“You’ve got all the necessary ingredients for peace and happiness. You don’t have to wait a thousand years to grow. You’re here. It’s just a little matter of – behaving differently.” Charlotte Perkins Gilman, With Her in Ourland. 1916.
I want to share a recent interview about Charlotte Perkins Gilman with you here.
The wealth of wisdom from women of the past astounds and inspires me.
Yet, today we still do not know their names. We do not really know our women’s history. And, we are also told it is time to move on from women’s liberation, as everything is equal now.
We are far from healing the relations between men and women. Patriarchy persists and much must be done to address the root issues. Misogyny is still the air we’re breathing and we can’t see it. It colors our lives, so it take a lot of inner work to see what is really happening.
Women are still seen as the “Second Sex.” Their work in the home is demeaned and not seen as ‘real work’ and their work outside the home is circumscribed as we struggle to find our voice and make a living within a structure built for men.
Yes, the chairs, schedules, and even size of your keyboard are built for the dimensions of an average man’s body. In fact, here’s a telling story a professor recently shared…. On the first day of class in a women’s studies class, they went around the room sharing why they’d chosen to take the women’s studies class. The man in the room said “I am here because I want to learn how women can be productive members of society.” He was implying that women are not productive members of society. Yes, it is true that in the upper-classes, some women are treated as pampered pets. But, for the most part, women work around the clock. And, the fact that all children come into the world through women – is that not ‘productive’?! Of course, Gilman reminds us that the very word “labor” comes from women giving birth.
“Industry, at its base is a feminine function. Because of her mother-power, she became the first inventor and laborer; being in truth the mother of all industry as well as all people.” Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Man-Made World; or, Our Androcentric Culture. p 12
For example, did you know the pejorative term “Cunt” comes from “Cuneiform”? Women were dedicated sacred scribes and were considered important writers and leaders in ancient history. Later, as women’s status became ‘second-class’, women’s work was degraded and we see hateful words used for them, their symbols, and their work.
We are portrayed as vain, competitive, frivolous, and superficial to keep us from the real work of contributing to a just, loving, and harmonious society. And, of course, our consumerist culture continues to pressure us with the beauty ideal and false idea that happiness could possibly be found through achieving the ‘perfect’ appearance.
I was first exposed to Charlotte Perkins Gilman when we learned about the Yellow Wallpaper in a sociology class in my early 20’s. I have been fascinated by her ideas and in the past few years have read everything I could get my hands on written by her.
Did you know Herland is available as an audio? I have listened to it a few times over and over while out on my runs.
When I was looking for a feminist from history who had ecofeminist ideals, my amazing professors Kathleen Torrens and Jeannette Riley of the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth suggested I look into Gilman.
And, I must say that I am now absolutely in love with her writing. Gilman covered it all – dress reform, physical fitness, treatment of animals, alcohol, fur, feathers, environmental issues, reproductive justice, keeping of pets, male-female relationships, religion, and purpose. She even helped start a women’s gym in her community during a time when women were not supposed to ‘exert themselves’.
My passion for sharing her work continues. I presented at the Minding Animals Conference in Delhi this January about Gilman.
And, I shared with my friend Karen Tate on her radio show about Gilman this July: