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What Does Man Know of Woman ?
Harper’s Weekly (November 14, 1908) : 33 : link

      One cannot be blamed for having a lively curiosity about the domestic happiness of certain of the learned gentlemen who have lately written on that burning subject, woman. And though the authors are sure to snort and make scornful remarks on the femininity of personal applications, still, as we have been accused of the worst vices, why not admit to an innocent fondness for chuckling over the distress of these men? Colby assured these panic-stricken authors long ago that women were not a catching disease. He calmed masculine hearts by telling them that with a few ordinary precautions they were safe in allowing women to exist, and had the right to hope that she would not immediately swamp them. This word of comfort has apparently been forgotten, and here the men are once more clutching with terrified hands the floating straw of femininity, convinced that they are about to drown in a sea of suffrage for woman, and with a most undiplomatic turn of mind hurling insulting epithets at the straw they cling to. Some four years ago — it was four years ago, was it not, that New York passed through such a severe epidemic of Shawitus? — we all listened while Mr. B. Shaw shrieked through his bars the shameful tale of his capture, and warned, at the expense of his own reputation for independence, the rest of the men whom he saw clearly, with his self-admitted normal eye, being pitilessly stalked with hardly a chance at escape. It was noble of a man who was already in a hole not only to admit the humiliating depth of his fall, but to call out, thereby attracting wide attention to his captivity, and proclaim to the men worshipping goddesses that it was while on one’s knees that one most easily made the misstep, and landed irretrievably in the mire prepared by that treacherous fiend woman. During this tirade, when Mr. Shaw thought we had all our eyes fastened on him, we were in reality straining every nerve to catch a glimpse of Mrs. Shaw. She was the figure of mystery, and the person we were really interested in. Had she told him all the things about women that so stirred his bile? Had she in a pause, when she knew there as a need of being amusing, opened her Pandora’s box of pesky secrets?
      It is a delightful picture to conjure up, and we wish we knew the scene in that hitherto peaceful English home that startled Mr. Shaw into brilliancy. As other authors have recently been added to the list headed by Mr. Shaw, our attention is again attracted by their fright, and we wonder who has been doing what to these retreating gentlemen to put them in such a state of rout. It is worth noting that these scientific appeals for help have come from England and France. In America, where woman is supposed to be uncontrollably rampant, the men have so far not felt themselves in immediate danger; though their quiet may be a cautious tiptoeing about the mouth of a crater — we had not thought of that.
      Children are sometimes told of the horrible things that in habit the dark, hoping such tales will make them properly prudent, and teach them a healthy fear of wandering in unknown places. We hold our breath, and wonder, it seems to deliciously possible, if some one has not been telling these gentlemen tales of the dark, and they, with an enterprise their counsellors never suspected them of, have slipped away from the warm, cheery lamp-lighted room, and with the frightful tales still in their ears, have started on a voyage of discovery from the pitch-black corridor. They return and write books of their trip, taking fishes as their starting-point for the bulky volume. And from there they go on to panthers and the cat family, which, somehow, leads them to the burning of Rome, good men gone down to the bottom of the sea, unnecessary wars, the installation and development of vice in the masculine nature; from here they find it a natural step to the deterioration of the world and its final end. And it goes without saying that the wisdom they are imparting was all gained during their adventurous scamper down the dark corridor. They tell of hideous deceit found everywhere, and there was one awful black shadow that they had no trouble in recognizing as a lack of moral instinct. They dared to pass that, and on the other side they discovered a terrible little indescribable something that proved, once and for all, that woman was a parasite. They are exultant over their own daring; and pressing on with the ardor of martyrs who have found their métier, they discover cruelty and a mind incapable of education.
      In spite of their delight in their occupation, their voices have not displayed a single note of pain. We have listened attentively, and heard nothing but a scholarly crow of “I told you so.” It sticks in our mind that there is a woman at the bottom of it all. Some one has undoubtedly put the idea into their heads. They did not, we feel sure, start out to study with an unbiassed mind, and, after deep delving and much logical reasoning, find the facts that they now flourish. No, some woman told them what they would find, and man, that most susceptible of creatures, followed the line of suggestion. This must be so. Past experience makes it seem most likely. Neolithic man was an undersized mite, and woman, with her kindliness of intention, a dragging of fact up to fancy that proclaimed her inspired, made a habit of saying, “A great, tall, strong man like you?” At that the man swelled, puffed out his chest, stood on his tiptoes, and after centuries of doing this, he naturally was a great, tall, strong man. Then, not having changed greatly since, he said, “You do it, my dear,” and the woman, giving away the lead, taking the one step that landed her two respectful inches in the rear of her lord — she has always maintained this identical place with an unswerving intention which makes her great — said: “I? Why, you are the stronger sex. I would not know how to do it.” And man, with the beautiful faculty for listening to reason that still marks him, took in every word she said, and in time woman, with a tactful surprise, heard him declare the astounding fact that his Creator had made him the stronger sex. Now, having proved the fact that man is absolutely incapable of refusing a proffered idea, our next step is to inquire who told him that woman was a glittering mixture of iniquity, and what, in the name of all that is subtle, was her purpose? Is it a contrasting discord to show up her appearing in a more impressive crash of concerted harmony than has ever been attempted before? Or did she — and here we feel that we have hit upon the truth — did she feel that it would be a capital thing for the men if they set about to reform her? She is quite capable of sacrificing herself to their education, and with her unerring instinct, she may have felt that the men badly needed some such improving task. So, touching them where they were tenderest, a flick has roused them, and shortly a congress of men from all over the world will be called to sit in consultation over the case of woman so far gone as to be almost incurable. They will learn a vast amount, without knowing it, solemnly giving advice the while — so pleasant a way to learn — and if earth is shaken by the suppressed, delighted laughter of the women, why, the men will be the very last to hear it.

  1. “Damaging as woman is, she is not contagious.”
    — Frank Moore Colby, trolling, in “The Coeducation Scare” in his Imaginary Obligations (1904, 1908 printing) 178-181 (180) : link
    in the same volume, in section “The Business of Writing,” is Colby’s essay “In Darkest James” (Henry, that is) : 321-335 : link
    Frank Moore Colby (1865-1925), professor of history, economics... : wikipedia

11 November 2022