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here is nothing very pronounced about the feminine modes of aggression and retaliation; and yet each is eloquent and sufficient for its purpose. It may be only a stare, a shrug, a toss of the head; but women can throw an intensity of disdain into the simplest gesture which answers the end perfectly. The unabashed serenity and unflinching constancy with which one woman can stare down another is in itself an art that requires a certain amount of natural genius, as well as careful cultivation. She puts up her eyeglass—not being shortsighted—and surveys the enemy standing two feet from her, with a sublime contempt for her whole condition, or with a still more sublime ignoring of her sentient existence, that no words could give. If the enemy be sensitive and unused to the kind of thing, she is absolutely crushed, destroyed for the time, and reduced to the most pitiable state of self-abasement. If she be of a tougher fibre, and has had some experience of feminine warfare, she returns the stare with a corresponding amount of contempt or of obliviousness; and from that moment a contest is begun which never ceases and which continually gains in bitterness. The stare is the weapon of offence most in use among women, and is specially favoured by the experienced against the younger and less seasoned. It is one of the instinctive arms native to the sex; and we have only to watch the introduction of two girls to each other to see this, and to learn how even in youth is begun the exercise which time and use raise to such deadly perfection.

In the conversations of women with each other we again meet with examples of their peculiar amenities to their own sex. They never refrain from showing how much they are bored; they contradict flatly, without the flimsiest veil of apology to hide their rudeness; and they interrupt ruthlessly, whatever the subject in hand may be. One lady was giving another a minute account of how the bride looked yesterday when she was married to Mr. A., of somewhat formidable boudoir repute, with whom her listener had had sundry tender passages which made the mention of his marriage a notoriously sore subject. 'Ah! I see you have taken that old silk which Madame Josephine wanted to palm off on me last year,' said the tortured listener brusquely breaking into the narrative without a lead of any kind. And the speaker was silenced. In this case it was the interchange of doubtful courtesies, wherein neither deserved pity; but to make a disparaging remark about a gown, in revenge for turning the knife in a wound, was a thoroughly feminine manner of retaliation, and one that would not have touched a man. Such shafts fall blunted against the rugged skin of the coarser creature; and the date or pattern of a bit of cloth would not have told much against the loss of a lover. But as most women passionately care for dress, their toilet is one of their most vulnerable parts. Ashamed to be unfashionable, they tolerate anything in each other rather than shabbiness or eccentricity, even when picturesque; hence a sarcastic allusion to the age of a few yards of silk as a set-off against a grossly cruel stab was a return wound of considerable depth cleverly given. [“Feminine Amenities,” I, 185-87]


Linton, Eliza Lynn. The Girl of the Period and Other Social Essays. London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1883. Project Gutenberg web version produced by Clarity, Mary Akers, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team from images generously made available by the Internet Archive/American Libraries.

Last modified 5 July 2014