Notes on the Intelligence of Woman


Men have been found to deny woman intellect; they have credited her with instinct, with intuition, with a capacity to correlate cause and effect much as a dog connects its collar with a walk. But intellect in its broadest sense, the capacity consecutively to plan and steadfastly to execute, they have often denied her. They have gone further, I seem to remember that in the Middle Ages an ecumenical council denied her a soul. I forget the result, but it never occurred to the council to discuss whether man had a soul, possibly because its members were all men.

The days are not now so dark. Woman has a place in the state, a place under, but still a place. Man has recognized her value without coming to understand her much better, and so we are faced with a paradox: while man accords woman an improved social position he continues to describe her as illogical, petty, jealous, vain, untruthful, disloyal to her own sex; quite as frequently he charges her with being over-loyal to her own sex: there is no pleasing him. Also he discerns in this unsatisfactory creature extreme unselfishness, purity, capacity for self-sacrifice. It seems that the intelligence of woman cannot solve the problem of woman, which is a bad sign in a superior intelligence. The trouble lies in this: man assumes too readily that woman essentially differs from man. Hardly a man has lived who did not so exaggerate. Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, agreed to despise women; Napoleon seemed to view them as engines of pleasure; for Shakespeare they may well have embodied a romantic ideal, qualified by sportive wantonness. In Walter Scott, women appear as romance in a cheap edition; Byron in their regard is a beast of prey, Doctor Johnson a pompous brute and a puritanical sensualist. Cervantes mixed in his romantic outlook a sort of suspicious hatred, while Alexandre Dumas thought them born only to lay laurel wreaths and orange blossoms (together with coronets) on the heads of musketeers. All, all--from Thackeray, who never laid his hand upon a woman save in the way of patronage, to Goethe, to Dante, to Montaigne, to Wellington--all harbored this curious idea: in one way or another woman differs from man. And to-day, whether we read Mr. Bernard Shaw, Mr. George Moore, M. Paul Bourget, or Mr. Hall Caine, we find that there still persists a belief in Byron's lines:--

What a strange thing is man! And what a stranger
Is woman!

Almost every man, except the professional Lovelace (and he knows nothing), believes in the mystery of woman. I do not. For men are also mysterious to women; women are quite as puzzled by our stupidity as by our subtlety. I do not believe that there is either a male or a female mystery; there is only the mystery of mankind. There are today differences between the female intellect; we have to ask ourselves whether they are absolute or only apparent, or whether they are absolute but removable by education arid time, assuming this to be desirable. I believe that these differences are superficial, temporary, traceable to hereditary and local influences. I believe that they will not endure forever, that they will tend to vanish as environment is modified, as old suggestions cease to be made.

This leads us to consider present idiosyncrasies in woman as a sex, her apparently low and apparently high impulses, her exaltations, and, in the light of her achievements, her future. I do not want to generalize hastily. The subject is too complex and too obscure for me to venture so to do, and I would ask my readers to remember throughout this article that I am not laying down the law, but trying only to arrive at the greatest possible frequency of truth. This is a short research of tendencies. There are human tendencies, such as belief in a divine spirit, painting pictures, making war, composing songs. Are there any special female tendencies? Given that we glimpse what distinguishes man from the beast, is there anything that distinguishes woman from man? In the small space at my disposal I cannot pretend to deal extensively with the topic. One reason is the difficulty of securing true evidence. Questions addressed to women do not always yield the truth; nor do questions addressed to men; for a desire to please, vanity, modesty, interfere. But the same question addressed to a woman may, according to circumstances, be sincerely answered in four ways,--

1. Truthfully, with a defensive touch, if she is alone with another woman.

2. With intent to cause male rivalry if she is with two men.

3. With false modesty and seductive evasiveness if she is with one man and one woman.

4. With a clear intention to repel or attract if she is with a man alone.

And there are variations of these four cases! A man investigating woman's points of view often finds the response more emotional than intellectual. Owing to the system under which we live, where man is a valuable prey, woman has contracted the habit of trying to attract. Even aggressive insolence on her part may conceal the desire to attract by exasperating. These notes must, therefore, be taken only as hints and the reader may be interested to know that they are based on the observation of 65 women, subdivided as follows: Intimate acquaintance, 5; adequate acquaintance, 19; slight acquaintance, 41; married, 39; status uncertain, 8; celibate, 18. Ages, 17 to 68 (average age, about 35).


It is most difficult to deduce the quality of woman's intellect from her conduct, because her impulses are frequently obscured by her policy. The physical circumstances of her life predispose her to an interest in sex more dominant than is the case with man. As intellect flies out through the window when emotion comes in at the door this is a source of complications. The intervention of love is a difficulty, for love, though blind, is unfortunately not dumb, and habitually uses speech for the concealment of truth. It does this with the best of intentions, and the best of intentions generally yield the worst of results. It should be said that sheer intellect is very seldom displayed by man. Intellect is the ideal skeleton of a man's mental power. It may be defined as an aspiration toward material advantage, absolute truth, or achievement, combined with a capacity for taking steps toward successful achievement or attaining truth. From this point of view such men as Napoleon, Machiavelli, Epictetus, Leo XIII, Bismarck, Voltaire, Anatole France, are typical intellectuals. They are not perfect: all, so far as we can tell, are tainted with moral feeling or emotion,--a frailty which probably explains why there has never been a British or American intellectual of the first rank. Huxley, Spencer, Darwin, Cromwell, all alike suffered grievously from good intentions. The British and American mind has long been honeycombed with moral impulse at any rate since the Reformation; it is very much what the German mind was up to the middle of the nineteenth century. Intellect, as I conceive it, is seeing life sanely and seeing it whole, without much pity, without love; seeing life as separate from man, whose pains and delights are only phenomena; seeing love as a reaction to certain stimuli.

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