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Editorial comment from The Argus Monday 28 September 1891 page 4


The Woman's Suffrage Bill will now in due course receive the attention of parliament. Several correspondents have recently advocated in our columns the claims of the softer sex to the franchise. And it may be said that they have given two reasons in support of their cause. The first is that some women are much better qualified to exercise the suffrage than many men, and the second is that certain laws with regard to the protection of women are imperfect. With regard to the first issue, judgment, it may be said, goes by default. Anyone with a moderate knowledge of the world can pick out women far superior in tact and knowledge and insight to the great mass of voters of today. Elizabeth was a great ruler: posterity will have something to say of Queen Victoria; it is held by many that Madame Mere was the ablest of the Bonapartes. But it need scarcely be said that the comparison suggested by our correspondents is by no means exact. We must compare like with like – pickled sample with pickled sample – bulk with bulk. History gives us women who, like the Countess of Derby and the lady of Branksome Castle, immortalised by Scott, could stoutly defend their lord’s possessions. Joan of Arc is not to be forgotten. In the Indian Mutiny almost the only display of military genius and dash was made by a woman, the Ranee of Jhansi, who was stricken down while personally leading in the field at Gwalior. It cannot be denied that there are women who display a capability for military affairs and a courage that puts the craven among men to shame, but the question arises, is it on that account to be alleged that women should be drafted into the regiments of the line? Or, because there are stalwart viragoes who could deal with half a dozen puny larrikins, are we to have women as policemen? Common-sense tells us that the sex is unfit for the army and for the police, and in the same way it can be alleged that the sex, as a whole, is not to-day capable of exercising the franchise with advantage to the community. Ten thousand voters can, no doubt, be picked out in Melbourne alone at any general election who may be described as loafers, vagabonds, and larrikins, and twenty thousand more may be selected who will be inexperienced men, utterly ignorant of life and its requirements. These are undesirable voters, no doubt. But who are their female companions, and what sort of voters would they make? Extend the franchise as proposed and it would be found that in the lowest depths there is a lower – a very much lower – still. Sex for sex, class for class, bulk for bulk, women are notoriously far less capable of exercising the franchise than men, and in these days we cannot afford to swamp the electorates with yet another mass of voters who are ignorant of the rudiments of politics. As to the alleged fact that the law for the protection of women is imperfect, the reply is that nearly all branches of the law are imperfect also, and probably no branch has received so much attention of late years as to that relating to the protection of the persons and the property of women. As a matter of course there are errors and omissions, but there is no reason to suppose that any necessary corrections will not be duly made. Even with women in Parliament all necessary reforms would not be effected in an hour. An indictment that English men are careless of the honour and the safety of the other sex could not be sustained, and would scarcely be put forward by many.

Strangely enough we hear but little of the American experience of woman as a politician. Readers of the American Notes of Dickens will be aware that there has always been a sporadic agitation about female suffrage. And experiments, it must be remembered, are easy in the vast American Republic. There are over forty states, and each state is entitled to adopt a franchise of its own, and it is claimed as one of the advantages of the system that it enables trials to be made, and the results to be noted. From time to time there have been experiments on a small scale in the American Union, with the results that today there is not a single state which has women's suffrage as a part of its constitution. The system is rejected by all as the results of such trials as have occurred. In a little territory named Wyoming, with 20,000 inhabitants, the women’s suffrage was recently carried against the wishes of both parties by an amusing bit of jockeying, which is described by Bryce, but it is evident the end will be the same in this territory as elsewhere. The "brazen hussies" went to the poll in the other instances, and respectable women kept away, and, as Bryce sufficiently indicates, this influence is already at work in Wyoming. Combinations of tee-totallers, vaccinationists, and other faddists have from time to time carried female suffrage bills in certain of the states of late years, but these laws (amending the constitution) have been rejected by the people by heavy majorities, and to-day, as we have said, female suffrage does not exist in any of the organised states, and consequently there is practical justification for the statement that the American experience is that the woman voter is a failure. There is an expression which Bryce says is commonly used, and which sums up the situation. Women can and do exercise great influence in politics in America. But it is indirect, and is in proportion to their ability and tact and knowledge. They are unfitted, by the very qualities that commend them to men, for the rough and tumble fight of the factions, and to precipitate them into it is to "brush the bloom off the flowers".

In Wyoming we are told women's suffrage was carried by the politicians resolving to leave the Governor to exercise his veto, and to thus offend the advocates of the cause. But the Governor declined to take any such action, much to the delight of the leaders, who had cleverly worked the arrangement. In this colony the Lower House has a similar way of dealing with measures that ought to be vetoed but which have a certain support behind them. It sends them to the Upper House to meet their fate there, the Council to bear the burden of any unpopularity. But in the instance under notice the Council will probably not be thus unfairly treated. The bill has the support of the faddists only: there is a robust common-sense opposed to it and, the majority being large and decided, the Assembly for once will be bold enough to brave the wrath of the minorities, and do its duty.



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