Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Struggle for Freedom: The Impact of Women's Movements in the United States Part I (a)

By Miriam B. Medina

This first part of a three-part series examines the history of feminist movements in the United States and their impact on the nation. This part examines the early history of women's movements. Throughout the centuries, women were restricted significantly to taking care of family members and the home. Prior to and during the Victorian era, marriage was the only life considered for women by tradition. In the World of Society, from development on, a gentle-woman was groomed for her position in life as a dutiful wife and mother.

When a young lady "came out", this meant that she had concluded her education and was clearly available on the marriage market place. When an eligible gentleman made his intentions known to the family of the young woman, bank accounts were studied, and familial lineages were inspected. If both were met with approval, then an engagement was formalized. After the parents were satisfied that their daughter was marrying into proper money or lineage, usually trading one for the other, a wedding date would be set. Socially ambitious mothers would compete with each other by displaying their wealth. They did this by lavishly spending on decorations and entertainment, sending out elaborate wedding invitations to all of society's elite.

However, few of these marriages ever started with love, and as the years would pass, lucky couples would become quite fond of each other and manage to get along, which resulted in a complacent life filled with mutual respect. Once married, a gentle woman had servants to do her bidding and chores. Occasionally, she would put in an appearance, spending a little time with the children, and then giving them over to their nannies and governesses. Of course, the husband didn't mind pampering his wife, as he spent a fortune each year on her lavish wardrobe, as well as for entertainment and elegant house luxuries, so long, as it was her fortune and not his.

Nonetheless, there were men of society that worked exceptionally hard who were extremely generous by nature, a generosity which their ambitious wives exploited to its fullest. Some young women would enter into an arranged marriage because of family pressures, as their family wanted to obtain money and gain status in the World of Society. This arrangement provided nothing for her but overall melancholy. The union would ultimately prove to be an emotional and sexual fiasco. In her naivete, the man she believed to be a delightful, kind and benevolent person, much to her surprise and disillusionment, was mean, perhaps an alcoholic, and maintained an inflexible control over her life and finances. Despite her entreaties, he would be wholly insensitive to her feelings. After all, their marriage was viewed as a business deal, a commodity to be spent and used as he saw fit, an arrangement he would use to his fullest advantage. Accustomed to a life of luxury and her whims being pampered, she grows up to find herself trapped by her home, her children and her husband. Under English law, colonial women were subservient to the vigilant thumb of the husband's authority. Everything she possessed, down to the clothes on her back, belonged to her husband. Her life was not her own. She could not come and go or do as she pleased. She was her husband's possession.

To be continued: Part I (B)

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