Double Moral Standard
May 1893 — Congress of Representative Women, Chicago World’s Fair, Chicago IL
As a student of anthropology and heredity, one is sometimes compelled to make statements which seem to the thoughtless listener either too radical or too horrible to be true. If I were to assert, for example, that good men – men who have the welfare of the community at heart, men who are kind fathers and indulgent husbands, men who believe in themselves as pure, upright, and good citizens — if I were to say that such men as these are thorough believers in, and supporters of, the theory that it is right and wise to sacrifice the liberty, purity, health, and life of young girls and women; and, through the terrible power of heredity, to curse fatally the race, rather than to permit men and boys to suffer in their own persons the results of their own misdeeds, mistakes, or crimes, I should be accused of being morbid and a “man-hater.” But let us see if the above statement is not quite within the facts. I shall take as an illustration the words and arguments of a man who stands second only to the chief police officer in the largest city in the United States; and since he was permitted to present his arguments in one of the most widely read journals of the country, without a protest from the editors, it seems fitting that they should be dealt with as of grave importance. All the more is this the case since they were intended to influence legislation in the interests of state-regulated vice. Among other things, he said, “Of course there are disorderly houses, but they are more hidden, and less of that vice is flaunted here than in any other city in the world. Such places have existed since the world began, and men of observation know that this fact is a safeguard around their homes and daughters. Men of candid judgment, religious men, know too that they had ten thousand times rather have their live, robust boys err in this indulgence than think of them in the place of those unfortunates on the island whose hands are muffled or tied behind them. This is a desperately practical question, with more than a theoretical and sentimental side. It ought to be talked about and better understood among fathers. Thank God that vice is so hidden that Doctor Parkhurst had to get detectives to find disorderly houses, and that thousands of wives and daughters do not know even of their exist. Such horrible disclosures as were made before innocent women and girls in Doctor Parkhurst’s audience do vastly more harm, in arousing their curiosity and polluting their minds, than a host of sin that is compelled to hide its head. When I was captain of the Twenty-ninth Precinct, I went with Doctor Talmage on his errand for sensational information for his sermons. I know from observation, and from reports which I was careful to gather, that never in their history were the places he described so thronged by patrons, largely from Brooklyn, or so much money spent there for debauchery, as after those sermons.”
Now I assume that this police inspector is a good citizen, father, husband, and man. I assume that he is sincere and earnest in his desire and efforts to suppress crime, and promote, so far as he is able, the welfare of the community. I assume, in short, that he is in intent and fact a loyal citizen and a conscientious officer. I have no reason to believe that he is not saying what he conceives is best and right; and yet even he is quoted as openly advocating the sacrifice of purity to impurity, the creating of moral and social lepers in one sex in order that moral and social lepers, or the ignorantly vicious, of the other sex may escape the results of their own mistakes or vices. It impresses me anew that such teaching from such authority, supported positively or negatively by public opinion, not only is the most unfortunate that can be put before a boy, but that it goes further, perhaps, than anything else can to confirm in men that condition of sex mania which the inspector says should be cultivated by means of regularly recognized state institutions for the utter sacrifice and death of young girls, rather than that it should end in the wreck of the sex maniac himself. But were our statesmen students of the laws of heredity, they would not need to be told that there are, there can be, no “safeguards around our wives and daughters” so long as their husbands, fathers, and sons are polluting the streams of life before they transmit that life to those who are to be our daughters and wives.
But not to go so deeply into the subject for the moment as to deal with its bearings upon heredity, upon what principle his arguments can be valid I fail to see. Why is it better that some girl should be sacrificed, body, mind, and soul? Why is it better that she should be the man’s victim than that he should be his own? And then, again, the problem is not solved when she is sacrificed. He has simply changed the form of his disease, and in the change, while it is possible he has delayed for himself the day of destruction, he has in the process corrupted not only his victim but the social conscience as well. Were this all, perhaps it would be still thought wise to follow the advice of the inspector, and, alas, of many physicians, and continue to sacrifice, under the brutal wheel of sex power, those who are from first to last a prey to the conditions of a social and legal environment in which they are allowed no voice.
But this is not all. The seeming cure is no cure at all. It is simply a postponement of the awful day for the sex-pervert himself; and worse than this, more terrible than this, it is the cause of the continuance of the mania, not only in himself but in his children. He marries some honest girl by and by, and thus associates with the burnt-out dregs of his life one who would loathe him if she knew his true character, and his concealed but burning flame of insanely inherited, insanely indulged, bestially developed tendency. But he is now, under the shadow of social respectability and church sanction, to perpetuate his unfortunate mania in those who are helpless, the unborn. Heredity is not a slipshod thing. It does not follow one parent and one alone. The children of a father who “sowed his wild oats” by the method prescribed by the inspector (and, alas, by social custom) are as truly his victims as is the wreck of humanity who is to be quarantined in some given locality, and made a social leper and a physical wreck that he personally may be neither the one nor the other. But nature is a terrible antagonist. She bides her time, and when she strikes she does not forget to strike a harder, wider-reaching, more terrible blow than can be compassed by a single individual or a single generation. This is the lesson that we have absolutely thus far refused to learn. I do not hesitate to take direct issue with the inspector and social custom, therefore, and say that it is far better for society, far better for the fathers of unfortunate victims of sex mania, far better for the victim himself, that he be “on the island, with hands muffled or tied behind him,” where death to one individual will end the shame and misery for all, than that, by applying the remedy of state regulation, the result should be as it is, as it always has been, as it always must be, namely — other generations of sex maniacs, scrofulous, epileptic, or simply constitutionally undermined weaklings. The boys who are encouraged to “sow their wild oats,” and taught that it is safe to do so under state regulation, should hear the reports of some of the students of hereditary traits, conditions, and developments. There is to-day in an asylum, not so far from this inspector’s own door but that its records are easy of access, one victim of this pernicious theory whose history runs thus: He was a gentleman of good social, financial, and mental status and surroundings. He was a “young man about town.” He possessed, perhaps it was an hereditary trait, more consciousness of the fact that he was a male animal than of the fact that he was, or should be, an intelligent, self-respecting human being, who had no moral right to degrade another human being for his own gratification, while he assumed to still retain a higher and safer plane than his companions in vice. He was, in brief, no better and no worse than many young fellows who — alas! that they are so taught by men who believe themselves good and honorable — “turn out to be good family men.”
After his system was thoroughly inoculated, physically, mentally, and morally or ethically, with the tone, the condition, the trend of the life which the inspector and many other good men insist is unfit for the ears of women, but necessary to the welfare of men, and “best” for them, he married a lovely woman from a good family. All went well. Society smiled (this is history, not fiction), and said that rapid men when they did marry made the best husbands in the world. It is said such men know better how to appreciate fully purity at home. Society did not state that there could be no purity in a stream where half of the tributaries are polluted. But society was satisfied to talk of “pure homes” so long as there was one pure partner to the compact which resulted in the home. It does not talk of an honest firm if but one of its members is privately and in his own person honest, while he accedes to the dishonest practices of his associates. But society was satisfied. A child was born; society was charmed. Four more children came; society said that this late profligate was doing his duty as a good citizen of the state. He is now about forty-seven years old. He is a “paretic ” in an asylum, and, if that were all, then the inspector’s theory might still stand, because he might say that at least the awful calamity had been staved off all these years, while he had built a “pure home,” and left to his country others to take his place. The facts are these: His oldest son is an epileptic; the second is a physical caricature of a man; the third is a moral idiot; he has no moral sense at all, although he is mentally very bright. He delights in victimizing dogs, cats, or even smaller children; all things, in fact, which are in his power, are his legitimate prey. Then there is a girl. In the phraseology of the doctor, “She shows only the general, constitutional signs of her inheritance.” The youngest son is now less than seven years old; he is such a hopeless sex maniac, even now, that the parents of other children do not dare allow them to be alone with him for one moment. In telling of this case, the asylum physician, himself a profound student of heredity, said of this last “He would shame an old Parisian debauchee.” The Spartans were not so far wrong, after all. They killed all such children before they had a chance to grow up and still further pollute the stream of life.
And so our good citizen followed the usual course prescribed by the inspector and by society. Leaving out the horrible necessary sacrifice of a woman, or of some numbers of women, the result of the plan is this: A house of vice, in a secluded quarter“ for greater safety”; a few years of license which he believed to be his legitimate perquisite in the world, and “no harm done”; the association of the later years of his wasted energies, and his vice-soaked life and flesh, with the life of a pure girl; the legacy to society of five more sex maniacs, born in wedlock, which by its present terms, laws, and theories still further develops sex mania in men, and thereby implants the disease in each new generation, to be fought with or yielded to again; a driveling wreck of a man in an asylum at the prime of his manhood ; and a worse than widowed wife, with a knowledge in her soul which is an undying serpent, as she looks in despair upon the five lives she has given, in her pathetic ignorance and trust. And this is not an unusual record. Of course its details are seldom known outside the physician and the family. This case is not known. It is the legitimate fruit of a tree which society, and avarice, ignorance, and vice carefully foster. It is the tree the fruit of which fills our mad-houses, asylums, poor-houses, and prisons year after year; and yet we tend it carefully, and keep its roots strong and vigorous by the very methods recommended by the police inspector, and by all believers in state-regulated and state-licensed vice: that is, licensed vice must be systematically continued “ for the good of robust boys, who might else be on the island with muffled hands; it must be kept in certain quarters, and secret, for greater safety to men, and that our wives and daughters may not hear of it.” Not hear of it until when? Not until the years come when the honest physician must tell the wife — and at least there are physicians honest enough for this — if not the cause, at least the horrible facts, when it is too late for her to prevent the awful crime of giving life to the children of such a husband. We hold it a terrible crime to take life. Is it not more terrible in such a case to give life? Think of it! In the one instance, the results to the victims are simply the sudden ending of a more or less desirable existence in a more or less desirable world; in the other case, it is assuming to thrust, unasked, upon the helpless children a living death, an inheritance of pollution, which must, and does, develop itself in one or another form as the years go by.
When society is wiser it may be a bit more like the Spartans. It will say, “Far better that they be on the island than that they should lay their fatal curse upon the world, to expand and blight to the third and fourth generations” — and I believe it was the “sin of the fathers ” which was thus to follow the children, was it not? What was that sin? Are not its roots to be found in the very soil advocated as good by the believers in state regulation of vice, and in a double standard of morals, and in the ignorance which they say is desirable for “our wives and daughters”? Ignorance that such things exist, the secret, legalized, regulated slaughter — social, moral, and physical — of hundreds and thousands of one sex at the demands and for the gratification of the other. Are there not sex maniacs in more directions than one? Is not this very double standard theory a sex mania in itself? Are not the men who advocate laws, and the legislators who make laws, which recognize these double moral standards, who ignore the plainest finger-board set up by nature in hereditary conditions — are not these in a sense one and all sex maniacs? When they talk of keeping our wives and daughters “pure and ignorant,” they do not seem to realize that the taint of blood that flows in the veins of that very daughter, which she herself does not understand, and which an ignorant mother does not dream of, and therefore can not stand guard over, flows as an ever-present threat that she shall be one of those outcasts whom her own father is laboring to quarantine in darkness and oblivion.
Nature has no favorites. Heredity does not spare your daughter; and yet men who plant the seeds of sex perversion in their own families have the infinite impudence to cast from their doors the blossoms of their own tillage. They go into heroics about being “disgraced.” “You are no longer a child of mine,” is a sentiment which rings in a thousand pages of literature; in one hundred cases out of one hundred and one it should be met by the reply, “This act of mine proves, as no other could, that I am indeed your daughter! Blood of your blood, and flesh of your flesh! Nature has told her secret through me. Let us cry quits. You put the cursed taint into my blood, and I could not protect myself. I am the one to complain, not you. Do not cry out for quarter like a very coward. Face your record made in flesh and blood. This polluted life of mine is nature’s reply to your life of license and uncleanness. I am nature’s reply to your uncontrolled desires, inside of marriage and out; I, the moral or mental idiot; I, the diseased, polluted wreck; I, the epileptic; I, the lunatic; I, the drunkard ; I, the wrecker of the lives of others — I am your lineal descendant! You sacrificed others recklessly, by act and by law, to your desires and your arbitrary sex power; you cultivated a taint in your blood. It is true that you took the precaution to transmit it through purity and ignorance to me. That very purity and ignorance of my mother served to save your peace of mind, and enabled you to take advantage of her for infinite opportunity for mischief. It, alas ! could not save me, for I am your child also. Her ignorance was your partner in a crime against me, her helpless infant and yours. Do not complain. Dislike my face as you will; presented to you in whatsoever form or phase of distortion it may be, I am your direct lineal descendant! Build better, or go down with the structure you planned for other men’s daughters, and in which, alas, you locked me before I was born!”
If, because of their sex, men demand privileges, rights, emoluments, honors, opportunities, and freedom which they claim as good for and necessary to their welfare, while they insist that all these are not to be allowed to women that they would be her damnation — are not these men also sex maniacs? Has not humanity been long enough cursed by so degrading and degraded, so ignorant and so fatally wrong a mental, moral, social and legal outlook? I am attacking no individual, I am using an individual utterance on this subject simply to present better the side of the case which is sustained by all our present laws, conditions, and male sentiment. I wish to present the reverse side of this awful picture. From man’s point of view it is often presented and in many ways, but once or twice have I seen the other side in print, where it was looked at from a rational or scientific point of view.
Last year a book was written which touched, to a moderate degree, woman’s side as well as the general human side of this problem. It was put in the form of a novel, that it might appeal to a larger reading public than would an essay or magazine article. It had a tremendous sale, and the only, or at least the chief, adverse criticism upon it was that it pictured a type of father which either did not exist or was too rare to be taken even as an illustration in fiction. Now it is this very type of father of which the inspector speaks thus: “Men of candid judgment, religious men, know too that they had rather have their live, robust boys err in this indulgence, than think of them in the places of those unfortunates on the island,” etc. That is exactly the point made by the book referred to, which was criticised by one editor as “morbid in its imaginings about fathers.” Is the inspector “morbid”? He said, “This is a desperately practical question, with more than a theoretical or sentimental side. It ought to be talked about and better understood among fathers.” And I agree with him perfectly so far. It is, indeed, a desperately practical question for both men and women, and anthropology and heredity teach, in all peoples and in each succeeding generation, that the question has not been solved by the adoption of the double standard of morals. It is so desperately practical that the land is literally covered with the deplorable results, in hospitals, in prisons, in imbecile asylums, and in mad-houses. But when he goes on to “thank God that this vice is hidden, and that thousands of wives and daughters do not know of its existence,” it impresses me that the inspector, in condoning the sins of fathers and commending ignorance in mothers, is attempting to still further hedge boys about with a condition which inevitably makes of them sex maniacs in more directions than one.
Is not his mother as deeply interested in her boy’s welfare as is his father? Is it not to her eyes and wisdom that his younger days are mostly left, and to her watchfulness, intelligence, and information that he must be trusted, that he may not develop or acquire fatal habits? Or if he has them in his blood as a heritage from his father, by whom vice was looked upon as “safe” if only kept from the ears and eyes of wife and daughter, is it not imperative that the trained eye and mind of a mother who is not ignorant of, nor blind to, the very earliest indications that there is a blood taint should be directed to him, so that, so far as possible, she may labor to modify and control his awful inheritance before it has him in a fatal grip? Instead of this it is advocated as desirable that she be even “ignorant of” the existence of such vice! It is due more to the fact that she has been ignorant than to any other one thing that, later on, the boy’s developed hereditary curse or his acquired bad habits have so fixed themselves upon his young mind and body that the inspector and the boy’s father find themselves in a position to choose between a straight-jacket for the boy himself, or first, a wrecked and outraged womanhood, and second, descendants of his that are marked with a brand worse than Cain’s.
The inspector says that such disclosures as Doctor Talmage’s sermons before innocent women and girls do vastly more harm than a host of sin that is compelled to hide its head. Now, what is the implication? Did he mean to imply that those places have since the sermon been thronged with the wives and daughters of Brooklyn? If not, how does he know that it polluted their minds? Has he not jumped at that conclusion, and cast a slur upon the wrong sex — the sex that did not squander its money in patronizing these resorts? Was not that a rather desperate effort to sustain an argument by a non sequitur?
Are women’s minds polluted by a knowledge of vice which they avoid intelligently rather than escape from ignorantly? Are ignorance and innocence the same thing? Does the inspector believe that a knowledge of the degradation into which their sons are led and pushed by just such theories as these, backed by a blind hereditary impulse which has no intelligent care from a wise parentage — does he believe that such knowledge would drive or lure “our wives and daughters” into this polluting vice? And is it not strange to hear of a condition of things which can be spoken of as good and desirable for boys and men which is in the same breath depicted as pollution even to the ears of women? Can good women live with these men and not be polluted? How about the children?
Man has for ages past claimed to be the logical animal. Beasts have no logic at all, and in this regard woman has been gallantly classed, if not exactly with the beasts, certainly not with men. We may say that she has been counted by man as a sort of missing link. She has logic, plenty of it, if she agrees with all he says; otherwise, she is an emotional, irrational, unclassified creature. Now, when it comes to dealing with his fellows, man has, in the main, a fair amount of reason and logic; but the moment he is called upon to think of woman as a simple human being like himself, to deal with and for her as such, to give her a chance to do the same with and by and for herself, that moment man becomes an emotional, irrational sex maniac. He is absolutely unable to look upon woman as, first of all, a free individual, a human being on exactly the same plane as himself. She is instantly to his mind “wife,” “daughter,” or “victim” always. Never for one little instant is he able to contemplate her as a human unit and entity, entitled to life and liberty for and because of herself. Always it is her relation with him that he sees and deals with; and, alas for his theories of justice, gallantry, or right, it is always as his subordinate, for his use, abuse, or pleasure, that he thinks of and plans for her.
Why confine guilty houses to one quarter? To keep their vicious inmates away from our “wives and daughters,” and the streets which they are on, says the inspector. But this is making sex irregularity a reason for restricting liberty of residence and resort, even of promenade and pleasure. That is to say, it restricts the liberty of one party to the vice.
Unfortunately, it is the wrong partner in vice from whom state regulations seek to “protect our wives and daughters.” It is the one who can do the intelligent wife and daughter no harm whatever who is restricted. Man, we are told, is the logical animal. Why not apply a bit of his logic here? Why not set a watch on and restrict the one who does the real and permanent harm to the race?
Men claim that it is necessary to their health, happiness, and comfort to sacrifice utterly the characters, health, lives, and even liberty of locomotion of tens of thousands of women every year. This is simply infamous, and nature teaches its infamy and unnaturalness. From the protozoan to the highest bird or beast there is no distinction of right, of opportunity, or of privilege as to occupation, life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness anywhere in nature between the sexes, until we reach the one species of animal where one sex has been subordinated to the other because of industrial conditions — by financial dependence.
It is largely to the ignorance of wives and daughters on all these points that is due the possibility for passing, in some States, bills to reduce “the age of consent,” at which a girl is held legally responsible for her own ruin, to ten years. If there were one good woman in the legislature no such bill would have a ghost of a chance to pass, or be kept from the public knowledge and rushed through a “secret session.” Yet fathers of daughters pass such bills. It is then true, after all, that men are not so good protectors of woman as woman is of her sister! Ten years of age! A girl is a baby then! Think of your own little girl at ten! Do not dare to stop thinking, and writing, and talking on the subject until such infamous laws are an impossibility! Do not allow any one to make you believe that it is not “modest ” or “ becoming ” for a woman to know about, and fight to the bitter death, any and all such laws.
You have no right not to know about this matter! You have no right to dare to bring into this world a child who shall be subject to such a law. It is beyond belief, but it is true. And then men talk of “protecting” women. Men who hold that a girl is not old enough to give lawful consent to lawful marriage until she is eighteen years old, say that she is at the age of ten to be held as old enough to give consent to her own eternal disgrace, ruin, and degradation.
The ignorance of one sex in almost all of the vital affairs of life, coupled with its financial dependence upon the other sex, has gone far to make of all men, in one form or another, sex maniacs; and to make of many children the victims of a polluted ancestry, and the progenitors of an enfeebled race.
Source: The World’s Congress of Representative Women, ed. May Wright Sewall (Chicago: Rand, McNally & Company),1894, pp. 374-386.