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A LETTER TO THE CHRISTIAN WOMEN OF AMERICA
SUSAN FENIMORE COOPER
First digital edition 2017 by Maria Ruggieri
The natural position of woman is clearly, to a limited degree, a subordinate one. Such it has always been throughout the world, in all ages, and in many widely different conditions of society. There are three conclusive reasons why we should expect it to continue so for the future.
-FIRST. Woman in natural physical strength is so greatly inferior to man that she is entirely in hispower, quite incapable of self-defense, trusting to his generosityfor protection. In savage life this great superiority of physical strength makes man the absolute master, woman the abject slave. And, although every successive step in civilisation lessens the distance between the sexes, and renders the situation of womansafer and easier, still, in no state of society, however highly cultivated, has perfect equality yet existed. This difference in physical strength must, in itself, always prevent such perfect equality, since woman is compelled every day of her life to appeal to man for protection, and for support.
-SECONDLY. Woman is also, though in a very much less degree, inferior to man in intellect. The difference in this particular may very probably be only a consequence of greater physical strength, giving greater power of endurance and increase of force to the intellectual faculty connected with it. In many cases, as between the best individual minds of both sexes, the difference is no doubt very slight. There have been women of a very high order of genius; there havebeen very many women of great talent; and, as regards what is commonly called cleverness, a general quickness and clearness of mind within limited bounds, the number of clever women may possibly have been even larger than that of clever men. But, taking the one infallible rule for our guide, judging of the tree by its fruits, we are met by the fact that the greatest achievements of the race in every field of intellectual culture have been the work of man. It is true that the advantages of intellectual education have been, until recently, very generally on the side of man; had those advantages been always equal, women would no doubt have had much more of success to record. But this same fact of inferiority of education becomes in itself one proof of the existence of a certain degree of mental inequality. What has been the cause of this inferiority of education? Why has not woman educated herself in past ages, as man has done? Is it the opposition of man, and the power which physical strength gives him, whichhave been the impediments? Had these been the only obstacles, and had that general and entire equality of intellect existed between the sexes, which we find proclaimed to-day by some writers, and by many talkers, the genius of women would have opened a road through these and all other difficulties much more frequently than it has yet done. At this very hour, instead of defending the intellect of women, just half our writing and talking would be required to defend the intellect of men. But, so long as woman,as a sex, has not provided for herself the same advanced intellectual education to the same extent as men, and so long as inferiority of intellect in man has never yet in thousands of years been gravely discussed, while the inferiority of intellect in woman has been during the same period generally admitted, we are compelled to believe there is some foundation for this last opinion. The extent ofthis difference, the interval that exists between the sexes, the precise degree of inferiority on the part of women, will probably never be satisfactorily proved.
Believing then in the greater physical powers of man, and in his superiority, to a limited extent, in intellect also, as two sufficient reasons for the natural subordination of woman as a sex, we have yeta third reason for this subordination. Christianity can be proved to be the safest and highest ally of man’s nature, physical, moral, and intellectual, that the world has yet known. It protects his physical nature at every point by plain, stringent rulesof general temperance and moderation. To his moral nature it gives the pervading strength of healthful purity. To his intellectual nature, while on one hand it enjoins full development and vigorous action, holding out to the spirit the highest conceivableaspirations, on the other it teaches the invaluable lessons of a wise humility. This grand and holy religion, whose whole action is healthful, whose restraints are all blessingsthis gracious religion, whose chief precepts are the love of God and the loveof manthis same Christianity confirms the subordinate position of woman, by allotting to man the headship in plain language and by positive precept. No system of philosophy has ever yet worked out in behalf of woman the practical results for good whichChristianity has conferred on her. Christianity has raised woman from slavery and made her the thoughtful companion of man; finds her the mere toy, or the victim of his passions, and it places her by his side, his truest friend, his most faithful counselor, his helpmeet in every worthy and honorable task. It protects her far more effectually than any other system. It cultivates, strengthens, elevates, purifies all her highest endowments, and holds out to her aspirations the most sublime for that future state of existence, where precious rewards are promised to every faithful discharge of duty, even the most humble. But, while conferring on her these priceless blessings, it also enjoins the submission of the wife to the husband, and allots a subordinate position to the whole sex while here on earth. No woman calling herself a Christian, acknowledging her duties as such, can, therefore, consistently deny the obligation of a limited subordination laid upon her by her Lord and His Church.
From these three chiefconsiderationsthe great inferiority of physical strength, a very much less and undefined degree of inferiority in intellect, and the salutary teachings of the Christian faith--it follows that, to a limited degree, varying with circumstances, and always to be marked out by sound reason and good feeling, the subordination of woman, as a sex, is inevitable.
This subordination once established, a difference of position, and a consequent difference of duties, follow as a matter of course. There must, of necessity, in such a state of things, be certain duties inalienably connected with the position of man, others inalienably connected with the position of woman. For the one to assume the duties of the other becomes, first, an act of desertion, next, an act of usurpation. For the man to discharge worthily the duties of his own position becomes his highest merit. For the woman to discharge worthily the duties of her own position becomes her highest merit. To be noble the man must be manly. To be noble the woman must be womanly. Independently of the virtues required equally of both sexes, such as truth, uprightness, candor, fidelity, honor, we look in man for somewhat more of wisdom, of vigor, of courage, from natural endowment, combined with enlarged action and experience. In woman we look more especially for greater purity, modesty, patience, grace, sweetness, tenderness, refinement, as the consequences of a finer organization, in a protected and sheltered position. That state of society will always be the most rational, the soundest, the happiest, where each sex conscientiously discharges its own duties, without intruding on those of the other.