A little while ago I read and amazing book called Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gillman. I loved it, and highly recommend it. It’s a story about a country in which there are only women, no men at all until three male explorers discover it, and it is mostly about the differences the author imagined between our mixed society and one utterly free of male privilege and gender socialisation. It’s a feminist classic, and with good reason.
It’s not Herland I wanted to write about today though, it’s With Her In Ourland, the sequel. (Well, technically it’s the third book in the trilogy, with Herland as the second book, but I honestly didn’t enjoy the first book all that much.)
If you haven’t read Herland and are worried about spoilers then don’t read on, however I will say that the biggest spoiler is in the title of the third book, so I wouldn’t worry too much.
In With Her In Ourland one of the citizens of this country of women, Ellador, leaves her sanctuary and goes to explore the world. She has, up until this point, no idea of the rest of the world’s history, customs, or people. She is alien to it, and looking through fresh eyes.
This makes for some fantastic breakdowns of the inequality between the sexes, I ended up highlighting a lot of this book, as there was so much that resonated with me. But for now I would like to focus on one solitary exchange.
“We have always had war,” Terry explained. “Ever since the world began— at least as far as history goes, we have have had war. It is human nature.”
“Human?” asked Ellador.
“Yes,” he said, “human. Bad as it is, it is evidently human nature to do it. Nations advance, the race is improved by fighting. It is the law of nature.”
“Yes,” he repeated, “you will have to accept life as it is. To make war is human activity.”
“Are some of the soldiers women?” she inquired.
“Women! Of course not! They are men; strong, brave men. Once in a while some abnormal woman becomes a soldier, I believe, and in Dahomey— that’s in Africa— one of the black tribes have women soldiers. But speaking generally it is men— of course.”
“Then why do you call it ‘human’ nature?” she persisted. “If it was human wouldn’t they both do it?”
“Do you call bearing children ‘human nature’?” she asked him.
“It’s woman nature,” he answered. “It’s her work.”
“Then why do you not call fighting ‘man nature’— instead of human?”
I’ve noticed this since, on other similar subjects.
Violence is described as “human nature” though it is overwhelmingly something done by men.
Treating one sex as an object is described as “human nature” though this too is overwhelmingly the action of men.
Paying for the right to use another’s body for sex is described as “human nature”, and again.. you see where I’m going.
Why is it when something requires harming or using others is it placed on the shoulders of all of humanity? Rather than the ones most likely to actually take part in it?
Why do women, as a class, get saddled with half the blame. Especially when so often women are the targets of these very subjects.
The other thing to note is that often these things are described as “human nature” as a way of saying that it just can’t be helped or changed. That humanity cannot possibly manage life without these things, without being violent, without having to use others bodies with coerced consent.
And yet, as a class, women seem to manage just fine without these supposedly unavoidable actions.
When someone says, “war is just human nature”, what they are really saying it, “war is something men are unwilling to give up, and pretending that women are equally unable to quell this urge means we don’t need to even try to curb it”.
We need to stop allowing this to stand, it is time women stopped being the shield as well as the target.