When I was young, from time to time I would get on a rant about how I could bat as good, do as many pull ups as or run faster than Tom, Dick and Harry. My mother would tell me to get off my soap box.
While mulling over a quantity of information I had ingested last week I was getting a bit annoyed, and as I got annoyed I wished I had someone to share my annoyance with, then I remembered I have a blog. My very own soap box!
So here is my first opinion piece:
When reading about Victorian woman and their lives I get so tired of the tone in which their occupations are mentioned. It doesn’t matter if the article or book is written by a man or a woman the stance seems to be “poor women, they had no opportunities, they were stuck in the house, their lives were so limited. But were they really?”
One book first says how “privileged “women’s lives were so limited, then goes on to enumerate the variety of the tasks a well bred lady was expected to perform ranging from overseeing a household of up to 20 servants, running the local school and social services essentially looking after the welfare of an entire village? Why is that considered a limitation? Yes courting was more like a job interview but that is because it was a job; and a big one at that.
Lets think about it, the truth is most people, male or female, had far less freedom of choice than people today. Boys would have been apprenticed at an early age, often without their opinion being sought, their lives would be spent working long hours either out of doors in all weather (think farm hands) or indoors where they would rarely see the light of day (think baker, clerk)
True, women couldn’t go to university but then again neither could most men. Women couldn’t or didn’t own property but neither did most men (at least in England, America was a different story)
This sort of article/book will go on to say the poor women they were stuck in the house doing the cooking, the cleaning, the sewing, looking after live stock, the marketing, the child minding and teaching, in the main it was women who ran charities and social programs. Again why was that a limitation?
If a man cooks he’s a chef. If a man sews he’s a tailor. If a man looks after livestock he’s a farmer even if he doesn’t own the farm. If a man heads a charity he’s a member of the board.
The truth is Victorian women, like women before them made the world go round. Its easy for us in the days of Target and K-mart to deprecate sewing as mere women’s work a sort of servitude enforced by men. But if you had to sew clothes for yourself and the rest of your family I think it would quickly become a highly valued skill. No wonder women showed off in the form of samplers hung in the families living area. These were not trivial, superfluous skills these were vital to your family being decently and dare we hope fashionably clothed.
Maybe it comes down to money. Because women weren’t paid it must mean that somehow the work is inferior in importance, or that the performers of that work were some how sub-class. If men did think that why must that view continue to be propagated?
Victorian women were amazing, they should be championed and lauded not pitied and deprecated. How many of us today man or woman can sew an entire outfit by hand or cook an entire meal on a wood or charcoal stove without making a mess of it? And if we can do it, do we do it with the attention to detail and the flare of the Victorians?
“Oh poor souls they didn’t get to do what the men did, they didn’t get to work in coal mines, or shovel manure, or walk behind the plow until their faces were burned, their hands blistered and every muscle ached, they didn’t get to spend all day as a rung in the office.”
The truth is most men will never think a woman’s job as important as his it doesn’t matter if it’s sewing the families clothes or studying astrophysics.
I come from a long line of strong minded middle class women who were amazing at what they did whether or not they got paid to do it. Their families revolved around and relied upon them and that should be celebrated.
It was only when opportunities began to open for the lower and middle classes that the fortunes of men and women became evermore desperate but that is a soap box for another day.