The yellow wallpaper and.., p.23
The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories, p.23Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Furthermore, if her heart is set on one of them, no amount of general advice and opposition serves to prevent her marrying him. “I love him!” she says, sublimely. “I do not care what he has done. I will forgive him. I will save him!”
This state of mind serves to forward the interests of the lover, but is of no advantage to the children. We have magnified the duties of the wife, and minified the duties of the mother; and this is inevitable in a family relation every law and custom of which is arranged from the masculine viewpoint.
From this same viewpoint, equally essential to the proprietary family, comes the requirement that the woman shall serve the man. Her service is not that of the associate and equal, as when she joins him in his business. It is not that of a beneficial combination, as when she practices another business and they share the profits; it is not even that of the specialist, as the service of a tailor or barber; it is personal service—the work of a servant.
In large generalization, the women of the world cook and wash, sweep and dust, sew and mend, for the men.
We are so accustomed to this relation; have held it for so long to be the “natural” relation, that it is difficult indeed to show it to be distinctly unnatural and injurious. The father expects to be served by the daughter, a service quite different from what he expects of the son. This shows at once that such service is no integral part of motherhood, or even of marriage; but is supposed to be the proper industrial position of women, as such.
Why is this so? Why, on the face of it, given a daughter and a son, should a form of service be expected of the one, which would be considered ignominious by the other?
The underlying reason is this. Industry, at its base, is a feminine function. The surplus energy of the mother does not manifest itself in noise, or combat, or display, but in productive industry. Because of her mother-power she became the first inventor and laborer; being in truth the mother of all industry as well as all people.
Man’s entrance upon industry is late and reluctant; as will be shown later in treating his effect on economics. In this field of family life, his effect was as follows:
Establishing the proprietary family at an age when the industry was primitive and domestic; and thereafter confining the woman solely to the domestic area, he thereby confined her to primitive industry. The domestic industries, in the hands of women, constitute a survival of our remotest past. Such work was “woman’s work” as was all the work then known; such work is still considered woman’s work because they have been prevented from doing any other.
The term “domestic industry” does not define a certain kind of labor, but a certain grade of labor. Architecture was a domestic industry once—when every savage mother set up her own tepee. To be confined to domestic industry is no proper distinction of womanhood; it is an historic distinction, an economic distinction, it sets a date and limit to woman’s industrial progress.
In this respect the man-made family has resulted in arresting the development of half the world. We have a world wherein men, industrially, live in the twentieth century; and women, industrially, live in the first—and back of it.
To the same source we trace the social and educational limitations set about women. The dominant male, holding his women as property, and fiercely jealous of them, considering them always as his, not belonging to themselves, their children, or the world; has hedged them in with restrictions of a thousand sorts; physical, as in the crippled Chinese lady or the imprisoned odalisque; moral, as in the oppressive doctrines of submission taught by all our androcentric religions; mental, as in the enforced ignorance from which women are now so swiftly emerging.
This abnormal restriction of women has necessarily injured motherhood. The man, free, growing in the world’s growth, has mounted with the centuries, filling an ever wider range of world activities. The woman, bound, has not so grown; and the child is born to a progressive fatherhood and a stationary motherhood. Thus the man-made family reacts unfavorably upon the child. We rob our children of half their social heredity by keeping the mother in an inferior position; however legalized, hallowed, or ossified by time, the position of domestic servant is inferior.
It is for this reason that child culture is at so low a level, and for the most part utterly unknown. Today, when the forces of education are steadily working nearer to the cradle, a new sense is wakening of the importance of the period of infancy, and its wiser treatment; yet those who know of such a movement are few, and of them some are content to earn easy praise—and pay—by belittling right progress to gratify the prejudices of the ignorant.
The whole position is simple and clear; and easily traceable to its root. Given a proprietary family, where the man holds the woman primarily for his satisfaction and service—then necessarily he shuts her up and keeps her for these purposes. Being so kept, she cannot develop humanly, as he has, through social contact, social service, true social life. (We may note in passing, her passionate fondness for the child-game called “society” she has been allowed to entertain herself withal; that poor simulacrum of real social life, in which people decorate themselves and madly crowd together, chattering, for what is called “entertainment.”) Thus checked in social development, we have but a low-grade motherhood to offer our children; and the children, reared in the primitive conditions thus artificially maintained, enter life with a false perspective, not only toward men and women, but toward life as a whole.
The child should receive in the family, full preparation for his relation to the world at large. His whole life must be spent in the world, serving it well or ill; and youth is the time to learn how. But the androcentric home cannot teach him. We live today in a democracy—the man-made family is a despotism. It may be a weak one; the despot may be dethroned and overmastered by his little harem of one; but in that case she becomes the despot—that is all. The male is esteemed “the head of the family”; it belongs to him; he maintains it; and the rest of the world is a wide hunting ground and battlefield wherein he competes with other males as of old.
The girl-child, peering out, sees this forbidden field as belonging wholly to menkind; and her relation to it is to secure one for herself—not only that she may love, but that she may live. He will feed, clothe and adorn her—she will serve him; from the subjection of the daughter to that of the wife she steps; from one home to the other, and never enters the world at all—man’s world.
The boy, on the other hand, considers the home as a place of women, an inferior place, and longs to grow up and leave it—for the real world. He is quite right. The error is that this great social instinct, calling for full social exercise, exchange, service, is considered masculine, whereas it is human, and belongs to boy and girl alike.
The child is affected first through the retarded development of his mother, then through the arrested conditions of home industry; and further through the wrong ideals which have arisen from these conditions. A normal home, where there was human equality between mother and father, would have a better influence.
We must not overlook the effect of the proprietary family on the proprietor himself.
He, too, has been held back somewhat by this reactionary force. In the process of becoming human we must learn to recognize justice, freedom, human rights; we must learn self-control and to think of others; have minds that grow and broaden rationally; we must learn the broad mutual interservice and unbounded joy of social intercourse and service. The pretty despot of the man-made home is hindered in his humanness by too much manness.
For each man to have one whole woman to cook for and wait upon him is a poor education for democracy. The boy with a servile mother, the man with a servile wife, cannot reach the sense of equal rights we need today. Too constant consideration of the master’s tastes makes the master selfish; and the assault upon his heart direct, or through that proverbial side-avenue, the stomach, which the dependent woman needs must make when she wants anything, is bad for the man, as well as for her.
We are slowly f
If it needs “a head” it will elect a chairman pro tem. Friendship does not need “a head.” Love does not need “a head.” Why should a family?
History is, or should be, the story of our racial life. What have men made it? The story of warfare and conquest. Begin at the very beginning with the carven stones of Egypt, the clay records of Chaldea, what do we find of history?
“I, Pharaoh, King of Kings! Lord of Lords!” (etc. etc.), “went down into the miserable land of Kush, and slew of the inhabitants thereof an hundred and forty and two thousands!” That, or something like it, is the kind of record early history gives us.
The story of Conquering Kings, whom and how many they killed and enslaved, the grovelling adulation of the abased, the unlimited jubilation of the victor, from the primitive state of most ancient kings, and the Roman triumphs where queens walked in chains, down to our omnipresent soldier’s monuments; the story of war and conquest—war and conquest—over and over, with such boasting and triumph, such cock-crow and flapping of wings as show most unmistakably the natural source.
All this will strike the reader at first as biased and unfair. “That was the way people lived in those days!” says the reader.
No—it was not the way women lived.
“Oh, women!” says the reader, “Of course not! Women are different!”
Yes, women are different; and men are different! Both of them, as sexes, differ from the human norm, which is social life and all social development. Society was slowly growing in all those black, blind years. The arts, the sciences, the trades and crafts and professions, religion, philosophy, government, law, commerce, agriculture—all the human processes were going on as well as they were able, between wars.
The male naturally fights, and naturally crows, triumphs over his rival and takes the prize—therefore was he made male. Maleness means war.
Not only so; but as a male, he cares only for male interests. Men, being the sole arbiters of what should be done and said and written, have given us not only a social growth scarred and thwarted from the beginning by continual destruction; but a history which is one unbroken record of courage and red cruelty, of triumph and black shame.
As to what went on that was of real consequence, the great slow steps of the working world, the discoveries and inventions, the real progress of humanity—that was not worth recording, from a masculine point of view. Within this last century, “the woman’s century,” the century of the great awakening, the rising demand for freedom, political, economic, and domestic, we are beginning to write real history, human history, and not merely masculine history. But that great branch of literature—Hebrew, Greek, Roman, and all down later times, shows beyond all question, the influence of our androcentric culture.
Literature is the most powerful and necessary of the arts, and fiction is its broadest form. If art “holds the mirror up to nature” this art’s mirror is the largest of all, the most used. Since our very life depends on some communication, and our progress is in proportion to our fullness and freedom of communication, since real communication requires mutual understanding; so in the growth of the social consciousness, we note from the beginning a passionate interest in other people’s lives.
The art which gives humanity consciousness is the most vital art. Our greatest dramatists are lauded for their breadth of knowledge of “human nature,” their range of emotion and understanding; our greatest poets are those who most deeply and widely experience and reveal the feelings of the human heart; and the power of fiction is that it can reach and express this great field of human life with no limits but those of the author.
When fiction began it was the legitimate child of oral tradition, a product of natural brain activity; the legend constructed instead of remembered. (This stage is with us yet as seen in the constant changes in repetition of popular jokes and stories.)
Fiction today has a much wider range; yet it is still restricted, heavily and most mischievously restricted.
What is the preferred subject matter of fiction?
There are two main branches found everywhere, from the Romaunt of the Rose to the Purplish Magazine; the Story of Adventure, and the Love Story.
The Story-of-Adventure branch is not so thick as the other by any means, but it is a sturdy bough for all that. Stevenson and Kipling have proved its immense popularity, with the whole brood of detective stories and the tales of successful rascality we call “picturesque.” Our most popular weekly shows the broad appeal of this class of fiction.
All these tales of adventure, of struggle and difficulty, of hunting and fishing and fighting, of robbing and murdering, catching and punishing, are distinctly and essentially masculine. They do not touch on human processes, social processes, but on the special field of predatory excitement so long the sole province of men.
It is to be noted here that even in the overwhelming rise of industrial interests today, these, when used as the basis for a story, are forced into line with one, or both, of these two main branches of fiction—conflict or love. Unless the story has one of these “interests” in it, there is no story—so holds the editor; the dictum being, put plainly, “life has no interests except conflict and love!”
It is surely something more than a coincidence that these are the two essential features of masculinity—Desire and Combat—Love and War.
As a matter of fact the major interests of life are in line with its major processes; and these—in our stage of human development—are more varied than our fiction would have us believe. Half the world consists of women, we should remember, who are types of human life as well as men, and their major processes are not those of conflict and adventure, their love means more than mating. Even on so poor a line of distinction as the “woman’s column” offers, if women are to be kept to their four K’s, there should be a “men’s column” also, and all the “sporting news” and fish stories be put in that; they are not world interests, they are male interests.
Now for the main branch—the Love Story. Ninety per cent of fiction is in this line; this is pre-eminently the major interest of life—given in fiction. What is the love-story, as rendered by this art?
It is the story of the pre-marital struggle. It is the Adventures of Him in Pursuit of Her—and it stops when he gets her! Story after story, age after age, over and over and over, this ceaseless repetition of the Preliminaries.
Here is Human Life. In its large sense, its real sense, it is a matter of inter-relation between individuals and groups, covering all emotions, all processes, all experiences. Out of this vast field of human life fiction arbitrarily selects one emotion, one process, one experience, as its necessary base.
“Ah! but we are persons most of all!” protests the reader. “This is personal experience—it has the universal appeal!”
Take human life personally, then. Here is a Human Being, a life, covering some seventy years, involving the changing growth of many faculties; the ever new marvels of youth, the long working time of middle life, the slow ripening of age. Here is the human soul, in the human body, Living. Out of this field of personal life, with all of its emotions, processes, and experiences, fiction arbitrarily selects one emotion, one process, one experience, mainly of one sex.
The “love” of our stories is man’s love of woman. If any dare dispute this, and say it treats equally of woman’s love for man, I answer, “Then why do the stories stop at marriage?”
There is a current jest, revealing much, to this effect:
The young wife complains
Woman’s love for man, as currently treated in fiction is largely a reflex; it is the way he wants her to feel, expects her to feel. Not a fair representation of how she does feel. If “love” is to be selected as the most important thing in life to write about, then the mother’s love should be the principal subject. This is the main stream, this is the general underlying, world-lifting force. The “life-force,” now so glibly chattered about, finds its fullest expression in motherhood; not in the emotions of an assistant in the preliminary stages.
What has literature, what has fiction to offer concerning mother-love, or even concerning father-love, as compared to this vast volume of excitement about lover-love? Why is the search-light continually focused upon a two or three years space of life “mid the blank miles round about?” Why indeed, except for the clear reason, that on a starkly masculine basis this is his one period of overwhelming interest and excitement.
If the beehive produced literature, the bee’s fiction would be rich and broad, full of the complex tasks of comb-building and filling, the care and feeding of the young, the guardian-service of the queen; and far beyond that it would spread to the blue glory of the summer sky, the fresh winds, the endless beauty and sweetness of a thousand thousand flowers. It would treat of the vast fecundity of motherhood, the educative and selective processes of the group-mothers, and the passion of loyalty, of social service, which holds the hive together.
But if the drones wrote fiction, it would have no subject matter save the feasting, of many; and the nuptial flight, of one.
To the male, as such, this mating instinct is frankly the major interest of life; even the belligerent instincts are second to it. To the male, as such, it is for all its intensity, but a passing interest. In nature’s economy, his is but a temporary devotion, hers the slow processes of life’s fulfilment.
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