In Defense of Women

Author: H. L. Mencken

10. The Process of Delusion

Such poor fools, rolling their eyes in appraisement of such meagre female beauty as is on display in Christendom, bring to their judgments a capacity but slightly greater than that a cow would bring to the estimation of epistemologies. They are so unfitted for the business that they are even unable to agree upon its elements. Let one such man succumb to the plaster charms of some. prancing miss, and all his friends will wonder what is the matter with him. No two are in accord as to which is the most beautiful woman in their own town or street. Turn six of them loose in millinery shop or the parlour of a bordello, and there will be no dispute whatsoever; each will offer the crown of love and beauty to a different girl.

And what aesthetic deafness, dumbness and blindness thus open the way for, vanity instantly reinforces. That is to say, once a normal man has succumbed to the meretricious charms of a definite fair one (or, more accurately, once a definite fair one has marked him out and grabbed him by the nose), he defends his choice with all the heat and steadfastness appertaining to the defense of a point of the deepest honour. To tell a man flatly that his wife is not beautiful, or even that his stenographer or manicurist is not beautiful, is so harsh and intolerable an insult to his taste that even an enemy seldom ventures upon it. One would offend him far less by arguing that his wife is an idiot. One would relatively speaking, almost caress him by spitting into his eye. The ego of the male is simply unable to stomach such an affront. It is a weapon as discreditable as the poison of the Borgias.

Thus, on humane grounds, a conspiracy of silence surrounds the delusion of female beauty, and so its victim is permitted to get quite as much delight out of it as if it were sound. The baits he swallows most are not edible and nourishing baits, but simply bright and gaudy ones. He succumbs to a pair of well-managed eyes, a graceful twist of the body, a synthetic complexion or a skilful display of ankles without giving the slightest thought to the fact that a whole woman is there, and that within the cranial cavity of the woman lies a brain, and that the idiosyncrasies of that brain are of vastly more importance than all imaginable physical stigmata combined. Those idiosyncrasies may make for amicable relations in the complex and difficult bondage called marriage; they may, on the contrary, make for joustings of a downright impossible character. But not many men, laced] in the emotional maze preceding, are capable of any very clear examination of such facts. The truth is that they dodge the facts, even when they are favourable, and lay all stress upon the surrounding and concealing superficialities. The average stupid and sentimental man, if he has a noticeably sensible wife, is almost apologetic about it. The ideal of his sex is always a pretty wife, and the vanity and coquetry that so often go with prettiness are erected into charms. In other words, men play the love game so unintelligently that they often esteem a woman in proportion as she seems to disdain and make a mock of her intelligence. Women seldom, if ever, make that blunder. What they commonly value in a man is not mere showiness, whether physical or spiritual, but that compound of small capacities which makes up masculine efficiency and passes for masculine intelligence. This intelligence, at its highest, has a human value substantially equal to that of their own. In a man’s world it at least gets its definite rewards; it guarantees security, position, a livelihood; it is a commodity that is merchantable. Women thus accord it a certain respect, and esteem it in their husbands, and so seek it out.


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Chicago: H. L. Mencken, "10. The Process of Delusion," In Defense of Women, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 in In Defense of Women (New York: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1906), Original Sources, accessed August 17, 2019,

MLA: Mencken, H. L. "10. The Process of Delusion." In Defense of Women, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, in In Defense of Women, Vol. 22, New York, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1906, Original Sources. 17 Aug. 2019.

Harvard: Mencken, HL, '10. The Process of Delusion' in In Defense of Women, ed. . cited in 1906, In Defense of Women, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 17 August 2019, from