A couple months ago, I binged season 1 and 2 of Netflix’s Bridgerton Series while I was bedbound with COVID.
Armed with a full box of tissues and cough drops, reeking of Vapor Rub (so I was told), I prepared to immerse myself in a Regency Era soap opera of husband hunting, fabulous empire-waist dresses, flirtatious banter, and plenty of irreverance.
I was not disappointed.
But at the same time, I was also surprised and pleased to see storylines that showcased what life was like for women (upper class in this series) before the hard fought battles for equal rights. Because underneath the glitter of seasonal soirees, women were desperate, for if a husband was not secured, a grim future awaited.
Feminism in the 19th Century: Women’s Rights, Roles, and Limits, Christopher Sailus.
It’s a shock for the modern woman to read this statement. It is a horrifying truth we most likely have forgotten, that is, if we learned it at all.
At best, women were considered property and breeders in that era. They lacked a voice, agency, choices, and had neither legal protection or legal recourse in most situations.
It’s time to review and remember what our female forebearers endured.
Upper Class Woman in 19th-century England
Women and their children were considered property, owned by their parents, then by their husbands, or nearest adult male relative.
Titles and the properties associated with them could only be passed on to male heirs. Women and their children could be displaced from their homes when their husbands died.
A woman’s societal worth was equal to the size of her dowry, her family ranking, and her ability to bear children.
A married woman who coud not bear children was considered a failure. The fault was always hers.
Virginity was prized and a requirement for making a good marriage.
A lack of virginity often meant social osterization or destitution.
Women were kept ignorant about sex before marriage.
Out of wedlock birth, was considered scandalous and often resulted in social osterization or destitution.
An older unmarried woman was called a spinister—a deragatory term. The threat of spinsterhood was used to scare young women into accepting transactional, incompatible marriage matches with men who were often old enough to be their father or even grandfather, men who were abusive, drunkards, gamblers, rakes.
Women lacked the ability to control their lives. As a result, some engaged in round-about methods to achieve their goals. Those methods were labeled as manipulative, scheming, underhanded, and passive-agressive.
Abuse (physical and sexual) of married women was hidden and or tolerated as long as the spouse didn’t “go too far.” Legal protection and recourse was practically non-existent.
Women who were outwardly intellectual were called “blue stockings”— a derogatory term. Women were not allowed to attend university and vocal opinions on issues not pertaining to “womanly pursuits”, were considered unbecoming.
Women could not vote.
Widowed women of means (their husbands willed them financial assets) were in the best position and historical accounts suggest they relished their freedom.
There were no employment opportunities for upper class women except for becoming a governor or a lady’s companion. Both positions were low-paying and vulnerable to exploitation and sexual assault by make household members.
If you were not an upper class woman, life was even more repressive, dangerous, and uncertain.
For those of you who have scoffed at the apparent shallowness of Bridgerton, I challenge you to give it a go and look beyond the pageantry to see the individual situations and struggles.
All my love!
Interested in learning more about 19th-century women?
Two Exciting Things Happening in October!
1. I’m offering a free intro Zoom writing class. Date coming soon.
2. I will be launching My Woman’s Wisdom Book a journal/writing guide.
Click here to learn more.
It’s imperative that every woman writes their wisdom and passes it on!