Sometimes I worry I’ll end up like one of those ladies in 19th century romantic novels who just sit by the window doing needlework all day and faint whenever they get flustered.
How do you imagine you’d cope with a life where you contribute nothing, do nothing, just potter about? I know it’s the reality for some who are seriously ill (see comments) or permanently injured, dependent on money and assistance from others, but otherwise it’s not exactly the norm in our society as it was a few hundred years ago, where it was a matter of pride that your wife did not have to earn a living or even do the laundry!
Is it really possible for culture to change our personalities that radically, or is one or the other perspective more true and natural than the other? In such case, which one – is every step forward in time progress? Women now have the right to go and fulfill themselves independently, which is good. In fact they rather have to – is that good too, in all cases? Because it seems that flock instincts dictate that we all subscribe to the same, latest, modern opinions, those who differ are just weird (such as the Amish).
I believe people should arrange their lives whichever way they like, if they can, and sod the norms. But when it comes to myself I’m much less accepting. Because I too subscribe to the latest norms apparently, even though I have no problem ignoring fashion, popular tv etc. or express a different opinion in a group of strangers. I have no need of a job to define my identity, in fact I would have no qualms at all being a skinny white rich bitch (a label once put on one of my friends who was anything but, but that’s another story). It’s the pottering about and dependency I don’t care so much for. 😉
I was hoping you might like to have a bit of a discussion, while I go search for an old bottle of strong cough meds that I think is hiding somewhere in the cupboard.
24 thoughts on “Georgian”
I think that in the old days, although many fine ladies had limited lives, they really tried to contribute as much as they could within their families and their communities. Often, the needlework was about sewing for the poor. Many married women had responsibilities for their household. And certainly it was only a section of society who faced these issues – middle and lower class women worked hard, day in and day out.
Even in my grandmother’s day, when it was still standard for women to stay home, they were busy with their children, housework, and family business. They felt their contributions were vital to the well-being of their families, and I believe we’ve lost a lot in terms of family health and happiness with having no adult as a full-time homekeeper in so many families these days. I don’t know that all those women felt they were dependent. They were in a partnership with their husbands and money was only one kind of contribution.
I know disabled people who contribute a great deal to their families and society. It might not be in terms of money or commerce, but is that the only worthwhile thing?
Oh goodness, I am so sorry for such a long comment! It’s only because I’ve thought often about this subject and your interesting post sparked off those thoughts. I hope you don’t mind too much.
I hope you found that cough medicine! 🙂
I absolutely love long comments and debate. 🙂
Of course I didn’t mean to imply that disabled people are all useless. Or that homemakers are. But I deliberately didn’t want to drone on and on, rather keep the rest for the comment section in case anybody was interested in adding their perspective.
I also agree with what you said about rich people/poor people, but I think there has been a shift in perception here. 200 years ago the poor envied the rich ladies their leisure, today we scorn “golddiggers” (while secretly envying them, LOL). It has become the norm that women are proud of their accomplishments, so much that we try too hard, whereas earlier, working women did so out of hunger, longing for that well off husband that would let them off the hard life of scrubbing floors for others.
Perhaps we haven’t changed all that much inside, but our lives have.
There are also numerous ways to perceive “contribution” I guess. Is it enough to have a clean house, like my grandmothers, or are you only good enough if you pay taxes? How about saving the world, making an impact? At the moment I do none of those things! I’m not even having fun, dang it.
But what you’re saying is, essentially, that we always had a drive to be useful, in some way or other. So it’s probably a very important part of being human and feeling good about oneself.
Just to be in the clear here, I am not trying to say that chronically ill people are a waste of space. I know that most of you, like I, would wish to be healthy and active.
What I’m talking about here is the FEELING of not contributing, not a comparison of income or output.
Personally I’m feeling like there’s something I ought to be doing, but I’m not able, and that really bugs me. I was wondering if others felt the same.
I have never been in the position of not being able to DO what I want to do–I think it would make me very uncomfortable. For better or worse, I define myself by what I’ve accomplished on any given day. I do, however, count a pretty wide variety of activities as accomplishments!
I’m the same – but apparently I must relearn. Kicking and screaming (and fainting) on the way!
I enjoyed your post. The opening sentences combined with the fainting lady picture sucked me right in. 🙂 While I don’t have anything to add, I agree with your sentiment: “I believe people should arrange their lives whichever way they like, if they can, and sod the norms.”
Yes, I thought she was suitably hilarious and melodramatic! 😀
While the idea of sitting at the window of some beautiful Edwardian country mansion doing needlework all day (while all the cleaning and cooking was all done by other people) does have certain appeal, I nevertheless understand exactly what you mean. As you know I’m one of those people who due to ill health is not able to contribute/accomplish/achieve much and I agree with you, it really does suck because I too have been brought up to feel that you need to achieve or contribute something to be a worthwhile person.
Yet I certainly – rationally speaking – get it that a person’s worth as a human being is not dependent on achievements, and I do not think other disabled/sick people are not worthwhile people if they are unable to achieve things, I just expect if from myself, so it’s definitely a case of double standards. I realise it doesn’t make sense to be so much harsher on myself than I would be on other people, but it’s interesting why it is so much harder to be kind to oneself than it is to be kind to others… But I am reading a book on self-compassion by Paul Gilbert at the moment, so hopefully, one day, I learn…
Yes, it’s curious how we tend to punish ourselves in ways we’d never consider decent behaviour towards/from others! Adding book to my reading list!
I think there was only one woman in my family who did not work – and she worked until she was married and after that did pretty much everything around the house, yard etc. Yes, I think there is a general desire in most* people to put something back into their families and societies if they are able, even if it is not as a paid worker. (I say most because there are some who are just “takers”.) I don’t think I could potter endlessly if I were the skinny white rich bitch (hey I’m up to 75% of that), but it would be nice to have some days of pottering rather than so many of work. If I were financially independent – or even dependent – and were not a working artist, (which makes a spiritual necessity of itself) – I think I would still put something back into society, volunteering at something for example. It is possible to pay it forward, as they say, because the financial independence means never having to worry about making sure it comes back to you to enable continued life off the streets.
I definitely wouldn’t spend my (imagined) wealth on fancy dress and pool parties either. What I meant was, as I think you understood, that I don’t feel my activities and my income have to be directly linked necessarily.
And make it go around for sure.
Speaking of Victorian women specifically, as well as old-fashioned ideals that are similar, my big problem with it isn’t that women don’t contribute much to society but that society severely limits what women can contribute.
Needlework, child-rearing, nursing may all very well be revered in society and considered to be as contributing much significance– if men were doing them. If they were considered mens’ work.
I was just discussing this with my husband, about why school teachers are ‘less than’ college professors, childrens’ book writers ‘less than’ adult fiction or nonfiction writers. It’s because child raising is traditional womens’ work! It’s so messed up because what we experience as children deeply informs the adults we will become, regardless of who is providing those experiences for children.
I hate Victorian ideals as well because women (as well as men, in different ways) are not allowed to be seen as balanced. They can’t get angry. They can’t lash out or break down or be out going or experience freedom. They have to be proper and shy, bashful and quiet. There is nothing wrong with those qualities if they are authentic expressions. But if this is what a woman ‘must’ be, then issues will come up.
I’m thinking of the women in my family. Issues, issues, issues. Nervous breakdowns, disconnect from reality. This sort of thing is natural if one is forced to deny their real self their entire lives. (look at that woman in the photo! To me, she looks like a lady who is sick of being unreal! She’s given up, almost) which can explain why there’s that cliche of fainting at the sight of rudeness, crudeness, of conflict— we DEEPLY resist what we are denying ourselves.
Which brings me to what I feel is what a good contribution is… finding, owning, and expressing one’s authenticity. Of course, it can’t be summed up in one sentence.. it’s a multi-layered and faceted work that involves a great deal of other factors.
Some questions.. is dependency bad because it’s traditionally the womens’ role? Suppose throughout history, women were forced to work to support mens’ lollygaggying, whatever form that would take. Dependency may very well be considered an elevated role, even today. I don’t know the answers to the question, of course, but I always wonder about the reversal of certain positions. I think reading the funny and sad essay “If Men Could Menstruate” by Gloria Steinem helped me to think in this way the most.
I know I sorta went off topic here, but I think we’re all bringing something different to the table and that can be cool.
Not off topic at all. The free will part of it all is very relevant – is it a priviledge to potter about if that’s all you’re allowed to do? In those days, it was a lady’s only means of survival unless she could become a governess/nanny, since people of higher status were brought up to be hardly able to dress themselves or boil an egg – in many cases it was not a given that girls needed to learn to read and write even in high society. And I find it unlikely that females have only aquired intelligence in the last 100 years…. That must have been as frustrating to some then as it is to those of us today who for various reasons are unable to work much. Even if they had perhaps been “brainwashed” to be passive as we are being bullied into efficiency today.
I wanted to say more on this – but I appear to be having a dizzy spell! o_O
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Just to toss another perspective in, I don’t think it necessarily has to do with being a woman at all. I think that anyone, man or woman, can feel low because of not working, by being dependent on another. It’s seen as weakness, a fault. While one can look at this through the lens of gender, I think it really has more to do with very human feelings of needing to be of use, to be strong, or at least invulnerable, to be self-sufficient, the fear of being a burden and of not being productive or up to societal standards of what successful is. Even fear of being seen as lazy or a freeloader. It is easy to feel really bad about all this, to start pulling up one’s defenses. And if one does want to look at this through the lens of gender, can you imagine, even still today, how much harder it is for a man to be the one who cannot work? A woman can work or not work, and people are ok with it either way anymore. But a man? That gender role is still pretty entrenched.
I also think that the pressure of pottering productively and not “wasting” time, even while one is ill, is very much a symptom of our modern industrial 40+ hour work week influenced lives. Once upon a time, each contribution was necessary for survival. Now it’s just Go, go, go! No time to rest! Punch that timecard! Earn that dollar! (or krone) 🙂 Get another step ahead in the game! Buy that new car! Get that second mortgage! Oooh! Pretty purse! Shoes! One more credit card! Aagh! Debt! Work harder! It just never f*cking stops. But it should. We all know it’s a lie that should stop.
So, I say, enjoy your pottering, this slow life. Be good to your body and to your soul. Foster a spirit of gratitude that you are able to do this during a time when you need to. Healing is important work, after all. Put that fainting couch to good use. 😀
Hai, good to see you around!
I didn’t think of that, but you’re right of course, it would be even worse for a man. At least I have some tradition to lean on. 😉
Yes, pottering productively. Because I don’t think I’m sick ENOUGH. But I think it’s pretty ironic that as much as I don’t care about timecards, new shoes etc. I do in fact impose the same “moral” standards on myself to the point of having worn myself out. I’m truly blessed that I don’t have to (and I’m so aware of it), so it’s a mystery why I keep doing it!
Turns out I have a mycoplasma pneumonia btw…
oh nooooo!!!!! so sorry to hear..
See? Fainting couch. And soup. And tea. And herbs. And tinctures. And good books. And all the feeling better already!