Women and Economics Summary
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Women and Economics Summary

Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution is a non-fiction look at women’s relationships to men and the economy. She ultimately makes the argument that women need to revolutionize how they are seen and understood. In many ways it was the Lean In (by Sheryl Sandberg) of its time. She argues that the institutions of marriage, mothering, and work all systematically place women below men. As such, the work done by women is dictated by men. She provides this analysis by examining historical examples and provides multiple case studies. Her analysis is rooted in social darwinism. She argues that in order to survive in this society women must change their “cultural identities.” She examines how women have been forced to become dependent on men. Women work at home as a form of debt to their husbands. As such, men are provided a social freedom that women have never had access to. She believes that women have been boxed in and limited in their creative potential because of this. Through women’s roles as nurturers, they are tasked with providing, through birth, a labor force for men. Women are then expected to educate this growing labor force. Gilman considers all the technological advances that have been made and argues that the need for women to stay at home and cook is long gone. It has now become social custom and is not necessity.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

With remarkable insight, Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses social Darwinism as a basis for her discussion of the reform that she views as necessary. Women, she argues, must change their cultural identities. Initially, she points out that humans are the only species that has the female dependent on the male for survival. The economics involved demands that women pay back their debt to men by doing domestic services. In fact, she observes that female activities in general are under the direction of the male. This focus on sexual distinction has in turn led to a strange distribution of power. Women have been left behind while men have claimed credit for all human progress. According to Gilman, women have traditionally fulfilled the role of mother and martyr and as such are expected to make sacrifices. In turn, the mother passes this role on to her children, so that there is a continuation of the image of female as unpaid worker and nurturer. Gilman maintains that women have been stunted in their personal and creative growth. In other words, the social order is unnatural.

Gilman goes on to reflect about the strange social ratio that results in more children for those who can least afford them and few children for women who have an abundance of wealth and household help. In the agricultural age, more children meant more workers to assist with the crops. In the industrial...

(The entire section is 712 words.)