The dabate on whether women have it worse than men continues on the LCP list.
Here's my latest friendly salvo.
An upper class woman of olden times? I believe it's only been the last hundred years or so that women have even been allowed to get a thorough education, enter into professions like doctors, lawyers, etc. In Old England a woman of wealth didn't have to get an education, wasn’t encouraged to do so and was in fact told that her intelligence might frighten off a marriage prospect.
SR (that's me):
Thanks for wanting to continue the discussion.
I’m not an authority on all this, as Diane is, but this is not my understanding of our common past either.
It is difficult to generalize about all times and all places before 1904, but I do know a little about Asian as well as European cultures of earlier times.
You note that only since about 1904 have women been allowed to enter the professions. But remember, the true upper class would have considered such a profession beneath them; these were tradespeople. In many times and places, getting a formal education was considered beneath a gentleman as much as a gentlewomen. One hired people for that: clerks and scribes. Prince Charles is the first direct heir to the English throne ever to have actually gone to college; and if he makes it to the throne will be England’s first university-educated monarch.
On the other hand, this did not equate to getting no education of any sort. Rather, gentlewomen seem often to have been educated at home, by tutors. It was commonly considered important for a woman to be “accomplished,” in both Asia and Europe. The difference was that women usually studied the arts, while men were more often obliged to study more practical matters.
Such worthies as Hume and Descartes wrote self-consciously for the female upper class, as they were about the only ones to have the leisure for philosophy.
Were I a man of the time, I would have envied them.
Moving down the class scale, those who could not afford tutors would, I suppose, bundle off the sons to a public (that is, private) school. And generally not the daughters—they would continue to be tutored. But I do not see how this is self-evidently an advantage granted the boys. First off, the experience of the women is closer to that of the class above, which suggests special privilege. Second, life in a residential school away from one’s home and parents is not all fun and games. Indeed, the same treatment given aboriginal children is considered abusive.
Moving further down the scale, to perhaps the merchant or artisan class—the bourgeois—I expect most boys were at most times and places just thrown into apprenticeship or into the shop, to learn what they needed on the job; but women, by contrast, might at least still hope to get an education beyond the kitchen, if their family had social pretensions.
Lower down, nobody got learning.
As to men preferring women without brains or education, I know this is a common belief among women. “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses,” as Dorothy Parker claimed. But I always wondered about that, because it was never true for me, or for any men I knew. Unless perhaps the rare cad who was looking only for someone to take advantage of.
It seems never to have been true for the educated classes in Europe or Asia either. As I said, being “accomplished” seemed instead to have been always an important consideration for marriageability.
We were itemized right up there with the furniture in a marriage. We could indeed be an asset but only if our father's/dead husbands gave us an inheritance.
I think this was on the whole truer of men than of women. In most places and times, I get the sense it has been easier for a woman to “marry up” than for a man. A woman could make it on looks, or charm; a man had to be able to provide “security.”
…My, you paint such a venomous picture of women. I think if we were even a quarter of the percent devious and crafty as you paint us…
I don’t understand this reaction. Perhaps I have been unclear. I am not saying women are more ambitious for wealth, power, or social position than men. I am saying only that, as far as we can reasonably tell, there is no great difference between the sexes in this regard. Women and men just traditionally go about it in different ways.
If that makes women come out to you looking venomous, or devious, or crafty, then you must, I think, have believed this previously of men.
… then we certainly wouldn't be complaining about how unfair we're treated in the work place in the past or present. I should think we'd have gotten the vote centuries earlier too, don't you?
Your logic that there must have been injustice, or women would not be complaining, works both ways: then the fact that I am now complaining proves there is injustice against men.
But historically, a group complaining of injustice does not always have just cause, and is not always as powerless and as blameless as it sees itself. Hitler justified his acts by complaining of injustice to the German people, notably by the Jews, and Mussolini of injustice to Italy. The US South had a deep sense of grievance at the hands of the “carpetbaggers” and their black allies. The Boers of South Africa felt themselves treated unjustly by the British and threatened by their black allies as well.
As to why women, if they had any power, did not get the vote centuries ago, that is tautological. If they already had the power, why would they need the vote?