Male and Female by Albany Poyntz

When the learned Spaniard, Feijoo, was about to decide upon the comparative power and merit of the two sexes, he invoked an angel to descend from Heaven to enlighten his mind; so perplexing did he feel the arguments on both sides.

Rousseau, in comparing the sexes, observes, “as I pursue my investigations, I perceive on all sides affinity—on all sides discrepancy.”

And long may that discrepancy exist. The merit of woman consists in the oppositeness of her qualities to those of the male sex.

To be completely woman, is her perfection; as man is never more perfect than when most completely man. Sybarites and Amazons are alike at variance with nature; and Hercules handling the distaff of Omphale could not be more absurd than Omphale wielding the club of Hercules.

In heathen times, and even now, in countries uncivilized by Christianity, the condition of women is of a subordinate and miserable nature. Aristotle was one of the greatest depreciators of women; regarding them as an incomplete production, and at variance with the ends of nature. He fancied that, in a more perfect order of things, only men would be seen on earth. In the tragedies of Euripides, women are treated with unmeasured contempt; and his opinions being embraced by the Greeks, were adopted by the early theologians alluded to by St. Augustin; who pretended that at the day of judgment, God would reform his work, and the dead of both sexes rise again of the masculine gender. In the fifth century, it was agitated in council, whether our Saviour died for women as well as men; nor was it till after the most violent contestation, decided in the affirmative. Mahomet, the most violent opponent of the equality of sexes excluded women from Paradise except in a few favoured instances.

Chivalry was the first defender of the weaker sex.

At the beginning of the twelfth century, a doctor, named Amauri, of the diocese of Chartres, attempted to renew the doctrine of Aristotle concerning women, declaring them to be imperfect works accidentally proceeding from the hands of God. The Archbishop of Paris, however, convened a council, which declared his doctrine to be heretical; and anathemized Amauri, who having died previous to the decree, his lady was disinterred, and thrown into the common sewer. This proceeding gave much satisfaction to the Parisian populace; but was scarcely necessary to refute the impertinent assertions of Aristotle and his disciple.

It is unnecessary to dwell upon the criticisms, satires, and diatribes, of which women have been the objects,—from Juvenal, to Boileau and Pope; and from Boccaccio and Brantome, to La Fontaine and Byron:—for their champions are, at least, as numerous as their assailants. Among themselves Madame de Genlis in France, and Mary Wolstonecroft in England, have fought a good fight in favour of the equality of the sexes.

Mallebranche, one of the writers who has most profoundly studied the question, accords to women a decided superiority in point of sensibility; but decides them to be equally inferior to the male sex in point of abstract ideas. Arguing upon the difference of organisation, and conceiving the brain to be the seat of intellectual operations, he shows that the brain of women is of a more feeble organization, and less extended than that of men; and concludes, from the diameter of their head being less, that their minds must maintain the same proportion. This opinion is based upon the craniological, or phrenological system.

Mallebranche agrees with Dr. Gall in the belief that the seat of intelligence lies essentially in the brain, and that the amount of our faculties is proportioned to the volume of that organ: that stupid animals have scarcely any brain, and sagacious animals much; that no animal can vie in proportion with that of man; and that among men, idiots are remarkable for deficiency of brain. On this point, the learned and the ignorant fully coincide;—a fool or idiot, having been always styled a brainless fellow.

The Cretins of the Valais, and the Pyrenees, who have very diminutive heads, are alike devoid of intellect, and suffer from the same affliction. In the intellectual physiology of Domangeon, he relates, that, of two maniacs under his care, a young person suddenly bereft of reason had a head incredibly small; while an old woman, similarly afflicted, had a brain no larger than that of a child of three years old.

Experiment has now proved the brain to be the seat of human intelligence. The celebrated Dr. Richerand, attended a patient whose brain was accidentally exposed, and anxious to convince himself that the brain was really the seat of intelligence, he pressed that of his patient with his hand, when the intellectual powers immediately ceased, and upon withdrawing his hand, they recovered their faculties.

Those who still deny the brain to be the seat of intelligence, instance, in support of their theory, the existence of reason after the ossification of the brain; and of children, born deficient in spinal marrow. Duverney exhibited to the Academy of Sciences at Paris, the head of an ox nearly petrified, notwithstanding which, it had never betrayed the least uneasiness, or any unusual symptoms.

It is certain that considerable portions of the brain have been removed from a living subject, in cases of accident, without prejudice to the intellectual faculties. But the lobes being double, a portion may be cut away without affecting its power; as in losing an eye or an ear, the faculty of seeing and hearing remains.

All this, however, is a digression from the fact asserted; that the brain of a woman weighs less by one sixteenth than that of a man! The mean weight of the brain of a man is estimated at three pounds; and it is found to be two pounds thirteen ounces in that of a woman, from which it may be inferred that man is a sixteenth part more intelligent than woman. It may, however, be argued that this is only accordant with the other comparative proportions of the human frame. The stature of woman is a sixteenth less than that of man, and the brain ought surely to be in proportion to the stature.

On this point, J. J. Rousseau observes, “A perfect woman and perfect man ought to be as dissimilar in form and face, as in soul. A well-conditioned man should not be less than five feet and a half in height, with a sonorous voice and well-bearded chin.” But considering the number of men who expend many hours a day in adorning and perfuming their persons, and lounging upon a sofa or beside a work-table, it is not wonderful that women should be tempted to consider themselves somewhat nearer on a par with those who renounce the manly attributes of their sex.

In establishing between man and woman certain relations and differences, Providence has clearly distinguished the condition of the two sexes. To the stronger, he assigned rude labour and the tillage of the earth; to the weaker, domestic duties, and the rearing of progeny. The one has an out-door, the other an in-door existence; and by the duties of the mother, the position of the slighter sex is distinctly pointed out.

It would appear as if the comparative merit of the sexes were influenced by the effect of climate; the Salique-law still prevailing in several of the most civilized countries of Europe, in spite of the glorious reigns of Elizabeth and Anne in England, and Catherine in Russia; and the living example of three female sovereigns on the throne. But it may be added that in two of the countries where woman is excluded from the throne, she exercises in private life fourfold the influence assigned her in England, Spain, or Portugal, where she is admitted to the privileges of supreme power.