How Herland Challenges Gender Ideology

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s fictional utopia Herland is about a culture populated only by women. The novel, narrated by a male sociologist, describes the woman-only culture in vivid detail and contrasts it with the three “visiting” men and their own society. Sociology was a new field during Gilman’s lifetime and one that she identified with because of her interest in social problems. Since she considered herself a sociologist, readers could assume that the male narrator’s viewpoint is her own. It is through Vandyck Jennings’s eyes that we see both the male perspective on gender roles in American society in the early 20th century and the imaginative utopian society of Herland. Gilman was not promoting a society populated only by women, but she creates it to critique the role and place of women in western society in the early 1900s.

After reading the first three chapters of Herland, write three to four pages in which you answer one or more of the following questions about gender and society that Gilman embedded within the Herland narrative:

  • How do the status of and attitudes toward women during Gilman’s time compare to the lifestyle of women in Herland?
  • How does Gilman challenge widely held views about women’s nature, which began as early as the Renaissance lady, reappeared as the Victorian ideal, and were still present in 1915 when Herland was published?
    • Remember that in 1915, women in America still did not have the right to vote even while the “new woman” was emerging with modernism and innovations.
    • Be sure to provide page-referenced examples from the assigned chapters from Herland to illustrate your view.
  • Finally, what attitudes about women (gender ideology) and limitations on women’s lives do you see in your own lifetime?
  • What changes have occurred compared to Gilman’s lifetime (1860–1935)?