Stephen Leacock, "The Woman Question," The
Social Criticism of Stephen Leacock, ed. Alan Bowker (U
of Toronto Press, 1973) 55-58.
Then there arose up in our own time, or within call of
it, a deliverer. It was the Awful Woman with the Spectacles,
and the doctrine that she preached was Woman's Rights. She
came as a new thing, a hatchet in her hand, breaking glass.
But in reality she was no new thing at all, and had her
lineal descent in history from age to age. The Romans knew
her as a sybil and shuddered at her. The Middle Ages called
her a witch and burnt her. The ancient law of England named
her a scold and ducked her in a pond. But the men of the
modern age, living indoors and losing something of their
ruder fibre, grew afraid of her. The Awful Woman—meddlesome,
vociferous, intrusive—came into her own.
Her softer sisters followed her. She became the leader of
her sex. 'Things are all wrong,' she screamed, 'with the
status of women.' Therein she was quite right. 'The remedy
for it all,' she howled, ' is to make women "free," to give
women the vote. When once women are "free" everything will
be all right.' Therein the woman with the spectacles was,
and is, utterly wrong.
The women's vote, when they get it, will leave women much
as they were before.
Let it be admitted quite frankly that women are going to
get the vote. Within a very short time all over the British
Isles and North America—in the States and the nine provinces
of Canada—woman suffrage will soon be an accomplished fact.
It is a coming event which casts its shadow, or its
illumination, in front of it. The woman's vote and total
prohibition are two things that are moving across the map
with gigantic strides. Whether they are good or bad things
is another question. They are coming. As for the women's
vote, it has largely come. And as for prohibition, it is
going to be recorded as one of the results of the European
War, foreseen by nobody. When the King of England decided
that the way in which he could best help the country was by
giving up drinking, the admission was fatal. It will stand
as one of the landmarks of British history comparable only
to such things as the signing of the Magna Carta by King
john, or the serving out of rum and water instead of pure
rum in the British Navy under George III.
So the woman's vote and prohibition are coming. A few
rare spots—such as Louisiana, and the City of New York—will
remain and offer here and there a wet oasis in the desert of
dry virtue. Even that cannot endure. Before many years are
past, all over this continent women with a vote and men
without a drink will stand looking at one another and
wondering, what next?
For when the vote is reached the woman question will not
be solved but only begun. In and of itself, a vote is
nothing. It neither warms the skin nor fills the stomach.
Very often the privilege of a vote confers nothing but the
right to express one's opinion as to which of two crooks is
But after the women have obtained the vote the question
is, what are they going to do with it? The answer is,
nothing, or at any rate nothing that men would not do
without them. Their only visible use of it will be to elect
men into office. Fortunately for us all they will not elect
women. Here and there perhaps at the outset, it will be done
as the result of a sort of spite, a kind of sex antagonism
bred by the controversy itself. But, speaking broadly, the
women's vote will not be used to elect women to office.
Women do not think enough of one another to do that. If they
want a lawyer they consult a man, and those who can afford
it have their clothes made by men, and their cooking done by
a chef. As for their money, no woman would entrust that to
another woman's keeping. They are far too wise for that.
So the woman's vote will not result in the setting up of
female prime ministers and of parliaments in which the
occupants of the treasury bench cast languishing eyes across
at the flushed faces of the opposition. From the utter ruin
involved in such an attempt at mixed government, the women
themselves will save us. They will elect men. They may even
pick some good ones. It is a nice question and will stand
But what else, or what further can they do, by means of
their vote and their representatives to 'emancipate' and
'liberate' their sex?
Many feminists would tell us at once that if women had
the vote they would, first and foremost, throw everything
open to women on the same terms as men. Whole speeches are
made on this point, and a fine fury thrown into it, often
very beautiful to behold.
The entire idea is a delusion. Practically all of the
world's work is open to women now, wide open. The only
trouble is that they can't do it. There is nothing to
prevent a woman from managing a bank, or organizing a
company, or running a department store, or floating a
merger, or building a railway—except the simple fact that
she can't. Here and there an odd woman does such things, but
she is only the exception that proves the rule. Such women
are merely—and here I am speaking in the most decorous
biological sense—'sports.' The ordinary woman cannot do the
ordinary man's work. She never has and never will. The
reasons why she can't are so many, that is, she 'can't
In so many different ways, that it is not worth while to
try to name them.
Here and there it is true there are things closed to
women, not by their own inability but by the law. This is a
gross injustice. There is no defense for it. The province in
which I live, for example, refuses to allow women to
practice as lawyers. This is wrong. Women have just as good
a right to fail at being lawyers as they have at anything
else. But even if all these legal disabilities, where they
exist, were removed (as they will be under a woman's vote)
the difference to women at large will be infinitesimal. A
few gifted 'sports' will earn a handsome livelihood, but the
woman question in the larger sense will not move one inch
nearer to solution".