Weekend Poem: To the Indifferent Women by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

It is very rare that I use our magazine as a platform from which to explicitly address a concern that I feel strongly about. This isn’t by design so much as it is from a mission to ensure that there is balance through multiple viewpoints — across cultures, genders and walks of life. After all, this is not a personal blog.

Recently, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about the observances around the world (though, mostly, the US, I think) such as Black History Month in February, Women’s History Month in March, and, today, International Women’s Day. There’s a youthful, rebellious part of me that pushes back at being urged to remember, on a special month or day, all that we’ve been lucky enough to inherit from the intrepid cultural and social heroes and heroines who came before to pave the way in every walk of life. Surely, we should be aware and respectful of them daily and embody their principles in every little thing that we do. Right? And, then, there’s the grown-up, experienced part of me that shakes her head slowly, as if to say: if only it were that easy and simple. Then we wouldn’t have 21 million people (women and girls making up 98%) around the world in slavery and sex trafficking today and we wouldn’t still be dealing with women’s inequality in these 10 areas in the most advanced country in the world. This list could go on.

So, what I now tell myself is that we do need such observances — just like we need rituals in our everyday lives, without which we’d never get past the front door on time in the morning. Also, they help to emphasize the signal over all the noise. For just that brief period of observance, instead of sharing jokes, food pictures and animal videos, maybe some of us will share content on social media that will increase awareness of such matters. And, maybe, on seeing just a few quotes, videos and articles on these critical issues, some of us will shake out of our soporific, mute indifference and ask, “What can I do? How can I be of some use?”

To all the women out there who are busy going about their lives, giving their all to their families, I realize that it is not easy to find the time to stop and dwell on these difficult and weighty matters, let alone do something about them. You’ve got a more than full plate. You can barely pause a minute to plan the next meal before the kids start hollering at you. Your work email inbox is overflowing even at the weekend and you worry you’ll be spending another late night catching up instead of spending some much-needed time with your partner. Life isn’t easy when we want all that we want. So, those few stolen moments on social media while waiting during a kid’s soccer or piano practice are all that we have for quick, bargain laughs to keep us sane through the day. Lean in any more and we’ll fall over. Right?

And, were it not for exhortations like this brilliant poem by Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman, written during a time when there were even more restrictions and challenges for women, I’d leave all this well alone. Because, it reminds me that even those women, those intrepid heroes I mentioned earlier, were mothers and wives and held day-jobs. And, if they didn’t let all those responsibilities stop them from doing what they had to do, are we not dishonoring their legacies if we let our responsibilities stop us? The truth, I think, is not that we don’t want to do something to fix another little corner of the world besides our own and make it a better place. I think, most of the time, we don’t know where to begin or what to do. And, that’s where, again, such ritualistic observances come in. The organizations that spearhead them provide resources and host events to encourage and educate us. Take the opportunity, won’t you, to learn a bit more about what you could do? And then, try just one tiny step. One little thing to pay forward the big debt that we can never stop owing.

So, with that, I’m going to leave you with the poem. No analysis this time as I’ve likely said enough. But, do read the poem as it was truly intended — a loving reminder of the world beyond the immediate and our roles in it. And, to find out more about Gilman, head over to her Wiki page.

To The Indifferent Women

A Sestina

You who are happy in a thousand homes,
Or overworked therein, to a dumb peace;
Whose souls are wholly centered in the life
Of that small group you personally love;
Who told you that you need not know or care
About the sin and sorrow of the world?

Do you believe the sorrow of the world
Does not concern you in your little homes? —
That you are licensed to avoid the care
And toil for human progress, human peace,
And the enlargement of our power of love
Until it covers every field of life?

The one first duty of all human life
Is to promote the progress of the world
In righteousness, in wisdom, truth and love;
And you ignore it, hidden in your homes,
Content to keep them in uncertain peace,
Content to leave all else without your care.

Yet you are mothers! And a mother’s care
Is the first step toward friendly human life.
Life where all nations in untroubled peace
Unite to raise the standard of the world
And make the happiness we seek in homes
Spread everywhere in strong and fruitful love.

You are content to keep that mighty love
In its first steps forever; the crude care
Of animals for mate and young and homes,
Instead of pouring it abroad in life,
Its mighty current feeding all the world
Till every human child can grow in peace.

You cannot keep your small domestic peace
Your little pool of undeveloped love,
While the neglected, starved, unmothered world
Struggles and fights for lack of mother’s care,
And its tempestuous, bitter, broken life
Beats in upon you in your selfish homes.

We all may have our homes in joy and peace
When woman’s life, in its rich power of love
Is joined with man’s to care for all the world.

~ Charlotte Perkins Gilman, ‘Suffrage Songs and Verses

Advertisements

Please share your comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s