Charlotte Perkins Gilman, an influential female writer and social thinker at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, sought to destroy the traditional gender arrangements and champion equality among the two genders. She has left behind the most important foundations of the critical gender theory in America, which are still relevant nowadays. This essay will consider some of the main parts of Gilman’s ideas, such as her attitude towards economic dependency, feminist perspectives and the metaphor of the corset and their connection with today’s gender problems in America.
Economic Dependency and Gender Inequality
Gilman’s multidimensional theory of gender inequality draws upon Marxist principles in the economic and political foundations of gender inequality. Furthermore, it incorporates symbolic interactionism to stress the significance of socialization in this process (Gilman, 1998). In this regard, she explored the political and economic forces that lead to and sustain the inequality between genders.
A persistent issue for American women today is economic inequality based on gender. Although women’s rights have moved ahead in this respect, the wage gap remains, and women are prone to poverty, particularly when they are unmarried mothers. Gilman’s findings about the economic dependence of women are even more relevant as we continue to fight for a better society (Gilman, 1998).
Feminism and the Role of Women
The work of Gilman was based on feminist principles. This was her argument of the natural superiority of women in which she placed emphasis on women’s love and service rather than power and domination. However, I need to emphasize that her idea was not free from disagreement (Gilman, 2009). She sometimes expressed elite and race-discriminatory opinions as well, addressing only the concerns of white middle-class women in the process of promoting women’s rights.
Currently, in the USA, new feminism has embraced a vast range of identities and issues. Feminism recognizes that different women experience gender oppression differently depending on their class, race and sexual orientation. Gilman’s feminist thoughts may serve as basic foundations for comprehensive discussions around gender equality and all forms of discrimination (Gilman, 2009).
The Corset as a Metaphor
Among Gilman’s important accomplishments is her corset metaphor that represents the restrictions imposed on women. Similarly, a corset restrains the free body of a person just like the traditional family structure limits women’s economic independence and other chances. Gilman argued that women learned to accept them and made them part of themselves (Von Ankum, 2023).
Women continue to experience societal issues which restrict the way they think and the choices they make towards success. Some of these restrictions are not always explicit but are rather internalized and become self-imposed restraints on women. Discussions about freedom from gender roles are in keeping with Gilman’s metaphor of the corset, which implies a cry for agency and autonomy as individuals (Von Ankum, 2023).
“The Yellow Wallpaper” and Mental Health
The Yellow Paper by Gilman is a semi-biographical narrative that depicts the mental health effects of societal constraints on women. The madness of the protagonist is the result of suffocating standards for the women of her time, who were supposed to be “childlike” and “fragile.” (Kraditor, 1965).
Today, in the USA, discussions about mental health occupy an important place in the country. There is an understanding that psychological pressure affects the mental health and well-being of the individual (Søvold et al., 2021). Gilman’s work remains a historical warning to take gender sensitivity into consideration in the provision of mental health care services and that women have emotional needs, too.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s positions on gender, economic dependence, feminism, and the metaphoric corset are applicable to contemporary US gender issues. Although her labour was limited, she opened a door for gender-sociological discourses, which include consideration of social stratification, ethnicity, race, class, sexuality, and body politics. Gilman’s legacy will play an immense role in understanding and erasing the remaining challenges we face even today in our quest for a fairer society.
Gilman, C. P. (2009). Chapter Eight Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) The Yellow Wallpaper: The Feminist Identity Paper Meryem Ayan. Representing Minorities, 74.
Kraditor, A. S. (1965). The ideas of the woman suffrage movement, 1890-1920.
Perkins Gilman, C. (1998). Women and economics: A study of the economic relation between men and women as a factor in social evolution.
Søvold, L. E., Naslund, J. A., Kousoulis, A. A., Saxena, S., Qoronfleh, M. W., Grobler, C., & Münter, L. (2021). Prioritizing the mental health and well-being of healthcare workers: an urgent global public health priority. Frontiers in public health, 9, 679397.
Von Ankum, K. (2023). Women in the metropolis: Gender and modernity in Weimar culture (Vol. 11). Univ of California Press.