Thursday, September 11, 2014

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

A noted writer and women's rights activist from the period around the 1900s, Gilman is best known for her women's studies classic short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, which fictionalizes her experience of post partum depression. As with many other prominent thinkers from history, her animal rights work has been largely scrubbed from history by our conflicted, defensive culture. In her utopian and satirical work, Herland, Gilman's land of women kept no animals for agriculture because agricultural animals took up land that was needed for plant crops. When asked what they did for milk, one of the women basically said, "we have plenty of milk...our own."

Gilman was an activist at a time when many feminists recognized the overlapping oppressions that also face animals of other species. In 1903 the American Suffrage women had a conference where animal rights were a special topic of discussion. Yet again, this heritage has been "disappeared" from mainstream feminist consciousness. In the modern era where contemplating our choices in behavior toward other animals, and the impact these have on our own ecosystem and personal health, hopefully we can resurrect some of this herstory.  Here is one of many poems that Charlotte wrote about her observations on human treatment of other animals. I also recommend Herland and this brilliant ancestor's other works.


Below my window goes the cattle train,
And stands for hours along the river park,
Fear, Cold, Exhaustion, Hunger, Thirst and
Dumb brutes we call them - Hark!
The bleat of frightened mother -calling young,
Deep-throated agony, shrill frantic cries,
Hoarse murmur of the thirst-distended tongue
Up to my window rise.
Bleak lies the shore to northern wind and sleet,
In open-slatted cars they stand and freeeze
Beside the broad blue river in the heat
All waterless go these.
Hot, fevered, frightened, trampled, bruised
and torn;
Frozen to death before the ax descends;
We kill these weary creatures; sore and worn,
And eat them-- with our friends.

-Charlotte Perkins Gilman-