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n 1861 John Stuart Mill wrote his famous argument for female equality entitled "The Subjection of Women." Here Mill argued, using impervious logic and convincing rhetoric, that in Great Britain's legal system women were enslaved. In Mill's telling, the forced subservience of women to men originated ages ago when brute force translated into power and law. Mill concludes that in England's liberal and modern society such a relic exists in direct opposition to the intellectual concepts of freedom, liberty and individual rights, so important to the English Constitution and spirit. According to Mill the legal condition of women must be revised in order for the nation to remain healthy. One of the most important developments in recent history, Mill claims, is the "revolution" whereby companionate marriage has become the norm. This change means that men and women spend much of their lives together as part of a family rather than in homosocial groups outside of the domestic space. Such closeness, again, argues for the equality of women legally and socially for, to be truly intimate, husband and wife must be equal.

Another aspect of Mill's polemic has specific political relevance: that as mothers and teachers women should be educated and expected to engage with national issues; the condition of women reflects the condition of the nation writ large. This line of argument reemerges in Mill's introduction of female suffrage to the House of Commons. On May 20, 1867 he professed to fellow MPs:

...the time is now come when, unless women are raised to the level of men, men will be pulled down to theirs. The women of a man's family are either a stimulus and a support to his highest aspirations, or a drag upon them. You may keep them ignorant of politics, but you cannot prevent them from concerning themselves with the least respectable part of politics--its personalities....(Hansard, 822)

Mill goes on to invert the rhetoric used by most Victorian males to impede women's entrance into the public sphere. This language traditionally espoused the maintenance of English masculinity and revealed male fear of personal and national feminization. Playing on such insecurities Mill proclaimed: are afraid of manly women; but those who have considered the nature and power of social influences well know, that unless there are manly women, there will no longer be manly men. When men and women are really companions, if women are frivolous, men will be frivolous ...the two sexes must now rise or sink together. (822-823)

Though he composed it in 1861, Mill did not publish The Subjection of Women until 1869, after he had participated in the first Parliamentary debates concerning female suffrage. While the House of Commons was debating the bill known as the Representation of the People Bill, which would lead to the Reform Bill of 1867, John Stuart Mill sat in the House as MP from Westminster. With an awareness of the unacceptable position of women, Mill, on May 20, 1867, suggested that the bill's clause which read "man" be changed to "person." As soon as Mill announced his intentions, in late March of the same year, the issue received immediate attention in periodicals like Punch. By examining the arguments, language and pictorial images employed by this popular publication to dismiss the necessity of female suffrage, as well as Mill's arguments, we begin to better understand the way in which mid-Victorian middle-class men conceptualized gender issues and, consequently, why women weren't enfranchised until over fifty years later. Between March 30, 1867 and June of the same year, Punch ran three short pieces which, considered together, outline what types of women were pro-suffrage and what type was against such legislation. In addition, there were two political cartoons addressing female enfranchisement and one "lecture" was printed whereby women were dismissed as incapable of exercising the vote. Let us briefly examine these various texts to better understand Punch's stance on this controversial issue.

"Womanhood Suffrage"
Punch printed this scene in the March 30, 1867 issue. It centers around a conversation between one Professor Podgers and a Dr. Harriet Brown. Over a smoke they discuss the issue of female enfranchisement with Dr. Harriet Brown arguing for women's suffrage and employing what the professor refers to as "a bit of Mill's logic." Most likely it is not coincidental that the doctor's first name is Harriet, just like Harriet Taylor who became John Stuart Mill's wife in 1851 and wrote a number of articles with him on female equality. Like Mill, Dr. Harriet forwards the arguments that women are taxed and, therefore deserve representation, that women are not necessarily represented by their husband and, finally, that women are quite capable of intelligently exercising the vote. Podgers, on the other hand, points out that women are not like men in that they are "exempt from civic duties." Further, according to the Professor, only a minority of women are truly capable of being leaders themselves. Podgers eventually asks the important question: "Who but women could represent women?" This question is asked in Parliament as well; many MPs feared that opening the vote to women would lead to women running for election and succeeding. Dr. Harriet does not know how to reply. Instead she suggests that women have a separate house that must be considered whenever issues pertaining to women arise.

In this discussion, the woman is depicted as manly; she has her own pipe, she is articulate and open to reconsidering her position on women's suffrage. We must remember, however, that she is highly educated and therefore a rarity herself. Still, in the end she proposes a somewhat ridiculous solution to the problem, that women have a separate house. Not only does such a suggestion invalidate her supposed intelligence, but it also emphasizes the differences between men and women; even an educated, pro-suffrage woman cannot envision women sitting in Parliament with men. Accordingly, throughout Punch's dealings with this issue we see an insistence on women and men maintaining their natural (and different) qualities and inhabiting separate spaces. Though not totally unattractive, this pro-suffrage Englishwoman is masculine and slightly unrealistic. Similarly, her ideas so closely mirror Mill's that we have to wonder if the piece is not merely an attack on that Westminster MP. Regardless of whether Mill's ideas are being equated with the feminine or he is being accused of being the puppet of Harriet Taylor, the connotations of this scene are not positive.

"Shall Lovely Woman Vote?"
We encounter the next work outlining the type of woman who covets the vote in the May 4, 1867 issue of Punch. In the form of a letter from a supposedly "lovely" lady, Sophonisba Smith, to Mr. Punch, this work openly debases women. The text is riddled with coy and superficial language. Similarly, the continual use of italicized words draws attention to the overtly dramatic and false tone of the author. Even the first line evidences the shallowness of the author: "Dear Mr. Punch at least I really do not know if I ought to call you a dear for I have not been introduced to you...." The letter writer scolds Mr. Punch for not following Mr. Mill's chivalrous suit and backing this "glorious crusade" for women's enfranchisement. Throughout the letter the author makes constant recourse to her cousin Charley, from whom she gets all her information on politics and most else. Clearly she does not have her own knowledge of or opinions on political topics. As the correspondence draws to a close, Sophonisba (whose name closely resembles "sophisma" or fallacy in Latin) openly admits that women might be bribed by promises of gifts or "guided by appearances" when casting their votes.

Overall, the pro-suffrage female figures here as immature, uninformed and grossly superficial. Still, even Sophonisba doesn't agree with Mr. Mill's desire to "call the ladies 'persons' in Lord Derby's Reform Bill." She insists it is a misprint, no "gentleman would dream of using such coarse language when speaking of a woman." It seems that, regardless of whether referring to women as people is appropriate, there is nothing wrong (at least in the eyes of Punch's editor and contributor) in overtly mocking lovely, supercilious women. This, according to Punch, is acceptable because the majority of respectable Englishwomen do not resemble Sophonisba Smith.

"A Certain 'Person' to Mr. Mill"
This second letter, written to Mr. Mill by Judy--Mr. Punch's female counterpart--occurs in June 1, 1867 issue of Punch the last to deal with this phase of female suffrage efforts. Polite, articulate and assertive, this female character thanks Mr. Mill for his well-intentioned efforts at securing the vote for women. Having done this, Judy goes on to say that she would rather not be enfranchised. On the contrary, she is content to continue wielding power from behind-the-scenes. She asks "Why should we wish to exercise power through the franchise, when we are already omnipotent over those who have the franchise?" This argument, that women exercise a power more influential than any found in mere enfranchisement, was a common one. Not only does it resist change but it also reinforces the notion that women and men are inherently different, inhabit separate spheres and have different methods of maintaining power. Yet even in this instance, the female character is extreme. Partly in the nature of Punch's comic flavor, this exaggeration still borders on the mocking. Judy draws women's influence as so unconditional that we can't help but question its truth while suspecting that in this depiction Judy borders on the self-delusional. She even alludes to Mill's relationship with Harriet Taylor, inquiring whether or not Mill too isn't ruled by one "by whose will you are content to play the chameleon...." Such suggestions motion toward Mill's potential status as puppet, or representative of a select few "ladies." In the end, she calls Mill "a poor creature, for all your logic." Clearly, the power held by women exists outside this logical (and thus rational) framework, it is pre-ordained and natural, again; the stereotypical qualities of the "feminine" get reaffirmed.

"Mill's Logic; or, Franchise for Females"
This cartoon occurred in the same issue of Punch as the piece entitled "Woman's Suffrage." In fact, it is on the facing page. The picture centers around John Stuart Mill as the spatial hinge within the drawing and the figurative hinge of this debate. Here he acts as initiator; with his arm extended behind him and the other arm gently pushing a John Bull character aside, Mr. Mill leads the ladies to the polls. Though well-dressed and of respectable features, Mill is incredibly petite. All other characters in this cartoon, aside from the small old woman in the far left, are considerably taller than Mill.

Meanwhile, the women's physical characteristics are also important. The featured ladies look like old spinsters. The two in the front are unattractive and older while the younger woman, to Mill's immediate right, is attractive but haughty. The women scattered in the background all share the same generic features, all have pretty and gentle expressions. These faces are the most attractive and female readers (or male readers thinking about their wives, sisters and daughters) would probably read themselves into these less active characters. Unlike the other three women and Mill, some of the women in the back are looking away from the polls--clearly their attention is elsewhere.

Another important feature of this cartoon is the election sign on the left wall of the poll building. We cannot decipher what it says beyond "Vote for..." Yet there is a woman underneath it looking away from the poll. Clearly we are to read this image as "Vote for a woman." Such a suggestion gestures toward the potential outcome of allowing females the vote: female Members of Parliament and the feminization of the national identity. Connected to this is the response of the two male voters John Stuart Mill is pushing aside. One, a John Bull-like character, looks annoyed, while the other just stands there, his mouth gaping open. Clearly, there is no open embracing of these new voting citizens, neither on the part of the fictitious male voters nor the real, and influential, creators of Punch.

"The Ladies' Advocate"
This cartoon is the final response found in Punch that deals head on with this first debate involving female suffrage. Printed in the June 1, 1867 issue, eleven days after Mill's motion was defeated in the House of Commons by a majority of 123, "The Ladies' Advocate" depicts John Stuart Mill and Mrs. John Bull. Mrs. John Bull, looking well-fed and well-dressed, represents the general prosperity of England. A proper English matron, she tries to comfort Mill, exclaiming: "'Lor, Mr. Mill! what a lovely speech you did make. I do declare I hadn't the slightest notion we were such miserable creatures. No one can say it was your fault that the case broke down.'"

Once again, Mill is being treated with a certain amount of respect; for the most part his peers wrote off his adamance surrounding women's enfranchisement as "political economy" gone astray, as, in the words of MP Mr. Karslake, "the hon. Member for Westminster would do well if he imported into this sort of question not so much political economy, and a little more common sense" (Hansard 832). Yet he is drawn as small in stature, perhaps as much as a whole foot shorter than Mrs. Bull. Furthermore, she looks as if she is about to coddle him, like he is a small nephew she hasn't seen for a few months. Again, her gesture toward Mill makes his serious expression, and reverent offering of the document labeled "womanhood suffrage" somewhat ridiculous. Finally, Mr. Mill has his eyes closed, echoing Judy's question in "A Certain 'Person' to Mr. Mill": "When will logic open your eyes to the fact that, like the Constitutional Sovereign, 'La femme regne et ne gouverne pas." Again, Mill's efforts are dismissed as being misplaced and as having introduced to women a sense of dissatisfaction which they would not have arrived at on their own.

"The Enfranchisement of Persons"
One theme alluded to throughout both the written and pictorial pieces in Punch which deal with the issue of female suffrage, is the question of whether it is appropriate to label women "persons." It was criticized by pro-suffrage women, like Sophonisba Smith, as well as more upright and articulate women like the anti-suffrage Judy. This work, entitled "The Enfranchisement of Persons," supposedly written by one Professor Barnowl, most clearly outlines Punch's stance on the issue. Within the lecture, the stereotypes of women as emotional, illogical and inherently different from men emerge in full force.

From the outset, Professor Barnowl asserts that the criteria for enfranchisement is reason and, according to him, very few women possess such faculties. Instead "The ordinary woman is actuated by instinct--sentimental instinct, but still instinct." He goes on to claim that women are ruled by that unreliable organ, the heart, and, for that reason as well, are not fit to vote for Members of Parliament. From that argument the Professor proceeds to call forth more traditional tactics used throughout the century when debating against women's capabilities. If women are so able to think and succeed why have so few been great geniuses, Mozarts, Donizettis, even chefs? Unlike Mill, this author is unable to see where women's socialization and formal education (or lack thereof) might have resulted in a shortage of "geniuses."

This essay serves as an appropriate end piece because it reestablishes the definitions of men and women as separate and different. Unable to move beyond a binary method of conceptualizing gender, the author of this work cannot consider calling women "persons"; such a revision would open up the space for massive amounts of change and a reevaluation of the oppositional framework employed by Victorians to understand, among other things, gender roles and relations.

After exploring how Punch casts the debate surrounding female suffrage, I have concluded that the most problematic facet of Mill's suggestions, in both his support of women's equality under the law and later in The Subjection of Women, was his refutation of the notion that men and women figure as opposites with the "masculine" connotating intellect, culture, abstract, profound thinking, and individualism and the "feminine" involving emotion, nature, superficiality and self-abnegation. According to Mill, qualities considered to be naturally feminine only seemed natural because there was nothing to compare them to:
Standing on the ground of common sense and the constitution of the human mind, I deny that any one knows, or can know, the nature of the two sexes, as long as they have only been seen in their present relation to one another....What is now called the nature of women is an eminently artificial thing--the result of forced repression in some directions, unnatural stimulation in others. It may be asserted without scruple, that no other class of dependents have had their character so entirely distorted from its natural proportions by their relation with their masters...( Subjection 22)

Here Mill challenges the binaries central to Victorian thinking and western patriarchal culture more generally. For this reason, above all others, Mill's arguments did not succeed in convincing a majority of fellow MPs or English society at large. Within the House of Commons, as Mill rightly observed, "every one who has attempted to argue at all [with Mill's suggestion], has argued against something which is not before the House..." (Hansard 842). Similarly, in the pages of Punch we do not see any reasonable arguments against female enfranchisement. On the contrary, an emphasis is placed on the insistence that women are women rather than persons as Mill's revision to the Representation of the People Bill of 1867 suggested. This seemingly trivial differentiation is actually quite revealing; in transferring the debate from the issue of women's qualifications as voters (Mill's emphasis) to the question of "what defines a woman," periodicals like Punch ensured against the passage of female suffrage while drawing attention to the real anxiety impeding such legislative change. For in asking "what defines a women" one opens up space for a challenging of the binary framework distinguishing between the "masculine" and the "feminine." Victorians feared such a challenge. This fear centered around English identity, both on the personal and public levels. For to call into question the validity of categories like masculine/male and feminine/female would be to challenge the conceptual tools Victorian used, and, arguably, Western cultures continue to use today, to understand and control an otherwise potentially chaotic and quickly changing society.

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[Victorian initial "I" by Harlan Wallach ©copyright 1994.]