The yellow wallpaper and.., p.24
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       The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories, p.24

           Charlotte Perkins Gilman
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  In humanity we have long since, not outgrown, but overgrown, this stage of feeling. In Human Parentage even the mother’s share begins to pale beside that ever-growing Social love and care, which guards and guides the children of today.

  The art of literature in this main form of fiction is far too great a thing to be wholly governed by one dominant note. As life widened and intensified, the artist, if great enough, has transcended sex; and in the mightier works of the real masters, we find fiction treating of life, life in general, in all its complex relationships, and refusing to be held longer to the rigid canons of an androcentric past.

  That was the power of Balzac—he took in more than this one field. That was the universal appeal of Dickens; he wrote of people, all kinds of people, doing all kinds of things. As you recall with pleasure some preferred novel of this general favorite, you find yourself looking narrowly for the “love story” in it. It is there—for it is part of life; but it does not dominate the whole scene—any more than it does in life.

  The thought of the world is made and handed out to us in the main. The makers of books are the makers of thoughts and feelings for the people in general. Fiction is the most popular form in which this world-food is taken. If it were true, it would teach us life easily, swiftly, truly; teach not by preaching but by truly re-presenting; and we should grow up becoming acquainted with a far wider range of life in books than could ever be ours in person. Then meeting life in reality we should be wise—and not be disappointed.

  As it is, our great sea of fiction is steeped and dyed and flavored all one way. A young man faces life—the seventy year stretch, remember, and is given book upon book wherein one set of feelings is continually vocalized and overestimated. He reads forever of love, good love and bad love, natural and unnatural, legitimate and illegitimate; with the unavoidable inference that there is nothing else going on.

  If he is a healthy young man he breaks loose from the whole thing, despises “love stories” and takes up life as he finds it. But what impression he does receive from fiction is a false one, and he suffers without knowing it from lack of the truer, broader views of life it failed to give him.

  A young woman faces life—the seventy year stretch, remember; and is given the same books—with restrictions. Remember the remark of Rochefoucauld, “There are thirty good stories in the world and twenty-nine cannot be told to women.” There is a certain broad field of literature so grossly androcentric that for very shame men have tried to keep it to themselves. But in a milder form, the spades all named teaspoons, or at the worst appearing as trowels—the young woman is given the same fiction. Love and love and love—from “first sight” to marriage. There it stops—just the fluttering ribbon of announcement—“and lived happily ever after.”

  Is that kind of fiction any sort of picture of a woman’s life? Fiction, under our androcentric culture, has not given any true picture of woman’s life, very little of human life, and a disproportioned section of man’s life.


  It is easy to assume that men are naturally the lawmakers and law enforcers, under the plain historic fact that they have been such since the beginning of the patriarchate.

  Back of law lies custom and tradition. Back of government lies the correlative activity of any organized group. What group-insects and group-animals evolve unconsciously and fulfil by their social instincts, we evolve consciously and fulfil by arbitrary systems called laws and governments. In this, as in all other fields of our action, we must discriminate between the humanness of the function in process of development, and the influence of the male or female upon it. Quite apart from what they may like or dislike as sexes, from their differing tastes and faculties, lies the much larger field of human progress, in which they equally participate.

  On this plane the evolution of law and government proceeds somewhat as follows: The early woman-centered group organized on maternal lines of common love and service. The early combinations of men were first a grouped predacity—organized hunting; then a grouped belligerency—organized warfare.

  By special development some minds are able to perceive the need of certain lines of conduct over others, and to make this clear to their fellows; whereby, gradually, our higher social nature establishes rules and precedents to which we personally agree to submit. The process of social development is one of progressive co-ordination.

  From independent individual action for individual ends, up to interdependent social action for social ends we slowly move; the “devil” in the play being the old Ego, which has to be harmonized with the new social spirit. This social process, like all others, having been in masculine hands, we may find in it the same marks of one-sided specialization so visible in our previous studies.

  The coercive attitude is essentially male. In the ceaseless age-old struggle of sex combat he developed the desire to overcome, which is always stimulated by resistance; and in this later historic period of his supremacy, he further developed the habit of dominance and mastery. We may instance the contrast between the conduct of a man when “in love,” as while courting; in which period he falls into the natural position of his sex towards the other—namely, that of a wooer; and his behavior when, with marriage, they enter the artificial relation of the master male and servile female. His “instinct of dominance” does not assert itself during the earlier period, which was a million times longer than the latter; it only appears in the more modern and arbitrary relation.

  Among other animals monogamous union is not accompanied by any such discordant and unnatural feature. However recent as this habit is when considered biologically, it is as old as civilization when we consider it historically: quite old enough to be a serious force. Under its pressure we see the legal systems and forms of government slowly evolving, the general human growth always heavily perverted by the special masculine influence. First we find the mere force of custom governing us, the mores of the ancient people. Then comes the gradual appearance of authority, from the purely natural leadership of the best hunter or fighter up through the unnatural mastery of the patriarch, owning and governing his wives, children, slaves and cattle, and making such rules and regulations as pleased him.

  Our laws as we support them now are slow, wasteful, cumbrous systems, which require a special caste to interpret and another to enforce; wherein the average citizen knows nothing of the law, and cares only to evade it when he can, obey it when he must. In the household, that stunted, crippled rudiment of the matriarchate, where alone we can find what is left of the natural influence of woman, the laws and government, so far as she is responsible for them, are fairly simple, and bear visible relation to the common good, which relation is clearly and persistently taught.

  In the larger household of city and state the educational part of the law is grievously neglected. It makes no allowance for ignorance. If a man breaks a law of which he never heard he is not excused therefore; the penalty rolls on just the same. Fancy a mother making solemn rules and regulations for her family, telling the children nothing about them, and then punishing them when they disobey the unknown laws!

  The use of force is natural to the male; while as a human being he must needs legislate somewhat in the interests of the community, as a male being he sees no necessity for other enforcement than by penalty. To violently oppose, to fight, to trample to the earth, to triumph in loud bellowings of savage joy—these are the primitive male instincts; and the perfectly natural social instincts which lead to peaceful persuasion, to education, to an easy harmony of action, are contemptuously ranked as “feminine,” or as “philanthropic”—which is almost as bad. “Men need stronger measures” they say proudly. Yes, but four-fifths of the world are women and children!

  As a matter of fact the woman, the mother, is the first coordinator, legislator, administrator and executive. From the guarding and guidance of her cubs and kittens up to the longer, larger management of human youth, she is the first to consider group interests and co-relate t

  As a father the male grows to share in these original feminine functions, and with us, fatherhood having become socialized while motherhood has not, he does the best he can, alone, to do the world’s mother-work in his father way.

  In study of any long established human custom it is very difficult to see it clearly and dispassionately. Our minds are heavily loaded with precedent, with race-custom, with the iron weight called authority. These heavy forces reach their most perfect expression in the absolutely masculine field of warfare, the absolute authority; the brainless, voiceless obedience; the relentless penalty. Here we have male coercion at its height; law and government wholly arbitrary. The result is as might be expected, a fine machine of destruction. But destruction is not a human process—merely a male process of eliminating the unfit.

  The female process is to select the fit; her elimination is negative and painless.

  Greater than either is the human process, to develop fitness.

  Men are at present far more human than women. Alone upon their self-seized thrones they have carried as best they might the burdens of the state; and the history of law and government shows them as changing slowly but irresistibly in the direction of social improvement.

  The ancient kings were the joyous apotheosis of masculinity. Power and Pride were theirs; Limitless Display; Boundless Self-indulgence; Irresistible Authority. Slaves and courtiers bowed before them, subjects obeyed them, captive women filled their harems. But the day of the masculine monarchy is passing, and the day of the human democracy is coming. In a democracy law and government both change. Laws are no longer imposed on the people by one above them, but are evolved from the people themselves. How absurd that the people should not be educated in the laws they make; that the trailing remnants of blind submission should still becloud their minds and make them bow down patiently under the absurd pressure of outgrown tradition!

  Democratic government is no longer an exercise of arbitrary authority from those above, but is an organization for public service of the people themselves—or will be when it is really attained.

  In this change government ceases to be compulsion, and becomes agreement; law ceases to be authority and becomes co-ordination. When we learn the rules of whist or chess we do not obey them because we fear to be punished if we don’t, but because we want to play the game. The rules of human conduct are for our own happiness and service—any child can see that. Every child will see it when laws are simplified, based on sociology, and taught in schools. A child of ten should be considered grossly uneducated who could not recite the main features of the laws of his country, state, and city; and those laws should be so simple in their principles that a child of ten could understand them….

  In masculine administration of the laws we may follow the instinctive love of battle down through the custom of “trial by combat”—only recently outgrown, to our present method, where each contending party hires a champion to represent him, and these fight it out in a wordy war, with tricks and devices of complex ingenuity, enjoying this kind of struggle as they enjoy all other kinds.

  It is the old masculine spirit of government as authority which is so slow in adopting itself to the democratic idea of government as service. That it should be a representative government they grasp, but representative of what? of the common will, they say; the will of the majority—never thinking that it is the common good, the common welfare, that government should represent.

  It is the inextricable masculinity in our idea of government which so revolts at the idea of women as voters. “To govern:” that means to boss, to control, to have authority, and that only, to most minds. They cannot bear to think of the women as having control over even their own affairs; to control is masculine, they assume. Seeing only self-interest as a natural impulse, and the ruling powers of the state as a sort of umpire, an authority to preserve the rules of the game while men fight it out forever; they see in a democracy merely a wider range of self-interest, and a wider, freer field to fight in.

  The law dictates the rules, the government enforces them, but the main business of life, hitherto, has been esteemed as one long fierce struggle; each man seeking for himself. To deliberately legislate for the service of all the people, to use the government as the main engine of that service, is a new process, wholly human, and difficult of development under an androcentric culture.

  Furthermore they put forth those naively androcentric protests—women cannot fight, and in case their laws were resisted by men they could not enforce them—therefore they should not vote!

  What they do not so plainly say, but very strongly think, is that women should not share the loot which to their minds is so large a part of politics.

  Here we may trace clearly the social heredity of male government.

  Fix clearly in your mind the first headship of man—the leader of the pack as it were—the Chief Hunter. Then the second headship, the Chief Fighter. Then the third headship, the Chief of the Family. Then the long line of Chiefs and Captains, Warlords and Landlords, Rulers and Kings.

  The Hunter hunted for prey, and got it. The Fighter enriched himself with the spoils of the vanquished. The Patriarch lived on the labor of women and slaves. All down the ages, from frank piracy and robbery to the measured toll of tribute, ransom and indemnity, we see the same natural instinct of the hunter and fighter. In his hands the government is a thing to sap and wreck, to live on. It is his essential impulse to want something very much; to struggle and fight for it; to take all he can get.

  Set against this the giving love that comes with motherhood; the endless service that comes of motherhood; the peaceful administration in the interest of the family that comes of motherhood. We prate much of the family as the unit of the state. If it is—why not run the state on that basis? Government by women, so far as it is influenced by their sex, would be influenced by motherhood; and that would mean care, nurture, provision, education. We have to go far down the scale for any instance of organized motherhood, but we do find it in the hymenoptera; in the overflowing industry, prosperity, peace and loving service of the ant-hill and bee-hive. These are the most highly socialized types of life, next to ours, and they are feminine types.

  We as human beings have a far higher form of association, with further issues than mere wealth and propagation of the species. In this human process we should never forget that men are far more advanced than women, at present. Because of their human-ness has come all the noble growth of civilization, in spite of their maleness.

  As human beings both male and female stand alike useful and honorable, and should in our governments be alike used and honored; but as creatures of sex, the female is fitter than the male for administration of constructive social interests. The change in governmental processes which marks our times is a change in principle. Two great movements convulse the world today, the woman’s movement and the labor movement. Each regards the other as of less moment than itself. Both are parts of the same world-process.

  We are entering upon a period of social consciousness. Whereas so far almost all of us have seen life only as individuals, and have regarded the growing strength and riches of the social body as merely so much the more to fatten on; now we are beginning to take intelligent interest in our social nature, to understand it a little, and to begin to feel the vast increase of happiness and power that comes of real Human life.

  In this change of systems a government which consisted only of prohibition and commands; of tax collecting and making war; is rapidly giving way to a system which intelligently manages our common interests, which is a growing and improving method of universal service. Here the socialist is perfectly right in his vision of the economic welfare to be assured by the socialization of industry, though that is but part of the new development; and the individualist who opposes socialism, crying loudly for the advantage of “free competition” is but voicing the spirit of the predaceous male.

  So with the opposers of the suffrage of women. They repres
ent, whether men or women, the male viewpoint. They see the woman only as a female, utterly absorbed in feminine functions, belittled and ignored as her long tutelage has made her; and they see the man as he sees himself, the sole master of human affairs for as long as we have historic record.

  This, fortunately, is not long. We can now see back of the period of his supremacy, and are beginning to see beyond it. We are well under way already in a higher stage of social development, conscious, well-organized, wisely managed, in which the laws shall be simple and founded on constructive principles instead of being a set of ring-regulations within which people may fight as they will; and in which the government shall be recognized in its full use; not only the sternly dominant father, and the wisely serviceable mother, but the real union of all people to sanely and economically manage their affairs.


  Ethics is the science of conduct, and politics is merely one field of conduct; a very common one. Its connection with warfare in this chapter is perfectly legitimate in view of the history of politics on the one hand, and the imperative modern issues which are today opposed to this established combination.

  There are many today who hold that politics need not be at all connected with warfare; and others who hold that politics is warfare from start to finish.

  In order to dissociate the two ideas completely, let us give a paraphrase of the above definition, applying it to domestic management—that part of ethics which has to do with the regulation and government of a family; the preservation of its safety, peace and prosperity; the defense of its existence and rights against any stranger’s interference or control; the augmentation of its strength and resources, and the protection of its members in their rights; with the preservation and improvement of their morals.

  All this is simple enough, and in no way masculine; neither is it feminine, save in this; that the tendency to care for, defend and manage a group, is in its origin maternal.

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