Gilman’s feminist theories share a similar quality to Marx’s conflict theory. Marx saw the conflict, or class struggle, being between the bourgeoisie (the owners of the means of production) and the proletariat (the workers). Gilman saw the conflict, gender struggle, between men and women.
Marx advocated social reform for the proletariat class. The focus of Marx’s conflict theory was that by eliminating privilege, the overall welfare of the society could be increased. This would then create a true equality amongst members of a society. He argued that privileged groups were working to maintain their privileges, while the disadvantaged were constantly trying to attain more. The owners were making all the profit while the workers were, basically, trading their labor for bare necessities like food, shelter and clothing.
Gilman advocated social reform to women, similar to that urged earlier by Marx to workers. She recognized the inequalities intrinsic in the social structure of the working world which excluded women from most jobs, confining them to the world of the home where they worked all day, every day; their only compensation being the roof over their heads. They had no income over which they had complete control, and their economic standing relied solely on their husbands.
Both Gilman and Marx believed there was a power struggle occurring in society. Gilman recognized the struggle between men and women, and Marx saw the struggle between the owners of the means of production and the working class. They both advocated for more equality between these groups. Even though these two theorists recognized these societal problems many years ago, during their lifetimes, these same “conflicts” still exist in modern society.