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VIRTUE: WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT ISNíT BY TENNIE C. CLAFLIN

 

December 23, 1871

Woman Items

Philadelphia women protest against vivisection of animals by medical students. They don't want animals. They don't want animals tortured under the pretense of science.

Parkersburg (W. Va.) Times---"Mrs. Woodhull, whatever the prejudiced world may say, is a lady of high attainments, and her object in trying to elevate her sex is a laudable one. We emphatically disagree with her in regard to woman suffrage; we are opposed to it; but while differing with her in that respect, her strong advocacy for the suppression of social evils, and the development of purer marital relations, instead of being hooted down by too zealous and prejudiced ministers, are deserving of the warmest praise. Mrs. Woodhull is a remarkable lady, and the world will yet be indebted to her for throwing light upon many subjects heretofore not touched by men."

The Louisville Commercial dips into the Greek comedies and the Bible to prove that as there is nothing new under the sun, and as brave men lived before Agamemnon, so at some time or other there has been a woman like Victoria C. Woodhull. It may well be. We do not claim for her a monopoly of all intellect or goodness. She will be content if she can accomplish woman suffrage, and meanwhile we are obliged to the Commercial for its kind and appreciative notice.

Virtue: What it Is and What It Isn't by Tennie C. Claflin

Words have different and sometimes contradictory meanings. They have different meanings in different ages or stages of development of the people by whom they are designed or used....Notably does this happen in respect to the words free and virtue, as applied to men and to women. A free man is a noble being; a free woman is a contemptible being; a drab, a harlot, what you will. Freedom for a man is emancipation from degrading conditions which prevent the expansion of his soul into godlike grandeur and nobility, which it is assumed is his natural tendency in freedom. Freedom for a woman is, on the contrary, escape from those necessary restraining conditions which prevent the sinking of her soul into degradation and vice, which it is, all unconsciously, assumed is her natural tendency......

Insulting as this estimate is to our sex, it is the basis on which the whole question of social freedom is argued by the outside world. It is naively and continually assumed that if social restraints were removed all women, the mothers and sisters and wives and daughters of our virtuous male citizens, would immediately and incontinently go to the bad; in plain words, turn out strumpets and disgrace everybody connected with them....It never seems to occur to either party [male or female] that the true woman's soul would expand into a higher purity, in freedom, just as we recognize that the manly soul is exalted by the possession of that same precious boon; and that absolute freedom is even more essential to the birth and growth of a true womanhood than it is for the development of a true manhood....

In the same striking way the two uses of the word virtue tell the same sad tale of the popular estimate of the character of the two sexes......Virtue, as applied to men, has risen to a higher degree of significance, and now means moral goodness; or a general conformity of the whole life to high moral ideas and purposes. But applied to woman it is confined to a narrow and insulting specialty. It means that woman has never been approached in a special way by a man; and nothing but just that. Apart from that question the woman may have all the nobler qualities of her sex, be a pattern of generosity, inspiration, religious emotionality even, and she is not virtuous and never can become so; but if she is "sound on the goose," she may be a virago, a thief even, a fiend or a hag, but "she is perfectly virtuous," the thing that "is praised above rubies."

All this is simply damnable. It is degrading, insulting mockery, to define female virtue in this way; or n any way different from a man's virtue.....This slavery to opinion must be abolished, women must vindicate their right to an absolute freedom and their own conduct, except that they have no right to encroach on others.....We cannot render the terms libertine and rake as opprobrious as men have made "strumpet" and "whore." Let us then resort to the opposite tactics and take the sting out of these bad words by not shrinking from any imputation whatever. The world enslaves our sex by the mere fear of an epithet; and just so long as it can throw any vile term at us, which we cower before, it can maintain our enslavement. It is not free love alone, but every epithet intended to degrade, that woman must grow strong enough to defy before she will be free.....

If the terrible epithets with which the world stabs the reputation and tortures and murders the souls of women were even justly distributed, according to the world's own idea of justice, it would be some mitigation; but it is notorious that women in society who really offend most against the conventional idea of virtue often go through life unscathed, and with acceptance everywhere, and the reputation in a sort of Pickwickian sense of being immaculate, and that others who never dreamed of offending are branded and expelled.

Women must, therefore, be their own defenders; and what I recommend is to blunt the weapons of calumny by a complete indifference, where the strength can be summoned for such a course, to what the world says, one way or the other. Let your motto be, "My mind to me a kingdom is." Satisfy your own ideal of right, propriety and purity, and defy Mrs. Grundy to do her prettiest.

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Webmaster's Note: Except for some headings, these are actual extracts from the Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly. Some spelling and punctuation has been changed. If an article was too long, some sentences were removed. Sentences or paragraphs that have been removed are indicated with the ellipsis (....)