A humanistic social Darwinian and communitarian, Charlotte Perkins Gilman believed that modern society needed to revise its foundations completely before full self-realization and freedom could come for both women and men. Gilman condemned capitalist society for its uncaring creation of a hopeless lower class, kept in ignorance by social and theological “rules.” (Unfortunately, much of Gilman’s work reflects a degree of racism and anti-Semitism.)
Gilman’s most influential work, Women and Economics: The Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution (1898), asserts that the oppression of women is ultimately based on women’s economic dependence on men. Other institutions—religion, education, ethics, marriage and family—simply reinforce this relationship. From childhood, she claimed, “young boys plan for what they will achieve and attain, [while] young girls plan for whom they will achieve and attain.” Here and in subsequent works, including the journal The Forerunner and her feminist utopian novel Herland (1915), Gilman also argues that women naturally possess ethical and moral superiority that, if respected, could reinvent society.
Through her writings and lectures, Gilman became the most widely known and respected female economic theorist of the early twentieth century. Women and Economics was translated into seven languages and praised by such renowned social critics as Jane Addams, Florence Kelly, H. G. Wells, and George Bernard Shaw. Her other works include Home: Its Work and Influence (1903), Human Work (1906), His Religion and Hers (1923), and the rediscovered novella The Yellow...
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