The Married Womens Property Act Essay
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Do you agree with the view that the ‘Married Women’s Property Act’ were key milestones in the emancipation of women? (40 marks)
The ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ of 1870 gave women the right to their own property thus ending the stereotypical belief that what belonged to the woman had to belong to the man. This in my opinion was a small but extremely significant step towards the emancipation of women. Both sources 13 and 14 support the view that the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ were key milestones in the emancipation of women to a certain extent, however based on some of the content in source 14 I believe it agrees with the view that the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ were key milestones in the emancipation of women to a lesser degree than source 13.
I also believe that the fact that both sources are written by females makes both sources slightly unreliable, therefore making them disagree with the view that the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ were key milestones in the emancipation of women to a small degree. In addition to this, I would argue that Source 15 disagrees completely with both sources and with the view that the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ were key milestones in the emancipation of women mainly because it is written by the renowned ‘satirical magazine, Punch’.
The first source is an extract from Paula Bartley’s book ‘The Changing Role of Women’. The source already highlights key advantages of the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ some of them being that ‘It allowed women to spend their own money as they wished and so encouraged them to develop their own interests’ firstly, the fact that women were even able to develop their own interests was of huge significance as it was already going against Coventry Patmore’s ‘Angel In The House’ theory which not only gave women a sense of hope and power to strive for bigger change but it was also a gateway to the passing of more Acts which would help give women more rights. Although, many would argue that the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ were very small changes, men at that time didn’t seem to realise that it was the smaller steps that were more important as the men believed that there was no harm in passing small acts which benefited them and kept women quiet at the same time.
However, doing this, only did the opposite as it left women thirsty for more change on a much larger scale, for example the passing of the ‘Education Act’ also meant that women could take part in local elections. The ‘Education Act’ was also putting a stop to the ‘Separate Spheres’ philosophy as women were no longer working in the home as they were supposed to. Even supporters of the ‘Angel in the House’ philosophies would not have been against women who served on the school boards as they were still living up to their roles as ‘Angels’ that being; loving, caring and family orientated, even if this did to a certain extent go against the ‘Separate Spheres’ philosophy of a woman solely belonging and dealing with matters in the home.
Source 14 is another extract from a book called ‘Victorian Women’ the author of this is Joan Perkin. Perkin refers to the act as being ‘a half-hearted measure’ this showing a certain level of disagreement on her part of the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’. This perhaps, reflecting the view of some Victorian women at the time, if women themselves were disagreeing with the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ then many could argue that it wasn’t a key milestone in the emancipation of women because women didn’t even think it was a good idea. Source 14 also disagrees with the view that the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ were key milestones in the emancipation of women as Perkin suggests that men did in fact take more from the act than women did, even though it was passed in order to boost women’s position in society.
Once again, the fact that this is written from a woman’s point of view completely deteriorates the point of the act and would also have made it difficult for women to come forward and fight for their rights. This source agreeing with Source 15 as both agree with the idea that women felt ridiculed and over-powered by the huge role men had within society. However, this book was published in 1993 which is a long time after these events were occurring, and so one would argue that this was because Perkin’s wasn’t of the same time period, she couldn’t possibly understand the importance of such seem ably small reforms as what she saying was simply theoretical and her own opinion, which doesn’t make it accurate or reliable and so one could argue that the source does agree to a slight extent with the view that the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ were key milestones in the emancipation of women.
Source 15 is a cartoon depicting George Osborne Morgan the man responsible for the passing of the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’. Punch Magazine was well known for its sarcasm and for its brilliance at mocking other people’s weaknesses. This in itself shows how much source 15 disagrees with the view that the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ were key milestones in the emancipation of women, because they are obviously critiquing Morgan for passing the acts. In the cartoon Morgan is considerably bigger than both women, this showing he is of higher status than them, which defeats the point of the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ that being that women and men were supposed to be on more equal levels with each other than they had previously been. However, this is not an accurate or reliable source as it is clearly written by men who opposed the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ and whose aim in creating this cartoon was simply to ridicule Morgan with the hope that people may see how ridiculous it is to have passed these acts in the first place.
The illustrators of this cartoon have not only set out to make Morgan look bad, they have also given women a bad image. As you can see from the cartoon, one woman is looking up at Morgan lustfully whilst the other woman holds a scroll with the words ‘Vote/THANKS’ on it, one can insinuate that the illustrators are trying to make women look promiscuous and manipulative in order to get what they want, which they would have used as propaganda to make society understand the true nature of women as a whole, that they cannot be trusted with having so much power. This not only ridicules women further but makes Morgan look stupid as it suggests that he has only passed the act to get something from the women, suggesting that he does not truly believe women should be entitled to their own property.
Other acts following the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ were used to ridicule women. For example, despite the ‘Education Act’, being passed women were still hesitant to come forward and become teachers or school managers, and in an extract from a book called ‘Duties of Women’ by Louisa Hubbard she states that ‘Women are slow to see their duty in these matters and sometimes prefer to think it more feminine to shrink from a definite position’ and this was because of how ridiculed women felt when they strived for bigger more challenging roles in society, and so for these reasons, one would argue that Source 15 disagrees completely with the view that the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ were a key milestone in the emancipation of women as instead of encouraging women to go forward and claim what was rightfully theirs, they still felt over-powered by how important the man’s role in society was, despite the growing number in feminist movements.
Perhaps, taking small steps was in fact of a greater disadvantage to women as it gave men the upper hand, as they could decide when they wanted to pass an act, which even though they would contribute towards women’s emancipation this could ultimately have been seen as an abuse of power on their part.
In conclusion, despite the fact that many believe that the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ was a small change, I believe it to have been of great significance, and was the beginning of several acts which would lead to the emancipation of women. Although, from source 14 we see that some women may have believed against the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ because of how ridiculed they would feel for coming forward and demanding their rights, which may lead many to the argument that if women themselves believed that the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ were a waste of time then this may indeed have been the case. However when taking into account all sides of the argument, it is clear, in my opinion, that many more people would come to the final conclusion that the ‘Married Women’s Property Acts’ were indeed key milestones in the emancipation of women.