In love and marriage, particularly, woman will keep plighted troth more closely than man; there is no male equivalent of jilt, but the male does jilt on peculiar lines; while a woman who knows that her youth, her beauty are going must bring things to a head by jilting, the male is never in a hurry, for his attractions wane so very slowly. Why should he jilt the woman? make a stir? So he just goes on. In due course she tires and releases him, when he goes to another woman. That is jilting by inches, and as regards faithfulness a pledged woman is more difficult to win away than a pledged man. (To be just, it should be said that unfaithfulness is in the eyes of most men a small matter, in the eyes of most women a serious matter.) A pledged woman will remain faithful long after love has flown; the promise is a mystic bond; none but a tall flame can hide the ashes of the dead love. And so, when Shakespeare asserts,--
Frailty, thy name is woman,
he is delivering one of the hasty judgments that abound in his solemn romanticism.
This applies in realms divorced from love,--in questions of money, such as debts or bets. Women do run up milliners' bills, but men boast of never paying their tailors. And if sometimes women do not discharge the lost bet, it is largely because a tradition of protection and patronage has laid down that women need not pay their bets. Besides, women usually pay their losses, while several men have not yet discharged their debts of honor to me. It is a matter of honesty, and I think the criminal returns for the United States would produce the same evidence as those for England and Wales. In 1913 there were tried at Assizes for offences against property 1616 men and 1292 women. The records of Quarter Sessions and of the courts of Summary Jurisdiction yield the same result, an enormous majority of male offenders,--though there be more women than men in England and Wales! And yet in the face of such official figures, of the evidence of every employer, man cherishes a belief in woman's dishonesty! One reason, no doubt, is that woman's emotional nature leads her when she is criminal to criminality of an aggravated kind. She then justifies Pope's misogynist lines:
O woman, woman! When to ill thy mind Is bent, all hell contains no fouler fiend.
Most men, however, have abandoned the case against woman's dishonesty and confine themselves to describing her as a liar, forgetting that they generally dislike the truth when it comes from a woman's lips, and always when it reflects upon their own conduct. For centuries man has asked that woman should flatter, but also that she should tell the truth: such a confusion of demands leads the impartial mind to conclusion that vanity cannot be the monopoly of the female. But it is quite true that woman does not always cherish truth so well as man. The desire for truth is intellectual, not emotional. Truth is a cold bedfellow, as might be expected of one who rose from a well. And among women cases of disinterested lying are not uncommon. Here is Case 16: An elderly woman talked at length about not having received insurance papers, and made a great disturbance. It later appeared that she had not insured. On another occasion she informed the household that her son-in-law had been cabled to from South Africa to come and visit his dying mother. It was proved that no cable had been sent.
I have a number of cases of this kind but this is the most curious. I suspect that this sort of lying is traceable to a need for romance and drama in a colorless life. It springs from the wish to create a romantic atmosphere round one's self and to increase one's personal importance. Because men hold out hands less greedy toward drama and romance they are less afflicted, they do not entirely escape, and have all observed the new importance of the man whose brother has been photographed in a newspaper or, better still, killed in a railway accident. If he has been burned in a theatre the grief his male relatives is subtly tinged with excited delight. Romance, the wage of lies, is woman's compensation for a dull life.