500 AP English Language Questions to know by test day

CHAPTER 10. 20th Century


Passage 10c: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Man-Made World; or, Our Androcentric Culture


When we are offered a “woman’s” paper, page, or column, we find it filled with matter supposed to appeal to women as a sex or class; the writer mainly dwelling upon the Kaiser’s four K’s—Kuchen, Kinder, Kirche, Kleider. They iterate and reiterate endlessly the discussion of cookery, old and new; of the care of children; of the overwhelming subject of clothing; and of moral instruction. All this is recognized as “feminine” literature, and it must have some appeal else the women would not read it. What parallel have we in “masculine” literature?

“None!” is the proud reply. “Men are people! Women, being ‘the sex,’ have their limited feminine interests, their feminine point of view, which must be provided for. Men, however, are not restricted—to them belongs the world’s literature!” Yes, it has belonged to them—ever since there was any. They have written it and they have read it. It is only lately that women, generally speaking, have been taught to read; still more lately that they have been allowed to write. It is but a little while since Harriet Martineau concealed her writing beneath her sewing when visitors came in—writing was “masculine”—sewing “feminine.”

We have not, it is true, confined men to a narrowly construed “masculine sphere,” and composed a special literature suited to it. Their effect on literature has been far wider than that, monopolizing this form of art with special favor. It was suited above all others to the dominant impulse of self-expression; and being, as we have seen essentially and continually “the sex;” they have impressed that sex upon this art overwhelmingly; they have given the world a masculized literature.

It is hard for us to realize this. We can readily see, that if women had always written the books, no men either writing or reading them, that would have surely “feminized” our literature; but we have not in our minds the concept, much less the word, for an overmasculized influence.

Men having been accepted as humanity, women but a side-issue; (most literally if we accept the Hebrew legend!), whatever men did or said was human—and not to be criticized. In no department of life is it easier to contravert this old belief; to show how the male sex as such differs from the human type; and how this maleness has monopolized and disfigured a great social function.

Human life is a very large affair; and literature is its chief art. We live, humanly, only through our power of communication. Speech gives us this power laterally, as it were, in immediate personal contact. For permanent use speech becomes oral tradition—a poor dependence. Literature gives not only an infinite multiplication to the lateral spread of communion but adds the vertical reach. Through it we know the past, govern the present, and influence the future. In its servicable common forms it is the indispensable daily servant of our lives; in its nobler flights as a great art no means of human inter-change goes so far.

In these brief limits we can touch but lightly on some phases of so great a subject; and will rest the case mainly on the effect of an exclusively masculine handling of the two fields of history and fiction. In poetry and the drama the same influence is easily traced, but in the first two it is so baldly prominent as to defy objection.