Friday, February 13, 2009

Responses for February 20

What is a "true woman"? How does the idea/ideal of the "true woman" relate to questions of power, alterity, and normativity?

Whitney Chadwick, “Sex, Class, and Power in Victorian England,” Chapter 6, Women, Art, and Society, 4th ed. (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2007), pp. 175-204.

Isabella Beeton, Preface and Chapter 1, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861).

Barbara Welter, “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860,” American Quarterly 18, No. 2, Part 1 (Summer 1966): 151-174.

Linda Nochlin, “ Lost and Found: Once More the Fallen Woman,” in Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany, eds. Norma Broude and Mary Garrard (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1982), pp. 221-245.

Anne Higonnet, “Secluded Vision: Images of Feminine Experience in Nineteenth-Century Europe,” in The Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History, eds. Norma Broude and Mary Garrard (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992), pp. 170-185.

Tamar Garb, “L’Art FĂ©minin: The Formation of a Critical Category in Late Nineteenth-Century France,” in The Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History, eds. Norma Broude and Mary Garrard (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992), pp. 206-229.


  1. This is yet another argument in semantics as to the definition of the word power (strength) and its use in different contexts. The power woman sought years ago is completely different from contemporary ideas of power. Men defined power in the 19th Century and women who agreed to play by their rules achieved this false power. According to Barbara Welter’s writing, a woman’s adherence to four oppressive traits defined her level of strength. They were: piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity. Here’s the rub…………………

    Can you not argue that PIETY, PURITY, SUBMISSIVENESS AND DOMESTICITY are all ANTONYMS OF POWER? Adherence to powerlessness is power? If domesticity is mandated by a society then maternity and household chores become shackles. Women were conned into thinking that mundane repetitive housework was intellectually uplifting. “There is far more to learned about pouring out tea and coffee, than most young ladies are willing to believe.” It’s obvious that submissiveness is the opposite of power. Submissiveness is patriarchal slavery. Purity and piety imply a lack of worldly experience that helps create intelligence and character. “One reason religion was valued was that it did not take a woman away from her “proper sphere,” her home. Unlike participation in other societies or movements, church work would not make her less domestic or submissive, less a True Woman.” The biggest problem with most of the True Womanhood writings (crap) of the time was that it came from the mouths of other women. This would make it even harder to debunk.

    Not trying to make light of these grievous oppressions, I’m beginning to draw comparisons to the feelings of these insecure men of yesteryear and myself. Here is my analogy: Because of what I believe to be some form of OCD, I am incapable of buying anything in a store that doesn’t have an heir of complete “brand newness” about it. I will not buy a pair of shoes that I think someone else has tried on. I will grab my shampoo from the very back of the shelf where it has been the least exposed to “shopper germs” and I will never buy cereal in a damaged box (no kidding). I do not however carry this obsession to my outlook on HUMAN BEINGS! That is the distinction between us and that’s what is wrong with these insecure men. They carry this need for brand newness to a sickening degree and it is bred by insecurity. They view women as items to be shopped for and cannot handle the idea of “purchasing” something tainted or used. The problem besides the inequality of the genders is the attaining of these attributes inhibits creativity, intellect and fun.

    The “True Woman” is the Anti-Eve. “She would be another, better Eve, working in cooperation with the Redeemer, bringing the world back “from its revolt and sin.”
    The woman’s spirit must triumph over her sensuality and the weight of the sin of the world must be carried and challenged by her piety. And a pursuit of intellect was said to be in conflict with a woman’s piety. “Women were warned not to let their literary or intellectual pursuits take them away from God.” That’s how you keep the masses dumb; tell them God will be mad if they learn anything outside of his teachings. There’s even a word for it “IRRELIGION” – “female irreligion is the most revolting feature in human character.” That’s worded strangely too….”human character”…..Can a man possess “female irreligion?” – Men were probably incapable of “irreligion.”

    I think the saddest part of this era was the continual definition of women based on their relationship to other people. A woman was a “daughter, sister, mother, and wife” and these roles were stipulated by the woman’s ability to facilitate some sort of a service to the counterpart in these relationships. Her existence as one of these four things came with oppressive expectations. Boiling down a person’s existence to that of a title (and the services expected of that title) can only serve to remove that person’s identity.

  2. We’re coincidentally studying similar gender role issues in my Art and Design of the 1950’s class.

    The following is a link to a hand out given in class from Housekeeping Monthly – May 13, 1955. It’s worth the read if you have the time.


    (Actual article)

  4. I have just read the Household Management chapter, and the extensiveness of every single detail being laid out to the letter is astounding. Every action of a woman's day had to be choreographed. Even with friends, everything had to be done just so, least the mistress' reputation be destroyed, and by effect, her masters. A few items that were a complete surprise to me were not the record keeping of money spent, but the record keeping of VISITS. Women were strongly encouraged to write down the visits they made so it could be determined if their company was welcome or not. This seems like more evidence that women were not thought to have strong minds of their own. If they were not even trusted to figure out if their presence was welcome or not, no wonder men compared them to children, as the True Woman article pointed out.

    Another interesting note in this book was that Beeton said, "The modest virgin, the prudent wife, and the careful matron, are much more serviceable in life than the petticoated philosopher, blustering heroines, or virago queens. She who makes her husband and her children happy... is a much greater character than ladies described in romances, whose whole occupation is to murder mankind with shafts from their quiver, or their eyes." She not only suggests that a woman who strays away from here "proper sphere" is making a mockery of herself, but that a household mistress is BETTER than them. That she is contributed MORE to society by staying at home and attending her husband and children. The romance ladies job is to MURDER MANKIND with LOVE. She also says with their eyes, which makes me think she is talking about the gaze. Women who do not adhere to this rulebook are in effect, meeting a man's gaze, thus assuming more power than they have a right to.

    I could go on all day about these excepts, but I think I'll wait for class...

  5. Wow what a chapter! After reading there were a few things that stuck out to me.
    For instance from the text, How the novel Black Beauty was one of the first to show the love for animals, during the antivisection Movement (to help animal rights). This is bazaar, for the fact that animals got rights and better conditions before women did. The author even describes how black beauty was similar to that of a wife in how she was "a working animal, at the mercy of owners who range from kind to cruel and a beautiful piece of property". One reason this novel was as popular as it is for the fact that the people realized that the animal right issue was really a human issue.
    When reading in the green book, I wasn't shocked to read about the main feminine imagery, and how they made Albums and Amateurs. To me they sounded like modern day's scrapbook. They documented what was going on in there lives, such as the things they did to work up to marriage life. The catch is that the rights and wrongs of society limited what they could or could not place in these books, even though they were for the female's home life only. It was stated in the book that even when a women worked on them, they normally created pages in groups or with a sister, never by them. The subject matter was never accepted outside the household ideals. It was like a public journal that you as a women during this time, could never take into the public.
    The book of Household Management was even crazier. I couldn't believe how everything women did was documented to be a specific way. They even had times during the day that they had to change their clothing, no matter what they were doing; cooking, housework, trips outside the house. For example not only did women have to have everyone approved by their husbands before coming in to the house, but also they had to wear black in order to show respect.
    Oh what a class Friday will be, lots to talk about!

  6. Kevin is right, we're discussing many of these ideas in our Art and Design of the 1950s.

    What jumped out at me was in the Lost and Found article by Nochlin. Near the end in which I can fully relate to..." be an artist is just the same thing as to be a whore, as far as dependence on the whims and fancies of individuals is concerned." Is this why the woman artist has no power? Because shes blasted by both being a woman, and an artist therefore is dependent on two playing fields? Not saying that she would be a prostitute, but dependent on a husband to care for her and provide for her.

    Is a whore not like a wife? Must abide by the man's rules and rely on him for money, food, and other essentials? And what is expected out of a wife? Children (sex), household duties (cleaning)?

  7. is a whore not a wife??... ( just reflecting on this statement in the previous post..
    I can still see women today that seem to be stuck in this postion that has been for many years. these women have been shaped, molded, and trained to have certain duties and bounderies that many not be statement but is understood within thier house. I have seen women that are attacked when simply speakin their personal thoughts. Physically being present in the situation a feeling comes over me of authority.. mastery, superority... I can see how one could compare a whore to a wife.... Whore does whats told for payment... Wife does whats told for support, security,... but these women of today had the choice, which has come a long way from the 19th centery. but maybe herhaps they were raised to believe these things....
    But I hate the world whore beside wife.. for a whore is a person that sells ones self for sexual pleasure or whatever... a wife is suppose to be an equal, a partner ,a companion to be trusted, to mutally treat each other as they would want to be treated.. like the golden rule they teach you in 4th grade.. Do unto others as you would wants others to do unto you.

    Many people still believe that the man supports the wife, the wife abides the male rules in an exchange... I my self was not raised in this manner , my mother repeatedly told me the best feeling in the world was knowing you can take care of YOURSELF.

  8. I would never had made it in those days, I find it hard enough in these days where we have a relative amount of freedom to choose whether or not to conform to these feminine ideals. I have been noticing a lot more lately since taking this class the amount of all of that that still goes on in our every day life, in the media, etc. I am reading this book called "The Beauty Myth", and it speaks about how after women gained more freedom they became enslaved by this myth of the power of beauty. This also goes back to the idea that the power of sexuality is fake. I can really see that in the advertising around us, and in peoples attitudes. It is so similar to the type of propaganda that women read such as Beeten's work. A society telling woman what should be important to her and how she should behave...I honestly ended up having to skim most of Beeten. It was sickening to me. All of that structure like that is crazy-making! I also think about how today, in my life, I catch a lot of shit by not conforming to things. I am not the "ideal woman" by today's standards either. When I stand up for something I believe in, or say something to someone for saying something that is offensive, I get this attitude, even from some women, like "why don't you just let it go/get over it..." those kinds of things.

  9. Dear Class:

    Your graded papers are in your student mailboxes. Attached to each paper is a sheet of generalized comments from me. Please read over my comments (all of them) with care. I hope that you will be able to use my comments for your next paper, due on Monday.

    If you did not do as well as you had hoped, remember that at the end of the semester I will drop the lowest paper grade. So, your goal is to improve on your performance.

    Let me know if you have any questions.

    Ellen D.

  10. Michelle: The difference between a wife and a prostitute is one is paid by salary and one is paid hourly…

    (Not saying I agree with this statement in any way)

    Yet in reading Beeton’s Book of Household Management it seems that women are given a sense of power but to me it is almost a mockery because if they are given this power then why is it questioned or why would a handbook be needed? This goes back to the false power, which to me is demeaning I picked out various text that stood out to me in this handout:

    It seems to start out positively when the women is compared to a commander of an army, we seem to be going somewhere but then once I thought about it it’s like wait a minute why is the household duties a battle is that all women can handle? Because I really think that that is what it is saying.

    …to be a good housewife does not necessarily imply an abandonment of proper pleasure…perhaps seem to be incompatible.

    And it making choices it is always the mistress and, and her family and the household it is never just her.

    I like the cautionary statement of making friends, what I got out of this was if you make friends and women talk ideas will start to be formed and possibly against what is going on.

    “a friendship, which makes the least noise, is often the most useful;…”

    Oh so this one made me think of snow white cleaning for all the dwarfs to come home with the animals in the back ground whistling…

    “CHARITY AND BENEVOLENCE, ARE DUTIES which a mistress owes to herself as well as to her fellow-creatures.

    Wow are we can’t handle the household and we are a creature…

  11. Scrapbooks? Possibly, I was thinking more along the lines of Illustrations, comics even. It seems as though they were more entertainingly documentive. I guess that would define a scrapbook as well, I think its the "spidery captions that tell a story" that makes me want to identify them as comics of some sort.

    There was something satisfyingly enjoyable about the kind of rebellious underworks of the Album painters. It seems as though they were depicted as the victorious underdogs. They were excluded from the world of professional painters, but still gained a respect and value of their own. Something about that seems really encouraging.

    I'm one for organization and planing ahead of time, but really? If my days were planned out anything similar to "The Book of Household Management" I would probably go insane. It seems like more work to follow the plan than to do the actual work.

  12. The Book of Household Management really is strict. Really, though, when I first started reading it, I had forgotten for a minute we were studying the Victorian era, and I read it thinking it was something from the 1950s. A few people mentioned this comparision, and I took Art and Design in the 1950s last year and saw a lot of issues and concepts really similar to these ideals. I somehow feel those two time periods relate a lot in a need of having the "perfect" household being taken care of by the "perfect" housewife.
    This piece was really detailed on controlling what is to be done by the housewife, from taking care of the home to how thoughts are properly "thought" (And I suddenly think of Nineteen Eighty-Four). In conversation, anything that wasn't happy or positive should "never be mentioned to your friends." as well as to "never let an account of her husband's failings" be talked about. Things like temper and anger are mentioned as the wife should be constantly happy and suppress all emotions not of the "housewife type." Speech is really controlled as well as clothes in extremely detailed descriptions; the etiquette rules are also so extensive.
    The ending portion of the chapter really brought up that perfection and "happy wife" aspect as it describes "a good wife is Heaven's last best gift to man" and if she is "good" she "may receive the genuine reward of respect, love, and affection." It's almost like training guidelines for a pet.

  13. The topic of power... In "Secluded Vision", Anne Higonnet suggests that the place women had power was in the home. The duties of a mother raising children, the required chores to stabilize a home... these were things men could not relate to (at least men in the mid-late 19th century like the article stated.) Amateur women artists centralized their artwork around these entities. This included artwork that featured family members and leisure activities being performed within the home (drinking tea, sewing, etc.) I guess drawing and sketching as a leisure activity was important to middle class women, desiring to be a part of higher class art, a characteristic of the bourgeoisie mentality. Higonnet does mention that women who released from the focus of feminine obligations dedicated their observations to the celebration of domestic roles without "playing".

    Question: is the word amateur used because these women artists were not professional?

    How this related to the red book reading: I saw connections through women's roles with family. A fallen woman (due to prostitution or other sexual deviance) could only redeem herself by proving her worthiness to her family. What does this say about woman's power? I came to the conclusion that in the reality of the mid-late 19th century, women didn't really have a significant hold on power. What they did have control over was their family and their role within the home. That's it. What other profession could women have besides being a caretaker and nurturer of children?

  14. I just finished reading the chapters on art and crafts of women and it brings back to the argument of what is considered art and what is craft? How do we define the two exactly? Women seemed to be more of crafters then anything else only because of their lack of education. They did not though lack in in skill(especially in the case of the watercolour album that was split up into seperate pages and sold as individual paintinngs at Sotherby's auctions). It was deemed neccessary for a women in the middle and upper classes epcially that painting, needle point, sewing, drawing, etc were skills that woman needed to show that they were capable as wives for their husbands, especially in the case of sewing in needle point that I learned about through surface design. In a way it was like an advertisement and the book of household management seemed to exemplify this for women to be the best wife (product) for a future husband.

  15. the book of household management felt like the usual propaganda for women--to make them subservient to their husbands. i'm very confused though. since it was written by a woman, Beeton, it feels as if it was printed as a guide to empower women by utilizing proper decorum. i understand there being power in the consistant maintainance of a household, or any structure, yet this manual felt like the same old traditional trap. it read like a guide for women to "self-enslave" themselves. another part i don't understand about the Victorian era is the term "mistress". wouldn't this document be applied more so in the sense of a matrimony, or was it the case back then that the mistress was in a sense just a girlfriend who maintained a man's estate with the possibility for her to be kicked to the curb at his pleasing?

  16. It was very interesting to me, during the two historical readings, how the language associated with 'the feminine' has shifted, in a post-enlightenment society. Women is becoming rather taxonomized, compared with the flower, and the gentler aspects of nature, and overly patronized, especially in the numerous examples from the "Cult of True Womanhood" article.
    A Dr. Miegs examining a Medici-commissioned painting on p. 159 says (with what the essay calls 'clinical gallantry' "Woman has a head almost too small for intellect, but just big enough for love."
    And earlier, in the essay
    "the order of Nature established by Him "who bids the oak brave the fury of the tempest, and the alpine flower lean its cheek on bosom of eternal snows."
    Here, natural, visible examples are directly tied to gender roles and used to illustrate sexual difference. But it is a intellectual/social association that the woman is assigned to be the flower in the first place, so the drawn connection is completely superficial, and not related to any genuine 'natural states' as they relate to men and woman.

    In both works, too, I feel that there is a drive to not only instruct women as to their proper place, which, according to the two works, is one of "piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity" with no inclination towards education in science or politics or the world at a larger scope than the tiny microcosm of the household, but to make them feel proud of overcoming the adversity against setting oneself up as a proper woman: not donning the mantle grudgingly, rather, with a proud bearing, as if being in one's place was the highest accomplishment a woman could hope for.

    In the Household Management chapter, the other thing that stood out to me particularly was the treatment and manner of mention of the "domestics" in the book. There seems to be a connection between the relegation of class and that of gender, especially in the language used. The domestics "partake of the mistress's character", are shaped by her behavior, look up to her, are pliant and unwillful. Also, the attitudes towards the 'uneducated' poor, which a good housekeeper may pay 'instructional' visits to have a very similar patronizing ring to the language separating the male realm from the female realm: one of knowledge and ignorance, instruction and dependence.

  17. Meredith: The same question popped into my head while reading the Higonnet article. I think the term amateur was used not just because they were not professionals, but they were not allowed or given the opportunity to be anything else.

    Everything they created was small scaled and the subject matter of the private sphere. Women were not give access to any means in which to full develop any talent they may have had.

    Depiction of femininity, in public or private, seemed sadly one sided. The men crated a structured role for them to follow, and women made work that played back into it. Even public ads played on the emotional and physical aspects of womanhood.

  18. Never read a book by it's cover, right? So does that apply to it's title as well because I for one, upon reading "The Cult of True Womanhood" assumed it would discuss the virtue of woman, the power of woman... the title alone just sounds powerful, or at least to me it...THE CULT OF WOMANHOOD! However, the title, for me, did me no justice because I was excited, thinking that I'd enjoy this reading but it was the complete opposite of that. Almost every other sentence enraged me just a little bit more than the one before it. "A true woman was a true woman, wherever she was found"--wherever? And define "true" if there's a true woman, then must there be a "false" woman as well? So in order to be known as a true woman, she must feel herself "weak and timid". So the saying behind every strong man, is a stronger woman just goes right out of the window?

    The reference of the "hand" is mentioned again as well, "her frail white hand". Why frail? Almost nothing about this reading lifts the woman up. It only minimizes her. With phrases like "piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity...", "put them all together and they spell mother, daughter, sister, wife--woman". WOW! If not to add salt to an open wound the author goes on to say that with these "four cardinal virtues she's promised to be happy and power! Wow again.

    To boldly say that "religion is just what woman needs" because without it she will be restless and unhappy really gets under my skin. So, this does not apply to the man, right? She must be a saint and tranquilize her "longings" but a man doesn't? It disturbs me to read that while men were to be religious, "they rarely had time".