The Age of Women

Undelivered address for a women’s club

Damon Runyon

(Note: We have received an offer from a New York lecture bureau to go on tour making addresses to clubs and other organizations. We are unable to accept because of a severe case of inarticulation, but we have been idly drafting a series of talks that we might have delivered had we the nerve.)

Madame chairman and ladies: I remember hearing in my youth a bit of verse in which a poet sang disconsolately of the encroachments of women upon what were then considered the special privileges of men, but who wound up his verse with a chant of joy because one privilege was still withheld from the members of your sex. I cannot now remember all the words of the verse. I only remember the lines which ran:

But she can’t strike a match

On the seat of her pants

Because she ain’t built that way.

Now then, in the days when those lines were written, the match commonly in use was one with a bit of sulphur at the end of a small stick and to ignite such a match it was necessary to produce friction by drawing the sulphured end across some hard surface. It was the practice of many men to h’ist the right or left leg a trifle, pulling the cloth of the trousers, or pants, tightly across the limb and rubbing the match-end smartly across the tightened cloth, thus producing the necessary friction.

I am offering this explanation for the benefit of my younger hearers. I am sorry that I did not bring an old-fashioned match with me that I might give you an ocular demonstration.

In my youth I was an expert lighter of matches in the manner I have described. I was ambidextrous. I could use either leg with equal facility. I realize now that it was a paltry accomplishment at best and might have been equalled by women even then, did not modesty forbid.

Indeed, I am sure that the starched surfaces they could have presented in those days would have furnished much better friction for match-striking purposes than the softer material of men’s trouserings. However, the point I am making here is that as far back as the era of sulphur matches, men sensed the approaching equality of women and were apprehensive to the extent of writing poetry.

Today that equality is an accomplished fact. You have pulled up dead even with men in almost every respect. This is the age of women. I congratulate you. I only regret that the old sulphur matches are no longer in vogue that you might refute the words of that verse maker of the bygone years by showing what friction a skirt tightened over a girdle might produce.

Today you have the vote. If it is suggested that you have not done much with the vote, you can reply that neither have we. Neither have the men. You are still on even terms with us there. Today you sit on juries with us and equal us in bewilderment over the issues involved. You have achieved the privilege of our barber shops. It has been years since it was any novelty to see a woman in a barber chair getting a haircut and shave.

You drive automobiles and ride horses a-straddle. You play all sorts of sports once dedicated solely to men. In some sports you not only equal but surpass many men. Only in the manly art of self-defense do you seem deficient in representation, but if any of you oversizes here present would train properly for two months you could lick most of the heavyweight contenders that are around nowadays. All you need is a good left jab and a little footwork.

Yes, this is the age of women. You have the freedom of the bar rooms once exclusive to men. It has not been so many years ago that you had to sneak around to the family entrance with the growler if you were a-thirst. Now you can walk right in and stand up at the mahogany as long as possible. You can smoke cigarettes and cigars in public, if you desire, or even a pipe. I would suggest that in smoking a pipe a woman should be careful to select one that matches her face.

The contour of a pipe is as important as the shape of a hat. Only recently there was mention in the papers of a woman smoking a pipe in a New York night club and it was agreed that it did not become her. Out of curiosity I made inquiry and learned that her pipe was a short dudeen that was not in proportion to her face. She should have used a pipe with a long, curving stem. That reminds me of a story, but I find my time is up, so I must depart. Ladies, I thank you.