The Monopoly of Man
April 27, 1890 — The Philology Society, Milan, Italy
First of all I want to confess that while I was reflecting upon the inferiority of woman’s social condition, a question came to mind which left me, for a moment, perplexed and uncertain. For what reason — I asked myself — should the “woman question” be isolated from so ma other social issues that all have their origin in injustice, that are all based upon the privilege of one sex or one class?
Moreover, given that nowadays privilege of whatever kind has come under debate, is being challenged and is losing ground everywhere, it may seem that, as a consequence of such a battle, a little justice is also derived for woman, the main victim in modern social relations.
However, the experience of many other women who have attempted to change the traditional ways of life for women in general, and above all my own personal experience, have taught me that while many liberal men, both intellectuals and scientists, have struggled to resolve numerous complex social problems, the same thing has not occurred with regard to the privilege exercised by man with respect to woman.
With few rare exceptions, all men, of whatever social class, presenting an endless list of unbefitting reasons, look upon the privilege they derive from being the strong sex as a natural phenomenon, and defend it with extraordinary tenacity, calling to their aid God, the church, science, ethics and government laws.
However, thanks to social progress, the desire for social justice has germinated and is becoming more and more each day the consciousness of civil equality among human beings.
All the disinherited, all the pariahs are beginning to rise, to ask also for themselves a little light, a little air, a life compatible with human dignity; it is thus extremely natural that, in our century, a vast substantial movement has intensified among the weakest and most numerous of the pariahs that make up half of humanity, that is, among the women.
Throughout Europe and in America legions of women are forming, who are fighting for their redemption and to cast off the centuries-old yoke that men have inflicted upon them. And although this struggle of the women is not so visible, because it cannot take on the aspect of hatred and bitterness the marks the battle between the different social classes, it can have no other purpose but that of abolishing the privilege of the male and of undermining his power.
It is for this reason that, wishing to talk about the social condition of women, I have found no better way to get to the crux of the matter than by emphasizing the monopoly of man in its various manifestations, activities and roles . . .
I have chosen the issue of women’s work because I consider it to be the basis of the whole “woman question,” convinced as I am of this great fundamental truth of modern ethics, which is true for both men and women: only work, of whatever kind it may be, shared out and rewarded equitably, is the true source of perfection of the human species . . .
It seems to me therefore, that only when she is guaranteed fairly paid work, or at least paid the same as men, will woman take the first step forward, the most important, because only by becoming economically independent will she avoid moral parasitism and be able to regain her freedom, her dignity and the true respect of the other sex.
I believe that only then will women have the moral strength to no longer suffer under pressure from fathers, husbands or brothers, and will be able to create for themselves those weapons so powerful in modern struggles: alliances for gaining civil and political rights, which are denied to women as they are to those men excluded on the basis of idiocy, madness or criminality.
The current laws inflict this atrocious humiliation on women because not only men, but also women themselves see women as eternal juveniles and they will never be able to come of age until they are placed in a position to take care of themselves with their own intelligence, their own abilities and their own moral strength.
Translation by Antonella Cagnolati
Source: Il monopolio dell’uomo: Critica sociale, 2° edizione. Milano: 1894, 3-5, 17, 21-22.