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Mark Moore English 301, University of Michigan March 25, 2011


Examining Women & Economics In The 21st Century Womens economic roles have changed dramatically, within our society since Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote her study “Women and Economics, A study of the Economic Relation between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution” in 1898. Over the one hundred plus years since the study was written, women have gone through an economic renaissance. We will discuss what societal changes that have taken place to elevate womens economic standing. Also have women truly reached economic parity with men? Is

economic parity necessary? Changes in Ethos In her study Charlotte Perkins Gilman compares men and women to animals. Coming from an evolutionistic point of view, I guess we would be animals. But according to her study, we might be the worst in the animal kingdom as it relates to how we treat one another. We use to look at people as being the property of another during slavery. Aspects of slavery have stayed within our society and have an effect on men and women relationships and roles. Since the abolishing of slavery in the United States, men gradually changed their view of women. Women would no longer be considered property but equals. Perkins Gilman starts her study off with a “Proem” based on the Garden of Eden and the fall of man, “Ere the soul was born and consciousness came slowly, Ere the soul was born, to man and woman, too, Ere he found the Tree of Knowledge, that awful tree and holy, Ere he knew he felt , and knew he knew”


(Perkins-Gilman, 1898). The Genesis chapter 3 story that this “proem” is based upon will help give insight into the economic role of women. But first since Perkins Gilman started in the Bible we will also but back in Genesis chapter 1:27, “And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him: male and female created he them” (KJV,2002). From a creation point of view God created male and female to be equal, and one would not have dominion over the other. Men and women are equals intellectually and spiritually. But after the fall something changed. In Genesis chapter 3:16-18 King James Version: “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;” (KJV, 2002). It appears that after the fall men and women had more defined roles. In a nutshell women would give birth to children (with great pain might I add) and men would go out and work very hard.. When God tells the women “and thy desire shall be for thy husband” this is not a good thing. Remember God is handing out curses not blessings. So what does it mean for a women to have a desire for her husband. Well, we see and do it all the time in our society. An employee desires to have his boss’s job, because he or she thinks he can do it


better. A slave desires to be like the free man (and rightly so). One man desires another mans wife. So the wife desires to be in husbands position. His position of authority, rule and strength. Ask any married man and I’m sure they will have a story or too about this conflict. So I don’t believe the reason why women have been economically dependent upon men is as Gilman writes in her book. I believe it to be more deeper and spiritual in nature. The concept of having a leader or head of a group or organization, can be broadly observed. Every organization or company has a President or CEO. Every team has team captain or coach. Every military has a Commander and our country has a President. There is always going to be someone giving the task of leading and directing. A body with two heads is a freak of nature. For order sake, man was giving the great responsibility of leading in the relationship. Now men have not always done a great job in our responsibility, in my opinion. But now as a culture we have realized, the only difference between men and women is strictly physical. Men are physically stronger and women can give birth that’s it. Men and

women are spiritual and intellectual equals. As men have vacated their roles, women have quickly moved in to fill the void. Examining An Economic Independent Women Our example of a financially independent,women was born in 1926 just before the start of The Great Depression and six years after the ratification of the 19th amendment. Raised in rural North Carolina, she was the youngest of eight children. Her parents had an even four boys and four girls. Being the baby of the family meant her siblings were constantly giving the responsibility of taking


care of her. While her parents were busy working fifteen hour days maintaining a farm, her siblings had to make sure their youngest sister was clean, well fed, went to school and kept out of harms way. This is how she was raised for the first thirteen years of her. In 1939 her family suffered two tragic losses. First her father was killed in car accident on a rural highway during a severe rain storm. He was 62 years old. Later that year one of her brothers was lynched. The reason for which her family believes is because he was participating in the organization of “Negro” field workers, for higher wages and farm ownership. Which some the land and farm owners took offense to. These two tragedies drew thee family closer together and more dependent on one another. But it also made our example more dependent emotionally and financially as we will discuss. Our example was first married at seventeen to a man nine years older than her. Her sisters thought it would be a good ideal if she married a man who could “take care of her”. At their advice she got married, believing she needed

someone to look after her needs. As she says, “I barely new how to cook, because my sisters did all the cooking and cleaning and my brothers did all the eating beating up the fellows who liked me in school”. So with only an eighth grade education, she was a newlywed. Things got off to a rough start for our example and her new husband. First she new how to clean a house but she was a disaster in the kitchen. This led to her husband getting his home cooked meals needs met else where. A little over a year after they were married, they were divorced, and our example went back home to her family.


Once she was back home, her oldest sister suggested she look in to becoming a nurse. She took her advice and two years later she was registered nurse. She was twenty years old and this was the first time she had any of her “own” money. This was her first experience at being economically independent and in her own words, “I was twenty, I had a little bit of money and I was pretty you couldn’t tell me nothing”. She saved her money for six months and moved out of the family home to a bigger city, so she could work at a larger hospital. It was at this hospital where she met her second husband. He was sailor in the U.S. Navy, the year was 1947 and he served in WWII. She say’s, “he was the love of my life. A very sweet and gentle man who loved me just as I was. He loved me if I was working or not and he even loved my bad cooking which motivated me to become a better cook”. After a very brief courtship, they were married and moved to San Diego, CA where he was to serve at his new duty station where one of her brothers (also in the Navy) had moved to two years earlier. She would be a stay at home wife for the next four years, making sure her husband was properly cared for. And he made sure his wife had everything she needed and wanted. She said, “he never made me feel like I was less than because I was at home and not bringing in any money. In fact when I would bring up the ideal of me doing nursing again, he would assure me that if I wanted to go back to nursing that would be fine but he would prefer me to stay home so we could take care of each other”.


Everything was going well, until tragedy struck. In 1953, while enjoying a sunny day on San Diego Bay, they noticed two boys struggling in the bay. Being an expert swimmer, her husband went out to help the boys. The boy’s made it to the shore safely but sadly, there was no sign of her husband. The Coast Guard Search and Rescue along with other authorities searched and searched but were unable to locate him. His body was recovered three days later. After the loss of her husband, she went to live with her brother and stayed in San Diego. Her late husband had a modest life insurance policy and she

received a small survivor’s benefit from the Navy. She said it took about a year for her to get her self together after the loss, but something changed in her. She realized that she never wanted to be financial dependent upon anyone again. Having only an eighth grade education she went back to school and received her High School diploma and BA degree. She later worked as an educator for the school district for almost 40 years before retiring in 1994. While working for the school district she bought two homes, land, six cars and built and grew an investment portfolio valued in the mid six figures. She is currently enjoying a very comfortable retirement and is economically independent. Conclusion The roles men and women play in society are historically different. But opportunities for women have increased dramatically since Gillman wrote her book. Women have more choices than ever to seek their economic dependence or not to. Men also have the same choice. And I agree with Gillman in that by


giving women choice and freedom to achieve all of their God given gifts and talents, that men and society as a whole will continue reap the benefits of our sisters contributions. References Perkins Gilman, Charlotte (1898) Women and Economics, Small, Maynard & Co King James Version (2002) Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson Inc.