In this book, H. L. Mencken gives us his thoughts and analysis on American women through dozens of little essays that range in topic from female intelligence to their behavior during marriage. While it is sometimes hard to tell if he is satirizing or not, he does make the case that women have been long underestimated by men. The fact that they can deceive men into marriage, something which offers men little benefit, is actually proof of their superiority. You may have seen a similar argument in The Manipulated Man.
I am convinced that the average woman, whatever her deficiencies, is greatly superior to the average man. The very ease with which she defies and swindles him in several capital situations of life is the clearest of proofs of her general superiority. She did not obtain her present high immunities as a gift from the gods, but only after a long and often bitter fight, and in that fight she exhibited forensic and tactical talents of a truly admirable order. There was no weakness of man that she did not penetrate and take advantage of. There was no trick that she did not put to effective use. There was no device so bold and inordinate that it daunted her.
The whole bag of tricks of the average business man, or even of the average professional man, is inordinately childish. It takes no more actual sagacity to carry on the everyday hawking and haggling of the world, or to ladle out its normal doses of bad medicine and worse law, than it takes to operate a taxicab or fry a pan of fish.
The inherent tendency of any woman above the most stupid is to evade the whole obligation, and, if she cannot actually evade it, to reduce its demands to the minimum. And when some accident purges her, either temporarily or permanently, of the inclination to marriage (of which much more anon), and she enters into competition with men in the general business of the world, the sort of career that she commonly carves out offers additional evidence of her mental peculiarity. In whatever calls for no more than an invariable technic and a feeble chicanery she usually fails; in whatever calls for independent thought and resourcefulness she usually succeeds. Thus she is almost always a failure as a lawyer, for the law requires only an armament of hollow phrases and stereotyped formulae, and a mental habit which puts these phantasms above sense, truth and justice; and she is almost always a failure in business, for business, in the main, is so foul a compound of trivialities and rogueries that her sense of intellectual integrity revolts against it. But she is usually a success as a sick-nurse, for that profession requires ingenuity, quick comprehension, courage in the face of novel and disconcerting situations, and above all, a capacity for penetrating and dominating character; and whenever she comes into competition with men in the arts, particularly on those secondary planes where simple nimbleness of mind is unaided by the masterstrokes of genius, she holds her own invariably.
If the work of the average man required half the mental agility and readiness of resource of the work of the average prostitute, the average man would be constantly on the verge of starvation.
Women decide the larger questions of life correctly and quickly, not because they are lucky guessers, not because they are divinely inspired, not because they practise a magic inherited from savagery, but simply and solely because they have sense. They see at a glance what most men could not see with searchlights and telescopes; they are at grips with the essentials of a problem before men have finished debating its mere externals. They are the supreme realists of the race. Apparently illogical, they are the possessors of a rare and subtle super-logic. Apparently whimsical, they hang to the truth with a tenacity which carries them through every phase of its incessant, jellylike shifting of form. Apparently unobservant and easily deceived, they see with bright and horrible eyes.
The issue of marriage is brought up at length, especially how women manipulate men to do their bidding. If men were indeed the superior sex, why would they ever get married? Even in modern times, men are falling over themselves to be white knights trapped in the friendzone without receiving sexual benefits. Women deserve credit from this.
The very fact that marriages occur at all is a proof, indeed, that they are more cool-headed than men, and more adept in employing their intellectual resources, for it is plainly to a man’s interest to avoid marriage as long as possible, and as plainly to a woman’s interest to make a favourable marriage as soon as she can. The efforts of the two sexes are thus directed, in one of the capital concerns of life, to diametrically antagonistic ends. Which side commonly prevails? I leave the verdict to the jury. All normal men fight the thing off; some men are successful for relatively long periods; a few extraordinarily intelligent and courageous men (or perhaps lucky ones) escape altogether. But, taking one generation with another, as every one knows, the average man is duly married and the average woman gets a husband. Thus the great majority of women, in this clear-cut and endless conflict, make manifest their substantial superiority to the great majority of men.
The manipulation skill Mencken describes is gradually being lost on modern American women, who seem to be having trouble getting high quality men to enter basic relationships with them. Their intelligence was not entirely innate as Mencken suspected, but also cultural. An environment that doesn’t train its women to extract marriage from men will create what we currently have: fat, entitled, tatted-up sluts who enter spinsterdom after 30 and then whine on the internet about not being able to find a good man. Just like in The Manipulated Man, he seemed to be almost perfectly describing Ukrainian women of today, a sort of quintessential feminine archetype.
He was not kind on the overall value females possess:
The female body, even at its best is very defective in form; it has harsh curves and very clumsily distributed masses; compared to it the average milk-jug, or even cuspidor, is a thing of intelligent and gratifying design—in brief, an objet d’art. The fact was curiously (and humorously) display during the late war, when great numbers of women in all the belligerent countries began putting on uniforms. Instantly they appeared in public in their grotesque burlesques of the official garb of aviators, elevator boys, bus conductors, train guards, and so on, their deplorable deficiency in design was unescapably revealed.
The average woman, until art comes to her aid, is ungraceful, misshapen, badly calved and crudely articulated, even for a woman. If she has a good torso, she is almost sure to be bow-legged. If she has good legs, she is almost sure to have bad teeth. If she has good teeth, she is almost sure to have scrawny hands, or muddy eyes, or hair like oakum, or no chin. A woman who meets fair tests all ’round is so uncommon that she becomes a sort of marvel, and usually gains a livelihood by exhibiting herself as such, either on the stage, in the half-world, or as the private jewel of some wealthy connoisseur.
Men do not demand genuine beauty, even in the most modest doses; they are quite content with the mere appearance of beauty. That is to say, they show no talent whatever for differentiating between the artificial and the real. A film of face powder, skilfully applied, is as satisfying to them as an epidermis of damask. The hair of a dead Chinaman, artfully dressed and dyed, gives them as much delight as the authentic tresses of Venus.
He goes on to discuss suffragists and feminists, and why their movement is sour grapes:
There are, of course, women who spend a great deal of time denouncing and reviling men, but these are certainly not genuine man-haters; they are simply women who have done their utmost to snare men, and failed. Of such sort are the majority of inflammatory suffragettes of the sex-hygiene and birth-control species.
I’ll begin to believe in the man-hater the day I am introduced to a woman who has definitely and finally refused a chance of marriage to a man who is of her own station in life, able to support her, unafflicted by any loathsome disease, and of reasonably decent aspect and manners—in brief a man who is thoroughly eligible. I doubt that any such woman breathes the air of Christendom.
It is, indeed, not until a woman has definitely put away the hope of marriage, or, at all events, admitted the possibility that she, may have to do so soon or late, that she buckles down in earnest to whatever craft she practises, and makes a genuine effort to develop competence. No sane man, seeking a woman for a post requiring laborious training and unremitting diligence, would select a woman still definitely young and marriageable. To the contrary, he would choose either a woman so unattractive sexually as to be palpably incapable of snaring a man, or one so embittered by some catastrophe of amour as to be pathologically emptied of the normal aspirations of her sex.
The woman who is not pursued sets up the doctrine that pursuit is offensive to her sex, and wants to make it a felony. No genuinely attractive woman has any such desire. She likes masculine admiration, however violently expressed, and is quite able to take care of herself. More, she is well aware that very few men are bold enough to offer it without a plain invitation, and this awareness makes her extremely cynical of all women who complain of being harassed, beset, storied, and seduced.
All such suffragists (save a few miraculous beauties) marry ninth-rate men when they marry at all. They have to put up with the sort of castoffs who are almost ready to fall in love with lady physicists, embryologists, and embalmers.
He makes the argument that first-rate men are smart enough to avoid marriage, adding that the dowry was a smart way for women and their families to convince men to enter what amounts to a bad deal.
Here we have a sufficient explanation of the general superiority of bachelors, so often noted by students of mankind—a superiority so marked that it is difficult, in all history, to find six first-rate philosophers who were married men. The bachelor’s very capacity to avoid marriage is no more than a proof of his relative freedom from the ordinary sentimentalism of his sex—in other words, of his greater approximation to the clear headedness of the enemy sex. He is able to defeat the enterprise of women because he brings to the business an equipment almost comparable to their own.
It is, of course, not well for the world that the highest sort of men are thus selected out, as the biologists say, and that their superiority dies with them, whereas the ignoble tricks and sentimentalities of lesser men are infinitely propagated. Despite a popular delusion that the sons of great men are always dolts, the fact is that intellectual superiority is inheritable, quite as easily as bodily strength; and that fact has been established beyond cavil by the laborious inquiries of Galton, Pearson and the other anthropometricians of the English school. If such men as Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer, Spencer, and Nietzsche had married and begotten sons, those sons, it is probable, would have contributed as much to philosophy as the sons and grandsons of Veit Bach contributed to music, or those of Erasmus Darwin to biology, or those of Henry Adams to politics, or those of Hamilcar Barcato the art of war.
Monogamy, in brief, kills passion—and passion is the most dangerous of all the surviving enemies to what we call civilization, which is based upon order, decorum, restraint, formality, industry, regimentation. The civilized man—the ideal civilized man—is simply one who never sacrifices the common security to his private passions.
All animal breeders know how difficult it is to maintain a fine strain. The universe seems to be in a conspiracy to encourage the endless reproduction of peasants and Socialists, but a subtle and mysterious opposition stands eternally against the reproduction of philosophers.
The marriage of a first-rate man, when it takes place at all, commonly takes place relatively late. He may succumb in the end, but he is almost always able to postpone the disaster a good deal longer than the average poor clodpate, or normal man. If he actually marries early, it is nearly always proof that some intolerable external pressure has been applied to him, as in Shakespeare’s case, or that his mental sensitiveness approaches downright insanity, as in Shelley’s.
Another reason for the relatively late marriages of superior men is found, perhaps, in the fact that, as a man grows older, the disabilities he suffers by marriage tend to diminish and the advantages to increase. At thirty a man is terrified by the inhibitions of monogamy and has little taste for the so-called comforts of a home; at sixty he is beyond amorous adventure and is in need of creature ease and security. What he is oftenest conscious of, in these later years, is his physical decay; he sees himself as in imminent danger of falling into neglect and helplessness. He is thus confronted by a choice between getting a wife or hiring a nurse, and he commonly chooses the wife as the less expensive and exacting. The nurse, indeed, would probably try to marry him anyhow.
This brings us to a fact frequently noted by students of the subject: that first-rate men, when they marry at all, tend to marry noticeably inferior wives. The causes of the phenomenon, so often discussed and so seldom illuminated, should be plain by now. The first-rate man, by postponing marriage as long as possible, often approaches it in the end with his faculties crippled by senility, and is thus open to the advances of women whose attractions are wholly meretricious, e.g., empty flappers, scheming widows, and trained nurses with a highly developed professional technic of sympathy. If he marries at all, indeed, he must commonly marry badly, for women of genuine merit are no longer interested in him.
A husband begins by kissing a pretty girl, his wife; it is pleasant to have her so handy and so willing. He ends by making machiavellian efforts to avoid kissing the every day sharer of his meals, books, bath towels, pocketbook, relatives, ambitions, secrets, malaises and business: a proceeding about as romantic as having his boots blacked. The thing is too horribly dismal for words. Not all the native sentimentalism of man can overcome the distaste and boredom that get into it.
The aging first-rate man succumbs to marriage because his declining mental agility can no longer put up a defense to what is likely a far younger seducer. He could only resist when he was young, sharp, and at the peak of his value.
Mencken also makes the observation that feminists wrongly assume that the average “privileged” man is rolling in women, ready to cheat on his loyal wife with one beauty after another…
He is a polygamous, multigamous, myriadigamous; an insatiable and unconscionable debauche, a monster of promiscuity; prodigiously unfaithful to his wife, and even to his friends’ wives; fathomlessly libidinous and superbly happy.
They construct a fictional narrative to justify their hatred of men that is nothing close to reality. The average man is actually quite lacking in quality women, having to work menial jobs just to get by, lucky at all to engage in commitment-free sex.
He continues to bash marriage:
The English wife of tradition, so thoroughly a femme covert, is being displaced by a gadabout, truculent, irresponsible creature, full of strange new ideas about her rights, and strongly disinclined to submit to her husband’s authority, or to devote herself honestly to the upkeep of his house, or to bear him a biological sufficiency of heirs.
If the average American husband wants a sound dinner he must go to a restaurant to get it, just as if he wants to refresh himself with the society of charming and well-behaved children, he has to go to an orphan asylum. Only the immigrant can take his case and invite his soul within his own house.
A woman, if she hates her husband (and many of them do), can make life so sour and obnoxious to him that even death upon the gallows seems sweet by comparison.
In the end, suddenly terrorized by the first faint shadows of spinsterhood, she turns to the ultimate numskull—and marries him out of hand.
Apparently, America was always at the forefront of bowing to women. Even in Mencken’s time, women had the leeway to slouch in marriage and get half a man’s property upon divorce. In spite of having all their wishes granted since then, they still claim unhappiness, no better off than the traditional arrangement:
I am sorry for the suffragettes who specialize in the double standard, for when they get into pantaloons at last, and have the new freedom, they will discover to their sorrow that they have been pursuing a chimera—that there is really no such animal as the male anarchist they have been denouncing and envying—that the wholesale fornication of man, at least under Christian democracy, has little more actual existence than honest advertising or sound cooking. They have followed the porno maniacs in embracing a piece of buncombe, and when the day of deliverance comes it will turn to ashes in their arms.
Behold his amazing prophecy:
Now that women have the political power to obtain their just rights, they will begin to lose their old power to obtain special privileges by sentimental appeals. Men, facing them squarely, will consider them anew, not as romantic political and social invalids, to be coddled and caressed, but as free competitors in a harsh world. When that reconsideration gets under way there will be a general overhauling of the relations between the sexes, and some of the fair ones, I suspect, will begin to wonder why they didn’t let well enough alone.
Overall, his analysis was brutal yet accurate, written during a time when women had a surprising amount of liberties. This does not match the toxic ejaculate that feminists spray onto the masses today. Women were never chained up to the kitchen. They weren’t beaten and treated like children. They weren’t prevented from getting an education. Their story has always been a far cry from reality.
A lot of Mencken’s ideas ringed familiar to me, meaning that many in the manosphere have been inadvertently continuing his work, and thank goodness for that. Sometimes it takes a while for an idea to find its time. I highly recommended this book.
Read More: “In Defense Of Women” on Amazon