Sunday, 25 January 2009


In the Victorian era women were seen as pure and clean. Because of this view, their bodies were seen as temples which should not be adorned with jewelery nor used for physical exertion or pleasurable sex. The role of women was to have children and tend to the house in contrast to men, according to the concept of Victorian masculinity. Although, women had been discriminated simply because of their sex; they did not stop fighting for their rights. In fact, women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were involved in the Antislavery Crusade in the 19th century. Stanton along with Mott marked history by starting a reform about women's rights at the Seneca Falls convention in 1848. Stanton fought for her rights and changed the perspective of many egotistical people not only through her logic, but with the rights that our founding fathers had given us through the Declaration of Independence. Fortunately, she made a positive impact for women in history giving us equal rights and most importantly the right to vote. Women like Margaret Fuller was one of first women to take advantage of her rights by shining her potential and becoming the first woman literary editor. Even though women were given rights; they still struggled for their independence. The ideology of women being seen as their husbands' "property" was also reflected in the household. For instance, women could not manage their own sexual activity or had any protection against physical abuse.
The first mention of a woman being described as the general of a household was in 1876 by Isabella Beeton in her manual Mrs Beeton's book of Household Management. Here she explained that the mistress of a household is comparable to the Commander of an Army or the leader of an enterprise. In order to run a respectable household and secure the happiness, comfort and well-being of her family she must perform her duties intelligently and thoroughly. For example, she has to organize, delegate and instruct her servants; she has to be the "sick-nurse" who takes care of ill family members. This requires a good temper, compassion for suffering and sympathy with sufferers, quiet manners, love of order and cleanliness; all qualities a woman worthy of the name should possess in the 19th century. A very special connection existed between women and their brothers. Sisters had to treat their brothers as they would treat their future husbands. Also, it was difficult to establish a reputation. For example, if one person in a family did something horrible, the whole family would have to suffer the consequences. Women as generals of households were very common. Women always were basically the generals of a strict and proper household.
Large numbers of working class women worked in factories or in the garment industry or in laundries or at various other jobs. From the mid-1850s nursing became a respectable occupation for women. In England nursing schools were started to give women a proper training. Women were increasingly employed in offices in the later part of the century, the invention of the typewriter led to an increase in office jobs for women, as they were found to make better typists than men. When the telephone was invented they were employed as telephone switchboard operators. Some women broke into professions like medicine, law, and journalism.
Victorian society preferred to avoid talking about sex. Although this is difficult to do, sexual activities were highly regulated in Europe by church and state law. Sexuality, viewed by the doctrines of medieval church, was considered as a gift from God; they followed the teachings of St. Paul and encouraged a life of chastity. Church law also ruled out sexual activities between the same genders and placed sexual limitations on married couples. Sexual relations were solely for the purpose of reproduction; therefore the church opposed sexual relations for the intentions of solely obtaining pleasure. As for adultery, courts treated women and men differently. They typically granted more severe consequences to female adulterers than to males. Courts argued that it was not right that a woman's child from a father not her husband should inherit her husband's property. Women were thought to be emotional, not intelligent and in charge of the household.
In the early part of the Victorian era, girls of the upper and middle class were educated mainly in fashionable 'accomplishments' like French, drawing, painting, singing, dancing, etc. However, in the later part of the century girls education was taken more seriously and schools were started which offered girls an education broadly modelled on that of boys of the same class, with an emphasis on academic subjects and outdoor games. The expansion of the educational system for poor children meant that both boys and girls of the working class were guaranteed a basic education. From the 1870s, women's colleges were started in places like Oxford and Cambridge, which offered female students an education on a par with men's, though it wasn't until the 20th century that they gained full acceptance by the universities.
Great changes in the situation of women took place in the 19th century, especially concerning marriage laws and the legal status of women. The situation that fathers always received custody of their children, leaving the mother completely without any rights, slowly started to change. In fact lots of imporatnt reforms and acts were made. For example was gave women limited access to divorce and was extended access to children to all women in the event of separation or divorce. Also while the husband only had to prove his wife's adultery, a woman had to prove her husband had not only committed adultery but also incest, bigamy, cruelty or desertion. An important change was caused by an amendment that made a woman an independent and separate person. From 1886 women could be made the sole guardian of their children if their husband died.
Even if Britain's head of state was a woman, Queen Victoria, women could not vote. But for much of the Victorian era neither could most men. The franchise was extended to include most men in towns and some countrymen in 1867, which doubled the electorate. However, agricultural labourers did not get the vote until 1884. Many women did not consider the vote to be of much importance anyway and some men were opposed to the idea of women getting involved in politics. They thought women would be better occupied concentrating on improving healthcare, education, and social services.

Silvia Licciardi, Eleonora Lenci

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