Critical Evaluation

In her autobiography, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1935), Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote, “In my judgment it is a pretty poor thing to write, to talk, without a purpose.” Gilman undoubtedly dedicated her life to the purpose of women’s rights for the sake of all. Describing herself as a humanist, Gilman spent her life writing and lecturing on the rights of women to share in the totality of the social order.

A prolific writer, Gilman published 2,173 works in her lifetime. These texts encompassed varying genres in the disciplines of sociology, political science, economics, literature, and women’s studies. In her attempt to address women’s relations to patriarchal society, she juxtaposed ideologies of utopianism, such as those espoused by her contemporary Edward Bellamy, with the evolutionary thought of another contemporary, Lester Frank Ward. In her three utopian works, Moving the Mountain (1911), Herland, and its sequel, With Her in Ourland (1916), Gilman dramatizes the theories she espouses in her critical works.

In her critical masterwork, Women and Economics (1898), Gilman addresses her recurring theme of gynocentrism, a theory that dominates the fictionalized country of Herland. A central position in Gilman’s work is given to gynocentric theory, in which women are promoted as the primary and dominant form of the species while men are viewed simply as assistants to the reproductive process. Gilman believed that the displacement of gynocentric thought by what she termed androcentric practices of male domination had forced women into the confining roles that thwarted their development as human beings. Gilman notes that “women are not underdeveloped men, but the feminine half of humanity is underdeveloped humans.”

Gilman believes that widely held societal conventions enforced the patrifocal status, and that these conventions were all the more insidious because they encouraged women to accept their subordination. Men, too, suffered from being taught to dominate. Such conventions dehumanize both women and men, Gilman argues, and limit the potential of human...

(The entire section is 884 words.)