For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The Home: Its Work and Influence

by Gilman, Charlotte Perkins (1910)

Key Passage

Why was woman the first worker? Because she is a mother. All living animals are under the law of, first, self-preservation, and, second, race-preservation. But the second really comes first; the most imperative forces in nature compel the individual to sacrifice to the race. This law finds its best expression in what we call "the maternal sacrifice." Motherhood means giving. There is no limit to this urgency. The mother gives all she has to the young, including life. In many low organisms the sacrifice is instantaneous and complete—the mother dies in giving birth to the young—just lays her eggs and dies. Such forms of life have to remain low, however. The defunct mothers can be of no further use to the young, so they have to be little instinctive automata, hopelessly arrested in the path of progress.Nature perceived that this wholly sacrificed mother was not the best kind. Little by little the usefulness of the mother was prolonged, the brooding mother, the feeding mother, lastly the nursing mother, highest of all. Order mammalia stands at the top, type of efficient motherhood.When human development began, new paths were open to mother-love—new tasks to maternal energy. The human mother not only nursed and guarded the child, but exercised her dawning ingenuity in adding to its comfort by making things.The constructive tendency is essentially feminine; the destructive masculine. Male energy tends to scatter and destroy, female to gather and construct. So human labour comes by nature from the woman, was hers entirely for countless ages, while the man could only hunt and fight, or prance and prophesy as "medicine man"; and this is still so in those races which remain savage. Even in so advanced a savage race as the Zulus, the women do the work; and our own country has plenty of similar examples near at hand. (p.86)


No Keywords


Home and Work, Charlotte Gilman



How to contribute.