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Ch. 2: The Man-made Family

The family is older than humanity, and therefore cannot be called a human institution. A post office, now, is wholly human; no other creature has a post office, but there are families in plenty among birds and beasts; all kinds permanent and transient; monogamous, polygamous and polyandrous.

We are now to consider the growth of the family in humanity; what is its rational development in humanness; in mechanical, mental and social lines; in the extension of love and service; and the effect upon it of this strange new arrangement--a masculine proprietor.

Like all natural institutions the family has a purpose; and is to be measured primarily as it serves that purpose; which is, the care and nurture of the young. To protect the helpless little ones, to feed and shelter them, to ensure them the benefits of an ever longer period of immaturity, and so to improve the race--this is the original purpose of the family.

When a natural institution becomes human it enters the plane of consciousness. We think about it; and, in our strange new power of voluntary action do things to it. We have done strange things to the family; or, more specifically, men have.

Balsac, at his bitterest, observed, "Women's virtue is man's best invention." Balsac was wrong. Virtue--the unswerving devotion to one mate--is common among birds and some of the higher mammals. If Balsac meant celibacy when he said virtue, why that is one of man's inventions--though hardly his best.

What man has done to the family, speaking broadly, is to change it from an institution for the best service of the child to one modified to his own service, the vehicle of his comfort, power and pride.

Among the heavy millions of the stirred East, a child--necessarily a male child--is desired for the credit and glory of the father, and his fathers; in place of seeing that all a parent is for is the best service of the child. Ancestor worship, that gross reversal of all natural law, is of wholly androcentric origin. It is strongest among old patriarchal races; lingers on in feudal Europe; is to be traced even in America today in a few sporadic efforts to magnify the deeds of our ancestors.

The best thing any of us can do for our ancestors is to be better than they were; and we ought to give our minds to it. When we use our past merely as a guide-book, and concentrate our noble emotions on the present and future, we shall improve more rapidly.

The peculiar changes brought about in family life by the predominance of the male are easily traced. In these studies we must keep clearly in mind the basic masculine characteristics: desire, combat, self-expression--all legitimate and right in proper use; only mischievous when excessive or out of place. Through them the male is led to strenuous competition for the favor of the female; in the overflowing ardours of song, as in nightingale and tomcat; in wasteful splendor of personal decoration, from the pheasant's breast to an embroidered waistcoat; and in direct struggle for the prize, from the stag's locked horns to the clashing spears of the tournament.

It is earnestly hoped that no reader will take offence at the necessarily frequent, reference to these essential features of maleness. In the many books about women it is, naturally, their femaleness that has been studied and enlarged upon. And though women, after thousands of years of such discussion, have become a little restive under the constant use of the word female: men, as rational beings, should not object to an analogous study--at least not for some time--a few centuries or so.

How, then, do we find these masculine tendencies, desire, combat and self-expression, affect the home and family when given too much power?

First comes the effect in the preliminary work of selection. One of the most uplifting forces of nature is that of sex selection. The males, numerous, varied, pouring a flood of energy into wide modifications, compete for the female, and she selects the victor, this securing to the race the new improvements.

In forming the proprietary family there is no such competition, no such selection. The man, by violence or by purchase, does the choosing--he selects the kind of woman that pleases him. Nature did not intend him to select; he is not good at it. Neither was the female intended to compete--she is not good at it.

If there is a race between males for a mate--the swiftest gets her first; but if one male is chasing a number of females he gets the slowest first. The one method improves our speed: the other does not. If males struggle and fight with one another for a mate, the strongest secures her; if the male struggles and fights with the female--(a peculiar and unnatural horror, known only among human beings) he most readily secures the weakest. The one method improves our strength--the other does not.

When women became the property of men; sold and bartered; "given away" by their paternal owner to their marital owner; they lost this prerogative of the female, this primal duty of selection. The males were no longer improved by their natural competition for the female; and the females were not improved; because the male did not select for points of racial superiority, but for such qualities as pleased him.

There is a locality in northern Africa, where young girls are deliberately fed with a certain oily seed, to make them fat,--that they may be the more readily married,--as the men like fat wives. Among certain more savage African tribes the chief's wives are prepared for him by being kept in small dark huts and fed on "mealies' and molasses; precisely as a Strasbourg goose is fattened for the gourmand. Now fatness is not a desirable race characteristic; it does not add to the woman's happiness or efficiency; or to the child's; it is merely an accessory pleasant to the master; his attitude being much as the amorous monad ecstatically puts it, in Sill's quaint poem, "Five Lives,"

"O the little female monad's lips! O the little female monad's eyes! O the little, little, female, female monad!"

This ultra littleness and ultra femaleness has been demanded and produced by our Androcentric Culture.

Following this, and part of it, comes the effect on motherhood. This function was the original and legitimate base of family life; and its ample sustaining power throughout the long early period of "the mother-right;" or as we call it, the matriarchate; the father being her assistant in the great work. The patriarchate, with its proprietary family, changed this altogether; the woman, as the property of the man was considered first and foremost as a means of pleasure to him; and while she was still valued as a mother, it was in a tributary capacity. Her children were now his; his property, as she was; the whole enginery of the family was turned from its true use to this new one, hitherto unknown, the service of the adult male.

To this day we are living under the influence of the proprietary family. The duty of the wife is held to involve man-service as well as child-service, and indeed far more; as the duty of the wife to the husband quite transcends the duty of the mother to the child.

See for instance the English wife staying with her husband in India and sending the children home to be brought up; because India is bad for children. See our common law that the man decides the place of residence; if the wife refuses to go with him to howsoever unfit a place for her and for the little ones, such refusal on her part constitutes "desertion" and is ground for divorce.

See again the idea that the wife must remain with the husband though a drunkard, or diseased; regardless of the sin against the child involved in such a relation. Public feeling on these matters is indeed changing; but as a whole the ideals of the man-made family still obtain.

The effect of this on the woman has been inevitably to weaken and overshadow her sense of the real purpose of the family; of the relentless responsibilities of her duty as a mother. She is first taught duty to her parents, with heavy religious sanction; and then duty to her husband, similarly buttressed; but her duty to her children has been left to instinct. She is not taught in girlhood as to her preeminent power and duty as a mother; her young ideals are all of devotion to the lover and husband: with only the vaguest sense of results.

The young girl is reared in what we call "innocence;" poetically described as "bloom;" and this condition is held one of her chief "charms." The requisite is wholly androcentric. This "innocence" does not enable her to choose a husband wisely; she does not even know the dangers that possibly confront her. We vaguely imagine that her father or brother, who do know, will protect her. Unfortunately the father and brother, under our current "double standard" of morality do not judge the applicants as she would if she knew the nature of their offenses.

Furthermore, if her heart is set on one of them, no amount of general advice and opposition serves to prevent her marrying him. "I love him!" she says, sublimely. "I do not care what he has done. I will forgive him. I will save him!"

This state of mind serves to forward the interests of the lover, but is of no advantage to the children. We have magnified the duties of the wife, and minified the duties of the mother; and this is inevitable in a family relation every law and custom of which is arranged from the masculine viewpoint.

From this same viewpoint, equally essential to the proprietary family, comes the requirement that the woman shall serve the man. Her service is not that of the associate and equal, as when she joins him in his business. It is not that of a beneficial combination, as when she practices another business and they share the profits; it is not even that of the specialist, as the service of a tailor or barber; it is personal service--the work of a servant.

In large generalization, the women of the world cook and wash, sweep and dust, sew and mend, for the men.

We are so accustomed to this relation; have held it for so long to be the "natural" relation, that it is difficult indeed to show that it is distinctly unnatural and injurious. The father expects to be served by the daughter, a service quite different from what he expects of the son. This shows at once that such service is no integral part of motherhood, or even of marriage; but is supposed to be the proper industrial position of women, as such.

Why is this so? Why, on the face of it, given a daughter and a son, should a form of service be expected of the one, which would be considered ignominious by the other?

The underlying reason is this. Industry, at its base, is a feminine function. The surplus energy of the mother does not manifest itself in noise, or combat, or display, but in productive industry. Because of her mother-power she became the first inventor and laborer; being in truth the mother of all industry as well as all people.

Man's entrance upon industry is late and reluctant; as will be shown later in treating his effect on economics. In this field of family life, his effect was as follows:

Establishing the proprietary family at an age when the industry was primitive and domestic; and thereafter confining the woman solely to the domestic area, he thereby confined her to primitive industry. The domestic industries, in the hands of women, constitute a survival of our remotest past. Such work was "woman's work" as was all the work then known; such work is still considered woman's work because they have been prevented from doing any other.

The term "domestic industry" does not define a certain kind of labor, but a certain grade of labor. Architecture was a domestic industry once--when every savage mother set up her own tepee. To be confined to domestic industry is no proper distinction of womanhood; it is an historic distinction, an economic distinction, it sets a date and limit to woman's industrial progress.

In this respect the man-made family has resulted in arresting the development of half the field. We have a world wherein men, industrially, live in the twentieth century; and women, industrially, live in the first--and back of it.

To the same source we trace the social and educational limitations set about women. The dominant male, holding his women as property, and fiercely jealous of them, considering them always as _his,_ not belonging to themselves, their children, or the world; has hedged them in with restrictions of a thousand sorts; physical, as in the crippled Chinese lady or the imprisoned odalisque; moral, as in the oppressive doctrines of submission taught by all our androcentric religions; mental, as in the enforced ignorance from which women are now so swiftly emerging.

This abnormal restriction of women has necessarily injured motherhood. The man, free, growing in the world's growth, has mounted with the centuries, filling an ever wider range of world activities. The woman, bound, has not so grown; and the child is born to a progressive fatherhood and a stationary motherhood. Thus the man-made family reacts unfavorably upon the child. We rob our children of half their social heredity by keeping the mother in an inferior position; however legalized, hallowed, or ossified by time, the position of a domestic servant is inferior.

It is for this reason that child culture is at so low a level, and for the most part utterly unknown. Today, when the forces of education are steadily working nearer to the cradle, a new sense is wakening of the importance of the period of infancy, and its wiser treatment; yet those who know of such a movement are few, and of them some are content to earn easy praise--and pay--by belittling right progress to gratify the prejudices of the ignorant.

The whole position is simple and clear; and easily traceable to its root. Given a proprietary family, where the man holds the woman primarily for his satisfaction and service--then necessarily he shuts her up and keeps her for these purposes. Being so kept, she cannot develop humanly, as he has, through social contact, social service, true social life. (We may note in passing, her passionate fondness for the child-game called "society" she has been allowed to entertain herself withal; that poor simiacrum of real social life, in which people decorate themselves and madly crowd together, chattering, for what is called "entertainment.") Thus checked in social development, we have but a low grade motherhood to offer our children; and the children, reared in the primitive conditions thus artificially maintained, enter life with a false perspective, not only toward men and women, but toward life as a whole.

The child should receive in the family, full preparation for his relation to the world at large. His whole life must be spent in the world, serving it well or ill; and youth is the time to learn how. But the androcentric home cannot teach him. We live to-day in a democracy-the man-made family is a despotism. It may be a weak one; the despot may be dethroned and overmastered by his little harem of one; but in that case she becomes the despot--that is all. The male is esteemed "the head of the family;" it belongs to him; he maintains it; and the rest of the world is a wide hunting ground and battlefield wherein he competes with other males as of old.

The girl-child, peering out, sees this forbidden field as belonging wholly to men-kind; and her relation to it is to secure one for herself--not only that she may love, but that she may live. He will feed, clothe and adorn her--she will serve him; from the subjection of the daughter to that of the wife she steps; from one home to the other, and never enters the world at all--man's world.

The boy, on the other hand, considers the home as a place of women, an inferior place, and longs to grow up and leave it--for the real world. He is quite right. The error is that this great social instinct, calling for full social exercise, exchange, service, is considered masculine, whereas it is human, and belongs to boy and girl alike.

The child is affected first through the retarded development of his mother, then through the arrested condition of home industry; and further through the wrong ideals which have arisen from these conditions. A normal home, where there was human equality between mother and father, would have a better influence.

We must not overlook the effect of the proprietary family on the proprietor himself. He, too, has been held back somewhat by this reactionary force. In the process of becoming human we must learn to recognize justice, freedom, human rights; we must learn self-control and to think of others; have minds that grow and broaden rationally; we must learn the broad mutual interservice and unbounded joy of social intercourse and service. The petty despot of the man-made home is hindered in his humanness by too much manness.

For each man to have one whole woman to cook for and wait upon him is a poor education for democracy. The boy with a servile mother, the man with a servile wife, cannot reach the sense of equal rights we need to-day. Too constant consideration of the master's tastes makes the master selfish; and the assault upon his heart direct, or through that proverbial side-avenue, the stomach, which the dependent woman needs must make when she wants anything, is bad for the man, as well as for her.

We are slowly forming a nobler type of family; the union of two, based on love and recognized by law, maintained because of its happiness and use. We are even now approaching a tenderness and permanence of love, high pure enduring love; combined with the broad deep-rooted friendliness and comradeship of equals; which promises us more happiness in marriage than we have yet known. It will be good for all the parties concerned--man, woman and child: and promote our general social progress admirably.

If it needs "a head" it will elect a chairman pro tem. Friendship does not need "a head." Love does dot need "a head." Why should a family?

Charlotte Perkins Gilman