Essay, 2011, 16 Seiten
From the mid-19 th century on, the hitherto largely male dominated US-American society felt compelled to face the first wave of feminism, which united women in their fight for equality. Although women had contributed a great deal to the colonization of the USA, they had not been granted the civil right to vote in national and local elections until the passage of the 19 th amendment to the Constitution in 1920, which stated that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” (National Archives and Records Administration).
At a time when the US saw themselves confronted with major social and economic changes, among others caused by the industrialization, the influence of science (e.g. Darwin’s revolutionary theory of evolution, transportation by means of the first continental railroad completed in 1869) gender specific role models were affected, too. As these developments caused feelings of insecurity in many people, much importance was attached to the own home, which was seen as a haven of security amidst social and economic turmoil (Shanley 3).
The making of a stereotype like that of the “Victorian Lady” or the “Southern Lady” can be seen as an attempt to create a solid authority in a time of radical changes.
The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 posed a challenge to the Protestant Americans as the lifestyle of the Catholic Creoles differed greatly from the ones in the rest of the US. The beliefs - comprising, amongst others, religious ones - and values of the Creole community were met with rejection and were sometimes described as un-American.
2.1 The “Southern Lady”
The American feminine ideal of the “Southern Lady” represents the equivalent to the English feminine ideal of the “Victorian Lady”. The term “Victorian Lady” refers to the era of Queen Victoria’s reign (1827-1901) in England and describes the ideal woman as “The Angel in the House” (Langland 87). This term originated from a poem by Coventry Pat-more (1823-1896), in which he depicted his wife Emily, whom he thought to be the embodying of the perfect Victorian wife (Hobson 16), as a woman who lives in selfless devotion to her children and submits to her husband. Another frequent term depicting the ideal woman is that of the “Ministering Angel”. In her 1899 novel The Awakening, Kate Chopin characterizes the “Southern Lady” as somebody who “esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels” (Walker 26). Although this “domestic ideology […] granted women substantial (if not symbolic) power as moral authorities, […] that moral authority was largely restricted to the confines of the home” (Poplawski 415). In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, a representation of the “Southern Lady” can be found in the figure of Adèle Ratignolle, who is described as embodiment a “mother-woman” (Walker 26).
A Victorian couple’s world consisted of two spheres; a public one and a private one. Whereas to men the public sphere represented an open world and several possibilities, the women’s sphere was confined to the household’s privacy and the raising of children. However, the woman’s role was not seen as confining or restrictive, but idealized in a false way; the woman’s role was that of a “guardian of the ‘sacred place’, home” (King 9) 1 . While men had to cope with the rude outside world, “women’s perfect compliance, obedience, innocence, and refinement would make them too easy to victimize in the competitive public world” (Mitchell 267). Not only were women supposed to be obedient to her hus-band and devoted to raising their children, but also, when entering marriage, they had to depend on their husbands financially. The common perception of marriage was still highly influenced by Wiliam Blackstone, one of the most influential figures in the 18 th century. In 1765, he defined a woman’s role in marriage as follows: “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband” (Johnson Lewis. Blackstone Law Commentaries). Upon entering marriage, women were deprived of such fundamental rights as the right of property or the right of financial freedom as “by law virtually all of a woman’s property became her husband’s […]” (Pool 181).
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