The Cult of Domesticity Scientific Sexism
What was the Cult of Domesticity? • It was a new ideal of womanhood arising from women’s magazines, advice books, popular culture, etc.
Godey’s Lady’s Book • Most widely circulated ladies magazine in the US; • Encouraged motherhood as a religious value; • Paintings and pictured depicted women in each of the four virtues; • Fashion stressed to make women attractive to husbands.
Godey’s proclaimed • "The perfection of womanhood... is the wife and mother, the center of the family, that magnet that draws man to the domestic altar, that makes him a civilized being, a social Christian." • "The wife is truly the light of the home."
Arose from New Middle Class Post-Industrial Family • 19th-Century middle class family did not need to be self-sufficient • Men worked producing goods and services while wives and children stayed home • The public world too rough for women, who were weak and delicate and should stay home; • The family became insulated, with kin & community lessening in importance
Ideal of Womanhood • Piety • Purity • Submissiveness • Domesticity
Piety • Belief that women had a propensity for religion; • Woman is the new Eve, working with God to save the world through her pure, passionless love.
Purity and Virginity • Her greatest treasure • Once married, she has no legal or emotional existence • Her purity is a weapon, to keep men in control of their sexual needs • 19th century purity fetish • Limbs, not legs • White meat, not breast • Cover table and chair legs • Separate male and female authors • Stork and cabbage patch stories of babies
Submissiveness • Women to be passive, submissive to fate, duty, God and men; • Clothing emphasized passivity • Corsets closed off lungs and pinched inner organs • Large numbers of undergarments and weight of dresses limited mobility • “A really sensible woman feels her dependence. She does what she can, but she is conscious of her inferiority and therefore grateful for support.”
Truisms about Women • “A woman has a head almost too small for intellect but just big enough for love.” • “True feminine genius is ever timid, doubtful, and clingingly dependent; a perpetual childhood.”
Domesticity • Housework is an uplifting task • Needlework and crafts approved duties; • Women make the home a refuge for men so that they can escape from the immoral world of business and industry
Scientific Sexism • Women are physically inferior: • Physically smaller than men • Less stamina—they faint more • They menstruate and are physically incapacitated every month • Brought on temporary insanity • More delicate because their female nervous system was finer and more prone to fatigue because of the reproductive system
Scientific Sexism • "It was as if the Almighty, in creating the female sex, had taken the uterus and built up a woman around it." • Reflex irritation: any imbalance, infection, or fatigue would cause a reaction elsewhere in the body. • If a woman was sick anywhere, it was assumed that the problem originated in the reproductive system.
Scientific Sexism • Women are intellectually inferior • Smaller brains than men • Size of brain to body weight • Abandoned when it was discovered that female brain to body rate yielded a higher ratio • Brain weight to body height • Female brain inferior and more primitive than male brain • Phrenology—the art of reading the skull
Scientific Sexism • Human sexuality • Human body has finite amount of energy, which must be regulated • Sexual instinct most primitive • Sex strong in men but absent in ladies • Feared in women because they would be like vampires and drain the man of his energy
Scientific Sexism • Women: Puberty to Menopause • Women must channel their energies into reproduction • Discouraged from intellectual activity b/c blood was needed for reproductive organ development • Education took about 20% of women’s vital energy • Pregnant women must not strain brains or the unborn child would be harmed • Avoid strong emotions
Scientific Sexism • A woman’s organs must be bathed occasionally with a man’s vital force if she is to remain healthy. • Spinsters and celibates have shorter lives and are more prone to insanity
Scientific Sexism • Men: Puberty • Men must focus their life force on getting ahead in the world and must reserve sexual energies; • One ounce of semen = four ounces blood; • Masturbation or frequent sex would lead to insanity and death; • Women’s indifference to sex was good for men;
A Woman’s Rights The right to love whom others scorn, The right to comfort and to mourn, The right to shed new joy on earth, The right to feel the soul's high worth, Such woman's rights a God will bless And crown their champions with success.
Works Cited • http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/386/truewoman.html; • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_of_True_Womanhood • Most illustrations from Godey’s Ladies’ Book