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The Double Standard of Sexual Morality

October 7, 1853 — Fourth National Woman’s Rights Convention, Melodean Hall, Cleveland OH


An objection has been made with regard to the statement in this declaration of independence. that there were no liberal colleges, or no institutions of learning, which recognized the co-equality of man and woman. I do not know of any which now so recognize it. There are some, I know, that go a great way in admitting woman, and in giving her some of her rights, and I presume the one at Oberlin is among them, and probably among the first. I hope it will be understood that we state the broad facts of the case. We generalize, and have nothing to do with exceptions, even if they exist, except to rejoice in them.

But again, something was said by one of my sisters, with regard to the statement, that man purposely played the tyrant over woman. I trust that it is well understood — if not, I will repeat it as one of my views and principles, and I presume it will not be too presumptuous, to say, it is the principle of all the friends who advocate this cause ; we do not fight with man himself, but only with bad principles. Man is inconsistent, and he has been made, through that inconsistency, tyrannical. Man has been unjust, because bad laws always will make bad men. We have had bad laws, hence man has been bad; but so thoroughly good is human nature, that in spite of bad laws, man is not as bad as he might be, under them. We make no complaint against individual man, for he is under the laws of the past ; and humanity does not allow him to carry out, to the full extent, the bad provisions of the laws under which he lives. You will say, these laws were made by man. True ! but they were framed in ignorance, ignorance of the ultimate end or aim of the human being, man or woman, and ignorance of the relations of the sexes. They were sanctioned by superstition and enforced by power. This is an additional reason why we wish all these laws altered, for it can be no otherwise than inconsistent, when one half of the race, frame laws for the other half. Man is not now, in the full sense, man; any more than woman is, in the full sense, woman. It requires both to enact rational and proper laws for the rational government of both  and this is the reason why we claim our rights fully, fearlessly and entirely.

I blame no one. My creed is, that man is precisely as good as all the laws, institutions and influences, operating upon his peculiar organization, allow him to be ; and therefore I see an additional reason and feel an additional motive, to point out the evils in our present laws and institutions. For so long as they are wrong, man will act un justly ; therefore we must have them altered. Remove the causes that produce transient effects, and the effects will not exist. But I heartily endorse the proposition offered here, to come forth with a declaration of sentiments. I second it as no less great, noble, and important, than the first honorable declaration of Independence ; those great immutable truths which have gone forth all over the world, and have given to man hope, and life, and light. Yes, this declaration of woman’s independence, is even more far-sighted and sublime. For although truly a result of that declaration itself, it was never before dreamed that woman would be included in it. Is it not obedience to old laws, received from old and barbarous ages, and tyrannical lands, which has prevented, hitherto, the application of that declaration, to woman ? And while they continue to sustain and execute the laws which oppress half the race, this new declaration, based upon the self-evident truths of the old declaration, is of paramount importance.

I also approve of the letter of Mr. Channing. I revere Mr. Channing, although I do not name him, Reverend. I thought that in a republican country, titles would not exist. A title never can honor a man, but a man may honor the station which a title attempts to indicate. I agree almost entirely with that letter — nay, entirely. I only differ from the remark afterward made by my friend, Antoinette L. Brown, with regard to altering that part which says, that habitual drunkenness should be a reason for divorce. She thought it should be only a cause for legal separation. I would ask her if such legal separation should have the same force as a divorce?

Miss Brown: — It should not allow the parties to marry again.

Mrs. Rose. What constitutes marriage? The violation of that, whatever it is, is a sufficient ground for a legal, social, and entire separation between them ; and that is divorce. But, I will not enter upon the discussion of that subject, at present. I trust it will come up during this Convention, or, if not here, during some other of our Conventions; for it is of vital importance. We must come to it, we must face it. I know well and have known it for years, that this subject will encounter more prejudice and in consequence more difficulties than any subject hitherto brought before the public; and hence it is all the more necessary to meet, and discuss it. It lies at the foundation of things, and whenever it is brought up and I have an opportunity, I will speak more on the subject; but here I must leave it.

I wish to read a passage which has been already read in this Declaration of Independence. To me, it is beautiful, because it is true. It is of the utmost importance and should be dwelt upon. “He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for man and for woman, &c.” My Friends, I have read it imperfectly, for English is still difficult to me — have you heard it, have you understood it? I acknowledge no different standard of morals for the sexes; there is none in nature, in truth, and should be none in practice. But a different code is recognized in practice in all our Society, in all our Law, in all our public opinion, that greatest of all tyrants. All those have established a different code of morals for the sexes, and hence comes so much of immorality, so much of crime, so much of suffering.

It is time to consider, whether, what is wrong in one sex, can be right in the other? It is time to consider, whether, if woman commits a fault, — but too often from ignorance, from inexperience, or from poverty; ( the consequence of her degradation and oppression) — whether when such a being, in her helplessness, in her ignorance, in her in experience and dependence, not having had her mind developed, nor her higher faculties exercised, not having been allowed to mingle in honorable society, and gain needful experience, and therefore unacquainted with human nature, or rather, perverted nature, as it too often is, — whether, when such a being is drawn into sin, often through appeals to her tenderest and best feelings, and in consequence also, of being accustomed to look up to man as her superior, her guide, and master — when a being, thus brought up, and thus situated, is drawn down to sin, and has broken the law of society, whether such a being should be cast out of the pale of humanity — while he who led her into it, (if not the main, the great secondary cause of it) he who is endowed with the superior advantages of education and experience, he who has taken advantage of that weakness, and that confiding spirit, which the young, particularly, always have, — I ask, if she, the victim, is cast out of the pale of humanity, shall the despoiler go free? (Cries of no! no! no!) And yet, he goes free!

My friends, I speak warmly, because I feel deeply for the degradation of woman. Look into your societies; look into your newspapers  look everywhere, anywhere; look at the helpless beings who crowd our cities! Have these poor creatures been born with the mark of Cain upon their foreheads? Nature cries, no! To what then is it owing, but to the wrongs of which they have been victims ! but to the fact, that woman is made to believe that she is created to be only the tool or plaything of man ; to be dependent upon him, in stead of dependent upon her own rectitude, dependent upon her own faculties. In that doctrine of dependence upon man, lies one of the great causes at least, of the evils which lead so many young and lovely creatures to a premature and dishonored grave. And ye men be fore me, when you read in the newspapers the terrible account of some woman who has been brought to so low and terrible a condition, as to violate the strongest law of her nature, the moral law of her being; do you not know that it is the result of ignorance and of dependence?

I pity man, but I blame him not. It is owing to unjust, perhaps unwritten laws, and our supposed duty to recognize them as laws. Ah ! if there should be one before me, who has been brought to that unhappy condition to which I have alluded, and has been forced to de grade herself in her own estimation, to prostitute her mind and body to lust ! how deep lies the guilt at the door of society, not only at her own. They have driven her to it, — and yet man, the author of it, in as far as he was the law-maker, and in as much as he is the stronger, — in ninety-nine cases in a hundred, particularly if he can keep up his position in the Church and give money to Bible and Tract Societies, — is honorable in society. I do not state this to cast odium upon these religious societies, or upon the churches. I say it because I know it to be a fact. Such men are to be found in the best society: among our aldermen, our church-officers, in the Legislative halls, in Congress at Washington, and who knows but in the Presidential chair itself. Read your papers, and see how often ministers are brought up for taking advantage of some weak member of their congregations, — or rather, how seldom they are brought up for it, while their poor victims are thrust out from the pale of humanity. And though she has violated only one single law, (and I say it with anxious sorrow) woman is the first to thrust her out from her own companionship, while she, who thrusts her out, is often quite flattered with the attentions of the gentleman who made her his victim. Yet I blame her not any more than man. The same ignorance, the same falsity has made her as inconsistent as it has made him. The same laws removed, only can remove these evils.

Yes, my friends, I am willing to acknowledge, that at present, woman, — the majority of women, — are as much opposed to their nearest and dearest interests, as man is. The reason is obvious. She has been made to believe in, and to depend only, upon the opinions of man. She thinks man is opposed. She lives entirely upon the flattery and adulation of man. She has no object sufficient in life, no confidence in her own principles, nor in her own powers ; and there fore, so long as she thinks it unfashionable among men, so long will she go against it. Hence the great necessity to make our truths, legal truths, — for when once they are legal, they will become fashionable, and fashionable ladies will go for them.

I have been told, time after time, by ladies — “We claim our rights ! why we have rights enough. We don’t want any more rights.” An allusion was made here yesterday to tyranny ; the question was asked, whether woman would be a tyrant, if she obtained her rights? — My friends, analyse that phrase: “We have rights enough!” that sentiment, “And we don’t want any more rights!” — It is equivalent to saying, “I have rights enough, therefore you are not entitled to yours.” There is tyranny in such expressions, and such women are tyrants. For it is a law of nature, that he who can submit to be a a slave, only wants the opportunity, to become a tyrant. He who will place your yoke on his own neck, just give him the opportunity, and he will reverse it, and place the yoke on your neck.

Yes, woman can be a tyrant as great as man, and the more ignorant, and submissive she is now, the greater tyrant she may be for it. But he who can appreciate human rights, he who values the noble spirit of humanity, he who truly recognizes the entire equality of human beings, will never desire to infringe upon the rights of a single member of humanity. Just in proportion as man can be a slave, can he become a tyrant.

But I did not intend to make a speech, I rose to move, and will now move that a committee be appointed to take this declaration of Independence, and the Declaration of Mk. Channing, and either combine the two, or frame a new one.

[Asa Mahan, Convention President, objected to the idea that “male sex” alone had created the double standard, arguing that women were equally, if not more, to blame.]

Mrs. Rose: — I heartily, agree that we are both in fault ; and yet we are none in fault. I also said, that woman, on account of the position in which she has been placed, by being dependent upon man, by being made to look up to man, is the first to cast out her sister. I know it and deplore it ; hence I wish to give her her rights, to secure her dependence upon herself.

In regard to that sentiment in the declaration, our friend said that woman created it. Is woman really the creator of the sentiment? The laws of a country create sentiments. Who make the laws? Does woman? Our law-makers give her ideas of morality.

Mr. [Joseph] Barker:  — And the pulpit.

Mrs. Rose: — I ought to have thought of it, not only do the law makers give woman her ideas of morality, but our pulpit-preachers. I beg pardon — no I do not either — for Antoinette L. Brown is not a priest. Our priests have given us public sentiment called morals, and they have always made or recognized, in daily life, distinctions between man and woman. Man, from the time of Adam to the present time, has had utmost license, while woman must not commit the slightest degree of “impropriety,” as it is termed. Why even to cut her skirts shorter than the fashion, is considered a moral delinquency, and stigmatized as such by more than one pulpit, directly or indirectly.

You ask me who made this sentiment; and my friend yonder says, woman. She, is but the echo, of man. Man utters the sentiment, and woman echoes it. As I said before — for I have seen and felt it deeply, — she even appears to be quite flattered with her cruel tyrant, for such he has been made to be, — she is quite flattered with the destroyer of woman’s character, — aye, worse than that, the destroyer of woman’s self-respect and peace of mind, — and when she meets him, she is flattered with his attentions. Why should she not be ? He is admitted into Legislative halls, and to all places where men “most do congregate;” why then, should she not admit him, to her parlor. The woman is admitted into no such places; the Church casts her out ; and a stigma is cast upon her, for what is called the slightest “impropriety.” Proscribed by no true moral law, but by superstition and prejudice, she is cast out not only from public places, but from private homes. And if any woman would take her sister to heart, and warm her there again by her sympathy and kindness, if she would endeavor once more to infuse into her the spark of life and virtue, of morality and peace, she often dare not so far encounter public prejudice as to do it. It re quires a courage beyond what woman can now possess, to take the part of the woman against the villain. There are few such among us, and though few, they have stood forward nobly and gloriously. I will not mention names, though it is often a practice to do so; I must, how ever, mention one sister, Lucretia Mott, who has stood up and taken her fallen sister by the hand, and warmed her at her own heart. But we cannot expect every woman to possess that degree of courage.



Source: Proceedings of the National Women’s Rights Convention, held at Cleveland, Ohio, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, October 5th, 6th, and 7th, 1853, (Cleveland: Gray, Beardsley, Spear & Co., 1854), pp. 74-82.