Women In The Victorian Age Essay, Research Paper
Suffer And Be Still, is a powerful collection of essays. This collection, edited by Martha Vicinus documents the state of women in the 19th century Victorian England. This time period is well known as a dark side in women’s modern history, because, as seen through this book, Women in the Victorian Age were discriminated, degraded and psychologically abused at this time. Men, domineering at home, in government, education and professional life dictated a woman’s role. Whether through popular culture, as in the theater of the day, women suffered a terrible fate at the hands of male dominated society. It is my firm belief that this collection of essays points a horrific picture of women’s fate during the Victorian era. Regardless of wealth or status, women’s roles were carefully monitored and kept in check. In this essay, I will refer to the text in order to support my view that women were done severe injustice during this period.
In Victorian Theater, the role of women during the Victorian Age can be seen in this form of popular culture. When young women played male roles, the roles were taken very seriously. This can be seen through their costumes, their roles that they played and the plays that were represented. However, when it comes to men playing the roles of females, it was unlike the way in which female portrayed males. As quoted from Vicinus pg 20 “Men did not impersonate women seriously on the nineteenth century stage”. As seen from this quotation, one can deduce that women of this time were not taken in a serious light. Theater, as a form of popular culture, high-lite’s social differences as well as gender roles. Therefore, when women’s roles were portrayed in a mocking fashion, it can be seen as a reflection of the times and the stereotypes held towards women.
Another example, which gives us an idea of how women were discriminated against, can be found in Chapter 3, Victorian Women and Men Situation. In this chapter, one encounters the popular belief of the Victorian Era that women were “unusually susceptible to shocks during menstruation” (Vicinus pg 39). This idea further exaggerated by beliefs which describes women as incapable of mental or physical work during menstruation. However, this argument is completely refuted by the point that men failed to regard that women such as governess, prostitutes and working class women were able to continue with their day to day activities without hindrance. What is further surprising is that even respectable doctor and scientific investigators such as Drysdale and Knowlton firmly believed that women were incapable at times of menstruation. This stereotype looked to further reiterate the point that women were inferior to men physically and professionally. Society adopted this belief and used it to further degrade women of this time.
In chapter 4, Marriage, Redundancy or sin, we view the painter’s view of women in the Victorian Era. This chapter is very important, because it illustrates another form of popular culture which served to downgrade women and their role in the society. Although painter’s of this time depicted upper-middle class women, we can still gain a further understanding of women’s role at this time. In this picture “Women’s mission: Companion of Manhood” (Vicinus pg 49) artist George Elgar Hicks portrays the stereotypical middle class Victorian Woman. This painting also further illustrates the role expected of women during the time. When looking at Hicks portrait, I see a kind, passive and subdued wife who is at the beck and call of her husband. Her mission is to serve him. Her role is of subservience and subservience only. As also stated by the title, “Companion of Manhood” one can conclude that women were to play a faithful role in which they were there to serve their all powerful husbands. For these reasons, I found Hick’s portrait very convincing in illustrating women’s roles and expectations in society at the time.
One chapter which does not play a large in role in forming my opinion is chapter 5, which deals with prostitutes and venereal disease. I am disgusted by prostitution and find it the most vice of professions. I do not believe that my opinion has changed, nor for the most part society. Prostitution and venereal disease continue to hold a negative stigma, therefore not making it a sole characteristic of the Victorian Era.
In Chapter 8, Stereotypes of Femininity in a Theory of Sexual Evolution, one can view that attempt of Victorian social scientists and biologists to justify women’s biological differences from men. For example, Spencer, who wrote in The study of Biology, drew non-scientific conclusions in which he makes Judgements on women’s character and ability. He felt that women were seeking approval and were deceitful in their mannerisms. However, he did believe that women were more intuitive then men. Other social scientists who modified Darwin’s theories sought to utilize sex differences as a mean to further demote women. Scottish biologist Patrick Geddes is an example. In the book, The Evolution of Sex, Geddes and his pupil Thomson, use evolution as an explanation as to why women developed in the way in which they did. Although this chapter does not intentionally illustrate examples which degrade women, it does further illustrates societies attempt to typify women’s “Stereotypical” behavior by biological reasons. Although these works have all been discredited, one can see that they did not work in favor of women and their position at that time.
After reading collection of essays, I was horrified by the demeaning manner in which women of the time were treated. Through textual evidence and chapter citations, I have attempted to summarize the contents of this book which served to support my belief that women of the Victorian Era were degraded and discriminated in all aspects of society