Seperate Spheres Essay, Research Paper
February 3, 2000
The separate spheres ideology, adhered to by the northern middle class, both repressed and empowered women in the first half of the nineteenth century. Separate spheres ideology was initially an oppressive measure used to subject women to the ?domestic? sphere of the home. But women empowered themselves by manipulating this position to show their moral superiority. With this superiority, women increased their efforts to spread the ideals of morality to the masses. Within the construct of separate spheres, women tried to instill family values into society as they fought against alcoholism, prostitution, and the abolition of slavery (lecture, 1/19). The movement for abolition provided women with a framework for their own movement for women?s rights. Separate spheres may have initially started as a repressive measure, but it ultimately advanced the drive for women?s rights.
The advent of separate spheres in the northern middle classes, served to keep women in the home. Women were subordinate to their husbands and forced into a life of domesticity. During the early nineteenth century, women?s role was seen in the clich? ?that women were to live for others?for only by giving up all self-interest did women achieve the purity of motive that enabled them to establish moral reference points in the home? (Cott, 71). Women had to put their husbands? interests first. Woman?s happiness relied on her ability to make her husband ?contented and happy? (Cott, 72). Thus, women were forced to please others and live without any concern for themselves, once they were married.
One would presume that most women would opt to be single if they were being forced into subordination through marriage. Yet, this was not the case. During this period, young women that were single had to support themselves. Most work for women was in the textile mills. Although work gave these women some independence, they were subjected to grueling hours and were underpaid (Lecture, 1/26). The government taxed Workingwomen that were self-supporting. Because the conditions for single women in society were usually unfavorable and there was considerable pressure towards the morality of marriage, most women decided to marry. Once married, the women had to leave their work.
The institution of marriage and domesticity was woman?s ?voluntary choice amounting to self-abrogation? (Cott, 78). A woman that married was immediately subjected to a role outlined and governed by her husband. ?Law and custom granted the husband?s ownership, not only of his wife?s labor power and the wages she earned by it, but of her physical person as well, in the sexual rights of the marriage relation? (Hartmann, 15). Women that were married remained at home and were ?defined politically, economically, and socially by their family position? (Hartmann, 16). Separate Spheres created many restrictions on women, seven of which are addressed in the ?Declaration of Sentiments? created through the First Women?s Rights Movement (all are listed in Hartmann, 28-29). First, women are not able to exercise their ?right to an elective franchise.? She has no voice in the formation of laws that she must obey. She is left ?without representation in the halls of legislation.? Second, if married, the woman is ?civilly dead.? The husband has taken any right she has to property or the wages she has earned. Third, a woman must promise obedience to her husband. Thus he becomes ?her master-the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.? Fourth, if a woman is single and an owner of property she is taxed by ?a government, which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.? Fifth, women are only allowed to work in certain fields, where they get no recognition and little pay. Sixth, a higher education is not available to women because ?all colleges are closed against her.? The final grievance that woman address is that men feel that it is their right to ?assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.? Thus, through the ideology of separate spheres woman are restricted from involvement in politics and business, and they are not allowed property rights. Elizabeth Cady Stanton summarized woman?s repression best in her statement ?a man in marrying gives up no right; but a woman, every right, even the most sacred of all- the right to her own person? (Hartmann, 34).
Men felt that women enjoyed the domestic sphere and males tended to lack appreciation of women?s work in the home. This lack of appreciation of women?s work comes from the concept of work as having a market price. The assumption during this time is ? if you?re not paid for work, you?re not working? (lecture, 1/19). Men devalued women?s work, yet men lean on women for security and moral uplifting. Women realized that they held a superior power of morality within the domestic sphere, and began to manipulate their position within the home to achieve empowerment.
The ideology of separate spheres had both negative and positive connotations for women. Although they were repressed in their roles within the home, women had a lot to gain in the separation of spheres. The colonial period saw individual households as units of economic production. This was a time of the ?household economy?, and the man had complete control of the unit. Women were seen as intellectually and morally inferior to men (Lecture 1/19).
In the late eighteenth century and the beginning nineteenth century, economic production was shifted to work outside the home. Men had to give up some power in the home, because they could not control both spheres at one time. Because men were more ambitious and their concern was with money, their morality was questioned. The belief at this time was ?if you are pursuing economic interest, then you are not concerned with the public good? (Lecture, 1/19). Men lacked virtue because of their ambitions. Since woman had no ambition within the home they were seen as morally superior. Women provided the moral support, nurture, and care that men needed after ?working? in the world. Since home was ?a place of salvation, the canon of domesticity tacitly acknowledged the capacity of modern work to desecrate the human spirit? (Cott, 67). Domesticity was seen as woman?s ?natural vocation? which is different than men, but ?each is superior to each other in their respective departments of thought and action? (Cott, 74). Because of separate spheres the vocation of domesticity gave women the domestic sphere for their own ?to control and influence? (Cott, 84).
Women manipulated the assessment of themselves as morally superior beings. They enforced the need for future generations to be within their influence. Women gave moral guidance to their children and their husbands. The government felt that women must use their morality and ?exert all their influence to drive discord, infidelity, licentiousness from our land? (Cott, 85). This statement elevated the status of women. Women were not corruptible in the domestic sphere, so moral teachings were seen as their responsibility. Thus, female academies were formed so women could move into teaching positions. Along with teaching various subjects, they could instill morals and values in future generations. Because of this move, women had greater educational opportunities.
Once women established themselves as moral leaders and teachers for future generations, they subverted separate spheres by claiming authority in the public sphere. They manipulated this view of themselves to claim that they were the guardians of morality not just in the home, but also in society as a whole (Lecture, 1/19). Women asserted themselves in the public sphere by addressing the need to instill basic family values into society. Alcoholism, prostitution, and the abolition of slavery were problems in society that needed their moral guidance. Women delved into the issue of slavery, stating that society is ?preventing slave mothers form fulfilling their divine role? as moral guardians when they are forced to work and are not given time to instill values into their children (Lecture 1/19). Although women moved into the public sphere, they were only allowed influence within a small section of it. Because of their work in the movement towards the abolition of slavery, women had a framework for a movement for women?s rights. In helping the slaves free themselves from subordination, women gained increasing knowledge on ways to free themselves from their own subordination.
Women began to advance the movement for women?s right through public speaking. After Maria Stewart claimed that God gave her the divine right to speak in public, white women gained courage and came to the foreground of public speaking. Women such as Sarah and Angelina Grimke, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony brought women?s rights issues to the clergy and to the public. These women were the first generation of women?s right activists. These women met each other and discussed women?s issues within their fight for abolition. At this time the two movements went hand in hand, because many of these women were mothers and were still confined to the ?domestic? sphere that their husbands and fathers controlled. Thus, the fight for the abolition of slavery provided a ground on which women could organize, fight, and secure women?s rights. Women demanded ?the elective franchise and the rights of citizenship.? They demanded that married women have ?control over their own wages, the right to contract for their own property, joint guardianship over their children, and improve inheritance rights when widowed? (Hartmann, 13). Women had finally found a way to gain enough strength and support to bring their concerns to the public.
Separate Spheres created an ideology where women could finally be seen as equal to men. Although women?s equality was confined to the domestic sphere, women were able to manipulate this construction of them as moral and virtuous. Woman?s morality gave her a voice within the home, giving her some control over the actions of her family. By asserting the need for the help in the public sphere from the ?virtuous? woman, women were able to extend their influence outside of the home. Women began to fight against alcoholism, prostitution, and slavery. Women gained strength and a ground for organizing in their fight against slavery. Separate spheres advanced the drive for women?s rights. It had given women an identity of moral superiority, therefore allowing them to use this construction in their favor for securing a place in the public sphere. Once in the public sphere, women found ways to organize so that they could discuss grievances that needed to be addressed to the public. Women hoped that their speeches and literature, such as the ?Declaration of Sentiments,? would some day grant them the equality that they rightfully deserved.