Women

( from A Raw Youth by Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1875 )

( from “the history of fashion” )

“I don’t like women because they’ve no manners, because they are awkward, because they are not self-reliant, and because they wear unseemly clothes!” I wound up my long tirade incoherently.

“My dear boy, spare us!” he cried, immensely delighted, which enraged me more than ever…

“I’m not speaking for your entertainment,” I almost shouted at him. “I am speaking from conviction.”

“But how do you mean that women have no manners and are unseemly in their dress? That’s something new.”

“They have no manners. Go to the theatre, go for a walk. Every man knows the right side of the road, when they meet they step aside, he keeps to the right, I keep to the right. A woman, that is a lady – it’s ladies I’m talking about – dashes straight at you as though she doesn’t see you, as though you were absolutely bound to skip aside and make way for her. I’m prepared to make way for her as a weaker creature, but why has she the right, why is she so sure it’s my duty – that’s what’s offensive. I always curse when I meet them. And after that they cry out that they’re oppressed and demand equality; a fine sort of equality when she tramples me under foot and fills my mouth with sand.”

“With sand?”

“Yes, because they’re not decently dressed – it’s only depraved people don’t notice it. In the law-courts they close the doors when they’re trying cases of indecency. Why do they allow it in the streets, where there are more people? They openly hang bustles on behind to look as though they had fine figures; openly! … They walk along the parade with trains half a yard long behind them, sweeping up the dust. It’s a pleasant thing to walk behind them: you must run to get in front of them, or jump on one side, or they’ll sweep pounds of dust into your mouth and nose. And what’s more it’s silk, and they’ll drag it over the stones for a couple of miles simply because it’s the fashion, when their husbands get five hundred roubles a year in the Senate: that’s where bribes come in! I’ve always despised them. I’ve cursed them aloud and abused them.”…

“And how do you come off?” the prince queried.

“I curse them and turn away. They feel it, of course, but they don’t show it, they prance along majestically without turning their heads. But I only came to actual abuse on one occasion with two females, both wearing tails on the parade; of course I didn’t use bad language, but I said aloud that long tails were offensive.”

“Did you use that expression?”

“Of course I did. To begin with, they trample upon the rules of social life, and secondly, they raise the dust, and the parade is meant for all. I walk there, other men walk, Fyodor, Ivan, it’s the same for all. So that’s what I said. And I dislike the way women walk altogether, when you look at their back view; I told them that too, but only hinted at it.”

“But, my dear boy, you might get into serious trouble; they might have hauled you off to the police station.”

“They couldn’t do anything. They had nothing to complain of: a man walks beside them talking to himself. Every one has the right to express his convictions to the air. I spoke in the abstract without addressing them. They began wrangling with me of themselves; they began to abuse me, they used much worse language than I did; they called me milksop, said I ought to go without my dinner, called me a nihilist, and threatened to hand me over to the police; said that I’d attacked them because they were alone and weak women, but if there’d been a man with them I should soon sing another tune. I very coolly told them to leave off annoying me, and I would cross to the other side of the street. And to show them that I was not in the least afraid of their men, and was ready to accept their challenge, I would follow them to their house, walking twenty paces behind them, then I would stand before the house and wait for their men. And so I did.”

“You don’t say so?”

“Of course it was stupid, but I was roused. They dragged me over two miles in the heat, as far as the ‘institutions,’ they went into a wooden house of one storey – a very respectable-looking one I must admit – one could see in at the windows a great many flowers, two canaries, three pug-dogs and engravings in frames. I stood for half an hour in the street facing the house. They peeped out two or three times, then pulled down all the blinds. Finally an elderly government clerk came out of the little gate; judging from his appearance he had been asleep and had been waked up on purpose; he was not actually in a dressing-gown, but he was in a very domestic-looking attire. He stood at the gate, folded his hands behind him, and proceeded to stare at me – I at him. Then he looked away, then gazed at me again, and suddenly began smiling at me. I turned and walked away.”

( Photo by Vilis Missa )

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