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Gender Roles in Georgian Britain

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1 Gender Roles in Georgian Britain

2 Outline How fixed were gender roles in Georgian Britain?
Rise of separate spheres ideology Feminist challenge Reformation of manners.

3 Cross-dressing women Women’s presence in the military well documented: ‘Many women were found among the slain… as is common in the camp, the camp followers wore male attire, with nearly as martial a bearing as the soldiers, and some were even mounted and rode astride.’ For contemporaries these women often hailed as heroines By the mid nineteenth-century were written out of the historical record or portrayed as freaks of nature Theme originates with legend of Amazons Indicative of fluid and evolving concepts of gender Female soldiers such as Christian Davies, Susanna Cope, Hannah Snell and Mary Ann Talbot were generally from the lower echelons of society and thus were transgressing class and social as well as gender boundaries

4 The life, and surprising adventures, of blue-eyed Patty, the valiant female soldier; who was the daughter of Mr. Samuel Freelove, an eminent grazier, in Essex; ... Wolverhampton, [1800?].

5 Hannah Snell,

6 Hannah Snell Born one of nine children born to a hosier in Worcester.
She enlisted under the name James Gray as a marine and was involved in battles with the French in the 1740s. She was injured and returned to England Her story was publicised Robert Walker in a biography entitled The Female Soldier


8 Christian Davies/Kit Cavenaugh/Christopher or Richard Welsh/Mother Ross
Born in Dublin. She inherited a Dublin pub married Richard Welsh and gave birth to two sons. After her husband disappeared she searched for him, enlisting as a foot soldier In 1712 she returned to England where she was awarded a pension. In 1740 a first-person account, The Life and Adventures of Mrs. Christian Davies, was published in London, purportedly ‘taken from her own Mouth’.

9 Christian Davies,

10 Changing views These women’s biographies pose a challenge to the historian. They are often retold and are contradictory. Life stories were written and rewritten for subsequent generations. By the nineteenth century concepts of gender and class were more firmly entrenched. In later literature women represented as simpletons or patriots. Cross-dressing women became an abomination of nature and a challenge to entrenched sexual stereotypes.

11 Libertines and Fops Libertines have long history with antecedents in the sodomites of the Renaissance During eighteenth century tradition was embodied by men such as John Wilkes and Francis Dashwood. Not necessarily homosexuals, the Earl of Rochester for example is the exemplary rake—a man who engages in sex with boys or women. Trumbach has argued that by about 1750 effeminacy had become linked to same-sex desire. Over time, the fop merged with other male characters—the molly and the queen—for whom effeminacy was a marker of their desire for other men

12 Libertines and Fops Trumbach argues this had significance for gender roles The effeminate sodomite or molly emerged as the character against whom heterosexual men were defined Dominant, hegemonic man is defined by the fact that he desires and has sex only with women Philip Carter has argued in contrast that the fop was a social type quite distinct from the sexual category of molly: a fop was a vain, self-obsessed character who failed to live up to the integrity of the polite gentleman

13 An elderly fop peers through a lorgnette at a prostitute with a Madam who lures him into a house labelled 'Kind and Tender Usage'. 24 March 1773

14 A thin tall actor walks mincingly on the tips of his toes, his arms folded behind his back. He is fashionably dressed, wearing a cut-away coat with high collar and shirt frill. 1 March 1790

15 A butcher in front of his shop slices off the tail of hair of a passing Macaroni. 19 January 1773

16 Broadside satire on homosexuality, 1762
“Ye Reversers of Nature, each dear little Creature, Of soft and effeminate sight, See above whar your fate is, and ’ere it too late is, Oh, learn to be – all in the Right. Tol de Rol”

17 Separate Spheres The term describes the accentuation of gender difference among the middle classes which took place in the 18th and early 19th centuries stimulated by the evangelical revival Public life increasingly seen as an exclusively male domain, domesticity came to be the sphere of activity in which women’s moral virtues could and should most fully be developed. Originally expressed in England by Clapham Sect Catherine Hall argues (‘The early formation of Victorian domestic ideology’ in White, Male and Middle Class) that they were so suited to the values of the emerging middle class that they became central to the bourgeois identity of the 19th century, absorbed by government policy makers and social commentators alike.

18 Challenges Use of ‘separate spheres’ to characterise gender relations in this period has been challenged by historians such as Linda Kerber (Journal of American History, 1988) and Amanda Vickery (Historical Journal, 1992) who have argued that ‘separate spheres’ in the 19th century was neither new nor restricted to a single social class The separation of responsibilities were continually negotiated In certain fields, notably, philanthropy, the public/private dichotomy blurred Historians have continued to debate the use of the language of separate spheres. Kathryn Gleadle has argued that ‘several spheres’ is a more adequate term to describe the ways in which middle class women interpreted their public and political identity

19 Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97)
From the urban middling classes. In 1783 MW had to support herself eventually managed to establish herself in London as a woman of letters She lived among a small group of intellectuals eg the historian Catherine Macaulay and Thomas Holcroft Published her first political work Vindication of the Rights of Man in 1790 Vindication of the Rights of Woman was published in 1792 MW visited France and as with the Terror came felt less optimistic about the possibilities of radical political transformation She had an affair, lived with the American adventurer, Gilbert Imlay and gave birth to her first daughter, Fanny. Her last work was Maria or the Wrongs of Woman She died in childbirth. Her husband, William Godwin’s Memoirs of the Author of the Rights of Women published in 1798 associated her name indelibly with sexual freedom and notoriety

20 Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie, c.1797

21 Education Majority of Vindication of Rights of Woman focuses on education of women. MW attacked a number of earlier writers, in particular Rousseau, who had written on the education of girls suggesting that their interests be subordinated to boys and suggested that girls were unable to attain the same levels of virtue. Rousseau concludes that men are strong and active, evincing power and will, while women are weak and passive, lacking resistance. Classic account of the modest female was provided by Rousseau in his description of the young Sophie, bride to be of the exemplary boy-citizen, Emile: Her dress is extremely modest in appearance, and yet very coquettish in fact: she does not make a display of her charms, she conceals them; but in concealing them, she knows how to affect your imagination. Everyone who sees her will say, There is a modest and discreet girl; but while you are near her, your eyes and affections wander all over her person, so that you cannot withdraw them; and you would conclude, that every part of her dress, simple as it seems, was only put in its proper order to be taken to pieces by the imagination.

22 Sophie embraces Emile from a 1837 edition

23 Association of Ideas MW argued females are made women when they are mere children: Everything they see or hear serves to fix impressions, call forth emotions and associate ideas, that give a sexual character to the mind… this cruel association of ideas which everything conspires to twist all their habits of thinking, or to speak with more precision, of feeling, receives new force when they begin to act a little for themselves; for then they perceive that it is only through their address to excite emotions in men, that pleasure and power are to be obtained. MW was equally critical of women. She planned a new system of national education, in which all, rich and poor, girls and boys, would be educated together until the age of 9.

24 Rights Vindication combined natural rights arguments with utilitarian claims concerning the social benefits of sexual equality. Women should be accorded civil and even political rights. She argues I still insist that not only the virtue but the knowledge of the two sexes should be the same in nature, if not in degree, and that women, considered not only as moral but as rational creatures, ought to endeavour to acquire human virtues (or perfections) by the same means as men, instead of being educated like a fanciful kind of half being - one of Rousseau's wild chimeras. Women's liberation would benefit men: Make women rational creatures and free citizens and they will quickly become good wives and mothers. 18th century womanhood was an artificial construct crafted by a male culture with erroneous ideas of the natural woman

25 Reformation of Manners
‘Revolution in female manners' would help to transform the political and moral world for all and not only for women. Tentatively MW suggested the possibility of a political role for women. This concentration on female manners was part of more general debate taking place around the time of the French revolution. The Unsex'd Females, by Richard Polwhele depicted MW and Hannah More as polar opposites But female educators such as More, Sarah Trimmer, Mary Hays, Catherine Macaulay, Laetitia Barbauld and Maria Edgeworth all sought to give woman's role more competence, dignity and consequence.


27 Reformation of Manners
MW calls middle class women to become 'more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers - in a word better citizens'. Her manifesto remains middle class motherhood in a radical framework of economic independence, legal equality and freer access to jobs and professions. Hannah More like MW puts her faith in women of middle rank. She attests to women's potency to undermine or save their country. Women bear special civil and social responsibilities. Women ‘by labouring to reform themselves reform the world'.

28 Men and the Reformation of Manners
Focus on manners and who should be incorporated into the state as citizens also focused attention on men. Only virtuous and free individuals should be entrusted with political responsibility. Gender roles were central to the ways in which political life was defined The polite gentleman came from the middling sort, not the aristocracy; politeness and commerce went hand in hand. Philip Carter has concluded, ‘The prevailing eighteenth-century concept was of masculinity not just as a social but a sociable category in which gender identity was conferred, or denied, by men’s capacity for gentlemanly social performance.’

29 The Triumph of Independence over Majesterial Influence and Corruption, 1805 [disputed election of Sir Francis Burdett]

30 Conclusion – the triumph of domesticity?
It has been argued that by 1832 women had lost their ‘freedom’ to operate in political and public spheres. James Vernon asserted that ‘for women, but also for many men, the 1832 Reform Act represented a retreat, one which had given them less of a chance to be included within the official political nation than the unreformed electoral system.’ Historians such as Linda Colley argue that the vehemence of the literature surrounding the place of women in public illustrates the fact that the boundaries supposedly separating men and women were in fact, unstable and becoming more so. What changed were the strategies used by women to participate in the public sphere.

31 Conclusion – the triumph of male civility?
History of masculinity tends to trace a move from a rough-and-ready seventeenth-century manhood to a polite and civil eighteenth-century masculinity. Karen Harvey has argued that this progression may be too simplistic. Instead there is a cyclical pattern. The later eighteenth century seems to have brought a revival of older modes of manhood, suggesting that the dominance of politeness was relatively short-lived, sandwiched between early modern and nineteenth-century ideals that had much in common.

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