Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Can you imagine nothing better, brother,
Than that which you have always had before?
Have you been so content with "wife and mother,"
You dare hope nothing more?
Have you forever prized her, praised her, sung her,
The happy queen of a most happy reign?
Never dishonored her, despised her, flung her
Derision and disdain?
Go ask the literature of all the ages!
Books that were written before women read!
Pagan and Christian, satirists and sages–
Read what the world has said.
There was no power on earth to bid you slacken
The generous hand that painted her disgrace!
There was no shame on earth too black to blacken
That much-praised woman-face.
Eve and Pandora!–always you begin it–
The ancients called her Sin and Shame and Death.
"There is no evil without woman in it,"
The modern proverb saith.
She has been yours in uttermost possession–
Your slave, your mother, your well-chosen bride–
And you have owned in million-fold confession,
You were not satisfied.
Peace then! Fear not the coming woman, brother.
Owning herself, she giveth all the more.
She shall be better woman, wife and mother,
Than man hath known before.
In this poem, Gilman wanted men to realize that women even will be better human beings when they are given their rights to do anything they want. So, instead of imprisoning women only as domestic creature, men are supposed to see women’s empowerment as something positive, and not seeing it as threat for men’s superiority.
In the first stanza, Gilman started with a question “Can you imagine nothing better, brother, / Than that which you have always had before?” It shows that Gilman wanted men to think something different from the one men have believed for many centuries; something that can make the world a better place to live in for both men and women. The following two lines “Have you been so content with ‘wife and mother,’ / You dare nothing more?” shows that men think the best ‘fate’ for women is as wife and mother. As the dominant human being, men have decided the best roles for women—as wife and mother. And women—as the dominated human being—didn’t have any right to make any other choice. And since it has happened for many centuries, men seem to have no confidence that their mate—women—can be much better mate, than just as wife and mother.
In the second stanza Gilman continued asking whether men think that men have appreciated their mate’s roles in the highest rank, by crowning those women as a queen of the household ‘kingdom’. And since men crown women in their particular roles—wife and mother--, does that guarantee that men do not dishonor them? Men have believed that they honor women in those two “exclusive” roles. As Henrik Ibsen illustrated in the following dialog in A Doll’s House, between Torvald and Nora.
Torvald: Before all else, you are a wife and a mother.
Nora: I don’t believe that any longer. I believe that before all else, I am a reasonable human being, just as you are—
If men think that they put women in pedestal by exclusively giving them those two domestic roles, women can view it from a contradictory perspective—men even ‘imprison’ women at home; men even despise them not as human being like them. The dialog between Torvald and his wife, Nora, illustrates the two contradictory things: Nora wants to be considered to have equal role as Torvald. She wants her husband to see her just like she sees Torvald—as a human being! Nothing more.
Why does Nora think that way? It must be because behind the two seemingly adoring roles, in fact men dishonor women—that women are not equal to men because women cannot think as logically as men do.
In stanza three, Gilman wanted to remind all of us the fact why women are not supposed to feel honored with those two roles. If women are honored, why do many books written even before women read illustrate on the contrary? The books are written by both religious people or pagan. In the Bible, Eve was illustrated as a woman who tempted Adam to do something very sinful so that both of them were thrown out of the heaven. Eve is just a sinner. While in many fairy tales, people can find many examples of women to be wicked and cruel witch. Wickedness and sin are related to women. Men are illustrated as the innocent prince who saved the innocent women, such as Cinderella with her wicked step mother and step sisters, Snow White with her wicked step mother too. Who saved Cinderella and Snow White from their unfortunate life? MEN.
Not only in fairy tales, many women were accused to be wicked witches during colonial time America and then they were killed without any clear and logical investigation. Who accused and kill those innocent women? Patriarchal society where men dominated most aspects in life did it.
Nelson and Nelson said “Religious customs based on the New Testament considered women to be the descendants of the original sinner Eve and incorporated them into church and social life only under the authority of husbands. Despite the assumptions of inferiority, ideas about womanhood included positive qualities such as moral virtue. This resulted in ambivalence and dualism which characterized women as both the more moral sex and as dangerous temptresses, both Eve and Mary, the holy virgin mother of Jesus and the source of original sin.” (for further reading view http://www.csub.edu/ssric-trd/modules/cowi/1.htm )
Stanzas four and five strengthen what Gilman illustrated in stanza three—that women were the shame, the sinner, the evil. Who labeled this? Patriarchal society did it.
Stanza six Gilman depicted that women are just possession—property belonging to men. After choosing the woman they think the best to breed their children, men marry her, to make her the slave (do all of household chores, take care of the children, and serve their husbands without reserve.) However, although those men have made their wife their most loyal slave, give them burden, and also imprison them domestically, the men still don’t feel satisfied. Many of them still try to find the mistakes women do.
The last stanza, Gilman tried to remind again that men do not need to feel afraid of the coming of the new woman that know their rights better than their predecessor, women who know that they are also skilled and intelligent, and deserve to work in public places. When a woman has her own life—not just a property belonging to men; when a woman has her own responsibility as a human being, Gilman convinced that the woman will be more independent, a better decision maker, a better human being.
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