The Mind of Woman


THERE is something very mournful in the labors of those scientists who have devoted their lives to the study of the brain weight of men, women and races on the assumption that there is a direct ratio between intelligence and the bulk of the brain. It would be about as valid to assume that a vessel of water and a vessel of lye of the same weight have the same potency, or that timepieces of the same weight are necessarily equally good timekeepers.

Great men may have great brains, or they may not. Turgenieff holds the record at 2,012 grams, while the brain of Gambetta, who was a greater man in popular estimation and popular achievement, weighed only 1,160 or only 160 grams above the point at which, according to the calculations of French anthropologists, idiocy begins. In a series of 500 brains the lowest and highest will, in fact, differ as much as 650 grams in weight, but there will be found no constant relation between the weight and the intelligence.

Various Brains in Various Bodies

The brain is so largely concerned with moving the body that large bodies require large brains, but their possessors are not on that account more intelligent. Tall men have usually large brains, but the old church worthy Thomas Fuller remarked that "the cock-loft of very tall men is usually empty." A human grade of intelligence is, of course, necessary to human work, and this is not usually present if the brain falls below 1,000 grams in weight. Particularly endowed brains also unquestionably do unusual forms of work, as in the case of musicians and mathematical prodigies, but this particular endowment is not necessarily associated either with great brain weight or with great all-around intelligence. Musicians are among the most unintelligent of the professional classes, and mathematical prodigies (that is, "lightning calculators") are in other respects usually near the class of idiots -- their whole output is mathematics.

The eminence of Gambetta was more an eminence of the emotions than of the intelligence; that is, it emanated rather from they abdominal zone than from the brain. It is also true that immortal fame, or at least substantial accomplishment and a place in the biographical dictionaries, is rather more frequently associated with a persistent and dogged assertion of the will than with extraordinary mental brilliance.

That low man seeks a little thing to do.
Sees it and does it.
This high man with a great thing to pursue
Dies ere he knows it.

It is significant, indeed, that men of small stature, weak health, and even physical affliction, have, if anything, more than an ordinary chance of becoming famous. Their attention is limited and they are stimulated to win out in spite of their handicap. Pasteur is a clear case of a truly great man. He was paralyzed on one side from 1868 until his death in 1895, but, as Berthollet says, it was after he was stricken that his inventive genius perhaps shone most brightly. Herbert Spencer, Darwin and von Hartmann hardly had a well day in their working lives. Pope was so feeble that he could hardly draw on his own stockings. Napoleon was of small- stature and of weak health and physique.

The Brains of Woman<

From this standpoint it is idle to argue whether women have less brain weight than men in proportion to their body weight, or to notice that other argument against the intellectual possibilities of women -- that the functions of motherhood and the periodic organic disturbances characteristic of their sex constitute them perpetual invalids.

It is undoubtedly true that modern progress -- our science and inventions and art, our philosophical, religious and political systems -- are mainly the accomplishments of the white man, but in estimating the degree of intelligence which lies back of these accomplishments we usually fall into two errors: first that man is superior to women in these lines because of inborn psychological peculiarities,

( 147) and, second, that he is for the same reason superior to what we call the lower races. Now I have no doubt that the mental life of men and women is colored, so to speak, by the fact of sex. The greater abdominal zone of woman and the consequent difference in blood pressure is alone a fact quite sufficient to make it safe to say that no man has ever fully understood the mental constitution of a woman. And I am not prepared to deny that in some particular regions, like West Africa, the average grade of mind may have been forced slightly below the normal by the operation of an extraordinary environment. But the fact remains that there is no type of mental activity in which the average member of any race or either sex cannot become proficient with practice. The white man has entered a region of experience, interest and practice into which woman and the lower races have not followed him. But he is not a superior creature; he is merely a specialist. He has attained an admirable skill along his line and is regarded as prodigiously intelligent, while in fact he has merely acquired that facility with which, for instance, an expert chessman moves the pieces or the man of letters reads the printed page or the manuscript, though badly defaced or ill written; and specialized skill either in these regions or in mathematics, logic or mechanical invention should not be confused with extraordinary capacity.

The Mental Inferiority of Woman Explained

And the real causes of the mental inferiority of woman and the lower races are so much alike that I must first point out, as briefly as I can, the nature of the backwardness of the lower races in order to understand better the backwardness of woman.

Comparatively speaking, all whites are highly specialized. Even reading, writing and arithmetic are high accomplishments, and the white child who has missed them has failed of an intelligent career. He does not exactly remain a savage, because he is living in a civilized world which floats him above the level of savagery. But what we normally do with the child is worth pondering in this connection. Beginning in infancy we attempt to hand over to him not only the experience and feeling of his own family and community, but the accumulated wisdom of historical time. And this is done not only in the home but continued in schools where specialists, followed perhaps by still more eminent specialists, give him the data of science, teach him the method of handling them, limit his attention finally to a very narrow field, and even set his problems for him, until after say twenty-five years of apprenticeship he is pronounced ready to begin life. The dissertation required in connection with the doctorate in our universities is really taken as a demonstration that, under careful coaching by a master, the candidate has done a small piece of thinking of a civilized grade. I do not even mean to claim that the schools produce the most intelligent men. The occupational and competitive organization of our society produces an intelligence rivaling that of the schools, but the schools represent how serious and elaborate is our attempt to redeem the child from savagery. But for all this, our system is not completely effective. If the stream of socializing and intellectualizing influences does not strike the child with full force, if our attention to him is not incessant and wise, and the copies we present are not stimulating, he escapes and becomes a criminal, a tramp or a sport; and even if transformed into an incarnation of civilization, he periodically breaks away from the network of social habit and goes a-fishing.

Moreover mental expressions are always relative to the state of knowledge in society. You cannot have a high state of mind in a low state of society. A mathematician, psychologist or physicist who wrote a general treatise on his science a hundred years ago must necessarily have written a very poor treatise from the standpoint of to-day. Sir Henry Savile, one of the most eminent mathematicians of his day, who died in the same year as Shakespeare, closed his career as a professor at Oxford with the words:

"By the grace of God, gentlemen hearers, I have performed my promise. I have redeemed my pledge. I have explained, according to my ability, the definitions, postulates axioms, and the first eight propositions of the Elements of Euclid. Here, sinking under the weight of years, I lay down my art and my instruments. "

When tribes like the Veddahs, the Bushmen and the Australians, are found with no names for numbers beyond two, five or ten, we set this lack down confidently to a lack of intelligence, whereas it is really due, like the relatively defective knowledge of Savile, to the state of society and of the science. The mind is nothing but a device for manipulating the outside world, and the directions of attention and the simplicity or complexity of mental processes depend on the character of the external situation which the mind has to manipulate. If the activities are simple, the mind is simple; and if the activities were nil, the mind would be nil. Number, time and space conceptions and systems become more complex

( 148) and accurate, not as the human mind grows in capacity, but as activities become more varied and call for more extended and accurate systems of notation and measurement. The low tribes mentioned have little property, little trade and little to count; therefore they have not developed a counting system. But wherever, as in some regions of Polynesia, a people develops a trade which requires the enumeration of say 500,000 cocoanuts, it develops also a numeral system on that scale. Still more significant is the fact that " the cannibal Maoris in a single generation have acquired all the characteristics of a white civilized race except the power to resist disease, " and that, during one year under white instruction, a school of aborigines made a better record than any white school in Australia. To the case of Japan I need not refer. She has even broken some of our records.

Importance of Stimulating the Intellect

The fundamental explanation of the difference in the mental life of two groups is not that the capacity of the brain to work is different, but that the attention is not in the two cases stimulated along the same lines. Wherever society furnishes copies and stimulations of a certain kind, a body of knowledge and a technique, practically all its members are able to work on the plan and scale in vogue there, and members of an alien race who become acquainted in a real sense with the system can work under it. But when society does not furnish the stimulations, or when it has preconceptions hostile to certain lines of thought, then the individual shows no intelligence in these lines. This may be illustrated in the fields of scientific and artistic interest. Among the Hebrews a religious inhibition --" thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image " -- was sufficient to prevent anything like the sculpture of the Greeks; and the doctrine of the resurrection of the body in the early Christian Church, and the teaching that man was made in the image of God, formed an almost insuperable obstacle to the study of human anatomy.

What we call the upper stages of barbarism are as complex as our own civilization, and perhaps show as much intelligence, only it is not directed along the scientific lines which distinguish us. Other ideals have become so dominant that there is even a profound contempt for science. The Mohammedan attitude toward scientific interest is represented by the following extracts from a letter from an Oriental official to a Western inquirer, printed by Sir Austen Henry Layard:


The thing that you ask of me is both difficult and useless. Although I have passed all my days in this place, I have- neither counted the houses nor inquired into the number of the inhabitants, and as to what: one person loads on his mules and the other stows away in the bottom of his ship, that is no business of mine. But above all, as to the previous history of this city, God only knows the amount of dirt and. confusion that the infidels may have eaten before the coming of the sword of Islam. It were unprofitable for us to inquire into it. . . . Listen, O my son ! There is no wisdom equal to the belief in God! He created the world, and shall we liken ourselves unto him in seeking to penetrate into the mysteries of his creation? Shall we say, Behold this star spinneth ! round that star, and this other star with a tail goeth and cometh in so many years ? Let it go. He from whose hand it came will guide and direct it. . . Thou art learned in the things I care not for, and as i for that which thou hast seen, I spit upon it. Will much knowledge create thee a double belly, or wilt thou seek paradise with shine eyes ?

The meek in spirit,

Nor does the actual contemporaneous superiority of the white argue necessarily superior mental power. It is a notorious fact that the course of human history has been largely without prevision or direction. Things have drifted and forces have arisen. Under these conditions an unusual incident -- the emergence of a great mind or a forcible personality, or the operation of influences as subtle as those which determine fashions in dress -- may establish] social habits and copies which will give a distinct character to the modes of attention and mental life of the group. We got our religion from a Semitic people, and our logic, mathematics and art and our scientific and philosophical interest from the Greeks, just as the Japanese are getting them from us. Medieval attention was diverted from scientific interest by a religious movement, and we lost for a time the key to progress and got clean away from the Greek copies, but found them again and took a fresh start with the revival of Greek learning. It is quite possible to make a fetish of classical learning, but Sir Henry Maine's remark, " Nothing moves in the modern world that is not Greek in its original," is quite just.

The differences in mental expression between the lower and the higher races can thud be expressed for the most part in terms of attention and practice, due to the development of different habits by groups occupying different regions, and consequently having no copies in common. In the case of woman, certain organic conditions and historical incidents have inclosed her in habits which she neither can no, will fracture and have also set up in the mind of man an attitude toward her which renders her

( 149) almost as alien to man's interests and practices as if she were spatially and historically separated from him. She exists in the white man's world of practical and scientific activity, but is excluded from full participation in it.

Man Did Not Design to Injure Woman

Looking at this situation historically, we find that one of the most important facts standing out in a comparison of the physical traits of men and women is that man is a more specialized instrument for motion, quicker on his feet, with a longer reach, and fitted for bursts of energy. His most immediate, most fascinating and most remunerative interest consequently became the pursuit of game. This pursuit stimulated him to the invention of devices for killing and capture and the aptitude for invention was later extended to the invention of tools and mechanical devices in general and finally developed into a settled habit of scientific interest. Stated in another way, this means that woman could not have the varied life and roving experiences, the stress and strain which man encountered, because she could not leave her children; and indeed her less facility of motion is connected with her organic adaptation to the bearing of children. Her activities were therefore limited to the development of plant life, to weaving and pottery and handling the products of the chase. Thus so simple a matter as relatively unrestricted motion on the part of man and relatively restricted motion on the part of woman determined the occupations of each and these occupations in turn created the characteristic mental life of each. At this point woman was already becoming the mental inferior of man, not on account of inherent psychological defect; but through her seclusion and limited experience, just as the European peasant in his seclusion becomes dull in comparison with the scientist in his more varied world.

Early man had no design of being hard toward woman. Then as now he simply gave her interests no particular thought. He had acquired the habit of accomplishing things, and he employed animals, slaves and women as he now employs machinery, steam and electricity. This left him only the more stimulating work and the oversight; in other words, the more mental part of the work. At first he was not precisely romantic about woman, in the modern sense, but he was jealous and that is the main ingredient of romanticism. As fast as possible he withdrew the women over whom he had control from other men and this resulted in their still more radical seclusion. In some parts of the world, as New Ireland, girls were actually kept in covered cages between the ages of about seven and fourteen, excluded from light, conversation and the outside world. The harem system of the East is a mitigation of this, and the chaperonage of Europe is a further mitigation, but they are all of a piece, and under such conditions of seclusion and inexperience the mind can no more grow wise than the hand can grow cunning without practice. But inexperience is what man has desired.

What the Mind of Woman is Like

Some years ago an eminent German scientist, Professor Carl Vogt of the University of Geneva, attempted to show us what the mind of woman was like, but really showed us the ravages which the continental system of chaperonage can work on her natural powers. He writes:

" At the lectures the young women are models of attention and application. perhaps they even make too great effort to carry home in black and white what they have heard. They generally sit in the front seats, because they register early, and, moreover, because they come early, long before the lecture begins. But it is noticeable that they give only a superficial glance at the preparations which the professor passes around. sometimes they pass them to their neighbor without even looking at them; a longer examination would prevent their taking notes.

" On examination the conduct of the young women is the same as during the lectures. They know better than the young men. To employ a classroom expression, they are enormously crammed. Their memory is good, so that they know perfectly how to give the answer to the question which is put. But generally they stop there. An indirect question makes them lose the thread. As soon as the examiner appeals to individual reason, the examination is over; they do not answer. The examiner seeks to make the sense of the question clearer, and uses a word, perhaps, which is in the manuscript of the student when, pop! the thing goes as if you had pressed an electrical button. If the examination consisted solely in written or oral replies to questions on subjects which have been treated in the lectures or which could be read up in the manuals, the ladies would always secure brilliant results. But alas! there are other practical tests in which the candidate finds herself face to face with reality, and that she cannot meet successfully unless she has done practical work in the laboratories and it is there that the shoe pinches.

"The respect in which laboratory work is particularly difficult to women -- one would hardly believe it -- is that they are often very awkward and clumsy with their hands. The assistants in the laboratories are unanimous in their complaint they are pursued with questions about the most trifling things, and one woman gives them more trouble than three men. One would think the delicate fingers of these young women adapted especially to microscopic work, to the manipulation of small slides, to cutting thin sections, to making the most delicate preparations, the truth is quite the contrary. You can tell the table of a woman at a glance

(150) from the fragments of glass, broken instruments, the broken scalpels, the spoiled preparations. There are doubtless exceptions, but they are exceptions. "

A Woman's Good Memory

Geneva was among the first European universities to admit women and it is interesting to note their first efforts in connection with the higher learning. Like all persons unprepared for constructive thinking, they fell back on the memory. But this does not mean, as is frequently alleged and is implied in Professor Vogt's report, that women are distinguished by good memories and poor powers of generalization. A tenacious memory is characteristic of women and children and of all persons unskilled in the manipulation of varied experience in thought. But when the mind is able at any moment to construct a result from the raw materials of experience, the memory loses something of its tenacity and absoluteness. In this sense it may even be said that a good memory for details is a sign of an untrained or imitative mind. As the mind becomes more inventive, the memory is less concerned with the details of knowledge, and more with the knowledge of places to find the details when they are needed in any special problem.

The awkwardness in manual manipulation shown by these girls is also surely due to lack of practice. At an early age the boy begins to practice on the outside world with his hand and eye, and while he is throwing, cutting, hammering, calculating distance and playing competitive games the girl is sitting at home in a pretty frock. But in activities not requiring great strength and speed the boy is not superior. The fastest typewritist in the world is to-day a woman; the record for roping steers (a feat where the horse does the heavy work) is held by a woman; and any one who will watch girls making change before the pneumatic tubes in the great department stores about Christmas time will experience the same wonder one feels on first seeing a professional gambler shuffling cards.

Vogt wrote forty years ago and whatever the limitations of the American university woman of to- day may be, nobody could possibly write these things about her. The personal liberty of women is, comparatively speaking. so great in America, suggestion and copies for Imitation are spread broadcast so copiously in the schools, newspapers, books and lectures, and occupations and interests are becoming so varied, that a number of women of natural ability and character are realizing some definite aim in a perfect way. But these are sporadic cases representing usually some definite interest rather in their nature and rarity the elevation of a] peasant to a position of eminence in Europe. Nowhere in the world do women as a class lead a perfectly free intellectual life in common] with the men of the group, unless it be in restricted and artificial groups like the modern revolutionary party in Russia.


Even in America few of the great schools are coeducational and in those which are so many of the instructors claim that they do not find it possible to treat with the men and women on precisely the same basis, both because of their own mental attitude toward mixed classes and the inability of the women to receive such treatment. Men and women still form two distinct classes and are not in free communication with each other. Not only are women unable and unwilling to be communicated with directly, unconventionally and truly on many subjects but men are unwilling to talk to them. I do not have in mind situations involving questions of propriety or delicacy alone, but a certain habit of restraint, originating doubtless in matters relating to sex, extends to all intercourse with women, with the result that they are not really admitted to the intellectual world of men; and there is not only a reluctance on the part of men to admit them, but a reluctance -- or rather a real inability - on their part to enter. Modesty with reference to personal habits has become so ingrained and habitual and to do anything freely is so foreign to woman that even free thought is almost of the nature of an immodesty in her There is even a phrase that a "woman who thinks is as disgusting as a man who paints."

The woman who undertakes to do man's work to- day undertakes to compete with professionals and has about the same relation to man that the amateur has to the professional in games. She may be desperately interested. and may work to the limit of endurance, but she got into the game late, has not had a life-! time of practice and does not have the advantage of that pace gained only by competing incessantly with players of the very first rank No one will contend that the amateur in billiards has a nervous organization less fitted to the game than the professional; it is admitted that the difference lies in the constant practice of the professional, the more exacting standards prevailing in the professional ranks and constant play in " fast company. " A group of women would make a sorry spectacle in competition with a set of men who made billiards their

( 151)life work. But how sad a spectacle the eminent philosophers of the world would make the same competition!

Superiority of a French Peasant Woman

I have referred to the dulness of the peasant but after all it is perhaps in peasant life that we find the clearest expression of the truth that all classes of society and both sexes contain minds as bright as their individual surroundings will permit. Among all social classes women of tremendous will, wit, energy, endurance and sagacity occasionally appear. But this type is more frequent among the peasant class, because the women are less secluded, less surrounded by romantic tradition and lead more the life of men. And particularly a widowed woman of this class is likely to be forced to reveal her natural powers. Take this case of a French peasant woman. She presents an interesting contrast with the Parisienne, as we think of her, and with the adventitious American product described in the latter part of the passage:

"Mother was a large, stout, full-blooded woman of great strength. She could not read or write and yet she was well thought of. There are all sorts of educations, and though reading and writing are very well in their way, they would not have done mother any good. She had the sort of education that was needed in her work. Nobody knew more about raising vegetables ducks, chickens and pigeons than she did. There were some among the neighbors who could read and write and so thought themselves above mother, but when they went to market they found their mistake. Her peas, beans, cauliflower, cabbages, pumpkins, melons, potatoes, beets and onions sold for the highest price of any, and that ought to show whose education
was the best, because it is the highest education that produces the finest work

' Mother used to take me frequently to the market. . . . The market women were a big, rough, fat, jolly set, who did not know what sickness was, and it might have been well for me if I had stayed among them and grown up like mother. One time in the market-place I saw a totally different set of women. It was about eight o'clock in the morning, when some people began to shout: 'Here come the rich Americans! Now we will sell things. We saw a large party of travelers coming through the crowd. They looked very queer. Their clothes seemed queer, as they were so different from ours. They wore leather boots instead of wooden shoes, and they all looked weak and pale. The women were tall and thin, like bean-poles and their shoulders were stooped and narrow; most of them wore glasses or spectacles, showing that their eyes were weak. The corners of their mouths were all pulled down, and their faces were crossed and criss-crossed with lines and wrinkles, as though they were carrying all the care of the world. Our women all began to laugh and dance and shout at the strangers. ... The sight of these people gave me my first idea of America' I heard that the women there never worked, laced themselves too tightly, and were always ill.

Why the Peasant, the Savage and the in Woman Stand Outside

Intellectual life and particular expressions of intelligence are beyond the reach of far the larger part of humanity because the larger part of humanity lives in a commonplace world. The world of scientific interest is limited to the white race, to a small portion of the men of the white race, and is of recent historical origin. The peasant, the savage, woman, and the poor man are outside this world simply because they are not taught to know and manipulate the materials of knowledge. The savage is outside the process for geographical reasons; the peasant is not in the center of interest; the poor man's necessities do not permit of any but immediate and practical activities, and woman does not participate because it is not necessary and not " womanly. " The whole of Christendom was at one time barred from this world because of the conception that scientific interest conflicted with the scheme of things as revealed by God and was impious. Even today the Greek and Roman churches are almost hostile to inquiry and their adherents make only sporadic contributions to knowledge. Of the three great divisions of Christians, only the Protestants are conspicuously scientific. Our peasant woman labors under the double handicap of being a peasant and a woman, either of which would doom her brilliant natural powers to scientific barrenness.

The world to-day is in reality a white man's world and no women enter it in the fullest sense. They are not excluded from it in precisely the same ways as the lower races. It is a more honorific exclusion but along some lines it is even a more complete exclusion, for they do not vote. I do not mean that what I have called the white man's world is the best possible of worlds. In some respects it is a horribly imperfect and ill-conducted world -- a world which men would even spare their women from entering. But it is a world which provokes and compels more varied and specialized expressions of the mind than the protected and restricted world in which woman lives. Nor is it any longer a world in which great strength and ability to travel fast count in getting experience. We can bring our experiences to us by the use of postage stamps, or reach them by the use of the common carriers. But to enter this world in the fullest sense means to be in it at every moment from the time of birth to the time of death, and to absorb it consciously and unconsciously as a child absorbs language. If woman and the lower races choose to enter it, or are allowed to enter it, in this sense there is

(152) no type of work in it which they cannot perform. There are in fact only certain forms work which are possible to any human mind, and they are possible to all normal minds. Whether this or that race or sex performs this work most signally is a matter of individual variation and of specialization, and not of race or sex.


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