1857: Conference on Men’s Rights proposed

The following essay entitled Men’s Rights by Mr. Todd proposes a men’s rights conference be held in response to the women’s convention. The author’s compassion and advocacy for men is testament to the skewed gender wars being waged in the 1800s – PW

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MEN’S RIGHTS. — TODD.

1. You are aware that the ladies, dear souls, have just been holding a most important Convention, at which they had resolutions, speeches, addresses, and appeals, in abundance, but no prayers. There were eloquence, wit, sharp and pointed rebuke, and thrilling disclosures of unsuspected facts, — all on the subject of Woman’s Rights.

2. There was a Rev. Miss, besides doctoresses and the like; and they seemed to unite in one deep lamentation over the wrongs, oppressions, and slavery of woman in these United States. I read the newspapers containing full reports of this convention, and rubbed my eyes, trying to get them wide open; for I had hitherto supposed that the ladies of this country were held in high esteem, and were treated so tenderly that they had no wish to complain.

3. Alas! alas! I find they are bowed down and trampled upon; and there is not one drop of misery in the most galling slavery, which our ladies have not tasted; —not one word in the recital of the wrongs of Egyptian bondage,1 that cannot apply to them. So they tell us!

4. Well, I sat and thought it over, till my soul was moved; and with sorrow I thought what a cruel creature I had been, all my life, to my wife, daughters, and sisters! To be sure, I have always given my poor earnings into my wife’s hands to spend for the family; because I knew she could do it better than I; and I have given my daughters the best education possible, and far better than I had.

5. But what then? Are they not oppressed? Don’t they have to use a side-saddle, while I don’t? Don’t they have to carry a muff, and sit under the buffalo, in a cold day, while I have the privilege of driving? When the snow is deep, don’t they have to wait till I can dig paths?

6. Ah me! and is there nothing to be said on the other side? Suppose we carry the war into the enemy’s camp a little, and speak of our sufferings and grievances. Can we not excite sympathy if we speak of our unredressed wrongs?

7. Now I propose to call a Man’s Convention in some important place, say Matildatown, and to have a meeting of the greatest and best, the wisest and the boldest, and see if we can not emancipate ourselves from this thralldom.

8. What do I propose? that a question! Why, sir, I would have a cavalcade of butchers as long as Maiden Lane;2 and I would let them tell how they had been compelled to do the dirty, disagreeable work of killing calves and pigs, sheep and oxen, and then dressing and cutting and carrying them to the door, and feeling very thankful if dear woman would just come out to the cart, and point, with her jeweled finger, at the piece she would like for the table!

9. I would have a long line of coal-diggers come up from the deep mines where they live, two miles from daylight, and never see the bright heavens but once a week; and they should come with their little lamps in their caps, and all covered with coal-dust! No, they would not come; they couldn’t be spared long enough.

10. But they should send up their story of wrong and oppression, and tell the Convention that no woman ever came there with pickax and blasting-powder. What heart in the assembly, especially what female heart, could remain unmoved when the voice came from those dreary subterranean caverns! and when the buried cried out against the wrongs imposed on my sex!

11. There are, it is said, three millions of men constantly on the deep, as sailors, standing at the helm, working the pump, climbing the shrouds, wet and cold in the storm, clinging to the wreck, going down to watery graves,—and for what? Why, that our dear ones may have their silks, their shawls, their laces, their china, and their perfumes!

12. It is estimated that fifty thousand men, every year, are buried in the mighty deep. O woman, woman! What do you mean? Why are you not hanging on the swinging yards, climbing the mast, and facing these hardships and dangers? I do protest against the slavery to which you have sunk my kind!

13. And the Convention should be electrified by the eloquence of men who fill_our streets; who bear burdens; who carry all the brick and mortar to build the fine houses; who are obliged to handle pork and tobacco, train-oil and sugar, molasses and codfish; who are all day long confined in dusty, close counting-rooms, and exhausting life and strength- over blotted account-books; who, in lonely church-yards, must dig graves, and work with no company save the moldering dead!

14. Are we not compelled, early and late, to do the hardest, vilest, filthiest work that human beings ever performed? What a story of wrong could we not tell? When I come to your great city, I can’t get a seat in the cars till the ladies are provided for, and that, too, next the window!

15. I can’t get a seat at the table, in the hotel or in the steam-boat, till the ladies are seated at the head of the table, where, I understand, the greatest de1icacies are placed; and if any body has to wait for the second table, and eat fragments, it is not a lady. If a gentleman has a seat in the cars, and a lady comes in and wants it, though he were the king him self, he must give it up cheerfully.

16. Ah! and who feeds the iron horse and makes the cars go? Who lights the street-lamps, brushes boots, colors your hats, and pounds down the stones in the street? O men, men poor men! my soul yearns over you, and longs for your deliverance!

17. Do you not see that it’s the women who keep you down to these ignoble toils, and who snuff out the very light of your existence? Do you not see that, if they would only come and help us, and lift off our burden, we might be free?

18. I used to think — foolish me! — I used to think that the Bible made us to be the protectors of women, and that thus the strong were to bear the infirmities of the weak, and that we could not fulfill the designs of Providence without doing all this hard drudgery, and exempting our feebler sisters from it. But since their famous Convention I have learned differently.

19. I knew it was disagreeable to be surgeons, and to amputate arms and legs, and cut out tumors, and sew up wounds; but I had no idea that the ladies were longing, to cut and saw too.

20. I knew that our lawyers were a kind of civil police to keep the community quiet, and aided, as a chimney, to carry off the smoke of society; but I had no idea that our ladies were grieved that they were not chimneys too! In short, I see things in a new and strange light; and I am all awake for having a Men’s Rights Convention.

Notes:

[1] Egyptian bondage, a bondage the most rigorous and unreasonable, which was inflicted upon the Israelites for several centuries by the hard-hearted kings of Egypt
[2] Maiden Lane, the name of a street in the city of New York.

Source: The Progressive Fourth Reader, for Public and Private Schools. pp. 97-100, (published in 1857 by Bazin & Ellsworth)

A Word for Men’s Rights (1856)

The following long article from 1856 discusses the sexist laws that oppressed men and benefited women, including the practice of frivolous, unjustified lawsuits for supposed breach of marriage promise (or implied promise, or imagined promise). Such suits came, by the late part of the nineteenth century to be a standard operating procedure for women who either felt genuinely spurned or, just as frequently, women who saw an opportunity to misuse laws to control men. By the late 1920s, the practice had become a widespread criminal enterprise, highly profitable for both weeping bogus sweetheart and racketeering lawyer that it gained the appellation, “The Heart Balm Racket.”

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Putnam's 1856

— A Word for Men’s Rights —

FULL TEXT: The notions which rule inside of men’s heads, and the phrases in vogue to represent them are hardly less liable to fluctuation than is the fashion of the outward adornment, whether by hats, caps, bonnets, periwigs, or powder. Sixty or seventy years ago, scarcely anything was so much talked of as the rights of man. Where this phrase came from, we cannot tell. It is not to be met with in any writer of prior date to the middle of the last century. James Otis used it in his famous tract on the Rights of the American Colonies, nor are we aware of any earlier appearance of it in print. Sudden, however, and obscure as its first appearance was, it took, and soon became one of the most fashionable of phrases. It played a great part in the American Revolution. It found its way into our Declaration of Independence, and into the fundamental laws of most of our states. It played a still greater part in the French revolution. Ten or a dozen French constitutions, more or less, were founded upon it. Thomas Paine wrote a famous book, with this title. For a while, nothing was so much talked of as the rights of man—talked of, we say—for, as happened in the case of the thirsty Indian, so with respect to these rights, it was pretty much all talk, with very little cider.

In sixty years, however, fashions have changed. The rights of man —once in everybody’s mouth—are seldom heard of now-a-days—unless it be in an abolition convention—or, if mentioned at all, in Congress and other respectable places, these rights, once the hope of humanity, are referred to, only to be sneered at, as a flourish of rhetoric—a chimera of the imagination.

Still, we are not left speechless nor hopeless. Hope still remains at the bottom of the box, with a fine sounding phrase to back it. Let the men go to the deuce. What of that? Does not lovely woman still remain to us? Today, the fashionable phrase is—woman’s rights. The women have discovered, or think they have, that they are, and long have been tyrannized over, in the most brutal manner, by society, the laws, and their husbands. Woman’s rights is now the watch-word of a new movement for social reform, and even for political revolution—the women, among other things, claiming to vote.

It must be confessed that such general outcries are not commonly raised, without some reason. They are the natural expressions of pain and unsatisfied desire. It was not without reason that America and Europe, towards the close of the last century, raised the cry of the rights of man; and so, we dare say, it is not without reason that the rights of woman are now dinged into our ears. Nor is this cry without a marked effect, not merely upon manners and society, but also upon laws. Almost all our state legislatures are at work, with more or less diligence and enthusiasm, modifying their statute books, under the influence of this new zeal. To that we do not object. Putnam is for reform. Putnam is for progress. Putnam is for woman’s rights; but also for man’s rights—for everybody’s rights; and, in that spirit, we are going to offer a few hints to our legislators, whose vaulting zeal, on behalf of the ladies, seems a little in danger of overleaping itself, and jolting on t’other side. It is well to stand straight, but not well to tumble over backward, in attempting to do so.

Those who go about to modify our existing laws, as to the relation of husband and wife, will do well to reflect that the old English common law on this subject, if it be a rude and barbarous system, little suited to our advanced and refined state of society—which we do not deny—is also a consistent and logical system, of which the different parts mutually rest upon and sustain each other. In the repair, or modification of such a system, it is material that every part of it should be taken into account. Changes in one part will involve and require changes in other parts; otherwise, alterations, made with a view only to relieve the wife from tyranny and oppression, may work a corresponding injustice to the husband. Nor are the changes already made in our laws, partly by legislation and partly by usage, free from glaring instances of this sort.

The English common law makes the husband the guardian and master of the wife, who stands to him in the relation of a child and a servant. In virtue of this relation, the husband is legally responsible for the acts of the wife. If she slanders or assaults her neighbors, he is joined with the wife in the action to recover damages, and he alone is legally responsible for the amount of damages recovered, even to the extent of being sent to jail in default of payment. He is likewise responsible for debts contracted by the wife to the same extent that a father is responsible for the debts of his minor children. Even in criminal proceedings, it is he who must pay, or go to jail for not paying the fines imposed on his wife; and there are many cases, even cases of felony, in which the wife, acting in concert with her husband, is excused from all punishment, on the presumption that she acts by his compulsion, though in fact she may, as in the noted case of Macbeth’s wife, have been the instigator. Public opinion goes even further than the law, and holds the husband accountable, to a certain extent, for all misbehaviors and indiscretions on the part of his wife. Not only is he to watch that she does not steal, he is to watch that she does not flirt, and every species of infidelity, or even of levity on her part, inflicts no less disgrace upon him than upon her—disgrace which the received code of honor requires him to revenge upon the male delinquent not only in defiance of the law which forbids all breaches of the peace, but even at the risk of his own life.

The law and public opinion having anciently imposed all these heavy obligations on the husband, very logically and reasonably proceeded to invest him with corresponding powers and authority. Standing to the wife, as he was made to stand, in the relation of father and master, the law very reasonably invested him with all the rights and authority of a father and a master. How, indeed, was he to exercise the authority and to fulfill the obligations which the law and public opinion imposed upon him, of regulating the conduct of his wife, unless invested at the same time with means both of awe and coercion? Accordingly, the law and usage of England authorized the husband to chastise his wife—in a moderate manner—employing for that purpose a rod not thicker than his finger. The husband was also entitled to the personal custody of his wife, and was authorized in proper cases—if, for instance, she seemed disposed to run off with another man—to lock her up, and, if need were, to keep her on bread and water.

Now these, it must be confessed, were extensive powers—harsh and barbarous powers, if you please—though the law always contemplated that, in his exercise of them, the husband would .be checked by the same tenderness towards the wife of his bosom which tempers the exercise by the father of a similar authority over his children. But however extensive, however harsh or barbarous the powers of the husband may be, we appeal even to our female readers — if, indeed, a single female has had patience and temper to follow us thus far—we appeal even to that single female (or married one, as the case may be), to say how, in the name of common sense, is the husband to keep the wife in order, to the extent which the law and public opinion demands of him, except by the exercise of these powers, or at least by the awe which the known possession and possible exercise of them is fitted to inspire? If the fractious child is neither to be spanked nor shut up in the closet, how is domestic discipline to be preserved? What more effectual sedative to an excited and ungovernable temper, which might provoke both suits for assault and actions for slander, than retirement in one’s closet with the door locked and a glass of cold water to cool one’s burning tongue?

And so of another great topic of complaint on the part of the advocates of woman’s rights—the power which the husband has by the common law over the wife’s property. He being responsible for her debts and her acts, and being bound to provide for the support of the children, has, as a corollary thereto, the custody and disposition of the wife’s property, if she chances to inherit or to acquire any—which, unfortunately, in the middle ranks of life, where these notions of woman’s rights most extensively prevail, is, we are sorry to say, but too seldom the case.

Such are the relative rights and duties of the husband under the old English common law. Under this law a husband is not a mere chimera, a surd and impossible quantity. There is a logical consistency about him. He is, as Horace says of the stoic philosopher, terei ef rotundus, round and whole, armed at all points, provided with powers adequate to the duties expected of him.

In America we have no such husbands. Long before the cry of woman’s rights was openly raised, the powers and prerogatives of the American husband had been gradually undermined. Usage superseded law, and trampled it under foot. Sentiment put logical consistency at defiance, and the American husband has thus become a legal monster, a logical impossibility, required to fly without wings, and to run without feet.

Women care nothing for logic, but they have a sense of justice and tender hearts, and to their sense of justice we confidently appeal. Who can wonder that the men are so shy in taking upon them the responsibilities of the married state? Those responsibilities all remain exactly as in old times, while the means of adequately meeting them are either entirely taken away, or are in a fair way to be so. By the law as it now is, we believe in every state of the Union, the husband cannot lay his finger on his wife in the way of chastisement except at the risk of being complained of for assault and battery, and, perhaps, sued for a divorce, and (which is worse than either) of being pronounced by his neighbors a brutal fellow. The nominal custody of the person of the wife, which the law still, in some of the states, affects to bestow upon the husband, is a mere illusion. If he attempts to lock her up, she can sue out her habeas corpus, and oblige him to pay the expenses of it; and if she wishes to quit her husband’s house, and go elsewhere, he has no means of compelling her return. He may sue those with whom , takes refuge, for harboring her, but if he obtain damages at all, they will be only nominal. In many of the states, laws have been enacted and soon will be in all of them, giving the wife the exclusive control of her own property, acquired before or after marriage, by gift, inheritance, or her own industry.

While the wife is thus rendered to a great extent independent of her husband, he, by a strange inconsistency, is still held, both by law and public opinion, just as responsible for her as before. The old and reasonable maxim, that he who dances must pay the piper, not apply to wives—they dance, and the husband pays. To such an extent is this carried, that if the wife beats her husband, and he, having no authority to punish her in kind, applies to the criminal courts for redress, she will be fined for assault and battery, which fine he must pay, even thought she has plenty of money of her own. or, in default of paying, go to jail! Such cases are by no means of unprecedented occurrence in our criminal courts.

Now, what sense or reason is there in making the husband responsible for the licenses of the wife’s tongue, after he has lost all power to control it? If the wife is to hold her property separately, ought she not to be sued separately, both for debts and damages? If her property ought not to go to pay the husband’s debts, why ought his to go to pay hers? If the husband has lost the power to control tile goings in and runnings out of the wife, why ought public opinion to hold him any longer responsible therefor?

We have no objection to an amendment of the law in relation to husband and wife. Public opinion demands it. The progress of society requires it. But the new wine ought not to be put into old bottles, nor the old garments to be patched with new pieces, lest, as the proverb says, the rent be made worse than before.

But there is yet another recent innovation in the law, liable to still more serious objections. Not content with placing the unfortunate husband in an absurd and anomalous condition, not content with still demanding of him certain duties and obligations, at the same time that he is deprived of the powers and the rights essential to their fulfillment, reducing him in fact to a position hardly less ridiculous, and not at all less embarrassing, than that of a short-tail bull in fly-time—the law (as if conscious that, before entering into such an unequal alliance, the men would grow pretty critical as to the personal qualities of the women in whose power they were about so completely to place themselves) seeks to entrap us into matrimony against our inclinations, by holding, as it does, that any man who shows signs of having been impressed by a woman, becomes, if she is single, her lawful prize, and is bound to marry her if she insists upon it, or eke—stand a suit for breach of promise.

Though suits for breach of promise of marriage are comparatively a recent thing, in order fully to understand their nature it is necessary to go back to the dark ages. We pretend to be protestants; we rail against the popish church; yet in how many important matters are we still the mere slaves and tools of that church! The canon law was one of the most crafty devices of the middle age theocracy, and is a standing topic of reproach against Catholicism ; and yet in the most delicate of all our relations, that of marriage and divorce, we protestants are to this day substantially governed by the canon law! The canon law was made by monks, men forbidden to marry themselves, and therefore destitute of any personal experience by which to shape their legislation on this subject. They had, indeed, the Roman law as their guide, but this they departed from in the most essential particulars, as being altogether too reasonable to suit their ascetic theories or serve their purpose. The monks who made the canon law looked upon marriage as a sensual and unholy state, only to be tolerated in the gross laity, to prevent something worse; and they seem to have exerted their whole ingenuity to render this sinful condition as uncomfortable as possible. Hence the excessive hostility of the canon law to divorce, it being held a just punishment of the immorality of marrying at all, that persons Unsuitably or unhappily married should be kept during their natural lives tied together neck and heels, Bo that their torments in this world might give them, as it were, a relishing foretaste of what married sinners had to expect in the next. But while unhappy marriages were thus cursed with a perpetuity beyond the reach of the parties or the law, the ingenious canonists at the same time suspended over the heads of every happy couple the terror of an involuntary and forced separation, which should unmarry them and bastardize their children. One of the means employed for this devilish purpose was the doctrine of pre-contracts. A promise to marry was, according to the canon law, equivalent to a marriage, and every subsequent marriage to another party, pending the life of the party to whom the promise had been made, was vitiated by it. The canonists even went so far as to allow suits for the specific performance of these marriage contracts—the officers of their courts, on the suit of some disappointed virgin, entering the household of love, breaking up the family, stigmatizing the woman as a concubine and her children as illegitimate, and compelling the man to take his legal wife—as by virtue of some pretended pre-contract she was held to be—into his house and his bed. It is from this canonist doctrine of precontracts that our suits for breach of promise are derived. The common law, indeed, being the work of ruder hands, is ignorant of that beneficial process of the Roman law—the suit for specific performance. In the case of the nonperformance of a contract, the common law contents itself with attempting to set matters right, by awarding damages for the non-performance. In this particular case, even this defect in the common law was a very fortunate thing, as otherwise, instead of merely having damages to pay for refusing to marry against our inclination, we might have been brought up to the ring-bolt of specific performance, and forced into the yoke any how.

It is often said that no woman of any delicacy or self-respect ever would or ever does bring a suit for breach of promise of marriage. That may be so; still nothing prevents a great many women, who would be entirely unwilling to confess to any deficiency of delicacy or self-respect, from taking advantage of the law, or more properly speaking, of the public sentiment out of which the law grows and which sustains it, to force their once lovers, but lovers no longer, into a reluctant and repugnant marriage ceremony. Whose private experience does not enable him to recount instances, in which men, sensibility and honor have suffered themselves to be thus forced into unsuitable matches, of which the unfortunate result has corresponded with the inauspicious beginning? Contrary to every principle of common sense, as well as to every instinct of sentiment, as are suits for breach of promise of marriage, yet undoubtedly they are fully sustained by the prevailing public sentiment. Otherwise it would be impossible to explain the extravagant lengths to which courts have gone in inferring a promise of marriage from the most trivial circumstances—waiting on a lady home from church; going to see her of a Saturday night; asking her twice of a winter to a ball; corresponding with her, though nothing is said in the letters about love or marriage; allowing her to darn your stockings. There is, indeed, no circumstance, however light or trivial, upon which the busy tongues of a country parish get up a rumor of an engagement, which is not held amply sufficient by our courts of law to establish the fact of a promise of marriage, and to lay the foundation of a suit for damages.

It is not, however, upon these extreme cases that we rest our opposition. We object to the proceeding in any case, no matter how solemn and formal the promise, nor how often renewed. We object to the whole idea of obligation in such a case, and, of course, to the enforcement of such supposed obligation by law. The whole thing is a gross abuse—to speak the truth—a scandalous abomination. The very idea of marriage, according to any but the grossest and lowest conception of it, implies the free and full consent of both the parties to it. On the part of the man, if not of the woman, it implies something more, not a mere tacit consent, but a forward, active, joyous consent. A great deal of sympathy has been expended over women forced by tyrannical fathers to give their hands without their hearts. A miserable case, truly, but altogether less miserable than that of a man, drawn, by a false sense of honor and a ridiculous public opinion, to speak a public lie, and, in the face of God and man, to pledge himself as a husband, when he knows he cannot be one. All promises are made with this implied reservation—that he who promises shall have it in his power to fulfill. This is true even of mercantile promises. No man is held to be under any moral obligation to pay his debts, any further than he has the means to pay; and upon giving up the property that he has, our insolvent laws will discharge him from the legal obligation. A promise to marry carries with it the implied reservation that he who promises shall continue to love. The promise is not, and is not understood to be, either by him who makes, or her who receives it, a promise merely to assume the legal responsibility of marriage; it is a promise to assume the moral and sentimental responsibilities also; and if, by change of circumstances or change of mind, it has become impossible to fulfill one part of the promise, if it is impossible to love. the whole necessarily falls to the ground.

What is the object and intent of that intimacy called an engagement of marriage, unless to enable the parties to live together in that freedom of intercourse which the mutual expectation of marriage inspires, for the very purpose of giving them an insight they would not otherwise have into each other’s character, and an opportunity of repentance and retraction before taking the irrevocable step? And if this be the object of an engagement—as who will venture to say it is not—how absurd to hold a man bound to marry, by the very process of socking to discover whether it will be judicious for him to marry or not?

Of all miserable things in this world of misery, a miserable marriage is the most miserable, yet every acute observer must have noticed that the misery of many of these marriages arises from causes too immaterial, so to speak, too spiritual to attract the notice of the casual observer. At a time when our courts and our legislatures are besieged by wives and husbands struggling to get rid of uncongenial partners; when the laws on the subject of divorce are loudly complained of in so many quarters, as failing to afford that relief which they ought, one measure, it would seem, might suit equally well both the friends and the enemies of the freedom of divorce. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It may be necessary to allow those married persons to separate, who have become not merely tiresome, but hateful to each other; but how much better to avoid the blunder of bringing such people together? Divorce at the pleasure of either party, after the marriage has been consummated, and especially after children are born, is limited to some very weighty objections; but what can be the objection to allowing the freedom of separation in cases where no marriage has yet been celebrated? If, indeed, to seek the intimacy of a lady with a view to discover if she is fit to be your wife, is to carry with it the obligation to make her so, at all events, we are in no respect better off than the Chinese, who marry their wives without over having seen them. So far, indeed, as the wife’s person is concerned, we have an advantage over the Chinamen, in the privilege of seeing so much of it as she exhibits to the world at large in the street, or as she displays to a select circle in a ballroom. Looks, however, in this climate, are not much to be depended upon. American beauty fades with marvellous rapidity; while, as to the lady’s temper, and mental and moral traits, which in our state of civilization are of at least equal importance with her face, if we are so impertinent as to peep into them, the law and public opinion insist that in so doing we have contracted an obligation to marry her. Thus, in fact, we are worse off than the Chinaman. He, if not suited with one wife, can take another, and so on, till he is suited. We, when once married, are done for. We can neither get rid of our uncongenial wife nor take a congenial one. Under these circumstances, we ought at least to have the privilege of making a choice with our eyes open, and not be held by the very act of examination to have precluded ourselves from declining to accept an article, which, however taking it might seem at first sight, proves, on being more closely looked at, not what we wanted.

[“A Word For Men’s Rights.” Putnam’s Monthly, A Magazine of Literature, Science , and Art, Vol. II, Feb. 1856, No. XXXVIII, p. 208]

“Stang riding” as punishment for male victims of intimate partner violence

domestic violence DV woman commons

Stang riding, alternatively referred to as stanging, charivari, or riding the skimmington is a centuries-old practice intended to shame male victims of intimate partner violence by parading them through town on a wooden platform while enduring mockery and ridicule by onlookers. Essentially a vigilante justice action, the practice ceased by the earlier part of last century, or rather has been supplanted by more subtle forms of shaming male victims; ie. telling them to “man up” or by insinuating that a man must have done something wrong to “cause” his female partner to act violently.

From old newspaper reports in England we get clear evidence of the desire to shame those who rode the stang:

Stang riding – It has been asserted by an old writer that “Shame produceth reformation, where punishment faileth.” 1

“Riding the stang” was one of the few old customs still remaining by which the people of a particular place took the law into their own hands as an assumed right. It was formerly the tendency of the law that for minor offenses the culprits should be punished by some process that appealed to their sense of shame, such as that of the stocks or ducking stool, the pillory and so forth, and “riding the stang” was a popular way of acting on the same principle. 2

Stang riding was employed for married men and women transgressing social norms, including the norm that a man should defend himself when his wife perpetrated physical violence against him – i.e. If the man failed to defend himself he was forced to ride the stang, as described in the following English newspaper articles from the 1800s:

Stang Riding, or Riding the Skimmington, a mode of punishing certain delinquencies, or of ridiculing a man who allows his wife to beat him, [is] still followed in some parts of the country. It consists of making him ride a wooden horse in procession, with the accompaniment of much noise.3

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Stanging, or riding the stang, was a name by which a mode of punishment, at one time very popular, especially in the north of England, was known. It was resorted to in cases where, through the frailty or fault of either party, conjugal felicity had been violated. Sometimes the punishment was occasioned by a rustic swain having allowed his termagant wife to beat him; and this form of the custom has given rise to the slang word “stangey,” ie. a person under petticoat government.4

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In several parts of this country there was an old custom… believed to be of Saxon origin, prevailing, which was called Riding Stang. It occurred when a woman was known to have beaten her husband, and the mode of procedure was as follows:- the neighbours being assembled together, two men get into a cart and are drawn about by other men, when they beat an old tin can with a stick, a number of nonsensical lines are repeated, and the assembled multitude shout; and all this must be done in four neighbouring townships before the Stang Riding can be completed. Two men of the names Bent and Muddyman sometime ago came to reside at Hyde from a Stang Riding district, where they had not long been, before Bent got married, and Muddyman promised that when he [ie. Bent] allowed his wife to thrash him, he would give him the benefit of a Stang Ride. It was not long before Muddyman’s anticipations that Bent’s wife would thrash him were realized, and not forgetting his promise, a muster was made, and the ceremony was commenced on the evening of the 27th of July, when the plaintiff and Muddyman got into a cart, with a stick and a saucepan, with which they contrived to make some music, and the plaintiff repeated the following lines:-

Ran, dan, dan,
This you mun know by the sound of our can,
One of our neighbours has beat her good man;
Not for eating or drinking or feeding on souse,
But for spending two-pence in a neighbour’s house;
If he’ll be a good fellow and do so no more,
We won’t never sound our can at no neighbour’s door.

 
Muddyman, who was in the cart, and held one of the musical instruments, then made the following beautiful response:-

Tink of a kettle—tank of a pan,
This brassy-faced woman has beaten her man,
Neither with sword, dagger or knife,
But with an old shuttle she’d like to have taken his life.

 
…The can was then again tinkled, and the shout having been set up, the cart was drawn to the townships of Godley and Haughton, the crowd accompanying it, where the same ceremony was performed, and the cavalcade returned in perfectly good order, through Hyde, toward another township, it being necessary that they should visit four.5

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The stang is of Saxon origin, and is practiced in Lancashire, Cumberland, and Westmoreland, for the purpose of exposing a kind of gynocracy, or, the wife wearing the gallskins. When it is known (which it generally is) that the wife falls out with her spouse, and beats him right well, the people of the town or village produce a ladder, and instantly repair to his house, where one of the partly is powdered with flour–face blackened–cocked hat placed upon his cranium–white sheet thrown over his shoulders–is seated astride the ladder–with his back where his face should be–they hoist him upon men’s shoulders–and in his hands he carries and long brush, tongs, and poker. A sort of mock proclamation is then made in doggerel verse at the door of all the ale-houses in the parish, or wapentake, as follows:

It is neither for your sake nor my sake
That I ride the stang;
But it is for Nancy Thomson,
Who did her husband hang.
But if I hear tell that she doth rebel,
Or him complain, with fife and drum
Then we will come,
And ride the stang again.
With a ran tan tang,
And a ran tan tan tang,” &c.6

Notice the man in the latter example is forced to carry a “long brush, tongs, and poker,” household objects usually attended by women, perhaps as an attempt to feminize and portray him as unmanly. One is reminded here of the centuries old Henpecked Club which held annual street processions of battered men carrying women’s household utensils, which symbolized their humility and humiliation.

Stanging as a method of shaming abused men took many forms, differing from town to town and from incident to incident. However one thing these rituals had in common was the attempt to shame male victims of domestic violence. While this history is readily available in newspaper and other archives, today’s historians of sociology have avoided any publishing or commentary on the material, hence this article to raise awareness of what we might aptly refer to as his-tory.

Sources:

[1] Chester Chronicle – Friday 28 May, 1813
[2] Cork Examiner – Monday 28 August, 1865
[3] Salisbury and Winchester Journal – Saturday 27 September, 1856
[4] Kent and Sussex Courier – Friday 13 August, 1880
[5] Chester Chronicle – Friday 27 April, 1827
[6] Lancashire Mirror – 18 January, 1829

See also:

Riding the Donkey Backwards: Men as the Unacceptable Victims of Marital Violence
Fire-poker princesses: a snapshot of female violence in nineteenth-century England
The Henpecked Club – a 200 year fellowship of abused husbands
A random selection of nineteenth century newspaper articles referencing stanging