Wednesday, February 16, 2011

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

By Miriam B. Medina

This is part 2 in a three-part series examining the history of feminist movements in the United States and their impact on American society. In the first part, we examined conditions that led to the various women's movements. This story continues to evolve in the 19th century where part one left off. Up until the 19th century the institution of marriage largely defined feminine lives. It was their identity, providing women their place in society. Marriage and motherhood signified a woman's maturity and respectability, though marriage itself was more like a business deal than a romantic commitment. In the World of Society back then, women were treated as family possessions, to be married off for respectability or even fortune.

Aside from those who married, let's not forget the Spinsters, also known offensively as "Old Maids". These were unmarried women past the child-bearing age or who were just downright unlucky at love. In today's 21st century, a single woman can still be stereotyped like a "Spinster", wherein society unkindly judges a woman for supposed "Lesbian" tendencies, often because she is nothing but mature, alone and doesn't seem to interact with men. How hurtful this can be and often untrue! Many women simply choose to be alone, enjoying their freedom. As far as we have come from the 17th century, society still assumes the existential position of wifehood and motherhood that if you are alone you don't like the opposite sex. However, if a woman chooses to be lesbian, that's her choice too. Regardless, this viewpoint still harkens back to the early roles that women played in society. If you weren't married, something was "wrong" with you.

Many of the young women from the 19th century known as Spinsters were most likely under the thumb of their dear old parents, who needed someone to take care of them and do their bidding in their old age. As a dutiful daughter, she would renounce her fantasies, and illusions in regards to love, and marriage, accepting the guilt trip that her parents had saddled her with always.

If an unmarried woman 25 years or older still held fantasies that she would be able to enter into the idyllic state of marriage, she would be ridiculed and scorned like an Old Maid. The mere idea of any man marrying an "old" spinster back then was utterly ridiculous. Only if, she were a person of wealth would she be worth having past the age of 25. Therefore, a woman who did not marry was considered a failure and looked upon by society with pity. Although her primary goal was to be a wife and mother, the only decent forms of employment which she could engage in as an unmarried woman were that of a teacher, a governess, or a companion, although she was uneducated in the sophisticated ways of the young ladies of society.

To be continued: Part II (b)

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

This very situation is why I find the last 30years of the 19th century and the two decades leading up the the "flapper" era of the 1920s so satisfying to read and talk about. Please, read MY blog at