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Oneill guides the reader through sections about fashion and beauty trends, general hygiene practices or lack thereof , and expectations for courtship and marriage. That bitter, dark brew underneath, as it turns out, is rich with information that will amuse and sometimes horrify its readers. Other words she uses: dear one, missy, chubby little cherub, my virgin flower, my little dumpling, you tawdry thing, dearheart, my gosling, pet, fragile flower, and my intelligent companion. She oscillates between playing the role of the benevolent, all-knowing guide; the conspiring comrade and confidante; the whipsmart friend; and the expert Victorian slang translator. The reader, she presumes, is weary of 21st century fashions, and excited to wear elaborate dresses to ornate parties — surely a Jane Austenphile. Beauty standards were the same then as they are now — narrow, damaging and highly variable by class. To mold their bodies into the desirable and impossible to achieve physiques, women wore corsets ribbed with steel and whalebones. Hoop skirts resembling cages served as the structural support and weight distributor for heavy layers of crinoline and petticoats. Through irreverent prose, readers learn that powdery white lead was used as a makeup base, until enough enamel-faced women dropped dead from lead poisoning. Also, a significant amount of women, as Oneill explains, slept with raw meat tied to their faces as a preventative treatment for wrinkles the idea came from trying to replace fatty tissue with other fatty tissues.
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What happened behind closed Victorian bedroom doors was a taboo subject.
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The most common way to characterize a society at a given time is to divide it into social classes and evaluate the differences between each group. However, the period known as the Victorian era in England, from to , witnessed such polarized gender roles that it can also be analyzed according to the different functions assigned to men and women, more commonly known as the ideology of separate spheres. Following such principles allowed men, allegedly controlled by their mind or intellectual strength, to dominate society, to be the governing sex, given that they were viewed as rational, brave, and independent. Women, on the other hand, were dominated by their sexuality, and were expected to fall silently into the social mold crafted by men, since they were regarded as irrational, sensitive, and dutiful. The majority of women did not have the option not to marry: it was simply a necessity for survival. Therefore, no matter what the women desired, most were predestined to become wives due to their economic reliance on men. This requirement of chastity and absolute purity was not expected of men, as the potential husband had the freedom to participate in premarital and extramarital sexual relationships. Such a biased idea was one of many double standards in Victorian society, which demanded unquestionable compliance from women and none from men, since the women were thought to be controlled by their sexuality and were thus in need of regulation. After a woman married, her rights, her property, and even her identity almost ceased to exist. By law she was under the complete and total supervision of her husband: thus through marriage, husband and wife became one person; whatever view he presented was the unquestionable truth Perkin

Foucault pointed out that, far from being silenced, sex was spoken everywhere in the 19th century in a wide range of contexts including the law, medicine, religion, education. Much academic and popular work since has considered the many ways in which Victorians did experience and speak of desire. Albert really is quite charming, and so excessively handsome, such beautiful blue eyes, an exquisite nose, and such a pretty mouth with delicate moustachios and slight but very slight whiskers; a beautiful figure, broad in the shoulders and a fine waist. Gendered ideals of the sexual purity of the respectable woman, though never unchallenged, helped to enshrine a sexual double-standard. This double-standard is apparent in legislation such as the Matrimonial Causes Act of women could be divorced on the grounds of their adultery alone, while it had to be proved that men had exacerbated adultery with other offences. Similarly unequal were the notorious Contagious Diseases Acts of the s which aimed to deal with rife sexually transmitted disease in the armed forces by the forcible medical examination of women prostitutes in garrison towns. While recent work has done a lot to complicate overly simple ideas of Victorian prudery, the idea of Victorian sexual repression lingers. It has powerful roots in the prominent anti-Victorianist stance of modernist authors, notably Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf. In Eminent Victorians Strachey sought to liberate his generation from the perceived reticence and ignorance, especially in sexual matters, of their pre-Freudian fathers and grandfathers. In Steven Marcus elaborated on such views in his long and influential The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England , which presented the Victorians as sexual hypocrites, maintaining a veneer of respectable society over an underbelly of prostitution and pornography.

The most common way to characterize a society at a given time is to divide it into social classes and evaluate the differences between each group. However, the period known as the Victorian era in England, from to , witnessed such polarized gender roles that it can also be analyzed according to the different functions assigned to men and women, more commonly known as the ideology of separate spheres.

Following such principles allowed men, allegedly controlled by their mind or intellectual strength, to dominate society, to be the governing sex, given that they were viewed as rational, brave, and independent.

Women, on the other hand, were dominated by their sexuality, and were expected to fall silently into the social mold crafted by men, since they were regarded as irrational, sensitive, and dutiful. The majority of women did not have the option not to marry: it was simply a necessity for survival.

Therefore, no matter what the women desired, most were predestined to become wives due to their economic reliance on men. This requirement of chastity and absolute purity was not expected of men, as the potential husband had the freedom to participate in premarital and extramarital sexual relationships. Such a biased idea was one of many double standards in Victorian society, which demanded unquestionable compliance from women and none from men, since the women were thought to be controlled by their sexuality and were thus in need of regulation.

After a woman married, her rights, her property, and even her identity almost ceased to exist. By law she was under the complete and total supervision of her husband: thus through marriage, husband and wife became one person; whatever view he presented was the unquestionable truth Perkin Indeed it is understandable to see why many women saw marriage as falling little short of slavery.

Motherhood, unfortunately, in reality was not any more respected than marriage. Such was the overall view. However, as with marriage, there were unjust requirements and unfair expectations. Firstly, motherhood was almost always separated from anything sexual. Sex for any other reason than creating children was viewed as dirty and scandalous, quite separate from the revered sexless image of motherhood.

This meant that mothers also had to be religious, since religion supported the view of women as free of sexual passion and gratification. For example, in , Annie Besant was denied the custody of her daughter because she had written in a magazine promoting birth control, sex for pleasure, and was an admitted atheist. As Holmes and Nelson relate:. Thus mothers were viewed by men as angelic only if they seemed to eschew sex, were meek, submissive, and conforming.

Mothers, men kept in mind, were also women controlled by their emotions, and were socially accepted as long as they stayed in their sphere of submissiveness and passivity. Therefore it seemed that despite the superficially elevated positions of wives and mothers, women were alone in a world ruled by men. Laws designed to benefit men over women were hard to overlook. Besides the legality of marital rape and wife-battery, the husband also had complete say in sexual intercourse.

Refusal of sex was grounds for annulment of marriage Perkin The issue of adultery was also skewed to favor men. The reasoning was that wives and mothers served as moral guides to children, so adultery committed by a woman was considered perverted and unnatural. And thus men believed that unless there was an explicit rule against it, men were free to treat women any way they wanted without any shame.

Men justified their actions with their supremacy and expected women to tolerate the abuse without demur. Kent goes on to argue that not only had men failed to protect the interests of women; they were almost incapable of it. If women were looked upon as ruled by their sexual reproductive systems in the institutions of marriage and motherhood, they could not expect any more protection or understanding from the legal system.

However because wives and mothers were not truly respected, my belief is that prostitution reflected what men really considered all women to be: whores for the gratification of their sexual desires.

Ironically, in a society that was not open to women working outside the home, prostitution seemed to be the only profession protected by law.

To begin with, sex as a subject was not at all discussed. Sexuality and anything in relation to it contradicted the accepted notions of purity and was strictly looked down upon. Masturbation was so demonized that it was considered a mental disorder. Victorians, it seemed, simply could not understand why anyone would voluntarily choose to participate in such revolting and degrading activities. If women foolishly attempted to undertake study, he concluded, they risked ruining forever their childbearing capacities Perkin From an early age girls were taught they were useless; supported by the ideology of separate spheres, women lived their lives in conditions that some feminists saw as being close to slavery.

If women were going to fight against the oppression forced on them by men, they had to get to the root of the problem, and the idea of the separate spheres was the basis.

We were girls, you see, and what use were girls anyway?



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