Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

The Man-Made World; or, Our Androcentric Culture online

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a normal length of femur and tibia, a normal height of hip and shoulder,
she is criticized and called awkward by her squatty sisters!

The most convenient proof of the inferiority of women in human beauty is
shown by those composite statues prepared by Mr. Sargent for the World's
Fair of '93. These were made from gymnasium measurements of thousands of
young collegians of both sexes all over America. The statue of the girl
has a pretty face, small hands and feet, rather nice arms, though weak;
but the legs are too thick and short; the chest and shoulders poor; and
the trunk is quite pitiful in its weakness. The figure of the man is
much better proportioned.

Thus the effect on human beauty of masculine selection.

Beyond this positive deteriorative effect on women through man's
arbitrary choice comes the negative effect of woman's lack of choice.
Bought or stolen or given by her father, she was deprived of the
innately feminine right and duty of choosing. "Who giveth this woman?"
we still inquire in our archaic marriage service, and one man steps
forward and gives her to another man.

Free, the female chose the victor, and the vanquished went unmated - and
without progeny. Dependent, having to be fed and cared for by some man,
the victors take their pick perhaps, but the vanquished take what is
left; and the poor women, "marrying for a home," take anything. As a
consequence the inferior male is as free to transmit his inferiority as
the superior to give better qualities, and does so - beyond computation.
In modern days, women are freer, in some countries freer than in others;
here in modern America freest of all; and the result is seen in our
improving standards of health and beauty.

Still there remains the field of inter-masculine competition, does there
not? Do not the males still struggle together? Is not that as of old, a
source of race advantage?

To some degree it is. When life was simple and our activities consisted
mainly in fighting and hard work; the male who could vanquish the others
was bigger and stronger. But inter-masculine competition ceases to be
of such advantage when we enter the field of social service. What is
required in organized society is the specialization of the individual,
the development of special talents, not always of immediate benefit to
the man himself, but of ultimate benefit to society. The best social
servant, progressive, meeting future needs, is almost always at a
disadvantage besides the well-established lower types. We need, for
social service, qualities quite different from the simple masculine
characteristics - desire, combat, self-expression.

By keeping what we call "the outside world" so wholly male, we keep up
masculine standards at the expense of human ones. This may be broadly
seen in the slow and painful development of industry and science as
compared to the easy dominance of warfare throughout all history until
our own times.

The effect of all this ultra masculine competition upon health and
beauty is but too plainly to be seen. Among men the male idea of what
is good looking is accentuated beyond reason. Read about any "hero"
you please; or study the products of the illustrator and note the broad
shoulders, the rugged features, the strong, square, determined jaw.
That jaw is in evidence if everything else fails. He may be cross-eyed,
wide-eared, thick-necked, bandy-legged - what you please; but he must
have a more or less prognathous jaw.

Meanwhile any anthropologist will show you that the line of human
development is away from that feature of the bulldog and the alligator,
and toward the measured dignity of the Greek type. The possessor of that
kind of jaw may enable male to conquer male, but does not make him of
any more service to society; of any better health or higher beauty.

Further, in the external decoration of our bodies, what is the influence
here of masculine dominance.

We have before spoken of the peculiar position of our race in that
the woman is the only female creature who carries the burden of sex
ornament. This amazing reversal of the order of nature results at its
mildest in a perversion of the natural feminine instincts of love and
service, and an appearance of the masculine instincts of self-expression
and display. Alone among all female things do women decorate and preen
themselves and exhibit their borrowed plumage (literally!) to attract
the favor of the male. This ignominy is forced upon them by their
position of economic dependence; and their general helplessness. As all
broader life is made to depend, for them, on whom they marry, indeed as
even the necessities of life so often depend on their marrying someone,
they have been driven into this form of competition, so alien to the
true female attitude.

The result is enough to make angels weep - and laugh. Perhaps no step in
the evolution of beauty went farther than our human power of making
a continuous fabric; soft and mobile, showing any color and texture
desired. The beauty of the human body is supreme, and when we add to it
the flow of color, the ripple of fluent motion, that comes of a soft,
light garment over free limbs - it is a new field of loveliness and
delight. Naturally this should have filled the whole world with a new
pleasure. Our garments, first under right natural selection developing
perfect use, under right sex selection developing beauty; and further,
as our human aesthetic sense progresses, showing a noble symbolism,
would have been an added strength and glory, a ceaseless joy.

What is the case?

Men, under a too strictly inter-masculine environment, have evolved the
mainly useful but beautiless costume common to-day; and women - ?

Women wear beautiful garments when they happen to be the fashion; and
ugly garments when they are the fashion, and show no signs of knowing
the difference. They show no added pride in the beautiful, no hint
of mortification in the hideous, and are not even sensitive under
criticism, or open to any persuasion or argument. Why should they be?

Their condition, physical and mental, is largely abnormal, their whole
passionate absorption in dress and decoration is abnormal, and they have
never looked, from a frankly human standpoint, at their position and its
peculiarities, until the present age.

In the effect of our wrong relation on the world's health, we have
spoken of the check to vigor and growth due to the housebound state
of women and their burdensome clothes. There follow other influences,
similar in origin, even more evil in result. To roughly and briefly
classify we may distinguish the diseases due to bad air, to bad
food, and that field of cruel mischief we are only now beginning to
discuss - the diseases directly due to the erroneous relation between men
and women.

We are the only race where the female depends on the male for a
livelihood. We are the only race that practices prostitution. From the
first harmless-looking but abnormal general relation follows the well
recognized evil of the second, so long called "a social necessity," and
from it, in deadly sequence, comes the "wages of sin;" death not only of
the guilty, but of the innocent. It is no light part of our criticism
of the Androcentric Culture that a society based on masculine desires
alone, has willingly sacrificed such an army of women; and has repaid
the sacrifice by the heaviest punishments.

That the unfortunate woman should sicken and die was held to be her just
punishment; that man too should bear part penalty was found unavoidable,
though much legislation and medical effort has been spent to shield him;
but to the further consequences society is but now waking up.


Among the many counts in which women have been proven inferior to men in
human development is the oft-heard charge that there are no great women
artists. Where one or two are proudly exhibited in evidence, they
are either pooh-poohed as not very great, or held to be the trifling
exceptions which do but prove the rule.

Defenders of women generally make the mistake of over-estimating their
performances, instead of accepting, and explaining, the visible facts.
What are the facts as to the relation of men and women to art? And
what, in especial, has been the effect upon art of a solely masculine

When we look for the beginnings of art, we find ourselves in a period
of crude decoration of the person and of personal belongings. Tattooing,
for instance, is an early form of decorative art, still in practice
among certain classes, even in advanced people. Most boys, if they are
in contact with this early art, admire it, and wish to adorn themselves
therewith; some do so - to later mortification. Early personal decoration
consisted largely in direct mutilation of the body, and the hanging upon
it, or fastening to it, of decorative objects. This we see among savages
still, in its gross and primitive forms monopolized by men, then shared
by women, and, in our time, left almost wholly to them. In personal
decoration today, women are still near the savage. The "artists"
developed in this field of art are the tonsorial, the sartorial, and
all those specialized adorners of the body commonly known as "beauty

Here, as in other cases, the greatest artists are men. The greatest
milliners, the greatest dressmakers and tailors, the greatest
hairdressers, and the masters and designers in all our decorative
toilettes and accessories, are men. Women, in this as in so many
other lines, consume rather than produce. They carry the major part
of personal decoration today; but the decorator is the man. In the
decoration of objects, woman, as the originator of primitive industry,
originated also the primitive arts; and in the pottery, basketry,
leatherwork, needlework, weaving, with all beadwork, dyeing and
embroideries of ancient peoples we see the work of the woman decorator.
Much of this is strong and beautiful, but its time is long past. The art
which is part of industry, natural, simple, spontaneous, making beauty
in every object of use, adding pleasure to labor and to life, is not Art
with a large A, the Art which requires Artists, among whom are so few
women of note.

Art as a profession, and the Artist as a professional, came later; and
by that time women had left the freedom and power of the matriarchate
and become slaves in varying degree. The women who were idle pets in
harems, or the women who worked hard as servants, were alike cut off
from the joy of making things. Where constructive work remained to them,
art remained, in its early decorative form. Men, in the proprietary
family, restricting the natural industry of women to personal service,
cut off their art with their industry, and by so much impoverished the

There is no more conspicuously pathetic proof of the aborted development
of women than this commonplace - their lack of a civilized art sense. Not
only in the childish and savage display upon their bodies, but in the
pitiful products they hang upon the walls of the home, is seen the
arrest in normal growth.

After ages of culture, in which men have developed Architecture,
Sculpture, Painting, Music and the Drama, we find women in their
primitive environment making flowers of wax, and hair, and worsted;
doing mottoes of perforated cardboard, making crazy quilts and mats and
"tidies" - as if they lived in a long past age, or belonged to a lower

This, as part of the general injury to women dating from the beginning
of our androcentric culture, reacts heavily upon the world at large.
Men, specializing, giving their lives to the continuous pursuit of one
line of service, have lifted our standard in aesthetic culture, as they
have in other matters; but by refusing the same growth to women, they
have not only weakened and reduced the output, but ruined the market as
it were, hopelessly and permanently kept down the level of taste.

Among the many sides of this great question, some so terrible, some
so pathetic, some so utterly absurd, this particular phase of life is
especially easy to study and understand, and has its own elements of
amusement. Men, holding women at the level of domestic service, going
on themselves to lonely heights of achievement, have found their efforts
hampered and their attainments rendered barren and unsatisfactory by
the amazing indifference of the world at large. As the world at large
consists half of women, and wholly of their children, it would seem
patent to the meanest understanding that the women must be allowed
to rise in order to lift the world. But such has not been the
method - heretofore.

We have spoken so far in this chapter of the effect of men on art
through their interference with the art of women. There are other sides
to the question. Let us consider once more the essential characteristics
of maleness, and see how they have affected art, keeping always in mind
the triune distinction between masculine, feminine and human. Perhaps
we shall best see this difference by considering what the development of
art might have been on purely human terms.

The human creature, as such, naturally delights in construction, and
adds decoration to construction as naturally. The cook, making little
regular patterns around the edge of the pie, does so from a purely human
instinct, the innate eye-pleasure in regularity, symmetry, repetition,
and alternation. Had this natural social instinct grown unchecked in
us, it would have manifested itself in a certain proportion of
specialists - artists of all sorts - and an accompanying development
of appreciation on the part of the rest of us. Such is the case in
primitive art; the maker of beauty is upheld and rewarded by a popular
appreciation of her work - or his.

Had this condition remained, we should find a general level of artistic
expression and appreciation far higher than we see now. Take the one
field of textile art, for instance: that wide and fluent medium of
expression, the making of varied fabrics, the fashioning of garments and
the decoration of them - all this is human work and human pleasure. It
should have led us to a condition where every human being was a pleasure
to the eye, appropriately and beautifully clothed.

Our real condition in this field is too patent to need emphasis; the
stiff, black ugliness of our men's attire; the irritating variegated
folly of our women's; the way in which we spoil the beauty and shame the
dignity of childhood by modes of dress.

In normal human growth, our houses would be a pleasure to the eye; our
furniture and utensils, all our social products, would blossom into
beauty as naturally as they still do in those low stages of social
evolution where our major errors have not yet borne full fruit.

Applied art in all its forms is a human function, common to every one to
some degree, either in production or appreciation, or both. "Pure art,"
as an ideal, is also human; and the single-hearted devotion of the
true artist to this ideal is one of the highest forms of the social
sacrifice. Of all the thousand ways by which humanity is specialized for
inter-service, none is more exquisite than this; the evolution of the
social Eye, or Ear, or Voice, the development of those whose work is
wholly for others, and to whom the appreciation of others is as the
bread of life. This we should have in a properly developed community;
the pleasure of applied art in the making and using of everything we
have; and then the high joy of the Great Artist, and the noble work
thereof, spread far and wide.

What do we find?

Applied art at a very low level; small joy either for the maker or the
user. Pure art, a fine-spun specialty, a process carried on by an elect
few who openly despise the unappreciative many. Art has become an
occult profession requiring a long special education even to enjoy, and
evolving a jargon of criticism which becomes more esoteric yearly.

Let us now see what part in this undesirable outcome is due to our
Androcentric Culture.

As soon as the male of our species assumed the exclusive right to
perform all social functions, he necessarily brought to that performance
the advantages - and disadvantages - of maleness, of those dominant
characteristics, desire, combat, self-expression.

Desire has overweighted art in many visible forms; it is prominent
in painting and music, almost monopolizes fiction, and has pitifully
degraded dancing.

Combat is not so easily expressed in art, where even competition is on a
high plane; but the last element is the main evil, self-expression. This
impulse is inherently and ineradicably masculine. It rests on that most
basic of distinctions between the sexes, the centripetal and centrifugal
forces of the universe. In the very nature of the sperm-cell and the
germ-cell we find this difference: the one attracts, gathers, draws in;
the other repels, scatters, pushes out. That projective impulse is seen
in the male nature everywhere; the constant urge toward expression, to
all boasting and display. This spirit, like all things masculine, is
perfectly right and admirable in its place.

It is the duty of the male, as a male, to vary; bursting forth in
a thousand changing modifications - the female, selecting, may so
incorporate beneficial changes in the race. It is his duty to thus
express himself - an essentially masculine duty; but masculinity is one
thing, and art is another. Neither the masculine nor the feminine has
any place in art - Art is Human.

It is not in any faintest degree allied to the personal processes
of reproduction; but is a social process, a most distinctive social
process, quite above the plane of sex. The true artist transcends his
sex, or her sex. If this is not the case, the art suffers.

Dancing is an early, and a beautiful art; direct expression of emotion
through the body; beginning in subhuman type, among male birds, as the
bower-bird of New Guinea, and the dancing crane, who swing and caper
before their mates. Among early peoples we find it a common form of
social expression in tribal dances of all sorts, religious, military,
and other. Later it becomes a more explicit form of celebration, as
among the Greeks; in whose exquisite personal culture dancing and music
held high place.

But under the progressive effects of purely masculine dominance we find
the broader human elements of dancing left out, and the sex-element more
and more emphasized. As practiced by men alone dancing has become a mere
display of physical agility, a form of exhibition common to all males.
As practiced by men and women together we have our social dances, so
lacking in all the varied beauty of posture and expression, so steadily
becoming a pleasant form of dalliance.

As practiced by women alone we have one of the clearest proofs of the
degrading effect of masculine dominance: - the dancing girl. In the frank
sensualism of the Orient, this personage is admired and enjoyed on her
merits. We, more sophisticated in this matter, joke shamefacedly about
"the bald-headed row," and occasionally burst forth in shrill scandal
over some dinner party where ladies clad in a veil and a bracelet dance
on the table. Nowhere else in the whole range of life on earth, is this
degradation found - the female capering and prancing before the male.
It is absolutely and essentially his function, not hers. That we, as a
race, present this pitiful spectacle, a natural art wrested to unnatural
ends, a noble art degraded to ignoble ends, has one clear cause.

Architecture, in its own nature, is least affected by that same cause.
The human needs secured by it, are so human, so unescapably human, that
we find less trace of excessive masculinity than in other arts. It meets
our social demands, it expresses in lasting form our social feeling,
up to the highest; and it has been injured not so much by an excess of
masculinity as by a lack of femininity.

The most universal architectural expression is in the home; the home is
essentially a place for the woman and the child; yet the needs of woman
and child are not expressed in our domestic architecture. The home is
built on lines of ancient precedent, mainly as an industrial form; the
kitchen is its working centre rather than the nursery.

Each man wishes his home to preserve and seclude his woman, his little
harem of one; and in it she is to labor for his comfort or to manifest
his ability to maintain her in idleness. The house is the physical
expression of the limitations of women; and as such it fills the world
with a small drab ugliness. A dwelling house is rarely a beautiful
object. In order to be such, it should truly express simple and natural
relations; or grow in larger beauty as our lives develop.

The deadlock for architectural progress, the low level of our general
taste, the everlasting predominance of the commonplace in buildings, is
the natural result of the proprietary family and its expression in this

In sculpture we have a noble art forcing itself into some service
through many limitations. Its check, as far as it comes under this line
of study, has been indicated in our last chapter; the degradation of the
human body, the vicious standards of sex-consciousness enforced under
the name of modesty, the covered ugliness, which we do not recognize,
all this is a deadly injury to free high work in sculpture.

With a nobly equal womanhood, stalwart and athletic; with the high
standards of beauty and of decorum which we can never have without free
womanhood; we should show a different product in this great art.

An interesting note in passing is this: when we seek to express socially
our noblest, ideas, Truth; Justice; Liberty; we use the woman's body as
the highest human type. But in doing this, the artist, true to humanity
and not biassed by sex, gives us a strong, grand figure, beautiful
indeed, but never _decorated_. Fancy Liberty in ruffles and frills, with
rings in her ears - or nose.

Music is injured by a one-sided handling, partly in the excess of
the one dominant masculine passion, partly by the general presence of
egoism; that tendency to self-expression instead of social expression,
which so disfigures our art; and this is true also of poetry.

Miles and miles of poetry consist of the ceaseless outcry of the male
for the female, which is by no means so overwhelming as a feature
of human life as he imagines it; and other miles express his other
feelings, with that ingenuous lack of reticence which is at its base
essentially masculine. Having a pain, the poet must needs pour it forth,
that his woe be shared and sympathized with.

As more and more women writers flock into the field there is room for
fine historic study of the difference in sex feeling, and the gradual
emergence of the human note.

Literature, and in especial the art of fiction, is so large a field for
this study that it will have a chapter to itself; this one but touching
on these various forms; and indicating lines of observation.

That best known form of art which to my mind needs no qualifying
description - painting - is also a wide field; and cannot be done
full justice to within these limits. The effect upon it of too much
masculinity is not so much in choice of subject as in method and spirit.
The artist sees beauty of form and color where the ordinary observer
does not; and paints the old and ugly with as much enthusiasm as the
young and beautiful - sometimes. If there is in some an over-emphasis of
feminine attractions it is counterbalanced in others by a far broader
line of work.

But the main evils of a too masculine art lie in the emphasis laid on
self-expression. The artist, passionately conscious of how he feels,
strives to make other people aware of these sensations. This is now so
generally accepted by critics, so seriously advanced by painters, that
what is called "the art world" accepts it as established.

If a man paints the sea, it is not to make you see and feel as a
sight of that same ocean would, but to make you see and feel how
he, personally, was affected by it; a matter surely of the narrowest
importance. The ultra-masculine artist, extremely sensitive,
necessarily, and full of the natural urge to expression of the sex, uses
the medium of art as ingenuously as the partridge-cock uses his wings in
drumming on the log; or the bull moose stamps and bellows; not narrowly
as a mate call, but as a form of expression of his personal sensations.

The higher the artist the more human he is, the broader his vision,
the more he sees for humanity, and expresses for humanity, and the less

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Online LibraryCharlotte Perkins GilmanThe Man-Made World; or, Our Androcentric Culture → online text (page 3 of 11)