Did the Victorians make us bad women?

music hall ladies.jpeg

Samantha Brick. Now, it’s not like I live in a hole in the ground, but it is fair to say that I came to the whole Brick debacle a bit late. In case, like me you also had more interesting things to read than a woman espousing how beautiful she is – rapidly followed by the internet hollering straight back that she SO isn’t, Samantha Brick lives in France with her husband (whose facial hair could help him easily pass for a gentleman of the 19th century, very respectable handlebar moustache) and wrote a piece in the English newspaper The Daily Mail about how hard it was being SUCH an attractive woman. People disagreed. Loudly, and in great numbers.

Personally, I don’t see why so many of the Mail’s readers got quite so annoyed by Brick’s belief’s. Surely, in modern England, women are supposed to be accepting, tolerant, and secure in the image of woman-hood. If one of our sex stands up and says ‘I feel pretty’ the correct form of behaviour is to join in with the chorus and pat her on the back for not folding underneath the weight of diet magazines and size zero models. But no, women were the first and greatest detractors of Brick’s statements, and this made me wonder…are the Victorians to blame?

The Victorians were obsessed with the idea of the perfect woman. She was quiet, not too clever as to threaten her husband, but clever enough to run and maintain a household, a good hostess, well mannered, took easily to motherhood and, most importantly, led a pure and virtuous life. No make up, no sexual knowledge, virginity assured. Picture a china doll, and that was how Victorian men wanted their wives to be. But this is the most important thing to remember, the Victorians saw women as falling into only two identities; pure and impure, vice and virtue, saint or sinner, virgin or whore. There was no middle ground. So any women who was lusty, forward thinking, free with her opinion and, *shock horror* aware of her attractiveness to the opposite sex, was immediately shunned, vilified and rejected. And it was women who were as equally to blame as men for this conformist perfect ideal of woman-hood taking hold on society. Some of the greatest social reformers and purity enforcers were women, like Laura Ormiston-Chant who worked tirelessly to get the music halls to become more ‘civilised’ due to her belief that they promoted immorality, loose morals, heavily painted women and prostitutes.

Under the guise of Christian morality and a form of modesty on crack, where to admit you have any good attributes not immediately beneficial to the role of virginal wife or mother – which is a paradox in itself – women became sexually and socially repressed in their attitudes towards everything, but most importantly, towards other women. This is still written into British culture today, so that when Samantha Brick stood up and raised the Pretty flag for herself, the Victorian in almost every women raised its modest, virtuous head above the parapet and said, ‘how DARE you!!’.