There has always been a double standard when it comes to the battle of the sexes. Nowhere is this more evident in the Victorian age than when it comes to sexual intercourse itself.
As we discussed in the post Naughty Nudes, Victorians didn’t openly talk about sex but it governed their lives. It dictated clothing and decorating styles and necessitated the formation of societal rules to ensure women remained pure and men discreet.
The double standard started young. Females were thought to be morally superior to males. The mother was looked upon as a saintly figure. Girls were born, predetermined by nature, to be generous while pure in both thought and feeling. Boys, on the other hand, were born animals and less morally inclined.
This double standard led to a variety of opinions and behaviors that today we find ridiculous, including:
- The idea that giving women suffrage would destroy their moral character.
- Not allowing girls to read certain books and newspapers because doing so would have a negative influence on their character.
- The thought that women of high breeding should not work because it was morally beneath them.
- Women, even married women, did not enjoy sex and merely tolerated it for the sake of procreation.
- Education was segregated. There were male and female subjects, and too much reading or education was thought to make women ill.
- During the early part of the era, women were thought to be too delicate for athletics.
And while men could live happily as bachelors, unmarried women were ridiculed and faced a life of destitution.
Women were expected to be virgins upon marriage; men were expected to be experienced. Women were expected to remain faithful to their spouse; a man could cheat so long as he was discreet. A husband could divorce a wife for adultery, but a wife could not divorce a husband for the same reason.
For much of the Victorian era, women also saw their property and wealth revert to their husbands upon marriage, could be legally beaten and sexually abused, could be legally kidnapped if they tried to leave, and would loose custody of their children upon divorce.
Some women were so poor they turned to prostitution to survive. A woman willingly engaging in such sexual activity was deemed unnatural and a popular euphemism at the time was to call prostitutes “fallen women,” presumably because they had fallen from the high moral standard given to them by God.
Many of these societal rules and double standards were put in place to protect society in a time when technology and science was replacing religion and superstition. People were protecting themselves from the scary, unfamiliar modern world.
By the end of the 19th century, attitudes relaxed and the “new woman” was born. The new woman was dedicated to women’s education, to suffrage, and to liberating society’s sexual standards.
Without the new woman, women would not have broken into the workplace, attended university, won the right to vote or heeded their nations’ calls during World War One.
What are your thoughts on adultery and the double standard in the Victorian era or today? Leave a comment below.
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