Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
A Difference in Kind
By Louisa Susanna Cheves McCord (18101879)
[Born in Charleston, S. C., 1810. Died there. The Southern Quarterly Review. 1852.]
WE are ourselves inclined to believe that the difference of intellect in the sexes exists, as we have said, rather in kind than degree. There is much talk of the difference of education and rearing bestowed upon individuals of either sex, and we think too much stress is laid upon it. Education, no doubt, influences the intellect in each individual case; but it is as logically certain, that intellect, in its kind and degree, influences education en masse;that is to say, Thomas, the individual man, may be better suited to womans duties, than Betty, the individual woman, and vice versa. Thomas might make a capital childs nurse, in which Betty succeeds but badly; while Betty might be quite competent to beat Thomas hollow in a stump oration; and yet we have a fair right to argue that Thomas and Betty are but individual exceptions to a general rule, which general rule is plainly indicated by the universal practice of mankind. The fact that such relative positions of the sexes, and such habits of mind, have existed, more or less modified, in all ages of the world, and under all systems of government, goes far to prove that these are the impulses of instinct and teachings of Nature. It is certainly a little hard on Mrs. Betty to be forced from occupations for which she feels herself particularly well-qualified, and to make way for Mr. Thomas, who, although particularly ill-qualified for them, will be certain to assert his right; but laws cannot be made for exceptional cases, and if Mrs. Betty has good sense, as well as talent, she will let the former curb the latter; she will teach her woman-intellect to curb her man intellect, and will make herself the stronger woman thereby. The fact that less effort has been made to teach woman certain things is a strong argument that she has (taking her as a class) less aptitude for being taught those certain things. It is difficult to chain down mind by any habit or any teaching, and if womans intellect has the same turn as mans, it is most unlikely that so many myriads should have passed away and made no sign. In the field of literature, how many women have enjoyed all the advantages which men can command, and yet how very few have distinguished themselves; and how far behind are even those few from the great and burning lights of letters! Who ever hopes to see a woman Shakespeare? And yet a greater than Shakespeare may she be. It may be doubtful whether the brilliant intellect, which, inspiring noble thoughts, leaves still the great thinker grovelling in the lowest vices and slave of his passions, without the self-command to keep them in sway, is superior to that which, knowing good and evil, grasps almost instinctively at the first. Such, in its uncorrupted nature, is womans intellectsuch her inspiration. While man writes, she does; while he imagines the hero-soul, she is often performing its task; while he is painting she is acting. The heart, it is sometimes argued, and not the brain, is the priceless pearl of womanhood, the oracular jewel, the Urim and Thummim before which gross man can only inquire and adore. This is fancy, and not reasoning. The heart is known to be only a part of our anatomical system, regulating the currents of the blood, and nothing more. It has, by an allegory based upon exploded error, been allowed to stand for a certain class of feelings which everybody now knows to be, equally with other classes, dependent upon the brain; and, in a serious argument, not the heart and the brain, but the difference of brain; not the feeling and the intellect, but the varieties of intellect, should be discussed. We consider, therefore, the question of preëminence as simply idle. We have already endeavored to prove that, whatever the intellect of woman, it would have no influence in altering the relative position of the sexes; we now go farther, and maintain that the nature of her intellect confirms this position. The higher her intellect, the better is she suited to fulfil that heaviest task of life which makes her the martyr to the pang without the palm. If she suffers,what is this but the fate of every higher grade of humanity, which rises in suffering as it rises in dignity? for, is not all intellect suffering?