Friday, April 15, 2016

The Feminist and the Misogynist Scholar



From Psychology of  the Suffragette by Andrew MacPhail.


 I posted a quote from 1913 on his website by Mrs. Ethel Snowden, British Suffragist of the moderate kind, speaking to a gathering in Montreal's Emmanuel Church.


The event was sponsored by the Canadian Council of Women.

Snowden told a reporter not to worry, that the Britain Parliament was equally divided between Conservative and Liberal and when women got the vote things would likely remain the same.

How right she was, at least with respect to the US, where, soon, a woman will likely be running for President.

All that has changed is how we vote, by making X's on paper and by pulling leavers (leaving hanging chads) and even electronically. I wonder if it's like with books: paper books or votes, solid and substantial; electronic books or votes ephemeral, insubstantial.

Dr. Andrew MacPhail, writing on the "Psychology of the Suffragette" claimed that women wouldn't change the system, but voting would certainly change women, and, in his opinion, for the worse.

Dr. Andrew MacPhail didn't think much of the act of voting back then, politics was inherently corrupt he said and women would be corrupted by getting involved.

(By the way, MacPhail is considered one of Canada's great intellectuals, according to Wikipedia that  used a recent bio for reference. )Ian Ross Robertson, Sir Andrew Macphail: The Life and Legacy of a Canadian Man of Letters(Montreal McGill-Queen's, 2008) Robertson is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, who says a 1930 novel by Macphail The Master's Wife, is a bit of a masterpiece.

Dr. MacPhail was heavily involved in the suffrage movement in Montreal in the 1910 era, that's why I even care.

I've written two ebooks on the subect: Furies Cross the Mersey (about the 1912/13 British Invasion of Suffragettes to Canada) and Service and Disservice (about the iffy involvement of Canadians Suffragists in the 1917 Conscription Crisis.) 




MacPhail was a McGill Professor and Medical man and he was on the head panel when Emmeline Pankhurst came to Montreal in December 1911 (he sat alongside Carrie Derick and Mrs. Hurlbatt and the English Mayor, John James Guerin) and he was a judge during a 1911 debate on woman suffrage at Hurlbatt's Royal Victoria College (with Stephen Leacock. The pro-side won) and in 1910 he gave a half an hour talk to the Canadian Club of Montreal, that has been preserved in a book,  on the Psychology of the Suffragette.

That article led novelist Frances Fenwick Williams, a suffragist on the Board of the Montreal Suffrage Assocation, to create a character based on MacPhail in her 1915 novel, A Soul of Fire. The character is a pompous man famous for writing a  book "Women Explained."

Ha! Ha!

Williams had worked as MacPhail's secretary for a while. They were both from the Maritimes. And she wasn't shy about what she did in her novel. Apparently, she walked up to him on the street and told him flat out the pompous character was based on him!


So I read this Psychology of the Suffragette essay, or tried to read it, twice.

My first impression: "With friends like that, who needs enemies?"  Maybe he should have taken a tip from the suffragettes about how to communicate clearly to the dumb-ass masses.

Of course, MacPhail was a highly religious Edwardian Man, in a prestige university post. He could hardly be expected to like or respect women. Indeed, in the speech MacPhail seems to equate the liking of woman with a fall into femininity itself. (Can you say GAY?)

Still, he says this, that makes sense to me. He says suffragettes think that the  vote is sacred but really it's just 'an expression of opinion.'

Politics is corrupt and will always be, he says.

He says suffragettes believe they are superior and will make the world better with the vote, but this superiority is a false shallow kind conferred by men,  and when they get the vote it will indeed 'free them from men, from men's adoration of them,' and  it will force them to take a good look at themselves and their true natures. Something like that. (Cue the Medusa.)


(Mrs. Snowden. Her charm, youth, beauty, poise and eloquence charmed reporters.  I can find no picture of Frances Fenwick Williams, although a portrait exists of her in the Maritimes. Her books can be found on Archive.org. )

Women, at present, MacPhail says, are amoral. You cannot be moral or immoral until you have freedom to make choices. Cave men were moral or immoral. They brought home the bacon and they could decide who to give it to. (Hey, but women brought home all the fruits and nuts. And a woman did that apple thing.)


MacPhail ends the speech with a sermon on God. There is something of the Garden of Eden in his talk. In fact, he comes right out and says all evil comes (not from women) but from men falling in love with women.

This makes me want to compare his essay to the Hammer of Witches, the Medieval work that brought on 100 years of vicious witch hunts.

(Women, MacPhail says, want to marry because they love the institution of marriage. Men marry because they simply fall for a woman. MacPhail totally ignores the fact that women fall in love to and have sexual natures - and that they HAVE to marry, most of the time, to survive.)

MacPhail peppers his speech with quotes from erudite sources, and, just like the authors of the Hammer of Witches, he refers to Augustine, but it is clear the one book he hasn't read is Pride and Prejudice! 


I assume he is well versed in the classics, I can see Odysseus behind his words, fighting off all these female monsters in his psyche on his journey through life. 

OK. MacPhail's a product of his time, but I have to wonder how Edith Nicholson, who I know very well, as she is my husband's great aunt, felt around such men. For she worked at McGill, in the Registrar's Office and at the Royal Victoria Women's College.  She likely admired these, and yet they deep down hated her.

And how about Carrie Derick, the first female full professor at McGill and the President of the Montreal Suffrage Association, who I write about in my two ebooks.

In this speech, MacPhail suggests women are incapable of understanding and appreciating Truth and Beauty. Their love of pretty things is superficial. 

And here's Edith, who spent so much time at the Louvre on her summer in Paris. And who visited the Bodleian Library at Oxford at the insistence of Dr. Nicholson, her boss in the Registrar's Office.

But, she only had a high school degree. She was one of those silly women who attended public lectures to better herself and out of intellectual curiosity.

Anyway, I have an idea to write a play about he relationship between Fenwick Williams, a sassy feminist outlier who was best friends with Ida Compton Burnett and A.R.Wylie (can't recall first name right now) and MacPhail.