An “Age of Consent” Symposium (1896)

by Lillian Harman (c. 1871-?)

  • The Arena’s Crusade
  • A Peculiar Omission
  • The Defenceless Position of The Wife
  • Helen Gardener “Dares” The Opposition
  • “The Sanctity of Motherhood”
  • The Christian Minister’s Special Pleading
  • Some Definitions That Do Not Define
  • Why Women Are Ignorant of Their Peril
  • A Protest Against Gratuitous Insults
  • The “Double Standard” of “Honor”

  • ACS.1 It may confidently be asserted that all friends of Liberty are agreed as regards these three general propositions:

    1. The existing system of sexual relations is very imperfect.

    2. What is right or is wrong for a member of one sex under given conditions is right or is wrong for a member of the other sex under analogous conditions.

    3. All persons, regardless of sex, should be protected from violence, extra-legal or legal.
    ACS.2 Touching the first proposition, libertarians find themselves in agreement with authoritarians so far as the fact of imperfection is concerned, but they disagree widely, often fundamentally, as to the constituent elements of that imperfection. Likewise libertarians and authoritarians – at least, the more progressive contingent of the latter – are at one concerning the desirability and justice of the “single standard” in sex ethics, but here again the two schools are often vitally at variance when it comes to the consideration of what is right or wrong in the relations of the sexes. Finally, while authoritarians agree with libertarians that the individual should be protected from extra-legal violence, there are frequently irreconcilable differences of opinion when it is attempted to frame a definition which shall properly describe such violence, and, in addition to this difficulty in the way of reaching an agreement, there is the failure of the average authoritarian to recognize that under the present marriage system violence is legally sheltered, and his ineradicable propensity to commit legal violence in his blundering endeavors to prevent or punish extra-legal violence, or what he considers such.

    The Arena’s Crusade
    ACS.3 For some time now the “Arena” has been trying to arouse a wider public interest in the age-of-consent laws of the various States, and in the January issue there is a symposium participated in by Aaron M. Powell, Helen H. Gardener, Frances E. Willard, A. H. Lewis, D. D.; Edward Janney, M. D.; Will Allen Dromgoole, and Emily Blackwell, M. D. The editor also continues his article on “Wellsprings and Feeders of Immorality,” this being the second paper and dealing with “Lust Fostered by Legislation.” The age of consent varies from ten years to eighteen, being the latter only in Kansas and Wyoming. In all the States association with a girl before she has reached the age prescribed in the statutes of the State in which she lives is rape, regardless of her consent to the association. The limit is ten years in three States, twelve years in four, thirteen years in three, fourteen years in nineteen, fifteen years in one, sixteen years in twelve, seventeen years in one, and eighteen years in two. Included in this enumeration are the territories and the District of Columbia. The demand of the reformers who are represented in this symposium, and of those for whom they speak, is that the limit shall be raised to at least eighteen years. There are some who make themselves heard through the press who wish to make it twenty-one years, and a few would put it still higher. But for the purposes of the present examination I will confine myself to the demand of the “Arena” writers.
    ACS.4 The problem is a difficult one to deal with in the existing condition of society, where the most outrageous wrongs are possible because the people are economically enthralled and are the slaves of the grossest religious and moral superstitions. It is at once manifest that the ignorance fostered by the dominant powers in church, society, and the State is responsible for at least nine-tenths of the suffering resulting from the association of the sexes, both in and out of marriage. This is easily demonstrated, but the limits of this paper forbid the introduction of the evidence here. Suffice it to say that it is impossible to do justice by establishing a hard and fast line in this matter of age-of-consent laws. To say that the right of choice and determination should be withheld from all young women until they are eighteen is to utter an absurdity. Some are more developed, physically and mentally, at fifteen than others are at eighteen or twenty, or even when older. There are many exceptionally bright girls who know more at fifteen or sixteen than the mass of womankind do at fifty. Why such as these should have their lives wrecked by punishing their lovers for rape it will be exceedingly difficult for the “Arena” crusaders to show. The favorite argument of the advocates of the eighteen-year limit is that those who cannot be trusted with the management of their property until they are eighteen should not be trusted with the guardianship of their own bodies. But does the establishment of one arbitrary rule justify the establishment of another? Is individual capacity not to be considered at all? That one man never knows enough to take care of his business is not a valid reason why another who has been a good business man since he was a youth should be held in a lifelong minority. It is a well-known fact that thousands of parents permit their minor sons and daughters to attend to their own business affairs, and there is no doubt that the vast majority of the young people so trusted are better for their early introduction to the responsibilities of life, and it is equally certain that multitudes more would have been likewise benefited by similar opportunities to hew out their own fortunes had their parents been wise enough to open the way for them. But it is not true that girls and boys under eighteen never have had and have not now any control over their property. By the Code Napoléon a person of either sex may become an executor or executrix at seventeen, and at sixteen the minor may devise one-half his property. In some of our States the minor may choose a guardian at twelve and in others at fourteen. In New York a girl of sixteen may will and bequeath her personal estate, as may a boy of eighteen, and they may consent to marriage at the same age. Recurring to the question of majority rights often given by parents to their sons, it should be noted that in some States – possibly in all – a father may give notice by publication that he will appear in court at a given time to ask that his son, naming him, may be legally invested with the rights of a man, so far as independence from parental control is concerned, before he has reached the age of twenty-one. Only a few days ago I read such a notice in a Kansas paper.
    ACS.5 Those acquainted with our school system are aware that many teachers are under eighteen years of age. Is it possible that these young women whom the State accepts as competent to teach and train her children are not competent to control their own persons? And then look at the thousands of girls under the age named who are earning their own livelihood in industry, business, and journalism. Why insult these by the gratuitous assumption that they are not competent to guard their persons from invasion when not assailed by physical violence? Dr. Janney thinks that the inequality in mental capacity of girls is a good reason why those who are in advance should wait until they are eighteen for their sex-liberty. This, he intimates, will give time for the others to catch up, and thus he would avoid the possibility of a wrong being done to a few of the immature ones by inflicting a certain wrong on all the more advanced who choose to live their own lives in their own way. If it be said that a similar wrong is inflicted on the man or woman who is capable of managing his or her own property interests before majority is reached, but who is denied that opportunity because all young people are not sufficiently intelligent, it is answered that the alleged parallel is far from perfect. As before said, many parents nullify the evil effects of that arbitrary law by giving their children an opportunity to help themselves early in life. Many of our youth do not feel the operation of the majority law at all except when they desire to vote before the age of twenty-one is reached. But in the case of the age-of-consent law such individual relief would not be easy to obtain, no matter how intelligent and humane the parents or the girl might be. With our numerous Societies for Meddling with Everybody’s Business, the lover would probably be hanged or at least imprisoned for rape, and this in spite of the fact that the girl, her parents, and all others immediately interested were perfectly satisfied with their own arrangements.
    ACS.6 I clearly recognize the fact that the child is not capable of judging for herself, but it is preposterous to hold that girls of fifteen and upwards are all children in thought, or such even in a majority of instances. This is an age of rapid development, and there are large numbers of young women in their teens who know much more about themselves and are far better qualified to be their own protectors than were their mothers when five or ten years older. Were it not for our State-enforced ignorance of sexual matters and the anti-natural teachings of a reactionary church, there would be precious few of our young women who would need the protection of the government to the extent of guarding them against themselves. Probably, all things considered, including the dense misinformation of the masses, the most reasonable present settlement of this age-of-consent question would be to fix the “age” at puberty.

    A Peculiar Omission
    ACS.7 Before proceeding to notice in detail some of the arguments of the contributors to the symposium, it will be well to call the attention of the fair-minded reader to a remarkable omission made by all who have written in the “Arena” on this subject. Everyone has tacitly assumed or explicitly stated that there is no legal protection or relief for the girl after she has reached the age of consent. If before that she consorts with a man, either through the compulsion of force or fear or in virtue of such “consent” as her mind may be able to give, she is outraged in the eye of the law, and her assailant is guilty of rape. But, if the “age” has been reached, she is no longer subject to outrage, and her assailant is not guilty of rape, if she consents. This is true, but the reformers should not have left the impression that her associate has committed no offence under the law, for such an impression is misleading. In many of the States association under promise of marriage is a misdemeanor, and in some it is a felony. In some States association with an unmarried, previously “chaste” woman involves the offence of seduction even without promise of marriage. In New York abduction consists in taking a girl under sixteen for purposes of marriage, prostitution, or intercourse, or inveigling and enticing an unmarried woman under twenty-five into a house of ill-fame or elsewhere for prostitution or intercourse. Seduction of an unmarried woman under promise of marriage involves imprisonment, or punishment by fine, or both. In most of the States, if not all, the father or other near relative of the woman seduced may bring action, and in some the woman may do so herself. We should all have had more faith in the desire and intention of the symposiasts to be fair if they had stated these facts with the particularity that they have shown in laying before the people the age-of-consent laws of the States. Not to say anything about it at all was still worse.

    The Defenceless Position of The Wife
    ACS.8 Opposite the first page of the symposium there is a group of portraits of the contributors, and under it Mr. Flower has put the label, “Some Defenders of the Home.” I have read all the articles very carefully, and have failed to find a single word which would reveal to the uninitiated reader the startling fact that there is not a law on the statute-books of a single State of this Union which recognizes the possibility that the husband can commit a rape upon the wife. Looking in the law-books, I find it often and expressly stated that the prostitute can be raped, but that the wife cannot. So far as the husband is concerned, the wife is without defence. He can go to the brothel and commit a crime which will, if he is prosecuted, send him to the penitentiary; but, if he comes home the same night and commits the same crime on his wife, he will not be troubled by the law. Is it not strange that these “defenders of the home” forgot to say anything about so important a matter as this? Miss Willard alone speaks of the necessity of making a wife the arbiter of her own destiny, but even she does not venture to tell the world what the law has put in the way of the accomplishment of that result.

    Helen Gardener “Dares” The Opposition
    ACS.9 I will pass over Mr. Powell’s contribution, as it is chiefly a statement of the present status of the consent laws, and stop for a moment at Helen H. Gardener’s, not because the latter contains any argument requiring an answer, but merely to show the readers of Liberty, by means of a quotation or two, the weightiness of some of the pleas for the surrender of the self-hood of the young women of America. This will do for a beginning:

    When I am asked to present an argument against lowering the age of consent, or when I am requested to write the reasons why that age should be raised to at least eighteen years, it impresses me very much as if some one were to ask me gravely if I would be so kind as to think up some fairly plausible grounds upon which one might base an objection to the practice of cutting the throats of his neighbor’s children whenever that neighbor happened not to be at home to protect them; or to furnish a demurrer to the act of inoculating the community with small-pox as a matter of ordinary amusement.
    ACS.10 That is a curiosity of argument which may well be left to answer itself. Miss Gardener wants to know if there is a legislator who believes that he has a right to assist in keeping the age of consent below eighteen years who will set forth his reasons, be they of a scientific, religious, social, or legal nature. I am not a legislator, but I have ventured to give some of my reasons for believing that the age of consent should not be raised to eighteen years, and I will now advance a few more. I do not believe that the State has a right to step between the young woman under eighteen and her lover, whether she does or does not choose to enter into legal marriage with him. Understand me, I say young woman; I am not speaking of children who have not reached puberty. Such interference is antagonistic to healthful social growth. It deranges the orderly process of development. Girls trained by intelligent mothers will be immensely more benefited than injured by relations that they desire, and the more liberty coupled with responsibility that we have the less there will be of sexual relations that are not desired. As for the girls whose mothers are not intelligent, their fate cannot be worse than it is now, and there is the reasonable chance that it will be greatly improved. The example of responsible freedom is almost immeasurably powerful. Regarding the scientific objections to the prohibition of sexual association until the age of eighteen is reached, they are numerous, but may be condensed into the single affirmation that there are very many young women whose nervous and physical systems are greatly injured, if not ruined, before their eighteenth birthday is reached by enforced abstinence from love associations. Others, again, do not feel the need of such relations before twenty or twenty-five, and some never. Let there be no cast-iron rule for all. We want no social procrustean beds. The world has been dosed nigh unto death by quacks who have thought that the race was damned unless everybody did just as they, the quacks, told them to do. We need liberty in domestic affairs just as much as in religion or politics, as Miss Gardener should know.

    “The Sanctity of Motherhood”
    ACS.11 Miss Willard observes that, “unless women had been at some time objects of barter, no such law could have been made.” It seems to me that laws of this kind are evidences of the growing respect for woman which is a characteristic of this age. Faulty though they are, they show that the law-maker has desired to protect helpless infancy, while not interfering with the right of choice of young womanhood. The effect of those laws, whatever the intention of those who enacted them, has been to help place woman on her feet as an independent being, capable of acting for herself. That is, let it always be understood, when the limit has not been placed too high. The efforts of Miss Willard and her associates will, if crowned with success, necessarily weaken the sense of responsibility of womankind, and thus defeat the very purpose they have in view, – the protection of women from invasion. Another very important fact is persistently ignored by the age-of-consent agitators, and that is that the laws against rape remain to protect woman, and to avenge her if she is outraged – unless her husband is the criminal. When the age-of-consent laws are raised above fourteen or fifteen, the armies of “reform” have faced to the rear instead of to the front. The Roman law did not distinguish between rape and seduction or adultery, and the accused was not allowed to show that the association was with the consent of the woman, no matter what her age. The advocates of this pseudo reform are trying to force us back toward that savagely cruel code, and at least one of these “reformers,” Rev. Mr. Lewis, would go every step of the way. He says: “It is not enough that the age of consent be ‘raised.’ It must be erased.” The italics are his. By this he means that the hour can never come in the life of any woman when she will be free to love outside of marriage and to express her love. It means that, no matter how old the woman may be and how capable of choosing for herself her mode of life, her lover will be punished for rape. I thank Rev. Mr. Lewis for letting use see the end of the road upon which he and his fellow-coercionists invite us to enter. I am glad, for the honor of humanity, that it is a Christian minister who makes this atrocious proposition.
    ACS.12 When Miss Willard italicized the declaration that “the sanctity of motherhood must be respected to such degree as shall make a wife the unquestioned arbiter of her own destiny,” was she thinking of the shameful fact that a wife is the only woman who can be outraged with impunity, and that no wife in the land is free from the danger of such outrage if her husband is not too much of a man to take advantage of the power with which the law has invested him? If she was thinking of this, why did she not say what she meant? And does she think that the wife is the unquestioned arbiter of her own destiny when she cannot legally free herself from her husband if he has not happened to commit some offence which the law recognizes as a valid cause for divorce? How can she be the arbiter of her own destiny when the law and the public opinion that Miss Willard shares deny to her the right to express her love for other than the man who legally holds her as the instrument of his desires? Has it never occurred to the head of the W.C.T.U. that an unmarried woman should also have an unquestioned right to the control of herself? And that among these unmarried women are the ones to whom she, by raising the age of consent to eighteen years, wishes to deny the right of choice, which is the heart and essence of self-government?

    The Christian Minister’s Special Pleading
    ACS.13 Rev. Mr. Lewis represents in this symposium the intolerance of religion as well as the intolerance of morality. He is satisfied that the age-of-consent laws and all other evil things connected with sex and its expression (that is, evil in his eyes if not so in fact) had their origin in the phallic worship of the ancients. I have not here the space at my command to dispose of his misrepresentations of that venerable cult, nor is it necessary to the purpose of this article, but I must let him see in what a fragile glass house he dwells, if, indeed, he does not already realize the fact. Referring to the double standard of sexual morality, Mr. Lewis says:

    Too much cannot be said against this double standard. The Hebrew religion, and Christianity, which is its spiritual efflorescence, condemn such unjust distinction.
    ACS.14 Let us see. By the Mosaic law, if a man had outraged a betrothed woman, he was put to death; but, if she was not betrothed, he must marry her and pay her father a fine of fifty shekels. In other words, in the first instance he had offended against the rights of the other man and must die, but in the second instance he must pay her father for his interference with his patriarchal rights, and the victim is compelled to spend her life with the man who has invaded her. Would Mr. Lewis say that there was no “distinction” in this method of dealing with the ravisher, and is he prepared to advocate a law compelling American women to marry their assailants? But this is only the beginning. Both the Jewish and Christian scriptures know nothing of the equality of woman with man; both place her in a position of inferiority and subjection to him. “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” According to the Levitical law, motherhood was a sin that must be expiated by a birth offering at the advent of each child, and, if the child was a girl, the sinfulness was supposed to be twice as great as when the child was a boy, and she was “unclean” and must continue her “purifying” for twice as long a time. Wholesale kidnapping and rape are commanded by God’s priests in the Old Testament, while in the matter of divorce the husband is given a free hand by both the Old and the New, but the wife has no remedy whatever. “When a man hath taken a wife, and marries her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, ... then let him write her out a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.” See also Deut. xxi., 10-14, where the man is given authority to send away in the same unceremonious manner the “wife” he has captured in war. Jesus modified this only to the extent of confining the husband to one cause for dismissing the wife. But in neither dispensation was the wife authorized to put away her husband. Can Mr. Lewis see no “unjust distinction” in this discrimination?
    ACS.15 In the Decalogue the wife is put in the same category with cattle and slaves as a chattel. To perceive the “distinction” which the New Testament makes between men and women, read Colossians iii, Ephesians v, 1 Corinthians xiv, 1 Peter ii, 1 Timothy ii, and 1 Corinthians vii. Of course this is a slight digression from the discussion of the age-of- consent problem, but, as one of the champions of increased restriction of woman’s initiative has seen fit to try to make capital for his pet religious superstition out of the question at issue, it was deemed expedient to follow him in his wandering and expose the hollowness of his claims.

    Some Definitions That Do Not Define
    ACS.16 Dr. Janney attempts definition; for instance, he says that “an immoral act becomes criminal when done in violation of a law which defines the crime.” It becomes illegal under those circumstances, but the law cannot make an act criminal which is not so per se. To be criminal it must be an act of invasion without the consent of the invaded. The doctor continues: “Thus unchastity is criminal up to the ‘age of consent’; after that, it is immoral, but not criminal.” What confusion! It is not the unchastity that is criminal, but the invasion of the person of the child. Neither is “unchastity” necessarily immoral after that time; it depends entirely upon conditions, for we know that by “unchastity” Dr. Janney means intimate relations outside of marriage. In the next paragraph the doctor, advocating the extension of the “age” limit, says: “Several more years will be provided, during which the unchaste act is not merely immoral, but criminal.” Here we are again met with the insulting assumption that free association is necessarily unchaste association, while the error of definition in the matter of criminality is repeated. If the legislature can make that a crime which is not so in itself, then all that would be necessary to make the writing and printing of Dr. Janney’s article crimes would be the enacted opinion of the majority of the members of the legislatures of Maryland and Massachusetts that said writing and printing were crimes.

    Why Women Are Ignorant of Their Peril
    ACS.17 Describing the nature and deadly effects of certain diseases, Dr. Janney says: “It is safe to say that a girl of fourteen or sixteen years knows nothing of the existence of such diseases in men. It is something that does not enter into her thoughts.” How much more will she know at eighteen, if she is handicapped with a mother and father who have failed to instruct her before she has reached her sixteenth year? A system of miscalled education that leaves girls thus defenceless at that age or an earlier or a later one is condemned by that fact, and the religious and moral instructors who sanction the prohibition of the circulation of physiological and medical works that would, if put into the hands of the young, prevent very much of this lamentable ignorance have no call to denounce those friends of liberty and growth who hold that light, and not law, is the only efficient protector of the young as well as of the more advanced in years.1 But what will Dr. Janney do to protect the young wife of the diseased man? Does the girl of sixteen or twenty who marries know anything more about these diseases than does the girl who is not married? The chances are that she knows less, if anything, and this will possibly explain somewhat of her haste to enter into a legal relation where she cannot refuse to consort with the man she has chosen, even if she finds him a mass of corruption. Assuredly the free woman is in a better position to protect herself from such dangers than is the wife who cannot make effective defence against outrage save through a costly suit for divorce, and not then if her licensed assailant has committed no offence which the law does not sanction, as it does this. By the way, Miss Gardener had something to say about “licensed lechery,” in connection with the age-of-consent laws; but this is the only “licensed” crime of the kind of which I have heard, – this legal subjection of the wife to the husband, in the spirit of the good old Bible injunction, “as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything,” regardless of the state of his or their health. Dr. Janney should do a good deal of hard thinking before he writes again.

    A Protest Against Gratuitous Insults
    ACS.18 In conclusion, I wish to protest against the phraseology of most, if not all, of these conventional moralists. Miss Willard, to illustrate, speaks of the girl of ten being “held responsible equally with her strong, relentless, and doughty assailant for the sale of herself in a crime of which two only are capable.” But, if two persons are capable of contracting for this relation, if cannot be a crime; you may call it unchaste, or immoral, or vicious, but a crime it cannot be. In the case of the child and the man, however, one of them not being able to contract, it can be neither a crime nor an immoral act on her part, for she does not invade him, and, as she presumably does not understand the nature of the act, it is not possible to conceive of it as an immoral action, so far as she is concerned. She may be severely injured physically and in her nervous system, but that does not imply moral obliquity. There is but one criminal in the case, and that is the invader, the man. Why, then, look upon her in any different light from that in which you would view the victim of a highway robber or burglar? She is simply a sufferer from assault, not a participant in immorality or crime.
    ACS.19 If Rev. Mr. Lewis and Dr. Janney are to be believed, woman is nothing but an incarnation of chastity; and, when she is smirched or becomes unorthodox in her sex nature and its manifestations, she is forever done for, – she has no other virtues or merits to redeem her or recommend her to our mercy. Man has many good qualifies as well as bad ones, and so, even if he has been or is irregular or vicious in his sex associations, he is not lost; he can do much to win the toleration, the praise, or perhaps the enthusiastic laudation of his fellows, including even the women who have not “sinned,” or been known to sin, which is the same thing to Mr. Grundy and his wife. Dr. Lewis refers to woman’s conventional chastity as her “one badge of womanhood.” Think of what that implies! A woman’s service in the cause of humanity is nothing; her arduous labors for the support of herself and her parents and children are nothing; her devotion to her country in the hospital is nothing; her literary or artistic productions are nothing; her brains are valueless, – nothing about her is worth a moment’s consideration but her conformity to a sexual code which may or may not be better than any other which man has invented. Her supposed faithfulness to this code is the “only badge of her womanhood”! Heavens! what would be left to the world of the achievements of men, if their sexual unorthodoxy had cancelled all their intellectual and ethical services? Where would be our inventions, our letters, our art, our science? Dr. Lewis insults the self-respecting women of the world, and they should sting him into shame and repentance with their unanimous and indignant affirmation that a true woman is something besides a bundle of sex nerves; they should tell him that they value themselves too highly to be thrown into a paroxysm of despair by a mistaken – if it is a mistaken – use of one function of their natures. Mr. Layton W. Crippen, fellow of the Society of Arts and member of the Japan Society, in a lecture at the Hotel Waldorf, New York, said that it was quite impossible to reconcile art and morality in the manner so often attempted. The real solution of the difficulty is in recognizing that goodness consists in more than mere “virtue”; in the words of the Kabbalah, it is composed of virtue and truth and beauty. So of the character of woman; her goodness consists in more than a mere fashionable adherence to a code of sex ethics, and she is not “ruined” by even real imprudence, if she have the strength of character to profit by her mistakes.
    ACS.20 Dr. Janney calls sex association outside of the conventional limits “degradation.” It may or may not be degradation, just as association within marriage may or may not be degradation. All depends on other factors than the license granted or withheld by the State, or the formula repeated or not repeated by priest or magistrate. The essential verities do not depend for their validity on any such ephemeral things as States and churches. There is no reason why liberty should degrade love, and no reason why a political or religious machine should legitimatize or sanctify prostitution and invasion; but there are many reasons why liberty should make sane and responsible the relations of the sexes, and why legal and ecclesiastical tyranny should do the very opposite. These are not à priori assumptions; they are valid generalizations from millions of facts recorded in the history of mankind.

    The “Double Standard” of “Honor”
    ACS.21 Once more Dr. Janney. He tells us that “no possession is so precious to a woman as her honor”; “it is infinitely more valuable to her than gold, houses, lands, or jewels; more valuable to her than even life itself.” “Rather should the age of consent be placed above eighteen years than under it. Let chastity be valued above money.” No fault can be found with the last sentence, but what does the doctor think of the women who marry for money and position and homes? But let that pass; he will not fail to see the pertinency of the question, I think. Nothing could well be more insulting to womanhood than this writer’s cool assumption that woman's honor contains but one constituent element, – her chastity, as he calls it, which, after all, may be nothing more than her cowardice, or her superstitious reverence for traditions, or her coldness, or her ill-health, or her worldly prudence, or her happy family life leaving nothing at present to be desired. A man’s honor is not entirely dissociated from the capacity and wish to tell the truth, from the desire to be honest in his business engagements, from his capacity to respect the rights of others and to be a gentleman in the broadest and best meaning of the word. Why should a woman’s “honor” be held by the self-vaunted moralists to be less inclusive than that of her brother? Is it not as honorable to tell the truth, to be financially honest, to respect the rights of one’s neighbors, to be womanly in the noblest sense, as it is to conform to a sexual code imposed by others? Why should a young woman be denied her right of choice merely because it is feared that she may possibly make a mistake in her love relations and so lose her “honor,” when, in fact, she may be sexually unconventional, and yet be in all respects honorable to a degree? Let us be done with this nauseating cant which ignores every factor but one that contributes to complete womanhood, that one factor being sexual “purity,” which is so often counterfeited by mere conventional conformity that the rational thinker places no value on the verbal counters with which it is attempted to give it universal currency.
    ACS.22 Give us liberty, and chastity, purity, and morality will take care of themselves, because all will then have an opportunity to be healthfully chaste, pure, and moral instead of traditionally, customarily, or legally conventional – in the gaze of the world.

    ACS.n1.1 1 Since the above was written, the Woman Suffrage Association has been in convention in Atlanta, and it had a jubilee over the news that the bill raising the age of consent to twenty-one years, introduced by the Hon. Mrs. Holly in the Colorado assembly, had been passed by that body of wiseacres. The suffragists telegraphed their congratulations to Mrs. Holly. Why did the legislature not raise the “age” to sixty years and be done with it? Why stop at trifles, or be influenced in the least by considerations of good sense and justice?

    Liberty 10.20, no. 306 (9 February 1896), pp. 2-5; no. 314, pp. 6-7.

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