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Woman's Wickedness Post by :DanThies Category :Essays Author :William Cowper Brann Date :July 2011 Read :945

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Woman's Wickedness


By the "social evil" is commonly understood illicit intercourse of the sexes, a violation of law or custom intended to regulate the procreative passion.

The "evil" is probably as old as society, coeval with mankind. History--tradition itself--goes not back to a time when statutes, confessedly human, or professedly divine, were capable of controlling the fierce fires that blaze within the blood--when all-consuming Love was cold Reason's humble slave and Passion yielded blind obedience unto Precept. Although the heavens have been ever peopled with threatening gods and the great inane filled with gaping hells; although kings and courts have thundered their inhibitions forth, and society turned upon illicit love Medusa's awful frown, the Paphian Venus has flourished in every age and clime, and still flaunts her scarlet flag in the face of Heaven.

The history of humanity--its poetry, its romance, its very religion--is little more than a Joseph's coat, woven of Love's celestial warp and Passion's infernal woof in the loom of Time. For sensuous Cleopatra's smiles Mark Antony thought the world well lost; for false Helen's favors proud Ilion's temples blazed, and the world is strewn with broken altars and ruined fanes, with empty crowns and crumbling thrones blasted by the selfsame curse.

In many cities of every land abandoned women are so numerous, despite all these centuries of law-making and moralizing, that they find it impossible to earn a livelihood by their nefarious trade--are driven by sheer necessity to seek more respectable employment. The supply of public prostitutes is apparently limited only by the demand, while the number of "kept women" is constantly increasing, and society becoming day by day more lenient to those favorites of fortune who have indulged in little escapades not in strict accord with the Seventh Commandment. It is now a common occurrence for a female member of the "Four Hundred" who has confessedly gone astray, to be received back on an equality with her most virtuous sisters. In ancient Sparta theft was considered proper, but getting caught a crime. Modern society has improved upon that peculiar moral code. Adultery--if the debauchee have wealth--is but a venial fault, and to be found out a trifling misfortune, calling for condolence rather than condemnation. It is not so much the number of professed prostitutes that alarms the student of sociology, as the brutal indifference to even the semblance of sexual purity which is taking possession of our social aristocracy, and which poison, percolating through the underlying strata, threatens to eliminate womanly continence from the world.

If, despite all our safeguards of law and the restraining force of religion, society becomes more hopelessly corrupt; if, with our advancing civilization, courtesans increase in number; if, with our boasted progress in education and the arts, women of alleged respectability grow less chary of their charms--if the necessities of poverty and the luxury of wealth alike breed brazen bawds and multiply cuckolds--it is a fair inference that there is something radically wrong with our social system.

It might be well, perhaps, for priests and publicists to cease launching foolish anathemas and useless statutes at prostitution long enough to inquire what is driving so many bright young women into dens of infamy,--for those good souls who are assiduously striving to drag their fallen sisters out of the depths, to study the causes of the disease before attempting a cure. I say disease, for I cannot agree with those utilitarians who profess to regard prostitution as a "necessary evil"; who protest that the brute passions of man must be sated,--that but for the Scarlet Woman he would debauch the Vestal Virgin. I do not believe that Almighty God decreed that one-half the women of this world should be sacrificed upon the unclean altar of Lust that the others might be saved. It is an infamous, a revolting doctrine, a damning libel of the Deity. All the courtesans beneath Heaven's blue concave never caused a single son of Adam's misery to refrain from tempting, so far as he possessed the power, one virtuous woman. Never.

Governor Fishback, of Arkansas, recently declared that "houses of ill-fame are necessary to city life," and added: "If you close these sewers of men's animal passions you overflow the home and spread disaster."

This theory has been adopted by many municipalities, courtesans duly licensed, their business legitimatized and accorded the protection of the law. If houses of ill-fame be "necessary to city life"; if they prevent the overflow of the home of bestial lust and the spread of disaster, it follows as a natural sequence that the prostitute is a public benefactor, to be encouraged rather than condemned, deserving of civic honor rather than social infamy. Will Governor Fishback and his fellow utilitarians be kind enough to make a careful examination of the quasi- respectable element of society and inform us how large an army of courtesans will be necessary to enable it to pass a baking powder purity test?

Governor Fishback does not appear to have profited by Pope's suggestion that "The proper study of mankind is man," or he would know full well that the presence in a city of prostitutes but serves to accentuate the dangers that environ pure womanhood. He would know that they add fuel to Lust's unholy fires, that thousands of them are procuresses as well as prostitutes, and that one bad woman can do more to corrupt her sex than can any libertine since the days of Sir Launcelot. He would likewise know that so perverse is the nature of man that he would leave a harem filled with desirous houris more beautiful than ever danced through Mohammedan dream of Paradise, to dig pitfalls for the unwary feet of some misshapen country wench who was striving to lead an honest life. As a muley cow will turn from a manger filled with new-mown hay, and wear out her thievish tongue trying to coax a wisp of rotten straw through a crack in a neighbor's barn, so will man turn from consenting Venus' matchless charms to solicit scornful Dian.

What is it that is railroading so large a portion of the young women to Hell? What causes so many to forsake the "straight and narrow path" that is supposed to lead to everlasting life, and seek the irremediable way of eternal death? What mad phantasy is it that leads so many wives to sacrifice the honor of their husbands and shame their children? Is it evil inherent in the daughters of Eve themselves? Is it lawless lust or force of circumstances that adds legion after legion to the cohorts of shame? Or has our boasted progress brought with it a suspicion that female chastity is, after all, an overprized bauble--that what is no crime against nature should be tolerated by this eminently practical age? We have cast behind us the myths and miracles, proven the absurdity of our ancestors' most cherished traditions and brought their idols beneath the iconoclastic hammer. In this general social and intellectual house-cleaning have we consigned virtue to the rubbish heap--or at best relegated it to the garret with the spinning-wheel, hand-loom and other out-of-date trumpery? Time was when a woman branded as a bawd hid her face for shame, or consorted only with her kind; now, if she can but become sufficiently notorious she goes upon the stage, and men take their wives and daughters to see her play "Camille" and kindred characters. This may signify much; among other things that the courtesan is creeping into social favor--even that a new code of morals is now abuilding, in which she will be the grand exemplar. As change is the order of the day, and what one age damns its successor ofttimes deifies, who knows but an up-to-date religion may yet be evolved with Bacchic revels for sacred rites and a favorite prostitute for high priestess?

Were I called upon to diagnose the social disease; did any duly ordained committee--from the numerous "Reform" societies, Ministerial Association, secular legislatures or other bodies that are taking unto themselves great credit for assiduously making a bad matter worse-- call upon me for advice anent the proper method of restoring to healthy life the world's moribund morality, I would probably shock the souls out of them by stating a few plain facts without troubling myself to provide polite trimmings.

You cannot reform society from the bottom; you must begin at the top.

Man, physically considered, is merely an animal, and the law of his life is identical with that of the brute creation. Continence in man or woman is a violation of nature's edicts, a sacrifice made by the individual to the necessities of civilization.

Like the beast of the field, man formerly took unto himself a mate, and with his rude strength defended her from the advances of other males. Such, reduced to the last analysis, is the basis of marriage, of female chastity and family honor. Rape and adultery were prohibited under pains and penalties, and behind the sword of the criminal law grew up the moral code. As wealth increased man multiplied his wives and added concubines; but woman was taught that while polygamy was pleasing to the gods polyandry was the reverse--that while the husband was privileged to seek sexual pleasure in a foreign bed, the wife who looked with desiring eyes upon other than her rightful lord merited the scorn of earth and provoked the wrath of Heaven.

For long ages woman was but the creature of man's caprice, the drudge or ornament of his home, mistress of neither her body nor her mind. But as the world advanced and matter was made more subject unto mind--as divine Reason wrested the scepter from brute Force--woman began to assume her proper place in the world's economy. She is stepping forth into the garish light of freedom, is realizing for the first time in the history of the human race that she is a moral entity--that even she, and not another, is the arbiter of her fate. And, as ever before, new-found freedom is manifesting itself in criminal folly-- liberty has become a synonym for license.

The "progressive" woman--the woman who is not only well "up-to-date," but skirmishing with the future--is asking her brother: "If thou, why not I? If man is forgiven a score of mistresses must woman, blessed with like reason and cursed with kindred passions, be damned for one lover?" And while the question grates upon her ear, the answer comes not trippingly to the tongue. I do not mean that all women who imagine themselves progressive are eager to assume the same easy morals that from time immemorial have characterized the sterner sex; but this line of argument, peculiar to their class, while not likely to make men better, is well calculated to make foolish women worse. The sooner they realize that he-Dians are as scarce in the country as brains in the head of a chrysanthemum dude; that such sexual purity as the world is to be blessed withal must be furnished by the softer sex, the better for all concerned. That they will eventually cease their altogether useless clamor that bearded men become as modest as blushing maids, and agree with the poet that "Whatever is, is right," the lessons of history bid us hope. When the French people threw of the yoke of the royalist and aristocrat they likewise loudly clamored for equality, fraternity and other apparently reasonable but utterly impossible things, until the bitter school of experience taught them better. The progressive women have not yet set up la Belle Guillotine--in Washington or elsewhere--for the decapitation of male incorrigibles; which significant fact confirms our old faith that the ladies rather like a man who would not deliberately overdo the part of Joseph.

But the female "reformer," with her social board of equalization theories, is but a small factor in that mighty force which is filling the land with unfaithful wives and the potter's field with degraded prostitutes.

When the people of a nation are almost universally poor, sexual purity is the general rule. Simple living and severe toil keep in check the passions and make it possible to mold the mind with moral precepts. But when a nation becomes divided into the very rich and the extremely poor; when wilful Waste and woeful Want go hand in hand; when luxury renders abnormal the passions of the one; and cupidity, born of envy, blunts the moral perceptions of the other, then indeed is that nation delivered over to the world, the flesh and the devil. When all alike are poor, contentment reigns. The son grows up a useful, self-reliant man, the daughter an industrious, virtuous woman. From this class comes nearly every benefactor of mankind. It has ever been the great repository of morality, the balance- wheel of society, the brain and brawn of the majestic world. Divided into millionaires and mendicants, the poor man's son becomes feverish to make a showy fortune by fair means or by foul, while his daughter looks with envious eye upon m'lady, follows her fashions and too often apes her morals. The real life is supplanted by the artificial, and people are judged, not by what they are, but by what they have. The "true-love match" becomes but a reminiscence--the blind god's bow is manipulated by brutish Mammon. Men and women make "marriages of convenience," consult their fortunes rather than their affections--seek first a lawful companion with a well-filled purse, and then a congenial paramour.

The working girl soon learns that beyond a few stale platitudes--fired of much as a hungry man says grace--she gets no more credit for wearing honest rags than flaunting dishonest silks; that good name, however precious it may be to her, is really going out of fashion--that when the world pretends to prize it above rubies it is lying-- is indulging in the luxury of hypocrisy. She likewise learns that the young men really worth marrying, knowing that a family means a continual striving to be fully as fashionable and artificial as those better able to play the fool, seek mistresses rather than wives. She becomes discouraged, desperate, and drifts into the vortex.

Much is said by self-constituted reformers of the lachrymose school anent trusting maids "betrayed" by base-hearted scoundrels and loving wives led astray by designing villains; but I could never work my sympathies up to the slopping over stage for these pathetic victims of man's perfidy. It may be that my tear-glands lack a hair- trigger attachment, and my sob-machine is not of the most approved pattern. Perchance woman is fully as big a fool as these reformers paint her--that she has no better sense than a blind horse that has been taught to yield a ready obedience to any master--to submit itself without question to the guidance of any hand. Will the "progressive" woman--who is just now busy boycotting Col. Breckinridge and spilling her salt tears over his discarded drab--kindly take a day of and tell us what is to become of this glorious country when such incorrigible she-idiots get control of it? It is well enough to protect the honor of children with severe laws and a double-shotted gun; but the average young woman is amply able to guard her virtue if she really values it, while the married woman who becomes so intimate with a male friend that he dares assail her continence, deserves no sympathy. She is the tempter, not the victim. True it is that maids, and matrons too, as pure as the white rose that blooms above the green glacier, have been swept too far by the fierce whirlwind of love and passion; but of these the world doth seldom hear. The woman whose sin is sanctified by love--who staked her name and fame upon a cowardly lie masquerading in the garb of eternal truth-- never yet rushed into court with her tale of woe or aired her grievance in the public prints. The world thenceforth can give but one thing she wants, and that's an unmarked grave. May God in his mercy shield all such from the parrot criticisms and brutal insults of the fish-blooded, pharisaical female, whose heart never thrilled to love's wild melody, yet who marries for money--puts her frozen charms up at auction for the highest bidder, and having obtained a fair price by false pretenses, imagines herself preeminently respectable! In the name of all the gods at once, which is the fouler crime, the greater "social evil": For a woman to deliberately barter her person for gold and lands, for gew- gaws, social position and a preferred pew in a fashionable church--even though the sale be in accordance with law, have the benediction of a stupid priest and the sanction of a corrupt and canting world--or, in defiance of custom and forgetful of cold precept, to cast the priceless jewel of a woman's honor upon the altar of illicit love?

Give the latter woman a chance, forget her fault, and she will become a blessing to society, an ornament to Heaven; the former is fit inhabitant only for a Hell of ice. She has deliberately dishonored herself, her sex and the man whose name she bears, and Custom can no more absolve her than the pope can pardon sin. She is the most dreadful product of the "Social Evil," of unhallowed sexual commerce--is the child of Mammon and Medusa, the blue- ribbon abortion of this monster-bearing age.

(The end)
William Cowper Brann's essay: Woman's Wickedness

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