PRICE SIXPENCE NET
A Study of the Economic Relation
Between Men and Women as a Factor
in Social Evolution
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
With an Introduction by Stanton Coit, Ph.D.
London: G. P. Putnam's Sons
24 Bedford Street, London, W.C.
A Study of the Economic Relation
Between Men and Women as a Factor
in Social Evolution
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
With an Introduction by Stanton Coit, Ph.D.
London : G. P. Putnam's Sons
Boston : Small, Maynard & Company
ACCORDING to Francis Bacon, some books are to be studied for delight in privateness and retirement; others for ornament in discourse; and still others for the training of ability in judgment and the disposition of business. This distinction is admirably made. And yet it is fallacious, if it implies that one and the same book cannot serve equally for delight, for ornament, and for ability. That such a combination of services is possible is proved by Mrs. Gilman's "Women and Economics." Many have read it for delight alone--for the brilliancy of wit, the poignancy of epigram, the dash of courage, the serenity of temper, the kindliness of humour, and the neatness and closeness of logical demonstration; in short, for the revelation of a most interesting personality. Others have grown familiar with it and have come to use it as a storehouse from which to draw embellishments of discourse. Many a writer, many a debater on the social problems of the hour, betrays, to those who are in the secret, from what armoury he has borrowed his weapons. By still others, this message of Mrs. Gilman's has been absorbed as the disciple drinks in the wisdom of a master. They have nourished and
strengthened their judgment from hers. She has opened their eyes; she has taught them to think. Not only what, but how she thinks, is giving tone, strength and purpose to their lives. She has augmented their ability. Besides these three classes of readers, there are those in whom the ends of delight, ornament and ability which the book serves are no more separated than in the book itself, or in the genius of its author.
The object of this cheap reprint, however, is almost exclusively the training of ability in judgment, and in the disposition of national business. That it might serve towards the political enfranchisement of the women of Great Britain, Mrs. Gilman two years ago, when in England, and recently her publisher, Mr. George Putnam, gave ready consent to my proposition that the book should be published at a price so low as to bring it within the purchasing power of the hundreds of thousands of women who most need its message.
This edition is dedicated to the "Votes for Women" cause. And yet in the whole volume there is scarcely a mention of women's suffrage, or even an allusion to it. But, if this be the case, how, it may be asked, can the book serve the cause? The explanation is that the voting of women, although an indispensable means, is
still only a means towards certain ends. Mrs. Gilman's book presents inspiringly, comprehensively, and irresistibly, some of the chief ends which that means would serve.
The omission from her book of the question of women's suffrage is perhaps no disadvantage, because that question is thoroughly analysed and classically presented in John Stuart Mill's "Subjection of Women." The differences and likenesses of Mill's essay and Mrs. Gilman's are such that the two together constitute one complete work on the problem of women's liberty and responsibility.
Mill purposely avoided picturing vividly or analysing in detail the ends which women's suffrage would achieve, or, to put it more accurately, the ends which could never be attained without women's suffrage. He showed that, whatever the disabilities are, the only sure and dignified way to remove them is by permitting women to work out their own salvation. He proved by historical precedent and by analogy, and deduced from universally accepted principles of human nature, that women must free themselves, and that to give them the vote was to afford them the only possible chance of doing so. To grant them all other opportunities, while denying them the right of self-emancipation, was an impossibility;
and to attempt it, an indignity. There is no other way by which women can enter into the heritage of their responsibilities as citizens and as moral agents, except by the vote. So Mill magnified and jealously emphasised political enfranchisement. He appeared to fear lest, in the desire to escape the thousand and one chafing restraints which irritate and embitter the lives of women, they might be tempted into a fatal willingness to purchase all minor powers and liberties at the price of foregoing the Sovereign Power--the Liberty that begets liberties.
But the effect of Mill's insistence and concentration upon the vote--a mere means--has been too great. He made his special point too powerfully. The women's suffrage movement in England during the last thirty years has been aloof and abstract, jealous and exclusive. Only men and women of a special temperament and a peculiar experience can be carried away by a great enthusiasm for a measure which is wholly a means towards ends far beyond and not vitally connected with it. Such is the suffrage. Nay, more: a vote is not even a tool; it is only a handle to a tool.
Now, Mrs. Gilman, in this brilliant book of hers, proposes many means towards the moral and physical well-being and efficiency,
not only of women, but of the whole human race. Her proposal to do away with the family kitchen and dining-room, to transform all domestic service from the incapable, hand-to-mouth standard of untrained amateurs to that of professional experts, to raise the work of child nursing and rearing to a scientific and skilled basis, to secure the self-support of the wife and mother through skilled labour, so that she may be economically independent of her husband--these are means, but they are also ends in themselves; or at least so intimate, so immediate would be the effects of these changes as to be inseparable from them. But voting is not only never a final end in itself; it is never, as Aristotle would say, both a means and an end--both good in itself, and good for something else. It is always only good for something else. Its significance lies wholly beyond itself. No wonder, then, that the question of women's suffrage has seemed to the community at large dull and uninteresting. For the general community concerns itself only with meanings--only with changes in themselves worth having.
The great significance of Mrs. Gilman's book for the women's cause in politics is that it points to some score or more of different tools which need a handle before they can ever be
wielded. And the only handle that will fit both them and the hand that is to wield them is the vote. Those women whom Mrs. Gilman's book inspires will become ardent suffragists. But never for the sake of the suffrage itself. Never on account of any abstract principle. Never because taxation without representation is tyranny. But always because the suffrage is the only way for woman to get those various kinds of good for which, as a human being and as a moral agent, her constitution predestines her. There is not a reform advocated by Mrs. Gilman which, in Great Britain at least, can come within even distant sight of realisation except by changes in the laws of property, in the right of eligibility to hold office and pursue careers, and by the assignment of new functions to the governments of cities and the State. It is as patent as the day to every student of social life in Great Britain that the only bodies which can execute the reforms in domestic life proposed by the author of "Women and Economics" are district, borough, municipal and county councils. And if women are to take active part in the advancement of the affairs which constitute almost their whole life, they must be fully enfranchised as voters.
Whatever may be the law of social evolution in America and other countries, history has
time and again shown that in England only the beginnings of economic, personal and domestic emancipation are possible without the vote. The men of the middle classes, taking advantage of modern inventions, were able to attain a certain degree of education, wealth and distinction by private enterprise. But these very attainments made the suffrage a necessity for them. They could not otherwise realise that standard of life which they now demanded and merited. It is the relation of cause and effect which is exhibited in the sequence of their political emancipation in 1832 and their economic emancipation in 1846. It was necessary for them to be politically free before they could become economically so. Political emancipation as a pre-requisite to industrial liberty is also illustrated in the case of the working men of England. It has been necessary to meet each economic demand of the workers by an instalment of political power. And each instalment of political power has brought about some increase of industrial justice.
This order of social advance can in no wise be disturbed by difference of sex. It is true that women, becoming economically and socially awake, will find some of their demands granted in the hope that they will be satisfied without political power. But such forestalments
have also been offered to classes of men, with the same object in view. Politicians are more ready that reforms shall be made for an oppressed portion of the community than by it. The reforms in the law which, during the last thirty years, have been to the benefit of women were, however, intended only as a sop to Cerberus. But what has been conceded is as nothing to what justice requires. And what justice requires, in all analogous cases, has been brought about by letting the oppressed have a voice and a will in the making and administration of laws.
However valuable this book may prove as an instrument for the political emancipation of women, it nevertheless must be judged primarily as a work in economics. As such, it is in method, in analysis, in comprehensiveness, in temper, and in lucidity of presentation, a masterpiece. Mrs. Gilman proves herself well versed in the theories of sociologists and political economists. Yet no one of them is so free from pedantry and eccentricity as she. Their phrases and conclusions never dominate er, but are used by her when they serve er purpose. What she has derived from books never stands between her and her own immediate observation and interpretation of facts. She has the gift of the seeing eye, and
of reporting calmly and clearly what no one else ever saw. More than this. No other writer on complex social phenomena has been able to the same degree to preserve a sane and fine sense of the relative values of facts. She has analysed to their ultimate fibres the institutions of marriage, the family and the home; and yet, at the end of it all, not one of these has been destroyed, but, on the contrary, the reader is made to feel, as never before, their vitality and worth.
A remarkable feature of Mrs. Gilman's work is that, although she is dealing with the economic aspect of woman's life, yet the material side of wealth never once obtrudes itself upon the reader. This is as it should be. With Mrs. Gilman, economics is not only a part of sociology, but the sociology of which it is a part is always the study of mental and moral relationships, dynamic and static. The psychic factors are to her the only real ones in life. Economics is a study of living men and women, in the manifoldness of their interactions as members of the spiritual organism of society. In her we see the logical closeness, but never the abstractness, of Mill. She betrays the humanitarian idealism of Ruskin, but never once is sentimental.
If any writer on economics has viewed life
steadily and as a whole, it is Mrs. Gilman. This book is impersonal, in the sense in which men have believed no woman ever could write. Indeed, from beginning to end it is a rebuke to those who attribute the moral and physical evils of human life to arbitrary causes. It is a demonstration of the folly of those who, by mere exhortation and preaching, expect to remedy the mischiefs from which society suffers. It is not the individual but the institution, not the personal will but the law, not the whim or the impulse but the erroneous idea, to which Mrs. Gilman traces the defects of our life.
This book is further impersonal in that it is not written from the point of view of one who has a grievance to air. Mr. Frederic Harrison has said that Mill's book was an hysterical sophism, where we seemed to hear that spiteful wrong-headedness of some woman who had grown old in nursing her wrongs, out of touch with actual life and with her own sex. But no one can detect in "Women and Economics" any resentment, any spite, any bitterness, or any desire to retaliate. There is no evidence even of acute suffering in sympathy with the wronged, such as Dickens and Mrs. Browning uttered intensely and passionately. Mrs. Gilman does not so much pity women as fix the responsibility for their wrongs upon themselves.
She does not present the case of woman as that of the injured innocent; for she counts women guilty--to-day, at least--if they allow their wrongs to continue.
Undoubtedly this universal and impersonal tone is owing largely on the one side to Mrs. Gilman's delightful sense of humour, and on the other to her training in sociological studies. She never forgets the long, long time society has been in the making. She never expects logic alone to cope with deep-seated prejudices, class interests, and the besetting weaknesses of human nature. Rare also is her ability to picture the inner life of organic beings in conditions unfamiliar to us. These intellectual gifts, combined with her sense of humour, have made possible for her the writing of those unique passages of sparkling irony, but of pure, deep sympathy for her sex, where she represents women as more nearly allied to the female of the humblest lower animals than to men. Think of her consoling the advanced women of our day for the slavery and dishonour imposed upon women in the past by recalling to them the "geologic ages, the millions and millions of years, when puny, pigmy, parasitic males struggled for existence. . . . What train of wives and concubines was ever so
ignominiously placed as the extra husbands carried among the scales of the careful female cirriped, lest she lose one or two! What neglect of faded wives can compare with the scorned, unnoticed death of the drone bee, starved, stung, shut out, walled up in wax, kept only for his momentary sex-function, and not absolutely necessary for that! What Bluebeard tragedy or cruelty of bride-murdering Eastern king can emulate the ruthless slaughter of the hapless little male spider, used by his ferocious mate 'to coldly furnish forth a marriage breakfast'! Never once in the history of humanity has any outrage upon women compared with these sweeping sacrifices of helpless males in earlier species."
The reader gets the impression that the genial spirit of this book is not a mere accident of temperament, but is the offspring of reasoned hope. Here are the zest and energy of one who not only sees her way out, but is among a mighty host who have begun to move forward, and have good reason to expect a speedy deliverance. Some women who write upon the woman's cause produce the painful impression that they themselves are overpowered by it. But Mrs. Gilman's mind always remains larger than her theme.
Mill, in his Essay, pointed out that women
had not yet told us what they are and what they want, and that we must wait, inasmuch as only a woman can tell. In this book of Mrs. Gilman's a woman discloses what the bravest women of our day are and want. They are not physically, mentally, or morally what they aspire to be and believe they can be. They make an encouraging distinction between what their real nature as women might become, and what their nature is as modified by countless ages of unjust subjection. Taking themselves as a result both of inward organic law and pressure of artificial environment, they are as dissatisfied with themselves as with their condition, and yet are superbly confident. They believe that with the rectification of certain errors in social arrangements countless benefits will accrue, primarily to women, secondarily to children, and indirectly to men and society at large. The women of our day, having spoken, declare their faith in monogamy. They believe in the lifelong marriage of one man and one woman. But, to prevent this institution from becoming a constant source of misunderstanding and oppression, the wife should be secure financially against the caprice of her husband's whim or circumstance. Her labour must henceforth be owned not by her husband but
by herself. Her support in life must come avowedly from payment in return for her labour, independently of her husband's wish or fortune. To make this possible, women must cease to constitute the amateur half of humanity. If they are to remain domestic servants and home-makers, then domestic service and home-making must become specialised, scientific, expert, and professional. But it is impossible that women should be restricted as to what career they may choose.
Women also believe in the family; but under the wider duty to society, under liberty, and with escape into the larger life of politics, commerce, religion, and art. They believe in the home more fully than ever before; but they see, with Mrs. Gilman, that marriage, the family, and the home are three distinct institutions, sometimes in reciprocal antagonism, and that of the three the most precious and inviolable is marriage. It shall not be sacrificed, either on the altar of family or home. And it need not be; for both the family and the home may be so modified as to fulfil their own ends better than ever before, and yet at the same time minister to the ideal of marriage as the perfect union of husband and wife.
I have known many women regret that they were unable to render any service to the
cause of women's enfranchisement. But such women might at least master this book. It were then inconceivable that they could not utter a telling word, in public as well as in private, to set others thinking. They could also bring the book to the notice of others, distribute copies of it to possible converts, and even sell it themselves.
It must always be borne in mind that any book of strenuous purpose soon falls out of sight and out of power, unless the champions of the idea it promulgates constitute themselves a society for its dissemination. The Bible itself would have been forgotten ages ago, except that the churches are Bible societies. The Greek classics would have been wholly lost, were it not that the universities have been so many organisations for the preservation of Greek literature. So it is with special ideas and causes. Reform movements need the books which embody their principles; but equally do the books, so to speak, need the reformers. Only through living teachers is a good book, "the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life."