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| Chapter 11
IT was inevitable that my wife should take a large interest in Feminism. With that sweeping swiftness of hers she read a dozen or so of the leading and misleading books on the subject; spent some time in library work looking over files of papers and talked with all manner of people we met who had views on the matter. Furthermore, she thought about it.
As I grew more and more accustomed to seeing Ellador think, or at least to seeing the results of that process, I was sharply struck with the lack of thinking among people in general. She smiled sociably when I mentioned it.
"Why, yes, dear, that is largely what is the matter. You do not train your children to think you train them not to. Your men think hard in narrow lines, just little pushing lines of their special work, or how to get richer, and your women "
"Oh, come, let's have it!" I cried despairingly. "Whatever else you say or don't say you are always thinking about the women; I can fairly hear your brain click. And I'll tell you honestly, my dear, that I don't believe you can hurt me now, no matter how hard you hit them or the men. It certainly has been a liberal education to live with you. Also I've had my time in Herland to show me the difference. I confess that as I now see this life of ours the women shock me, in some ways, more than the men. And I've been doing some reading as well as you, even some thinking. I suppose one thing that has made you so reticent about this is that you can't criticize the women without blaming the men. Perhaps it will encourage you if I begin to do the blaming."
She mildly said that perhaps it would seem more magnanimous, so I started in and found the case worse when stated at length than I had seen it in glimpses.
"Of course, there is no getting around Lester Ward," I began slowly. "No one can study biology and sociology much and not see that on the first physiological lines the female is the whole show, so to speak, or at least most of it. And all the way up she holds her own, even into early savagery, till Mr. Man gets into the saddle. How he came to do it is a mastery that I don't believe even you can explain."
"No," she agreed, "I can't. I call it 'The Great Divergence.' There is no other such catastrophic change in all nature as far as I've been able to gather."
What Ellador had "gathered" in two years was perhaps not equal in detailed knowledge to the learning of great specialists, but she had a marvellous gift for selecting the really important facts and for arranging them. That was the trick she did something with what she knew not merely stored it.
"Well, he did take the reins, somehow," I resumed, "and we began our historic period, which is somewhat too large to be covered in an hour by me. But in all this time, as far as I can make out, he has never been even fair to women, and has for the most part treated her with such an assortment of cruelty and injustice as makes me blush for my sex."
"What made you think so, Van? What first?"
"Why Herland first," I answered promptly. "Seeing women who were People and that they were People because they were women, not in spite of it. Seeing that what we had called "womanliness" was a mere excess of sex, not the essential part of it at all. When I came back here and compared our women with yours well, it was a blow. Besides, if I'd had no other evidence You would have shown me just living with you, my Wonder Darling."
She looked at me with shining eyes, that look that was more than wife, more than mother, the illimitable loving Human look.
"What I have learned from you, Dear| est; from our companionship without the 'physical intimacy of sex, is this; that; Persons, two Persons who love each other, have a bigger range of happiness than even two lovers. I mean than two lovers who are not such companions, of course. I do not deny that it has been hard, very hard, sometimes. I've been disagreeable to live with"
"Never!" she interpolated, "but somehow the more I loved you the less it troubled me. Now I feel that when we do reach that union, with all our love, with all the great mother purpose that is in your heart and the beginning of a sense of father purpose in mine, I'm sure that it will be only an incident in our love, our happiness, not the main thing."
She gave a long soft sigh of full content, still listening.
"All this makes me see the limitations of our women," I continued, "and when I look for a reason there is only the conduct of men toward them. Cruelty? Why, my dear, it is not the physical cruelty to their tender bodies; it is not the shame and grief and denial that they have had to bear; those are like the 'atrocities' in warfare it is the war itself which is wrong. The petted women, the contented women, the 'happy' women these are perhaps the worst result."
"It's wonderful how clearly you see it," she said.
"Pretty plain to see," I went on. "We men, having all human power in our hands, have used it to warp and check the growth of women. We, by choice and selection, by law and religion, by enforced ignorance, by heavy over-cultivation of sex, have made the kind of woman we so made by nature, that that is what it was to be a woman. Then we heaped our scornful abuse upon her, ages and ages of it, the majority of men in all nations still looking down on women. And then, as if that was not enough really, my dear, I'm not joking, I'm ashamed, as if I'd done it myself we, in our superior freedom, in our monopoly of education, with the law in our hands, both to make and execute, with every conceivable advantage we have blamed women for the sins of the world!"
She interrupted here, eagerly "Not all of you, Van dear! That was only a sort of legend with some people. It was only in the Jewish religion you think so much of that the contemptible lie was actually stated as a holy truth and even God made to establish that unspeakable injustice."
"Yes, that's true, but nobody objected. We all accepted it gladly and treated her accordingly. Well, sister have I owned up enough? I guess you can't hurt my feelings any with anything you say about men. Of course, I'm not going into details, that would take forever, but just in general I can see what ails the women and who's to blame for it."
"Don't be too hard on Mr. Man," she urged gently. "What you say is true enough, but so are other things. What puzzles me most is not at all that background of explanation, but what ails the women now. Here, even here in America, now. They have had some education for several generations, numbers of them have time to think, some few have money I cannot be reconciled to the women, Van!"
She was so unusually fierce about it that I was quite surprised at her. I had supposed that her hardest feeling would be about men. She saw my astonishment and explained.
"Put yourself in my place for a moment, Van. Suppose in Her-land we had a lot of subject men. Blame us all you want to for doing it, but look at the men. Little creatures, undersized and generally feeble. Cowardly and not ashamed of it. Kept for sex purposes only or as servants; or both, usually both. I confess I'm asking something difficult of your imagination, but try to think of Herland women, each with a soft man she kept to cook for her, to wait upon her and to 'love' when she pleased. Ignorant men mostly. Poor men, almost all, having to ask their owners for money and tell what they wanted it for. Some of them utterly degraded creatures, kept in houses for common use as women are kept here. Some of them quite gay and happy pet men, with pet names and presents showered upon them. Most of them contented, piously accenting kitchen work as their duty, living by the religion and laws and customs the women made. Some of them left out and made fun of for being left not owned at all and envying those who were! Allow for a surprising percentage of mutual love and happiness, even under these conditions; but also for ghastly depths of misery and a general low level of mere submission to the inevitable. Then in this state of degradation fancy these men for the most part quite content to make monkeys of themselves by wearing the most ridiculous clothes. Fancy them, men, with men's bodies, though enfeebled, wearing open-work lace underclothing, with little ribbons all strung through it; wearing dresses never twice alike and almost always foolish; wearing hats," she fixed me with a steady eye in which a growing laughter twinkled "wearing such hats as your women wear!"
At this I threw up my hands. "I can't!" I said. "It's all off. I followed you with increasing difficulty, even through the lace and baby ribbon, but I stop there. Men wear such hats! Men! I tell you it is unthinkable! "
"Unthinkable for such men?"
"Such men are unthinkable, really; contemptible, skulking, cowardly spaniels! They would deserve all they got."
"Why aren't you blaming the women of Herland for treating them so, Van?"
"Oh!" said I, and "Yes," said I, "I begin to see, my dear Herlander, why you're down on the women."
"Good," she agreed. "It's all tree, what you say about the men, nothing could be blacker than that story. But the women, Van, the women! They are not dead! They are here, and in your country they have plenty of chance to grow. How can they bear their position, Van; how can they stand it another day? Don't they know they are Women?"
"No," said I slowly. "They think they are women."
We both laughed rather sadly.
Presently she said, "We have to take the facts as we find them. Emotion does not help us any. It's no use being horrified at a hermit crab that's the way he is. This is the woman man made how is she going to get over it?'
"You don't forget the ones who have gotten over it, do you? And all the splendid work they are doing?"
"I'm afraid I did for a moment," she admitted. "Besides so much of their effort is along side lines, and some of it in precisely the wrong direction."
"What would you have them do?"
"What would you have those inconceivable men of Herland do?" she countered. "What would you say to them to rouse them?"
"I'd try to make them realize that they were men," I said. "That's the first thing."
"Exactly. And if the smooth, plump, crazily dressed creatures answered 'A true man is always glad to be supported by the woman he loves' what would you say to that?"
"I should try to make him realize what the world really was,"
I answered slowly, "and to see what was a man's place in it." "And if he answered you a hundred million strong 'A man's
place is in the home!' what would you say then?"
"It would be pretty hard to say anything if men were like that."
"Yes, and it is pretty hard to say anything when women are like that it doesn't reach them."
"But there is the whole women's movement surely they are changing, improving.
She shook off her mood of transient bitterness. "My ignorance makes me hard, I suppose. I'm not familiar enough with your past history, recent past history, I mean, to note the changes as clearly as you do. I come suddenly to see them as they are, not knowing how much worse it has been. For instance, I suppose women used to dress more foolishly than they do now. Can that be possible?"
I ran over in my mind some of the eccentricities of fashion in earlier periods and was about to say that it was possible when I chanced to look out of the window. It was a hot day, most oppressively hot, with a fiercely glaring sun. A woman stood just across the street talking to a man. I picked up my opera glass and studied her for a moment. I had read that "the small waist is coming in again." Hers had come. She stood awkwardly in extremely high-heeled slippers, in which the sole of the foot leaned on a steep slant from heel to ball, and her toes, poor things, were driven into the arrow-pointed toe of the slipper by the whole sliding weight of the body above. The thin silk hose showed the insteps puffing up like a pincushion from the binding grip of that short vamp.
Her skirts were short as a child's, most voluminous and varied in outline, hanging in bunches on the hips and in various fluctuating points and comers below. The bodice was a parti-colored composition, of indiscreet exposures, more suitable for a ballroom than for the street.
But what struck me most was that she wore about her neck a dead fox or the whole outside of one.
No, she was not a lunatic. No, that man was not her keeper. No, it was not a punishment, not an initiation penalty, not an election bet.
That woman, of her own free will and at considerable expense, wore heavy furs in the hottest summer weather.
I laid down the glass and turned to Ellador. "No, my dear,' 'said I gloomily. "It is not possible that women ever could have been more idiotic in dress than that."
We were silent for a little, watching that pitiful object with her complacent smile as she stood there on those distorted feet, sweating under her load of fur, perfectly contented and pleased with herself.
"Some way," said Ellador slowly, "it makes me almost discouraged about the woman's movement. I'm not, of course, not really. I do know enough to see that they are far better off than a hundred years ago. And the laws of life are on their side, solid irresistible laws. They are women after all, and women are people are the people, really, up to a certain point. I must make more allowances, must learn to see the gain in some Ways even where there is none in others. Now that that tottering little image may be earning her own living or doing something useful... . What's worst of all, perhaps, is the strange missing of purpose in those who are most actively engaged in 'advancing.' They seem like flies behind a window, they bump and buzz, pushing their heads against whatever is in front of them, and never seem really to plan a way out... . No, there's one thing worse than that much worse. I wouldn't have believed it possible I can hardly believe it now."
"What's this horror?" I asked. "Prostitution? White slavery?"
"Oh, no," she said, "those things are awful, but a sort of natural awfulness, if I may say so; what a scientific observer would expect of the evil conditions carried to excess. No this thing is unnatural! I mean the Antis."
"Oh the Anti-Suffragists?"
"Yes. Think of the men again those poor degraded men I was imagining. And then think of some of them struggling for freedom, struggling long and hard, with pathetically slow progress, doing no harm in the meantime, just talking, arguing, pleading, petitioning, using what small money they could scrape together to promote their splendid cause, their cause that meant not only their own advantage, but more freedom and swifter progress for all the world. And then think of some other of those pet men, not only misunderstanding the whole thing, too dull or too perverse even to see such basic truth as that, but actually banding together to oppose it !
"Van, if you want one all-sufficient and world-convincing proof of the degradation of women, you have it in the anti-suffragist!
"The men are backing them, remember," I suggested.
"Of course they are. You expect the men to oppose the freeing of women, they naturally would. But the women, Van the women themselves it's un-natural."
With a sick shudder she buried her face in her hands for a moment, then straightened up bravely again, giving that patient little sigh of dismissal to the subject. I was silent and watched her as she sat, so strong, so graceful, so beautiful, with that balanced connection in line and movement we usually see only in savages. Her robe was simple in form, lovely in color, comfortable and becoming. I looked at her with unfailing pleasure always, never having to make excuses and reservations. All of her was beautiful and strong.
And I thought of her sisters, that fair land of full grown women, all of whom, with room for wide persona) distinction, were beautiful and strong. There were differences enough. A group of thoroughbred race horses might vary widely in color, size, shape, marking and individual expression; yet all be fine horses. There would be no need of scrubs and cripples to make variety. And I looked again out of our window, at the city street, with its dim dirtiness, its brutal noise and the unsatisfied, unsatisfying people going so hurriedly about after their food, crowding, pushing, hurrying like hungry rats; the sordid eagerness of the men, the shallow folly of the women. And all at once there swept over me a great wave of homesickness for Herland.
Ellador was never satisfied merely to criticize; she must needs plan some way out, some improvement. So, laying aside her discouragement, she plunged into this woman question with new determination and before long came to me in loving triumph.
"I was wrong, Van, to be so harsh with them; it was just my Herland background. Now I have been deliberately putting myself in the woman's place and measuring the rate of progress as of a glacier. And it's wonderful, really wonderful. There was the bottom limit not so very far back some savages still keeping to it merely to live long enough to bear a daughter. Then there's the gain, this way in one land and that way in another, but always a gain. Then this great modern awakening which is now stirring them all over the world. By keeping my own previous knowledge of women entirely out of my mind and by measuring your really progressive ones to-day against their own grandmothers that movement I was so scornful about now seems to me a sunburst of blazing improvement. Of course they 'bump and buzz' in every direction, that is mere resilience haven't they been kept down in every direction? They'll get over that as they grow accustomed to real liberty.
"It would be inconceivable that they should have been so unutterably degraded for so long and not show the results of it, the limitations. Instead of blaming them I should have been rejoicing at the wonderful speed with which they have surged forward as fast as any door was opened, even a crack. I have been looking at what might be called the unconscious as apart from the conscious woman's movement, and it comforts me much."
"Just what do you mean?"
"I mean the women's clubs, here in this country especially; and largest of all the economic changes; the immense numbers who are at work."
"Didn't they always work? The poor ones, that is?"
"Oh, yes, at home. I mean human work."
"That, incidentally, as a descriptive term; but it would be different grade of work, even without that."
"So I've heard people say, some people. But what is there superior in doing some fractional monotonous little job like bookkeeping, for instance, as compared with the management and performance of all the intimate tasks in a household?"
I was so solemn about this that she took me seriously, at least for a moment.
"It isn't the difference between a bookkeeper and a housekeeper that must be considered; it is the difference between an organized business world that needs bookkeeping and an unorganized world of separate families with no higher work than to eat, sleep and keep alive."
Then she saw me grin and begged pardon, cheerfully. "I might have known you were wiser than that, Van. But, oh, the people I've been talking to! The questions they ask and the comments they make! Fortunately we do not have to wait for universal conviction before moving onward."
"If you could have your way with the women of this country and the others what would you make them do?' I asked.
She set her chin in her hand and meditated a little. "What they are doing, only more of it, for one thing," she answered presently, "but, oh, so much more! Of course they have to be taught differently, they need new standards, new hopes, new ideals, new purposes. That's the real field of work, you see, Van, in the mind. That is what was so confusing to me at first. You see the difference in looks between your women and our women is as one to a thousand compared to the differences between their mental content.
"Your conditions are so good, the real ones, I mean, the supplies, the materials, the abilities you have, that at first I underrated the difficulties. Inside you are not as advanced as outside, men or women. You have such antique minds! I never get used to it. You see we, ever so long ago, caught up with our conditions; and now we are always planning better ones. Our minds are ahead of our conditions, and yet we live pretty comfortably."
"And how are our women going to catch up?"
"They have to make a long jump, from the patriarchal status to the democratic, from the narrowest personal ties to the widest social relation, from first hand labor, mere private service of bodily needs, to the specialized, organized social service of the whole community. At present this is going on, in actual fact, without their realizing it, without their understanding and accepting it. It is the mind that needs changing."
"I suppose it seems a trifling matter to you to change the working machinery of twenty million homes that's what it amounts to doesn't it?"
"How long does it take to do up twenty million women's hair?" she inquired. "No longer than it does one if they all do it at once. Numbers don't complicate a question like this. What could be done in one tiny village could be done all over the country in the same time. I suppose I do underestimate the practical difficulties here on account of our having settled all those little problems. The idea of your still not being properly fed! I can't get used to it."
Then I remembered the uniform excellence of food in Her-land; not only all that we ourselves had enjoyed, but that I never saw in any shop or market any wilted, withered, stale or in any way inferior supplies.
"How did you manage that?" I asked her. "Did you confiscate all the damaged things? Was there a penalty for selling them?"
"Does one of your housekeepers confiscate her damaged food? Is there any penalty for feeding her family with it?"
"Oh, I see. You only provided enough to keep fresh."
"Exactly. I tell you numbers don't make any difference. A million people do not eat any more apiece than a dozen at one table. We feed our people as carefully and as competently as you try to feed your families. You can't do as well because of the inferiority of materials."
This I found somewhat offensive, but I knew it was true.
"It's so simple!" she said wearily. "A child could see it. Food is to eat, and if it is not good to eat it is not food. Here you people use food as a thing to play with, to buy and sell, to store up, to throw away, with no more regard for its real purpose than "
"Than the swine with pearls before him," I suggested. "But you know those economic laws come in "
She laughed outright.
"Van, dear, there is nothing in all your pitiful tangled life more absurd than what you so solemnly call 'economics.' Good economics in regard to food is surely this: to produce the best quality, in sufficient quantity, with the least expenditure of labor, and to distribute it the most rapidly and freshly to the people who need it."
"The management of food in your world is perhaps the most inexplicably foolish of anything you do. I've been up and down the streets in your cities observing. I've been in the hotels and restaurants far and wide and in ever so many homes. And I confess, Van, with some mortification, that there is no one thing I'm more homesick for than food."
"I am getting discouraged, if you are not, Ellador. As compared with a rational country like yours, this is rather a mess. And it looks so hopeless. I suppose it will take a thousand years to catch up."
"You could do it in three generations," she calmly replied. "Three generations! That's barely a century."
"I know it. The whole outside part of it you could do inside of twenty years; it is the people who will take three generations to remake. You could improve this stock, say, 5 per cent. in one, 15 in two and 80 per cent. in three. Perhaps faster."
"Are not you rather sanguine, my dear girl?"
"I don't think so," she answered gravely. "People are not bad now; they are only weighed down with all this falsehood and foolishness in their heads. There is always the big lifting force of life to push you on as fast as you will let it. There is the wide surrounding help of conditions, such conditions as you even now know how to arrange. And there is the power of education which you have hardly tried. With these all together and with proper care in breeding you could fill the world with glorious people soon. Oh, I wish you'd do it! I wish you'd do it!"
It was hard on her. Harder even than I had foreseen. Not only the war horrors, not only the miseries of more backward nations and of our painful past, but even in my America where I had fondly thought she would be happy, the common arrangements of our lives to which we are so patiently accustomed, were to her a constant annoyance and distress.
Through her eyes I saw it newly and instead of the breezy pride I used to feel in my young nation I now began to get an unceasing sense of what she had called "an idiot child."
It was so simply true, what she said about food. Food is to eat. All its transporting and preserving and storing and selling if it interferes with the eating value of the food is foolishness. I began to see the man who stores eggs until they are reduced to the grade called "rots and spots" as an idiot and a malicious idiot at that. Vivid and clear rose in my mind the garden-circled cities of Herland, where for each group of inhabitants all fresh fruits and vegetables were raised so near that they could be eaten the day they were picked. It did not cost any more. It cost less, saving transportation. Supplies that would keep they kept enough from season to season, with some emergency reserves; but not one person, young or old, ever had to eat such things as we pay extortionately for in every city.
Nothing but women, only mothers, but they had worked out to smooth perfection what now began to seem to me to be the basic problem in human life.
How to make the best kind of people and how to keep them at their best and growing better surely that is what we are here for.