“The Cottagette”: solutions to “who will do the housework” dilemma

In the short story “The Cottagette” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the protagonist Malda recounts her brief transformation from an embroidery artist to a housewife, done in an attempt to win the heart of a man she’d fallen in love with. The story itself serves as a critique of 19th century conventions, most notably, that a woman would not be able to find love or marry if she did not offer herself as a housewife to he prospective husband. There are two main solutions to this whole “who-will-do-the-housework” problem that arises when the possibility of a woman not doing all the domestic work comes up:

At the very beginning of the story, Malda descries the “cottagette”, and takes note that it lacks a kitchen area. But this doesn’t seem to be a problem for her, or the other people living with and near her: “You had to go quite a way through the meadow… to reach the town-connecting road below. But in the woods was a little path, clear and wide, by which we went to meals” (Gilman); this shows that she and the others living in the cottagette with her have no need for a kitchen or to do any of the cooking themselves, because they hired someone else to do it for them. This leaves them with more time to peruse their own artistic interests, such as music (or embroidery, in the case of Malda).

While this works for the characters in the story, this type of living isn’t financially feasible for everyone. To that, the story offers an alternative route: for both spouses to share the housework, as opposed to leaving the all of it to the wives. “’Of course the things taste good—but so do my things! I’m a good cook myself” (Gilman) says Ford, the man with which Malda has fallen in love. This, more than anything else, shows that he truly does care for her, and wants a partner in marriage as opposed to a live-in-maid. It also serves as a solution to those who cant afford to hire others to do their housework.

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