His most gaudy sayings and doings seldom deceive them; they see the actual man within, and know him for a shallow and pathetic fellow. In this fact, perhaps, lies one of the best proofs of feminine intelli- gence, or, as the common phrase makes it, feminine intuition. The marks of that so-called intuition are simply a sharp and accurate perception of reality, a habitual immunity to emo- tional enchantment, a relentless capacity for distinguishing clearly between the appearance and the substance.
The appear- ance, in the normal family circle, is a hero, a magnifico, a demi- god. She may envy him his masculine liberty of movement and occupation, his impenetrable complacency, his peasant-like delight in petty vices, his capacity for hiding the harsh face of reality behind the cloak of romanticism, his general innocence and childishness. But she never envies him his shoddy and preposterous soul.
This shrewd perception of masculine bombast and make- believe, this acute understanding of man as the eternal tragic comedian, is at the bottom of that compassionate irony which passes under the name of the maternal instinct. A woman wishes to mother a man simply because she sees into his helplessness, his need of an amiable environment, his touching self-delusion.
That ironical note is not only daily apparent in real life; it sets the whole tone of feminine fiction.
The woman novelist, if she be skillful enough to be taken seriously, never takes her heroes 21 22 A Mencken Chrestomathy so. From the day of Jane Austen to the day of Selma Lagerlof she has always got into her character study a touch of superior aloofness, of ill-concealed derision. That it should be necessary, at this late stage in the senility of the human race, to argue that women have a fine and fluent intelligence is surely an eloquent proof of the defective observa- tion, incurable prejudice, and general imbecility of their lords and masters.
Women, in fact, are not only intelligent; tliey have almost a monopoly of certain of the subtler and more utile forms of intelligence. The thing itself, indeed, might be reason- ably described as a special feminine character; there is in it, in more than one of its manifestations, a femaleness as palpable as the femaleness of cruelty, masochism or rouge. Men arc strong. Men are brave in physical combat.
Men are romantic, and love what they conceive to be virtue and beauty. Men incline to faith, hope and charity. Men know how to sweat and endure. Men are amiable and fond. But in so far as they show the true fundamentals of intelligence — in so far as they reveal a capac- ity for discovering the kernel of eternal verity in the husk of delusion and hallucination and a passion for bringing it forth — to that extent, at least, they are feminine, and still nourished by the milk of their motliers.
The essential traits and qualities of the male, the hall-marks of the unpolluted masculine, are at the same time the hall-marks of the numskull. The caveman is all muscles and mush.
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Without a woman to rule him and think for him, he is a truly lamentable spectacle: a baby with whiskers, a rabbit with tlie frame of an aurochs, a feeble and preposterous caricature of God. Here, of course, I do not mean to say that masculinity con- tributes nothing whatsoever to the complex of chemico-physio- logical reactions which produces what we call superior ability; all I mean to say is that this complex is impossible without the feminine contribution — that it is a product of the interplay of the two elements.
In women of talent we see the opposite pic- ture. They are commonly somewhat mannish, and shave as well as shine. Neither sex, without some fertilization of the complementary III. Women 23 characters of the other, is capable of the highest reaches of hu- man endeavor.
Man, without a saving touch of woman in him, is too doltish, too naive and romantic, too easily deluded and lulled to sleep by his imagination to be anything above a cavalry- man, a theologian or a corporation director.
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And woman, with- out some trace of that divine innocence which is masculine, is too harshly the realist for those vast projections of the fancy which lie at the heart of what we call genius. The wholly manly man lacks the wit necessary to give objective form to his soaring and secret dreams, and the wholly womanly woman is apt to be too cynical a creature to dream at all.
What men, in their egoism, constantly mistake for a defi- ciency of intelligence in woman is merely an incapacity for mastering that mass of small intellectual tricks, that complex of petty knowledges, that collection of cerebral rubber-stamps, which constitute the chief mental equipment of the average male. A man thinks that he is more intelligent than his wife because he can add up a column of figures more accurately, or because he is able to distinguish between the ideas of rival poli- ticians, or because he is privy to the minutiae of some sordid and degrading business or profession.
But these empty talents, of course, are not really signs of intelligence; they are, in fact, merely a congeries of petty tricks and antics, and their acquire- ment puts little more strain on the mental powers than a chimpanzee suffers in learning how to catch a penny or scratch a match. The whole mental baggage of the average business man, or even the average professional man, is inordinately childish. It takes no more actual sagacity to carry on the everyday hawking and haggling of tlie world, or to ladle out its normal doses of bad medicine and worse law, than it takes to operate a taxicab or fry a pan of fish.
There is, indeed, fair ground for arguing that, if men of that kidney were genuinely intelligent, they would never succeed at their gross and driveling concerns — that their very capacity to master and retain such balderdash as constitutes their stock in trade is proof of their inferior mentality.
The notion is certainly supported by the familiar incompetency of admittedly first-rate men for what are called practical concerns. One could not think of Aristotle multiplying 3,, by 99, without making a mistake, nor could one think of him remembering the range of this or that railway share for two years, or the number of ten- penny nails in a hundredweight, or the freight on lard from Gal- veston to Rotterdam.
And by the same token one could not imagine him expert at bridge, or at golf, or at any other of the idiotic games at which what are called successful men com- monly divert themselves. In his great study of British genius, Havelock Ellis found that an incapacity for such shabby ex- pertness is visible in almost all first-rate men. They are bad at tying cravats.
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They are puzzled by bookkeeping. They know nothing of party politics. This lack of skill at manual and mental tricks of a trivial char- acter — which must inevitably appear to a barber as stupidity, and to a successful haberdasher as downright imbecility — is a character that men of the first class share with women of the first, second and even third classes.
One seldom hears of women succeeding in the occupations which bring out such expertness most lavishly — for example, tuning pianos, practising law, or writing editorials for newspapers — despite the circumstance that the great majority of such occupations are well within their physical powers, and that few of them offer any very formidable social barriers to female entrance.
There is no external reason why they should not prosper at the bar, or as editors of maga- III. Women 25 zines, or as managers of factories, or in the wholesale trade, or as hotel-keepers. The taboos that stand in the way are of very small force; various adventurous women have defied them with impunity, and once the door is entered there remains no special handicap within.
But, as everyone knows, the number of women actually practising these trades and professions is very small, and few of them have attained to any distinction in competition with men. The cause thereof, as I say, is not external, but internal. It lies in the same disconcerting apprehension of the larger reali- ties, the same impatience with the paltry and meretricious, the same disqualification for mechanical routine and empty technic which one finds in the higher varieties of men.
Even in the pur- suits which, by the custom of Christendom, are especially their own, women seldom show any of that elaborately conventional- ized and half automatic proficiency which is the pride and boast of most men. This is particularly true in the United States, where the posi- tion of women is higher than in any other civilized or semi- civilized country, and the old assumption of their intellectual inferiority has been most successfully challenged.
The American bourgeois dinner-table becomes a monument to the defective technic of the American housewife. The guest who respects his esophagus, invited to feed upon its discordant and ill-prepared victuals, evades the experience as long and as often as he can, and resigns himself to it as he might resign himself to being shaved by a paralytic. Nowhere else in the world have women more leisure and freedom to improve their minds, and nowhere else do they show a higher level of intelligence, but nowhere else is there worse cooking in the home, or a more inept handling of the whole domestic economy, or a larger dependence upon the aid of external substitutes, by men provided, for the skill 26 A Mencken Chrestomathy that is wanting where it theoretically exists.
It is surely no mere coincidence that the land of the emancipated and enthroned woman is also the land of canned soup, of canned pork and beans, of whole meals in cans, and of everything else ready- made. In brief, women rebel — often unconsciously, sometimes even submitting all the while — against tire dull, mechanical tricks of the trade that the present organization of society compels so man y of them to practise for a living, and that rebellion testifies to their intelligence.
If they enjoyed and took pride in those tricks, and showed it by diligence and skill, they would be on aU fours with such men as are head waiters, accountants, school- masters or carpetbeaters, and proud of it. The inherent tend- ency of any woman above the most stupid is to evade tire whole obligation, and, if she cannot actually evade it, to reduce its demands to the minimum.source site
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And when some accident purges her, either temporarily or permanently, of the inclination to irrar- riage, and she enters into competition with men in the general business of the world, the sort of career that she commonly carves out offers additional evidence of her mental superiority. In whatever calls for no more than an invariable technic and a feeble chicanery she usually fails; in whatever calls for independ- ent thought and resourcefulness she usually succeeds. Thus she is almost always a failure as a lawyer, for the law requires only an armament of hollow phrases and stereotyped formula:, and a mental habit which puts these phantasms above sense, truth and justice; and she is almost always a failure in business, for business, in the main, is so foul a compound of trivialities and rogueries that her sense of intellectual integrity revolts against it.
But she is usually a success as a sick-nurse, for drat profes- sion requires ingenuity, quick comprehension, courage in tire face of novel and disconcerting situations, and above all, a ca- pacity for penetrating and dominating character; and whenever she comes into competition with men in the arts, particularly on IIL 'Women 27 those secondary planes where simple nimbleness of mind is un- aided by the master strokes of genius, she holds her own in- variably. In the demi-monde one will find enough acumen and daring, and enough resilience in the face of special difficulties, to put the equipment of any exclusively male profession to shame.
If the work of the average man required half the mental agility and readiness of resource of the work of the average brothel-keeper, the average man would be constantly on the verge of starvation. Men, as everyone knows, are disposed to question this su- perior intelligence of women; their egoism demands the denial, and they are seldom reflective enough to dispose of it by logical and evidential analysis.
Moreover, there is a certain specious appearance of soundness in their position; they have forced upon women an artificial character which well conceals their real character, and women have found it profitable to encourage the deception.
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But though every normal man thus cherishes the soothing unction that he is the intellectual superior of all women, and particularly of his wife, he constantly gives the lie to his pretension by consulting and deferring to what he calls her intuition. That is to say, he knows by experience that her judgment in many matters of capital concern is more subtle and searching than his own, and, being disinclined to accredit this greater sagacity to a more competent intelligence, he takes refuge behind the doctrine that it is due to some impenetrable and intangible talent for guessing correctly, some half mystical supersense, some vague and, in essence, infra-human instinct.
The true nature of this alleged instinct, however, is revealed by an examination of the situations which inspire a man to call it to his aid. These situations do not arise out of the purely technical problems that are his daily concern, but out of the rarer and more fundamental, and hence enormously more diffi- cult problems which beset him only at long and irregular inter- vals, and so offer a test, not of his mere capacity for being drilled, but of his capacity for genuine ratiocination.
No man, I take it, save one consciously inferior and hen-pecked, would con- sult his wife about hiring a clerk, or about extending credit to some paltry customer, or about some routine piece of tawdry swindling; but not even the most egoistic man would fail to zS A Mencken Chrestomathy sound the sentiment of his wife about taking a partner into his business, or about standing for public ofEce, or about marrying off their daughter.
Such things are of massive importance; they lie at the foundation of well-being; they call for the best thought that the man confronted by them can muster; the perils hidden in a wrong decision overcome even the clamors of vanity. It is in such situations that the superior mental grasp of women is of obvious utility, and has to be admitted. It is here that they rise above the insignificant sentimentalities, superstitions and for- mulse of men, and apply to the business their singular talent for separating the appearance from the substance, and so exercise what is called their intuition.
Women, in fact, are the supreme realists of the race. Apparently illogical, they are the possessors of a rare and subtle super-logic. Apparently whimsical, they hang to the truth with a tenacity which carries them through every phase of its incessant, jelly-like shifting of form. Apparently unobservant and easily deceived, they see with bright and horrible eyes. In men, too, the same merciless perspicacity sometimes shows it- self— men recognized to be more aloof and uninflammable than the general — men of special talent for the logical — sar- donic men, cynics.
Men, too, sometimes have brains. But that is a rare, rare man, I venture, who is as steadily intelligent, as constantly sound in judgment, as little put off by appearances, as the average multipara of forty-eight. Women as Outlaws From the same, pp. First printed, in part, in the Smart Set, Dec. In the midst of all the puerile repressions and inhibitions that hedge them round, they continue to show a gipsy and outlaw spirit. No normal woman ever gives a hoot for law if law hap- pens to stand in the way of her private interest.
Tlie boons of III. Women 29 civilization are so noisily cried np by sentimentalists that we are all apt to overlook its disadvantages. Intrinsically, it is a mere device for regimenting men. Its perfect symbol is the goose-step. The most civilized man, in the conventional sense, is simply that man who has been most successful in caging and harnessing his honest and natural instincts — that is, the man who has done most cruel violence to his own ego in the interest of the commonweal.
The value of this commonweal is always over- estimated.
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