The yellow wallpaper and.., p.25
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       The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories, p.25

           Charlotte Perkins Gilman
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  In every human sense, however, politics has left its maternal base far in the background; and as a field of study and of action is as well adapted to men as to women. There is no reason whatever why men should not develop great ability in this department of ethics, and gradually learn how to preserve the safety, peace and prosperity of their nation; together with those other services as to resources, protection of citizens, and improvement of morals.

  Men, as human beings, are capable of the noblest devotion and efficiency in these matters, and have often shown them; but their devotion and efficiency have been marred in this, as in so many other fields, by the constant obtrusion of an ultra-masculine tendency.

  In warfare, per se, we find maleness in its absurdest extremes. Here is to be studied the whole gamut of basic masculinity, from the initial instinct of combat, through every form of glorious ostentation, with the loudest possible accompaniment of noise.

  Primitive warfare had for its climax the possession of the primitive prize, the female. Without dogmatising on so remote a period, it may be suggested as a fair hypothesis that this was the very origin of our organized raids. We certainly find war before there was property in land, or any other property to tempt aggressors. Women, however, there were always, and when a specially androcentric tribe had reduced its supply of women by cruel treatment, or they were not born in sufficient numbers, owing to hard conditions, men must needs go farther afield after other women. Then, since the men of the other tribes naturally objected to losing their main labor supply and comfort, there was war.

  Thus based on the sex impulse, it gave full range to the combative instinct, and further to that thirst for vocal exultation so exquisitely male. The proud bellowings of the conquering stag, as he trampled on his prostrate rival, found higher expression in the “triumphs” of old days, when the conquering warrior returned to his home, with victims chained to his chariot wheels, and trumpets braying.

  When property became an appreciable factor in life, warfare took on a new significance. What was at first mere destruction, in the effort to defend or obtain some hunting ground or pasture; and, always, to secure the female; now coalesced with the acquisitive instinct, and the long black ages of predatory warfare closed in upon the world.

  Where the earliest form exterminated, the later enslaved, and took tribute; and for century upon century the “gentleman adventurer,” i.e., the primitive male, greatly preferred to acquire wealth by the simple old process of taking it, to any form of productive industry.

  We have been much misled as to warfare by our androcentric literature. With a history which recorded nothing else; a literature which praised and an art which exalted it; a religion which called its central power “the God of Battles”—never the God of Workshops, mind you!—with a whole complex social structure man-prejudiced from center to circumference, and giving highest praise and honor to the Soldier; it is still hard for us to see what warfare really is in human life.

  Some day we shall have new histories written, histories of world progress, showing the slow uprising, the development, the interservice of the nations; showing the faint beautiful dawn of the larger spirit of world-consciousness, and all its benefiting growth.

  We shall see people softening, learning, rising; see life lengthen with the possession of herds, and widen in rich prosperity with agriculture. Then industry, blossoming, fruiting, spreading wide; art, giving light and joy; the intellect developing with companionship and human intercourse; the whole spreading tree of social progress, the trunk of which is specialized industry, and the branches of which comprise every least and greatest line of human activity and enjoyment. This growing tree, springing up wherever conditions of peace and prosperity gave it a chance, we shall see continually hewed down to the very root by war.

  To the later historian will appear throughout the ages, like some Hideous Fate, some Curse, some predetermined check, to drag down all our hope and joy and set life forever at its first steps over again, this Red Plague of War.

  The instinct of combat, between males, worked advantageously so long as it did not injure the female or the young. It is a perfectly natural instinct, and therefore perfectly right, in its place; but its place is in a pre-patriarchal era. So long as the animal mother was free and competent to care for herself and her young; then it was an advantage to have “the best man win”; that is the best stag or lion; and to have the vanquished die, or live in sulky celibacy, was no disadvantage to any one but himself.

  Humanity is on a stage above this plan. The best man in the social structure is not always the huskiest. When a fresh horde of ultra-male savages swarmed down upon a prosperous young civilization, killed off the more civilized males and appropriated the more civilized females; they did, no doubt, bring in a fresh physical impetus to the race; but they destroyed the civilization.

  The reproduction of perfectly good savages is not the main business of humanity. Its business is to grow, socially; to develop, to improve; and warfare, at its best, retards human progress; at its worst, obliterates it.

  Combat is not a social process at all; it is a physical process, a subsidiary sex process, purely masculine, intended to improve the species by the elimination of the unfit. Amusingly enough, or absurdly enough; when applied to society, it eliminates the fit, and leaves the unfit to perpetuate the race!

  The inextricable confusion of politics and warfare is part of the stumbling block in the minds of men. As they see it, a nation is primarily a fighting organization; and its principal business is offensive and defensive warfare; therefore the ultimatum with which they oppose the demand for political equality—“women cannot fight, therefore they cannot vote.”

  Fighting, when all is said, is to them the real business of life; not to be able to fight is to be quite out of the running; and ability to solve our growing mass of public problems; questions of health, of education, of morals, of economics; weighs naught against the ability to kill.

  This naive assumption of supreme value in a process never of the first importance; and increasingly injurious as society progresses, would be laughable if it were not for its evil effects. It acts and reacts upon us to our hurt. Positively, we see the ill effects already touched on; the evils not only of active war; but of the spirit and methods of war; idealized, inculcated and practiced in other social processes. It tends to make each man-managed nation an actual or potential fighting organization, and to give us, instead of civilized peace, that “balance of power” which is like the counted time in the prize ring—only a rest between combats.

  It leaves the weaker nations to be “conquered” and “annexed” just as they used to be; with “preferential tariffs” instead of tribute. It forces upon each the burden of armament; upon many the dreaded conscription; and continually lowers the world’s resources in money and in life.

  Similarly in politics, it adds to the legitimate expenses of governing the illegitimate expenses of fighting; and must needs have a “spoils system” by which to pay its mercenaries.

  In carrying out the public policies the wheels of state are continually clogged by the “opposition”; always an opposition on one side or the other; and this slow wiggling uneven progress, through shorn victories and haggling concessions, is held to be the proper and only political method.

  “Women do not understand politics,” we are told; “Women do not care for politics”; “Women are unfitted for politics.”

  It is frankly inconceivable, from the androcentric viewpoint, that nations can live in peace together, and be friendly and serviceable as persons are. It is inconceivable also, that, in the management of a nation, honesty, efficiency, wisdom, experience and love could work out good results without any element of combat.

  The “ultimate resort” is still to arms. “The will of the majority” is only respected on account of the guns of the majority. We have but a partial civilization, heavily modified to sex—the male sex.


  Always the anta
gonist; to the male mind an antagonist is essential to progress, to all achievement. He has planted that root-thought in all the human world; from that old hideous idea of Satan, “The Adversary,” down to the competitor in business, or the boy at the head of the class, to be superseded by another.

  Therefore, even in science, “the struggle for existence” is the dominant law—to the male mind, with the “survival of the fittest” and “the elimination of the unfit.”

  Therefore in industry and economics we find always and everywhere the antagonist; the necessity for somebody or something to be overcome—else why make an effort? If you have not the incentive of reward, or the incentive of combat, why work? “Competition is the life of trade.”

  Thus the Economic Man.

  But how about the Economic Woman?

  To the androcentric mind she does not exist—women are females, and that’s all; their working abilities are limited to personal service.

  That it would be possible to develop industry to far greater heights, and to find in social economics a simple and beneficial process for the promotion of human life and prosperity, under any other impulse than these two, Desire and Combat, is hard indeed to recognize—for the “male mind.”

  So absolutely interwoven are our existing concepts of maleness and human-ness, so sure are we that men are people and women only females, that the claim of equal weight and dignity in human affairs of the feminine instincts and methods is scouted as absurd. We find existing industry almost wholly in male hands; find it done as men do it; assume that that is the way it must be done.

  When women suggest that it could be done differently, their proposal is waved aside—they are “only women”—their ideas are “womanish.”

  Agreed. So are men “only men,” their ideas are “mannish”; and of the two the women are more vitally human than the men, by nature.

  The female is the race-type—the man the variant.

  The female, as a race-type, having the female processes besides, best performs the race processes. The male, however, has with great difficulty developed them, always heavily handicapped by his maleness; being in origin essentially a creature of sex, and so dominated almost exclusively by sex impulses.

  The human instinct of mutual service is checked by the masculine instinct of combat; the human tendency to specialize in labor, to rejoicingly pour force in lines of specialized expression, is checked by the predacious instinct, which will exert itself for reward; and disfigured by the masculine instinct of self-expression, which is an entirely different thing from the great human out-pouring of world force.

  Great men, the world’s teachers and leaders, are great in human-ness; mere maleness does not make for greatness unless it be in warfare—a disadvantageous glory! Great women also must be great in human-ness; but their female instincts are not so subversive of human progress as are the instincts of the male. To be a teacher and leader, to love and serve, to guard and guide and help, are well in line with motherhood.

  “Are they not also in line with fatherhood?” will be asked; and, “Are not the father’s paternal instincts masculine?”

  No, they are not; they differ in no way from the maternal, in so far as they are beneficial. Parental functions of the higher sort, of the human sort, are identical. The father can give his children many advantages which the mother can not; but that is due to his superiority as a human being. He possesses far more knowledge and power in the world, the human world; he himself is more developed in human powers and processes; and is therefore able to do much for his children which the mother can not; but this is in no way due to his masculinity. It is in this development of human powers in man, through fatherhood, that we may read the explanation of our short period of androcentric culture.

  So thorough and complete a reversal of previous relation, such continuance of what appears in every way an unnatural position, must have had some justification in racial advantages, or it could not have endured. This is its justification; the establishment of human-ness in the male; he being led into it, along natural lines, by the exercise of previously existing desires.

  In a male culture the attracting forces must inevitably have been, we have seen, Desire and Combat. These masculine forces, acting upon human processes, while necessary to the uplifting of the man, have been anything but uplifting to civilization. A sex which thinks, feels and acts in terms of combat is difficult to harmonize in the smooth bonds of human relationship; that they have succeeded so well is a beautiful testimony to the superior power of race tendency over sex tendency. Uniting and organizing, crudely and temporarily, for the common hunt; and then, with progressive elaboration, for the common fight; they are now using the same tactics—and the same desires, unfortunately—in common work.

  Union, organization, complex interservice, are the essential processes of a growing society; in them, in the ever-increasing discharge of power along widening lines of action, is the joy and health of social life. But so far men combine in order to better combat; the mutual service held incidental to the common end of conquest and plunder.

  In spite of this the overmastering power of human-ness is now developing among modern men immense organizations of a wholly beneficial character, with no purpose but mutual advantage. This is true human growth, and as such will inevitably take the place of the sex-prejudiced earlier processes.

  The human character of the Christian religion is now being more and more insisted on; the practical love and service of each and all; in place of the old insistence on Desire—for a Crown and Harp in Heaven, and Combat—with that everlasting Adversary.

  In economics this great change is rapidly going on before our eyes. It is a change in idea, in basic concept, in our theory of what the whole thing is about. We are beginning to see the world, not as “a fair field and no favor”—not a place for one man to get ahead of others, for a price; but as an establishment belonging to us, the proceeds of which are to be applied, as a matter of course, to human advantage.

  In the old idea, the wholly masculine idea, based on the processes of sex-combat, the advantage of the world lay in having “the best man win.” Some, in the first steps of enthusiasm for Eugenics, think so still; imagining that the primal process of promoting evolution through the paternity of the conquering male is the best process.

  To have one superior lion kill six or sixty inferior lions, and leave a progeny of more superior lions behind him, is all right—for lions; the superiority in fighting being all the superiority they need.

  But the man able to outwit his fellows, to destroy them in physical, or ruin in financial, combat, is not, therefore, a superior human creature. Even physical superiority, as a fighter, does not prove the kind of vigor best calculated to resist disease, or to adapt itself to changing conditions.

  That our masculine culture in its effect on Economics and Industry is injurious, is clearly shown by the whole open page of history. From the simple beneficent activities of a matriarchal period we follow the same lamentable steps; nation after nation. Women are enslaved and captives are enslaved; a military despotism is developed; labor is despised and discouraged. Then when the irresistible social forces do bring us onward, in science, art, commerce, and all that we call civilization, we find the same check acting always upon that progress; and the really vital social processes of production and distribution, heavily injured by the financial combat and carnage which rages ever over and among them.

  The real development of the people, the forming of finer physiques, finer minds, a higher level of efficiency, a broader range of enjoyment and accomplishment—is hindered and not helped by this artificially maintained “struggle for existence,” this constant endeavor to eliminate what, from a masculine standard, is “unfit.”

  That we have progressed thus far, that we are now moving forward so rapidly, is in spite of and not because of our androcentric culture.

  CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN, feminist, author, critic, and theorist, was born on July 3, 1860, in Hartford,
Connecticut. Although she was a descendant of the famous theologian Lyman Beecher, Charlotte Perkins’s early life was characterized by dire poverty and an unstable home: her family moved nineteen times in eighteen years after her father abandoned them. In 1884 she married Charles Walter Stetson, gave birth to a daughter the following year, and was subsequently overcome by bouts of depression, which nearly caused her complete breakdown. Finally she fled to California and created a scandal by obtaining a divorce and granting custody of her daughter to her husband. In 1892 her story “The Yellow Wallpaper” appeared, and she began her writing and social activism in earnest. She became a contributing editor to The American Fabian and fought for reforms based on her socialist and feminist ideals. Her most famous book, Women and Economics (1898), was translated into seven languages, winning her international recognition. In 1900 she married George Houghton Gilman. For seven years she wrote and edited her own magazine, The Forerunner, and she wrote ten more books, including The Home (1902), Human Work(1904), and The Man-Made World: Our Androcentric Culture(1911). Her famous utopian novel, Herland, appeared in 1915. She committed suicide in 1935 while dying from breast cancer.





  THE FEDERALIST PAPERS, 0-553-21340-7

  FOUR GREAT AMERICAN CLASSICS (The Scarlet Letter; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; The Red Badge of Courage; Billy Budd, Sailor), 0-553-21362-8

  GREEK DRAMA, 0-553-21221-4

  JO’S BOYS, Louisa May Alcott, 0-553-21449-7

  LITTLE WOMEN, Louisa May Alcott, 0-553-21275-3

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