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Ch. 13: Industry and Economics

The forest of Truth, on the subject of industry and economics, is difficult to see on account of the trees.

We have so many Facts on this subject; so many Opinions; so many Traditions and Habits; and the pressure of Immediate Conclusions is so intense upon us all; that it is not easy to form a clear space in one's mind and consider the field fairly.

Possibly the present treatment of the subject will appeal most to the minds of those who know least about it; such as the Average Woman. To her, Industry is a daylong and lifelong duty, as well as a natural impulse; and economics means going without things. To such untrained but also unprejudiced minds it should be easy to show the main facts on these lines.

Let us dispose of Economics first, as having a solemn scientific appearance.

Physical Economics treats of the internal affairs of the body; the whole machinery and how it works; all organs, members, functions; each last and littlest capillary and leucocyte, are parts of that "economy."

Nature's "economy" is not in the least "economical." The waste of life, the waste of material, the waste of time and effort, are prodigious, yet she achieves her end as we see.

Domestic Economics covers the whole care and government of the household; the maintenance of peace, health, order, and morality; the care and nourishment of children as far as done at home; the entire management of the home, as well as the spending and saving of money; are included in it. Saving is the least and poorest part of it; especially as in mere abstinence from needed things; most especially when this abstinence is mainly "Mother's." How best to spend; time, strength, love, care, labor, knowledge, and money--this should be the main study in Domestic Economics.

Social, or, as they are used to call it, Political Economics, covers a larger, but not essentially different field. A family consists of people, and the Mother is their natural manager. Society consists of people--_the same people_--only more of them. All the people, who are members of Society, are also members of families--except some incubated orphans maybe. Social Economics covers the whole care and management of the people, the maintenance of peace and health and order and morality; the care of children, as far as done out of the home; as well as the spending and saving of the public money--all these are included in it.

This great business of Social Economics is at present little understood and most poorly managed, for this reason; we approach it from an individual point of view; seeking not so much to do our share in the common service, as to get our personal profit from the common wealth. Where the whole family labors together to harvest fruit and store it for the winter, we have legitimate Domestic Economics: but where one member takes and hides a lot for himself, to the exclusion of the others, we have no Domestic Economics at all--merely individual selfishness.

In Social Economics we have a large, but simple problem. Here is the earth, our farm. Here are the people, who own the earth. How can the most advantage to the most people be obtained from the earth with the least labor? That is the problem of Social Economics.

Looking at the world as if you held it in your hands to study and discuss, what do we find at present?

We find people living too thickly for health and comfort in some places, and too thinly for others; we find most people working too hard and too long at honest labor; some people working with damaging intensity at dishonest labor; and a few wretched paupers among the rich and poor, degenerate idlers who do not work at all, the scum and the dregs of Society.

All this is bad economics. We do not get the comfort out of life we easily could; and work far too hard for what we do get. Moreover, there is no peace, no settled security. No man is sure of his living, no matter how hard he works, a thousand things may occur to deprive him of his job, or his income. In our time there is great excitement along this line of study; and more than one proposition is advanced whereby we may improve, most notably instanced in the world-covering advance of Socialism.

In our present study the principal fact to be exhibited is the influence of a male culture upon Social Economics and Industry.

Industry, as a department of Social Economics, is little understood. Heretofore we have viewed this field from several wholly erroneous positions. From the Hebrew (and wholly androcentric) religious teaching, we have regarded labor as a curse.

Nothing could be more absurdly false. Labor is not merely a means of supporting human life--it _is_ human life. Imagine a race of beings living without labor! They must be the rudest savages.

Human work consists in specialized industry and the exchange of its products; and without it is no civilization. As industry develops, civilization develops; peace expands; wealth increases; science and art help on the splendid total. Productive industry, and its concomitant of distributive industry cover the major field of human life.

If our industry was normal, what should we see?

A world full of healthy, happy people; each busily engaged in what he or she most enjoys doing. Normal Specialization, like all our voluntary processes, is accompanied by keen pleasure; and any check or interruption to it gives pain and injury. Whosoever works at what he loves is well and happy. Whoso works at what he does not love is ill and miserable. It is very bad economics to force unwilling industry. That is the weakness of slave labor; and of wage labor also where there is not full industrial education and freedom of choice.

Under normal conditions we should see well developed, well trained specialists happily engaged in the work they most enjoyed; for reasonable hours (any work, or play either, becomes injurious if done too long); and as a consequence the whole output of the world would be vastly improved, not only in quantity but in quality.

Plain are the melancholy facts of what we do see. Following that pitiful conception of labor as a curse, comes the very old and androcentric habit of despising it as belonging to women, and then to slaves.

As a matter of fact industry is in its origin feminine; that is, maternal. It is the overflowing fountain of mother-love and mother-power which first prompts the human race to labor; and for long ages men performed no productive industry at all; being merely hunters and fighters.

It is this lack of natural instinct for labor in the male of our species, together with the ideas and opinions based on that lack, and voiced by him in his many writings, religious and other, which have given to the world its false estimate of this great function, human work. That which is our very life, our greatest joy, our road to all advancement, we have scorned and oppressed; so that "working people," the "working classes," "having to work," etc., are to this day spoken of with contempt. Perhaps drones speak so among themselves of the "working bees!"

Normally, widening out from the mother's careful and generous service in the family, to careful, generous service in the world, we should find labor freely given, with love and pride.

Abnormally, crushed under the burden of androcentric scorn and prejudice, we have labor grudgingly produced under pressure of necessity; labor of slaves under fear of the whip, or of wage-slaves, one step higher, under fear of want. Long ages wherein hunting and fighting were the only manly occupations, have left their heavy impress. The predacious instinct and the combative instinct weigh down and disfigure our economic development. What Veblen calls "the instinct of workmanship" grows on, slowly and irresistably; but the malign features of our industrial life are distinctively androcentric: the desire to get, of the hunter; interfering with the desire to give, of the mother; the desire to overcome an antagonist--originally masculine, interfering with the desire to serve and benefit--originally feminine.

Let the reader keep in mind that as human beings, men are able to over-live their masculine natures and do noble service to the world; also that as human beings they are today far more highly developed than women, and doing far more for the world. The point here brought out is that as males their unchecked supremacy has resulted in the abnormal predominance of masculine impulses in our human processes; and that this predominance has been largely injurious.

As it happens, the distinctly feminine or maternal impulses are far more nearly in line with human progress than are those of the male; which makes her exclusion from human functions the more mischievous.

Our current teachings in the infant science of Political Economy are naively masculine. They assume as unquestionable that "the economic man" will never do anything unless he has to; will only do it to escape pain or attain pleasure; and will, inevitably, take all he can get, and do all he can to outwit, overcome, and if necessary destroy his antagonist.

Always the antagonist; 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 humanness, 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.

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 outpouring of world force.

Great men, the world's teachers and leaders, are great in humanness; mere maleness does not make for greatness unless it be in warfare--a disadvantageous glory! Great women also must be great in humanness; 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 humanness 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 humanness 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 follows, 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