Pearl S. Buck grew up in China, accustomed to its traditions, but when she moved to the United States as an adult in the 1930s she was struck by the cultural differences in gender roles and expectations. In nine short chapters, she applies this personal experience to an exploration of the power dynamics of the American household, drawing one universal conclusion: “Complete freedom is the atmosphere in which men and women can live together most happily. But it must be complete.”
As she makes her case, Buck outlines two American female archetypes: the dissatisfied “gunpowder woman” and the placid “angel.” “Sensible and witty, merciless and often amusing,” this is a book that ultimately delivers a clarion call for men and women to find common ground and succeed hand in hand (The New York Times Book Review).
The first American female Nobel laureate, Buck was a pioneer women’s rights activist and humanitarian who believed both sexes could find happiness together, even in challenging economic or political circumstances. Imbued with an unshakeable faith in equality and strident candor, Of Men and Women remains a daringly original and candid work in the canon of feminist literature.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Pearl S. Buck including rare images from the author’s estate.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||10 MB|
About the Author
Pearl S. Buck (1892–1973) was a bestselling and Nobel Prize–winning author. Her classic novel The Good Earth (1931) was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and William Dean Howells Medal. Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia, Buck was the daughter of missionaries and spent much of the first half of her life in China, where many of her books are set. In 1934, civil unrest in China forced Buck back to the United States. Throughout her life she worked in support of civil and women’s rights, and established Welcome House, the first international, interracial adoption agency. In addition to her highly acclaimed novels, Buck wrote two memoirs and biographies of both of her parents. For her body of work, Buck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938, the first American woman to have done so. She died in Vermont.
Date of Birth:June 26, 1892
Date of Death:March 6, 1973
Place of Birth:Hillsboro, West Virginia
Place of Death:Danby, Vermont
Read an Excerpt
Of Men and Women
How to Be for Each Other
By Pearl S. Buck
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1971 Pearl S. Buck
All rights reserved.
It has been my good fortune always to have found near me women of good sense. My earliest recollections center about two such women each in her way typical of her society. They were my American mother and my Chinese nurse. Although these two women were different in every moment of their history, they were curiously alike. My mother was the most capable and interesting woman I have ever known. Unusually well educated for her period, she was cultivated, humorous, brilliant, and strong. Though she went to China when she was twenty-three and died there forty-one years later, she remained unchanged by any Chinese influence. She developed from within, as American as if she had remained in her native land.
My nurse, Wang Amah, was almost as forceful, capable, and strong as my mother. She was illiterate but civilized, the daughter of a merchant family in the rich city of Yangchow. In some dire incident of her life my mother had rescued her, and the two women remained together from the moment they met until my nurse died a very old woman. In front of others they were mistress and servant, but when they were alone, especially in the evening before dinner when Wang Amah brushed for an hour my mother's long dark hair, their talk was intimately human and they were friends. My mother, it is true, confided to no one her own personal difficulties, but she had the genius of comforting wisdom which drew from others all their story. People came for miles over hilly roads and cobblestones only to tell her their sorrows. They were mostly women. I was a solitary child, quiet and often unnoticed, and talk went on before me. Very early, therefore, I perceived that women together led a life of their own.
For the life of Chinese women in those days, only recently past, fell into an inviolable pattern. Their place was in the home. The phrase is familiar the world over. But the Chinese woman, accepting it, made out of home something that I have seen nowhere else. In China the home was not what it is in our country, a thing apart from men's lives except when they return to it for food and sleep. The real life of the nation went on in the home. Even men were made an integral part of the home which Chinese women ruled, for the whole fabric of society was woven there in the intense and complicated life of great households where three or four generations lived under connecting roofs. Woman in China had little cause, one would have said, for ambition outside the home, for all her managerial ability was needed to oversee the vast organization of old and young for which she was responsible. Religion, embodied in ancestor worship and temple visiting and the proper celebration of festivals and the rites necessary at birth and marriage and death, government, in the administering of the rules of civil law which gave even the criminal over to clan judgment, education, of boys for professions and business and of girls in training for their marriage, the comforting of the old, the care of the sick, responsibility for poor relatives — all these were the duties of women within the home.
It is no wonder, then, that the Chinese woman generally developed into a strong, wise, able human being, whether she could read or not. Literacy mattered peculiarly little to her. Women handed down to women a vast lore of history, custom, ritual, and practical knowledge which educated them and made them a part of the great national whole. But more valuable than any actual knowledge was the quiet and conscious conviction Chinese women have always had of their own worth. Look at a Chinese woman anywhere in the world, and you will see a human being of personality and poise who apologizes for nothing that she is or does, and in whose calm eyes shines her clear and tranquil soul. She knows her irreducible value as a woman. She does not worry about herself as compared to man. She accepts her difference and knows herself equal to him.
Indeed, she made so honorable her qualities, the so-called feminine qualities, that they began to be accepted as the essentials of a civilized people. Thus the heman in China came to be considered not as male but merely as uncivilized. "The qualities of the feminine intelligence," says Lin Yutang in My Country and My People, "are exactly the qualities of the Chinese mind." Thus did the power of woman grow in China as she gathered the nation's life into its homes and ruled there.
I took woman's equality with man for granted, therefore, until I came to live in my own country seven years ago. American women I had known abroad, though in no great numbers. Those few were, I have found since, on the whole unusual women. I suppose there must always be something unusual in a woman who is willing to cross oceans and make a home on alien earth. Those American women did not differ too much from Chinese women except in outward habits. But I learned from them, and indeed my mother had already told me, that these habits signified something. The freedom with which American women went out of their homes, the informality with which they talked to men, and the whole spontaneity of their behavior were all signs of a free society. The pattern of men and women, I then learned for the first time, was different in America from the fixed and static pattern of men and women in China.
When I returned to my own country to live, therefore, I expected to find men and women really equal — that is, that the affairs of the nation, large and small, were carried on by both alike. By this time there had been a revolution in China which had opened the doors of home and let women out. They came out poised, assured, self-confident, accustomed to executive responsibility; and they swarmed into schools, industries, and business, and even into government offices. I expected, of course, to see women in America even more assured and competent. Were they not long accustomed to participation in all parts of life?
My first surprise came when I asked for the name of a good bank, preferably a bank managed by women. Friends of mine had used a women's bank in Shanghai and had liked the way women there had handled investments. They found women astute, daring and cautious together. But in my own country, I was told, there is no bank owned and managed by women. When I asked why, I was told that no one would put money in such a bank. I have not to this day found the reason for this.
The next surprise came when I searched for a woman doctor, since I share the preference of Chinese women for women physicians to attend them. But I was told, and by women, that there are very few first-rate doctors in our country who are women. Most women here, it seems, even prefer men about them when they are in childbirth, although to my thinking then of all times the physician should be a woman. How can any man, however learned and sensitive, really understand the situation of a woman bearing a child? It is the one experience he cannot fully comprehend. Again, I have not yet been able to discover a reason for this preference for the male, though I persevered and found for myself an excellent physician who is also a woman.
Surprise followed upon surprise. Where I had expected in a free society to find women working everywhere as men worked, according to their ability, I found them actually less influential by far than women had been under the traditional scheme of life in China.
It is more than that woman's influence is almost totally lacking in the centers of American national life. She has somehow so conducted herself besides that her feminine qualities, which are her greatest gift and power, have come to be despised and looked upon as effeminate. Far from permeating society so that a civilized people came to despise crude force and to trust to reason, women in our country have even upheld the crudity of force as a desirable male attribute and have continued blind to the fact that in so doing they have fostered a society in which crude force manifests itself in gangsters and in wars. Somewhere in the home before even they go to school little boys learn to think that the superior male is tough and rough, and they struggle to form themselves on the model. I have actually heard American mothers tell their sons, "Don't be a sissy girl. You are a boy." If a certain kind of male is desired, I can understand this education, but what is one to think of women who deliberately teach their sons to despise women? Is it necessary to make the female inferior in order that the male may feel himself, or even be, superior? Then what unjust inferiority is this, and how frail a superiority! It is no wonder that woman is of no real consequence in the life of our nation.
And yet as I write these words I question them. I sit here this morning in the old American farmhouse which is my home and think of many women of good sense in my immediate neighborhood. They are in almost every house working with quiet energy and intelligence to create order and comfort for their families. They are part of a community which I know is not unique, whose women as a matter of course work in homes and factories and upon farms. They carry on a tradition for women which I like to think of as peculiarly American, a classless tradition which makes it possible for a woman to scrub and clean a house, cook a fine meal, husk corn for twenty to thirty cents an hour in this region or do piece work in a shirt or pants factory or a hosiery mill and earn from ten to twenty-five dollars a week, and on occasion and certainly here on Sunday put on a good silk dress and look what she is, a "lady." She is, I say, a lady all the time. Her good sense makes her equal to any occasion. I watched one of her kind yesterday at work in her kitchen, thinking as I watched, "There — she's what I mean by an American woman."
Actually she was born in Hungary and came to America as one of a large family of children. Her parents farmed, and she grew up on American bread and milk and meat and fruit and garden stuff to be tall and strong and handsome, as she still is. She married young, a farmer, and they had six children. She kept house and cared for the children, and in the afternoon worked in the fields. To this day, though she is well over fifty, she loves to go out into the field. When she cries out, "Ah, I got to git my hands in the dirt," I know it is spring.
Her husband died early, and she was left a young widow with six children. What shall I tell of those years except that she managed, keeping her house and her children by washing and cooking for others or by any work she could find? The children are all grown up now, independent except for the youngest girl, and the first boy was married last year. She said the other day, her eyes misting, "I'm to be a grandmother by next Christmas." I knew by the satisfaction in her voice that the circle of her life was completed for her.
And she is not alone. There are many like her. I condoled with a neighbor's son the other day over the loss of a job. He said, "'Taint' too bad, for my wife works in the factory and she can hold us together till I get somethin'."
"Do most women work outside the home around here," I asked, "or do you have an unusual wife?"
"No, she ain't unusual — not like that, I mean," he said. "Women mostly help out their menfolks around here."
"Do you think," I persisted, "that they help out more than they used to?" "No," he said. "Can't say as it's any different now from what it ever was. My wife's mother worked in the shirt factory — still does; and my own mother worked in the hosiery. Reckon we're all used to work around here."
Roughly speaking, almost half of the women of America are used to work in this sense. They are busy, steady-hearted women, contributing their full share to their homes or to the community industry or to both. They are women of great good sense. Seeing their quiet competence and plain wisdom, I often wish that it could find wider use. This competence, this wisdom of life, are what the world lacks in the engine rooms of the nations. But women seem never to be found there, though indeed everywhere else. But why in a country free to them have our women at least not naturally and as a matter of course taken their place with men in the engine rooms of our society? And what of all those other women who need not work full time at home and who do not "help out" their men in field and factory? What are they making of their freedom? They, too, are not in the engine rooms. They are not "helping out" their men at all. Indeed, they live a life singularly separate from the lives of men and the nation's work.
I hold no brief for the old Chinese pattern of men and women. Ours is better, and even if it were not, it is ours and so better for us. And yet I am constrained to ask further, why do so many American women seem not happy in being women when they have the freedom to make what they will of themselves? And why do women and men not enjoy each other more in my country? I was used, in that rich family life of old China, which had its other evils, to this good — the great mutual enjoyment between men and women of all the details and events of the life that they made together. Then which is the best life for men and women, that in a patterned society such as old China had and in another sense as modern Germany has today, or the complete freedom which a true democracy alone can give? I say again, one or the other of the two must be best, for the half-and-half sort of thing we now have patently gives satisfaction to neither man nor woman; and when men and women are not content with and in each other then all of life is discord.
The basic discovery about any people, therefore, is the discovery of the relationship between its men and women. The traveler may tour until a landscape becomes as familiar to him as his own face in a mirror, but if he has not from experience or intimate observation in a country comprehended the way men and women feel toward each other, the measure of their understanding of each other, and the place each has in the life of the whole, the reality of that country has escaped him.
The fundamentals of men and women are the same anywhere. This difference in human beings, created into men and women, is common to us all. It is a difference more universal, deeper, more important than the differences of race and nation, and yet it is the one most ignored. One generalization only can be made on the ways in which men and women live together. When there is harmony between men and women the culture of a country — that is, its whole life — is full, peaceful, and without nervous tensions, and progress is steady and rounded. Men and women enjoy each other then to the extent that their social customs allow, and this enjoyment is a fair indication of harmony between them. But when the relationship between men and women is confused and there is no harmony, and when they cannot much enjoy each other, then the general life is full of tension and irritations and strains. Point me out a people emotional, restless, argumentative, impulsive, volatile, changeable, violent in its prejudices, and I will point you out a people where men and women are at odds with each other, whether they know it or not or will admit it or not. Fortitude in hardships, good sense and balance in prosperity, a sense of proportion at all times — these are the fruits of harmony between men and women in a nation.
And effects seemingly quite remote may nevertheless be direct results of the fundamental lack of harmony. A widespread feeling of insecurity, for instance, commonly attributed to economic causes, is, I believe, far more to be ascribed to the deep emotional insecurity of men and women in each other. When they are uncertain of each other, doubtful of each other's loyalty either as individuals or as groups, there arises in every heart a feeling of isolation and solitariness that is hateful to it. For no human being was created to be solitary, and when it is cut off by doubt and distrust and lack of understanding from the other to whom instinctively it turns, whom nature has created for it, then strange stops and blocks and ills are inescapable. When in a period of social change the whole relationship of men and women shifts for a time as established customs break down and new ones have not yet been made, then necessarily, too, this cosmic loneliness besets the individual and undermines all his being and adds to the confusion of the times — which, indeed, to some extent it may have caused. So when men and women are not in harmony, when their lives and works are separate or contradictory, then all of life seems unsafe and dangerous. The prevailing national mood becomes despondent and fearful, and even figures and facts of increasing prosperity do not lighten it. Men and women can face anything, can endure anything, if they are sure of each other's loyalty and liking. They can endure nothing if they are not sure of each other.
Nor can individuals hope to escape the effects of the larger despondency about them. There will always be plenty of romantically happy marriages begun in each generation. Whether a fair number of these will continue to be happy will depend not only upon the couples but far more than they realize upon the relationship of men and women as a whole in their time. Discontent between those who can be fully happy only when there is content between them will arise too often even between two who are individually content with each other. For man remains man to the end of his days, and woman remains woman; and too often it is true that these two never meet. It is a tragedy when they do not, because there is no joy like the joy of life when they do.
Excerpted from Of Men and Women by Pearl S. Buck. Copyright © 1971 Pearl S. Buck. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved 'The Good Earth' when I read it as a teenager, so was looking forward to reading 'Of Men and Women', but was left feeling slightly disappointed. I won't go into the detail, as other reviewers have already done so, but I feel that her comparisons between American and Chinese domestic life were superficial at best. Were Chinese women happy to have their feet bound and were they okay with not being given the opportunity to read and write? Buck suggests that they were, but I'm not convinced. She also seems to think American women in the1940's had everything going for them and were still dissatisfied. Which women is she referring to? As a woman of colour, I don't recognise the woman to which she refers. She was a woman of her time and if you keep that in the forefront of your mind, the book has much to commend itself. I found the descriptions of Chinese family life quite interesting. Her conclusion that men and women can only live together happily if in an atmosphere of complete freedom sounds good to me. Buck's writing is impeccable as always, and the book gives a fascinating insight into her thoughts on gender and male-female relationships.
I must admit, the beautiful book-cover first attracted me to this novel, and when I noticed the author of one of my favorite classics, The Good Earth wrote it, I was sold! In OF MEN AND WOMEN, first published in 1941, Pearl S. Buck pens her feelings and opinions about relationships between men and women comparing life in America to what she experienced while living most of the first forty years of her life in China. While a fascinating comparison between cultures, I cannot agree with all of Ms. Bucks views on the American woman and marriage in general. As a happily married working wife and mother myself for most of my life, I feel a woman can and has become anything she wants to be in our world of opportunity...although there probably is disparity in salary between men and women for doing like work. One of the practices of the Chinese that has always bothered me was the binding of women's feet. Buck states that men worshiped their little feet which in turn gave them control over the men despite keeping the women from hobbling very far from their own gates, thereby also binding their minds. "Women as a rule were not allowed even the opportunity to read and write." But it seems women were generally happy with their responsibilities in the home. There is so much information packed into this well-written relatively short read. As well as marriage and home life, Buck touches on monogamy, polygamy, women and war and women's liberation in our society. Such an interesting life Ms. Buck lived, and so many thought-provoking personal views give the reader a real glimpse into the private life of a great author. Recommend for readers of non-fiction who do not mind heavily philosophical viewpoints. (Nicely illustrated biography with old photos from the authors estate included.) Pearl S. Buck - June 26, 1892 -- March 6, 1973
Of Men and Women is a series of essays that Pearl S. Buck wrote and published in 1941 where she examined the differences in relationships between men and women in China versus the United States. She writes: “Very early, therefore, I perceived that women together led a life of their own” “In China the home was not what it is in our country, a thing apart from men’s lives except when they return to it for food and sleep. The real life of the nation went on in the home.” She explores the set-up of the Chinese household that would often include “three-four generations under connecting roofs” versus the American lifestyle where only the nuclear family would be found living under the same roof. Children would then grow up not knowing just one household leader/alpha, but have a multi-generational experience. She then turns her attention to the different ways women were educated in the East versus the West. In China “women handed down to women a vast lore of history, custom, ritual, and practical knowledge which educated them and made them a part of the great national whole.” Buck asks in this series of essays one essential question: “Why do so many American women seem not happy in being women when they have the freedom to make what they will of themselves? And why do women and men not enjoy each other more in my country?” Although Buck emphasizes that despite everything she prefers the American way over any other, and thinks the progress done in the West is one to strive for, she noted that American women, while educated, free, and supported, were still viewed as a separate entity from men, and there was still a miscommunication between the two. Buck examines how relationships between men and women are different in every country, and it’s that difference that makes it a nation of its own. She writes that a traveler should examine how in every country men and women feel towards each other or “the reality of that country has escaped him.” “For no human being was created to be solitary, and when it is cut off by doubt and distrust and lack of understanding from the other to whom instinctively it turns, whom nature has created for it, then strange stops and blocks and ills are inescapable.” In the epilogue Buck writes that it has been thirty years since she wrote this book (in preparation for a newer edition back in 1971). She writes that the China she spoke of “is no more…how changed! Communism rules, and Communism has totally altered the relationship between Chinese men and women.” Thus, I would urge the reader to remember, when reading this collection, that these essays were written in 1941, reprinted with an added epilogue in 1971, and then reprinted now in 2017 for this brand new edition. In the interim, China, and America have changed drastically. The collection includes a brief biographical note and several images taken from Pearl S. Buck’s archive.