Women's Vote and their Entrance into Parliament.
One of the grandest events in the history of New Zealand is the extension of the Parliamentary vote to women. This extension, strange to say, was finally effected by those who had long and furiously opposed it, hut who turned right-face-about when the carrying of it promised them continuance in office and emoluments. The turn-coats have now taken a step further, and propose to admit women as members into the Upper House, our Legislative Council. We consider this one of the wildest and worst proposals ever made by hard-up politicians.
|I.||There is not sufficient experience of the results of female voting to justify us in going further than we have already gone.|
|II.||The proposal imperils the great cause of women's citizenship in other countries.page 2|
|III.||Men and women, though equally entitled to justice and [unclear: it] have their rights and interests protected, have distinct sphere in life.|
|IV.||Society, in relation to its preservation and defence, rest on physical force, which is represented by men, and not by women.|
|V.||The proposal is an insult to Parliament and to Women hood.|
There is not sufficient experience of the results of female voting to justify us in going further at present than we have already gone.
The extension of the vote to women is, as yet, unapproved by almost the whole of the civilised world. This fact is an impliet condemnation of what we have done. Only in Wyoming, South Australia, and a few other out-lying places has the vote been granted. The prospect of our example being followed by the great nations, such as Britain, France, or Germany, has of late diminished rather than increased. When a revolutionary reform like that has only just been started in a few small communities at the very ends of the earth, we should have patience and wait till the little tree we have planted has grown to maturity and brought forth fruit by which we can judge it. A great reform of this kind ought to be acquiesced in and adopted by some of the great civilised nations, and tried for a generation or two, and its practical working thoroughly tested before we venture to advance further in the same direction. Only three years have elapsed since we in New Zealand, amid the surprise and laughter of nearly the whole outside world, gave to all adult women the Parliamentary vote, and now, with little or no experience of the working or effects of such legislation, and with no certainty, as yet, as to whether the female vote is to do us good or to do us evil, our foolish Ministers are rashly preparing to rush into the wild scheme of putting a few old wives or elderly spinsters into the Legislative Council.
We must admit that, so far as our experience here goes, it is somewhat, if not very much, against the female vote. The moribund Parliament, which women so largely helped to elect, has certainly not been a model Parliament. In ability or in moral worth, the members were not better than, or even equal to, their predecessors. There are many who declare that the House of Representatives about to be dissolved was the most ignorant, the most foolish, and page 3 the most mischievous, we have ever been cursed with. Our women, whose influence was to be all in favour of purity, intelligence, and moral worth, had their full share in returning it. Assuredly, female voters are no more blameable for this than male voters. Indeed, it was to be expected that women, new to the situation, and cajoled and circumvented by electioneering canvassers, would blunder at their first election and at many a subsequent one. Common sense would have expected nothing else. Education, special education, is as necessary in the business of politics as in other businesses. How absurd, then, is it to imagine that one election (that of 1893) would furnish the experience required to enable us to judge whether the experiment of extending the franchise to women would or would not to beneficial to the Colony. And how wildly rash in the Ministry, with no more experience than this, to be already bringing in a Bill to open one of the two doors of Parliament to female politicians who have worked hard for the party.
The admission of women personally into Parliament would imperil, and probably for a time ruin, the Woman Cause all over the world.
We are far from admitting that the giving of the vote to women has in any sense been a failure. In our heart's core we are convinced that their emancipation into citizenship is the dawn of a new day, the beginning of a new era for female humanity. At the same time, we are bound in all conscience to declare loudly that the carrying of this movement further at the present time, or during the present generation, and before the leading nations of the world have taken the first step in it, in the still further advanced proposal to admit women personally into Parliament as members, is extremely inconsiderate, and is sure to greatly imperil the movement initiated in Wyoming and New Zealand. This most inopportune proposal of our Sham Liberal Government, in order to bribe and catch votes at the coming election, if it should be accepted by the people of New Zealand, is certain, we repeat, to damage the Woman's Cause throughout the world.
In past times, during the agitation that was long carried on in favour of the rights of women, the chief objection in New Zealand on the movement, was that it would logically result in men and women sitting promiscuously in the two Houses of Parliament. To- page 4 day, in other countries, this objection is the strongest and sharpes weapon in the hands of our opponents. In Britain, America, and wherever our noble cause has obtained a footing, this objection is what mainly hinders our success. The idea of petticoats and pantaloons, broad-cloth and Indian shawls, bell-topper hats and bonnets of the latest fashion from Paris, oak cudgels and exquisite fans and parasols, mingling together in fierce and fiery debate on the floor of the House, excite laughter and contempt which no arguments can extinguish. And now, after one general election, which was held on the same day throughout the Colony—that is, after one day's trial of women's voting and political capacity—the truth of the objection has been confirmed, and the Ministry here propose to carry out the anticipations of our enemies, and to fling men and women helter skelter into the Legislative Council.
This proposal at first seems to be the carrying out of a principle and favourable to our cause; but, in truth and fact, it is the kiss by which the traitor betrays the cause into the hands of the enemy. We must be on our guard against such insidious treachery. We must nurse and cherish our young reform, as a mother does her infant. We must check whatever is evil, and foster whatever is good in it. In particular, we must allow sufficient time for the acquisition of political experience by women, and for enabling male mankind to get rid of their errors and prejudices.
It should be remembered that all wide and permanent reforms of a political and social nature require, not a year or two, but generations, and often centuries, for their full development. Civilisation does not advance by leaps and bounds, but only gradually, slowly, almost imperceptibly—here a little and there a little—It has taken countless years and ages to bring women into the position they now hold. There have been at least three distinct and far-parted stages in their progressive history—first, polyandry; second, polygamy; and third, the monogamy of Christendom. These successive stages may, perhaps, be better described thus:—For thousands of years women were the complete slaves of men; for other thousands of years they occupied, and over the greater part of the world they still occupy, a position analogous to what we might term concubinage; and for the last two thousand years, or nearly so, but only in Christendom, they have been recognised as the equals, in certain respects, and as the helpmates of men. Hitherto, however, even in Christendom, they have been equals only theoretically; practically, they have been subjects, page 5 servants, kept down and fettered by man-made laws in numerous ways. The first great blow at their unjust subordination was dealt when the franchise was extended to them in Wyoming, New Zealand, and South Australia, so that their interests could be represented and their wrongs redressed in a Parliament which they assisted to elect. If they, however, are dissatisfied with the big step forward which has already been taken, and are determined to get into Parliament themselves in person, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with men in all spheres of life and activity, their object will certainly be baffled, and the great reform which many of us have so long been striving to accomplish will be indefinitely procrastinated in other countries, if not utterly ruined.
Nature assigns different and distinct spheres to men and women.
There is much similarity between the sexes and there is also much dissimilarity. In certain respects men and women are equal, and in others they are unequal. The sphere which Nature assigns to men, and that which she assigns to women, meet and mingle largely, and have much in common; but there is much that belongs exclusively to the one sex and much that belongs exclusively to the other. Men and women are quite equal in respect of their natural fights as human beings; but they are far from being alike: just as England and Scotch and Irish here are perfectly equal, while they are very far from being alike. And it is on this unlikeness between men and women, not on any inequality between them, that we rest what we take to be a very strong argument against the admission of women into Parliament.
If we were asked to point out the distinctive characteristics of the two spheres which Nature assigns to the sexes, and to indicate clearly what pursuits and employments were appropriate to men and what to women, we confess we could do so only vaguely. Trying, however, to differentiate the spheres, we would say that generally the sphere for men to live and labour in was outside, and that for women inside—to the one belonged the more public life abroad, to the other the more private life at home. Men have to earn the income, and women to administer it in connection with the home. Men have to do the roughest and hardest work : women have also not a little arduous work to do, but we expect what they do to be associated with tact, taste, and refinement. At our stage of civilisa- page 6 tion about half or more of the different kinds of work to be done in the world might be done with equal propriety either by men or by women, being about equally suitable to both. But there are certain kinds of work or employments for which men seem to be specially fitted. Women seem to be specially fitted to be nurses, cooks, dressmakers, comforters, and diffusers of moral and refining influences, and men are specially fitted to be agriculturists, miners, soldiers, sailors, policemen, butchers, members of the prizering and members of Parliament.
The foregoing answer to the question asked above may be supplemented by a few other considerations.
Women's lot on earth, their main business, is connected with marriage, the home, and the rearing of children. This is the destiny of nineteen out of twenty of all adult women. In connection with their homes and the up-bringing of children, they receive their best and most complete culture. There they fulfil their true destiny, and there, no doubt, they find their chief earthly happiness. At the same time, there are vast numbers of unmarried women and childless widows, whose life is necessarily more isolated and solitary. To them our advancing civilisation is opening numerous doors of employment till lately monopolised by men. But, much as we may sympathise with these, we cannot, for their sakes, alter the current of our civilization or attempt to turn it backwards. The family is the primary, the fundamental, the most important institution of oar civilisation. It must be upheld at all costs while we do our best for those who are partly outside of it. In the family or home lies woman's chief business on earth; while the outside, the public world, is the chief sphere of man's life and labour. Since civilisation began, there has always been, and there will always continue to be, this distinction between the respective spheres of men and women in life. It is impossible to retain our civilisation if we abolish all distinction in their pursuits and avocations—if we are to have males and females side by side tilling the fields, working the mines, fighting battles, manning ships, apprehending criminals, legislating in Parliament, executing criminals, doing the same kind of work everywhere.
At the present time, two very diverse courses are open to communities : either to hold on firmly and wisely in the course along which the civilised world has been advancing for thousands of years, or to remove and level all distinctions in the spheres allotted by law and custom and common sense to men and women respectively. page 7 taking the former course, we are on the line of progress; taking the better, we are simply retrograding in the direction of savagery. And when we have reached the savage state (for out of savagery we same and back to it we may return), we shall find that one ineffaceable distinction still remains, the distinction of greater and less physical strength, which must end in men being masters and tyrants, and women being their abject slaves. Make women professional politicians and legislators, and we are indeed on the down grade.
Society, in relation to its preservation and defence, rests on physical force, which is represented by men, and not by women, and this fact bars the doors of the Legislature against women.
Society is based on physical force. The significance of this will he understood when we remember that our Colony and Empire have to be defended against foreign enemies; that order and peace must be preserved, and life and property protected, within our borders; and that the duties and whole business of legislation are entirely alien to the nature and education of the existing race of women. Living here in peace and plenty, under the shield and protection of the Imperial Government, we are to apt to forget that our foremost duty as citizens and as subjects of the Empire is to defend our country when assailed by the foreigner, and to maintain its independence and freedom. The long peace which has so fortunately been enjoyed here and in many other parts of the Empire, ought not to be allowed to hide from us this primary and supreme duty. Look around observantly and watch the shaky volcanic state of all the nations. Europe is little more than a huge camp where millions of armed men are ready at the order of some despot, or through some accident, to kill, to burn, to destroy. On all frontiers, rows of fortresses stand frowning against each other and threatening to belch forth fire and destruction all round. Iron-clad navies, with their fires a-lit, swarm in all the great harbours, and their smoke darkens oceans and seas. Home ambitious statesman, some boy-autocrat, has only to lift his little finger, and war may burst forth in circumstances of greater horror than has ever before been known in the history of mankind, and may envelope the four quarters of the globe.
Besides, while standing on this smouldering volcano, we all know that the wealth, the prosperity, the glory of Britain, has page 8 excited a vast amount of envy, jealousy, and predatory greed; [unclear: great] but poorer nations are gathering around us, like Russian wolves [unclear: in] winter around some out-lying village. In these circumstances, [unclear: our] national wealth may soon pass to others, and our glory vanish away if we are not prepared to meet all dangers, and to risk and sacrifies our lives for the defence, the independence, the welfare of our country. Now, it is on the men, and not on the women of our country, that this foremost patriotic duty falls. It is the men, as distinguished from the women, who must fight, even to the death if necessary, for the protection and safety of our women, of our sweet hearts, and our wives and our children. And this is a duty which brave and gallant men naturally take the greatest delight in; for,
How can a man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods,
And for the tender mother
Who dandled him to rest,
And for the wife who nurses
His baby at her breast,
And for the holy maidens
Who feed the eternal flame?
From the circumstances in which we find ourselves placed we draw the natural and unavoidable conclusion, that it is men and not women who must manage all this kind of bloody business, and who ought to wield supreme, unshared power in Parliament. While we are still in the fighting stage of civilisation, supreme Parliamentary power must rest undivided in the hands of the men of the nation, We are not, as yet, even within sight of the Millennium of peace.
There is another duty of a homelier nature, but of no less importance than military patriotism. We refer to the duty of preserving peace and order within the community and of giving effect to the decrees and decisions of magistrates and judges. Here also society rests on physical force, on the bodily strength of combative males. We need not only soldiers and sailors, but also policemen, without whom peace and order could not be preserved internally, and without whom the administration of justice and the carrying out of the Acts of the Legislature would be impossible. For the performance of such duties women are unfitted by nature. They cannot regulate the traffic in our streets and harbours—cannot run in page break [unclear: the] drunkard and the prostitute—cannot hunt down criminals—cannot keep watch over life and property by day and by night—cannot do one of the hundreds of things that have to be done by our civil soldiers, the police. If the preservation of peace and the maintenance of order in our midst, and the carrying out of the law [unclear: be] thus the special duty of men as distinguished from women, it [unclear: follows] logically and irresistibly that legislation and government should be in the hands of men and of men only.
We venture to say further that the work of legislation and government is at variance with the nature and upbringing of the women of the present age. We know not what woman's ideal of true womanhood may be, but we do know that if they were thoroughly acquainted with political life in the Colonies, they would [unclear: feel] that it was inconsistent with ordinary truthfulnees and honesty. Men's ideal is that the noblest women are pure and loving, true and [unclear: apright] and consistent, sympathetic and unselfish and self-sacrificing. A political career requires and developes character rather the reverse of all this. Purity and love are hindrances and not helps in a Parliamentary career. Truth, Integrity, Consistency ! Members of Parliament are mostly trimmers, and sit on rails, and roll logs, and set their sails, as the poet says, to 'A' the airts the win' can blow,' Unselfish and self-sacrificing! The last thing that the mass of politicians ever think of being. This is a dark picture of political life; but those who have been longest and most intimately acquainted with it, paint it still blacker.
A true realistic description of political life in the Colonies would shock the public conscience.
It is as impossible to get into the Parliament of New Zealand in a contested election without breaking the law as it is to get into heaven without repentance.
If you read 'Hansard' and believe what members often say of one another, they must be continually misrepresenting and slandering one another.
It is as impossible to be long in Parliament without violating the principles of Truth, Integrity, and Consistency, as it is to touch [unclear: tar] without being defiled.
It is notorious that it is usually the most intriguing and worthless who succeed best in politics. Hence a political career has been apply likened to a donkey-race in which the hindmost wins.
If there be any truth in the preceding remarks, it certainly follows that there are very serious hindrances which bar, and ought page 10 to bar, a woman's entrance into Parliament; for she can no more [unclear: and] man's work there than he can do hers in the home and family.
The proposal to introduce women into the Legislative Council is an insult to Parliament and to womanhood.
We are sure we are only giving expression to the thought of [unclear: all] intelligent people in the Colony when we say that the proposal [unclear: to] lift women into the Legislative Council, when it was first suggested, was taken to be a joke, a poor, silly joke, which half-disguised what was meant to be an insult to that branch of the Legislature. If the early supporters of this proposal had simply contended that Parliment should be opened equally to men and to women, the rest of us in time might have accustomed ourselves to its wildness and [unclear: ludi]crousness, and have come to treat it with some degree of seriousness and respect. But when it comes to us in its present shape, that women should be raised into the elevated condition of being members of the Upper House, the proposal is instinctively and instantaneously felt to be an insult both to the Upper House and to Womanhood. It is a mean insult to the Members of the Upper House, for it proclaims them to be old wives and the fitting associates of old wives. It is a coarse insult to women in general, for it is an emphatic declaration that, though they might do for our House of Lords, they are too low, too vulgar, too ignorant to keep company with Messrs Seddon and Reeves and Ward, and the representative items who follow them like sheep.
Those who have any full and correct knowledge of the doing of our Parliament know what a big debt of gratitude we owe to the Legislative Council. Were it not for our Honourable Councillors the stupid and contradictory bills passed by the Lower House would long ere now have made New Zealand the laughing-stock of the world. Our elected representatives, in wooing the sweet voices of the constituencies, often make promises and pledges, which, as they afterwards find, would ruin their reputation as politicians and seriously damage the Colony. These representatives, falsely true, keep their promises and vote accordingly, knowing the mischievousness of their vote, but knowing at the same time that the Councillors, better and braver men than themselves, will save the Colony from damage by rejecting these measures, and thereby incurring considerable popular odium. The chosen of the People who can thus page 11 [unclear: dirk] their duty and equivocate with their consciences, and maintain [unclear: their] contemptible popularity by throwing responsibility and blame [unclear: are] those who are infinitely worthier than themselves—if these representatives of the people were photographed by X Ray process, there would he found the six capital letters Coward written upon their white livers.
By faithfully discharging their duties to the country, by rectifying the mistakes and blunders committed by the elect of universal [unclear: suffrage], by protecting liberty and property, by modifying and remedying the infatuation and fads of the passing hour, Upper Chambers are everywhere unpopular. What a howling there was a year or two ago in the United Kingdom against the House of Lords for preserving the union and the integrity of the Empire! And in France the other day there was an amount of sacre-bleu-ing against the Upper Chamber there sufficient to sink the biggest warship in the navy. When a class or an institution is unpopular, how easy and natural is it for a certain kind of people to give it a kick in the by-going. The Premier and his adhesive items are continually adminiserting kicks of this character to the Council. And we have only to recall to mind certain recent communications which passed betweeen the Premier and His Excellency the Governor about new Labour Members being hoisted up into the Council, and the wisdom and courage lately displayed by Council in modifying or rejecting some very objectionable Bills—we have only to recall such matters to be convinced that the threat to introduce women into the Higher Chamber can scarcely be regarded in any other light than an insult, a proclamation that the Councillors are old wives, and fit only to associate with old wives.
The proposal is equally insulting to women. The proposal, we repeat, amounts to this, that women are fit and proper persons to be members of the Upper House, but not to be members of the Lower House. Why should there be drawn such a line of demarcation as this? Why shut against women the door of the House of Representatives, while you open wide to them the door of the Legislative Council? The only possible reason for making such a distinction must be that women are qualified for the one place, and not for the other; that they are fit to keep company with such antiquated fogeys as our Councillors, but not with the People's Own Elect Representatives. Hitherto it has been generally believed that the duties of an Upper House were as important, and as onerous, and as honourable as those which devolved upon the Lower. Our Councillors, as has page 12 already been said, have to revise the legislation of the People's representatives, to rectify their mistakes and blunders, to guard [unclear: or] liberties against collectivist assailants, to protect property, [unclear: landed] and other, against legalised confiscation and Henry-[unclear: Georgeanished] and to help in guiding Master Demos safely through the [unclear: infatuational] and fevers, and lunacies, to which he is occasionally liable. [unclear: Function] of this high kind are exceedingly difficult to discharge, and [unclear: required] not cleverer people, but cooler heads and sounder judgments [unclear: that] are usually found in the Lower House. If women are really [unclear: fitted] to occupy seats in the Council on account of their high intellectual and moral qualities, and their cooler heads and sounder judgments how much better must they be fitted to hold seats in the Lower House, where these great qualities are not found in over-abundance. And yet women are declared by our Ministerial Solons or Solans—we forget the correct spelling of this word—not to be qualified to sit side by side, and shoulder to shoulder, with the members of the present Cabinet and their docile supporters.
In conclusion, we have only to add that we can scarcly believe that the proposal to admit women into Parliament, or into one of its two chambers, can be seriously meant. It seems incredible that people of average intelligence can be in sober earnest in promising or threatening—we know not which of the words is the more appropriate-to legislate in this wild style. Surely they must be intellectually or morally blind if they do not see that the suggested elevation of women is in reality a downright degradation and affront. After all, the proposal may only he a coarse electioneering dodge, by which Ministers fancy they can gull the gullible, and wheedle them out of their votes next month.
Note. All communications In connection with "The New Zealander" to be addressed to Dr. Wallis, care of the "Observer " Office, Wyndham-street, Auckland.
Printed by Geddls and Blomfield, at the Observer Office, Wyndham-street. Auckland for the proprietor. Dr. Wallis—auckland, Nov. 14, 1896.