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IWD-2012 Stop 'cribbing, cabining, and confining' the World's Women [NZ Women were enfranchised September 1893]


[by ‘Femina’ i.e. Mary Ann Muller (abridged) 1878]

A wise ancient declared that the most perfect popular government was that 'where an injury done to the meanest subject is an insult upon the whole constitution'. What, therefore, can be said for a Government that deliberately inflicts injury upon a great mass of its intelligent and respectable subjects; that virtually ignores their existence in all that can contribute to their happiness as subjects; that takes a special care to strike at the root of their love of country by teaching them that they have no part in forming or maintaining its glory, while it rigidly exerts from them all penalties; even unto death?

What can be said, what urged, in extenuation of this crying evil, this monstrous injustice? 'Custom; use; it has always been so'. This may be enough to say of the past – 'let the dead past bury its dead'; but is it to be remedied for the future? How long are women to remain a wholly unrepresented body of the people?


She may be a householder, have large possessions, and pay her share of taxes towards the public revenue; but sex disqualifies her. Were it a question of general knowledge and intelligence as compared with men, women might submit unmurmuringly; but this is not the case. The point is, is she as capable as our bullock-drivers, labourers, and mechanics?

It may surely be confidently asserted that when a woman is possessed of sufficient skill and management to retain unassisted the guidance of her family, and remain a householder, she develops more that a moderate degree of capability. The weak and incapable generally elect to live in the homes of others, they naturally shrink from the responsibility of such a position and are thus placed out of the question.

The true position is, that educated thinking members of the State are degraded below the level of the ploughman, who perhaps can neither read nor write. And this is 'law' – called 'justice'! How is the word 'just' weakened and falsified! It is enough to 'make the angels weep'.


When we consider what great wheels are turned by women, can we fail to wonder at their being so rigidly, so jealously excluded from the touch of this one of voting? And after all, its possession would amount to but a fractional power in our government. What real influence upon society is exercised by a woman like Florence Nightingale? Yet to such women men arbitrarily deny a power granted to a sweep.

"It is excellent
To have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant".


Hence this appeal to the common sense of New Zealand men – of New Zealand law-givers. I cannot appeal to a higher quality in a statesman than common sense, for is it not the sense of the common interest. Let them dispassionately ask themselves whether that interest will not be advanced by the admission of a few female votes. There are but few, comparatively speaking, who could claim to vote on the strength of possessing the minimum amount of property and those few would probably bring pretty keen intelligence on the duty.

The infusion of a fresher, purer spirit, and higher tone, would result from the concession of this right to women. As to the bête noir of women sitting in Parliament with men, rely upon it there is scarcely a woman in New Zealand who would desire or consent to do so. It is a bugbear, and absurdly exaggerated view of a notion taken by men whose intellect must be as weak as it is intolerant. Besides, who makes the laws? Men. Theirs is the power to grant or to deny; let them so frame our admission to the privilege we desire, as to exclude us from that duty which we consider clearly incompatible with our necessitous ones.


Permit them to take, as their right, an interest, and some small part in the Government of their adopted land. That interest will grow apace, enlarging the scope of their ideas, and in time changing entirely the habit of their thoughts. I cannot more highly compliment the intelligence and equity of those who rule, than quietly to submit to their consideration our bitter grievance.

It is one which has been but little alluded to in New Zealand, but it is seething, yeasting in many minds, I believe, and it must bear fruit.


Go to our Government schools. Are girls so far behind boys in intelligence there? Converse in society with girls of sixteen or twenty, and compare them with youths of their own age – are they less sensible? I think I might even venture to assert that most girls of eighteen are better informed upon many subjects of general information than their brothers are.

After this I grant that the improvement generally goes in an inverse ratio, and as the young man advances in the cultivation of his intellect, the woman's intelligence – particularly if married – narrows more and more to her own immediate circle of duties.

Into these duties she casts herself with an energy that might preach a sermon to the men around her upon the sin of so contracting her vast sympathies. Do but observe the idiosyncrasies of the sex with the interest and care they claim from you. Note the delicately nurtured woman, see her wondrous power and energy, her patient, unflagging cheerfulness during the years of banishment to some back station in New Zealand, where she toils until the waste smiles around her; where she rears her poultry, grows her fruit and flowers – aye, and not unfrequently digs her potatoes and chops her wood, while she yet cheers her husband and teaches her children with anxious care lest they drop from the social sphere to which her heart clings.

Mark the persistent faith with which she toils on, till, in some happy cases, she returns to grace the settled town in the evening of her days.

Many, alas! have fallen exhausted, spent in the toilsome march of life, fallen like soldiers, doing their duty. Peace to the martyr pilgrim mothers of the land? Let them not be forgotten, but rather let the memory of their fate deepen your sympathy with the sex.

Our women are brave and strong, with an amount of self-reliance and freedom from conventionalities eminently calculated to form a great nation. Give them scope. At present their grasp and power of mind is 'cribbed, cabined, and confined' to one narrow groove. It is weakened and famished by disuse, and only a close observer can detect the latent force, the unspent energy lying dormant in many seemingly ordinary characters.

Mark the sudden questions of a bright eager girl, or the quiet remark of some sensible matron, upon a political matter in the newspaper before her, and see the cold stare of surprise, or hear the rebuke about women seeking to step beyond their province, with which the paterfamilias stops the innovation, and can you marvel that the girl turns to gossip about the new fashions, or the mother takes refuge in discussions upon servants, sewing machines, and other minor domestic details?

Women of the middle class suffer most from this open, systematic 'putting down'; for deference to the sex is the best test of real civilisation, and a truly well-bred man will never wantonly give pain to, or tyrannise over a woman, even though that woman be his wife or daughter, and therefore utterly at his mercy. When women shall be interested in the entire contents of newspapers, there will be found fewer inferior novels and serials upon the table. When her enthusiasm can find vent upon topics of world-wide interest, she will furnish criticisms with fewer startling eccentricities.

She will become more truly feminine, and our journals will less abound in smartly satirical articles upon 'the girl of the period'; &c. How often now are we pained to read the attacks made upon our dress and manners; many of them, too, having in them the grain of truth that gives a false colouring of sincerity to the whole libel; but the critics of the day delight in nibbling at results instead of dipping deep into causes – they revel in detail, rarely rising to great principles.

Thus much venom is spent upon feminine follies, while the cure lies in their own hands – that is, premising them to be male critics, as I take it for granted they be. Men alone can give us the power to rise above our present degradation: they must cease to consider inactivity to be delicacy, and frittering away time upon elegant fancies to be refinement. Women's minds require hardening by the principle of reasoning.


I do but ask for my sex a calm unprejudiced consideration of their condition. I feel that our claim will be granted, that the time is coming, but the hours are passing.

The change is coming, but why is New Zealand only to follow? Why not take the initiative? She has but to inaugurate this new position, all will applaud. 'One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.' It will be the spark to the train now laid in most civilised countries.


[Text of a leaflet published by the NZ Women's Christian Temperance Union in May 1888, which was sent to every member of the House of Representatives]

1. Because a democratic government like that of New Zealand already admits the great principle that every adult person, not convicted of crime, nor suspected of lunacy, has an inherent right to a voice in the construction of laws which all must obey.

2. Because it has not yet been proved that the intelligence of women is only equal to that of children, nor that their social status is on a par with that of lunatics or convicts.

3. Because women are affected by the prosperity of the Colony, are concerned in the preservation of its liberty and free institutions, and suffer equally with men from all national errors and mistakes.

4. Because women are less accessible than men to most of the debasing influences now brought to bear upon elections, and by doubling the number of electors to be dealt with, women would make bribery and corruption less effective, as well as more difficult.

5. Because in the quietude of home women are less liable than men to be swayed by mere party feeling, and are inclined to attach great value to uprightness and rectitude of life in a candidate.

6. Because the presence of women at the polling-booth would have a refining and purifying effect.

7. Because the votes of women would add weight and power to the more settled and responsible communities.

8. Because women are endowed with a more constant solicitude for the welfare of the rising generations, thus giving them a more far-reaching concern for something beyond the present moment.

9. Because the admitted physical weakness of women disposes them to exercise more habitual caution, and to feel a deeper interest in the constant preservation of peace, law, and order, and especially in the supremacy of right over might.

10. Because women naturally view each question from a somewhat different standpoint to men, so that whilst their interests, aims, and objects would be very generally the same, they would often see what men had overlooked, and thus add a new security against any partial or one-sided legislation.


Keith Johnson NZ's picture



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