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Feminist? Unabashedly!

Unabashedly A Feminist

Among the reasons I write strong women today is because of the inspiration I’ve gained from others who have done such. Over the last forty years, I’ve filled my library, and my mind, with writings by women who offered what I needed. These women have inspired me to find my voice, to identify and claim who I am, what I stand for, and what I refuse to stand for. Their writing also helped me change those things that I didn’t like about myself. I find it amazing how women touch our lives so many years after they have passed from this world—women who lived and died, often years before we were born. Yet still they teach us much about ourselves.

One such example is the life and writings of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, born in 1860.

I first met her in a Women in Literature class at the University of Texas at El Paso in the early  1980s. I was forty-three years old and a sophomore. (Non-traditional students rock! It is never too late for a woman to go to college.)

My professor chose Charlotte’s feminist utopian novel, Herland, first published in 1915, for our class to read and discuss. (That cherished book is still an important part of my library, thirty years later.) I must admit, I was inspired—mesmerized—blown away—that a woman could pen such a novel at that time—that she had the wherewithal, the foresight, the wisdom, the forward-thinking—to do such.

Abandoned by her husband, Frederick Beecher, a relative of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charlotte’s mother was forced to rear her children alone, which meant Gilman moved around a lot, and her education suffered as a result.

Despite her opposition to marriage, Charlotte did marry an artist named Charles Stetson in 1884, and in their 10-year marriage, they had a daughter named Katherine. During this time, Charlotte became a social activist. She also suffered a severe depression and underwent a series of unusualtreatments for it. This experience is likely to have inspired her best-known short story The Yellow Wall-Paper, penned in 1892. (If you don’t think being in an unhappy marriage is depressing–this story will convince you.)

While best known for writing fiction, she was also a well-known lecturer and intellectual. One of her greatest nonfiction publications is Women and Economics, published in 1898. Today, many women struggle with being called a feminist—not Charlotte. In this work, she took a bold stand and encouraged women to gain economic independence, cementing her standing as a social theorist.

Other significant works of nonfiction followed, such as The Home: Its Work and Influence (1903) and Does a Man Support His Wife? (1915). Charlotte also established The Forerunner, a magazine where she expressed her own ideas on social reform and women’s issues.

In 1900, Charlotte married again, this time to her cousin George Gilman, and the two remained happily married until he died in 1934. A year later, at the age of 75, Charlotte learned that she had inoperable breast cancer and ended her life, leaving behind a note that said she “chose chloroform over cancer.”

Today, much of her work is beginning to be recognized as important and is being re-published. She had an incredible influence on women of her day, and offers much to us today. Let’s give her the recognition she deserves. Read her books. Let her inspire you. Tell others about her.  Don’t be ashamed to call yourself a feminist.

Instead, name it, and claim it.






5 Comments Post a comment
  1. I read The Yellow Wallpaper when I went back to college at 53. It stunned me. I didn’t know this about her background, though. Thanks for this post.

    June 22, 2011
  2. When I was at Douglass college, formerly known as the NJ Women’s State College, I took a series of classes called Women’s Studies. It was eye opening to say the least and the highlight was reading The Yellow Wall-Paper. To this day it’s etched into my mind and the messages contained within have stayed with me for years. Being a Feminist has, for too long, carried a stigma that needs to be cast off and forgotten, while pride and ownership of such a worthy title should be cherished.

    June 22, 2011
  3. Good for you, Karen–going back to college at 53. Supports my stand that it is never too late! And yes, I first read the Yellow wallpaper in college, too, in a short story class. Later, when I learned more about her past, I understand why she should be so depressed!

    In reading her autobiography, “Living With Charlotte Perkins Gilman” I learned that her mother had been married four years and had three children–and she was in poor health. The doctor told her is she had another child it would kill her–so Charlotte’s father moved out and never moved back in with them. He maintained contact with the children–but only on occasion. I strongly recommend this book. It really takes you into the life of one of our leading feminist intellectuals–and a woman with only 4 years of education stretched over 7 years because they moved A LOT!!! There is one scene in the story that I will blog on next week. It is between her and her mother. Powerful!!

    Thanks for stopping by!

    June 22, 2011
  4. I hear you, Karyne! The story was so well written I felt like I lived inside that room– Odd, though, that after she left her first marriage and found herself, there is no more hint of depression–quite the contrary. Women have long held the image of ‘being depressed’ because of hormones, PMS, etc. My personal belief is it has more to do with them not having a voice–and/or using it to get in touch with what they stand for, what they don’t stand for, and what they refuse to stand for!

    Thanks for stopping by!

    June 22, 2011
  5. Sylvia, I enjoyed this post and returning to this interesting author who wrote The Yellow Wallpaper. It’s amazing how some stories stay with you through the years. The Yellow Wallpaper did!
    Thanks for the article.

    June 24, 2011

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