Charlotte Perkins Gilman through her writings understood gender roles as socially constructed. She saw these socially constructed gender roles as damaging to women and men both, as they confined men and women to act out their lives in ways that were unfulfilling and limiting to each gender. The oppressive force of patriarchy is described in many different ways throughout her various short stories, but her stories are also imbued with strong messages of hope and transcendence. Conditions for women are obviously much better in the 21st century, but patriarchy still oppresses women in the workforce, with women making 77 cents to men’s dollar (Adams 2013).
In “Three Thanksgivings, “The Cottagette”, and “Making a Change”, Perkins-Gilman is describing how limited women’s roles are in the economy. Especially during the time of her writings, women were delegated to the unpaid tasks of “women’s work.” This included childcare, cooking, cleaning, and tailoring, among others. Even work that women were paid for, such as music lessons, housekeeping, artwork, and sewing were not considered particularly valuable economic assets and were generally paid much less than other “male” professions. In each of these stories the female characters are coerced either by the invisible force of patriarchy, or by the people around them, to assume a docile, domestic role as the “ideal woman”. Inherent to a woman’s role at the time of her work is women’s financial dependency upon men. Men are portrayed as the superior sex, who must be relied upon by their wives/sisters/mothers for financial support, which paradoxically makes them quite burdened unnecessarily.
In “Three Thanksgivings”, Mrs. Morrison, a middle-aged widow, is told by her children and by Mr. Butts (who had paid the mortgage on her house) that she is incapable of taking care of herself and must be supported by either her son, a son-in-law, or Mr. Butts. She ends up collaborating with her maid to turn her house...
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