Monthly Archives: May 2013

Men led, but women organized

Another one from The Angel out of the House:

Sensibility posed a dilemma for men, claims Barker-Benfield [in The Culture of Sensibility], because they were caught between an older definition of manhood characterized by disorder and violence and a newer version that was more ‘decent’ but also less discernable from what was defined as ‘feminine.’ Barker-Benfield implies that men’s participation in philanthropic associations was one way to reconcile this dilemma. By joining together to raise subscriptions for charitable purposes, men of business could distinguish themselves from an older corrupt male culture, demonstrate their sympathy and public spirit, and bond together with other men of sympathy in groups that resembled old-styled clubs without duplicating the perceived excesses of such male assemblies; in addition, participating in philanthropic associations could be an effective way of making business contacts or of establishing a reputation that would enhance a man’s business affairs. Thus joining philanthropic causes was a suitably masculine way for a man to exhibit his sympathetic nature. Barker-Benfield’s contention that participation in philanthropic institutions could resolve men’s difficulties with being both sympathetic and masculine helps to explain why women were largely excluded from such participation throughout much of the eighteenth century, despite their traditional association with sympathy and charity.”

…And, of course, men were more likely to have ready access to the money needed for financial contributions to charity. Elliott goes on to say:

“The historian Donna T. Andrew does note the names of many women on subscription lists [“subscription” being the contemporary word for a charitable donation] and identifies the charities to which they were most likely to contribute. Published philanthropic writings, especially charity sermons, provide further evidence of eighteenth-century women’s participation in philanthropy by explicitly addressing women and soliciting their donations. Focusing primarily on women’s financial contributions to philanthropic institutions, however, tends to obscure the kind of charitable contribution that consisted of time and personal energy rather than money. This less historically visible kind of charity, as Andrew mentions, became more and more significant to society’s understanding of philanthropy as the century progressed–and it was also the kind of charity that women had been practicing for centuries.”

Man must be pleased; but him to please is woman's pleasure

Another quote from The Angel out of the House (p. 40):

“The figure of the ‘old maid’ attracted such opprobrium because, like the poor, she was both too dependent and too independent. Without adequate economic resources, unmarried women of almost all classes could drain the finances of their families or, in the case of spinsters of the lower classes, the parish ratepayers. If women were of age and not married, however, they were legally independent. Similarly, the laboring classes were also economically at risk and a burden because they were dependent on the resources of ‘their betters’; Ogle recognized that it was often the lot of the poor to ‘patiently submit to…Misery.’ As the poor seemed to become more numerous and more destitute than ever before, the problems of dealing with poverty became more troublesome and received more attention, as the concern devoted to reforming the poor laws suggests. The laboring classes were also, though, as another philanthropic writer worried, more independent than ever before; the English common people, writes Josiah Tucker, ‘having been growing up into Freedom for several Generations back, and are now become entirely independent, and Masters of themselves and their own Actions’–no longer subject to ‘discipline.’ Domestic ideology, however, made it possible to displace such concerns onto the figure of the ‘old maid’ or the prostitute, both of whose situations, like that of the poor, combined economic independence with a threatening legal independence.”

Oh, and I did a little art project I’m rather proud of–if you like Remington Steele and Iron Man, check it out. What if Pepper Potts was a private investigator with an imaginary boss and Tony Stark was a charming, neurotic con artist looking to make a change?

One of the most magnificent speeches ever made in this or any other country

[Content warning: discussion of sexism and rape.]

Well, it’s been a while since I really posted anything here…I just got out of the habit while the blog was in maintenance, and now…I’m familiar with the phenomenon from my years on livejournal: the longer I don’t post, the more of a curious resistance I build up to posting. It’s partly that I start to feel like I can’t post unless I’ve got something really special to say, but mostly it’s just a mysterious reluctance that I can’t adequately explain.

HOWEVER I have been reading lots of great research books and have built up a huge backlog of interesting and/or funny quotes to share with you, and so, here is the first of them, from Dorice William Elliott’s The Angel out of the House: Philanthropy and Gender in Nineteenth-Century England

from an 1859 article in Fraser’s Magazine, titled “A Fear for the Future, That Women Will Cease to be Womanly,” talking about girls who are unsexed by their philanthropic work:

Any of my sons, I am quite sure, would as soon think of making love to Lord Brougham or the statue of Mr. Canning, as of uttering a word of anything sentimental to these ladies.

This is extra funny to me as I have a bit of a crush on Lord Brougham, a big-deal Whig politician and lawyer who, among other things, was Queen Caroline’s attorney at her adultery trial and made a two-full-day opening statement described by Thomas Denman as “one of the most powerful orations that ever proceeded from human lips,” by Charles Greville as the “most magnificent display of argument and oratory that has been heard in years[…E]ven his most violent opponents were struck with admiration and astonishment,” and by William Vizard as “one of the most magnificent speeches ever made in this or any other country.”


Henry Brougham, painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, image courtesy of Wikipedia.

SUCH good eyebrows. And that nose! IJS probably that guy’s sons DID think equally of both but that doesn’t mean they weren’t thinking! The statue of Lord Canning would probably be more difficult. Hard to get to, for one thing. But it has an unquestionably alluring tilt to the hips, wouldn’t you say?


Photo by Runcorn at Wikipedia.

That “A Fear for the Future, That Women Will Cease to be Womanly,” gives me a thought about all those 60s and 70s science fiction stories about a dystopian future where people no longer have sex. Why on earth would society evolve to do away with sex?

It always struck me as a completely random cultural panic with no obvious cause–unlike, say, the fear of nuclear-radiation-caused monsters, the fear of a future run by powerful corporations, or the fear that machines will revolt and make war on their former masters, which all have a clear emotional logic. The best I could come up with was that it was some kind of fear of a return to 1950s repression…but that doesn’t quite mesh, does it? The dystopian futures portrayed rarely seem 50s-like (or Victorian, or puritanical, or religious, or…) at all: they’re far more likely to be ultra-sanitary minimalist monochrome futures with unisex-coverall-type fashion.

Yet despite its strangeness, it was such a popular trope that Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, and Stephen Fry parodied it in their “Crystal Cube” pilot.

Do you think it could actually be a disguised fear of feminism? The idea being that when men no longer have power over women, women will no longer be safe/passive sexual objects, and therefore will either no longer be attractive to men or will no longer be willing to “provide” sex for them?

It certainly brings the “necessary” rape in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Welcome to the Monkey House” (one of the most famous of the genre, not insignificantly originally published in “Playboy”) into sudden sharp symbolic focus…

Wow. Eureka. Well, that’s just depressing.