1999 August 14: Less and less dull all the time

Mark Twain wrote the following in Following the Equator, published 102 years ago. A century is not such a long time; I find it interesting what has and hasn't changed.

In New Zealand women have the right to vote for members of the legislature, but they cannot be members themselves. The law extending the suffrage to them went into effect in 1893. The population of Christchurch (census of 1891) was 31,454. The first election under the law was held in November of that year. Number of men who voted, 6,313; number of women, 5,989. These figures ought to convince us that women are not as indifferent about politics as some people would have us believe. In New Zealand as a whole, the estimated adult female population was 139,915; of these, 109,461 qualified and registered their names on the rolls -- 78.23 per cent. of the whole. Of these, 90,290 went to the polls and voted -- 85.18 per cent. Do men ever turn out better than that -- in America or elsewhere? Here is a remark to the other sex's credit, too -- I take it from the official report:

`A feature of the election was the orderliness and sobriety of the people. Women were in no way molested.'

At home, a standing argument against woman suffrage has always been that women could not go to the polls without being insulted. The arguments against woman suffrage have always take the easy form of prophecy. The prophets have been prophesying ever since the women's rights movement began in 1848 -- and in forty-seven years they have never scored a hit.

Men ought to begin to feel a sort of respect for their mothers and wives and sisters by this time. The women deserve a change of attitude like that, for they have wrought well. In forty-seven years they have swept an imposingly large number of unfair laws from the statute books of America. In that brief time these serfs have set themselves free -- essentially. Men could not have done so much for themselves in that time without bloodshed -- at least they never have; and that is argument that they didn't know how. The women have accomplished a peaceful revolution, and a very beneficent one; and yet that has not convinced the average man that they are intelligent, and have courage and energy and perseverance and fortitude. It takes much to convince the average man of anything; and perhaps nothing can ever make him realize that he is the average woman's inferior -- yet in several important details the evidences seems to show that that is what he is. Man has ruled the human race from the beginning -- but he should remember that up to the middle of the present century it was a dull world, and ignorant and stupid; but it is not such a dull world now, and is growing less and less dull all the time. This is woman's opportunity -- she has had none before. I wonder where man will be in another forty-seven years?

In the New Zealand law occurs this: `The word person wherever it occurs throughout the Act includes woman.'

That is promotion, you see. By that enlargement of the word, the matron with the garnered wisdom and experience of fifty years becomes at one jump the political equal of her callow kid of twenty-one. The white population of the colony is 626,000, the Maori population is 42,000. The whites elect seventy members of the House of Representatives, the Maoris four. The Maori women vote for their four members.

-- Mark Twain, Following the Equator,
1897, Chapter XXXII

And that's all he has to say on the matter.

The ``average man'' has perhaps not quite caught up to Mr. Clemens.

Note added 99/08/17: I checked some dates. New Zealand was actually the first country in the world to give women's suffrage a real shot, so the above should be read in way of a response to an unprecedented experiment. (Canada didn't follow until 1918, and the US in 1920.)

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