Monday, April 11, 2011

The Belle Epoque, the New Women, and the Suffrage Movement

Emmeline Pankhurst writes her story of the women’s struggle for suffrage in the twentieth century. She tells of her childhood and how she always seemed to notice that society esteemed men above women. At just fourteen years old she attended her first suffrage meeting instilling early on her firm belief that women should have the opportunity to vote just as the men did.

Pankhurst then follows with the countless attmepts of the suffragettes to gain suffrage women. Time and time again Herbert Henry Asquith, the Liberal Liberal Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, promised to propose a bill allowing the vote to women, however, every time he was able sneak out of it and go yet another year without allowing it. Pankhursts noted that ironically, Mr Asquith’s broken promises only “resulted in a strengthening of the woman-suffrage agitation all over the country”. After avoiding proposing the bill in 1910, 1911, and 1912, only two members of the house, Mr. Henderson and Mr. Keir Hardie had the boldness to stand up and declare the “treachery” of the the government for not simply adding to a bill an amendment to allow suffrage to women.

In Alyson Brown’s “Conflicting Objectives”, Brown addresses the further irony of the suffragettes’ plight for suffrage. The suffragettes pledged to wreak public havoc- such as commit arson, attack public buildings, or incite public disorder- in order to prove to the government of the seriousness of their cause. When the suffragettes were caught, they were put in prison, where they furthered their rebellion. Through hunger and thirst strikes the suffragettes often were able to be released early, I which they would freely enjoy furthering their plight for suffrage free from prison. The government and prisons combatted these unique strikes by force feeing the women. Most of the time the warden’s and prison workers who were required to force feed the women on strike were female. This greatly angered the suffragettes. They felt the wardenesses were “traitors to their gender”. The suffragettes were fighting and sacrificing for a cause that would only give more freedom to women, yet these female prison workers were only reversing their hard work.

Pankhurst was quotes regarding the hunger and thirst strikes in prison, “we press our cause to give the government two options, to give us justice or give us violence”. And indeed these women, especially Pankhurst did.

These two readings on Pankhurst obviously fall under the theme of WOMENS’ SUFFRAGE. Pankhurst’s writings on the struggle for suffrage, as well as Brown’s article on the irony of the suffragettes struggle portray how firm society was on keeping women from voting. It took five years of hunger and food strikes in prison for the women to get across to society the seriousness of their cause. Because of women like Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes women now enjoy the right of suffrage today.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Women in War and Peace, 1914-1945

Sandi E. Cooper examined the experiences of women in European countries during World War I through the “normalizing” period after World War II. Her main argument focused on the transformation of gender roles for women during that time which created a changed that never returned to “normal.” As the men went off to fight in the wars, women were expected to take the place of male workers in society and continue the motherly duties they had been performing for years. Cooper called the war’s effect on gender roles “the quintessential breakdown of patriarchal law and order” (441). The patriarchal society was thrown into the blender with women taking on roles once classified for men. Such was the case in France during World War I where employment regulations for women were loosened and they answered the call to work (443). During World War II, European women worked in military and auxiliary positions which included spies, assassinators, and parachuters (452).

Once the wars had ended, women were expected to forgo the advancement they had experienced and return to the home. Cooper stated, “In wartime, women could do anything; in peacetime, they had to climb back on the pedestal, descending only to keep the house clean” (456). However, these two wars had a lasting impact that helped shape gender roles to how we know them today.

This article emphasized the breakdown of socially constructed gender roles during the war, but also showed that war affected almost every theme that we are studying this semester:
  • Marriage & family: women in some countries were to repopulate for the needs of the state rather than their own families
  •  Employment & work: many women worked outside of the home in positions once held by men; they lost many of these jobs after the wars 
  • Citizenship: women led war protests and women activists put peace into their platforms
  • Categories of difference: women in war-touched countries had vastly different experiences than those untouched by war

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Room of One's Own

Okay, so, to start off, I would classify this essay under the categories of gender, and maybe education.
In A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, the author argues that the reason that women are not producing poetry and great works of fiction is because they lack a “room of their own” to write in and have uninterrupted time to write. Why don’t women have their own space to write beautiful poetry in, to place their names amongst the masters? The answer, according to Virginia Woolf, is simply money. In her argument, money is the primary element that prevents women from having a room of their own, and thus, having money is of the utmost importance. Because women do not have power, their creativity has been systematically stifled throughout the ages. The narrator, also known as Mary, writes, “Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time . . .” Women are not only unsuccessful poets because they are frequently interrupted by children who need attention and housework, but because of a lack of independent financial power. Because of these frequent starts and stops, women are, according to the narrator, more likely to write fiction because have no room of their own, and writing fiction is more practical for a woman who cannot have alone time. These were her reasons for why women were less successful writers than men.

All of this illustrates the belief, held by Woolf, that women were suppressed creatively, through no fault of their own. Another example of this was the tragedy of Shakespeare’s sister, whose inability to express her creative genius because of her gender leads to her demise. After all of the commentary, Woolf closes the essay with a plea to her audience of women to create a legacy worth living for their daughters.


Women and 19th Century Imperialism

Becoming Visible chapter 14

Women helped to solidify colonialism (1850-WWII) by being teachers, nurses, missionaries, anthropologists, and the face of colonialism itself (mother country). The question is did the women who went to or were placed in imperial holdings supported or disrupted the goal of colonialism? Strobel discusses the practices surrounding mixed-race intercourse to which she notes that women stuck a blow to. In short, women threatened the traditional institution of concubinage, which supposedly represented the harmony between the colonizer and the colonized. They got rid of this unequal and unfair practice of, which hurt colonization from the point of the colonizer, but helped it in the eyes of the colonized.
She also discusses the belief in the destructive female who is dependent and therefore, unhelpful in advancing imperialism. Stobel refutes this myth by noting that women creating the social life and boundaries that existed in the colonies, though their ability to do so was restricted by their husband’s position and not by their own position. In short, whom they spoke to was defined by their husband’s position and not by their own choice, but despite these restraints, they laid the hierarchy that defined colonialism.
She also argues that women were essential to colonization because they helped establish its continuance because they contributed to the health and happiness of male officials and the European household in the colonies.

Gender: men passed decrees that banned women from participating in intercourse with indigenous men, but men were never banned legally.

White female domestic workers who went to the colonies were subject to the patriarchy beliefs of domestic work being women’s work, the imperialist idea of women spreading British values, and the patriarchal glorification of matrimony.

Women missionaries challenged cultural norms because they put family on hold for a career abroad; however, some also adopted native children, which fit nicely into the culturally role for women.

Women travelers and women missionaries challenged social norms and helped women become more domestic.

Women anthropologists contributed to the understanding of native peoples, but their work wasn’t looked on as highly because they were women. (title page)

Reformers argued against certain actions of colonialism and native tradition, and tried to get more women the vote – in the colonies and back home.

Education = women missionaries educated the native population in the ways of the homes


Saturday, March 19, 2011

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

This article mainly falls under the categories of class and gender. Dror Wahrman argues that the rise of the middle class during the nineteenth century led to a collective self-consciousness that was founded upon virtues and public involvement that were defined as masculine. Thus, despite the social status of women, they still maintained a domestic role and relied upon men to protect them from being socially and politically abused. Discussing the public trial of Queen Caroline of England, Wahrman demonstrates how middle class men felt that it was their duty to protect her from greedy aristocrats. According to Davidoff and Hall, Caroline was viewed as a wronged woman and that, "The 'manly' and the 'courageous' must rise up and protect her (405)." The public opinion of the time reflected this idea that men should shelter and protect women from the evils of society. According to a pro-Caroline pamphleteer, "I would tremble for the fate of every woman in this country, if I did not see arrayed against this foul persecution, all the manly virtues of the land (405)." This gendered statement portrays men as the stronger sex that has political and ethical duties over weak and dependent women. However, Wahrman does a good job at demonstrating how women timidly participated in the formation of the public opinion, as many spoke out in favor of protecting familial values during the time of Caroline's trial. These women were able to justify this type of public involvement as they were essentially trying to promote and protect the family. This was the only time that public participation was deemed appropriate and acceptable for women.

The article goes into the concerns of the "Appeal of One-Half of the Human Race," commonly seen as the most important feminist document since Mary Wollstonecraft's "Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (413). In this paper, Thompson declares the gross inequality between men and women. "By shutting them out from all means of intellectual culture, and from the view of and participation in the real incidents of active life" they were "confined, like other domestic animals, to the house and its little details (413)." This statement reveals that women had been suppressed from active public and political participation and that some men began to question whether or not this was fair. Thompson went on to claim that the role of women was defined as domestic despite a woman's social status.

After reviewing the content of Wahrman's article, I have concluded that it falls under the categories of: class, gender, and feminism - although the feminist approach of the article relies mainly upon a male perspective as it cites articles authored by men about the roles of women in society. However, middle class men were the ones that formed the public opinion and were able to express their views in a way that would be recognized and potentially influential.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Housewives or Harlots": Women's Struggle for Emancipation in the 19th Century

"Women must be housewives or harlots, there is no other choice." This is the phrase that succinctly wraps up women's limitations due to publicly accepted conceptions in nineteenth-century society. The phrase originates from French socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, whose theories epitomize the tenets of mutualist socialism.

In this chapter, "Socialism, Feminism, and the Socialist Women's Movement from the French Revolution to World War II," one of Charles Sowerwine's main points is that the development of different forms of socialism in Europe led to disparate women's liberation movements throughout the continent. According to Sowerwine, the German socialist women's movement was the most successful, followed by England, while France's socialist women's movement was all but futile. While French socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon argued that women should be in the home, German socialists Marx and Engels asserted that women needed to obtain political and economic equality. Sowerwine points out that Clara Zetkin, a leader of the women's socialist movement, was confident that socialists would support women's fight for civil rights. Thus, women felt bold enough to embrace the separate organizational structure that they were at first forced to accept. Later on, the separate structure provided the impetus German women needed to create a mass movement for women's civil rights.

The French Socialist Party, Sowerwine states, suffered from the nonexistence of a separate women's organization since women felt alienated within the party. Lacking their own organizational structure, women were unable to organize in the manner of the German female socialists. I thought it was interesting that Madeleine Pelletier fought for women's rights in France but she didn't want to create a separate party section for women because she thought that would be humiliating. Unfortunately, Pelletier's concern for the way such an organization would appear contributed to the stunted development of the suffrage movement.

To be honest, this topic turned out to be much more interesting to me than I thought at first glance. I am amazed at how the ideologies and decisions of individuals played a large part in the trajectory of the various movements for women's liberation throughout Europe. I would definitely categorize this chapter under "Law, education, and citizenship" because the whole movement is based on obtaining human rights and the essentials of citizenship for women.

Oh, and I was excited to learn that in 1911, Clara Zetkin suggested that March 8th be designated as International Women's Day. I remembered hearing about that day last week but didn't think too much about it. It's too bad it has already passed because now we can really appreciate it! I love making connections from the past to our own lives. That's a big part of what makes history enjoyable, in my opinion. :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sarah Smith: "Retaking the Register"

Smith's article tries to flip the view that women's higher education had its heyday in the late 19th century, instead arguing that that time period marked the end of many years of successful female education. This article would obviously fall under the category of "education", and also has some footing in the "employment and work" theme.
I found Smith's argument convincing for the most part. The basic premise that she builds her argument off of is that historians cannot measure higher education for the time period (apprx. 1790-1870) in terms of number of graduates. Graduation at that time did not hold significant value, and very few men, let alone women, actually "graduated" from universities. She instead places value on the availability and attendance of lectures.
The article basically consists of two case studies - one of the Andersonian lecture series (1796-97) and subsequent University, and the other of Glasgow's Queen's college. Smith outlines, especially with the Andersonian lectures, that women had access to and attended lectures that covered science and math as well as literature. The Andersonian lectures were specifically geared towards women, with a "double-ticket" (admit 2 ladies or 1 lady and 1 man) system that specifically encouraged women to attend. The main lecturer, Thomas Garnett, is quoted as having believed that women could enjoy and progress just as much as men in the field of education.
I was surprised at the early dates and the encouraging language regarding women's education that Smith brought to light. Smith cites the Enlightenment idea of "art for art's sake" as a key idea in the allowance of education for women in the late 1700s and early to mid 1800s. Women were allowed to enjoy education without the expectation of it's "usefulness" to their practical lives. This changed, according to Smith, when Victorian ideas about spheres of influence increasingly brought women into the private sphere, and demanded more "usefulness" for education. Another point that Smith made was that education for women was only reigned in when women began to seek employment in gendered-male employ.
...Which brings me to my favorite quote from this article. In response to women's desire to access the medical profession in the late 1800s:

"doctors began to warn of delirium and death among women students, asserting that their 'uteruses would atrophy and their brains would burst' if they indulged in higher learning.” (Smith 327-28).

The theme of employment and work can also be seen in the way that the emergence of women seeking gendered-male jobs negatively affected women's opportunities for higher education. The growth of the cult of domesticity also played a role in taking women out of higher education, as their valued "work" became fulfilling the role of the 'angel of the house', as Victorian ideals increasingly took hold. I feel that Smith supported her argument well, although at several points in her essay she notes that "more research will need to be done..." and she didn't even know what really came of the Queen's college. There is obviously more room for exploring this topic, but I think her re-working of the extent and value of women's education for the pre-1870s time period was valid.