Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Modern Woman

Lynn Abrams's chapter on First-Wave feminism recounts the origins and breadth of this movement, which resulted in improvements in education (ability to attend the university), access to the professions, greater legal recognitions of women's rights within marriage and a nearly universal suffrage in Europe and the United States of America. This chapter fits squarely under the theme of feminism, but also relates to virtually all other themes except religion.

Abrams claims that the real impetus for First-Wave feminism was purely economic and political. I think she too strongly asserts this since each of these have more remote causes based in more fundamental areas such as culture, ideas and patterns of behavior. She actually seems to side with culture when later writing that "it was when 'the crust of patriarchy' began to crack from 1848 onwards" that organized feminism came about. Early feminists organized themselves through the release of statements (like the Quaker women's Declaration of Sentiment), political lobbying and protests. This process in turn assured greater women's rights as the women involved increased in oratory and written skill. They were successful in creating their own language and platform, from which they could activize on their own terms. Abrams also focuses on the relationship between socialism and First-Wave feminism, which was fruitful, but also split the feminist cause along class lines.

Masculinity in the British Empire

This chapter focuses on how conceptions of masculinity drove British imperialism in the period from 1880-1900. Professor Tosh asserts that "empire was man's business" in a literal sense. This is true in two ways. First, empire's "acquisition and control depended disproportionately on the energy and ruthlessness of me," and second, "its place in the popular imagination was mediated through literary and visual images which consistently emphasized positive male attributes." Since the chapter uses many examples of the effects of the man-making empire on labor patterns and also class considerations, I include this reading under the themes of gender, categories of difference (certain classes were more affected by the imperial propaganda program), and employment and work.

The author himself is not guilty of being caught up in the glorification of either empire or masculinity. He in fact seeks to undermine the role of increased masculinization by claiming that this last flourish of British ultra-masculinity was actually a symptom of weakness. While Britain--except between the years 1899-1902--was not at war during this period, they saw their international holdings as increasingly threatened by a hostile international environment. The saber-rattling and rhetoric about the need to defend the empire was therefore subsequent to fears about the instability of the empire.

I do not necessarily agree with Tosh on this point. The correlation of Britain's relative decline and increased masculine rhetoric is interesting, but it is difficult to establish causation here. During the allied bombings of Germany in WWII, German production in war materials actually doubled as the people became more resolved to survive, more angry, etc. For late 19th century British men, increased international competition from Germany, France and Belgium may well have initiated more "struggle, duty, action, will and 'character.'" Whether an increase in these traits results in greater masculinity is a matter of semantics.

Image: The Colonization of Africa.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Middle-Class" Domesticity Goes Public: Gender, Class, and Politics from Queen Caroline to Queen Victoria

Dror Wahrman traces the political treatment of the middle class of England through the decades of the 1820s and 1830s. As the title denotes, the main development he is tracing is the incorporation of women and the domestic into the political conception of the middle class. The brunt of his argument is found in one of the concluding sentences of the article which reads: “The picture of the ‘middle class’ as the epitome of hearth and home, in sum, should be viewed not as a straightforward snapshot of essential social practice but, rather, as a charged and contingent historical invention.”

Wahrman’s article opens on comparing two statements made by novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The first statement, contained in an 1831 essay, establishes a clear dichotomy between public and private, leaving public opinion to men and fashion to women. However, two years after that statement was published Bulwer-Lytton again discussed public opinion and fashion but did not divide relegate the categories to men and women respectively; rather, the categories were relegated to the middle class and aristocracy, respectively. Wahrman suggests that the difference in texts is not coincidental but reflects that the categories “middle class,” “public,” “private,” “masculine” and “feminine,” “invoked changing ranges of meanings and . . . carried different stakes at different moments.”

The trial of public opinion surrounding the episode of Queen Caroline in the 1820s asserted the opinion of the “middle class” was altogether male. The instance of women engaging in the public discourse surrounding Queen Caroline contained in the article was an address to the queen which was printed in the Examiner and the women are excessively meek in their writing saying at one point, “We are unaccustomed to public acts.” However, Caroline was considered “a woman’s cause” as “women acted as defenders of familial values and communal morality.” Nevertheless, at this time women were not considered part of the middle class voice speaking out against the injustice facing Caroline.

The rhetoric used to discuss the middle class changed with the passage of The Reform Bill of 1832, although there is some debate as to whether or not some social change on a longue duree level had not occurred earlier. Nonetheless, the middle class began to be associated with familial values, particularly with religious devotion and soberness, all which placed increased emphasis on the domestic—traditionally the woman’s realm. Wahrman evokes Joan Scott in his discussion quoting from her “Gender: A Useful Category of Analysis” the following phrase: “the concept of class in the nineteenth century relied on gender for its articulation.” Wahrman’s article and his tracing of notions of what defines middle classness reflects the validity of Scott’s statement.

Thematic Categories: Categories of Difference (Middle Class vs. Aristocracy—something I didn’t mention much, but very explicit in the discussion of Queen Caroline), Gender, Marriage and Family, Feminism (discussion of Mary Wollstonecraft, William Thompson, among other feminist writers)

Monday, March 16, 2009

1848 and European Feminism

In the 1860s, according to Karen Offen, the "fissures in the crust of patriarchy" split open as the "molten lava of feminist protest against women's subordination" flowed outward. This volcanic change occurred despite the fact that during the 1850s "counterrevolutionary forces . . . brutally suppressed feminist activism in most societies" (European Feminisms, 109).

This raises questions about why "the woman question" was perceived as so dangerous to mid-century governments.

Offen also asserts that women's participation in and impact upon 1848 has been "incompletely understood." She states that one reason for this might be because "it seemed too disruptive to historians preoccupied by a male-centered political agenda" (Offen, 109). That is a very provocative statement. With which historiogoraphic tradition is Offen conversing? What is she suggesting about the history of 19th century politics?

Image: Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830 (from Web Gallery of Art)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Politics of Women's Work: The Paris Garment Trades 1750-1915

This article delves into the dramatic industrial developments of the 19th century and their correlating effects on the changes in both the perception and the nature of woman's work. The first and possibly most important development discussed is the invention and introduction of the sewing machine into industrial France in 1829. Coffin argues that the sewing machine paved the way for new discussions about gender roles and, in the implicated woman's work involved in the garment industry. With the advent of industrialization, woman's work became a concretely defined and separate endeavor from man's work. With women drawn out of familial enterprise and into factories this distinction between male and female work became synonymous with the distinction between "work that was skilled and unskilled, craft and cheap, honorable and demeaning, productive and pathological." The introduction of the sewing machine initially caused anxiety among women workers that the mechanization of a formerly female responsibility would only further marginalize and displace women's work.

This association of women with low quality labor is complicated by Coffin's analysis of Dupin's ideas about woman's education. Dupin's theory was that women should be taught basic geometry and applied mechanics in a trade school because of the precision, regularity, and symmetry needed for women's industrial work. According to Dupin, since the female body was weak, the forces which they do possess must be cultivated and fully utilized, just as one would attempt to fully utilize any economic force. This thoery represents the types of questions about women and thier assorted capacities which the innovations and changes of the industrial era inspired.
Dupin goes on to discuss the developement of ready-made clothing and the subsequent immergence of departement stores; enterprises which marigalized the work of skilled tailors. These tailors added to the negative view of women during this period. As Dupin says, "as the tailors saw it, the decline of skills and ruinous competition were enseparable from feminization" because of the association, discussed earlier, of women with unskilled work.

Categories: Education, Employment, Gender
Image: Jacques-Louis David, Portrait of Madame Adélaide Pastoret 1791-92, oil on canvas. Image from Web Gallery of Art:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Socialism, Feminism, and the Socialist Women's Movement from the French Revolution to World War II

Charles Sowerwine argues in this article that the feminist movement and the socialist movement have the same roots in European politics. Specifically both of these political movements stretch back to post-Revolution France where many began to question the disparity between the rhetoric of universal rights and the exclusionary policies of the Revolutionary Tribunal and later of the Napeolonic government. Women's rights and the rights of workers originated in a very closely-linked platform of socialism. Sowerwine than investigates Germany, France and England in an effort to gauge the success that women had in each of these areas in gaining rights either within or without the socialist movement. German women seem to have had the most success as the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) created a special niche for socialist women to fill and a group for them to join when women were not allowed by German law to participate actively in politics. Sowerwine argues that this special grouping of socialist women enhances their indivuality and encouraged them to take an active part in the SPD when their were allowed in by law. Next, Sowerwine argues that the French had great difficulty in bridging the gap between Socialism and Feminism. One reason for this difficulty, as argued by Sowerwine, is that there was a distinct class barrier between the two movements. While working class were attracted to socialism, middle-class women seemed to dominate the feminist-leaning parties of the day. Class distinctions put women within these two groups at odds with each other on a regular basis. Lastly, England seemed to have split the difference between the success of German women and the difficulty in France. While there was a consistent lack in England of a socialist movement, the suffragette movement gave many women the oppurtunity to gain some access to political debates. The party most open to women's suffrage in England, the Independent Labor Party, was later encompassed by the Labor Party along with other socialist-leaning parties in England. This umbrella movement allowed women to ally themselves with the Labor Party as a major force in English politics of the day.

Categories: Feminism, Categories of Difference, Citizenship, Labor.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

From the Salon to the Schoolroom

The article starts talking about the patriarchy of the society, stating that in divorce men were often granted sole custody of their children. Rogers then quickly introduces the Napoleonic Code, explaining that it restricted women's rights within the family. This gave women a different degree of autonomy that redefined their relationships with not only the family, but also the state. In the thesis of her introduction, Rogers informs that like Hesse and Dean she is "interested in women's writings and social practices and how these created opportunities for women in the first three decades of the new century." 
In her main body, Rogers explains the reservations held towards women's involvement in intellectual studies, whether they be private or public. In particular, Napoleon felt women needed to be "contained" and controlled. Following this, Rogers cites three women- Francoise Therese Antoinette Le Groing la Maisonneuve, Albertine-Adrinne Necker de Saussure, and Claire-Elise Jeanne Gravier de Vergennes. These women were all educated, but their evenutal viewpoints still conflicted concerning the education of women, especially with the onset of the Revolution. The revolution changed everything for women, and Rogers makes a point of this: Women were not in a new political order, and as such many strove to elevate their status.
In Roger's conclusion, she wraps up by saying that the "reconstruction of the family" in the first decades of the first century was both a symbolic and a material problem. Literature reflected this by "(authors placed their) heroines in situations that force them to confront and to conform to new standards of bourgeoisie femininity." Due to this, women felt more able to challenge their status. This gave them a new place in the world, though their new place was labeled simply a "social space" that "by midcentury, the nuances were largely lost, and historians have rushed perhaps too quickly to accept the division of public and private that the Revolution and the Napoleonic Code seemed to reinforce. Moreover, these intellectual constructs pose problems for understanding the role of more social spaces, such as schools."

The End. :)  

Categories: Education, Work, Gender, Families, Politics

Monday, March 2, 2009

"What is needed now is a perceptual shift to help account more convincingly for what we already know. Scholars are familiar with that most satisfying of tasks here: finding plausible links between apparently unconnected bits of information. The result will be not only a fuller picture of the past but also a different one. The operative image is not the discovery of missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of the past, but rather a turn of the historical kaleidoscope. The colored stones collected so far will remain in view when it is held to the light, but their hues and positions will have changed."
Mary S. Hartman The Household and the Making of History (Cambridge, 2004), 242

Hartman suggests that the northwest European marriage pattern set up an entirely unique gender and family dynamic that in turn created the path of western history. Do you agree? Does Hartman's explanation for patriarchy and early modern gender also explain some of our contemporary attitudes about masculinity and femininity?