Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Women Writers: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) is perhaps best known for her short story/novella, The Yellow Wallpaper. This is a story which details the onset of madness. The narrator, a woman of means, is placed into her bedroom and told to stay there "for her health." This "medical treatment" ultimately drives her insane. It is a graphic and illustrative account of why women who are stuck at home when they don't want to be there go crazy. Monotony and boredom exact a terrible price.

Gilman, who was also a sociologist, wrote the story to illustrate how society has created a lack of automony and self-sufficiency for women, and how detrimental this is to their health and wellbeing. Gilman also wrote a book called Women and Economics, which was highly lauded in its day, because it points out how women are enslaved and prostituted by marriage and by their inability, through societal pressures and processes, to become creative, happy, productive citizens. The book says that women's economic dependence upon men has been detrimental to all of humanity and has, in fact, crippled mankind as a whole.

The book goes on to point out that men are crippled now by this arrangement, because society has trapped them into caring for this female they have taken on. Gilman envisioned a better society wherein each spouse has an equal role, with most household chores left to others (though one wonders what the "others" think of this society; she did not address this and it seemed to be one of the largest flaws in the book).

Gilman was a prominent lecturer and speaker of her time. She was very active in feminist and reformist organizations. She called herself a humanist and a "reform Darwinist" in that she believed Darwin neglected the female half of the population in his theories (isn't that always the case?). She claimed that society was androcentric (male or masculine point of view) and that this needed to change to better balance the roles of females in society. Her contention was that people are people, regardless of sex, and women are no worse than men.

The author published several thousand pieces of work. She married twice and had one child. She committed suicide at the age of 75 after a three-year battle with breast cancer.

1 comment:

  1. Such a sad life there in that bedroom! Too bad she didn't have a computer in the room to feed her need to feel connected to others.

    I think our generation has things so much better, except perhaps women who are just born with weak wills. My parents always encouraged us to be strong and stand up for what we wanted... but I know for a fact that my mom detested being dependent on my dad. I think it's what made her a bit loony at times and also what led her to leave the marriage after 32 years when she finally found the strength to do so.



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