Gender Equality in Gilman’s Herland

14 Feb

Reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman utopian fiction can give the readers several messages that seem to be delivered to the society. No doubt that Gilman has her own corrupted vision of her society that pushed her to have a better vision of a feminist utopia. When we read Herland, we can feel that Gilam’s main focus in her writing is on the unequal gender status between men and women. It obviously seems that her primary focus is based on the unequal status of women within the institution of marriage. We can see that as one of the major themes in this novel. She portrays the unjust of women’s humanity comparing to men. Therefore, I turned to ask myself what would Gilman writes this novel in this way.

Tracing her autobiography, I found that Gilman had suffered cruel moments in her first marriage in 1886. She had been treated as the powerless wife and a mother of an innocent child of being subject of the husband who was made to be the master and she was the unpaid servant. She also suffered a severe case of depression after that marriage. Therefore, she tends to write her analysis about women’s status in her society. Her feminist utopian world is an important part of her criticism of the traditional power structure of the family. It is a treatise of how can we see the perfect society where men and women are equals.

Gilman presents the utopian feminist worlds in Herland that is inhabited by only women. To me, it seems kind of an extreme imagination where men seems to be excluded from being in that land. Although Terry, Jeff, and Van had that chance to access this world eventually, but Gilman’s concept of a utopian world with no men could be a result of negative attitude from her domestic society. Those men who had been to that world were not totally admitted to be part of that society. They need to be evaluated before they have the chance to be enrolled as new members to that land. Among those men, Gilman represents Terry as a man who was not able to adjust himself within the world where men and women are equal. He seems that he is a rough man who believes that men are superior to women. His ideas from his domestic society still there with him in Herland and he cannot accommodate himself in the equal society. Therefore, he rejects Herland and insists on his male rights.

Interestingly, Gilman represents Van, the narrator, as being more critical character in his approach to Herland than the other males. He likes how Harland is more civilized than his domestic world. He is more successful with his relationship with Ellador comparing to the other couples. He has a rational approach that helps him in his relationship with Ellador comparing to the others. I believe that Gilman chooses Van to be the narrator among the others as the rational character who is welling for change. Van is able to accommodate himself in the feminist utopian world and able to portray Gilman’s message to the society that both genders have an equal role in the society with no superiority between men and women.

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