This weeks readings both focused on an issue that was perhaps only second to slavery and civil rights in the nineteenth century-women's equality and liberation. Now, female liberation has always been and still is an important issue in nearly every society in the world from ancient to modern times, but in the case of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Birthmark and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, the focus is specifically on a woman's yearning to be free from the patronizing and controlling "care" of men, specifically, men of science whose make sense of superiority is further inflated by their perceived genius as men of science. The men in these stories never respect their wives enough to let them decide for themselves how they are doing in terms of physical health or appearance. They don't even let the women decide how they feel both physically and emotionally.
In Hawthorne's story, we see a woman who has become so brainwashed by the controlling and judgmental nature of her husband that she herself becomes convinced that a single anomaly on her face is what must define who she is as a person, and has been given enough power by her husband that Georgiana says that she would rather die than live with what is seen by Aylmer as a flaw. If she ever dares to question his opinion, be it on her appearance or the science/magic he intends to use to heal her, he is quick to put her back in place by droning on and on about his expertise in the field of medicine and other sciences.
In The Yellow Wallpaper, it is a combination of both the foolishness of men and the foolishness of physicians at the time that causes a young mother suffering from mild post-partem depression syndrome that ultimate drives our narrator crazy. John consistently ensures his wife that she is well and not suffering from any ailment, a suggestion that goes against both what his wife feels and the action that he has taken in having her locked away in the upstairs bedroom of a vacation home for what he and other male physicians such as her brother deem to be best for her. Their ignorance is shown as the story progresses and she gradually loses her sanity. She loses her sanity not as a result of her disorder, but rather from the physical, emotional, and psychological strain caused by the imprisonment imposed upon her by men.
The two stories have the same theme, and they each show the destructive result of this type of oppression of women with horrifying endings. Georgianna's death at the end of The Birhmark and the narrator's obsession with the wallpaper and ultimate mental snap from reality illustrate the dangerous effect of not respecting a woman enough to here her own opinions even in regards to her physical appearance and health. The ignorance of their male jailers is one of both misogyny and scientific self-righteousness and such ignorance leads to the utter destruction of their wives, both physically and mentally.