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Superwoman, is she any happier?
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Elaine S



Joined: 02 Apr 2007
Posts: 667
Location: Rural England

PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2009 1:30 pm    Post subject: Re: Period mores and etiquette in historical romance Reply with quote

Carla Kelly wrote:
This is an intriguing topic for writers and historians. As both, I find it always challenging to follow those period mores and manners and still produce a work of interest to modern readers. That's half the fun of writing them, I think.

Were women of the early 19th century more of what we might mistakenly call passive and inclined to rely on men? Yes, they were. As one of my characters in an upcoming anthology said, "That is the way the world works." It just was. There were really no occupations open to women of a certain class except governess or marriage. Wild deviations from those aren't really true to the period, I feel, so it's a special challenge to make any deviations logical and workable. When it's successful, super; when it's not, it's painfully obvious.

ck


Bravo Carla! I think this is why you have such a devoted following of readers who won't accept historical wallpaper that makes no effort to reflect contemporaneous accuracy.

Here's something else to consider. Although there was a long fight for women's rights and equality, etc, etc, are women any happier now that they have a bewildering and often contradictory range of life choices? Is Superwoman any happier than her great, great, great grannie whose life was spelt out more or less from birth? Has women's lib gone too far, emasculated men and bitten us all in the rear?
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Rike



Joined: 09 May 2007
Posts: 113
Location: Germany

PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2009 2:58 pm    Post subject: Re: Period mores and etiquette in historical romance Reply with quote

Elaine S wrote:
Here's something else to consider. Although there was a long fight for women's rights and equality, etc, etc, are women any happier now that they have a bewildering and often contradictory range of life choices? Is Superwoman any happier than her great, great, great grannie whose life was spelt out more or less from birth? Has women's lib gone too far, emasculated men and bitten us all in the rear?


I am a bit astonished that you of all people ask this question, Elaine. From what you said in earlier posts here, I gather that you took several choices in your own life that would have been socially and legally impossible two hundred years ago, and which contributed greatly to your personal happiness. So I would assume that for your the answer would be, yes, the fight for women's rights has made you happier in your personal life.

It most decidedly has for me; I appreciate the freedom of making choices both in my personal and my professional life, and I think I would have chafed terribly under the restrictions placed on women in the past. In fact, when confronted with the question whether women are happier now then they were in the past, I always ask myself where I (and other women I know well enough to have some insight into their lives) would probably be standing now if we'd lived 200 years earlier. And seriously, I doubt that many if any would be happier. With choice comes responsibility (ask any man you know), but on the whole I prefer to be responsible, even if it includes some tough decisions.

As for emasculated men, the few whimps and whiners I know would have been equally bad had they lived two centuries ago, I guess, or they would have turned into petty tyrants, which wouldn't have made them any more agreeable. The best men I know are both strong and self-confident, and perfectly at ease with the emancipated women in their lives.

These dramatic changes in our society are one of the reasons, I think, why many readers find accurate historicals, be they Regencies or not, so much more satisfying than wallpaper historicals. If I want to read about Bridget Jones, I read a contemporary. If I want to read about the challenges women had to face in the 19th century and and have picked up a historical, I am really annoyed if the author takes the easy way out and presents modern characters in costume.

I agree with others here that breaking the rules can be worked into a historical, but then it must really well done, and not be included in the novel as if it was of no matter.
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Last edited by Rike on Fri Oct 16, 2009 12:14 am; edited 1 time in total
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iluvarake



Joined: 26 Jan 2009
Posts: 799

PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2009 3:21 pm    Post subject: Re: Period mores and etiquette in historical romance Reply with quote

Elaine S wrote:


Here's something else to consider. Although there was a long fight for women's rights and equality, etc, etc, are women any happier now that they have a bewildering and often contradictory range of life choices? Is Superwoman any happier than her great, great, great grannie whose life was spelt out more or less from birth? Has women's lib gone too far, emasculated men and bitten us all in the rear?


Yes. Yes. No and, hell, no. Laughing (At least IMHO)

I wouldn't trade places with a woman in the past for Midas' gold. To have no legal personhood and to be under another's control, even if that person is benevolent, is absolutely a terrifying thought to me.

And we are reading fantasies here. I'm not saying there weren't any happy women then, but I think they were rarer than they are today.
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Carla Kelly



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
Posts: 195

PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2009 3:21 pm    Post subject: Period mores and etiquette in historical romance Reply with quote

I have to agree with Rike. I know I am better off now, thanks to pioneers in women's equality. This increases my appreciation of 19th century women, some of whom did so much within their spheres. Did they chafe at not having notable careers? Hard to say. Probably not as much as we might think/wish, because they knew their sphere and role. And when you think of it, knowing your place in society does give some comfort.

And yet there is that other angle: are women today any happier than those with "restrictions?" Again, hard to say. I think we're still feeling our way through the details of having careers and opportunities, and trying to find a balance with home and family. None of it's easy, is it?

Gee, I'm almost approaching Jesuitical reasoning. Not bad for a Mormon.
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Allyson



Joined: 23 Mar 2007
Posts: 567

PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2009 6:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Whoa, I haven't heard it called women's lib in *ages*! I've heard that argument before, and I don't really buy it...sure some women (and men!) today aren't happy, but I'm betting that was just as true 50 or 100 years ago. People might not have been able to express it as well then, but there was certainly literature centuries ago about people's unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

Personally I'd rather know that I'm happy or unhappy due to life choices I've chosen to make, rather than ones I've had made for me.

With all that said, I prefer more traditional setups in historical romances generally--I really wish there were more of such where the characters waited til marriage for sex--not ALL of them, but more. I am sure there were lots of unmarried couples doing it, but not to the same extent. And it can be just as or more romantic to see that! It's one reason why some of my favourite plots involve arranged marriage/marriage of convenience and so on.
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Cora



Joined: 12 Mar 2008
Posts: 1129
Location: Bremen, Germany

PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2009 9:23 pm    Post subject: Re: Period mores and etiquette in historical romance Reply with quote

Elaine S wrote:

Here's something else to consider. Although there was a long fight for women's rights and equality, etc, etc, are women any happier now that they have a bewildering and often contradictory range of life choices? Is Superwoman any happier than her great, great, great grannie whose life was spelt out more or less from birth? Has women's lib gone too far, emasculated men and bitten us all in the rear?


Well, speaking for myself, I decided very early on that I would never marry and never have children, which would have made life very difficult for me even a couple of decades ago. I would either have been forced into a marriage I do not want or ended up as a spinster relative, impoverished governess or something of that sort. Even earlier, I would have had to become a nun, which is not the life I want for myself at all.

So yes, the women's movement has definitely made things better not just for me but for all women, because we have finally got the choice to have to life we want, not just the wife and mother life that all too many people still believe should be the ultimate goal of all women.
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NoirFemme



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 1481
Location: America

PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2009 10:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

To piggyback on Elaine S's question, here are very pertinent two articles from TIME magazine (via Jezebel):

What Women Want

Where She Is and Where She Is Going
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veasleyd1



Joined: 02 Dec 2007
Posts: 2064

PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2009 5:30 am    Post subject: Re: Period mores and etiquette in historical romance Reply with quote

Elaine S wrote:

Here's something else to consider. Although there was a long fight for women's rights and equality, etc, etc, are women any happier now that they have a bewildering and often contradictory range of life choices? Is Superwoman any happier than her great, great, great grannie whose life was spelt out more or less from birth? Has women's lib gone too far, emasculated men and bitten us all in the rear?


I'm very much afraid that you have just provoked me to a rant and a diatribe.

The answer is yes.

In Missouri in the 1880s, my great-grandfather, a country doctor, tutored my grandmother at home after she finished 8th grade until she was qualified for admission to normal school because the county had no high school for girls.

In Germany in the 1880s, my other great-grandfather, a tailor in Pomerania, picked up and departed for New York because the guild rules prevented him from apprenticing his daughters to any trade that would allow them to earn a respectable living if they didn't marry.

My grandmothers were fifty years old when American women received the right to vote.

My mother lived through the days when marriage was cause for a woman to be fired from her job.

I'm old enough to know.

I'm old enough that when I was applying for a Fulbright Scholarship in 1960, the interview committee asked me whether or not I had plans to marry.

I'm old enough that when I entered the Ph.D. history program at Stanford, Professor Thomas A. Bailey (author of American Pageant and many other widely distributed textbooks) greeted the incoming candidates with, "If I had my preferences, every seat in this room occupied by a young lady would have been assigned to a young gentleman."

I'm old enough that when I was pregnant with my second child, the administration of the college where I was then teaching tried to remove me from my post. They used the existence of an early 20th-century industrial law designed to protect women and children employed in factories. I had to appeal for a ruling from the state supreme court -- and I already had tenure.

It's a good thing that women have political say.

It's a good thing that women have a right to education.

It's a good thing that women have property rights.

It's a good thing that women can earn their own living.

It's a good thing that women have the right to keep custody or joint custody of their children if a marriage breaks down.

It's a good thing that women have resources to use against parental or spousal abuse.

Remember the jokes about women drivers?

Remember the sheer loathing of women expressed in a lot of early 20th century popular fiction -- the wife as the "ball and chain" and marriage as a "trap" for men?

Yes, I would say that women are, on the average, happier because the above rights have come into existence. Their lives may not be easier (although, at any economic level below that of "very prosperous" they certainly are), but overall, a person is happier when he, or she, has some control over his or her fate.

Virginia
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CD



Joined: 15 Sep 2007
Posts: 665
Location: London, UK

PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2009 11:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think others here have reiterated very well my own thoughts on women's rights. To my mind, it's difficult to argue with the progess that has been made, even just within a generation or two. And it is something that is firmly within living memory.

When it comes to happiness though, that's an interesting question. From what I've seen, happiness is about the gap between your dreams/expectations and reality. For most people (disproportionately women) for much of history, reality was something that they couldn't or had limited means of controlling. But dreams/expectations were different - if you had as little expectation of earning a living yourself as of controlling the weather, you just have to shrug your shoulders and get on with your life as best as you can. I think that's one of the most admirable qualities that human beings can have - the ability to adapt and forge a life in the most difficult of circumstances. That takes a special kind of strength.

Nowadays, our generation living in prosperous countries have had more choices and greater freedoms than our grandmothers (or grandfathers for that matter) could envisage. But then our dreams and expectations of both ouselves and society around us have grown. And sometimes those dreams and expectations that we place ourselves or that society places on us are just too much. So I suppose, in that sense, it's not surprising that many women now seem to be less happy than a generation or two ago.

However, I can't imagine that those women would be at all happier if transported to another time or even a previous generation. Time travel romances may be all very well at the end of a hard day juggling work, children, husband and friends - but if the current reality doesn't measure up to our expectations, a previous reality would definitley not Wink...

But I for one would not give up any of the freedoms that I currently have to do any job that I am qualified and willing to do, of living wherever and with whoever I wish to, and having the freedom of my own body and sexuality. I recognise acutely how fortunate I am and recognise my debt to those who have made this possible.
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dreamweaver



Joined: 21 Jun 2009
Posts: 328

PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2009 11:52 am    Post subject: Re: Period mores and etiquette in historical romance Reply with quote

I really have nothing to add to the discussion that hasn't already been said, but I did want to say to veasley - Brilliant post! Thanks for sharing your experience with us.



veasleyd1 wrote:
Elaine S wrote:

Here's something else to consider. Although there was a long fight for women's rights and equality, etc, etc, are women any happier now that they have a bewildering and often contradictory range of life choices? Is Superwoman any happier than her great, great, great grannie whose life was spelt out more or less from birth? Has women's lib gone too far, emasculated men and bitten us all in the rear?


I'm very much afraid that you have just provoked me to a rant and a diatribe.

The answer is yes.

In Missouri in the 1880s, my great-grandfather, a country doctor, tutored my grandmother at home after she finished 8th grade until she was qualified for admission to normal school because the county had no high school for girls.

In Germany in the 1880s, my other great-grandfather, a tailor in Pomerania, picked up and departed for New York because the guild rules prevented him from apprenticing his daughters to any trade that would allow them to earn a respectable living if they didn't marry.

My grandmothers were fifty years old when American women received the right to vote.

My mother lived through the days when marriage was cause for a woman to be fired from her job.

I'm old enough to know.

I'm old enough that when I was applying for a Fulbright Scholarship in 1960, the interview committee asked me whether or not I had plans to marry.

I'm old enough that when I entered the Ph.D. history program at Stanford, Professor Thomas A. Bailey (author of American Pageant and many other widely distributed textbooks) greeted the incoming candidates with, "If I had my preferences, every seat in this room occupied by a young lady would have been assigned to a young gentleman."

I'm old enough that when I was pregnant with my second child, the administration of the college where I was then teaching tried to remove me from my post. They used the existence of an early 20th-century industrial law designed to protect women and children employed in factories. I had to appeal for a ruling from the state supreme court -- and I already had tenure.

It's a good thing that women have political say.

It's a good thing that women have a right to education.

It's a good thing that women have property rights.

It's a good thing that women can earn their own living.

It's a good thing that women have the right to keep custody or joint custody of their children if a marriage breaks down.

It's a good thing that women have resources to use against parental or spousal abuse.

Remember the jokes about women drivers?

Remember the sheer loathing of women expressed in a lot of early 20th century popular fiction -- the wife as the "ball and chain" and marriage as a "trap" for men?

Yes, I would say that women are, on the average, happier because the above rights have come into existence. Their lives may not be easier (although, at any economic level below that of "very prosperous" they certainly are), but overall, a person is happier when he, or she, has some control over his or her fate.

Virginia
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veasleyd1



Joined: 02 Dec 2007
Posts: 2064

PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2009 11:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

CD wrote:
But dreams/expectations were different - if you had as little expectation of earning a living yourself as of controlling the weather, you just have to shrug your shoulders and get on with your life as best as you can. I think that's one of the most admirable qualities that human beings can have - the ability to adapt and forge a life in the most difficult of circumstances. That takes a special kind of strength.


It's not as if most women didn't earn their livings. It's just that they earned them at menial, backbreaking, work. There's a reason that the nursery rhyme went:

Curly Locks! Curly Locks! wilt thou be mine?
Thou shalt not wash the dishes, nor yet feed the swine.--
But sit on a cushion and sew a fine seam,
And feast upon strawberries, sugar and cream.


The girl's options were not to "sew a fine seam" or be a respected college professor. They were to "sew a fine seam" or slop the hogs. Far more women were in domestic service than were ever governesses. On farms, "domestic" service included very heavy chores.
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Elaine S



Joined: 02 Apr 2007
Posts: 667
Location: Rural England

PostPosted: Sun Oct 18, 2009 12:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Looks like really provoked a few of you here which I did not mean to do! I meant my question in a generic fashion and it was prompted by some of the reading I have done recently – not fiction – but essays and so forth in the serious press.

Just last week a very senior banker (a woman with small children) wrote that maternity leave rights (12 months in the UK) were making women unemployable. Today I read an article in one of the more serious Sunday papers about a professional woman who became pregnant just after the time period necessary in her job under the rules to qualify for the 12 month leave. She then returned to work 2 months pregnant. In all she has put in very little time with her employer but the law which has changed over the years due to pressure from women seeking more rights, etc., has now meant that she can do this over and over and her employers (who unlike many firms generously give full pay during the 12 months) will pay the bill. To fire her would incur the full wrath of the human rights brigade so to get rid of her is nearly impossible under current UK employment law and would cost her employer a lot of money to litigate. She admitted that she may get pregnant again before returning to work if she decides to have a third child but, in the meanwhile, she admits that her firm “is big and they can afford it”. She said she would rather have the third child sooner rather than later so that she could exploit the rules. What kind of attitude is that? Pretty lousy IMO but she is not the only one to do this. However, these are rights that women have pressed hard for. No one wants women to work until their waters break and return immediately after birth but I think this does argue that some things have gone too far.

This is the sort of thing that made me wonder if “women’s lib” (or whatever you want to call it) has gone too far. As for the choices I have made in my own life as Rike mentioned – yes I have made choices but all of them were legal, ethical, accepted and not as all unusual in the timeframe in which I made them. I don’t think they compare, therefore, with the past and should be measured only against the now as I accept the strictures placed on my ancestors because that was how things were then.

As for whether our great grannies were happy or not, well, just as we cannot possibly imagine living a 19th century life, they could not imagine living a 21st century life. Many of the changes that have come into play are for the greater good of us (men and women) all but I sill wonder how many working women with children would prefer their husbands made enough salary for them to stay home and raise their kids without the pressures society now places on us which are, arguably, the result of the changes we wanted?

NoirFemme – I read the Time articles with great interest. Thanks for the link.
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Allyson



Joined: 23 Mar 2007
Posts: 567

PostPosted: Sun Oct 18, 2009 1:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm sure lots of women wish they were married to someone rich enough that they didn't have to work, but so do some men! Of my friends, I definitely hear the 'I wish I could stay home and be a housewife/househusband' from men and women alike, though it often (from both genders) comes off as 'I want to stay home and not work', grass-is-greener sort of statement. Happiness is such a hard thing to measure, and there are always going to be people wishing things were different. But I think a lot of the 'I wish I was living in another time' only really takes into account the idealised past. Pretty dresses and staying at home with the kids wasn't the reality for every woman then, either.

There are definitely stories, like the maternity leave situation, where it seems questionable..but there are just as many stories about women still being treated unfairly, and situations where sexism is still a problem. So I wouldn't ever say feminism has gone too far, but maybe in the wrong direction in some places. And, if the price for all that's been achieved is a bit of 'gone too far'..well, I'm happy to take it, as those situations will probably sort of themselves out!
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Lynda X



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PostPosted: Sun Oct 18, 2009 3:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Life is not easy for the vast majority of people. If you're not worried about putting food on the table, it's worry about your kids/husband/parents or your health, etc. Almost no one has no problems.

I am POSITIVE that women are happier today than in the past. If you just look at the constant fear women had to face--with no basic medical or dental care (my grandmother can remember having her teeth drilled with a shuddle-actived drill!), with very labor-intensive lives, with little or no real knowledge about the epidemics that swept people, etc., it's just logical to conclude women are happier today.

But that really wasn't the question, was it? I am also POSITIVE that women are happier today than in the past because of the women's movement. How do I know? Compare depression rates in those societies that women have no freedom, and it jolts you back into thankfulness. Even my DOG wants freedom and choice! Perhaps, if you had lots of money AND a father who just considered your well-being and preference when arranging a marriage, you were protected--to a degree. But with no divorce, with the law defining the kids as his totally, with no protection against a husband who not only owned everything you had (and if you yourself worked, he was entitled to every cent you made and there was nothing to insure he spent it on food, etc. for you and the kids), with no protection against a man who beat you or the kids--in a world where you had virtually no rights, where your father or husband could tell you that you were straining your brain by reading and thinking too much, and confine you to wherever he wanted (I read somewhere that Emily Dickinson was confined to her room for months to rest her brain), women could not have been happier than today. Of course, some women were happy in the past, and some of them were happier than SOME women today, but it's just logical to assume that women IN GENERAL are happier today with more choices available to them. Have we worked it all out yet? No. Are there unexpected consequences (like men who don't quite know their roles and women's yearnings for "when they were taken care of"--evident in so many romances that I and others love)? Yes. That's what change does to society. Romance books present fairy tales, as everybody knows.
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veasleyd1



Joined: 02 Dec 2007
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 18, 2009 4:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[quote="Elaine S"]No one wants women to work until their waters break and return immediately after birth but I think this does argue that some things have gone too far.

This is the sort of thing that made me wonder if “women’s lib” (or whatever you want to call it) has gone too far. As for the choices I have made in my own life as Rike mentioned – yes I have made choices but all of them were legal, ethical, accepted and not as all unusual in the timeframe in which I made them. I don’t think they compare, therefore, with the past and should be measured only against the now as I accept the strictures placed on my ancestors because that was how things were then.


Americans don't have that.

My first child was born 18 August 1968; I had taught summer school; I taught a full schedule starting the first week of September.

My second child was born 18 January 1971 (a Sunday). I taught a full schedule the preceding week. I met my graduate seminar on the following Tuesday. (This was the child that precipitated my appeal to the state supreme court not to be suspended from my job; it wasn't as if I was shirking!)

My third child was born in January 1978. As it happened, I was taking an unpaid sabbatical that year to do research, so I didn't go back to teaching until the following summer semester. If that hadn't been the case, though . . .

The moral of the story is that no woman should ever assume that institutional authorities have a beneficent intent toward her. She's going to have to be assertive to maintain her professional standing. Just as today, your authorities are using maternity leave policies as an excuse not to hire women. Some people will exploit any situation, but if they don't abuse the system, that doesn't mean they will be treated with impartial justice.

Edit added here: Conversely, you will always find people who are prepared to "play the system," whatever the system may be. My anger at a woman such as the banker you described (and who is probably the age of my younger children, thus not having lived through the process of obtaining the educational and employment privileges available to her now) is that her activities -- as Elaine S. has demonstrated in her post -- can be used as the basis for arguments to deny such privileges to all women because some abuse them.


Last edited by veasleyd1 on Mon Oct 19, 2009 4:30 am; edited 2 times in total
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