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Lecture

Female Friendships in the 19th Century

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Department
History
Course
History 2185
Professor
Monda Helpern
Semester
Winter

Description
Jan, 07, 2013 Female Friendships in the Nineteenth Century -Women were deemed as inferior and yet more virtuous but no one cared about the contradiction -There was still the ideology of separate spheres and the cult of true woman hood each of which restricted their behaviour where they had to be pure, pious, and subservient and another restriction was the passionless doctrine which controlled their sexuality and they were supposed to be passive and not having any desire for sex -These restrictions fostered close loving relationships between women and the bonds were very much encouraged in Victorian society especially among women who related in various ways and they were very nurturing within the family structure but the loving bonds also existed between close friends -Historians have debated the nature of these relationships and to what extent they were sexual and many were strictly platonic, some were romantic but not sexual, while others were definitely sexual -Separate spheres excluded them from the public and this meant that women were confined to the private sphere and many have seen this as oppressive but others like Rosenberg looked at it as a place of nurturing and empowerment because within the private sphere men weren’t around to monitor women and supervise them -Rosenberg says men weren’t involved in this sphere and their physical presence was not with their wives and this gave them more freedom so women created a separate world for themselves and it stressed female values, priorities and support and she wrote an article called “The Female World of Love and Ritual” and it was shocking because it showed the private sphere as a place of loving female culture -The ideology of separate spheres promoted Boston marriages which was an arrangement where two women lived together in an exclusive long term relationship and many relationships like this were common in New England where there were women’s colleges around Boston -You could not have a career with and advanced education and be married to a man so staying with a woman allowed them to keep their freedom and still be in fulfilling relationships with companionship and intimacy -Next to regular marriage Boston marriages were seen as perfectly acceptable because at least the woman wasn’t living alone and susceptible to poverty and becoming a burden -The cult of true womanhood promoted rigid female identities but the code of conduct allowed them to create a separate world from men once again and this promoted their female friendships but the cult did promote marriage to a man but female relationships were seen as a precursor to marriage and seen as a temporary training ground -The cult of true womanhood promoted purity and chastity and this dictate discouraged young men and women from spending time together because of the fear of them having sex so same sex friendships were preferred and it didn’t compromise your reputation for marriage -This was taught at finishing school to women and it told them how to behave acceptably and to act as a proper woman and potential wife and there were many schools in North America and many were boarding schools and this was the site where many female friendships started and older girls would “adopt” baby sisters and act as their caretakers and crushes developed and these later resulted in Boston marriages -Passionless doctrine promoted this because married woman could spend time together without any question as to whether they were being sexually active because they were believed to be passionless and they may have not though of their actions as sexual because it was seen as an activity between a man and a woman -Their relationships were seen as preferable because it was better than them spending time with any man because of the fear of adultery and divorce which were viewed with great distain -There were laws against sodomy to prevent males having sex but same sex relationships between women were never criminalized because it was not involving a man and it was preventative because it kept them out of trouble -Historians have debated the nature of these relationships by examining what was and what was not, left behind and many times they looked at letters but this just shows the feelings of the literate female population -We know from them that the letters were romantic, passionate, and emotional and often desires for kissing and touching were expressed (especially focused on the breasts) and many times they had pet boy names for each other or loving names -They were cons
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