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Victorian England Women and “irregulars”
Victorian age (1837-1901) Some highlights: • Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species in 1859 • Famous authors/poets: Charles Dickens, Emily, Anne and Charlotte Bronte, H. G. Wells, Robert Browning, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, Alfred Lord Tennyson Lewis Carroll, Edwin Abbott • Industrial Revolution: movement towards machine-based manufacturing. Cotton mills, factories, steam power, railways, mass production of iron goods, invention of steel and concrete, extensive use of child labor, etc.
Separate spheres Technological advances changed women’s social and economic roles in nineteenth century England, and polarized the life experiences of working and non-working women. … Among the lower classes, women, like men, spent most of their day earning money for the family’s subsistence. … Women of the middle classes, on the other hand, remained at home and became consumers only. … In aristocratic families, where neither husband nor wife was obliged to work, there was a rough equivalence of privileges and obligations between the sexes, although their lives were structured differently. This equivalence was not lost in the new way of life among the middle class, with its presumption of male production and female consumption of financial resources. Women spent their time organizing the household, overseeing the care of their children, shopping for necessities and luxuries, practicing philanthropy, and nurturing friendships, while their male relatives left home each day to earn money for these activities. This way of life became the ideal for the whole of society. - Joan N. Burstyn, Victorian education and the ideal of womanhood
Separate spheres • Men • Work • Public • Provided food and protection • Rational • Tainted by reality Women Home Private Cared for children and the home Intuitive Pure of mind and body
Inequalities • Marriage • He was bound by law to protect her, she was bound to obey him • Her personal property, income and children belonged to him • Work • Middle-class and aristocratic women were discouraged from working, only philanthropy to help those in need • Education • Studying history, geography, literature were fine (helped in the domestic sphere) • Law, mathematics, science, art were not (of no use). Studying these subjects were thought to be against their nature and could make them ill
Pseudoscience Herbert Spencer, The Study of Sociology “Sex-differences could best be understood by assuming “a somewhat earlier-arrest of individual evolution in women than in men; necessitated by the reservation of vital power to meet the cost of reproduction”. Female energy expended in reproduction was not available for psychic and intellectual growth (the deduction followed from the physical law of the conservation and transformation of energy), and reproduction this limited individual development.” - Suffer and Be Still, Women in the Victorian age by Martha Vicinus
Pseudoscience Herbert Spencer, The Study of Sociology “Besides the limiting factor of reproduction, Spencer assumed that there were mental and emotional characteristics acquired by women through their prolonged existence in a male dominated environment. One such trait bound to be environmentally acquired was the desire for approval and the capacity to deceive. A further trait, undoubtedly the product of environmental pressure, was the ability to perceive quickly the emotions of others, hence women’s greater power of intuition. . . . The inheritance of acquired characteristics permitted Spencer to explain the existing stereotypes of female character as though these were the forms of femininity evolved by male-domination since primitive times. He could thus give scientific authority to the romantic view of women as intuitive and irrational.” - Suffer and Be Still, Women in the Victorian age by Martha Vicinus
Pseudoscience Phrenology Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828, German) • Starting in 1792, began collecting human skulls. Had over 300 by 1802. • Came up with the theory that aptitudes and tendencies are found in different regions of the brain and manifest themselves in the shape of the skull. • Johann Spurzheim spread phrenology to the UK and US during the early 19th century, the Fowler brothers revived it in the late 19th century. • It was controversial from the beginning, but the ideas permeated popular culture through literature - Phrenology and the origins of Victorian scientific naturalism By John Van Wyhe
Pseudoscience Phrenology in literature “Two peculiarities struck me in her personal appearance. I never remembered having seen any other person with such a singularly narrow and slanting forehead as this lady presented; and I was impressed, not at all agreeably, by the flashing shifting expression in her eyes.” (29-30) Wilkie Collins, The Legacy of Cain(1889) “She had precisely the same shape of skull as Pope Alexander the Sixth; her organs of benevolence, veneration, conscientiousness, adhesiveness, were singularly small, those of self-esteem, firmness, destructiveness, combativeness, preposterously large; her head sloped up in the penthouse shape, was contracted about the forehead, and prominent behind.” (129) Charlotte Brontë, The Professor (1857)
Women in art (Europe) Women were discouraged from pursuing art seriously, and were denied the opportunity to study art professionally. • Women were barred from drawing male nude models until the late 19th century • Without proper training in drawing the male nude, they were unable to get prestigious commissions • Women were also barred from the large art academies • Women were largely ignored by art historians • There was a stereotype that women created “feminine works”, which were not as grand and epic as works of men • Work of female artists have been ignored by museum curators and collectors
Women in math (Europe) Women were discouraged from pursuing math, and often had to study in secrecy • Sophie Germain (1776-1831): Studied mathematics in secrecy. Women were not allowed to study at the EcolePolytechnique in Paris at the time, but she managed to obtain notes. She corresponded with Lagrange and Gauss under a pseudonym. She discovered Germain Primes and proved Fermat’s Last Theorem for these primes.
Drawing questionable conclusions “It does appear that on many, many different human attributes-height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability -- there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means -- which can be debated -- there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population. And that is true with respect to attributes that are and are not plausibly, culturally determined. … So, I think, while I would prefer to believe otherwise, I guess my experience with my 2-and-a-half-year-old twin daughters, who were not given dolls and who were given trucks, and found themselves saying to each other, look, daddy truck is carrying the baby truck, tells me something. And I think it's just something that you probably have to recognize.” - Lawrence Summers, Harvard University 2005
Scientific Studies • Stereotype threat (Steele , Beilock, et al): Women do worse on math tests when they are prompted to think about their gender before the exam • Lack of confidence stemming from culture (Hyde, Ceci, Williams, Andrewwscu, Gallian, et al) In countries where there is more gender equality (in school enrollment, share of research jobs, govt. representation), the math gender gap is also smaller. Females from countries where there is equal encouragement, China, Taiwan, Belgium, Russia, are far better represented in imternational math competitions. In the US, the females are overwhelmingly from immigrant families. • Preferences, not ability (Zabrinski et al): In a study tracking 5000 intellectually precocious children through adulthood (mid 30s), it was found that men and women earned equal proportions of advanced degrees. Equal numbers of men and women start college planning to go into physical sciences and math. However, more women than men switch to humanities or social sciences.