“A Human World” — Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“A Human World”


Charlotte Perkins Gilman

(from Our Androcentric Culutre; or, The Man Made World)

In the change from the dominance of one sex to the equal power of two, to what may we look forward? What effect upon civilization is to be expected from the equality of womanhood in the human race?

To put the most natural question first—what will men lose by it? Many men are genuinely concerned about this; fearing some new position of subservience and disrespect. Others laugh at the very idea of change in their position, relying as always on the heavier fist. So long as fighting was the determining process, the best fighter must needs win; but in the rearrangement of processes which marks our age, superior physical strength does not make the poorer wealthy, nor even the soldier a general.

The major processes of life to-day are quite within the powers of women; women are fulfilling their new relations more and more successfully; gathering new strength, new knowledge, new ideals. The change is upon us; what will it do to men?

No harm.

As we are a monogamous race, there will be no such drastic and cruel selection among competing males as would eliminate the vast majority as unfit. Even though some be considered unfit for fatherhood, all human life remains open to them. Perhaps the most important feature of this change comes in right here; along this old line of sex-selection, replacing that power in the right hands, and using it for the good of the race.

The woman, free at last, intelligent, recognizing her real place and responsibility in life as a human being, will be not less, but more, efficient as a mother. She will understand that, in the line of physical evolution, motherhood is the highest process; and that her work, as a contribution to an improved race, must always involve this great function. She will see that right parentage is the purpose of the whole scheme of sex-relationship, and act accordingly.

In our time, his human faculties being sufficiently developed, civilized man can look over and around his sex limitations, and begin to see what are the true purposes and methods of human life.

He is now beginning to learn that his own governing necessity of Desire is not the governing necessity of parentage, but only a contributory tendency; and that, in the interests of better parentage, motherhood is the dominant factor, and must be so considered.

In slow reluctant admission of this fact, man heretofore has recognized one class of women as mothers; and has granted them a varying amount of consideration as such; but he has none the less insisted on maintaining another class of women, forbidden motherhood, and merely subservient to his desires; a barren, mischievous unnatural relation, wholly aside from parental purposes, and absolutely injurious to society. This whole field of morbid action will be eliminated from human life by the normal development of women.

It is not a question of interfering with or punishing men; still less of interfering with or punishing women; but purely a matter of changed education and opportunity for every child.

Each and all shall be taught the real nature and purpose of motherhood; the real nature and purpose of manhood; what each is for, and which is the more important. A new sense of the power and pride of womanhood will waken; a womanhood no longer sunk in helpless dependence upon men; no longer limited to mere unpaid house-service; no longer blinded by the false morality which subjects even motherhood to man’s dominance; but a womanhood which will recognize its pre-eminent responsibility to the human race, and live up to it. Then, with all normal and right competition among men for the favor of women, those best fitted for fatherhood will be chosen. Those who are not chosen will live single—perforce.

Many, under the old mistaken notion of what used to be called the “social necessity” of prostitution, will protest at the idea of its extinction.

“It is necessary to have it,” they will say.

“Necessary to whom?

Not to the women hideously sacrificed to it, surely.

Not to society, honey-combed with diseases due to this cause.

Not to the family, weakened and impoverished by it.

To whom then? To the men who want it?

But it is not good for them, it promotes all manner of disease, of vice, of crime. It is absolutely and unquestionably a “social evil.”

An intelligent and powerful womanhood will put an end to this indulgence of one sex at the expense of the other; and to the injury of both.

In this inevitable change will lie what some men will consider a loss. But only those of the present generation. For the sons of the women now entering upon this new era of world life will be differently reared. They will recognize the true relation of men to the primal process; and be amazed that for so long the greater values have been lost sight of in favor of the less.

This one change will do more to promote the physical health and beauty of the race; to improve the quality of children born, and the general vigor and purity of social life, than any one measure which could be proposed. It rests upon a recognition of motherhood as the real base and cause of the family; and dismisses to the limbo of all outworn superstition that false Hebraic and grossly androcentric doctrine that the woman is to be subject to the man, and that he shall rule over her. He has tried this arrangement long enough—to the grievous injury of the world. A higher standard of happiness will result; equality and mutual respect between parents; pure love, undefiled by self-interests on either side; and a new respect for Childhood.

With the Child, seen at last to be the governing purpose of this relation, with all the best energies of men and women bent on raising the standard of life for all children, we shall have a new status of family life which will be clean and noble, and satisfying to all its members.

The change in all the varied lines of human work is beyond the powers of any present day prophet to forecast with precision. A new grade of womanhood we can clearly foresee; proud, strong, serene, independent; great mothers of great women and great men. These will hold high standards and draw men up to them; by no compulsion save nature’s law of attraction. A clean and healthful world, enjoying the taste of life as it never has since racial babyhood, with homes of quiet and content—this we can foresee.

Art—in the extreme sense will perhaps always belong most to men. It would seem as if that ceaseless urge to expression, was, at least originally, most congenial to the male. But applied art, in every form, and art used directly for transmission of ideas, such as literature, or oratory, appeals to women as much, if not more, than to men.

We can make no safe assumption as to what, if any, distinction there will be in the free human work of men and women, until we have seen generation after generation grow up under absolutely equal conditions. In all our games and sports and minor social customs, such changes will occur as must needs follow upon the rising dignity alloted to the woman’s temperament, the woman’s point of view; not in the least denying to men the fullest exercise of their special powers and preferences; but classifying these newly, as not human—merely male. At present we have pages or columns in our papers, marked as “The Woman’s Page” “Of Interest to Women,” and similar delimiting titles. Similarly we might have distinctly masculine matters so marked and specified; not assumed as now to be of general human interest.

The effect of the change upon Ethics and Religion is deep and wide. With the entrance of women upon full human life, a new principle comes into prominence; the principle of loving service. That this is the governing principle of Christianity is believed by many; but an androcentric interpretation has quite overlooked it; and made, as we have shown, the essential dogma of their faith the desire of an eternal reward and the combat with an eternal enemy.

The feminine attitude in life is wholly different. As a female she has merely to be herself and passively attract; neither to compete nor to pursue; as a mother her whole process is one of growth; first the development of the live child within her, and the wonderful nourishment from her own body; and then all the later cultivation to make the child grow; all the watching, teaching, guarding, feeding. In none of this is there either desire, combat, or self-expression. The feminine attitude, as expressed in religion, makes of it a patient practical fulfillment of law; a process of large sure improvements; a limitless comforting love and care.

This full assurance of love and of power; this endless cheerful service; the broad provision for all people; rather than the competitive selection of a few “victors;” is the natural presentation of religious truth from the woman’s viewpoint. Her governing principle being growth and not combat; her main tendency being to give and not to get; she more easily and naturally lives and teaches these religious principles. It is for this reason that the broader gentler teaching of the Unitarian and Universalist sects have appealed so especially to women, and that so many women preach in their churches.

This principle of growth, as applied and used in general human life will work to far other ends than those now so painfully visible.

In education, for instance, with neither reward nor punishment as spur or bait; with no competition to rouse effort and animosity, but rather with the feeling of a gardener towards his plants; the teacher will teach and the children learn, in mutual ease and happiness. The law of passive attraction applies here, leading to such ingenuity in presentation as shall arouse the child’s interest; and, in the true spirit of promoting growth, each child will have his best and fullest training, without regard to who is “ahead” of him, or her, or who “behind.”

We do not sadly measure the cabbage-stalk by the corn-stalk, and praise the corn for getting ahead of the cabbage—nor incite the cabbage to emulate the corn. We nourish both, to its best growth—and are the richer.

That every child on earth shall have right conditions to make the best growth possible to it; that every citizen, from birth to death, shall have a chance to learn all he or she can assimilate, to develop every power that is in them—for the common good—this will be the aim of education, under human management.

In the world of “society” we may look for very radical changes.

With all women full human beings, trained and useful in some form of work; the class of busy idlers, who run about forever “entertaining” and being “entertained” will disappear as utterly as will the prostitute. No woman with real work to do could have the time for such petty amusements; or enjoy them if she did have time. No woman with real work to do, work she loved and was well fitted for, work honored and well-paid, would take up the Unnatural Trade. Genuine relaxation and recreation, all manner of healthful sports and pastimes, beloved of both sexes to-day, will remain, of course; but the set structure of “social functions”—so laughably misnamed—will disappear with the “society women” who make it possible. Once active members of real Society; no woman could go back to “society,” any more than a roughrider could return to a hobbyhorse.

New development in dress, wise, comfortable, beautiful, may be confidently expected, as woman becomes more human. No fully human creature could hold up its head under the absurdities our women wear to-day—and have worn for dreary centuries.

So on through all the aspects of life we may look for changes, rapid and far-reaching; but natural and all for good. The improvement is not due to any inherent moral superiority of women; nor to any moral inferiority of men; men at present, as more human, are ahead of women in all distinctly human ways; yet their maleness, as we have shown repeatedly, warps and disfigures their humanness. The woman, being by nature the race-type; and her feminine functions being far more akin to human functions than are those essential to the male; will bring into human life a more normal influence.

Under this more normal influence our present perversities of functions will, of course, tend to disappear. The directly serviceable tendency of women, as shown in every step of their public work, will have small patience with hoary traditions of absurdity. We need but look at long recorded facts to see what women do—or try to do, when they have opportunity. Even in their crippled, smothered past, they have made valiant efforts—not always wise—in charity and philanthropy.

In our own time this is shown through all the length and breadth of our country, by the Woman’s Clubs. Little groups of women, drawing together in human relation, at first, perhaps, with no better purpose than to “improve their minds,” have grown and spread; combined and federated; and in their great reports, representing hundreds of thousands of women—we find a splendid record of human work. They strive always to improve something, to take care of something, to help and serve and benefit. In “village improvement,” in traveling libraries, in lecture courses and exhibitions, in promoting good legislation; in many a line of noble effort our Women’s Clubs show what women want to do.

Men do not have to do these things through their clubs, which are mainly for pleasure; they can accomplish what they wish to through regular channels. But the character and direction of the influence of women in human affairs is conclusively established by the things they already do and try to do. In those countries, and in our own states, where they are already full citizens, the legislation introduced and promoted by them is of the same beneficent character. The normal woman is a strong creature, loving and serviceable. The kind of woman men are afraid to entrust with political power, selfish, idle, over-sexed, or ignorant and narrow-minded, is not normal, but is the creature of conditions men have made. We need have no fear of her, for she will disappear with the conditions which created her.

In older days, without knowledge of the natural sciences, we accepted life as static. If, being born in China, we grew up with foot-bound women, we assumed that women were such, and must so remain. Born in India, we accepted the child-wife, the pitiful child-widow, the ecstatic suttee, as natural expressions of womanhood. In each age, each country, we have assumed life to be necessarily what it was—a moveless fact.

All this is giving way fast in our new knowledge of the laws of life. We find that Growth is the eternal law, and that even rocks are slowly changing. Human life is seen to be as dynamic as any other form; and the most certain thing about it is that it will change. In the light of this knowledge we need no longer accept the load of what we call “sin;” the grouped misery of poverty, disease and crime; the cumbrous, inefficacious, wasteful processes of life today, as needful or permanent.

We have but to learn the real elements in humanity; its true powers and natural characteristics; to see wherein we are hampered by the wrong ideas and inherited habits of earlier generations, and break loose from them—then we can safely and swiftly introduce a far nobler grade of living.

Of all crippling hindrances in false ideas, we have none more universally mischievous than this root error about men and women. Given the old androcentric theory, and we have an androcentric culture—the kind we so far know; this short stretch we call “history;” with its proud and pitiful record. We have done wonders of upward growth—for growth is the main law, and may not be wholly resisted. But we have hindered, perverted, temporarily checked that growth, age after age; and again and again has a given nation, far advanced and promising, sunk to ruin, and left another to take up its task of social evolution; repeat its errors—and its failure.

One major cause of the decay of nations is “the social evil”—a thing wholly due to the androcentric culture. Another steady endless check is warfare—due to the same cause. Largest of all is poverty; that spreading disease which grows with our social growth and shows most horribly when and where we are most proud, keeping step, as it were, with private wealth. This too, in large measure, is due to the false ideas on industry and economics, based, like the others mentioned, on a wholly masculine view of life.

By changing our underlying theory in this matter we change all the resultant assumptions; and it is this alteration in our basic theory of life which is being urged.

The scope and purpose of human life is entirely above and beyond the field of sex relationship. Women are human beings, as much as men, by nature; and as women, are even more sympathetic with human processes. To develop human life in its true powers we need full equal citizenship for women.

The great woman’s movement and labor movement of to-day are parts of the same pressure, the same world-progress. An economic democracy must rest on a free womanhood; and a free womanhood inevitably leads to an economic democracy.

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