Read CHAPTER XXX of Her Royal Highness Woman, free online book, by Max O'Rell, on


Women’s-righters-Electric fluids-The bearded lady-The
first-fiddle-Lady doctors-Lady lawyers-Lady
speech-makers-Prominent women-A pretty picture.

Ernest Renan, whom nobody would dream of charging with frivolity, said that the first duty of woman was to look beautiful. Victor Hugo once said that it was to look pleasant. In mythology we find that the gods fell in love with Venus, but never with Minerva.

The functions of woman are to inspire and to guide, not to lead or command, and I think that the saddest spectacle of the latter end of the nineteenth century was the supremely ridiculous efforts made by some women to usurp functions which by Nature were intended for men to perform. Poor women’s-righters! They cannot be men, and they want to cease to be women. Men and women are like electric fluids. When of the same name, they repel each other; when of different kinds, they attract each other. Now, women’s-righters are seldom beautiful, very seldom attractive. A manly woman is as objectionable a sight as an effeminate man. The blue-stockings are mostly of the ‘unclaimed blessing’ sisterhood, and very few of them set up for professional beauties. The blue-stocking fascinates me as much as the bearded lady of a Chicago dime museum.

When a woman is beautiful, she is generally satisfied with playing a woman’s part. The tedious women’s-righters embrace the thankless career of exponents of women’s grievances because they have never found anything better to embrace. And, for that matter, these excellent ladies must not put it into their heads that they have created the part, for it existed in the days of Aristophanes. Praxagora was neither more nor less ridiculous than most of the present champions of women’s rights.

I hate the woman who appears in public. I hate the woman who lectures in public or in private. I hate the woman who rises to make a speech after dinner. I hate the woman who speaks about politics, and would like to sit in Parliament so as to transform it into a Chatterment. I hate the scientific woman who lectures on evolution or writes on natural philosophy. I hate the lady physician, the lady lawyer, the lady member of the School Board, the lady preacher, the lady president, the lady secretary, the lady reciter, even the lady who conducts an orchestra. I hate the prominent woman. And, although I don’t see her, I hate the woman who writes a book, and feel almost ready to exclaim with Alphonse Karr: ‘One book more and one woman less!’

Compared to all these, how I love the pretty woman who dresses well, smiles pleasantly, parts her hair in the middle, and has never done anything in her life! ‘Ah!’ will exclaim the hateful woman, ’but see, she wears the collar of servitude.’ Nonsense! The marks that you see on her neck are not those of a collar of servitude, but those made by the arms of the husband and the children that clasp her round it.

Women, priests, and poultry have never enough, but in wishing to extend her empire woman will destroy it.

Now, ladies, what do you want? I hear you constantly loudly demanding the emancipation of your sex. You say you can do without us, and as for our protection, you’ll none of it. For you, in times past, have we drawn the sword; to-day you hold us scarce worthy to draw cheques at your bidding. You would be man’s equal, as if you ought not to be content with being incontestably his superior. You have graces of body and mind, and men pay you a homage that falls little short of worship. Your first duties are to be tender, sweet, and beautiful. You have every intention of continuing to be the latter, we have no doubt, but you mean to be tender and sweet no longer. In a word, you mean to strike, as your sisters did in the good old days of Aristophanes.

’You want to be learned? But you are learned in the heart’s lore by Nature. You want to be free? But we are your slaves confessed. You want to make the laws? But your lightest word is law already. And, besides, between ourselves, do you not practically make your husbands vote pretty much as you please in all the parliaments of the world? You want to have more influence in the higher councils? But are you not satisfied with knowing that it was a woman who was the cause of the fall of the human race? that a woman has been the cause of every great catastrophe, from the Siege of Troy down to the Franco-Prussian War? that, in a word, woman has ever inspired our noblest actions and our foulest crimes? The rights of woman! What a sonorous platitude!’

You are proud of saying that to your sex belonged Joan of Arc, Charlotte Corday, George Sand, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte, Madame Roland, Madame de Stael. Quite true; but could you find many men who would have been happy by taking to wife any one of the ladies I have just mentioned?

If you give a boy the education of a girl, or a girl the education of a boy, the result will be an unsubmissive or degraded being. It is always this result which must be reached by all who, believing that they are protesting against laws and usages, are really in rebellion against Nature. ‘I dream of a society,’ said Jules Simon, ’where women would be the mistresses in their own household, and would figure in public affairs only through the intermediary of their fathers and their husbands. I would like to sacrifice myself for woman, but not to obey her. I repel her domination, but I crave for her influence.’

The name of woman will ever be glorious so long as it is synonymous with beauty, tenderness, sweetness, devotion, all the sacred troop of virtues. It will be glorious, thanks to the Lucretias, the Penelopes, the Cornelias, ancient and modern, the devoted daughters, the loving wives, the adorable mothers, to the thousands of obscure heroines, who remind us, in the words of the great poet of antiquity, that the best women have been those whom the world has heard least of.

The loveliest picture in the world is that which represents a soldier lying on the battlefield with a woman kneeling by his side tending his wounds. Let the field be that of the everyday battle of life.