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Ernest Belfort Bax on ‘The False Idol of Equality Between the Sexes’ (1886)

Excerpt from ‘Some Bourgeois Idols’ (1886) – Ernest Belfort Bax

Let us take another idol. This time we tread on sacred ground indeed – equality between the sexes. Well may the iconoclastic hand tremble before levelling a blow at this new Serapis. Nevertheless here also – as the phrase is understood by the ordinary modern woman’s rights advocate – we are bound to recognise a vampire. In earlier stages of social development, woman was placed in a condition of undoubted social inferiority to man. Into the grounds of this inferiority it is unnecessary here to enter. Suffice it to say it existed, and that against the state of things it implied the cry of “equality between the sexes” was raised, at first in a veiled, and afterwards in an open manner. For some time it represented a real tendency towards equality by the removal of certain undoubted grievances. But for some time past the tendency of the bourgeois world, as expressed in its legislation and sentiment, has been towards a factitious exaltation of the woman at the expense of the man – in other words, the cry for “equality between the sexes” has in the course of its realisation become a sham, masking a de facto inequality. The inequality in question presses as usual, heaviest on working-man, whose wife, to all intents and purposes has him completely in her power. If dissolute or drunken, she can sell up his goods or break up his home at pleasure, and still compel him to keep her and live with her to her life’s end. There is no law to protect him. On the other hand, let him but raise a finger in a moment of exasperation against this precious representative of the sacred principle of “womanhood,” and straightway he is consigned to the treadmill for his six months amid the jubilation of the D.T. and its kindred, who pronounce him a brute and sing paeans over the power of the “law” to protect the innocent and helpless female. Thus does bourgeois society offer sacrifice to the idol “equality between the sexes.” For the law jealously guards, the earnings or property of the wife from possible spoliation. She on any colourable pretext can obtain magisterial separation and “protection.”

Again, we have the same principle illustrated in the truly bestial outcry raised every now and again by certain persons for the infliction of the punishment of flogging on men, for particular offences, notably “assaults on women and children.” As a matter of fact, in the worst cases of cruelty to children, women are the criminals. Some few months back there was a horrible instance in which a little girl was done to death by a stepmother in circumstances of the most loathsome barbarity: yet these horror-stricken advocates of the lash never venture to support flogging as a wholesome corrective to viragos of this description. It would be opposed to middle-class sentiment, which would regard such a proposition as blasphemy against the sacred principle of “femality.” No other explanation is possible, since it can hardly be assumed that even the bourgeois mind is incapable of grasping the obvious fact that a man pinioned and in the hands of half a dozen prison-warders, is in precisely as helpless a condition as any woman in a like cage, and that, therefore, the brutality or cowardice of the proceeding is no greater in the one case than in the other. The bourgeois conception of “equality between the sexes” is aptly embodied in that infamous clause of the “Criminal Law Amendment Act,” which provides that in case of illicit intercourse, between a boy and girl under sixteen years of age, though the girl escapes scot free, the boy is liable, to five years imprisonment in a reformatory.

Even the great Radical nostrum which is supposed to involve the quintessence of political equality, is, when closely viewed, the hollowest of shams. The revolutionary socialist perhaps does not much concern himself about questions of the suffrage, esteeming but lightly the privilege of electing men to help to carry on the present system of society, which he believes destined to perish before long. But looked at from the ordinary point of view, it is quite clear that considering the fact that the female population of England is in excess of the male by about a million, female suffrage, in spite of its apparent embodiment of the principle of equality, really means, if it means anything at all (which may be doubtful) the handing over of the complete control of the state to one sex. These are only a few of the illustrations which might be multiplied almost indefinitely, of the truth that the tendency of the modern middle-class world, is, while proclaiming the principle of “equality between the sexes” in opposition to the feudal subjection of woman, to erect, the female sex into a quasi-privileged class. The real equality between the sexes aimed at by socialism is as, I take it, much opposed to this Brummagem sentiment and sham equality, as it is to the female slavery of ancient times of which, of course, we do not wish to deny that survivals remain even at the present day. With the economic emancipation of woman and the gradual transformation of the state-system of to-day into an international league free communes, the feudal subjection of women to man and the middle-class subjection of man to woman will be alike at an end.

Votes For Women & Sexual Morality

Excerpt from ‘Votes for Women’ (Paula Bartley) Hodder Education

The Contagious Diseases Act & The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a number of women were dismayed by the sexual double standard whereby women had to remain virginal before marriage and faithful inside it. On the other hand, a blind eye was turned if men had sex with more than one partner. One of women’s greatest victories was the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (CDAs). These Acts, the first of which had been passed in 1864, allowed police in a number of garrison towns and naval ports the right to arrest women suspected of being common prostitutes and require them to be medically examined for sexually transmitted diseases. If found infected, women could be detained for treatment. This, according to feminists, was unfair, because it blamed prostitutes for the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, not the men who used their services. Under the leadership of Josephine Butler, the Ladies’ National Association led a campaign to repeal these acts and eventually succeeded 22 years after they had been passed.

The success of this campaign prompted feminists to launch a crusade against the sexual exploitation of young girls. In 1885 they achieved a victory when the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which raised the age of sexual consent to 16, was passed. Feminists and others founded the National Vigilance Association to ensure that this act was put into practice and to promote equal high moral standards between the sexes. Edwardian feminists, such as Christabel Pankhurst, took up the social purity cause and demanded that men improve their moral code by remaining chaste outside marriage. Although feminists achieved a small victory in repealing CDAs, the campaign to raise moral standards can be considered to have failed miserably. Today sex before marriage is accepted by the majority of people living in Britain, a fact that would have dismayed these early reformers.

The Suffragettes and Sexual Morality

Until the work of feminist historians in the 1970’s, most history texts ignored the emphasis placed on sex and morality by the suffragists and suffragettes. The few historians who did mention it ridiculed the suffragettes. For instance, the suffragette slogan ‘Votes for Women and Chastity for Men‘ is seen as an amusing peculiarity by George Dangerfield in the 1930’s and Roger Fulford in the 1950’s and as an example of spinsterish eccentricity by Andrew Rosen in the 1970s. However, the relationship between sexuality and the vote has enjoyed a long history in the annals of women’s suffrage. Both the suffragists and the suffragettes placed women’s franchise within the wider context of sexual politics and took the question of sexuality very earnestly indeed. For some suffrage campaigners such as Millicent Fawcett and Christabel Pankhurst the vote was as much about improving men’s sexual morality as it was about improving women’s working conditions.

American Feminism Timeline

Courtesy of End-Hate

Feminism Timeline
1756 Lydia Chapin Taft voted in three New England town meetings, beginning in 1756, at Uxbridge, Massachusetts.
1776 Declaration of Independence. Men were not allowed to vote unless they owned property. By 1850 nearly all requirements to own property or pay taxes had been dropped. (Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (2nd ed. 2009) p 29)
1776 New Jersey gives the vote to women owning more than $250. (source) Other states and territories followed.
1800 “Suffrage: This term means the right to vote. The history of suffrage in the United States is about the removal of various limitations on voting for citizens. In the Colonial era church membership (in early New England) and property qualifications limited suffrage, and it was considered a privilege rather than a right, as it is today. Some colonies disfranchised males owning less than 50 acres in land, Jews, free blacks, Catholics, and dissenting Protestants until around 1700. It was not until after the American Revolution, however, that states began removing property qualifications on white males for voting. In 1800, five states allowed male taxpayers to vote for most offices. Still, over half the adult population was excluded from voting when the new nation moved into the nineteenth century: property-less men, women, the enslaved, most free blacks, apprentices, indentured laborers, felons, and those mentally incompetent.” (from The History of the Supreme Court)
1865 The American Civil War resulted in the deaths of an estimated 750,000 men (source) According to the 1860 Census, there were 13,849,087 white men and 13,115,843 white women in the United States and territories in 1860. (source) If the vast majority of men who fought in the Civil War were white then more than 5% of white American men died in the Civil War. In 1860 there were 733,244 more white men than white women in the United States. This suggests the entire excess of white men died in the Civil war.
1873 Founding of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), the oldest feminist organization. According to the WCTU website, “The WCTU was organized by women who were concerned about the destructive power of alcohol and the problems it was causing their families and society.” “The WCTU was very interested in a number of social reform issues, including labor, prostitution … The first president of the organization, Annie Wittenmyer, believed … that it should not put efforts into woman suffrage” (wikipedia) The WCTU’s second president, Frances Willard, perhaps the most famous feminist of the 19th Century, argued that women were “the superior sex” (wikipedia). “In the U.S., leaders of the feminist movement campaigned for the abolition of slavery and Temperance [prohibition of alcohol] prior to championing women’s rights.” (wikipedia) Suffrage (voting) was not a WCTU priority because, at the state level where American political power was concentrated, many women already had the right to vote.
1910 WCTU feminists successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Mann Act, prohibiting prostitution. Naturally, this did not stop women from marrying men with money and avoiding men without money.
1913 Congress passed the Sixteenth Amendment, giving federal government the power to collect income taxes and reflecting a gradual shift of political power from state governments (many of which allowed both men and women to vote) to the federal government.
1913 Congress passed the Seventeenth Amendment, removing the power of state legislatures to elect senators and reflecting further shift of political power from state governments (many of which allowed both men and women to vote) to the federal government. Note that the ability of women to vote at the federal level became more important as political power shifted from the states to the federal government.
1919 WCTU feminists successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Eighteenth Amendment, prohibiting alcohol. It was repealed in 1933.
1920 Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote. Since women already had the right to vote in many states, the main effect of this amendment was to allow women more influence over the relatively small federal government. The federal government at the time was a tiny fraction of its current size.
1947 “the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) voted to draft and promote a bill that would embody the ideal of no-fault divorce” and “The most prominent advocate of this position was feminist law professor Herma Hill Kay” (wikipedia)
1965 Voting extended to all adult citizens (except some felons) of the United States (Voting Rights Act of 1965)
1969 California becomes the first state to enact no-fault divorce. Other states follow.
2012 More than half of marriages now end in divorce and millions of children are deprived of the opportunity to know their own fathers.

Anti-Suffragette Postcards Posters & Cartoons

A collection of cartoons and posters mocking the suffragette campaigns for votes for women :

Suffragette Plain Things

suffragette plain things

Suffragettes Who Have Never Been Kissed c.1910 UK

suffragettes who have never been kissed

Origin and Development of a Suffragette


When Women Wear Pants, c.1915 USA

suffrage pants what will men wear

We Want the Vote 1910 UK

we want the vote

Woman’s Rights 1910 USA

anti suffrage womans rights

Did I Save My Country For This?


Flapper 1925 USA anti-feminist postcard

suffrage flapper

We Don’t Know What We Want But We’ll Get It

anti-suffrage post card

Anti-Suffrage postcard, unknown date


Nobody Loves Me

nobody loves me suffragette

Home for Lost, Stolen or Strayed Suffragettes

the suffragette girls I didn't marry

age of brass triumph of womans rights 1869

anti suffrage cartoon

chicken crow

suffragettes fun

house that man built

queen of the polls smaller

the suffragette i told you so

The Suffragette. “I told you so.” [Postcard]
Copyright 1909, by Walter Wellman

The poster reads:
“The Morning Suffragette Bulletin.
A New Era of Prosperity at Hand.
With the news that a suffragette has been elected as our next presidentess, several flatiron and rolling pin factories have resumed on full time.
It is stated that 10,000,000 faltirons have been ordered by the new War Department alone.”

anti suffrage postcard your valentine

Card reads:
“If you will only marry me you can have all woman’s rights
Such as staying up on evenings when I’m out late at nights
And should such things not satisfy the longings of your soul
You can wash up all the dishes and carry all the coal
As a really model husband I feel I’m bound to shine
So say that you take me to be Your Valentine”

A Procession of Suffragettes

a procession of suffragists

Suffragists On The War Path

suffragists on the war path

Suffragettes Attacking House of Commons

suffagettes attacking house of commons

Call of the Wild

call of the wild

The Wild Rose

the wild rose

What I Would Do With The Suffragists


David Futrelle – Child Torture Porn Apologist

The History of David Futrelle – Male Feminist and Child Rape Apologist (Trigger Warning)

David Futrelle

David Futrelle – trigger warning

David Futrelle began his career writing for a variety of liberal publications, penning articles that invested heavily…and I mean heavily…into denying the reality of the sexual abuse of children. As a statutory rape apologist and political paedophile of the most extreme and cackhanded variety he suggested that men who rape and impregnate underage kids shouldn’t go to jail, and in fact that their victims might be better served if they married them. He also implied that child prostitution should be legal and that feminists raised the age of consent from 12 to 16 through a prudish desire to ‘control the sexual behaviour of young girls’. Futrelle also argued that abuse victims need to accept responsibility for their abuse and that their innocence is always ‘exaggerated’. He even appeared to mock the idea that babies with AIDS are ‘innocent’. Perhaps worst of all, he attacked the police as morons for raiding a gay sex shop that was renting out a film containing the graphic depiction of the rape, torture, mutilation, forced shit eating, and murder of real and naked 14 and 15 year old boys (one of whom later killed himself).

Somewhat bizzarely, and extremely disturbingly, these writings – as well as describing a man’s fantasy of sexually assualting a boy in a bar as ‘tender’ and ‘erotic’ – led to him being given the role of CNN’s online tech investment guru. But David Futrelle still isn’t satisfied, and has decided to build a second career for himself as the next Michael Moore. Unfortunately, nobody has had the heart to tell David Futrelle that there simply isn’t room for another privileged, fat, sanctimonious, irony lacking left-wing fraud. So David soldiers on, trying to build his name by mocking the men’s rights movement. In this way, he vainly hopes to become as famous as Michael. And get laid by a feminist.

The very notion of men’s rights offends David Futrelle’s liberal and atheist principles of secular rationality…and the spirit fairies that talk to him in his sleep and give him and every other liberal progressive priviliaged access to the pantheistic politically correct moral truths of the universe. Divine truths that are so obvious that any heretical disbelievers must be punished by the law. One of the unquestionable truths that the spirit fairies revealed to David Futrelle was that a woman has a right to an abortion. David’s faith is so resolute that this is a divinely revealed truth that he appears to argue that anyone not pro-choice should be locked away for hate speech. He has also appeared to apply the same spirit fairy truths which justify aborting babies to toddlers and infants.

David Futrelle is following closely in the footsteps of the previously best known male online feminist blogger – Kyle Payne. Unfortunately, Kyle no longer blogs because he was sent to prison for filming himself assaulting an unconscious schoolgirl. Well that’s not entirely true…he only finally gave up his pro-feminist/anti-porn blogging when he was sent to prison for a second time – for downloading child pornography.

Whilst David Futrelle will always be just a fat Michael Moore wannabe, as the undisputed leading online male feminist who isn’t currently in prison serving time for rape and child porn offences, at least his militant manginaism looks like finally getting him laid. He has recently began organising ‘Man Boobz Meet-ups’, in which feminist readers of his blog, some of whom he proudly boasts are children, are invited to meet up with him for a…

See also : David Futrelle and his disturbing defence of a film that depicts the graphic abuse, rape, mutiliation, and murder of naked 14 year old children.

Kyle Payne Oh Sorry David Futrelle

This is What a Feminist Looks Like…in 1912

Images of the suffragettes reveal that early feminists looked much like their third wave modern variety – plain or downright ugly.  This will come as no surprise to those students of the history of feminism who understand that ‘the women’s movement’ has always been driven by the gradual (and sometimes sudden) loss of female sexual power since the Industrial Revolution, modern capitalism, and mass urbanisation.  The first wave of feminists were motivated by much the same thing as their 21st century counterparts – fighting against the fact that one is an unattractive loser in a free sexual market.  The vote was seen as merely a means of controlling male sexuality and social morals, and was a continuation of the Victorian ‘Social Purity Movement‘ that sought to abolish prositution and raise the age of consent.

In particular, the suffragettes were responding to the loosening of sexual morals brought about by Industrialisation and the move from the countryside to the city – social upheavals that brought in their wake such threats as prostitutes, later marrying ages for girls (and thus more available single girls), and more reliable and cheaper forms of male contraception (condoms).  Likewise, in our own age, feminists are taking ever greater control over governments and societies throughout the world because of globalisation and its many threats to female sexual power – from cheap Polish prostitutes to jailbait webcam teens stripping in their bedrooms.  In a free sexual market, ugly women are the greatest losers.  Feminism is the political process of forcibly transferring sexual power from the young and beautiful to the old and ugly (female).

american suffragette 1910

American suffragette 1910

emmeline pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst’s arrest

Sylvia Pankhurst

Social Purity Feminists

Lillian Forrester (vandalized portraits of beautiful women)

votes for women

Arrested suffragette

More arrested suffragette terrorists

Report on arrest of suffragette terrorists

Suffragette 1910

Suffragette 1913

Mary Lee

Sojourner Truth


A feminist has responded to these images, and my characterisation of the early feminists as being notable for their physcial ugliness by claiming that ‘everybody’ was unattractive back then.  Take a look at the following pictures of Edwardian stage actresses and early silent film stars of the 1910’s and 20’s, and see if you agree.

Maud Fealy

Mary Pickford

Mabel Normand

Louise Brooks

Lilian Gish

Julia James

Evelyn Laye

Unknown Edwardian stage actress

Dorothy Janis

Dorothy Janis

Clara Gordon Bow

Blanche Sweet

Mary Miles Minter


Medieval Women Took Part In And Led Violent Protests (and were treated more leniently when caught)

From the BBC :

Until now the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 is largely believed to have been led by a mob of rebel men, but new research shows women played an important role in orchestrating violence against the government.

Today people are used to the idea of women being in the military. Some are already pressing for the right to fight on the front line.

And women fighting as insurgents has been a fact of conflicts from Vietnam to Sri Lanka.

But there’s a growing feeling historians have overlooked their role in medieval rebellions like 1381’s Peasants Revolt.

On 14 June 1381, rebels dragged Lord Chancellor Simon of Sudbury from the Tower of London and brutally beheaded him. Outraged by his hated poll tax, the insurgents had stormed into London looking for him, plundering and burning buildings as they went.

It was the leader of the group who arrested Sudbury and dragged him to the chopping block, ordering that he be beheaded.

Her name was Johanna Ferrour.

So why have such violent women been apparently airbrushed from history?

So why are women like Ferrour largely hidden from popular history, yet charismatic rebel leaders such as the “mad priest” John Ball and Wat Tyler dominate in the history books?

Some historians now suggest that sexist attitudes permeated medieval history. By translating Latin court records, Sylvia Federico, Associate Professor of English at Bates College, was able to establish that women were often at the heart of the revolt.

From records held at the National Archives in Kew she discovered they did “almost everything” that men did – they incited crowds, chased their enemies and marched into London alongside the men.

“They were not shy to pick up staffs, sticks, and staves and wield them against perceived oppressors,” says Federico.

Although  the BBC article seems at pains to stress the ‘sexism’ that has led to female participation in mob violence being ignored, it only briefly mentions another type of familiar sexism :

But although women were at the heart of the violence and charged with many of the same crimes as men, Ridgard has found no records of women being executed, or punished as harshly.

A History of Feminism

Gerome pygmalion and GalateaFeminism exists as a defender of the selfish sexual and reproductive interests of aging and/or unattractive women. This is its entire raison d’etre, the reason it first came into existence with the social purity movement reformers of the 19th century, led by their harridan battle cry – ‘armed with the ballot the mothers of America will legislate morality’.

And legislate morality these pioneering feminists quickly did, even before they had won the vote. That is, they successfully lobbied for restrictions on prostitution, a rise in the age of consent from 12 to 16, or even 18, and the closing down of saloons where their husbands might mix freely with unattached young women.

To feminists, and indeed, to the vast majority of the female sex who give feminists the power to speak on their behalf, morality is little more than ensuring the reproductive and sexual interests of a post-peak fertility female who relies on heavy parental investment from a committed male partner. The extent of female desire for involvement in the political process is directly proportionate to the threat that women feel in a free sexual market.

And as that threat grows, so the ostensible power of feminism grows.

The history of feminism is the history of a female sexual trade union, growing in political power in exact correspondence with the steady loss of female sexual power caused by the continual widening of the sexual market. The opening up of the sex market, the ever increasing opportunities for men to gain access to cheap and anonymous sex, is the result of constantly emerging new technology, and itself completely out of the hands of feminists, or anybody else, to control or put a stop to.

Recently, W.F.Price at the Spearhead revealed that proto-feminists were lobbying the British government as far back as the 17th century when their sexual interests were seen as threatened by the emergence of male frequented coffee houses. This was a prelude to the social purity movements of the 19th century, described above, which feminist academics have always acknowledged as the birth pangs of the campaign for the vote.

But the vote was always seen as a means to the end of controlling male sexuality. Industrialisation had brought men out of the countryside and into the cities, working in close contact with women and girls in the new factories – girls who were no longer married off as soon as they reached puberty. Those same factories mass produced cheap condoms (bitterly opposed by feminists at the time), and men no longer had to fear syphilis – and could now enjoy the hundreds of thousands of prostitutes who flocked to the new cities to take their share of the working man’s growing income.

The suffragettes achieved the vote as a result of violence and of male Enlightenment thinking which saw women’s enfranchisement as a natural progression of other civil rights movements.

But in fact, women did not exercise their newly won franchise very differently then their husbands, and when they did vote differently, it was to vote in fascist dictatorships throughout Europe. It was not until the 1960′s, and the second wave of feminism, that women began voting significantly differently from men…

The 1960′s saw the beginning of possibly the most remarkable event in human history – the end of ‘patriarchy.’ Within the space of a generation, a social system that had endured in every corner of the globe throughout recorded history had more or less crumbled.

In every corner of the globe…except the Islamic world.

In his book The Decline of the Male, anthropologist Lionel Tiger identifies the introduction of the contraceptive pill as the trigger for this unparalleled social revolution, the ‘second wave of feminism.’ For Lionel Tiger, the pill shifted reproductive power from men to women, for men could no longer be sure as to the paternity of their offspring.

I don’t accept all of the details of Tiger’s thesis, but I agree wholeheartedly that the pill was a catalyst for the second wave of feminism

An unforeseen technological innovation had revolutionised sexual relations and, in a blind and uncontrollable way, had transformed society almost overnight.

According to most feminist thinkers (and many MRAs), the pill gave women power over men. I disagree. In fact, it was male sexuality that was liberated by the pill, and women – or at least older/unattractive women – were left dangerously exposed in the free sexual market that had suddenly been created.

Suddenly, women became active in politics. Suddenly, women demanded (and won) the right to university education, to a career, to easy divorce, to an abortion. Suddenly male politicians had to legislate according to the female vote.

The pill did not give women power over men.

The pill forced women to take power from men.

But, of course, this did not happen in the majority of Muslim societies. Under Islam, there is still no free sexual market, and thus unattractive Muslim women have no need for feminism.

The astonishing and sudden representation of women at all levels of government over the last decade may fairly be described as the Third Wave of Feminism. In just one or two decades, from having virtually zero representation in high government, the female sex has come to near dominate many of the leading democracies of the West, even in South America.

Alongside formal governmental representation, largely female dominated non-governmental pressure groups have suddenly come to hold massive sway over an increasingly powerful United Nations, as well as other international bodies such as the European Union.

Why has this astonishing Third Wave, no less extraordinary than the Second, suddenly come about? That this is the first generation of women raised as feminists no doubt has played a part but it cannot alone explain the sheer rapidity of change. Like the first and second waves of feminism, the third has been propelled by technological progress threatening the sexual interests of ordinary women.

The globalisation of society and of communications has threatened to further open up the free sexual market to an extent as great as the pill itself did.

Suddenly men had before them a whole new array of alternatives to a ‘real’ sexual relationship, from the cheap Polish hooker at the street corner, to the nubile young slut showing herself on cam from her bedroom half way across the world.

This was a brave new sexual world that an already politicised generation of middle-aged women could not tolerate for long…and certainly not entrust to men to control or put an end to.

The Future of Feminism

The future of feminism will be dictated by the same forces that have shaped its history – blind and largely uncontrollable economic and technological changes continuing to widen the free sexual market.

The further increase in mass global communications, advances in robotics, 3D and holographic porn, virtual sex, and the growing realism and popularity of male sex toys, are all rapidly coalescing into a perfect storm that will either achieve sexual and emotional independence for men…or a fourth wave of feminism even more terrible and damaging than the rest.

British Feminists Role in the Reform of Age of Consent Laws in Colonial India

From : The Legacy of Colonialism: Law and
Women’s Rights in India (Varsha Chitnis and Danaya Wright)

IV. Reforms in Age of Consent Law

One of the legal reforms in India that most clearly followed upon the efforts of British reformers was “age of consent” law—law governing the age at which adolescents can legally consent to sexual intercourse.  Nineteenth century age of consent laws in England and India arose in the context of prostitution and child marriage, respectively, which were social issues directly linked to Victorian notions of domesticity and sexual restraint. The different cultural contexts, however, show how a concept as simple as age of consent takes on multiple meanings when different groups are vying for control over sexuality and for the power to define the appropriate contours of the family.
In England, prostitution threatened the sanctity of the middle-class home and the Victorian wife’s hold on reproduction. In India, the child-bride, an upper-caste
phenomenon, brought colonial norms of sexual restraint and family structure into conflict with native claims over the right to define the private realm of the
family. In the end, however, British women cared most about age of consent, because both prostitution and the child-bride threatened their power to define
the parameters of sexual access.
In the summer of 1885, William T. Stead of the Pall Mall Gazette published an exposé on the foreign trafficking of women and the entrapment of children into prostitution—one of the most successful pieces of scandal
journalism published in nineteenth century Britain.  In The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, Snead recounted the purchase, for five pounds, of young rural virgins for sale to satisfy the lusts of the decadent aristocratic class.
Judith Walkowitz explains: The series had an electrifying effect on public opinion: []By the third
installment mobs were rioting at the Pall Mall Gazette offices . . . . An enormous public demonstration was held in Hyde Park (estimated at 250,000) to demand the passage of legislation raising the age of consent for girls from thirteen to sixteen. Reformers of all shades were represented on
the dozen or so demonstration platforms. For one brief moment, feminists and personal-rights advocates joined with Anglican bishops and socialists to protest the aristocratic corruption of young innocents.
The Maiden Tribute was inspired by Josephine Butler, who had been fighting the Contagious Diseases Acts, and Catherine Booth of the Salvation Army. Together they had been unsuccessful in getting Parliament to deal
constructively with prostitution.  In their reform pamphlets and rhetoric, they focused heavily on the sexual victimization of women, and they were uncomfortable with assertions of female sexual agency.  As Walkowitz
explains, “[s]hifting the cultural image of the prostitute to the innocent child victim encouraged new, more repressive, political initiatives over sex.”
Victorian reformers were consistently conflicted in their attitudes toward female sexuality, and The Maiden Tribute provided a broad cultural discourse in which to critique male sexual license, upper class privileges, and the failings
of an unresponsive Parliament without really addressing women’s sexual agency. The exposé mobilized the population behind the issues of “white
slavery” and aristocratic license in a way that reformers, lawmakers, and journalists could not have imagined before that summer.

Notably, the core of their concern was the male predator, generally the aristocratic male, whose
open access to working-class girls was a time-honored prerogative.  For many, prostitution was seen as a social disease caused by economic woes among the
rural peasantry who became vulnerable to the licentious decadence of the ruling elite.  The solution was to raise the age of consent for sexual intercourse from
thirteen to sixteen, to reduce the victimization of girls who were believed to have little or no control over their sexual conduct.
There can be no doubt that the uproar over The Maiden Tribute played a role in the reform movement in India to change the age of consent there as well. In 1891, an Age of Consent Bill was introduced to raise the age of consent from
ten to twelve.  The bill was spurred by the publication of a rather heinous case involving the death of a child-bride of ten or eleven who was killed by a brutal
sexual encounter with her thirty-five year old husband, another image of male sexual license run amok.  The Age of Consent Bill, however, created strong opposition from the native population because it ultimately interfered with the
rights of the native male over his wife.
Because the politics of colonial masculinity had constructed an autonomous sphere for indigenous masculinity—the private sphere of the home and family—colonial rulers were caught between the demands of native males
to keep out of the Indian home and the demands of British feminists to save Indian women. To counter the claim that they were interfering in the private realm of the Indian family, the colonial and reform authorities maintained that
the Age of Consent Bill was not about age of marriage, but rather about an age at which sexual intercourse is appropriate.  Supposedly, the colonial state was
not interfering in the autonomous Indian family but was, instead, protecting young girls from sexual acts that could be physically harmful.  But as the
indigenous populations quickly pointed out, sexual intercourse within marriage  is not rape. If the age of consent was raised without changing the age of
marriage, the state was introducing the possibility of marital rape within Indian families at a time when England itself did not recognize the crime.
It was not an accident that the debate over age of consent in India formed around the issue of marriage, while in England it formed around prostitution.  And clearly, the concern was not for the welfare of the child-bride in India as legislation against child marriage was not passed until 1929, nearly forty years later.  The issue that gripped the English imagination was aristocratic male
license, while the underlying issue in India was colonial interference in the sexual relations of a husband and his child-bride.
Age of consent arose in the context of prostitution in England because prostitution threatened efforts to curb sexual excess—a task taken on by Victorian wives, clergy, and middle-class men who equated sexual restraint
with moral and civil superiority. These groups generally linked social stability with domestic stability, which they defined as compliance with norms of sexual
restraint. Men and women were expected to postpone sexual intimacy until marriage and then to limit it to procreative purposes, overcoming their desires by channeling their energies into other arenas such as: work, church, or
charitable endeavors. Child marriage was not considered a problem because the vast majority of couples married in their twenties, and it was the Fleet marriage or elopement that captured the British imagination.  Arranged marriages, while not unheard of, were certainly criticized in the literature of the day.

It was the prostitute, however, that most threatened the English wife’s control over her husband’s sexuality.
Most English women accepted the sexual double standard and separate spheres, so marriage for them was not problematic. But everything about Indian child marriage was wrong to Victorian women and men. The brides were too young; the marriages were arranged without regard to the wishes of the woman; and her vulnerability made it unlikely that she would be able to stand up to her older husband if he should demand forced or unnatural sex acts.
While Victorians had their own issues with sexuality, pedophilia and rape crossed a line that most felt comfortable drawing, and the Indian child marriage looked an awful lot like both. In many ways, therefore, British men and women
simply wanted to protect these young girls from the same kind of sexual license they feared in The Maiden Tribute. But that was much more difficult when it came in the form of legitimate marriage and accepted socio-religious customs.
By raising the age of consent by a mere two years, from ten to twelve, the colonial authorities appeared to be taking action when, in reality, they did very little to protect young girls. But as with age of consent reforms in England, the
law ultimately forced a wedge into the absolute dominion of men over women by asserting that women should not be forced into marriage or sexual relations and should have some say in their domestic lives.
From the perspective of the colonial rulers, interference in Indian family and religious principles was to be avoided so long as those principles did not enrage the British public, as sati, child-brides, and polygamy did. They also
did not want widows or single women falling on the welfare of the parish or the state because women generally were to be under the dominion of a man. So, as far as the colonial rulers were concerned, they had little to gain and much to
lose by interfering too much in the Indian family and marriage. Similarly, native elites had much to gain by retaining control over the Indian family and
marriage, particularly by retaining control over women’s sexuality and property. Between these two groups of men, therefore, there was little incentive to upset the cultural norms, and it is not surprising, therefore, that it
took another forty years before child marriages were outlawed.
British feminists, on the other hand, were deeply concerned about the infection of the British family from diseased prostitutes and sexual promiscuity, controlled in part by the Contagious Diseases Acts and age of consent laws. In
order to maintain their own domestic control and status as moral superiors, they needed to enforce Victorian norms of the nuclear family and sexual restraint.
They focused on the prostitute at home because it was the prostitute who infected their husbands, who then brought the disease into the sanctity of their English homes. The threat of venereal disease was a constant image in the
feminist press of the Victorian period.

In India, however, the threat of sexual perversity pervaded marriage itself and gave rise to fears that male expectations about pedophilia and rape would make their way northward to threaten British marriages. The feminists focused in Britain on prostitution and in India on marriages because both threatened the Victorian marriage at home. While neither English men nor Indian men felt a great incentive to interfere with the regulation and examination of prostitutes under the Contagious Diseases Acts, the age of consent for sexual intercourse, or the age of marriage, these laws all threatened to weaken British women’s control over the family sphere and the moral boundaries of sexual behavior by infiltrating the sanctity of the British home.