Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ida B. Wells Barnett and the Fight for Fairness and Equality for Undocumented Immigrants

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ida B. Wells Barnett and the Fight for Fairness and Equality for Undocumented Immigrants Kristin Fine

The women founders of sociological theory made it possible for women and members of other marginalized communities to gain access to the rights and privileges their white male counterparts enjoyed for centuries. In particular, the incredible lives of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Ida B. Wells-Barnett allowed new avenues of academia and social change that had not previously been conceivable. Although they used different approaches and their theories focused on different aspects of the society in which they lived, a common thread ties them together in the history of feminist thinkers: their passion for social and economic change for women. Their contributions laid the groundwork for the modern day struggles for civil rights, in particular the fight for fair treatment and equality of undocumented immigrants. Gilman and Wells-Barnett did not gain admiration for maintaining the status-quo, which is exactly why it is important to apply their methods of research and analysis to the fight for the equality of undocumented immigrants. This paper focuses on the revolutionary theories Gilman and Wells-Barnett are most known for, and discusses the potential implications the application of these theories might have when applied to undocumented immigrants. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born on July 3, 1860 and died by suicide in August of 1935. Despite her unfortunate death, the contributions Gilman made to the feminist movement are still considered to be unparalleled, so much so that has been judged “the

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most original and challenging mind which the woman movement produced” 1. In her most famous work, Women and Economics, Gilman separated herself from other feminists of the time by boldly stating that the integral cause for sex-distinction and the inequality facing women is the dependence on the husband in the family unit for all money making activities. Her bold and unapologetic prose highlighted the “sexuo-economic relationship” between married men and women, dating back to prehistoric times 2. According to Gilman, women must rely solely on their sexuality to attain even their most basic needs. Unlike men, who have endless opportunities to gain their desires, young women are left with only their bodies as a means for material and social well being, because “all that she may wish to have, all that she may wish to do, must come through a single channel and a single choice. Wealth, power, social distinction, fame- not only these, but home and happiness, reputation, ease and pleasure, her bread and butter-all, must come to her through a small gold ring” 3.

Woman’s dependence on men economically not only hurts women financially, socially, mentally, and intellectually. This dependence of married women on their husbands for virtually all aspects of their well being also has a negative effect on the economy. Gilman blames the “androcentric culture” for societies ills, using the term specifically to refer to the institutions and social norms defined by the capitalist patriarchy men and women are taught to live in beginning at a very young age. This phenomenon, coupled with the inability for women to compete with men in society, is causing great intellectual waste as well as economic ramifications. Until women could have the same freedoms as men to 1 2

Mary Gray Peck (degler pg. 21) Delger pg. 22 3 Women and Economics pg. 71

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pursue economic independence, they would remain subjugated and forced to live their lives without freedom and confined by social norms perpetuated by the capitalist patriarchy of male domination. Ida B. Wells-Barnett made her mark in feminist sociology not only for her work in the field of sociology but also as a social activist who challenged the status-quo of American society. She used a unique blend of research and social activism to challenge the racism she and her fellow...
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