To the Editor of Bee:—
I have observed that it is a common practice, among Editors, to fill their papers with advice to women, and not unfrequently with ill concealed taunts of woman's weakness. It is a pity that they should so neglect their own sex, to take such exclusive care of those, who, with all their weakness, sometimes have wit enough to take care of themselves. But, taunt them not; whilst boys are left to gain what strength they may, or at least to retain what Nature gave them, almost everything that can be, is done, to enervate and weaken girls, both mentally and bodily, and strong indeed is she, who comes forth from the "fiery ordeal" unscathed. If the effort to weaken has been but too successful, let the blame rest where it is deserved. Society has a heavy debt to pay for it, nay, is paying it even now. Woman's weakness, and timidity may be pretty things to sentimentalize upon, but they often prove very inconvenient, very troublesome realities, even to those who like them, or pretend to, in theory.
Marriage is almost the only business in which there is any chance of success, that the world (to its shame be it told) willingly leaves to women, and that certainly requires no great degree of strength or wit, if wives are weak and foolish; for strength with no field for its exercise would be intolerable misery. When it is recollected , that the motives held up to women for action, are poor and paltry,—that most of the books addressed exclusively to them, are "one weak, washy, everlasting flood" of—scarcely milk for babes; that they are taught to believe that two of the greatest misfortunes, (mental and bodily weakness) are virtues, who that is not decidedly verdant, would laugh, or wonder, at woman's weakness. I should as soon expect that the plant bound down by strong bands, and deprived of air and water, would grow up strong and healthy, as that women, occupying the position they do, and surrounded by such influences, should be remarkable for anything but weakness.— The only way of accounting for the fact, that there yet remains no in considerable degree of strength among them, is to believe that Nature is too strong to be subdued, even by a miserable education.
It may be, that most women are so dwarfed and weakened, that they believe that dressing, cooking, and loving, (to which might be added the various accomplishments of the sex, and flattery thrown in as a sort of sauce, to the delectable dish,) make up the whole of life; but Nature still asserts her rights, and there always will be those too strong to be satisfied, with a dress, a pudding, or a beau, though they may take each in its turn, as a portion of life. I speak not now of the distinguished of either sex; they form a bright relief in the otherwise dark picture. Neither do I suppose that there are no exceptions, perhaps many, to the general rule. But to the generality of men let the question be put, what have you done in return for the great advantages you possess in your position in society? merely nothing. Are you not, thousands of you, as effeminate as the veriest woman of them all? You talk of your manliness; where is it? "Alas, echo answers where." You boast of the protection you afford to women. Protection! from what? from the rude and disorderly of your own sex—reform them, and women will no longer need the protection you make such a parade of giving. Protect them, do you? let me point you to the thousands of women, doomed to lives of miserable drudgery, and receiving "a compensation which if quadrupled , would be rejected by the man-laborer, with scorn;" are they less worthy protection because they are trying to help themselves? because they have little inclination and less time to lisp soft nonsense? and you think when you have sung the praises of "lovely woman ," and talked of the "ladies" with all imaginable gallantry, that you have done all that is necessary. If you would have the manliness you talk of, seek to raise those poor women from their oppressed, and too often degraded, condition; if you will not do it, go on in your old course, but prate no more of your manliness; why the very boys at play in the street, will laugh at you; they, poor fellows, are dreaming in their simplicity, that manliness includes every noble and generous feeling. Long may it be ere they awake from that pleasant dream to find that manhood is often synonymous with extreme effeminacy.
Bad as is the condition of so many women, it would be much worse if they had nothing but your boasted protection to rely upon; but they have at last learnt the lesson, which a bitter experience teaches, that not to those who style themselves their "natural protectors," are they to look for the needful help, but to the strong and resolute of their own sex. May all good fortune attend those resolute ones, and the noble cause in which they are engaged. "She devils" as some of them have been elegantly termed by certain persons, calling themselves men; let them not fear such epithets, nor shrink from the path they have chosen. It is, indeed, a theory one, but they are breaking the way; they shall make it smoother for those who come after them, and generations yet unborn shall live to bless them for their courage and perseverance. If we choose to sit down in our indolence, and persuade ourselves that we can do nothing, let us not censure those who are wiser and stronger than we are. It has been said that men and women are "natural enemies," which I do not believe; but if a running fight must be kept up between the two, let women have half the battle-field and fair play. The time may come when both parties will learn that they can be much better friends, when they have more equal rights.—If that bright day should ever dawn, then will the old battle, between cunning and brute force, be done away with. I see that I am writing more than I intended, but I find there is much room for thought, in a subject so often treated with ridicule. My intention was, not so much to advocate "woman's rights," as to remind those who like so well, to talk of "woman's weakness," that the "retort courteous" can be as easily made, as it is richly merited; poor fellows! they never dream that they are admirable illustrations of "Satan reproving sin," I know that brevity is desirable when writing to editors, and I should, indeed, expect that you would find some fault with the length of this letter, did not your paper convince me that you possess that desirable quality, good nature. Hoping that it is strong enough to excuse the length, and all other imperfections, I close, Ellen Munroe
Boston Bee, reprinted in Voice of Industry, March 13, 1945