On Some Supposed Differences
in the Minds of Men and Women
With Regard to Educational Necessities
August 25, 1868 — British Association for the Advancement of Science, Norwich, England
When subjects are debated respecting politics, literature, or science, as they affect the interests of humanity, there is usually no reference to the feminine portion of the race. In questions relating to the supply of food, or to sanitary arrangements, there is no need to refer to women, because every one admits that they are equally liable with men to suffer from hunger and disease, and that they have an equal right to be guarded, as far as possible, from the effects of these evils. Were the same principle of common wants recognized in other questions than those affecting mere physical existence, there would be no occasion to remark on the absence of provision for women. But women are supposed to have equal needs with men only as regards the conditions of physical life. Their moral and intellectual necessities are imagined to be widely different. The conditions which men find most profitable for the development of their faculties, and the promotion of the highest enjoyment of which a moral and intellectual being is capable, they appeared to regard as unsuitable or unnecessary for women. Among these conditions are — 1, a liberal education; 2, political representation. When measures are under discussion for securing these advantages to the people at large, it invariably appears that the absence of provision for women proceeds, not on the ground that they are included as a matter of course, but from the absolute exclusion of one-half of humanity, as persons who have no part nor lot in the need for a liberal education, nor for political representation. This systematic and willful neglect, and the legislative sanction given to it, has produced its natural fruit in the prevalence of the belief that women are endowed with an inferior order of intellect, that they are incapable of being taught to the same extent as men, and that they are naturally unable to appreciate the enjoyment derived from the exercise of the higher intellectual powers. It is a question of serious importance to determine how far this belief is a sound and scientific one. Is there, in truth, such a distinction between the morel and mental constitution of the two sexes, that what is found to be beneficial to the one must be assumed to be prejudicial to the other; that what a man likes and desires, a woman dislikes and deprecates; that the mind of one is progressive, of the other non-progressive; or, admitting that both are capable of development, that then nature is so diverse as to require totally different methods of promoting this development? Because, if there is no such difference in fact, the feminine portion of the race, being debarred from opportunities enjoyed by others of cultivating their mental and moral faculties, must suffer serious deprivation and loss. The magnitude of the privation may be estimated by considering the difference it would make to the men of England if there were neither public schools nor universities to stimulate their intellectual powers, no career or profession open to them wherein they could, by the exercise of those powers, achieve honourable distinction; if in all public movements the position assigned them was that of mere spectators, if their rights and duties as citizens consisted in obedience to the will of others, and if their wishes an opinions were never taken into account in estimating the verdict of the people on questions of national importance. If men would feel the loss of these conditions of mental life to be an incalculable deprivation, it necessarily follows that withholding them from the feminine half of the people must cause equally grievous injury, unless it can be proved that there is a specific and ineradicable distinction between the minds of the two sexes, and that whit is good for men is bad for women. Whether such a distinction exists seemed a proper subject to investigation by a scientific society; therefore the following propositions were submitted to the judgment of the Section: — 1. That the attribute of sex does not extend to mind: that there is no distinction between the intellects of men and women, corresponding to and dependent on the special organization of their bodies. 2. That any broad marks of distinction which may at the present time be observed to exist between the minds of men and women collectively, are fairly traceable to the influence of the different circumstances under which they pass their lives, and cannot be proved to adhere in each class, in virtue of sex. 3. That in spite of the external circumstances which tend to cause divergence in the tone of mind, habits of thought, and opinions of men and women; it is a matter of fact that these do not differ more among persons of opposite sexes than they do among persons of the same; that comparing any one man with any one woman, or any class of men with any class of women, the difference between their mental characteristics will not be greater than may be found between two individuals or classes, compared with others of the same sex.
Source: Report of the Thirty-Eighth Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science; Held at Norwich in August 1868, Vol. 38 (London: John Murray, 1869), pp. 155-156.