Insult of the Week: Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say but they say it charmingly.


This week’s insult is provided by Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). While discussing Dorian’s apparent interest in the actress Sibyl Vane, Lord Henry Wotton states:

“My dear boy, no woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.”

“Harry, how can you?”

“My dear Dorian, it is quite true. I am analysing women at present, so I ought to know. The subject is not so abstruse as I thought it was. I find that, ultimately, there are only two kinds of women, the plain and the coloured. The plain women are very useful. If you want to gain a reputation for respectability, you have merely to take them down to supper. The other women are very charming. They commit one mistake, however. They paint in order to try and look young. Our grandmothers painted in order to try and talk brilliantly.  Rouge and esprit used to go together. That is all over now. As long as a woman can look ten years younger than her own daughter, she is perfectly satisfied. As for conversation, there are only five women in London worth talking to, and two of these can’t be admitted into decent society. However, tell me about your genius. How long have you known her?”

“Ah! Harry, your views terrify me.”

His views terrify us all, Dorian!


Image taken from page 222 of 'Golden Lives the story of a woman's courage  With .illustrations, etc'

Image of distinctly unimpressed woman taken from the Golden Lives: the story of a woman’s courage by Frederick Wicks (1891)


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Karen says:

    Next week I think we may need some Victorian misandry to balance out Lord Henry…

    Liked by 1 person

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