Victorian Theory - Sample Essay
The starting point of this inquiry could be the perception of those who lived in the Victorian Age of matters relating to sex and sexuality. Scholars believe that theories relating to sex and sexuality were “unavoidable issues for the Victorians. ” (Lee). The primary impression about men and women of the Victorian age is that they are pedantic and sexually repressed. However, this prevalent view has been constantly questioned and even challenged through historical accounts. (Lee). This matter, however, is not the most significant aspect of Victorian theory of sex and sexuality that is relevant to Thompson’s assertions.
The more important question involves the determination of the treatment of men and women in Victorian society. More particularly, it is important to know the basis of such treatment. Victorian men and women were generally not regarded as equals. Men were seen as superior to women; and as a consequence of this perception, women were delegated roles of less importance in society while men took on the more important ones. Victorian Theorists Spencer and Geddes Herbert Spencer and Patrick Geddes were the leading theorists in the Victorian Age who probed the issue of sexuality and gender differentiation.
They immediately took notice of the differences in physical and physiological aspects of men and women. Aside from this, they saw in men and women two different sets of attributes, which formed the basis of their stereotypical dyadic model based on the two sexes. (Lee). Led by these two, Victorian theorists divided the sphere of men and women into two, and delegated certain tasks to men and women, based on their perceived differences. It is believed that the differences in their attributes began form the earlier forms of life. (Lee). The foundation of this division of sphere was the belief that men and women had different energy levels.
Men were considered as the “active agents,” while women were considered sedentary. To men were attributed the katabolic nature of temperament, which means they release energy, while to women were attributed the anabolic nature of temperament, which nurtured energy. (Lee). The Division of Spheres and its Biological Foundation The division of spheres between men and women in the Victorian Age is primarily based on biological grounds. It was believed that men’s role in the home is only fertilization, which leaves him free to do other, more energy-consuming activities, such as hunting or foraging.
Moreover, it was believed that only men had the capacity for abstract reasoning, a sign of “highly-evolved life. ” (Lee). On the other hand, women were constantly seen in the home beset by biological occurrences, such as pregnancy and menstruation. This led to the notion that women were passive and weak, that they can no longer pursue other activities outside the home. It should be noted that at this point in time, menstruation was believed to be a time of woman’s “illness, debilitation, and temporary insanity. ” Thus, women were told to stay home to save her energy, while men were allowed to pursue other activities outside the home.
Geddes’ theories were more sweeping. He claimed that not only did men possess greater intelligence and energy than women, they also had greater independence and courage. It was apparent that Geddes found this assertion unfair to women, and so he attributed certain characteristics to them. However, these attributes were still of a domestic nature; namely, “constancy of affection and sympathetic imagination. ” While men were given the attribute of intelligence, women were limited to the gift of rapid intuition. In addition, women were given passive attributes such as great patience, open-mindedness, and a keen appreciation of subtle details.
(Lee). The “Family Claim” Jane Addams discussed another, more degrading pattern found in the lives of women in the Victorian Age. She called it the “family claim. ” (“Life for Women”). According to Addams, Victorian women were considered as mere possessions by their families. Men were initially given the same regard, but such treatment waned by the end of the 18th century. (“Life for Women”). This notion of the “family claim” was grounded on many reasons, the foremost of which is the role of Victorian women in the home. To women were delegated most, if not all, of the housework, such as cleaning, cooking and aiding ailing people.
Another factor that underlies the “family claim” is the women’s role in birth and child rearing. She is the one seen as responsible for carrying a child in her womb, and the one responsible for caring for the infant after the latter was born. Women were also responsible for birth control, such that unplanned pregnancy can be blamed to tem and not to the men. (“Life for Women”). Finally, women at the time did not have money-making occupations, as their main activities were domestic. Hence, the control of the family over women, who were seen as dependents on the men for support, was considerably great. (“Life for Women”).