©2008 NewFoundations

H. L. Mencken On "Woman"

edited 8/19/11

H. L. Mencken won fame for his witty and acerbic attacks on the hypocrisy and provinciality of the American “booboisie.” He also distinguished himself as a scholar of American English, publishing numerous studies characterized by insight, perspicacity and lucidity of style. He was one of the most influential critics in the nation, and his pungent observations regarding contemporary literature were required reading for several generations of American intellectuals.

Mencken’s attitude toward women was an admixture of tenderness, whimsical appreciation and respect. He believed that “woman is at once the serpent, the apple, and the bellyache” while remaining convinced “that the average woman, whatever her deficiencies, is greatly superior to the average man.”

His mother was the central figure of his life, and much of his respect for women arose from his love for her. He did not marry until age 50, five years after his mother’s death, and his young, beguiling bride offered him the same domestic contentment that his mother had provided. After only five years of marriage, however, she succumbed to tuberculosis and Mencken was never quite able to overcome his profound sense of loss.


H[enry] L[ouis] Mencken (1880-1956) -- American journalist, literary critic, essayist and philologist famed for his withering scorn of the nation’s provincialism

Women do not like timid men. Cats do not like prudent rats.
-- The Old Subject

Women hate revolutions and revolutionists. They like men who are docile, and well - regarded at the bank, and never late at meals.
-- Prejudices

Man weeps to think that he will die so soon. Woman, that she was born so long ago.
-- The Old Subject  

Women usually enjoy annoying their husbands but not when they annoy them by growing fat.
-- The Old Subject,

No man is ever too old to look at a woman, and no woman is ever too fat to hope that he will look.
-- The Old Subject  

Women always excel men in that sort of wisdom which comes from experience. To be a woman is in itself a terrible experience.
-- The Old Subject

Women decide the larger questions of life correctly and quickly, not because they are lucky guessers, not because they are divinely inspired, not because they practice a magic inherited from savagery, but simply and solely because they have sense. They see at a glance what most men could not see with searchlights and telescopes; they are at grips with the essentials of a problem before men have finished debating its mere externals. They are the supreme realists of the race.
-- In Defense of Women

The superior acumen and self-possession of women is not inherent in any peculiarity of their constitutions, and above all, not in any advantage of a purely physical character. Its springs are rather to be sought in a physical disadvantage-- that is, in the mechanical inferiority of their frames, their relatively lack of tractive capacity, their deficiency as brute engines.
-- In Defense of Women

The first-rate woman is a realist. She sees clearly that, in a world dominated by second-rate men, the special capacities of the second-rate man are esteemed above all other capacities and given the highest rewards, and she endeavors to get her share of those rewards by marrying a second-rate man at the top of his class.
-- In Defense of Women

[Women] are quite without that dog-like fidelity to duty which is one of the shining marks of men. They never summon up a high pride in doing what is inherently disagreeable; they always go to the galleys under protest, and with vows of sabotage.
-- In Defense of Women

That it should still be necessary, at this late stage in the senility of the human race to argue that women have a fine and fluent intelligence is surely an eloquent proof of the defective observation, incurable prejudice, and general imbecility of their lords and masters.
-- In Defense of Women