy, stupidity, play-acting. But nevertheless, as consciences go in Christendom, it is genuinely ent.i.tled to the name--and it is always in action. A man, remember, is not a being in vacuo; he is the fruit and slave of the environment that bathes him. One cannot enter the House of Commons, the United States Senate, or a prison for felons without becoming, in some measure, a rascal. One cannot fall overboard without s.h.i.+pping water. One cannot pa.s.s through a modern university without carrying away scars. And by the same token one cannot live and have one's being in a modern democratic state, year in and year out, without falling, to some extent at least, under that moral obsession which is the hall-mark of the mob-man set free. A citizen of such a state, his nose buried in Nietzsche, ”Man and Superman,” and other such advanced literature, may caress himself with the notion that he is an immoralist, that his soul is full of soothing sin, that he has cut himself loose from the revelation of G.o.d. But all the while there is a part of him that remains a sound Christian, a moralist, a right thinking and forward-looking man. And that part, in times of stress, a.s.serts itself.

It may not worry him on ordinary occasions. It may not stop him when he swears, or takes a nip of whiskey behind the door, or goes motoring on Sunday; it may even let him alone when he goes to a leg-show. But the moment a concrete Temptress rises before him, her nose snow-white, her lips rouged, her eyelashes drooping provokingly--the moment such an abandoned wench has at him, and his lack of ready funds begins to conspire with his lack of courage to a.s.sault and wobble him--at that precise moment his conscience flares into function, and so finishes his business. First he sees difficulty, then he sees the danger, then he sees wrong. The result is that he slinks off in trepidation, and another vampire is baffled of her prey.

It is, indeed, the secret scandal of Christendom, at least in the Protestant regions, that most men are faithful to their wives. You will a travel a long way before you find a married man who will admit that he is, but the facts are the facts, and I am surely not one to flout them.

36. The Origin of a Delusion

The origin of the delusion that the average man is a Leopold II or Augustus the Strong, with the amorous experience of a guinea pig, is not far to seek. It lies in three factors, the which I rehea.r.s.e briefly:

1. The idiotic vanity of men, leading to their eternal boasting, either by open lying or sinister hints.

2. The notions of vice crusaders, nonconformist divines, Y. M. C. A.

secretaries, and other such libidinous poltroons as to what they would do themselves if they had the courage.

3. The ditto of certain suffragettes as to ditto.

Here you have the genesis of a generalization that gives the less critical sort of women a great deal of needless uneasiness and vastly augments the natural conceit of men. Some p.o.r.nographic old fellow, in the discharge, of his duties as director of an anti-vice society, puts in an evening ploughing through such books as ”The Memoirs of f.a.n.n.y Hill,” Casanova's Confessions, the Cena Trimalchionis of Gaius Petronius, and II Samuel. From this perusal he arises with the conviction that life amid the red lights must be one stupendous whirl of deviltry, that the clerks he sees in Broadway or Piccadilly at night are out for revels that would have caused protests in Sodom and Nineveh, that the average man who chooses h.e.l.l leads an existence comparable to that of a Mormon bishop, that the world outside the Bible cla.s.s is packed like a sardine-can with betrayed salesgirls, that every man who doesn't believe that Jonah swallowed the whale spends his whole leisure leaping through the seventh hoop of the Decalogue. ”If I were not saved and anointed of G.o.d,” whispers the vice director into his own ear, ”that is what I, the Rev. Dr. Jasper Barebones, would be doing. The late King David did it; he was human, and hence immoral. The late King Edward VII was not beyond suspicion: the very numeral in his name has its suggestions. Millions of others go the same route.... Ergo, Up, guards, and at 'em! Bring me the pad of blank warrants! Order out the seachlights and scaling-ladders! Swear in four hundred more policemen! Let us chase these h.e.l.l-hounds out of Christendom, and make the world safe for monogamy, poor working girls, and infant d.a.m.nation!”

Thus the hound of heaven, arguing fallaciously from his own secret aspirations. Where he makes his mistake is in a.s.suming that the unconsecrated, while sharing his longing to debauch and betray, are free from his other weaknesses, e.g., his timidity, his lack of resourcefulness, his conscience. As I have said, they are not. The vast majority of those who appear in the public haunts of sin are there, not to engage in overt acts of ribaldry, but merely to tremble agreeably upon the edge of the abyss. They are the same skittish experimentalists, precisely, who throng the midway at a world's fair, and go to s.m.u.tty shows, and take in s.e.x magazines, and read the sort of books that our vice crusading friend reads. They like to conjure up the charms of carnality, and to help out their somewhat sluggish imaginations by actual peeps at it, but when it comes to taking a forthright header into the sulphur they usually fail to muster up the courage. For one clerk who succ.u.mbs to the houris of the pave, there are five hundred who succ.u.mb to lack of means, the warnings of the s.e.x hygienists, and their own depressing consciences. For one ”clubman”--i.e., bagman or suburban vestryman--who invades the women's shops, engages the affection of some innocent miss, lures her into infamy and then sells her to the Italians, there are one thousand who never get any further than asking the price of cologne water and discharging a few furtive winks. And for one husband of the Nordic race who maintains a blonde chorus girl in oriental luxury around the corner, there are ten thousand who are as true to their wives, year in and year out, as so many convicts in the death-house, and would be no more capable of any such loathsome malpractice, even in the face of free opportunity, than they would be of cutting off the ears of their young.

I am sorry to blow up so much romance. In particular, I am sorry for the suffragettes who specialize in the double standard, for when they get into pantaloons at last, and have the new freedom, they will discover to their sorrow that they have been pursuing a chimera--that there is really no such animal as the male anarchist they have been denouncing and envying--that the wholesale fornication of man, at least under Christian democracy, has little more actual existence than honest advertising or sound cooking. They have followed the maniacs in embracing a piece of buncombe, and when the day of deliverance comes it will turn to ashes in their arms.

Their error, as I say, lies in overestimating the courage and enterprise of man. They themselves, barring mere physical valour, a quality in which the average man is far exceeded by the average jackal or wolf, have more of both. If the consequences, to a man, of the slightest descent from virginity were one-tenth as swift and barbarous as the consequences to a young girl in like case, it would take a division of infantry to dredge up a single male flouter of that lex talionis in the whole western world. As things stand today, even with the odds so greatly in his favour, the average male hesitates and is thus not lost.