Notes on the Intelligence of Woman

Case 16

Case 16 told me that my mind did not 'functionalize' properly. And gave me as an authority for the statement Aristotle, before whom, of course, I bow.

A singular and suggestive fact is that woman generally displays pitiless logic when she is dealing with things that she knows well. An expert housekeeper, is the type, and there are no lapses in her argument with a tradesman. It is a platitude to mention the business capacity of the Frenchwoman, and many women are expert in the investment of money, in the administration of detail, in hospital management, in the rotation of servants' holidays (which, in large households, is most complex). It would appear that woman is unconcentrated and inconsequent only where she has not been properly educated; and this has a profound bearing on her future development. There is a growing class, of which Mrs. Fawcett, Mrs. Havelock Ellis, the Countess of W wick, Miss Jane Addams, are typical who have bent their minds upon intellectual problems; women like Miss Emma Goldman; like Miss Mary McArthur, whose grasp of industrial questions is as good as any man's. They differ profoundly from the average feminine literary artist, who is almost invariably unable to write of anything except love. I can think of only modern exception, Miss Amber Reeves; among her seniors, Mrs. Humphry Ward is the most notable exception but not quite notable enough.

This tendency is, I believe, entirely due to woman's having always been divorced from business and politics, to her having been until recently encouraged to delight in small material possessions, while discouraged from focusing on anything non-material except religion, and from considering general ideas. Particularly as regards general ideas woman has lived in a bad atmosphere. The French king who said to his queen, 'Madam, we have taken you to give us children and not to give us advice,' was blowing a chill breath upon the tender shoot of woman's intelligence. Neither he nor other men wished women to conceive general ideas: women became incapable of conceiving or understanding them. Thence sprang generalization, the tendency in woman to make sweeping statements, such as 'All men are deceivers,' or 'Men can do what they like in the world,' or 'Men cannot feel as women do.' It is not that they dislike general questions, but that they have been thrust back from general questions, so that they cannot hold them. Here is a case:--

Case 2

With the object of entertaining an elderly lady, who is an invalid, I explain, in response to her own request, the case that Germany makes for having declared war. She asks one or two questions, and then suddenly interrupts me to ask what I have been doing with myself lately in the evenings.

This is a case of interest in the particular as opposed to the general. It is an instance of what I want to show, that woman drifts toward the particular because she has been driven away from the general. To concentrate too long upon the general is to her merely fatiguing. Doubtless because of this, many middle-aged women become exceedingly dull to men. So long as they are young all is well, for few men care what folly issues from rosy lips. But once the lips are no longer rosy, then man fails to find the companion he needs, because companionship, as differentiated from love, can rest only on mental sympathy. Middle-aged man is often dull too; while the middle-aged woman may concern herself over-much with the indigestion of her pet dog, the middle-aged man is often unduly moved by his own indigestion. But, broadly speaking, a greater percentage of middle-aged and elderly men than of such women are interested in political and philosophical questions.

These men are often dull for another reason: they are more conventional. The reader may differ from me, but I believe that woman is much less conventional than man. She does all the conventional things and attacks other women savagely for breaches of convention. But you will generally find that where a man may with impunity break a convention he will not do so, while, if secrecy is guaranteed, a woman will please herself first and repent only if necessary. It follows that a man is conventional because he respects convention; woman conventional because she is afraid of what may happen if she does not obey convention. I submit that this shows a greater degree of conventionality in man. The typical Englishman of the world, wrecked on a desert island, would get into his evening clothes as long as his shirts lasted; I do not think his wife, alone in such circumstances, would wear a low-cut dress to take her meal of cocoanuts, even if her frock did up in front.

It is this unconventionality that precipitates woman into the so-called new movements in art or philosophy. She reacts against what is, seeking a new freedom; even if she is only seeking a new excitement, a new color a new god, unconsciously she seeks a more liberal atmosphere, while man is nearly always contented with the atmosphere that is. When he rebels, his tendency is to destroy the old sanctuary, hers to build a new sanctuary. That is a form of idealism,--not a very high idealism, for woman seldom strains toward the impossible. In literature I cannot call to mind that woman has ever conceived a Utopia such as those imagined by Bellamy, Samuel Butler, William Morris, and H. G. Wells. The only woman who voiced ideas of this kind was Mary Wollestonecraft, and her views were hardly utopian. Nothings, such as Utopias, have been always too airy for woman. The heroes in the novels she has written, until recently and with one or two exceptions, such as some of the heroes of George Eliot,--are either stagey or sweet. Mr. Rochester is stagey, Grandcourt is stagey, while the hero of 'Under Two Flags' is merely Turkish Delight.


A quality which singularly contrasts with woman's vague idealism is the accuracy she displays in business. This is due to her being fundamentally inaccurate. It is not the accurate people who are always accurate; it is the inaccurate people on their guard. [note: I have observed for two years the steady growth in the accuracy of the work of Case 38, due to her having concentrated upon her instinctive inaccuracy. --The Author] Woman's interest in the particular predisposes her to the exact, for accuracy may be defined as a continuous interest in the particular. I suspect that it indicates a probability that by education, and especially encouragement, woman may develop a far higher degree of concentration than she has hitherto done. In her way stands a fatal facility, that of grasping ideas before they are half-expressed. It is a quality of imagination, natural rather than induced. Any schoolteacher will confirm the statement that in a mixed class, aged 11 to 12, the essays of the girls are better than those of the boys. This is not so in a mixed university. I suspect that this latter is quite as much due to the academic judgment, which does not recognize imagination, as to the fact that the later years of their lives the energies of girls are diverted from intellectual concentration (and also expression), toward the artistic and the social. This untrained concentration produces a certain superficiality and an impetuousness which harmonize with the intrusion of side issues,--to which I have referred,--and with the burgeoning side issues on the general idea.

Presented by

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In