It’s also easy to forget that women’s liberation is a relatively recent concept. It wasn’t so long ago that women in the UK couldn’t vote and that rape in marriage was legal until as late as 1991. To the modern woman this must seem incredible, but for her grandmothers and great-grandmothers, and even her mother, being seen as a second-class citizen, her husband’s property, was par for the course.
It’s no wonder then, with this background, that women today rebel against things like sexual harassment and inequality in the workplace. Even in my own working life, in a high street bank in the 1960s, women did most of the work in branch but were paid half of what the men got. To say that it rankled among the female employees was putting it mildly.
Life today holds challenges our mothers and grandmothers often didn’t face, given that most were stay-at-home wives and mothers, that of balancing working away from home with childcare and pitting necessity against guilt: probably one of the most difficult aspects of modern motherhood. Men’s responsibilities have evolved alongside women’s but their traditional role has been carved in stone since time immemorial: they are the providers and women are the carers. In many male-dominated societies, women do most of the work as well as the caring, but in western society the balance is more even and equality is a buzz word.
That aside, what men often don’t fully understand is the emotional ties that bind women to the state of being owned. They say a woman is a daughter first, a mother second, and a wife third. As the ‘caring’ gender, she is expected to, or guilt forces her to accept that she should care for her parents, her children, and her partner. She, and I am guilty of this, allows herself to be owned by them, physically and emotionally, and the task of juggling these three sets of owners can be daunting, even impossible. The stresses when things go wrong, the guilt of failing to please everyone all of the time, and the feeling of responsibility for everyone’s well-being can drive women to anxiety attacks, exhaustion, and depression. Sadly, it is often women themselves who perpetuate this feeling of responsibilty and hand it down to the next generation.
My husband would say ‘they’re old enough to look after themselves’ or ‘you don’t need to see your mother today’, and I know he’s right, but will my ingrained upbringing in a caring society allow me to neglect my duty? No. Duty: love for our family aside, that’s what it boils down to. A man’s traditional duty is seen as having to provide financially. A woman’s is to provide emotional support to all around her, and it can’t be done. A woman is constantly struggling with the impossible and feeling guilty for failing.
All of which isn’t what I was intending to say. Researching for an historical series, For Their Country’s Good, inspired by my great-great-great uncle’s misdemeanors in 1841, I discovered much about the lack of women’s rights in Victorian England. Women owned nothing, and had no rights over their lives, their children, or even their own bodies. Horses had more value and were often treated better. A man could imprison, beat, and rape his wife, and she had no redress in law. He could have mistresses, and she was expected to accept them, but if she strayed she could be set aside with no means of support and thrown on the doorstep of the poor house and never allowed to see her children again. Was it any wonder women stayed in abusive marriages?
I was appalled by this, as I knew nothing of the degradations women were forced to suffer in the 1800s and early 1900s, the pregnancies they could be forced into, whether they wanted more children or not, even though childbirth killed a huge number. Even pain in childbirth was seen by 19th century men as God’s punishment for Eve tempting Adam in the Garden of Eden, and they thought pain was necessary for the bond between mother and child to form at birth.
It was once suggested, after a man in my dystopian saga, Where Hope Dares, came to a particularly grisly end that maybe I didn’t much like men. Not so, I assure you. Many of my best friends and those I love are men. The grisly end was actually my husband’s suggestion as he thought my punishment far too soft. (Though I confess to a quiet satisfaction that this particularly nasty villain got his just deserts after all)
The gist of this ramble is that my research for the For Their Country’s Good historical trilogy made me realise why the suffragettes came into being, why their cause was so vitally important, and why women must still fight for equality and must remember that no-one owns them. It’s far too easy to forget.
http://mybook.to/OnDifferentShores (Book One) A woman who escapes ‘being owned’ by an abusive husband in 1841, sacrifices all, and follows her heart to the ends of the earth.