Fall 1997, Volume 14.3
Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Female Face of Social Darwinism
Minna Doskow (Ph.D., U of Maryland) is a professor of English at Rowan College of New Jersey. She is the author of William Blake's Jerusalem: Structure and Meaning in Poetry and Picture, and has edited Charlotte Perkins Gilman's utopian novels for Associated University Presses (forthcoming).
Charles Darwin's Origin of Species exploded upon the world in 1859 with as great an impact as the theories of Copernicus and Newton had in previous eras. Transposed from biology into social theory, Darwinism was taken up by businessmen, intellectuals, scientists, writers, and academics to support a wide range of economic and social ideas. Like other intellectuals of her time, Charlotte Perkins Gilman was attracted by Darwinism and its implications for human society. She put it to unique and powerful use in addressing the contemporary debate on "The Woman Question." Yet her contributions have been largely overlooked by most histories of social Darwinism.1
Although evolutionary theory had certainly been part of scientific discussion for many years prior to 1859, since Buffon's Natural History in the eighteenth century (Origin of Species), Darwin's work was the first to provide a systematic exposition of the theory along with an account of the mechanisms through which it operated: individual variation and natural selection. Supporting his explanation with examples from domestic breeding, natural variation, and fossil records, he replaced former a priori explanations of evolutionary theory with a compelling account of its processes in nature. Darwin's revolutionary contribution, as R. C. Lewontin notes, was the idea that individual variation within a species could naturally lead to species' change through natural selection (170). It soon won widespread acceptance in scientific circles while intensifying public debate.
Although Darwin limited his discussion of evolution to natural phenomena in both The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man (DM), he freely acknowledged the influence of economist Malthus's population theory and described The Origin of Species (1859) as "the doctrine of Malthus applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms" (13). In later editions he expressed appreciation of Herbert Spencer's social analyses, even adopting his term "survival of the fittest" in the fifth edition (1868) and thereafter. He further characterized the struggle for existence in human society as elevating the "most gifted" men and advancing civilized over "lower races" (DM). Thus while Darwin did not explicitly discuss political or social theories, he often displayed the underlying political and social assumptions of his time. His biological ideas were, in turn, taken up by numerous conservative and liberal social, political, and religious writers who applied them to contemporary life and warred "with each other for years by casting scraps of Darwinism at each others' heads" (Bougle 269).
Perhaps the most well-known and influential of these writers was Herbert Spencer. Although Spencer's first major work, Social Statics (1851), preceded Darwin's Origin of Species by eight years and independently presented notions of human and social evolution, Darwin's masses of scientific evidence and explanation of the mechanisms for change gave Spencer the scientific support his theories needed and enhanced his popularity.
The new American industrialists welcomed Herbert Spencer's theories (his emphasis on individualism, laissez-faire capitalism, and survival of the economically fittest) to justify their practices. According to Spencer, governmental interference in society to improve sanitation, regulate industry, or improve the living and working conditions of the poor flew in the face of survival of the fittest and violated his first principle of individual freedom. Citing Spencer, many industrialists now claimed that their fortunes and power were the results of the survival of the fittest in economic competition. They thereby added scientific to their various religious and economic justifications for the accumulation of wealth and business activities in which only the fittest survived. Any interference to protect the weak was seen, in this Spencerian view, to block evolutionary progress and retard the improvement of the species.
The reformers, on the other hand, applied Darwin's principles quite differently. They saw human agency as crucial in evolution and grounded their arguments in a vision of ameliorationism, cooperation, and cohesion as social aspects of evolution. Thus conservatives and reformers alike took their cues from Darwin and agreed on the terms of the discourse while interpreting them and applying them very differently to social policy. This was the intellectual debate into which Charlotte Perkins Gilman plunged. Picking up the Darwinian framework, she moved it in a feminist direction. Hence Gilman could honestly write, "From Spencer I learned wisdom and applied it" (Living 154), yet reach conclusions diametrically opposed to conservative Spencerians such as William Graham Sumner or Andrew Carnegie. She could simultaneously name Lester Ward "the greatest man I have ever known" (Hill 265) although his brand of Darwinism was far different from Spencer's. Darwin, Spencer, and Ward all provided the evolutionary material she shaped to support her battle for women's rights.
Using their scientific terminology and concepts, Gilman entered the intellectual fray in support of equal rights for women, or what she called "humanism." In her hands, evolutionary theory became the justification for expanding women's roles and establishing a more egalitarian society. Women's subordinate, unevolved position in society she explained as a result of patriarchy, which repressed women's human potential and exaggerated their simply feminine nature. As a result, the further evolution of society which demanded their particular cooperative talents was blocked. To correct this situation, women had to be given the opportunity for unrestricted development which, in turn, would advance social evolution. Unlike most contemporary scientific writers who saw women's subordinate position as the result of evolution and natural selection, and who predicted that changes in gender roles would "result in disaster to the race" and counteract evolutionary progress (Ward, "Our Better Halves" 268), Gilman saw evolution as providing the scientific rationale for women's emancipation.
She also used evolutionary theory to explain her own actions and choice of work in her autobiography, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Although we cannot read it uncritically as an objective presentation of self, we nevertheless recognize in it Gilman's creation of her historical persona. Here she praises Darwin, noting, "The development of the theory of Evolution alone was enough to give glory to this age" (234). She furthermore sees evolution ruling human life: "We, with all life, are under the great law, Evolution," and our duty is to find our "real job and do it" in order to "carry out the evolution of the human race" (42). Accepting Darwinian evolution, she simultaneously affirms the reform Darwinist idea of unique human agency. Thus, she maintains, human beings "can assist evolution" and, further, "Social evolution I easily saw to be in human work, in the crafts, trades, arts and sciences" (4243). Her words exhort women to break out of the restrictions society enforces upon them in order to advance social evolution as a mechanism for change. She demands that women work in "crafts, trades, arts and sciences," fields from which they had historically been barred, and not in the home, their traditional "separate sphere." Indeed, the home is resoundingly absent from her list of occupations, for it, too, needs restructuring in evolutionary advancement. She thus claims social Darwinism as a major guiding principle that provides a scientific basis and natural inevitability for her ideals of gender equality.
Although he does not pursue the subject, Carl Degler notes in his introduction to the 1966 edition of Women and Economics (1898) (WE), which Gilman significantly subtitled A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution, that "The most obvious intellectual source upon which she drew in writing Women and Economics was Darwinism.... Her whole argument, in fact, rested upon an evolutionary scheme of things, in which women's new role was defended as a natural outgrowth of social evolution..." (xxxiii). Gilman employs this evolutionary scheme to explain the differences she observed between women's potential abilities and their actual development in contemporary society. In this way she utilizes evolutionism to oppose the separate spheres argument, demonstrating that the latter obstructs both natural female development and evolutionary progress. Evolutionism also furnishes the theoretical framework within which she brings together what Cathy N. Davidson has characterized as her "vacillations between essentialist and environmentalist explanations for male and female personality differences" (Meyering xi). While Gilman sees women as essentially cooperative and constructive and men as essentially competitive and destructive, she blames the culture for distorting both sexes' essential nature and perverting natural evolutionary progress. Social restrictions which limit women to home and family block the development of their abilities, which, in turn, impede their further evolution and that of society as a whole. Therefore Gilman proposes abolishing those restrictions.
Although she pays homage to Spencer, the social Darwinism of Lester Ward seems more influential in her work than that of Spencer.2 Establishing a dualism between animal and human evolution, Ward argues for conscious human agency in evolutionary progress. He believes that all of nature is subject to the laws of evolution in a "blind struggle for existence" (Dynamic Sociology 27), but man is uniquely able "to improve society by the exercise of an intelligent foresight, in seizing upon the laws of nature and directing themto serve the advantage of society" (28). Henry Steele Commager praises this as Ward's "one great idea" (Ward xxviii). But for Gilman, Ward's even greater idea was the primacy he assigned to the female.
His "Gynaecocentric Theory," published in an 1888 Forum article, "Our Better Halves," states that "in the economy of organic nature the female sex is the primary, and the male a secondary element" (266).3 Earlier in Dynamic Sociology (1883), he calls this "a fundamental biological truth," (1:658). He also attacks women's "dependent and subordinate place in society" (1:643) which he blames on male usurpation of female sexual selection in a "reversal of natural law" (1:61415). This reversal causes women to appear as "dwarfed and inferior being[s], destitute of both intellectual energy and intellectual aspiration" (1:646). He calls upon "science" (658) to effect change and advance women's emancipation and equality to improve women and civilization as a whole. In "Our Better Halves," Ward proclaims, "Woman is the race, and the race can be raised up only as she is raised up" (275). He further explains in Dynamic Sociology: "The freedom of woman will be the ennoblement of man. The equality of the sexes will be the regeneration of humanity. Civilization demands this revolution" (1:657).
Gilman notes Ward's Forum article and Geddes's and Thomson's Evolution of Sex as the two major influences on her book Women and Economics (Hill 266). From the former she adopts the ideas of female racial primacy and conscious human agency advancing natural evolution. From the latter, she borrows the notion of differentiated sexual nature, i.e., the "katabolic," active and destructive male being ruled by struggle, conflict, and competition and the "anabolic," passive and constructive female by nurture, growth, and cooperation (Evolution of Sex 26, 53).
Using the concepts of natural selection, evolution, conscious human agency, and essential biological gender differences, Gilman advances her arguments for gender equality on the accepted scientific basis of her time. Like other social Darwinists, she molds biological theory to social and political purposes, in her case, to support the demand for social change and women's advancement.
Analyzing industrial production, Gilman demonstrates in Women and Economics that contemporary society is based on interdependence and cooperation rather than simply struggle and competition. She agrees with Spencer who prophesies the "ultimate identity of personal interests and social interests" (Social Statics 490; cf. Principles of Sociology 611). She seconds Ward's praise of Spencer's analogy between society and an organism based on the "mutual dependence of parts displayed by both" (Dynamic Sociology 209; cf. Social Statics 426). She further concurs with Geddes and Thomson who see individual and species life as a "unity" based on love and cooperation, not simply "internecine struggle" for survival (Evolution of Sex 311).
Since women excel in cooperative traits, the current phase of industrial society, Gilman reasons, is particularly a women's time. Male competitive nature was beneficial in a pre-industrial and individualistic age, she argues, but not now. Women, however, are limited by patriarchal organization which makes them economically dependent upon men, limits them to sexuality, and inverts sexual selection from female to male, thereby impeding social evolution. What then can be done to solve the double problem of distorted female development and arrested social progress? Women must develop their human traits, as opposed to their simply sexual ones, by breaking out of their homebound restrictions and taking part in the labor of the world. This will fulfill their nature and advance society. Applying Darwin's theory to economic and social issues, Gilman builds her argument for female development and gender equity with the support of contemporary social science and biology.
Gilman's very language in Women and Economics reveals Darwin's influence as much as her ideas do. She uses such terms as: development of the species (29), race preservation (34), natural selection and the struggle for existence (39), biological laws (59), natural law (69), the evolution of social customs (69), social evolution (104), and evolution of species (130). She quotes Spencer (223), depicts women's progress as the inevitable result of "the great force of social evolution" (316), and concludes in Wardian terms, "All we need to do is to understand and help" (317) to advance evolution. The final sentence of her book sums up her message: "When the mother of the race is free we shall have a better world, by the easy right of birth and by the calm, slow, friendly forces of social evolution" (340). Characteristically, her emphasis is on motherhood (as it is in Herland), but it is not the maternal doctrine of "separate spheres," "true womanhood," or "the angel in the house," roles propounded by nineteenth century conduct books and adopted by conservative Darwinists. Rather she expounds an emancipated version of motherhood based on her ideas of the fully developed woman.
The Home: Its Work and Influence (1903) expands and refines lines drawn in Women and Economics, for Gilman applies the same evolutionary thinking to her analysis of the home as she does to economics. She blames the primitive, unevolved state of the home on patriarchal restriction of women's development and experience. A case of arrested development, the home remains anachronistically isolated and private rather than interdependent and social like industry. Women's limitation to it stunts their development and hinders social progress. Gilman, therefore, proposes to free female energies from their bondage in "universal house service" (Home 317). This would enable women to travel "up the long path of social evolution" (91) as men have.
Reorganization of the home through socialization, specialization, and professionalization would transform "household service" to "world service" and advance "social progress" (Home 115). Cooking, cleaning, child care, etc. would then be handled by an expanded professional class in day care centers, cleaning services, bakeries and food services rather than by wives or servants at home.
In The Man Made World, or Our Androcentric Culture (1911) (MMW), Gilman turns her attention to male domination in arts, humanities, fashion, health, and physical culture, showing how such domination distorts female development and perverts the "natural order" (53). Dedicating the book to Lester Ward, she extravagantly praises his gynaecocentric theory as the greatest contribution to humanity since Darwin's theory of evolution. Gilman repeats her arguments concerning male and female nature but insists that both sexes share a common human nature and evolution requires the full parallel development of both. Favoring the principle of growth over combat or struggle (221), she gives women the primary position in future social development. Here she reverses Darwin who, while mentioning "social instincts," "moral sense," "sympathy which feels for the most debased," and "benevolence" incidentally (DM ch xxi; 920), stresses severe and continuing struggle for existence, a male combative model, almost exclusively. According to Gilman, human development "is hindered and not helped by this artificially maintained 'struggle for existence,' this constant endeavor to eliminate what, from a masculine standard, is 'unfit'" (MMW 243). She thereby places the authority of natural law and evolutionary progress behind women's liberation, concluding that "to develop human life in its true powers we need full equal citizenship for women" (260).
Gilman further explores the implications of her evolutionary vision in her utopian novels Moving the Mountain, Herland, and With Her in Ourland. Set in future time or imaginary geographic space, the novels delineate the ills of contemporary society and prescribe their cure in imaginary working models using the same Darwinian social scientific frame as the non-fiction.4
Utilizing Ward's idea of conscious human agency directing social evolution, these novels all project changed human consciousness outward to its logical consequences in the restructured institutions and actions of utopia. Unlike other social Darwinists, and unlike most utopian writers as well, Gilman gives women the pivotal role in social transformation. Expanded women's consciousness precipitates all other changes and starts the process of accelerated evolutionary progress in her utopian societies.
In Moving the Mountain (MM), John Robertson, an explorer lost in Tibet, returns to the United States in 1940, thirty years after his disappearance, to find the society he left totally transformed. The key to that transformation, he learns, is a change in women's consciousness. "The women woke up," (76) is the explanation he gets time and again throughout the novel (e.g., 46, 101, 130, 175). This awakening initiates "the new social consciousness" (195) and complete social change. It takes the form urged in Gilman's non-fiction, for the "New Woman" of utopian American society is economically independent, takes part in all aspects of work, and develops her "human" traits to complement her "sexual" ones. Thus the sexual/economic relation analyzed in Women and Economics is abolished. The home is restructured on the principles outlined in The Home: Its Work and Influence, and women become "human beings" rather than "female beings" (101). When this happens, men also change. Both sexes then take part equally in the world's work according to their human talents. As a result, "Men do almost all the violent plain work—digging and hewing and hammering; women, as a class, prefer the administrative and constructive kinds" (101). This "natural division of labor" (101) reflects Gilman's ideas of each sex's particular talents.
The expansion of women's roles improves human and social life. Material prosperity reigns; a system "beyond socialism" (MM 40) is instituted; architecture and domestic arrangements are reorganized to include common eating and child care facilities; immigration and education are put on a new footing. Poverty and crime are abolished and everyone is healthy, all because women "woke up" and then awakened the rest of society.
Here we see social evolution at work. For utopian society results from a "great change in world thought...the wholesale acceptance and application of the idea of evolution" (167). Proceeding from Darwinism, it "is as 'natural' as the evolution of the horse from the eohippus" (256). Yet it is not identical to evolution of species which, is "the slowest of slow processes," for it depends on education, "the social process" whose function "is to constantly improve and develop society" (169).5 Conscious human agency led by women thus directs social improvement and spurs America's evolutionary progress.
Gilman's next utopian novel, Herland, posits an all-female society. Since Gilman is rather apt to ignore sexuality in most of her works, the absence of two sexes in Herland poses no particular problem for her. Parthenogenesis quickly appears to solve the puzzle of procreation. Male destructive characteristics are eliminated from Herland along with men, and the feminine characteristics of cooperation and community prevail replacing competition and struggle for survival. The biological metaphor of organic growth embedded in motherhood and sisterhood replaces that of survival of the fittest in Herland, and the inhabitants advance "not by competition, but by united action" (60).
Herland's nonhierarchical, egalitarian society emerges from the female traits of cooperation, love, and kinship (motherhood and sisterhood). It has no crime, civil unrest, or poverty, but a flourishing economy, cooperative child rearing and food preparation, common eating facilities, and happy inhabitants. The society generalizes the principle of mother love to include all children equally. Concern for children, the next generation, unites the inhabitants in sisterhood and motivates all their actions and institutions. It replaces the individualism and competition of former societies with interdependence and cooperation, ushering in society's next evolutionary stage.
Gilman quite explicitly opposes the conservative social Darwinist position in Herland. Her male narrator, Van, a social scientist, initially expounds this position as conventional wisdom. "The laws of nature require a struggle for existence," he tells Herlanders, and "in the struggle the fittest survive, and the unfit perish" (63). He soon abandons these principles, however, in favor of cooperation and growth. The unregenerate conservative social Darwinist, Terry, who never abandons his strict Spencerian position turns criminal and is finally banished from the land.
Epitomizing the differences between the two social Darwinist positions is the Herlandian solution to the population problem Faced with a burgeoning population, the Herlanders do not adopt a Malthusian or Spencerian view. They solve their problem "Not by a 'struggle for existence' or predatory excursions to get more land from somebody else" (H 68) but by jointly agreeing on a national birth control program, human agency rather than iron laws.
Although not a full fledged utopian novel but simply an account of Gilman's world from an enlightened Utopian point of view, the sequel to Herland, With Her in Ourland, echoes the social Darwinism of Gilman's other works. As Ellador, the Herlandian bride of the American enlightened male narrator of Herland, Van, travels with her husband through his world, Gilman takes the opportunity to write a satirical critique of contemporary society. Certain themes from earlier books surface: e.g., the differences between combative males and nurturing females, the patriarchal restriction of women, the expansion of women's roles leading to social progress, etc. The clash between Terry's conservative social Darwinism and Ellador's socialist reform Darwinism is clearly set forth. Terry sees World War I as "natural," expressive of "human nature," and war generally as the means by which nations and races advance. Ellador points out that war is part of male not human nature, and inappropriate to the current stage of evolution. For Ellador social laws of cooperation rather than war are the laws of nature, and these are violated by contemporary global practice.
Gilman's social Darwinism influenced her problematic views of race, religion, and nationalism. While the contemporary Eugenics movement, influenced by conservative social Darwinists, was clearly racist, Gilman was not part of this movement and, in fact, criticized it (Home 24243). Recognizing the historical iniquities of racial and ethnic oppression, she condemned the "glaring evil" (WE 78) of slavery in America and its lasting deleterious effects in race prejudice (WE 82; "With Her in Ourland," ["WHiO"] in The Forerunner 7 [Oct. 1916]: 26364).
She equally condemned the "hideous injustice of Christianity to the Jews" (WE 78) and the limitation of Jews to commercial activity "under the social power of a united Christendom—united at least in this unchristian deed" (4). She characterized the destruction of Native Americans and their culture as "one of our national shames" ("WHiO," 7 [Apr. 1916]: 105) and presented a scathing picture of the dispossession and exploitation of Hawaiians "approaching extermination" by missionaries turned imperialists (107). In addition, she recognized the limitations of ethnocentrism: "each racial stock, assuming itself to be 'the norm' by which to measure others" (103).
Yet, she praises "The Anglo-Saxon blood" as "the most powerful expression of the latest current of fresh racial life from the North" (WE 147), and describes all Africans and "Orientals" as racially arrested in early stages of human development (WE 33033). Gilman's analysis of race is thus rooted in her social Darwinism just as her view of sex is. She sees Northern peoples as more evolved than Southern and white more than non-white. While she sees the cooperative nature of women enhanced by education, equality of opportunity and employment accelerating evolution, she makes no such claims for ethnic or racial groups, including their women.
While her early writing praises immigrants (CPG to GLHG, Dec. 4, 1898, quoted in Hill 280) and argues that given appropriate environments, education, and conditions, they will become Americanized and rise to join the majority culture (WE 79; MTM 52), her later writing is less optimistic and more exclusionary. The greatly increased volume of immigration in the intervening years and the growth of a large ethnically diverse population seem to have overwhelmed her (Living), and she now differentiates between "legitimate immigrants," who can be slowly and carefully assimilated and "the most ill-assorted and unassimilable [sic] mass of human material that ever was held together by artificial means" ("WHiO," 7 [June 1916]: 15354) who come "crowding injections of alien blood" into the body politic ("WHiO," 7 [May 1916]: 123). These latter must be excluded for they retard social evolution.
Gilman's treatment of African Americans and Jews is even more problematic. Recognizing the historic prejudice and discrimination against each group, her solution to these problems is widespread intermarriage ("WHiO," 7 [Oct. 1916]: 26467). This solution, she believes, would also advance the arrested racial evolution of each group. While this solution is presented satirically, the implication that various ethnic populations are simply problems to be solved rather than people to be valued remains. Gilman does not undertake a serious consideration of the problem but implies that prejudice against Blacks and Jews will only disappear if the groups themselves do (26467). She looks forward to a time when all people will evolve out of their differences led by the more advanced democratic, white, Christian Americans, particularly women, who have only to liberate themselves from outdated patriarchal, religious, and competitive practices to bring civilization to a higher, more evolved, democratic, socialist standard.
Influenced especially by Herbert Spencer and Lester Ward, Gilman found in the social application of biological evolutionary theory a rational and scientific justification for answering the Woman Question. Her arguments for the abolition of patriarchy, the education of women, the expansion of their rights and their roles, and the establishment of a more egalitarian society drew on Darwinian concepts of evolution as applied to social science. This foundation in biology and newly emerging sociology furnished her analysis with apparent scientific certainty and, lending her theories the seeming inevitability of natural law, securely anchored the moral and ethical arguments for women's rights. Widely used as the scientific basis for analysis of human nature and social development, Darwinism was summoned to support a wide range of opinion from defense of the economic and political status quo to call for far-reaching reform. Not until Gilman, however, was it called upon to support the battle for women's rights. By applying social Darwinism to this cause, Gilman provided an important intellectual basis and justification not only for women's equality, but also for women's primacy in the future. Using both the language and theory of social Darwinism current in the contemporary intellectual community, she placed the Woman Question squarely within the scientific mainstream of the time. First articulated in the argument of her non-fiction, Gilman's social Darwinist ideas gained imaginative force and literary life when harnessed to her vision of an utopian future that was based on women's fully realized human potential.
1 Richard Hofstadter traces social Darwinism from the post Civil War period through the years prior to the second World War but omits any mention of Charlotte Perkins Gilman as does Robert C. Bannister who discusses reform Darwinism at length, and Howard L. Kaye, who describes various currents of social Darwinism from Herbert Spencer to E. O. Wilson. Greta Jones and Peter Morton, note the various channels of social Darwinism in England but also omit any mention of feminist aspects such as Olive Schreiner's Women and Labour.
Only Rosaleen Love, Lois N. Magner, and Carl Degler recognize any application of social Darwinism to women's issues. They each briefly note Gilman's use of Darwinism to advance feminism but do not discuss it fully. Gilman's biographers, Mary Hill, Ann Lane, and Gary Scharnhorst, also allude to Gilman's social Darwinism but do not analyze its manifestations in her work.
2 It may seem incongruous that Gilman, radical critic of the status quo, should feel herself at all indebted to Herbert Spencer, defender of the status quo and hero of conservative social Darwinists. However, much of Spencer's early work was radical in its own way. His emphasis in Social Statics on full and free individual development, his belief in human and social evolution, his view of "society as an organism" (426), and social life based on sympathy and interdependence not just competition, his denunciation of slavery, and especially his strong support of equal rights for women enunciated in chapter xvi were congenial to Gilman's own views. He argued that "subordination of sex is inequitable" (183) and prophesied that when society became "civilized enough," it would recognize equal rights between men and women (187). As early as 1864, however, in the introduction to the first American edition of Social Statics, he backed away from this position. By the time he published Principles of Ethics (1900), he had managed to wiggle his way around to the separate spheres position. His repudiation of sex equity in "domestic equivalence theory," his abandonment of married women's rights, his theory that women's reproductive roles disqualified them from other human roles, and his call for female self-sacrifice in the cause of evolution are clearly set forth in Lois Magner's essay, "Darwinism and the Woman Question: The Evolving Views of Charlotte Perkins Gilman." These positions Gilman chose to ignore.
She agreed with his emphasis on the universal principle of growth as the "primary trait of Evolution" (Principles of Biology 1:135). His vision that future man will be "so constituted that while fulfilling his own desires he fulfills also the social need" (Principles of Sociology 611) requires only an alteration in gender to describe Gilman's utopian population.
3 Carl Degler credits Eliza Burt Gamble in The Evolution of Woman: An Inquiry Into the Dogma of Her Inferiority to Man (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1894) with one of the earliest statements of women's superiority to men based on Darwinian evolutionary ideas. Gilman, however, seems not to have known her work.
4 Although With Her in Ourland does not present an actual utopian model, it satirizes contemporary society from an utopian dweller's point of view and thus is usually classified with Gilman's other utopian novels.
5 Gilman's reference to education here differs from Lamarck's theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics (Zoological Philosophy ) which explains species change and evolution through this mechanism. Although Lamarckianism permeated Gilman's intellectual milieu (Hill 251) and was accepted by most social Darwinists at this time (e.g., Herbert Spencer, Contemporary Review 18931894; Principles of Biology Appendix B 1: 60291; see also Appendix C 1: 69295; Ward Dynamic Sociology 615), Gilman, as biographer Ann Lane points out, hedges on the question throughout her work and "was not always consistent" (Lane 296). She rejects August Weismann's views concerning the nontransmission of acquired traits (256) and advances the idea that stunting women's brains by restricting their education and experience also affects human biological inheritance ("Our Brains" [Sept 1912]: 24751). On the other hand, when she argues for the improvement of the species through education in Moving the Mountain, she seems to be offering cultural rather than biological explanations.
Unlike Lamarck and Darwin, Gilman continued writing after Gregor Mendel's essay on genetics had been rediscovered, and she praises it in her autobiography (Living 275). How much Mendel influenced her thinking about genetic inheritance is not clear, but her knowledge of his work would have had to preclude any simple acceptance of Lamarckianism.
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