The More Self-Conscious Sex


A RECENT criticism by a cynical friend of mine upon the Contributors’ Club, to the effect that its tone is becoming entirely feminized, has driven me to the sources, and I beg to present herewith the results of my investigation.

I have just read one hundred and thirty contributions to the Club, covering the past two years or more in the honorable life of the Atlantic Monthly, and here is what I have found : Of these one hundred and thirty essays, fourteen are avowedly by women, and seven avowedly by men ; which leaves an overwhelming majority of one hundred and nine cases where it is impossible to be sure. However, one may always guess, and I would hazard the opinion that of the remaining one hundred and nine, seven were probably written by women.

These figures would seem to disprove the belief of my cynical friend effectively enough, but his comment appears to me to have some bearing after all. For it is evident from my statistics that women are just twice as willing to proclaim their sex as men are. And more than this, I find from a study of the character of these revelations, that women do it with far less provocation. Of the seven men who have unmistakably disclosed themselves, only one did so without its having a direct bearing upon his subject. That one merely made a cheerful but irrelevant allusion to his enjoyment of a “ quiet pipe ; ” but as I cannot believe that any lady-contributor to the Atlantic smokes a pipe, I have set him down for an unusually confidential male.

But out of the fourteen women who take the trouble to declare themselves as such, only three had any good reason for telling. The rest go out of their way to avow, one that her eyes and nose become red after weeping, a second that she wears a wrap and not a coat, another that her conscience addresses her as “ Madam.” One admits that she is a “ weak sister,” and one arrogant soul evidently holds in derision the old rule of the grammars that where the gender is unstated “ he ” may be regarded as of common gender ; for in her generalizations the indefinite “ one” is always followed by “ she ” or “ her ” ! One says she is a “ woman,” another that she is a “ conscientious woman,” and a third daring spirit owns to being a “ middle-aged woman ” !

Verily, times are changed since the days when women adventured, trembling, on the high seas of literature, flying the protecting pennant of a masculine nom de plume. The modern woman is so afraid she may be taken for a man, that when denied the privilege of signing the convincing “ Mary Ann ” at the bottom of the page, she will put her instincts in her pocket and make the most damaging admissions rather than leave room for any delusions on this score.

What, then, shall be the conclusions ? For one thing, certainly, that women are not really so anxious to be men as they are always giving us to believe. For, like Rosalind in her doublet and hose, when given an admirable chance for masquerade, they are forever playing with their secret, and are bound to disclose it sooner or later.

But perhaps these confidences are the result of the realistic taste of the hour, which declares that whatever chances to be true is also pertinent. Or perhaps it is a new aspect of feminine vanity. Or does it mean merely that women are bound to be personal anyway (the inevitable masculine conclusion) ? Or (and this would be an excellent joke on me, one which no one but the discreet editor can perpetrate) may it be that that large remnant of one hundred and two noncommittal contributors whom I have guessed to be men merely because they do not sound conspicuously like women, are women after all, who by virtue of their numbers and their reticence at once overturn my theory and establish the theory of my friend the cynic who inspired my researches ?

Anyway, in order to put one more bolt in my argument, and swell the list of self-revealed women to fifteen, I will make a damaging admission myself ; for I do not mind saying, under the friendly cover of anonymity which the Club extends to every comer, that I have been hitting myself with every word I have herein set down.