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The Man Question

Or, The Woman Question Re-stated

The Dawn Volume 2, Number 5. Sydney, September 2, 1889

“WOMAN” as a topic for male journalistic pens has been popular ever since the infancy of literature; the little feminine vanities and vagaries have formed a delightful nucleus for descriptive and imaginative literary work in “leaders”, paragraphs, poems, plays and essays. Now and then, exceptional tidal waves of controversy occur when “marriage”, “woman's suffrage”, or similar subjects attract and swell the billows of printing ink, but these subside, and the permanent currents of the literary ocean carry always the same kind of debris — disquisitions on woman, her weakness, inconstancy, vanity, and little failings innumerable. When we read such articles we are reminded of those sermonisers who

“Compound for sins they are inclined to
By damning those they have no mind to,

and we should like authors to turn upon men and boys the searchlight of genius with which they have hitherto illuminated the character of women; for a serious examination of modern social affairs, renders apparent the significant fact that women and girls in the mass, have a higher standard of action, and a finer moral tone, than men and boys in the mass possess. Begin at the top of English society and go down. Apart from political considerations, Her Majesty the Queen has lived a blameless and good life. She may have made political mistakes incident to a difficult public position, but she has undoubtedly been a good woman. Consider her feelings as a good mother and decide whether she has found more comfort in the careers of her sons or of her daughters. The Princess of Wales has won affection everywhere and no one doubts that she is well worthy of it. Have the ways of her sons or of her daughters most warmed her heart? Whose rectitude and goodness has reached most nearly to the standard she herself has maintained? This kind of enquiry may be pursued through all grades of society, and it may afford the writers on “women” some new and impressive subjects of study. At the foot of the scale, enquiries will find the hardworking laundress, aided in her drudgery by her daughter, while her heart aches over a selfish, idle, and vicious son, it is the daughter who helps to keep the home together, who takes one handle of the clothes basket, who walks long distances to get the food at the cheapest shop, who runs the errands, and who misses her schooling in order to aid the old folks. Go where you will among the poorer classes, you will see a mother toiling at the tub or mangle, or in some way earning a living, while one or two of her sons idle about the house. The sons are always ready to eat or to complain, they do not hesitate to ask for the few shillings she has, while she, poor soul, is happy to work for them if they will only keep decent and “outof trouble”. So also with that weary and overworked woman, the boarding-house keeper. She chops the wood in the backyard, while a son, whom she will not expose, “vamps” on the piano or plays cards in the dining room. The sons gamble and drink; if they earn any money it does not help to keep any home together, it disappears at races or in amusements. There are hundreds of young fellows able to work, yet invariably idle: so long as they have parents, they think it the duty of those parents to support them. There are mothers who are almost content to see their sons idle at home, so greatly do they apprehend disgrace and trouble when the boys are abroad and unwatched, and though education has, in many


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cases, a happily mollifying effect, the balance is against the men in all classes. A city man complained the other day that of his six sons, he had little hope of either; another mourned the ruin of his only son, now a confirmed drunkard. Hundreds of others dare not enquire what is the evening occupation of their sons, being well aware that tippling, gaming, or compassing the ruin of some poor girl, form their customary employments. Through all the layers of society there is such a preponderance of evidence on the side of the women that it is possible to make a comprehensive generalisation and say that parents beget sorrow with their boys and comfort with their girls. To this conclusion we invite the attention of all writers upon “women”, in order that everyone who studies social questions at all, may aid in the effort to level men up to the moral average of women. Consideration might also be well spent on the cause which has rendered prevalent among men, though absent as a rule, from women, such vices as bibulousness, gluttony, sensual appetite, and a morbid taste for gambling. It may seem to anyone newly introduced to the subject a very singular anomaly that drinking, low language, and gallantry, should be considered not altogether derogatory in one sex though utterly debasing in another; but this peculiarity of popular vision which gives two opposite views of the same thing, is an ancient habit. We cannot now discuss the cause of the moral inequality we allege; it will suffice to point out that though custom and inherited opinion have habituated us to judge the actions of men and women by different standards, the inherited squint does not justify perpetual ignorance as to the side where reform is most seriously and urgently needed.

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