The yellow wallpaper and.., p.22
The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories, p.22Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Humanity, thus considered, is not a thing made at once and unchangeable, but a stage of development; and is still, as Wells describes it, “in the making.” Our humanness is seen to lie not so much in what we are individually, as in our relations to one another; and even that individuality is but the result of our relations to one another. It is in what we do and how we do it, rather than in what we are. Some, philosophically inclined, exalt “being” over “doing.” To them this question may be put: “Can you mention any forms of life that merely ‘is,’ without doing anything?”
Taken separately and physically, we are animals, genus homo; taken socially and psychically, we are, in varying degree, human; and our real history lies in the development of this human-ness.
Our historic period is not very long. Real written history only goes back a few thousand years, beginning with the stone records of ancient Egypt. During this period we have had almost universally what is here called an Androcentric Culture. The history, such as it was, was made and written by men.
The mental, the mechanical, the social development, was almost wholly theirs. We have, so far, lived and suffered and died in a man-made world. So general, so unbroken, has been this condition, that to mention it arouses no more remark than the statement of a natural law. We have taken it for granted, since the dawn of civilization, that “mankind” meant menkind, and the world was theirs.
Women we have sharply delimited. Women were a sex; “the sex,” according to chivalrous toasts; they were set apart for special services peculiar to femininity. As one English scientist put it, in 1888, “Women are not only not the race—they are not even half the race, but a sub-species told off for reproduction only.”
This mental attitude toward women is even more clearly expressed by Mr. H. B. Marriot-Watson in his article on “The American Woman” in the “Nineteenth Century” for June, 1904, where he says: “Her constitutional restlessness has caused her to abdicate those functions which alone excuse or explain her existence.” This is a peculiarly happy and condensed expression of the relative position of women during our androcentric culture. The man was accepted as the race type without one dissentient voice; and the woman—a strange, diverse creature, quite disharmonious in the accepted scheme of things—was excused and explained only as a female.
She has needed volumes of such excuse and explanation; also, apparently, volumes of abuse and condemnation. In any library catalogue we may find books upon books about women: physiological, sentimental, didactic, religious—all manner of books about women, as such. Even today in the works of Marholm—poor young Weininger, Moebius, and others, we find the same perpetual discussion of women—as such.
This is a book about men—as such. It differentiates between the human nature and the sex nature. It will not go so far as to allege man’s masculine traits to be all that excuse or explain his existence; but it will point out what are masculine traits as distinct from human ones, and what has been the effect on our human life of the unbridled dominance of one sex.
We can see at once, glaringly, what would have been the result of giving all human affairs into female hands. Such an extraordinary and deplorable situation would have “feminized” the world. We should have all become “effeminate.”
See how in our use of language the case is clearly shown. The adjectives and derivatives based on woman’s distinctions are alien and derogatory when applied to human affairs; “effeminate”—too female, connotes contempt, but has no masculine analogue; whereas “emasculate”—not enough male, is a term of reproach, and has no feminine analogue. “Virile”—manly, we oppose to “puerile”—childish, and the very word “virtue” is derived from “vir”—a man.
Even in the naming of other animals we have taken the male as the race type, and put on a special termination to indicate “his female,” as in lion, lioness; leopard, leopardess; while all our human scheme of things rests on the same tacit assumption; man being held the human type; woman a sort of accompaniment and subordinate assistant, merely essential to the making of people.
She has held always the place of a preposition in relation to man. She has been considered above him or below him, before him, behind him, beside him, a wholly relative existence—“Sydney’s sister,” “Pembroke’s mother”—but never by any chance Sydney or Pembroke herself.
Acting on this assumption, all human standards have been based on male characteristics, and when we wish to praise the work of a woman, we say she has “a masculine mind.”
It is no easy matter to deny or reverse a universal assumption. The human mind has had a good many jolts since it began to think, but after each upheaval it settles down as peacefully as the vine-growers on Vesuvius, accepting the last lava crust as permanent ground.
What we see immediately around us, what we are born into and grow up with, be it mental furniture or physical, we assume to be the order of nature.
If a given idea has been held in the human mind for many generations, as almost all our common ideas have, it takes sincere and continued effort to remove it; and if it is one of the oldest we have in stock, one of the big, common, unquestioned world ideas, vast is the labor of those who seek to change it.
Nevertheless, if the matter is one of importance, if the previous idea was a palpable error, of large and evil effect, and if the new one is true and widely important, the effort is worth making.
The task here undertaken is of this sort. It seeks to show that what we have all this time called “human nature” and deprecated, was in great part only male nature, and good enough in its place; that what we have called “masculine” and admired as such, was in large part human, and should be applied to both sexes; that what we have called “feminine” and condemned, was also largely human and applicable to both. Our androcentric culture is so shown to have been, and still to be, a masculine culture in excess, and therefore undesirable.
In the preliminary work of approaching these facts it will be well to explain how it can be that so wide and serious an error should have been made by practically all men. The reason is simply that they were men. They were males, and saw women as females—and not otherwise.
So absolute is this conviction that the man who reads will say, “Of course! How else are we to look at women except as females? They are females, aren’t they?” Yes, they are, as men are males unquestionably; but there is possible the frame of mind of the old marquise who was asked by an English friend how she could bear to have the footman serve her breakfast in bed—to have a man in her bed-chamber—and replied sincerely, “Call you that thing there a man?”
The world is full of men, but their principal occupation is human work of some sort; and women see in them the human distinction preponderantly. Occasionally some unhappy lady marries her coachman—long contemplation of broad shoulders having an effect, apparently; but in general women see the human creature most; the male creature only when they love.
To the man, the whole world was his world; his because he was male; and the whole world of woman was the home; because she was female. She had her prescribed sphere, strictly limited to her feminine occupations and interests; he had all the rest of his life; and not only so, but, having it, insisted on calling it male.
This accounts for the general attitude of men toward the now rapid humanization of women. From her first faint struggles toward freedom and justice, to her present valiant efforts toward full economic and political equality, each step has been termed “unfeminine,” and resented as an intrusion upon man’s place and power. Here shows the need of our new classification, of the three distinct fields of life—masculine, feminine and human.
As a matter of fact, there is a “woman’s sphere,” sharply defined and quite different from his; there is also a “man’s sphere,” as sharply defined and even more limited; but there remains a common sphere—that of humanity, which belongs to both alike.
In the earlier part of what is known as “the woman’s movement,” it was sharply opposed on the grou
As part of our androcentric culture, we may point to the peculiar reversal of sex characteristics which makes the human female carry the burden of ornament. She alone, of all human creatures, has adopted the essentially masculine attribute of special sex-decoration; she does not fight for her mate, as yet, but she blooms forth as the peacock and bird of paradise, in poignant reversal of nature’s laws, even wearing masculine feathers to further her feminine ends.
Woman’s natural work as a female is that of the mother; man’s natural work as a male is that of the father; their mutual relation to this end being a source of joy and well-being when rightly held; but human work covers all our life outside of these specialities. Every handicraft, every profession, every science, every art, all normal amusements and recreations, all government, education, religion; the whole living world of human achievement: all this is human.
That one sex should have monopolized all human activities, called them “man’s work,” and managed them as such, is what is meant by the phrase “Androcentric Culture.”
THE MAN-MADE FAMILY
The family is older than humanity, and therefore cannot be called a human institution. A post office, now, is wholly human; no other creature has a post office, but there are families in plenty among birds and beasts; all kinds permanent and transient; monogamous, polygamous and polyandrous.
We are now to consider the growth of the family in humanity; what is its rational development in humanness; in mechanical, mental and social lines; in the extension of love and service; and the effect upon it of this strange new arrangement—a masculine proprietor.
Like all natural institutions the family has a purpose; and is to be measured primarily as it serves that purpose; which is, the care and nurture of the young. To protect the helpless little ones, to feed and shelter them, to ensure them the benefits of an ever longer period of immaturity, and so to improve the race—this is the original purpose of the family.
When a natural institution becomes human it enters the plane of consciousness. We think about it; and, in our strange new power of voluntary action, do things to it. We have done strange things to the family; or, more specifically, men have.
Balzac, at his bitterest, observed, “Woman’s virtue is man’s best invention.” Balzac was wrong. Virtue—the unswerving devotion to one mate—is common among birds and some of the higher mammals. If Balzac meant celibacy when he said virtue, why that is one of man’s inventions—though hardly his best.
What man has done to the family, speaking broadly, is to change it from an institution for the best service of the child to one modified to his own service, the vehicle of his comfort, power and pride.
Among the heavy millions of the unstirred East, a child—necessarily a male child—is desired for the credit and glory of the father, and his fathers; in place of seeing that all a parent is for is the best service of the child. Ancestor worship, that gross reversal of all natural law, is of wholly androcentric origin. It is strongest among old patriarchal races; lingers on in feudal Europe; is to be traced even in America today in a few sporadic efforts to magnify the deeds of our ancestors.
The best thing any of us can do for our ancestors is to be better than they were; and we ought to give our minds to it. When we use our past merely as a guide-book, and concentrate our noble emotions on the present and future, we shall improve more rapidly.
The peculiar changes brought about in family life by the predominance of the male are easily traced. In these studies we must keep clearly in mind the basic masculine characteristics: desire, combat, self-expression; all legitimate and right in proper use, only mischievous when excessive or out of place. Through them the male is led to strenuous competition for the favor of the female; in the overflowing ardour of song, as in nightingale and tom-cat; in wasteful splendor of personal decoration, from the pheasant’s breast to an embroidered waistcoat; and in direct struggle for the prize, from the stag’s locked horns to the clashing spears of the tournament.
It is earnestly hoped that no reader will take offense at the necessarily frequent reference to these essential features of maleness. In the many books about women it is, naturally, their femaleness that has been studied and enlarged upon. And though women, after thousands of years of such discussion, have become a little restive under the constant use of the word female: men, as rational beings, should not object to an analogous study—at least not for some time—a few centuries or so.
How, then, do we find these masculine tendencies, desire, combat and self-expression, affect the home and family when given too much power?
First comes the effect in the preliminary work of selection. One of the most uplifting forces of nature is that of sex selection. The males, numerous, varied, pouring a flood of energy into wide modifications, compete for the female, and she selects the victor; thus securing to the race the new improvements.
In forming the proprietary family there is no such competition, no such selection. The man, by violence or by purchase, does the choosing—he selects the kind of woman that pleases him. Nature did not intend him to select; he is not good at it. Neither was the female intended to compete—she is not good at it.
If there is a race between males for a mate—the swiftest gets her first; but if one male is chasing a number of females he gets the slowest first. The one method improves our speed: the other does not. If males struggle and fight with one another for a mate, the strongest secures her; if the male struggles and fights with the female (a peculiar and unnatural horror, known only among human beings), he most readily secures the weakest. The one method improves our strength—the other does not.
When women became the property of men; sold and bartered; “given away” by their paternal owner to their marital owner; they lost this prerogative of the female, this primal duty of selection. The males were no longer improved by their natural competition for the female; and the females were not improved; because the male did not select for points of racial superiority, but for such qualities as pleased him.
There is a locality in northern Africa, where young girls are deliberately fed with a certain oily seed, to make them fat—that they may be the more readily married—as the men like fat wives. Among certain more savage African tribes the chief’s wives are prepared for him by being kept in small dark huts and fed on “mealies” and molasses; precisely as a Strasbourg goose is fattened for the gourmand. Now fatness is not a desirable race characteristic; it does not add to the woman’s happiness or efficiency; or to the child’s; it is merely an accessory pleasant to the master; his attitude being much as the amorous monad ecstatically puts it, in Sill’s quaint poem, “Five Lives,”
O the little female monad’s lips!
O the little female monad’s eyes!
O the little, little, female, female monad!”
This ultra littleness and ultra femaleness has been demanded and produced by our Androcentric Culture.
Following this, and part of it, comes the effect on motherhood. This function was the original and legitimate base of family life; and its ample sustaining power throughout the long early period of “the mother-right”; or as we call it, the matriarchate; the father being her assistant in the great work. The patriarchate, with its proprietary family, changed this altogether; the woman, as the property of the man, was considered first and foremost as a means of pleasure to him; and while she was still valued as a mother, it was in a tributary capacity. Her children were now his; his property, as she was; the whole enginery of the family was turned from its true use to this new one, hitherto unknown, the service of the adult male.
To this day we are living under the influence of the proprietary family. The duty of the wife is held to involve man-service as well as child-service; and indeed far more; as the duty of the wife to the husband quite transcends the duty of the
See for instance the English wife staying with her husband in India and sending the children home to be brought up; because India is bad for children. See our common law that the man decides the place of residence; if the wife refuses to go with him to howsoever unfit a place for her and for the little ones, such refusal on her part constitutes “desertion” and is ground for divorce.
See again the idea that the wife must remain with the husband though a drunkard, or diseased; regardless of the sin against the child involved in such a relation. Public feeling on these matters is indeed changing; but as a whole the ideals of the man-made family still obtain.
The effect of this on the woman has been inevitably to weaken and over-shadow her sense of the real purpose of the family; of the relentless responsibilities of her duty as a mother. She is first taught duty to her parents, with heavy religious sanction; and then duty to her husband, similarly buttressed; but her duty to her children has been left to instinct. She is not taught in girlhood as to her preëminent power and duty as a mother; her young ideals are all of devotion to the lover and husband, with only the vaguest sense of results.
The young girl is reared in what we call “innocence”; poetically described as “bloom”; and this condition is held to be one of her chief “charms.” The requisite is wholly androcentric. This “innocence” does not enable her to choose a husband wisely; she does not even know the dangers that possibly confront her. We vaguely imagine that her father or brother, who do know, will protect her. Unfortunately the father and brother, under our current “double standard” of morality, do not judge the applicants as she would if she knew the nature of their offenses.
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