Couched as sentimental romance and utopian fantasy, Jones and Merchant's work satirises 19th-century gender roles and discrimination against women, unveiling the absurdities of socially constructed "femaleness" and "maleness".
Unveiling a Parallel : A Romance
My look of amazement arrested his attention.
“Why are you so surprised?” he asked. “Do not your women engage in business?”
“Well, not to such an extraordinary degree,” I replied. “We have women who work in various
ways, but there are very few of them who have large business interests, and they are not
entrusted with important public affairs, such as municipal government and the management
“Oh!” returned Severnius with the note of one who does not quite understand.
“Would you mind telling me why? Is it because they are incapable, or—unreliable?”
Neither of the words he chose struck me pleasantly as applied to my countrywomen.
I remembered that I was the sole representative of the Earth on Mars, and that it stood me in
hand to be careful about the sort of impressions I gave out. It was as if I were on the witness’
stand, under oath. Facts must tell the story, not opinions,—though personally I have great
confidence in my opinions. I thought of our government departments where women are the
experts, and of their almost spotless record for faithfulness and honesty, and replied:
“They are both capable and reliable, in as far as they have had experience. But their chances
have been circumscribed, and I believe they lack the inclination to assume grave public
duties. I fear I cannot make you understand,—our women are so different, so unlike your
Elodia was always my standard of comparison.
“Perhaps you men take care of them all,” suggested Severnius, “and they have grown
dependent. We have some such women here.”
“No, I do not think it is that entirely,” said I. “For in my city alone, more than a hundred and
seventy thousand women support not only themselves, but others who are dependent upon
“Ah, indeed! but how?”
“You mean servants?”
“Not so-called. I mean intelligent, selfrespecting women; teachers, clerks, stenographers,
“I should think it would be more agreeable, and easier, for them to engage in business as our
“No doubt it would,” I replied, feeling myself driven to a close scrutiny of the Woman
Question, as we call it, for the first time in my life. For I saw that my friend was deeply
interested and wanted to get at the literal truth. “But the women of my country,” I went on,
“the self-supporting ones, do not have control of money. They have a horror of speculation,
and shrink from taking risks and making ventures, the failure of which would mean loss or
ruin to others. A woman’s right to make her living is restricted to the powers within herself,
powers of brain and hand. She is a beginner, you know. She has not yet learned to make
money by the labor of others; she does not know how to manipulate those who are less
intelligent and less capable than herself, and to turn their ignorance and helplessness to her
own account. Perhaps I had better add that she is more religious than man, and is sustained
in this seeming injustice by something she calls conscience.”
Severnius was silent for a moment; he had a habit of setting his reason to work and searching
out explanations in his own mind, of things not easily understood.
As a rule, the Marsians have not only very highly developed physical faculties, such as sight
and hearing, but remarkably acute intellects. They let no statement pass without
examination, and they scrutinize facts closely and seek for causes.
“If so many women,” said he, “are obliged to support themselves and others beside, as you
say, by their work simply, they must receive princely wages,—and of course they have no
responsibilities, which is a great saving of energy.”
I remembered having heard it stated that in New York City, the United States Bureau gives
the average of women’s wages—leaving out domestic service and unskilled labor—as five
dollars and eighty-five cents per week. I mentioned the fact, and Severnius looked aghast.
“What, a mere pittance!” said he. “Only about a third as much as I give my stableman. But
then the conditions are different, no doubt. Here in Thursia that would no more than fight off
the wolf, as we say,—the hunger and cold. It would afford no taste of the better things,
freedom, leisure, recreation, but would reduce life to its lowest terms,—mere existence.”
“I fear the conditions are much the same with us,” I replied.
“And do your women submit to such conditions,—do they not try to alter them, throw them
“They submit, of course,” I said; “I never heard of a revolt or an insurrection among them!
Though there seems to be growing up among them, lately, a determination strong as death, to
work out of those conditions as fast as may be. They realize—just as men have been forced to
realize in this century—that work of the hands cannot compete with work of machines, and
that trained brains are better capital than trained fingers. So, slowly but surely, they are
reaching up to the higher callings and working into places of honor and trust. The odds are
against them, because the ‘ins’ always have a tremendous advantage over the ‘outs.’ The
women, having never been in, must submit to a rigid examination and extraordinary tests.
They know that, and they are rising to it. Whenever, it is said, they come into competition
with men, in our colleges and training schools, they hold their own and more.”
“What are they fitting for?” asked Severnius.
“Largely for the professions. They are becoming doctors, lawyers, editors, artists, writers. The
enormous systems of public schools in my own and other countries is entirely in their
hands,—except of course in the management and directorship.”
“Except in the management and directorship?” echoed Severnius.
“Of course they do not provide and disburse the funds, see to the building of school-houses,
and dictate the policy of the schools!” I retorted. “But they teach them; you can hardly find a
male teacher except at the head of a school,—to keep the faculty in order.”
Severnius refrained from comment upon this, seeing, I suppose, that I was getting a little
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