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Women's Rights

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 3 months ago



      Women's Rights





               Notes on the Text



Cult of True Womanhood: also called the cult of domesticity; the concept of womanhood created primarily around the middle class that valorized such ideals as piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity--more information on the cult of true womanhood can be found at http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/386/truewoman.html 


Angel in the House: title of poem written by Coventry Patmore to his wife; term came to represent the ideal submissive Victorian wife


                Commentary on the Text


The February 14, 1874 edition of Punch contains a cartoon entitled “Women’s Rights” and depicts two women of differing generations labeled ‘Ancient Lady’ and ‘Modern Ditto.’ The older woman offers the younger woman, whom she addresses as Miss Sharp, a ride. The young woman declines because she wants to walk and smoke. This cartoon is controversial for several reasons, first, the reference to Miss Sharp associates the younger woman with Rebecca (Becky) Sharp from William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair; second, women walking unaccompanied was considered improper; and third, smoking was perceived as an inappropriate habit for women.
Victorian readers would have been intimately acquainted with the name ‘Miss Sharp,’ for Becky Sharp was one of the main characters of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, first published in serial form during the years of 1847-48. Becky Sharp was a character depicted as a cunning social climber, a beautiful young woman who embodied some of the most feared qualities of the New Woman—seductiveness, a decidedly non-maternal quality, and a pronounced desire for higher economic status. Lisa Jadwin comments that at the time Thackeray was writing Vanity Fair, it was a “time of revolutionary unrest in Europe and feminist agitation in England” and that “despite a decade of hard-won political and intellectual gains, British women found themselves increasingly defined as avatars of silence, submission, and domestic servitude” (Jadwin 667). Thackeray presents a strong, flawed female protagonist in Becky Sharp who was at absolute opposition with the saintly qualities of the Cult of True Womanhood or the Angel in the House—the modest, chaste, domestic woman. Becky Sharp is a threatening figure to men seeking a model wife and therefore, the young woman in the cartoon is labeled as a siren-like, dangerous woman.
The young woman's desire to go on a walk would have been seen as transgressive by Victorian readers. Judith R. Walkowitz states that “[c]onduct books and magazines frequently admonished their female readers not to window-shop or in any other way exhibit ‘longing behavior’ on the street. While deploring the conduct of male pests, magazines such as the Girls on Paper nonetheless insisted that it was generally a girl’s fault if she was ‘spoken to’” (Walkowitz 7).  Several examples of the danger to women of walking alone can be seen in Jane Austen’s Emma; Jane Fairfax, a single woman of a lesser social standing, is scolded by Mrs. Elton for her solo excursions, also, the character Harriet falls behind in a walk with others and is accosted by a band of gypsies. This is a comment on the social expectations of Victorian women as dictated by conduct manuals, which proscribe these kinds of behaviors and, further, place the burden of blame on a woman if she is injured in some way.
Throughout the majority of the 19th century, smoking was considered a masculine behavior and therefore the prospect of the young woman smoking would have been seen as scandalous deportment. Women who did smoke were portrayed as masculine, aberrant, and loose. Dolores Mitchell states that “cigars, cigarettes, and pipes often served as attributes of masculine power in 19th century art. Rarely depicted women smokers were usually ‘outsiders’ . . . ‘new women’ for whom cigarettes symbolized deviance” (Mitchell 3). The young woman’s desire to smoke, particularly in public, shows that although there had been steps taken in feminist agendas, the behaviors of the New Woman in the Victorian era were still sneered at and looked down upon.  
 Using the media as a means of propaganda to mock feminist women, this Punch cartoon, derisively titled “Women’s Rights”, depicts the character of the young woman as masculine, loose, and economically striving through the means of the woman’s title (Becky Sharp), her desire to smoke and her desire to walk unaccompanied. 


Kate Williams 3/18/2008

I find this cartoon interesting for a number of reasons.  First, the very concept of being a cartoon limits the knowledge that we, as readers and viewers, can have on the moment presented to us.  Does Ancient Lady comply with Miss Sharp's request to walk alone, smoking?  What are the two woman doing together in the first place?  What kind of relationship do they have?  Because we can only speculate on the answers to the questions, we have to make sense of what we do know.  Miss Sharp, as a young, "new woman," desires her freedom, as is evidened by her insistence that she wants to walk alone so that she can enjoy her smoke.  The reference to Miss Sharp as "Modern Ditto" is intriguing.  The term "ditto" refers to a duplicate copy, and held that definition in the 19th century according to the Oxford English Dictionary.  In that case, then, Miss Sharp is being called essentially the "Modern Ancient Lady."  If Miss Sharp is a "new woman," and she is at the same time a copy of Ancient Lady, then it follows that Ancient Lady must be as liberal as Miss Sharp.  The title "Women's Rights," refers to both women--they are both advocates for the new rights being granted to women in the Victorian era, regardless of how socially acceptable they may or may not be.  The difference between the two is that Ancient Lady lived in "ancient" times for women.  Miss Sharp is a part of the new generation of women who have rights to walk alone and to smoke.  While these acts may not be socially acceptable, they are nonetheless seen as rights, and that is at least a step in the right direction as far as women's rights are concerned. 



Kathy T. 3/18/2008

I, too, find this cartoon very interesting, but for different reasons than the commentor before me.  I'm interested in the appearance of both of the women in the cartoon.  The old woman seems completely covered from head to toe, even going so far as to cover her head with a shawl.  The younger woman, however, is wearing a dress with a plunging neckline, a barely-there cap, and conspicuous jewelry.  Although she has her coat in her hand, it is clear that the cartoonist means to draw a distinct delineation between the two by comparing their dress as well as their speech.  I am also intrigued by the female maid in the background.  It is interesting that she seems to be observing the situation, but is not part of the action.  As a maid, she would not have been considered germane to the conversation at hand, her role in society being severly limited.  Also notice that she does not speak in the cartoon; she has merely a silent presence, much as the females of the lower classes had in society in the Victorian era.  Thus, this cartoon seems to be bringing to light not only the changing roles of women, but also the differences between classes of women in Victorian society.


M.V. 4/2/08

This article is fascinating, as I'm sure many Punch readers, at the time, found this to be extremely offensive for many reasons, yet the cartoon, along with many others of the time that were so controversial, were continually published, which really means that although they may have been controversial, the cartoons were speaking to people in regards to addressing the idea of a changing world.  Though change is always slowly accepted, the cartoon was viewed by many people, including young and mature males and females.  I'm curious as to what type of response was received by all readers/viewers.  The cartoon itself is very simple, and even the caption is right to the point.  I think the fact that the response of the younger female is so blunt is what is shocking.  The young woman could have responded in a mature, respectable way, and even turned down the offer without any reference to what her true desire was for walking home alone.  The fact that she refused an offer from a mature woman of society who expected respect, then clearly stated her interest in participating in an activity that was socially unacceptable, (female walking home alone), and then to express a desire to take part in a male-dominated habit (smoking), I'm sure, would have been reviewed as unacceptable.  But, as any evolving controversial matter, this cartoon probably sparked the interest of many viewers, and even put new ideas and thoughts into young women, especially, on what is expected and acceptable in the society of the time. 


Kristin H. 5/4/08

I find the stance of the women fascinating.  The "Ancient Lady" is quite an ominous figure, looming over "Miss Sharp" and nearly aggressing into her space.  It's almost as if the "Ancient Lady" is a stand-in for a man.  This lends the entire scene a fairy tale feel.  One could easily imagine, without the captioning, that the Ancient Lady is the Wicked Stepmother, offering Modern Ditto a bite of the apple.  As the first commenter noted, the reference to Miss Sharp as "Modern Ditto" certainly does reflect a kinship between the two women, but I don't know that it professes the same type of liberal thinking among both women.  It seems to me that the author of the text / illustration could be pointing out the phenomenon wherein older people forget what it was like to be young and, in this case, independent.  In that way it could be seen as a critique of the older woman, who has forgotten her own liberal views in favor of enforcing antiquated social norms.  Like the second commenter, I am also intrigued by this figure of the maid.  Where exactly does she fit in to this idea of Women's Rights?  She seems to not even be paying complete attention to the conversation taking place, but instead has her eye trained on some unknown spot in the distance, perhaps planning what she would do with her rights and freedom?  She certainly presents a complicated figure as one who, at once, would have had a certain degree of independence from some of the social norms placed on upper class women, but a whole different set of expectations would be placed upon her in her role as servant. 




                Works Cited



Please be sure to cite reference works, including dictionaries, encyclopedias, scholarly articles, other 19th century sources, and other websites that you used in preparing this page.  In particular, it is extremely important to use quotation marks when copying material directly from another source, to provide a parenthetical citation to the source and relevant page number, and to include that source here.  If you do not know how/when to decide what to cite or how to format citations in MLA Style, please consult your instructor. [Please retain these directions.]


Jadwin, Lisa. “The Seductiveness of Female Duplicity in Vanity Fair.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 32.4 (1992): 663-687. JSTOR. Western WA U Lib., Bellingham, WA. 12 Feb 2008. http://www.jstor.org
Mitchell, Dolores. “The ‘New Woman’ as Prometheus: Women Artists Depict Women Smoking.” Woman’s Art Journal 12.1 (1991): 3-9. JSTOR. Western WA U Lib., Bellingham, WA. 11 Feb 2008. http://www.jstor.org
Shapiro, Susan C. “The Mannish New Woman: Punch and Its Precursors.” The Review of English Studies 42.168 (1991): 510-522. JSTOR. Western WA U Lib., Bellingham, WA. 13 Feb 2008. http://www.jstor.org
Walkowitz, Judith R. “Going Public: Shopping, Street Harassment, and Streetwalking in Late Victorian London.” Representations 62 (1998): 1-30. JSTOR. Western WA U Lib., Bellingham, WA. 11 Feb 2008. http://www.jstor.org





                For Additional Reading


This is the place to add bibliographic information for print OR online sources that usefully supplement your chosen text.  Please format entries for print sources in MLA style.  Please format links to websites using brief titles (e.g. The Charles Dickens Page) followed by a one-two sentence description of the contents of the site.  [For the benefit of future users, please do not delete these directions.

Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. Oxford, Oxford UP. 1987.
Auerbach, Nina. “The Rise of the Fallen Woman.” Nineteenth Century Fiction 35.1 (1980): 29-52. JSTOR. Western WA U Lib., Bellingham, WA. 13 Feb 2008. http://www.jstor.org
Austen, Jane. Emma. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002.
“Forming the Lady: Comportment and Dress for Young Women.” The Girl Ed. Erna Hallerstein, Leslie Hume, Karen Offen. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1981. 96.
Thackeray, William Makepeace. Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero. New York: Penguin Books, 2004.



                Project Group Members


Member Name



 Kayla Emerson  Western Washington University  English 310
 Amanda Enlow  Western Washington University  English 310
 Christina Everett  Western Washington University  English 310






     Project Completed: Winter 2008


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Comments (2)

Anonymous said

at 7:19 pm on Apr 18, 2008

I'd like to say that you have done an absolutely tremendous job of analyzing this sketch from Punch! You broke it down beautifully into three very distinct topics and within those topics you referenced Thackeray, among others of note, conduct books, and the concept of True and New Womanhood, using them in a clear and appropriate fashion! Well done! Kate Williams made an interesting comment on the term “Modern Ditto” within the text, a term which also had me pondering the possible innuendos. I was also struck by the look of the Ancient Lady for she, to me, looked quite masculine or gender neutral . . . the image is almost like a grown up 'Little Red Riding Hood'! Since things aren't always as they appear, I wonder if she was just poorly drawn or there was something a bit more sinister behind her offer. That Miss Sharp is so forthright in stating what she is intending to do and because it seems to be such an overstatement of all the 'negatives' of that time, I wonder if it is such a simply case of condemnation. Neither the maid's face nor the Ancient's face seems to register any real signs of shock or disapproval at Miss Sharp's comments. You choose a very interesting piece that seems to offer so many possibilities of interpretation and your interpretation was truly outstanding!

Anonymous said

at 4:01 pm on May 1, 2008

I agree with Julie, for I think your analysis deserves some high praise. I personally am intensely fascinated by philological studies in the nineteenth centuries, and the comments about the word "ditto" as meaning "a copy" were really thought-provoking to me. When looking at this word a bit longer, I could not help but think of doppelgangers as well. I wonder if Lady Sharp is a kind of twisted mutation of her female ancestor. Also, because the cartoon was published in "Punch," you are right to assume that its creater was most likely aimed at exaggerating issues that sprung out of the New Woman movement. I think your analysis would be even more intriguing if you found other cartoons from "Punch" that also addressed the three vices mentioned: smoking, walking alone, and dismissing your elders. Is "Punch" making fun of its audience for letting such issues be so morally reprehensible in society, or is "Punch" representing real concerns of immorality? Again, your article brings up some fascininting perspectives for looking at the role of women in the nineteenth century.

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