Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Herland, Chapter 11: Our Difficulties (Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman)
We say, "Marriage is a lottery"; also "Marriages are made in
Heaven"--but this is not so widely accepted as the other.
We have a well-founded theory that it is best to marry "in
one's class," and certain well-grounded suspicions of international
marriages, which seem to persist in the interests of social progress,
rather than in those of the contracting parties.
But no combination of alien races, of color, of caste, or creed,
was ever so basically difficult to establish as that between us,
three modern American men, and these three women of Herland.
It is all very well to say that we should have been frank about
it beforehand. We had been frank. We had discussed--at least
Ellador and I had--the conditions of The Great Adventure, and
thought the path was clear before us. But there are some things
one takes for granted, supposes are mutually understood, and to
which both parties may repeatedly refer without ever meaning
the same thing.
The differences in the education of the average man and
woman are great enough, but the trouble they make is not mostly
for the man; he generally carries out his own views of the case.
The woman may have imagined the conditions of married life to
be different; but what she imagined, was ignorant of, or might
have preferred, did not seriously matter.
I can see clearly and speak calmly about this now, writing
after a lapse of years, years full of growth and education, but at
the time it was rather hard sledding for all of us--especially for
Terry. Poor Terry! You see, in any other imaginable marriage
among the peoples of the earth, whether the woman were black,
red, yellow, brown, or white; whether she were ignorant or educated,
submissive or rebellious, she would have behind her the marriage
tradition of our general history. This tradition relates the woman
to the man. He goes on with his business, and she adapts herself to
him and to it. Even in citizenship, by some strange hocus-pocus,
that fact of birth and geography was waved aside, and the woman
automatically acquired the nationality of her husband.
Well--here were we, three aliens in this land of women. It
was small in area, and the external differences were not so great
as to astound us. We did not yet appreciate the differences between
the race-mind of this people and ours.
In the first place, they were a "pure stock" of two thousand
uninterrupted years. Where we have some long connected lines
of thought and feeling, together with a wide range of differences,
often irreconcilable, these people were smoothly and firmly
agreed on most of the basic principles of their life; and not only
agreed in principle, but accustomed for these sixty-odd generations
to act on those principles.
This is one thing which we did not understand--had made no
allowance for. When in our pre-marital discussions one of those
dear girls had said: "We understand it thus and thus," or "We
hold such and such to be true," we men, in our own deep-seated
convictions of the power of love, and our easy views about
beliefs and principles, fondly imagined that we could convince
them otherwise. What we imagined, before marriage, did not
matter any more than what an average innocent young girl imagines.
We found the facts to be different.
It was not that they did not love us; they did, deeply and
warmly. But there are you again--what they meant by "love"
and what we meant by "love" were so different.
Perhaps it seems rather cold-blooded to say "we" and "they,"
as if we were not separate couples, with our separate joys and
sorrows, but our positions as aliens drove us together constantly.
The whole strange experience had made our friendship more
close and intimate than it would ever have become in a free and
easy lifetime among our own people. Also, as men, with our
masculine tradition of far more than two thousand years, we were a unit,
small but firm, against this far larger unit of feminine tradition.
I think I can make clear the points of difference without a too
painful explicitness. The more external disagreement was in the
matter of "the home," and the housekeeping duties and pleasures
we, by instinct and long education, supposed to be inherently
appropriate to women.
I will give two illustrations, one away up, and the other away
down, to show how completely disappointed we were in this regard.
For the lower one, try to imagine a male ant, coming from
some state of existence where ants live in pairs, endeavoring to
set up housekeeping with a female ant from a highly developed
anthill. This female ant might regard him with intense personal
affection, but her ideas of parentage and economic management
would be on a very different scale from his. Now, of course, if
she was a stray female in a country of pairing ants, he might have
had his way with her; but if he was a stray male in an anthill--!
For the higher one, try to imagine a devoted and impassioned
man trying to set up housekeeping with a lady angel, a real
wings-and-harp-and-halo angel, accustomed to fulfilling divine
missions all over interstellar space. This angel might love the man
with an affection quite beyond his power of return or even of
appreciation, but her ideas of service and duty would be on a
very different scale from his. Of course, if she was a stray angel
in a country of men, he might have had his way with her; but
if he was a stray man among angels--!
Terry, at his worst, in a black fury for which, as a man, I must
have some sympathy, preferred the ant simile. More of Terry and
his special troubles later. It was hard on Terry.
Jeff--well, Jeff always had a streak that was too good for
this world! He's the kind that would have made a saintly priest in
parentagearlier times. He accepted the angel theory, swallowed it whole,
tried to force it on us--with varying effect. He so worshipped
Celis, and not only Celis, but what she represented; he had
become so deeply convinced of the almost supernatural advantages
of this country and people, that he took his medicine like
a--I cannot say "like a man," but more as if he wasn't one.
Don't misunderstand me for a moment. Dear old Jeff was no
milksop or molly-coddle either. He was a strong, brave, efficient
man, and an excellent fighter when fighting was necessary. But
there was always this angel streak in him. It was rather a wonder,
Terry being so different, that he really loved Jeff as he did; but
it happens so sometimes, in spite of the difference--perhaps
because of it.
As for me, I stood between. I was no such gay Lothario as
Terry, and no such Galahad as Jeff. But for all my limitations I
think I had the habit of using my brains in regard to behavior
rather more frequently than either of them. I had to use brain-
power now, I can tell you.
The big point at issue between us and our wives was, as may
easily be imagined, in the very nature of the relation.
"Wives! Don't talk to me about wives!" stormed Terry. "They
don't know what the word means."
Which is exactly the fact--they didn't. How could they? Back
in their prehistoric records of polygamy and slavery there were
no ideals of wifehood as we know it, and since then no possibility
of forming such.
"The only thing they can think of about a man is FATHERHOOD!"
said Terry in high scorn. "FATHERHOOD!" As if a man was always
wanting to be a FATHER!"
This also was correct. They had their long, wide, deep, rich
experience of Motherhood, and their only perception of the
value of a male creature as such was for Fatherhood.
Aside from that, of course, was the whole range of personal
love, love which as Jeff earnestly phrased it "passeth the love of
women!" It did, too. I can give no idea--either now, after long
and happy experience of it, or as it seemed then, in the first
measureless wonder--of the beauty and power of the love they gave us.
Even Alima--who had a more stormy temperament than either
of the others, and who, heaven knows, had far more provocation--
even Alima was patience and tenderness and wisdom personified
to the man she loved, until he--but I haven't got to that yet.
These, as Terry put it, "alleged or so-called wives" of ours,
went right on with their profession as foresters. We, having no
special learnings, had long since qualified as assistants. We had
to do something, if only to pass the time, and it had to be work
--we couldn't be playing forever.
This kept us out of doors with those dear girls, and more or
less together--too much together sometimes.
These people had, it now became clear to us, the highest,
keenest, most delicate sense of personal privacy, but not the
faintest idea of that SOLITUDE A DEUX we are so fond of. They had,
every one of them, the "two rooms and a bath" theory realized.
From earliest childhood each had a separate bedroom with toilet
conveniences, and one of the marks of coming of age was the
addition of an outer room in which to receive friends.
Long since we had been given our own two rooms apiece, and
as being of a different sex and race, these were in a separate
house. It seemed to be recognized that we should breathe easier
if able to free our minds in real seclusion.
For food we either went to any convenient eating-house,
ordered a meal brought in, or took it with us to the woods,
always and equally good. All this we had become used to and
enjoyed--in our courting days.
After marriage there arose in us a somewhat unexpected urge
of feeling that called for a separate house; but this feeling found
no response in the hearts of those fair ladies.
"We ARE alone, dear," Ellador explained to me with gentle
patience. "We are alone in these great forests; we may go and eat
in any little summer-house--just we two, or have a separate
table anywhere--or even have a separate meal in our own rooms.
How could we be aloner?"
This was all very true. We had our pleasant mutual solitude
about our work, and our pleasant evening talks in their apartments
or ours; we had, as it were, all the pleasures of courtship carried
right on; but we had no sense of--perhaps it may be called possession.
"Might as well not be married at all," growled Terry. "They
only got up that ceremony to please us--please Jeff, mostly.
They've no real idea of being married.
I tried my best to get Ellador's point of view, and naturally
I tried to give her mine. Of course, what we, as men, wanted to
make them see was that there were other, and as we proudly said
"higher," uses in this relation than what Terry called "mere parentage."
In the highest terms I knew I tried to explain this to Ellador.
"Anything higher than for mutual love to hope to give life,
as we did?" she said. "How is it higher?"
"It develops love," I explained. "All the power of beautiful
permanent mated love comes through this higher development."
"Are you sure?" she asked gently. "How do you know that
it was so developed? There are some birds who love each other
so that they mope and pine if separated, and never pair again if
one dies, but they never mate except in the mating season.
Among your people do you find high and lasting affection appearing
in proportion to this indulgence?"
It is a very awkward thing, sometimes, to have a logical mind.
Of course I knew about those monogamous birds and beasts too,
that mate for life and show every sign of mutual affection,
without ever having stretched the sex relationship beyond its
original range. But what of it?
"Those are lower forms of life!" I protested. "They have no
capacity for faithful and affectionate, and apparently happy--
but oh, my dear! my dear!--what can they know of such a love
as draws us together? Why, to touch you--to be near you--to
come closer and closer--to lose myself in you--surely you feel
it too, do you not?"
I came nearer. I seized her hands.
Her eyes were on mine, tender radiant, but steady and
strong. There was something so powerful, so large and changeless,
in those eyes that I could not sweep her off her feet by my
own emotion as I had unconsciously assumed would be the case.
It made me feel as, one might imagine, a man might feel who
loved a goddess--not a Venus, though! She did not resent my
attitude, did not repel it, did not in the least fear it, evidently.
There was not a shade of that timid withdrawal or pretty resistance
which are so--provocative.
"You see, dearest," she said, "you have to be patient with us.
We are not like the women of your country. We are Mothers, and
we are People, but we have not specialized in this line."
"We" and "we" and "we"--it was so hard to get her to be
personal. And, as I thought that, I suddenly remembered how we
were always criticizing OUR women for BEING so personal.
Then I did my earnest best to picture to her the sweet intense joy
of married lovers, and the result in higher stimulus to all creative work.
"Do you mean," she asked quite calmly, as if I was not holding
her cool firm hands in my hot and rather quivering ones, "that with you,
when people marry, they go right on doing this in season and out of season,
with no thought of children at all?"
"They do," I said, with some bitterness. "They are not mere
parents. They are men and women, and they love each other."
"How long?" asked Ellador, rather unexpectedly.
"How long?" I repeated, a little dashed. "Why as long as they live."
"There is something very beautiful in the idea," she admitted,
still as if she were discussing life on Mars. "This climactic
expression, which, in all the other life-forms, has but the one purpose,
has with you become specialized to higher, purer, nobler uses. It has--
I judge from what you tell me--the most ennobling effect on character.
People marry, not only for parentage, but for this exquisite interchange
--and, as a result, you have a world full of continuous lovers, ardent,
happy, mutually devoted, always living on that high tide of supreme
emotion which we had supposed to belong only to one season and one use.
And you say it has other results, stimulating all high creative work.
That must mean floods, oceans of such work, blossoming from this intense
happiness of every married pair! It is a beautiful idea!"
She was silent, thinking.
So was I.
She slipped one hand free, and was stroking my hair with it
in a gentle motherly way. I bowed my hot head on her shoulder and
felt a dim sense of peace, a restfulness which was very pleasant.
"You must take me there someday, darling," she was saying.
"It is not only that I love you so much, I want to see your
country --your people--your mother--" she paused reverently.
"Oh, how I shall love your mother!"
I had not been in love many times--my experience did not
compare with Terry's. But such as I had was so different from this
that I was perplexed, and full of mixed feelings: partly a growing
sense of common ground between us, a pleasant rested calm feeling,
which I had imagined could only be attained in one way; and partly a
bewildered resentment because what I found was not what I had looked for.
It was their confounded psychology! Here they were with this
profound highly developed system of education so bred into
them that even if they were not teachers by profession they all
had a general proficiency in it--it was second nature to them.
And no child, stormily demanding a cookie "between meals,"
was ever more subtly diverted into an interest in house-building
than was I when I found an apparently imperative demand had
disappeared without my noticing it.
And all the time those tender mother eyes, those keen scientific
eyes, noting every condition and circumstance, and learning how to
"take time by the forelock" and avoid discussion before occasion arose.
I was amazed at the results. I found that much, very much,
of what I had honestly supposed to be a physiological necessity
was a psychological necessity--or so believed. I found, after my
ideas of what was essential had changed, that my feelings changed also.
And more than all, I found this--a factor of enormous weight--these
women were not provocative. That made an immense difference.
The thing that Terry had so complained of when we first
came--that they weren't "feminine," they lacked "charm," now
became a great comfort. Their vigorous beauty was an aesthetic
pleasure, not an irritant. Their dress and ornaments had not a
touch of the "come-and-find-me" element.
Even with my own Ellador, my wife, who had for a time
unveiled a woman's heart and faced the strange new hope and
joy of dual parentage, she afterward withdrew again into the
same good comrade she had been at first. They were women, PLUS,
and so much plus that when they did not choose to let the
womanness appear, you could not find it anywhere.
I don't say it was easy for me; it wasn't. But when I made
appeal to her sympathies I came up against another immovable wall.
She was sorry, honestly sorry, for my distresses, and made all manner
of thoughtful suggestions, often quite useful, as well as the wise
foresight I have mentioned above, which often saved all difficulty
before it arose; but her sympathy did not alter her convictions.
"If I thought it was really right and necessary, I could
perhaps bring myself to it, for your sake, dear; but I do not want
to--not at all. You would not have a mere submission, would you?
That is not the kind of high romantic love you spoke of, surely?
It is a pity, of course, that you should have to adjust your highly
specialized faculties to our unspecialized ones."
Confound it! I hadn't married the nation, and I told her so.
But she only smiled at her own limitations and explained that she
had to "think in we's."
Confound it again! Here I'd have all my energies focused on
one wish, and before I knew it she'd have them dissipated in one
direction or another, some subject of discussion that began just
at the point I was talking about and ended miles away.
It must not be imagined that I was just repelled, ignored, left
to cherish a grievance. Not at all. My happiness was in the hands
of a larger, sweeter womanhood than I had ever imagined. Before
our marriage my own ardor had perhaps blinded me to much of this.
I was madly in love with not so much what was there as with
what I supposed to be there. Now I found an endlessly beautiful
undiscovered country to explore, and in it the sweetest wisdom
and understanding. It was as if I had come to some new place
and people, with a desire to eat at all hours, and no other
interests in particular; and as if my hosts, instead of merely
saying, "You shall not eat," had presently aroused in me a lively
desire for music, for pictures, for games, for exercise, for playing
in the water, for running some ingenious machine; and, in the
multitude of my satisfactions, I forgot the one point which was
not satisfied, and got along very well until mealtime.
One of the cleverest and most ingenious of these tricks was
only clear to me many years after, when we were so wholly at one
on this subject that I could laugh at my own predicament then.
It was this: You see, with us, women are kept as different as
possible and as feminine as possible. We men have our own world,
with only men in it; we get tired of our ultra-maleness and
turn gladly to the ultra-femaleness. Also, in keeping our women
as feminine as possible, we see to it that when we turn to them
we find the thing we want always in evidence. Well, the
atmosphere of this place was anything but seductive. The very
numbers of these human women, always in human relation, made
them anything but alluring. When, in spite of this, my hereditary
instincts and race-traditions made me long for the feminine response
in Ellador, instead of withdrawing so that I should want her more,
she deliberately gave me a little too much of her society.
--always de-feminized, as it were. It was awfully funny, really.
Here was I, with an Ideal in mind, for which I hotly longed,
and here was she, deliberately obtruding in the foreground of my
consciousness a Fact--a fact which I coolly enjoyed, but which
actually interfered with what I wanted. I see now clearly enough
why a certain kind of man, like Sir Almroth Wright, resents the
professional development of women. It gets in the way of the sex
ideal; it temporarily covers and excludes femininity.
Of course, in this case, I was so fond of Ellador my friend,
of Ellador my professional companion, that I necessarily enjoyed
her society on any terms. Only--when I had had her with me in
her de-feminine capacity for a sixteen-hour day, I could go to my
own room and sleep without dreaming about her.
The witch! If ever anybody worked to woo and win and hold
a human soul, she did, great superwoman that she was. I couldn't
then half comprehend the skill of it, the wonder. But this I soon
began to find: that under all our cultivated attitude of mind
toward women, there is an older, deeper, more "natural" feeling,
the restful reverence which looks up to the Mother sex.
So we grew together in friendship and happiness, Ellador and
I, and so did Jeff and Celis.
When it comes to Terry's part of it, and Alima's, I'm sorry--
and I'm ashamed. Of course I blame her somewhat. She wasn't
as fine a psychologist as Ellador, and what's more, I think she had
a far-descended atavistic trace of more marked femaleness, never
apparent till Terry called it out. But when all is said, it
doesn't excuse him. I hadn't realized to the full Terry's character
--I couldn't, being a man.
The position was the same as with us, of course, only with
these distinctions. Alima, a shade more alluring, and several
shades less able as a practical psychologist; Terry, a hundredfold
more demanding--and proportionately less reasonable.
Things grew strained very soon between them. I fancy at first,
when they were together, in her great hope of parentage and his
keen joy of conquest--that Terry was inconsiderate. In fact, I know it,
from things he said.
"You needn't talk to me," he snapped at Jeff one day, just
before our weddings. "There never was a woman yet that did not
enjoy being MASTERED. All your pretty talk doesn't amount to a hill
o'beans--I KNOW." And Terry would hum:
I've taken my fun where I found it.
I've rogued and I've ranged in my time,
The things that I learned from the yellow and black,
They 'ave helped me a 'eap with the white.
Jeff turned sharply and left him at the time. I was a bit
Poor old Terry! The things he'd learned didn't help him a
heap in Herland. His idea was to take--he thought that was the way.
He thought, he honestly believed, that women like it. Not the women
of Herland! Not Alima!
I can see her now--one day in the very first week of their
marriage, setting forth to her day's work with long determined
strides and hard-set mouth, and sticking close to Ellador.
She didn't wish to be alone with Terry--you could see that.
But the more she kept away from him, the more he wanted
He made a tremendous row about their separate establishments,
tried to keep her in his rooms, tried to stay in hers. But there
she drew the line sharply.
He came away one night, and stamped up and down the
moonlit road, swearing under his breath. I was taking a walk that
night too, but I wasn't in his state of mind. To hear him rage
you'd not have believed that he loved Alima at all--you'd have
thought that she was some quarry he was pursuing, something
to catch and conquer.
I think that, owing to all those differences I spoke of, they
soon lost the common ground they had at first, and were unable
to meet sanely and dispassionately. I fancy too--this is pure
conjecture--that he had succeeded in driving Alima beyond her
best judgment, her real conscience, and that after that her own
sense of shame, the reaction of the thing, made her bitter perhaps.
They quarreled, really quarreled, and after making it up once
or twice, they seemed to come to a real break--she would not be
alone with him at all. And perhaps she was a bit nervous, I don't
know, but she got Moadine to come and stay next door to her. Also,
she had a sturdy assistant detailed to accompany her in her work.
Terry had his own ideas, as I've tried to show. I daresay he
thought he had a right to do as he did. Perhaps he even convinced
himself that it would be better for her. Anyhow, he hid himself
in her bedroom one night . . .
The women of Herland have no fear of men. Why should
they have? They are not timid in any sense. They are not weak;
and they all have strong trained athletic bodies. Othello could
not have extinguished Alima with a pillow, as if she were a mouse.
Terry put in practice his pet conviction that a woman loves
to be mastered, and by sheer brute force, in all the pride and
passion of his intense masculinity, he tried to master this woman.
It did not work. I got a pretty clear account of it later from
Ellador, but what we heard at the time was the noise of a tremendous
struggle, and Alima calling to Moadine. Moadine was close by and came
at once; one or two more strong grave women followed.
Terry dashed about like a madman; he would cheerfully have
killed them--he told me that, himself--but he couldn't. When he
swung a chair over his head one sprang in the air and caught it,
two threw themselves bodily upon him and forced him to the floor;
it was only the work of a few moments to have him tied hand and foot,
and then, in sheer pity for his futile rage, to anesthetize him.
Alima was in a cold fury. She wanted him killed--actually.
There was a trial before the local Over Mother, and this woman,
who did not enjoy being mastered, stated her case.
In a court in our country he would have been held quite
"within his rights," of course. But this was not our country; it
was theirs. They seemed to measure the enormity of the offense
by its effect upon a possible fatherhood, and he scorned even to
reply to this way of putting it.
He did let himself go once, and explained in definite terms
that they were incapable of understanding a man's needs, a man's
desires, a man's point of view. He called them neuters, epicenes,
bloodless, sexless creatures. He said they could of course kill him
--as so many insects could--but that he despised them nonetheless.
And all those stern grave mothers did not seem to mind his
despising them, not in the least.
It was a long trial, and many interesting points were brought
out as to their views of our habits, and after a while Terry had
his sentence. He waited, grim and defiant. The sentence was:
"You must go home!"
Originally published in Forerunner (1915).
Etext from Project Gutenberg.
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