Moving the Mountain, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Chapter 5.

WHILE below they took me into the patio, that quiet inner garden which was so attractive from above. It was a lovely place. The moon was riding high and shone down into it; a slender fountain spray rose shimmering from its carved basin; on the southern-facing wall a great wistaria vine drooped in budding purple, and beds of violets made the air rich with soft fragrance.

Here and there were people walking; and in the shadowy corners sat young couples, apparently quite happy.

“I suppose you don’t know the names of one of them,” I suggested.

“On the contrary, I know nearly all,” answered Hallie. “These apartments are taken very largely by friends and acquaintances. You see, the gardens and roofs are in common, and there are the reading-rooms, ballrooms, and so on. It is pleasanter to be friends to begin with, and most of us get to be afterward, if we are not at first.

“But surely there are some disagreeable people left on earth!”

“Yes; but where there is so much more social life people get together in congenial sets,” put in Nellie; “just as we used to in summer resorts.,,

“There aren’t so many bores and fools as there used to be, John,” Owen remarked. “We really do raise better people. Even the old ones have improved. You see, life is so much pleasanter and more interesting.”

“We’re all healthier, Uncle John, because we’re better fed; that makes us more agreeable.”

“There’s more art in the world to make us happier,” said Jerrold. “Hallie thinks it’s all due to her everlasting bread and butter. Listen to that now!”

From a balcony up there in the moonlight came a delicious burst of melody; a guitar and two voices, and the refrain was taken up from another window, from one corner of the garden, from the roof; all in smooth accord.

“Your group here must be an operatic one,” I suggested. But my nephew answered that it was not, but that music—good music—was so common now, and so well taught, that the average was high in both taste and execution.

We sat late that night, my new family bubbling over with things to say, and filling my mind with a confused sense of new advantages, unexplained and only half believed.

I could not bring myself to accept as commonplace facts the unusual excellences so glibly described, and I suppose my silence showed this as well as what I said, for my sister presently intervened with decision:

“We must all stop this for tonight,” she said. “John feels as if he was being forcibly fed—he’s got to rest. Then I suggest that tomorrow Owen take him in hand—go off for a tramp, why don’t you?—and really straighten out things. You see, there are two distinct movements to consider, the unconscious progress that would have taken place anyway in thirty years, and then the deliberate measures adopted by the ‘New Lifers,’ and it’s rather confusing. I’ve labored with him all the way home now; I think the man’s point of view will help.”

Owen was a big man with a strong, wholesome face, and a quizzical little smile of his own. He and I went up the river next morning in a swift motor boat, which did not batter the still air with muffled banging as they used to do, and strolled off in the bright spring sunshine into Palisade Park.

“We’ve saved all the loveliest of it—for keeps,” he said. “Out here, where the grass and trees are just as they used to be, you won’t be bothered, and one expositor will be easier to handle than four at once. Now, shall I talk, or will you ask questions?”

“I’d like to ask a few questions first, then you can expound by the hour. Do give me the long and short of this ‘Women-waked-up’ proposition. What does it mean—to a man?”

Owen stroked his chin.

“No loss,” he said at length; “at least, no loss that’s not covered by a greater gain. Do you remember the new biological theory in regard to the relative position of the sexes that was beginning to make headway when we were young?”

I nodded. “Ward’s theory? Oh, yes; I heard something of it. Pretty far-fetched, it seemed to me.”

“Far-fetched and dear-bought, but true for all that. You’ll have to swallow it. The female is the race type; the male is her assistant. It’s established beyond peradventure.”

I meditated, painfully. I looked at Owen. He had just as happy and proud a look as if he was a real man—not merely an Assistant. I though of Jerrold—nothing cowed about him; of the officers and men on the ship; of such men as I had seen in the street.

“I suppose this applies in the main to remote origins?” I suggested.

“It holds good all through life—is just as true as it ever was.”

“Then—do you mean that women run everything, and men are only helpers?”

“Oh, no; I wasn’t talking about human life at all—only about sex. ‘Running things’ has nothing to do with that. Women run some businesses and are in practically all, but men still do the bulk of the world’s work. There is a natural division of labor, after all.”

This was pleasant to hear, but he dashed my hopes.

“Men do almost all the violent plain work—digging and hewing and hammering; women, as a class, prefer the administrative and constructive kinds. But all that is open yet, and settling itself gradually; men and women are working everywhere. The big change which Nellie is always referring to means simply that women ‘waked up’ to a realization of the fact that they were human beings.”

“What were they before, pray?”

“Only female beings.”

“Female human beings, of course,” said I.

“Yes; a little human, but mostly female. Now they are mostly human. It is a great change.”

“I don’t follow you. Aren’t they still wives and mothers?”

“They are still mothers—far more so than they were before, as a matter of fact; but as to being wives—there’s a difference.”

I was displeased, and showed it.

“Well, is it Polygamy, or Polyandry, or Trial Marriages, or what?”

Owen gazed at me with an expression very like Nellie’s.

“There it is,” he said. “You can only think about women in some sort of relation to men, of a change in marriage relations as merely a change in kind; whereas what has happened is a change in degree. We still have monogamous marriages, on a much purer and more lasting plane than a generation ago; but the word ‘wife’ does not mean what it used to.”

“Go on—I can’t follow you at all.”

“A ‘wife’ used to be a possession; ‘wilt thou be mine?’ said the lover, and the wife was his.”

“Well—whose else is she now?” I asked with some sharpness.

“She does not ‘belong’ to anyone in that old sense. She is the wife of her husband in that she is his true lover, and that their marriage is legally recorded; but her life and work does not belong to him. He has no right to her ‘services’ any more. A woman who is in a business—like Hallie, for instance—does not give it up when she marries.”

I stopped him. “What! Isn’t Hallie married?”

“No—not yet.”

“But—that is her flat?”

“Yes; why not?” He laughed at me. “You see, you can’t imagine a woman having a home of her own. Hallie is twenty-three. She won’t marry for some years, probably; but she has her position and is doing excellent work. It’s only a minor inspectorship, but she likes it. Why shouldn’t she have a home?”

“Why doesn’t she have it with you?”

“Because I like to live with my wife. Her business, and mine, are in Michigan; Hallie’s in New York.”

“And when she marries she keeps on being an inspector?” I queried.

“Precisely. The man who marries that young woman will have much happiness, but he will not ‘own’ her, and she will not be his wife in the sense of a servant. She will not darn his socks or cook his meals. Why should she?” “Will she not nurse his babies?” “No; she will nurse her babies—their babies, not ‘his’ merely.”

“And keep on being an inspector?” “And keep on being an inspector—for four hours a day—in two shifts. Not a bit more difficult than cooking, my dear boy.” “But—she will not be with her children—” “She will be with her children twenty hours out of the twenty-four—if she wants to. But Hallie’s not specially good with children. . . . You see, John, the women have specialized—even in motherhood.” Then he went on at considerable length to show how there had arisen a recognition of far more efficient motherhood than was being given; that those women best fitted for the work had given eager, devoted lives to it and built up a new science of Humaniculture; that no woman was allowed to care for her children without proof of capacity. “Allowed by whom?” I put in.

“By the other women—the Department of Child Culture—the Government.”

“And the fathers—do they submit to this, tamely?”

“No; they cheerfully agree and approve. Absolutely the biggest thing that has happened, some of us think, is that new recognition of the importance of childhood. We are raising better people now.”

I was silent for a while, pulling up bits of grass and snapping small sticks into inch pieces.

“There was a good deal of talk about Eugenics, I remember,” I said at last, “and—what was that thing? Endowment of Motherhood?”

“Yes—man’s talk,” Owen explained. “You see, John, we couldn’t look at women but in one way—in the old days; it was all a question of sex with us—inevitably, we being males. Our whole idea of improvement was in better breeding; our whole idea of motherhood was in each woman’s devoting her whole life to her own children. That turbid freshet of an Englishman, Wells, who did so much to stir his generation, said

‘I am wholly feminist’—and he was I He saw women only as females and wanted them endowed as such. He was never able to see them as human beings and amply competent to take care of themselves.

“Now, our women, getting hold of this idea that they really are human creatures, simply blossomed forth in new efficiency. They specialized the food business—Hallie’s right about the importance of that—and then they specialized the baby business. All .women who wish to, have babies; but if they wish to take care of them they must show a diploma.”

I looked at him. I didn’t like it—but what difference did that make? I had died thirty years ago, it appeared.

“A diploma for motherhood!” I repeated; but he corrected me.

“Not at all. Any woman can be a mother—if she’s normal. I said she had to have a diploma as a child-culturist—quite a different matter.”

“I don’t see the difference.”

“No, I suppose not. I didn’t, once,” he said. “Any and every mother was supposed to be competent to ‘raise’ children—and look at the kind of people we raised! You see, we are beginning to learn—just beginning. You needn’t imagine that we are in a state of perfection—there are more new projects up for discussion than ever before. We’ve only made a start. The consequences, so far, are so good that we are boiling over with propositions for future steps.”

“Go on about the women,” I said. “I want to know the worst and become resigned.”

“There’s nothing very bad to tell,” he continued cheerfully. “When a girl is born she is treated in all ways as if she was a boy; there is no hint made in any distinction between them except in the perfectly open physiological instruction as to their future duties. Children, young humans, grow up under precisely the same conditions. I speak, of course, of the most advanced people—there are still backward places—there’s plenty to do yet.

“Then the growing girls are taught of their place and power as mothers—and they have tremendously high ideals. That’s what has done so much to raise the standard in men. It came hard, but it worked.”

I raised my head with keen interest, remarking, “I’ve glimpsed a sort of Iron hand in a velvet glove back of all this. What did they do?”

Owen looked rather grim for a moment.

“The worst of it was twenty or twenty-five years back. Most of those men are dead. That new religious movement stirred the socio-ethical sense to sudden power; it coincided with the women’s political movement, urging measures for social improvement; its enormous spread, both by preaching and literature, lit up the whole community with new facts, ideas and feelings. Health—physical purity—was made a practical ideal. The young women learned the proportion of men with syphilis and gonorrhoea and decided it was wrong to marry them. That was enough. They passed laws in every State requiring a clean bill of health with every marriage license. Diseased men had to die bachelors—that’s all.”

“And did men submit to legislation like that?” I protested.

“Why not? It was so patently for the protection of the race—of the family—of the women and children. Women were solid for it, of course—And all the best men with them. To oppose it was almost a confession of guilt and injured a man’s chances of marriage.”

“It used to be said that any man could find a woman to marry him,” I murmured, meditatively.

“Maybe he could—once. He certainly cannot now. A man who has one of those diseases is so reported—just like small-pox, you see. Moreover, it is registered against him by the Department of Eugenics—physicians are required to send in lists; any girl can find out.”

“It must have left a large proportion of unmarried women.”

“It did, at first. And that very thing was of great value to the world. They were wise, conscientious, strong women, you see, and they poured all their tremendous force into social service. Lots of them went into child culture—used their mother-power that way. It wasn’t easy for them; it wasn’t easy for the left-over men, either!”

“It must have increased prostitution to an awful extent,” I said.

Owen shook his head and regarded me quizzically.

“That is the worst of it,” he said. “There isn’t any.”

I sat up. I stood up. I walked up and down. “No prostitution! I—I can’t believe it. Why, prostitution is a social necessity, as old as Nineveh!”.

Owen laughed outright. “Too late, old man; too late! I know we used to think so. We did use to call it a ‘social necessity,’ didn’t we? Come, now, tell me what necessity it was to the women?”

I stopped my march and looked at him.

“To the women,” he repeated. “What did they want of prostitution? What good did it do them?”

“Why—why—they made a living at it,” I replied, rather lamely.

“Yes, a nice, honorable, pleasant, healthy living, didn’t they? With all women perfectly well able to earn an excellent living decently; with all women fully educated about these matters and knowing what a horrible death was before them in this business; with all women brought up like human beings and not like over-sexed female animals, and with all women quite free to marry if they wished to—how many, do you think, would choose that kind of business?

“We never waited for them to choose it, remember! We fooled them and lied to them and dragged them in—and drove them in—forced them in—and kept them as slaves and prisoners. They didn’t really enjoy the life; you know that. Why should they go into it if they do not have to—to accommodate us?”

“Do you mean to tell me there are no—wantons—among women?” I demanded.

“No, I don’t mean any such thing. There are various kinds of over-developed and morbidly developed women as there are men, and we haven’t weeded them out entirely. But the whole thing is now recognized as pathological—cases for medical treatment, or perhaps surgical. Besides, wantonness is not prostitution. Prostitution is a social crime of the worst order. No one thing did more harm. The women stamped it out.”

“Legislated us all into morality, did they?” I inquired sarcastically.

“Legislation did a good deal; education did more; the new religion did most; social opinion helped. You remember we men never really tried to legislate against prostitution—we wanted it to go on.”

“Why, surely we did legislate against it—and it was of no use!” I protested.

“No; we legislated against the women, but not against the men, or the thing itself. We examined the women, and fined them, and licensed them—and never did anything against the men. Women legislators used very different measures, I assure you.”

“I suppose it is for the good of the world,” I presently admitted; “but ”

“But you don’t quite like to think of men in this new and peculiar position of having to be good!”

“Frankly—I don’t. I’m willing to be good, but—I don’t like to be given no choice.”

“Well, now, look at it. As it was, we had one way, according to what we thought was good for us. Rather than lead clean, contented lives at some expense to ourselves in the way of moral and physical control, we deliberately sacrificed an army of women to a horrible life and a more horrible death, and corrupted the blood of the nation. It was on the line of health they made their stand, not on ‘morality’ alone. Under our new laws it is held a crime to poison another human being with syphilis, just as much as to use prussic acid.”

“Nellie said you had no crime now.” “Oh, well, Nellie is an optimist. I suppose she meant the old kinds and definitions. We don’t call things ‘crimes’ any more. And then, really, there is not a hundredth part of the evil done that there used to be. We know more, you see, and have less temptation.”

We were silent for a while. I watched a gull float and wheel over the blue water. Big airships flew steadily along certain lines. Little ones sailed about on all sides.

One darted over our heads and lit with a soft swoop on an open promontory.

“Didn’t they use to buzz?” I asked Owen, “Of course; just as the first motor boats thumped and banged abominably. We will not stand for unnecessary noise, as we used to.”

“How do you stop it? More interference with the individual rights?”

“More recognition of public rights. A bad noise is a nuisance, like a bad smell. We didn’t used to mind it much—but the women did. You see, what women like has to be considered now.”

“It always was considered!” I broke in with some heat. “The women of America were the most spoiled, pampered lot on earth; men gave up to them in all ways.”

“At home, perhaps, but not in public. The city and state weren’t run to suit them at all.”

“Why should they be? Women belong at home. If they push into a man’s world they ought to take the consequences.”

Owen stretched his long legs and looked up at the soft, brilliant blue above us.

“Why do you call the world ‘man’s?” he asked.

“It was man’s; it ought to be. Woman’s place is in the home. I suppose I sound like ancient history to you?” and I laughed a little shamefacedly.

“We have rather lost that point of view,”

Owen guardedly admitted. “You see ” and then he laughed. “It’s no use, John; no matter how we put it to you it’s a jar. The world’s thought has changed—and you have got to catch up!”

“Suppose I refuse? Suppose I really am unable?”

“We won’t suppose it for a moment,” he said cheerfully. “Ideas are not nailed down. Just take out what you had and insert some new ones. Women are people—just as much as we are; that’s a fact, my dear fellow. You’ll have to accept it.”

“And are men allowed to be people, too?” I asked gloomily.

“Why, of course! Nothing has interfered with our position as human beings; it is only our sex supremacy that we have lost.”

“And do you like it?” I demanded.

“Some men made a good deal of fuss at first—the old-fashioned kind, and all the worst varieties. But modern men aren’t worried in the least over their position. ., .

See here, John, you don’t grasp this—women are vastly more agreeable than they used to be.”

I looked at him in amazement.

“Fact!” he said. “Of course, we loved our own mothers and daughters and sisters, more or less, no matter how they looked or what they did; and when we were ‘in love’ there was no limit to the glory of ‘the beloved object.’ But you and I know that women were pretty unsatisfactory in the old days.”

I refused to admit it, but he went on calmly.

“The ‘wife and mother’ was generally a tired, nervous, overworked creature. She soon lost her beauty and vigor, her charm and inspiration. We were forever chasing fine, handsome, highly desirable young girls, and forever reducing them to weary; worn-out women—in the name of love! The gay outsiders were always a fresh attraction—as long as we couldn’t have them. . . . See here, John, can’t you understand? Our old way of using women wasn’t good for them—nor for us, either, by the way—but it simply spoiled the women. They were hopelessly out of the running with us in all human lines; their business was housework, and ours was world work. There was very little real companionship.

“Now women are intelligent, experienced, well-trained citizens, fully our equals in any line of work they take up, and with us everywhere. It’s made the world over!”

“Made it ‘feminist’ through and through, I suppose!” I groaned.

“Not a bit! It used to be ‘masculist’ through and through; now it’s just human. And, see here—women are more attractive, as women, than they used to be.”

I stared at this, unbelieving.

“That’s true! You see, they are healthy; there’s a new standard of physical beauty—very Greek—you must have noticed already the big, vigorous, fresh-colored, free-stepping girls.”

I had, even in my brief hours of observation.

“They are far more perfect physically, better developed mentally, with a higher moral sense—yes, you needn’t look like that! We used to call them our ‘moral superiors,’ just because they had the one virtue we insisted on—and we never noticed the lack in other lines. Women today are truthful, brave, honest, generous, self—controlled; they are—jollier, more reasonable, more companionable.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that,” I rather grudgingly admitted. “I was afraid they would have lost all—charm.”

“Yes, we used to feel that way, I remember. Funny! We were convinced on the one hand that there was nothing to a woman but her eternal womanliness, and on the other we were desperately afraid her womanliness would disappear the moment she turned her mind to anything else. I assure you that men love women, in general and in particular, much more than they used to.”

I pondered. “But—what sort of home life do you have?”

“Think for a moment of what we used to have—even in a ‘happy home.’ The man had the whole responsibility of keeping it up—his business life and interests all foreign to her. She had the whole labor of running it—the direct manual labor in the great majority of cases—the management in any case. They were strangers in an industrial sense.

“When he came home he had to drop all his line of thought—and she hers, except that she generally unloaded on him the burden of inadequacy in housekeeping. Sometimes he unloaded, too. They could sympathize and condole, but neither could help the other.

“The whole thing cost like sin, too. It was a living nightmare to lots of men—and women! The only things they had in common were their children and ‘social interests.’

“Well—nowadays, in the first place every body is easy about money. (I’ll go into that later.) No woman marries except for love—and good judgment, too; all women are more desirable—more men want to marry them—and that improves the men! You see, a man naturally cares more for women than for anything else in life—and they know it! It’s the handle they lift by. That’s what has eliminated tobacco.”

“Do you mean to say that these women have arbitrarily prevented smoking?” I do not smoke myself, but I was angry nevertheless.

“Not a bit of it, John—not a bit of it. Anybody can smoke who wants to.” “Then why don’t they?” “Because women do not like it.” “What has that to do with it? Can’t a man do what he wants to—even if they don’t like it?”

“Yes, he can; but it costs too much. Men like tobacco, but they like love better, old man.”

“Is it one of your legal requirements for marriage?”

“No, not legal; but women disapprove of tobacco-y lovers, husbands, fathers; they know that the excessive use of it is injurious, and won’t marry a heavy smoker. But the main point is that they simply don’t like the smell of the stuff, or of the man who uses it—most women, that is.”

“But what difference does it make? I dare say that most women did not like it before, but surely a man has a right ”

“To make himself a disgusting object to his wife,” Owen interrupted. “Yes, he has a ‘right’ to. We would have a right to bang on a tin pan, I suppose—or to burn rubber, but he wouldn’t be popular!”

“It’s tyranny!” I protested.

“Not at all,” he said, imperturbably. “We had no idea what a nuisance we used to be, that’s all; or how much women put up with that they did not like at all. I asked a woman once—when I was a bachelor—why she objected to tobacco, and she frankly replied that a man who did not smoke was much pleasanter to kiss I She was a very fascinating little widow—I confess it made me think.”

“It’s the same with liquor, I suppose? Let’s get it all told.”

“Yes, only more so. Alcoholism was a race evil of the worst sort. I cannot imagine how we put up with it so long.”

“Is this spotless world of yours one solid temperance union?”

“Practically. We use some light wines and a little spirits yet, but infrequently—in this country, at least, and Europe is vastly improved.

“But that was a much more serious thing than the other. It wasn’t a mere matter of not marrying! They used all kinds of means. But come on—we’ll be late to dinner; and dinner, at least, is still a joy, Brother John.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54