Charlotte Perkins Gilman – some challenging thoughts

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860 – 1935) was a writer, speaker and an early feminist.

Before turning to the main points of our essay, consider this excerpt from her short story, Turned (September, 1911), a tale of marital infidelity:

Mrs. Marroner came of stern New England stock.  She was not a Calvinist, hardly even a Unitarian, but the iron of Calvinism was in her soul: of that grim faith which held that most people had to be damned “for the glory of God.”

That is food for thought.

(Now, please, dear readers do not be upset or angry with me.  These essays are only meant to stimulate thinking.)

Gilman also wrote a lengthy work titled his Religion and hers – a study of the faith of our fathers and the work of our mothers (1925).  Parts of this treatise are online and freely available for reading.  I read a little of it earlier this week.

The subject matter of the treatise can prompt a thinking person to consider the following challenging questions.

Questions – perhaps without answers.

Would religions governed by women have given us something (an approach) more positive, more constructive and more effective in motivating people to live better, more loving lives than fear, guilt, and the rationalizations for (and even glorification of) the suffering in this world?!

Would a religion governed by women have been more effective, more successful in teaching people how to love God?  (For some, that is seen as the purpose of religion.)

(We note that there have been women shamans and women healers throughout the ages. In ancient times, there were priestesses in various polytheistic or pagan religions.  Today, various Christian denominations are now ordaining women as priests, ministers, etc.)

There have been harmful abuses with organized religion over the millenia.  (Is that heresy?  We include a link below to a recent essay on such abuses.)  Male priesthoods seem not to have learned that beyond a certain point a guilt ridden, fear based approach to motivating moral living becomes counter-productive (as people can be driven to despair and think “Why bother trying?”).  And, it does appear that the rule-givers are often far removed from or disconnected from the lived realities, the real-world experiences of their followers, the laity.  (My personal view for some years has been that if a clique of individuals (pastors, priests, rabbis, etc.) insists on playing moral arbiter over all aspects of our lives, then these individuals need to have sufficient competence to deal effectively with moral complexity.  There is a legitimate and proper role for religious moral authority, but there is the ever-present danger of the abuse of that authority.)

The pleasure of power is too strong a temptation for both men and women to resist.  Thus, it is quite likely that there would have been problems and abuses with organized, hierarchical religions governed by women.  To try to specify what exactly those problems and abuses might be would only be conjecture and speculation on our part.  But, it may be that there would have been some similar abuses and some very different ones in female dominated religion (as contrasted to male dominated religion).

The question arises: Would there have been less war, fewer wars throughout history ( a sexist term itself? – “his story”) if women had been in charge and held the positions of authority in government and society?  Would warfare have been more humane (if this is not an oxymoron, a prima facie contradiction – humane war)?  Perhaps, there would have been less war crimes, fewer atrocities purposely committed against civilians and non-combatants.  (We have previously written on the horrors and immorality of Allied war crimes in World War II in June, 2012 and in February, 2014.)

Observing women and having interacted with them over the course of my adult life, I would venture to say that there would have been wars over the millenia if women had been in power.  Women have a flawed (or if you prefer, “fallen”) human nature just as men have.  The competitiveness and in-fighting amongst women can be every bit as intense and bitter as it is among men.  Cultural anthropologists and some historical evidence inform us that women in some cultures have fought alongside men in battle.  Margaret Thatcher (1982) and Golda Meir (1973) have taken their nations to war within living memory.  (Of course, one could object and say that these were merely reactions to provocations coming from the opposing countries’ male dominated governments.)

Nirvana is not of this world.  A male dominated world (with its male dominated religion) has not worked out very well.  Charlotte Perkins Gilman was correct in that assessment. Yet, a female dominated world would have had its problems, albeit these might very well have been somewhat different in nature and scope and severity.  Perhaps, the future path, the sensible path for humanity is the path of valuing the insights and judgement and experiences of both women and men.  Perhaps, we ought to strive for cooperation among men and women – with equal dignity and respect for both sexes and for their respective contributions.

(We will be off the grid for several days and have no access to the Internet.  Thus, if there are any reader comments, these will have to await our return for approval.)

As always, best wishes to all.

Copyright 2014 –

Now, we present some lyrics from I’ll Be Your Shelter, a song sung by singer Taylor Dayne.

. . . .

I’ll see you through
I’ll cover you with a love so deep and warm and true
I will be there, oh

Honey, I’ll be your shelter
I’ll be the one to take you through the night
Whenever you need shelter
I’ll make everything alright
Make everything alright, yeah

. . . .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s