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Indudtrialisation, Class & Culture: The Early Victorians Essay

Dorothy Thompson was born on 9 July 1893 in Lancaster, New York, to a Methodist pastor and his wife. Her mother died when she was eight years old. She was sent in 1908 to relatives in Chicago, as a result of her frequent disagreements with her stepmother. (“Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961)). ” In 1914, Thompson graduated from Syracuse University, after which she joined the women’s suffrage movement. In 1917, she moved to New York and started a career as a journalist. (“Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961)). ”

She tried to exercise her career in Germany, beginning in 1920. After five years, she already “headed the Berlin bureau of the New York Post and the Public Ledger. ” However, in 1934, she was forced to vacate Germany due to her negative writings about Adolph Hitler and the Nazis. Thereafter, she returned to America to write political editorials and commentaries. As a prominent journalist, she was considered one of the most influential women in America. She was also the “most syndicated woman journalist in the country.

” She wrote many political articles, mainly relating to the Nazis, but she also wrote about women’s issues, since she wrote a monthly column for the Ladies Home Journal entitled “On the Record. ” (“Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961)). ” One of the commentaries Thompson wrote concerning women was her opinion about women in the Victorian age. According to her, women at that time were considered and treated as outsiders in society. This paper shall examine the validity of her conclusion by looking at the historical and societal events during the Victorian period, particularly those relating to the role of women in all aspects of Victorian life.

Victorian Theory The starting point of this inquiry could be the perception of those who lived in the Victorian Age of matters relating to sex and sexuality. Scholars believe that theories relating to sex and sexuality were “unavoidable issues for the Victorians. ” (Lee). The primary impression about men and women of the Victorian age is that they are pedantic and sexually repressed. However, this prevalent view has been constantly questioned and even challenged through historical accounts. (Lee). This matter, however, is not the most significant aspect of Victorian theory of sex and sexuality that is relevant to Thompson’s assertions.

The more important question involves the determination of the treatment of men and women in Victorian society. More particularly, it is important to know the basis of such treatment. Victorian men and women were generally not regarded as equals. Men were seen as superior to women; and as a consequence of this perception, women were delegated roles of less importance in society while men took on the more important ones. Victorian Theorists Spencer and Geddes Herbert Spencer and Patrick Geddes were the leading theorists in the Victorian Age who probed the issue of sexuality and gender differentiation.

They immediately took notice of the differences in physical and physiological aspects of men and women. Aside from this, they saw in men and women two different sets of attributes, which formed the basis of their stereotypical dyadic model based on the two sexes. (Lee). Led by these two, Victorian theorists divided the sphere of men and women into two, and delegated certain tasks to men and women, based on their perceived differences. It is believed that the differences in their attributes began form the earlier forms of life. (Lee). The foundation of this division of sphere was the belief that men and women had different energy levels.

Men were considered as the “active agents,” while women were considered sedentary. To men were attributed the katabolic nature of temperament, which means they release energy, while to women were attributed the anabolic nature of temperament, which nurtured energy. (Lee). The Division of Spheres and its Biological Foundation The division of spheres between men and women in the Victorian Age is primarily based on biological grounds. It was believed that men’s role in the home is only fertilization, which leaves him free to do other, more energy-consuming activities, such as hunting or foraging.

Moreover, it was believed that only men had the capacity for abstract reasoning, a sign of “highly-evolved life. ” (Lee). On the other hand, women were constantly seen in the home beset by biological occurrences, such as pregnancy and menstruation. This led to the notion that women were passive and weak, that they can no longer pursue other activities outside the home. It should be noted that at this point in time, menstruation was believed to be a time of woman’s “illness, debilitation, and temporary insanity. ” Thus, women were told to stay home to save her energy, while men were allowed to pursue other activities outside the home.

Geddes’ theories were more sweeping. He claimed that not only did men possess greater intelligence and energy than women, they also had greater independence and courage. It was apparent that Geddes found this assertion unfair to women, and so he attributed certain characteristics to them. However, these attributes were still of a domestic nature; namely, “constancy of affection and sympathetic imagination. ” While men were given the attribute of intelligence, women were limited to the gift of rapid intuition. In addition, women were given passive attributes such as great patience, open-mindedness, and a keen appreciation of subtle details.

(Lee). The “Family Claim” Jane Addams discussed another, more degrading pattern found in the lives of women in the Victorian Age. She called it the “family claim. ” (“Life for Women”). According to Addams, Victorian women were considered as mere possessions by their families. Men were initially given the same regard, but such treatment waned by the end of the 18th century. (“Life for Women”). This notion of the “family claim” was grounded on many reasons, the foremost of which is the role of Victorian women in the home.

To women were delegated most, if not all, of the housework, such as cleaning, cooking and aiding ailing people. Another factor that underlies the “family claim” is the women’s role in birth and child rearing. She is the one seen as responsible for carrying a child in her womb, and the one responsible for caring for the infant after the latter was born. Women were also responsible for birth control, such that unplanned pregnancy can be blamed to tem and not to the men. (“Life for Women”). Finally, women at the time did not have money-making occupations, as their main activities were domestic.

Hence, the control of the family over women, who were seen as dependents on the men for support, was considerably great. (“Life for Women”). Women’s Profession and Education As gleaned from the above discussion, women lived in a state that is only a tad better than slaves. Since only men were seen as capacitated to work for a living, most, if not all, women had no independent means of subsistence. This leaves women with no other better choice than to obey the men. Moreover, women were not allowed to follow any occupation, as such is not part of their duties, which all belong in the home.

These situations are based on even more fundamental difference in treatment. Only boys were allowed access to universities; thus women received less education than boys. This aggravated the problem of women concerning employment and independent means of living. (“Women’s Status in Mid 19th Century England A Brief Overview”). Marriage The institution of marriage was another factor that contributed to the unpleasant treatment of women in the Victorian Age. The concept of marriage during the period was fraught with many notions and beliefs about women and their role and society.

Most of these notions were negative and demeaning, and had no other function than to emphasize the higher position occupied by the husband in the home hierarchy. (“Women’s Status in Mid 19th Century England A Brief Overview”). Since women had no opportunity to earn a living independently during the Victorian Age, most had no choice but to marry someone who could provide such necessities for her. Moreover, women who expressed their desire to remain unmarried were not regarded favorably and were condemned to social disapproval. (“Women’s Status in Mid 19th Century England A Brief Overview”).

This primary motivation for women to marry in the Victorian age was due to their lack of sufficient education. Women were only taught domestic duties and were left uneducated in other, more important aspects of life. Moreover, women were told at such a young age that they have to marry someday, as their future roles would only be as wives. (“Women’s Issues Then and Now”). The situation gets even worse after a woman gets married. Everything that she owns, including herself, becomes property of the husband. This means that the man can do anything to the woman without her express consent.

The man is also authorized by law to exercise complete control and dominion over his wife’s body. The marriage contract contains “a vow to obey her husband. ” Thus, a married woman has no choice but to obey her husband and allow him access to her body if he wants the same. (“Women’s Status in Mid 19th Century England A Brief Overview”). Marriage was an instrument by which women experienced great degradation. They were non-entities in all aspects of life, especially in law. “Women were, under the law, ‘legally incompetent and irresponsible. ’” Thus, they cannot act except where their husbands gave their consent thereto.

In addition, they were afforded neither legal rights nor personal property. (“Women in the Victorian Age”). Marriage was also an instrument for the further strengthening of the notion that women were mere objects or chattels, owned by their husbands. Thus, under the law, “a husband and wife are one person, and the husband is that person. ” Only husbands had the right to act, women were mere passive actors in Victorian society. (“Women in the Victorian Age”). The unfortunate existence of women during this period was dramatically described by Florence Fenwick Miller in 1890, thus:

Under exclusively man-made laws women have been reduced to the most abject condition of legal slavery in which it is possible for human beings to be held… under the arbitrary domination of another’s will, and dependent for decent treatment exclusively on the goodness of heart of the individual master. (“Women’s Status in Mid 19th Century England A Brief Overview”). The Deviant View of Victorian Women Amidst the prevalent view of women as slaves or property of men or their families, there is a rather atypical notion of women during the Victorian Age.

This notion placed women on a pedestal and treated them as goddesses. They were even worshipped in some accounts. This concept of women was reflected primarily in Victorian novels, movies and television shows. (“Women’s Status in Mid 19th Century England A Brief Overview”). However, this notion is too much of a contradiction to the real state of affairs in the Victorian Age. The real situation consisted of the different treatment between men and women, particularly as to their rights, duties, education and occupation. Personal Viewpoint

This writer agrees with the assertion of Dorothy Thompson that women were treated as “outsiders” during the Victorian Age. Having seen the disadvantaged position of women from that period, such conclusion is inescapable. Women were not allowed to participate in relevant affairs because they were seen as the “weaker sex. ” Despite proof that they are able to take on great responsibilities and that they possess intelligence as much as men, Victorian society did not see them fit to acquire sufficient education to equip them with skills to earn independent living.

Women had been the pillars of the Victorian home, but they were degraded by placing them under the control and supervision of their husbands or their families. Worse, women had been treated inhumanely, as they were regarded as chattels or property for the longest time. Men and women were divided into two spheres, despite the lack of basis to do so aside from mere physical makeup and biased social conclusions. Men were seen as the active actors while women were seen as the passive actors. These attributes were ascribed to men and women, despite the fortitude manifested by women in performing all the duties assigned to her by society.

Given all these, it is easy to agree to the proposition that men had been considered as mere outsiders in Victorian society, next only to men who were the ones who enjoyed preferential status, with all the benefits appurtenant thereto. Works Cited “Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961). ” Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site. 11 Dec. 2006 <http://www. nps. gov/archive/elro/glossary/thompson-dorothy. htm>. “Late Victorian England. ” 10 Dec. 2006 <http://www. britainexpress. com/History/Late_Victorian_Age. htm>. Lee, Elizabeth. “Victorian Theories of Sex and Sexuality. ” 1997. 10 Dec. 2006 <http://www. victorianweb. org/gender/sextheory.

html>. “Life for Women. ” 10 Dec. 2006 <http://www. victoriaspast. com/LifeofVictorianWoman/LifeofVictorianWoman. html>. “Queen Victoria and Victorian England – the Young Queen. ” 10 Dec. 2006 <http://www. britainexpress. com/History/Young_Queen_Victoria. htm>. “Women in the Victorian Age. ” 10 Dec. 2006 <http://caxton. stockton. edu/browning/stories/storyReader$3>. “Women’s Issues Then and Now. ” 11 Dec. 2006 <http://www. cwrl. utexas. edu/~ulrich/femhist/marriage. shtml>. “Women’s Status in Mid 19th Century England A Brief Overview. ” 11 Dec. 2006 <http://members. lycos. co. uk/HastingsHistory/19/overview. htm>.


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