E. Belfort Bax May 1910
Source: New Age, 16 May 1910, p. 59;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Dr. Oldfield’s piteous whine for exempting women from the extreme penalty of the law while retaining it for men is hardly calculated to attract to his society those in whom the modern Feminist propaganda has left a rudimentary sense of justice. He has simply let the cat out of the bag. It now appears that the so-called “Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment” is no more than a blind; it really amounts to a Feminist “fake” for securing immunity for women from crimes for which the law exacts the extreme penalty for men. “What argument can any reasoning man have for perpetuating upon our statute book the crime of woman-hanging?” Answer: Precisely the same argument (if any) that the aforesaid “reasoning man” has for “perpetuating on our statute-book the crime of” man-hanging – neither more nor less.
Dr. Oldfield presumably believes in Female Suffrage. He believes, that is, that women are intellectually capable of full political rights with men, and yet, on the other hand, he denies them to be morally capable with men of distinguishing right from wrong. (“The passions that sway women to murder,” he says, “are such as to make them wholly irresponsible for their actions.” If so it is quite clear that the inferiority of woman to man is of such a stupendous character that any talk of sex-equality is not merely unsound, but is on the face of it absurd. Most unprejudiced persons would probably consider that the statement above quoted, while applying to some female criminals also applied to some male criminals. But Dr. Oldfield wants to make sex the dividing line. If Dr. Oldfield refers to the crime passionel, and wishes to exempt this particular form of crime from the death penalty, why should he limit the exemption to one sex only? For my own part, I can see no reason whatever for special leaning towards the crime passionel in either sex. But be I right or wrong in this, there is no gainsaying that this type of crime is to be met with in both sexes alike. Of course, we have the usual snivelling appeal for chivalry towards the gentle murderess – the baby-farmer, the wholesale poisoner, the “female bluebeard"! My own feeling is that male chivalry ought really, if it is worth anything, to proclaim Divine Woman to be above the law, once for all – this would simplify matters, and be something like an adequate recognition of the “dignity of Womanhood.”
Dr. Oldfield does not disdain the demagogic art of working up an effect by harrowing his readers —only unfortunately rather stale drugs have had to be used for the process – a case alleged to have occurred some 150 years ago at Oxford, and something which probably never actually happened at all (at least in this country), viz., the scalding to death of female prisoners. The only instance in which this punishment is recorded as having been inflicted, I believe I am right in saying, was on a mere man, named Rose, in the reign of Henry VIII. Dr. Oldfield, however, thinks, I suppose, that mere men (other than himself) don’t mind the procedure so much as women.
I have described Dr. Oldfield’s society as a blind for something other than what it professes. I go further, and say that its policy of sex-favouritism constitutes it the worst enemy of its avowed aim. If there is anything likely to retard that complete abolition of capital punishment which so many of us desire, in the present state of public feeling, it is the abolition of the death-penalty for women. As Mr. Collinson, of the Humanitarian League, has more than once pointed out, these uni-sexual penal laws are the greatest foes of progress in humanity. The abominable enactment of 1820, which abolished flogging for women while retaining it for men, has left our prison system saddled with the lash ('for men only,’, of course) ever since. “Should we hang women"? Yes, emphatically, precisely so long as we hang men, and no longer!
E. BELFORT BAX.
P. S. Dr. Oldfield tries to score a point by maintaining that the non-enfranchisement of women justifies a difference between the penal sauce for goose and gander. But many men also do not possess the franchise. So his argument, stripped of feminist sentiment, resolves itself into the following proposition: “ No non-elector ought to be hanged “