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The unfair treatment of women in the victorian era

Due to their reproductive system, women were seen by men as emotional and unstable to the point where they were incapable of making rational decisions. Once they were married, many were treated little better than slaves. In the eyes of the law prior to 1882once a woman married she basically ceased to exist. On her wedding day, she became one person with her husband and thereafter everything she did was under the unfair treatment of women in the victorian era direction.

Refusal of sex was grounds for annulment of the marriage. A husband was allowed to beat his wife, and even rape her, without fear of prosecution. Unbelievably it was not until a hundred years later, in 1991, that a similar ruling denied him the right to rape her. Women, on the other hand, were restricted to a private sphere where their feminine qualities such as emotion, passivity, submission, dependence, and selflessness were more suited. As women were defined by their sexuality, they were perceived to be irrational, sensitive and dutiful.

As such were expected to fit into the social mould crafted by men. Children were also his property and in the event of divorce, the man could expect custody of his children. From 1839, if it was proven that the wife was innocent she was allowed custody of children under the age of seven. This was raised to sixteen in 1873, but even then the father remained the sole legal guardian. Given the limitations placed on married women, it may be asked why single women with property or significant possessions would choose to give everything up.

For some, it was possible to stay single and live by their own means. For many, however, marriage was a necessity to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table. This was particularly true for middle and upper-class women.

For these women, not only was marriage an expected duty but society prevented them from earning their own living. In order to bring children up properly, mothers were expected to be sinless, both in thought and deeds. Men only perceived them as virtuous if they shunned sex and were seen to be meek, submissive, and conforming. Sex for any reason other than creating children was viewed as dirty and scandalous.

Although he could not dispose of it without her consent, her personal property, such as money from earnings or investments, and personal belongings such as jewellery, passed absolutely into his control. She could not part with them without his consent.

  • Attitudes to work were, however, driven by class;
  • Therefore, no matter what the women desired, most were predestined to become wives due to their economic reliance on men;
  • This was raised to sixteen in 1873, but even then the father remained the sole legal guardian;
  • On her wedding day, she became one person with her husband and thereafter everything she did was under his direction;
  • This was raised to sixteen in 1873, but even then the father remained the sole legal guardian.

This allowed women to keep earnings or property acquired after marriage. While boys could go to school, a governess would teach girls at home. The academic content of their lessons, however, was generally low.

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For children from poor families often the only official form of education was through Sunday school. These were open to all children although there were typically fewer girls educated than boys. In 1870 a law was passed which made it mandatory for all children aged between 5-10 to attend school. Although all were taught basic reading and writing, the curriculum for girls evolved to focus on subjects such as domestic science, cooking, laundry and needlework.

At this time, women were not allowed to study for degree courses. It was 1878 when London became the first university in the UK to allow women to attain degrees. Girton was the first Cambridge college set up for women in 1869.

Victorian Era Women’s Rights

This was followed by Newnham College in 1872, but at the time they were not recognised by the university authorities. Resistance to the education for girls principally came from the medical profession. They argued that the physical demands of menstruation and the intellectual demands of studying were incompatible.

They believed that educating women would lead to mothers of puny, weakened and sickly children. The Inequality of Divorce From 1857 divorce was made easier than it had been in preceding years. Moderately wealthy men could divorce their wives on the simple grounds of her adultery.

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This was based on the idea that it threatened his ability to pass his property to his male heirs. He could also claim damages against the adulterous third party. A woman who wanted to divorce her husband, however, had to prove adultery and show it had been aggravated by desertion for two years. She was not allowed to claim damages from the third party.

On the positive side, however, the 1857 Act denied the husband any right to the earnings of the wife he had deserted. This meant a divorced woman was returned to the same property rights as a single woman. Attitudes to work were, however, driven by class.

Upper-class women were not expected to work. For working-class women, however, it was often necessary for them to earn a wage and contribute to the running of the household. The type of work they were eligible for was restricted, and they would generally undertake manual work such as domestic service, laundry, needlework, factory work or agriculture. Needless to say, they could expect to receive less money than men, even if they were doing the same job.

Paid work for middle-class women was frowned upon. If they did work for a wage, they would do skilled, non-manual work, often supervisory or professional in nature. They employed others to do the manual tasks. Middle-class women were also discouraged from doing housework. This was left to an array of servants such as housemaids, nursemaids and cooks. They would be expected to do the dirtiest tasks like scrubbing the steps and peeling potatoes.

Put on a Pedestal…and Left There Despite the apparent esteem afforded to wives and mothers in the 19th century, in reality, they lived in a world that discriminated heavily against them. Due to their superior physical strength, men considered themselves the dominant sex and sought to keep women subdued for as long as they could.