Gender figures into John’s oppression of his wife in several different ways. While “The Yellow Wallpaper” can be understood as primarily detailing a highly unequal relationship between two individuals, there are numerous facets of their relationship that seem inescapably tied to gender.
The narrator acknowledges that she is ill, but she believes that her husband misunderstands her. Beyond the individuality of this man and woman, the fact they are a married couple is significant. Charlotte Perkins Gilman seems to be critiquing the institution of marriage, not merely commenting on the overbearing behavior of one husband.
Another important dimension is the man’s profession of physician. Although it is difficult to separate the bases on which he has decided that isolating his wife is a good idea, the professional aspect of his concern seems dominant, according to her interpretation. More difficult to understand is the reason that she acquiesces, considering how strongly she reacts against the room.
The issues of gender-specific roles and their oppressive qualities have contemporary relevance. Psychological and emotional abuse between partners is a significant component of domestic violence, which includes behaviors that are intended to frighten or control a partner. The problem of misdiagnosing health conditions, including postpartum depression and psychosis, is also a contemporary issue. While it may have been typical a century ago for husbands to treat their own wives, standard medical practice no longer recommends family members serving as their relatives’ physicians.