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Women's Rights

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Diverse Nature of Men and Women

Technology Dispossesses Women

Women's Rights

Separate Spheres

Unequal Wages

Final Answer to that Woman Question


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 the crookeder.

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 thinking about.

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".

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