Veronica Ge

About “Women and Economics” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

In History on June 14, 2011 at 4:46 pm

In my American history course I have read the book Women and Economics. In the book the feminist author Charlotte Perkins Gilman criticized the historical roots of women’s cultural identities and roles in society, and argued that to constrain a woman in a household is to stunt her creative and personal development. She advocated women leaving the household and entering the working fields to achieve self-actualization. Also, in the later chapters after the fifth chapter, she talked about her idea of kitchenless house, day-care center and hired house cleaner to emancipate women from the heavy load of housework to spare more time for their professional life. Her main idea is that it is the women’s financial dependence on men which resulted in their inferior status. Therefore she advocated financial independence of women through the equal right to access to the workplaces.

Women and Economics

Words in this book indicate the resolution and enthusiasm of Gilman on the matter of women’s rights. What distinguishes her from the other suffragists was that she knew that the right to vote could not really bring a huge change to women’s life, what really mattered was “the legal, social, mental and physical” changes, “which mark the advance of the mother of the world toward her full place.”(Gilman. 1970:148)  Actually these expected changes are still not fully actualized in our current society, as women are still less favored to many employers, mostly due to their physical vulnerability, distracted time and energy for children, and even their ‘unproductive’ maternity leaves.

This book was published in 1898, when the society was going through both political and economic transformations before the Progressive Era. With the enfranchisement of African Americans, more and more educated white women, who has felt not only discrimination in their social status but also inequality of the right to vote between them and the African American males, pushed to enforce the suffrage of women in two different approaches practiced by the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association. Under this social environment, Gilman’s book stirred up the long-lasting debate between people who supported feminism and those who were in favour of ideology of domesticity, that is, the separate sphere ideology.

State Presidents and Officers of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1892

While feminism promotes equal political, economic and social rights and opportunities of women, supporters of separate sphere traditions argues that there should be a division of labor along the gender lines, and that women, who have their own duty to take care of the household and facilitate the well-being of their husbands and children, should not stepped into the fields of politics and economics, which are supposed to be a exclusive zone for men. From the perspective of the American feminists at the end of 19th century, the latter stance was evilly constraining and irrational. However, if we take a look at our society today, not every woman choose to go out of her household and fight in the workplaces like a man. In fact many of them still chose to shoulder the responsibility as an educator or nurturer of their children and husbands. Their argument is that women should stay at the positions which are more appropriate for them, and that to fight with men in the wrong places is not a wise way of living their lives.

I think that the most meaningful achievement of feminism movements is not that all women must get into boys’ club and compete with men in every aspect, but that now women get more choices, so that they can find themselves a place in the society according to their personality and ability. Therefore while we have successful women figures such as Condoleezza Condi Rice and Indra K. Nooyi who contribute to the fields of politics and economics using their wisdom and talents, we also have great mothers and wives who stay in the backstage and give full support in a low pitch to their husbands and children who might thus feel more supported and confident to make great contribution to the society. Both types of women are living a meaningful life. It’s really good for them to have choices so that they could actualize themselves in the most suitable way.

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