Stephen Leacock, "The Woman Question," The
Social Criticism of Stephen Leacock, ed. Alan Bowker (U
of Toronto Press, 1973) 59.
"But, it may be urged, there are, even as it is, a great
many women who are working. The wages that they receive are
extremely low. They are lower in most cases than the wages
for the same, or similar work, done by men. Cannot the
woman's vote at least remedy this?
Here is something that deserves thinking about and that
is far more nearly within the realm of what is actual and
possible than wild talk of equalizing and revolutionizing
It is quite true that women's work is underpaid. But this
is only a part of a larger social injustice.
The case stands somewhat as follows: Women get low wages
because low wages are all that they are worth. Taken by
itself this is a brutal and misleading statement. What is
meant is this. The rewards and punishments in the unequal
and ill-adjusted world in which we live are most unfair. The
price of anything—sugar, potatoes, labour, or anything
else—varies according to the supply and demand: if many
people want it and few can supply it the price goes up: if
the contrary it goes down. If enough cabbages are brought to
market they will not bring a cent a piece, no matter what it
cost to raise them.
On these terms each of us sells his labour. The lucky
ones, with some rare gift, or trained capacity, or some
ability that by mere circumstance happens to be in a great
demand, can sell high. If there were only one night plumber
in a great city, and the water pipes in a dozen homes of a
dozen millionaires should burst all at once, he might charge
a fee like that of a consulting lawyer.
On the other hand the unlucky sellers whose numbers are
greater than the demand—the mass of common labourers—get a
mere pittance. To say that their wage represents all that
they produce is to argue in a circle. It is the mere pious
quietism with which the well-to-do man who is afraid to
think bold on social questions drugs his conscience to
So it stands with women's wages. It is the sheer numbers
of the women themselves, crowding after the few jobs that
they can do, that brings them down. It has nothing to do
with the attitude of men collectively toward women in the
lump. It cannot be remedied by any form of woman' freedom.
Its remedy is bound up with the general removal of social
injustice, the general abolition of poverty, which is to
prove the great question of the century before us. The
question of women's wages is a part of the wages' question".