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Author Topic: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?  (Read 2311 times)

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Offline BeorningTopic starter

Recently, I found a weird image from a weird website. And it got me thinking...

Basically, did people in the past honestly believe that a wife should literally obey her husband? I've read such opinions in old-timey religious treatises... but that was theory. Did people in the past actually believe that, in the sense that women really felt obligated to do what their husbands ordered them to do? And did husbands consider themselves entitled to order their wives around?

I admit I have a hard time understanding this kind of mindset... I mean, if you love somebody, then you treat them with respect. If you treat someone with respect, then you allow them to be free people with their own opinions etc. Meaning, you don't force them to obey you. And I assume that most husbands of the past did love their wives. But, if so, then how could they also believe that the wives should obey them? These two ideas seem totally at conflict for me...

What do you think? If you were, say, to RP as a husband from a few centures ago, how would you approach this subject? How would you square these two ideas?

BTW. It's a research question for me - I'm trying to understand a historical issue. I really don't intend to start any kind of gender flame war here or something and I hope that thread won't devolve into that...

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Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2015, 01:35:40 PM »
Short answer: yes.

In Western culture, women were not particularly property, but they weren't exactly free either. They were told who to marry by their family with often little choice. They ran their households for their husbands and ensured the comfort of the family, but for example, they couldn't vote. They couldn't own property. Their education stopped at writing, reading and basic math. Women were bred and nurtured to provide heirs to the husband and ensure the continuation of the line, to be docile and obedient to their husbands and yes, husband's word was law.

Obviously, there were women who weren't particular standard (and husbands, who couldn't stand the societal ideal, just like today), but the majority of women was definitely very sheltered.

If I were to RP a husband from probably any era pre-1920s, I would RP him as someone who would either expect this in a woman or be tired of it and seek something else in a woman.
« Last Edit: March 28, 2015, 01:36:42 PM by jouzinka »

Offline Caehlim

Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2015, 01:51:06 PM »
Basically, did people in the past honestly believe that a wife should literally obey her husband?
Quote
Did people in the past actually believe that, in the sense that women really felt obligated to do what their husbands ordered them to do?
Quote
And did husbands consider themselves entitled to order their wives around?

Yes. For large periods of time, throughout western Europe at least, this was exactly the case. Wives were expected to obey the husband's orders, could be subject to beatings from their husband for being disobedient or even legally punished by the state for being disobedient.

For example, look at the Cucking Stool.

Quote
I admit I have a hard time understanding this kind of mindset... I mean, if you love somebody, then you treat them with respect.

The philosophy of the time was that women were respected for different things than men. A man was respected for intelligence, capability and decision making. A woman was respected for obedience, modesty and humility.

There were ideas that allowing women to think and make decisions for themselves would be dangerous for them, corrupting their innocence and turning them into a wild woman. Some people of the time, particularly early-modern england, believed that such behaviours would even turn women into men, by heating the blood sufficiently to invert their reproductive system. (Medical science not being especially advanced at the time).

Society encouraged men to think that by taking control and being dominant they were in fact doing the right thing for the person that they loved, as well as doing the right thing to keep society functioning and to be a good Christian. So when they beat their wife for being disobedient, they did it with the same mentality as a person slapping a child for reaching out towards a hot stove. Inflicting some lesser pain to help protect them from a greater one.

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #3 on: March 28, 2015, 07:42:56 PM »
Thanks for your opinions, people!

Short answer: yes.

In Western culture, women were not particularly property, but they weren't exactly free either. They were told who to marry by their family with often little choice. They ran their households for their husbands and ensured the comfort of the family, but for example, they couldn't vote. They couldn't own property. Their education stopped at writing, reading and basic math. Women were bred and nurtured to provide heirs to the husband and ensure the continuation of the line, to be docile and obedient to their husbands and yes, husband's word was law.

Obviously, there were women who weren't particular standard (and husbands, who couldn't stand the societal ideal, just like today), but the majority of women was definitely very sheltered.

If I were to RP a husband from probably any era pre-1920s, I would RP him as someone who would either expect this in a woman or be tired of it and seek something else in a woman.

So, let's say you'd RP as a husband who would expect his wife to be obedient to him... Would your character still love his wife? Any thoughts on how to combine love with that sexist attitude we're discussing?

I mean, if a man loves a woman and spends a lot of time with her, then he's bound to notice that she is, most probably, as intelligent as he is. How do you rationalize the idea that she needs to obey you, then?

The philosophy of the time was that women were respected for different things than men. A man was respected for intelligence, capability and decision making. A woman was respected for obedience, modesty and humility.

But... how could the men not notice that women were just as mature and intelligent individuals as they were? And if they did notice it, then how could they still believe that they had any right to command them?

Come to think about it, how could the *women* not notice that the men weren't smarter than them? Why would they agree to be ordered around?

Quote
There were ideas that allowing women to think and make decisions for themselves would be dangerous for them, corrupting their innocence and turning them into a wild woman. Some people of the time, particularly early-modern england, believed that such behaviours would even turn women into men, by heating the blood sufficiently to invert their reproductive system. (Medical science not being especially advanced at the time).

This... is actually so crazy an idea that I'm tempted to turn it into an RP someway  ;D

Anyway, I can't imagine how could men believe that allowing women to make decisions would be bad to them. How would that even work? A woman is allowed to make decisions for herself... and what, she goes crazy, or something?

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Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #4 on: March 28, 2015, 08:43:19 PM »
So, let's say you'd RP as a husband who would expect his wife to be obedient to him... Would your character still love his wife? Any thoughts on how to combine love with that sexist attitude we're discussing?

I mean, if a man loves a woman and spends a lot of time with her, then he's bound to notice that she is, most probably, as intelligent as he is. How do you rationalize the idea that she needs to obey you, then?

If you do a research on an era you want to set your RP in, you will find sources that tell you what the society's view was on women's demeanor, purpose and education - and these men and women that lived in that society would be subjected to that view their whole life, they would take it as the standard to live by and most would not question it, because it worked for their parents, their parents and their parents, then it must work for them too. Women were not encouraged to be intelligent, to have interests in politics or business, many times they were taught to read, but were not particularly encouraged to read for leisure or study, they were not encouraged to express opinions (they were not encouraged to have any in the first place).

One more thing to consider is that in the past times people were a lot more obedient (to their parents, to the crown) than we are today and their senses of honor and obligation was much higher. Father's word was law and if father said you will marry Miss XY, then you married Miss XY. Love was a frivolous affair of an undisciplined mind and was not particularly considered when marriage contract was drafted. Marriage was used to further family's interests and to provide children to protect the family property for the next generation. Couples didn't marry because they fell in love, they married because their family found an advantageous match. Since divorce didn't exist unless you were Henry VIII, all couples had to somehow make do with what they were thrown into. Obviously, when you spend years with someone working on establishing yourself, your family, you do realize that the person is a partner and feelings do grow (unless the other person is completely incompatible), but the vast majority of couples didn't start with love for one another and many didn't end with it.

She needs to obey, because as Caehlim very deftly pointed out, she is made that way. Because Western society was predominantly patriarchal and that simply means that men rule and women follow. Being a woman, she had to obey her parents, then her husband. A lot of widows didn't remarry, because the status gave them a lot of freedom that they would otherwise lose. If they had means to support themselves, then they could live out as dowagers, especially if they had enough money and/or already mature enough sons to take care of family business.

Sexism doesn't come into play and definitely doesn't hinder a man from loving a woman. Just because he thinks she's inferior doesn't mean he can't find something he'll like about her.

A wild comparison: pet owners. Pet owners take care of their pets - feed them, house them, clothe them if necessary, generally provide for them, but the truth is, they are still pets, they are animals. When hard pressed, some of these pet owners will still tell you that they are inferior to humans, because they are animals. Does that mean the pet owners don't love their pets? No.

But... how could the men not notice that women were just as mature and intelligent individuals as they were? And if they did notice it, then how could they still believe that they had any right to command them?

Come to think about it, how could the *women* not notice that the men weren't smarter than them? Why would they agree to be ordered around?

This... is actually so crazy an idea that I'm tempted to turn it into an RP someway  ;D

Anyway, I can't imagine how could men believe that allowing women to make decisions would be bad to them. How would that even work? A woman is allowed to make decisions for herself... and what, she goes crazy, or something?
The right to command women came from the law, also, in a religious matrimonial ceremony the wife promised her husband obedience (trivia: Diana, Princess of Wales was the first in British royalty to not promise obedience to her husband at the altar). Most importantly, the women were brought up that way - they were tirelessly curbed to be docile and to submit to the men in their life.

It might have been believed that if a woman was allowed to make decisions for herself, they would be irrational, as women were seen as emotional and incapable of thinking rationally, and it would lead to her slow destruction.

You can't look at this from the viewpoint of 21st century on Elliquiy. You have to do a research into the particular eras and look at the issue of women from the point of view of that time. I am quite certain that if you walked up to a man in 1890 in London and told him that in 100 years women will have equal rights, wear pants, will be educated, AT UNIVERSITIES, will work, for equal pay (on the paper, at least), will be able to own property, vote and be elected and that divorce would be commonplace, he would marvel at how the world is still functioning when you turn it on its head.

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2015, 09:27:04 PM »
If you do a research on an era you want to set your RP in, you will find sources that tell you what the society's view was on women's demeanor, purpose and education - and these men and women that lived in that society would be subjected to that view their whole life, they would take it as the standard to live by and most would not question it, because it worked for their parents, their parents and their parents, then it must work for them too. Women were not encouraged to be intelligent, to have interests in politics or business, many times they were taught to read, but were not particularly encouraged to read for leisure or study, they were not encouraged to express opinions (they were not encouraged to have any in the first place).

*shudders* I can't imagine what's it like not to have opinions... Is it even possible? Surely the women that, say, read newspapers developed some sort of opinions...

Quote
One more thing to consider is that in the past times people were a lot more obedient (to their parents, to the crown) than we are today and their senses of honor and obligation was much higher. Father's word was law and if father said you will marry Miss XY, then you married Miss XY. Love was a frivolous affair of an undisciplined mind and was not particularly considered when marriage contract was drafted. Marriage was used to further family's interests and to provide children to protect the family property for the next generation. Couples didn't marry because they fell in love, they married because their family found an advantageous match. Since divorce didn't exist unless you were Henry VIII, all couples had to somehow make do with what they were thrown into. Obviously, when you spend years with someone working on establishing yourself, your family, you do realize that the person is a partner and feelings do grow (unless the other person is completely incompatible), but the vast majority of couples didn't start with love for one another and many didn't end with it.

*nods* I've read that it has been that way... but then, how come that the concept of love hasn't been forgotten at all? I've often wondered about that...

Quote
Sexism doesn't come into play and definitely doesn't hinder a man from loving a woman. Just because he thinks she's inferior doesn't mean he can't find something he'll like about her.

Hmmm. Maybe, but I get "Does not compute" reaction from my brain when I tried to put myself into that kind of mindset...

Quote
It might have been believed that if a woman was allowed to make decisions for herself, they would be irrational, as women were seen as emotional and incapable of thinking rationally, and it would lead to her slow destruction.

Do you think that women believed in that, too? I really can't imagine being a woman and thinking "I need a man to tell me what to do, otherwise I'll end up destroying myself"...

That reminds me of a scene from an early episode of Downton Abbey, when one of the young women argued with her mother / aunt / grandmother (I don't know the show too well) about politics. The mother stated that a woman shouldn't have opinions - and that, once she marries, a husband will tell her what her opinions should be. I... can't imagine a woman actually believing something like that.

Quote
You can't look at this from the viewpoint of 21st century on Elliquiy. You have to do a research into the particular eras and look at the issue of women from the point of view of that time. I am quite certain that if you walked up to a man in 1890 in London and told him that in 100 years women will have equal rights, wear pants, will be educated, AT UNIVERSITIES, will work, for equal pay (on the paper, at least), will be able to own property, vote and be elected and that divorce would be commonplace, he would marvel at how the world is still functioning when you turn it on its head.

I realize that, but it's hard for me to put myself into that mindset. When RPing Victorian Era women, I tend to play Girton graduates and other independently-minded women...

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Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #6 on: March 28, 2015, 10:18:01 PM »
Yep, Jouzi and Caehlim are absolutely right. And it left shades past the 19th century. I recall reading somewhere that in Sweden in the 1920s - where women had won equal vote, had begun to enter parliament and were getting some real acceptance as doctors, writers or heads of schools  - a female teacher (in primary school or at a lyceum/high school) mostly had to be non-married. If she married, she was expected to give up her job, "so as not to stand in the way of another gifted young woman who is not yet being provided for by a man through marriage". Now that was the local law in many cities and parishes - it speaks volumes, doesn't it? Really driving home that a woman's purpose in life was to become a wife and mother, and once she was married she was simply not supposed to work professionally anymore, especially not outside her home. (Married women of the working class and in farmer families mostly worked anyway, but because they had to).

Of course that kind of climate, compounded with being economically more or less in hock to their husbands (or fathers, even fathers-in-law) and not seeing many prominent female scientists, famous authors, judges, law people or company executives around, would have cowed many women a bit. I find it hard to get my head around too.
« Last Edit: March 28, 2015, 10:22:58 PM by gaggedLouise »

Offline Iniquitous

Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2015, 11:17:03 PM »
Yep, Jouzi and Caehlim are absolutely right. And it left shades past the 19th century. I recall reading somewhere that in Sweden in the 1920s - where women had won equal vote, had begun to enter parliament and were getting some real acceptance as doctors, writers or heads of schools  - a female teacher (in primary school or at a lyceum/high school) mostly had to be non-married. If she married, she was expected to give up her job, "so as not to stand in the way of another gifted young woman who is not yet being provided for by a man through marriage". Now that was the local law in many cities and parishes - it speaks volumes, doesn't it? Really driving home that a woman's purpose in life was to become a wife and mother, and once she was married she was simply not supposed to work professionally anymore, especially not outside her home. (Married women of the working class and in farmer families mostly worked anyway, but because they had to).

Of course that kind of climate, compounded with being economically more or less in hock to their husbands (or fathers, even fathers-in-law) and not seeing many prominent female scientists, famous authors, judges, law people or company executives around, would have cowed many women a bit. I find it hard to get my head around too.

During Laura Ingalls Wilder (author of the Little House on the Prairie series) time, women could be a school teacher until they married. Once they married (if they did) they quit teaching and became responsible for the home, having and raising children, and helping with the farm.

A rather infamous female to look up is Lady Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (and great, great, great, great Aunt to Princess Diana). She lived during a time when a girl belonged to her father until marriage and then to her husband after the wedding. Marriages were not a matter of love during that time - and her marriage to William Cavendish was an utter disaster because the two were incompatible.  Matter of fact, one of the things she is known for is the martial arrangement she had with her husband. She was his wife and her best friend (Lady Elizabeth Foster) was his mistress living in the same house with them until she died, at which time he married Lady Elizabeth Foster.

She is also known for her involvement in politics at that time (a rather scandalous thing) and there is a drawing/sketch of a pamphlet put out during that time of her offering kisses to whomever would vote for the party she supported. She also had her own writings published, though not in her own name.

The reason she got away with as much as she did is because her husband was nobility and really did not care what she did so long as she did not embarrass him (which she did with her affair and illegitimate child with a man who would go on to become Prime Minister).

As for love, you need to understand that back in those days, a marriage was a contract. You didn't marry for love. You married for financial or power gain. Sons were heirs to pass everything on to, daughters were pawns used to increase your wealth and status that you passed on to your son. Marrying for love made no sense (and was usually disastrous) because you usually fell in love with someone who was completely inappropriate for your station in life.

And, women having opinions? I am sure some of them did. But, politics and such were generally not discussed in front of women and women did not read for leisure (especially in the middle ages). Most women in the middle ages were not even taught much more than how to sign their name and do math so they could keep up with the household expenditures (and the rich usually had a steward who did that).

I will also point out that there are people in this day and age that believe in letting their husband be the one to make the decisions for the household and obey his decisions. Volleyball player Gabrielle Reece (spelling of her last name might be off) is one such female. It is a matter of submission to the male - though I am sure her husband does not carry it so far as to say she has no say whatsoever.
« Last Edit: March 28, 2015, 11:18:23 PM by Iniquitous Opheliac »

Offline eiselmann

Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #8 on: March 29, 2015, 02:03:52 AM »
Reading this thread reminded me of this


Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #9 on: March 29, 2015, 07:30:44 AM »
Yep, Jouzi and Caehlim are absolutely right. And it left shades past the 19th century. I recall reading somewhere that in Sweden in the 1920s - where women had won equal vote, had begun to enter parliament and were getting some real acceptance as doctors, writers or heads of schools  - a female teacher (in primary school or at a lyceum/high school) mostly had to be non-married. If she married, she was expected to give up her job, "so as not to stand in the way of another gifted young woman who is not yet being provided for by a man through marriage". Now that was the local law in many cities and parishes - it speaks volumes, doesn't it? Really driving home that a woman's purpose in life was to become a wife and mother, and once she was married she was simply not supposed to work professionally anymore, especially not outside her home. (Married women of the working class and in farmer families mostly worked anyway, but because they had to).

Interesting! I wonder how that worked for the 19th century / early 20th century nurses. Were they expected to quit their jobs after marrying, too?
A rather infamous female to look up is Lady Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (and great, great, great, great Aunt to Princess Diana). She lived during a time when a girl belonged to her father until marriage and then to her husband after the wedding. Marriages were not a matter of love during that time - and her marriage to William Cavendish was an utter disaster because the two were incompatible.  Matter of fact, one of the things she is known for is the martial arrangement she had with her husband. She was his wife and her best friend (Lady Elizabeth Foster) was his mistress living in the same house with them until she died, at which time he married Lady Elizabeth Foster.

She is also known for her involvement in politics at that time (a rather scandalous thing) and there is a drawing/sketch of a pamphlet put out during that time of her offering kisses to whomever would vote for the party she supported. She also had her own writings published, though not in her own name.

The reason she got away with as much as she did is because her husband was nobility and really did not care what she did so long as she did not embarrass him (which she did with her affair and illegitimate child with a man who would go on to become Prime Minister).

Oooh, this is *very* interesting. Especially her and her husband's mistress being friends and living together in one home. Did other people know about that?

Quote
I will also point out that there are people in this day and age that believe in letting their husband be the one to make the decisions for the household and obey his decisions. Volleyball player Gabrielle Reece (spelling of her last name might be off) is one such female. It is a matter of submission to the male - though I am sure her husband does not carry it so far as to say she has no say whatsoever.[/i]

I might need to look her up... I wonder, though, if this arrangement is a matter of conviction that it's a right thing to do, or just a personal preference? She might just be a submissive person who doesn't like to be bothered with making decisions...

Anyway, I realize that there are men and women that wives should submit to husbands. I wonder how they explain it, though... I mean, if you are a modern woman, then you are educated and you know that men aren't smarter than you. So, why would a woman believe that a man should be making decisions for her?

Offline jouzinka

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Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #10 on: March 29, 2015, 10:47:13 AM »
*shudders* I can't imagine what's it like not to have opinions... Is it even possible? Surely the women that, say, read newspapers developed some sort of opinions...
They may have read newspaper, think like Social Gazette or other one targeted at them. There was gossip and tips how to run a household, or host a successful party, fashion news and all that jazz. Also, newspapers before electricity was commonplace still wasn't as affordable to everyone as it is today. So they might not have read any at all or bought one copy for a group of friends or get them second hand the next day.
*nods* I've read that it has been that way... but then, how come that the concept of love hasn't been forgotten at all? I've often wondered about that...
Because just because something was like that since ever doesn't mean that the people were happy with it and pined for an escape from reality just as we do today.
Do you think that women believed in that, too? I really can't imagine being a woman and thinking "I need a man to tell me what to do, otherwise I'll end up destroying myself"...

That reminds me of a scene from an early episode of Downton Abbey, when one of the young women argued with her mother / aunt / grandmother (I don't know the show too well) about politics. The mother stated that a woman shouldn't have opinions - and that, once she marries, a husband will tell her what her opinions should be. I... can't imagine a woman actually believing something like that.
Of course they believed it, at least to an extent. It also vastly depended on their societal status - especially girls of the Nobility had particularly only one chance: to marry. Because an unmarried noblewoman, unless she wanted to risk falling out with her family and endanger their place in the Ton, had only two chances of supporting herself: as a governess or as some older Lady's companion. Or become a nun, obviously.

Living single was not an option, especially not one that would get outside support. People lent their ears a lot to gossip and word of mouth and anyone untraditional in any way was suspicious and gossiped about.

Plus, a successful woman was a married woman with a number of children and smoothly running household, with a husband who didn't spend too much time away from it - this was the role society expected of their women, this was the role a woman's mother, father, grandparents and siblings expected her to play.

Offline Strident

Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #11 on: March 29, 2015, 04:51:29 PM »
It's worth bearing in mind that divorce was almost unheard of before the middle third of the 20th century.

The idea about wives obeying their husbands is very strongly tied to the idea that divorce is not permissible in anything other than the most extreme circumstances. Divorce of reason of mutually agreed incompatibility was just not a "thing" back then.

In a counsel of two there can be no majority decisions. All decisions will be either a 50 50 split, or unanimous!

Now, of course, one assumes a couple will discuss and debate and try to come to a unanimous agreement, but, let us suppose, that despite having done that, a couple is faced with a decision where by there seems no agreeable compromise and neither is willing to yield.

Now, in any other enterprise, a business partnership for example, the individuals might agree to disagree and go their separate ways. However, in a marriage, if one is really serious about not allowing divorce, there has to be some kind of mechanism within the constitution for someone to have a casting vote, a veto..to break the deadlock.


Rightly or wrongly, historically, that was attributed to the man. Let us not forget that the passage of the Bible which hands out the instruction "wives obey your husbands"  goes on immediately to say "husband's love your wives as Christ loved the church". Given that the Christian belief is that Christ sacrificially suffered and died for the church, that's actually a pretty demanding command.


I don't think therefore this was ever properly understood to imply a totalitarian domination over everything from what to have for dinner down to what happened in the bedroom. Rather, it was intended to establish a framework of leadership...which ultimately the husband was commanded to do in his wife's best interests above his own.

Now, on a modern understanding, we might frame the whole thing rather differently in terms of mutual agreement, but, that is generally done within the framework of a) not expecting such a high standard of sacrifice from the man and b) an allowance for divorce if agreement cannot be reached.

Just my thoughts on how we might be selling our ancestors a little short on this one :)

Offline Caehlim

Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #12 on: March 29, 2015, 05:16:20 PM »
Just my thoughts on how we might be selling our ancestors a little short on this one :)

I think the views and stance you describe there were certainly things that could have existed during these times as something of a best-case progressive example.

Unfortunately, in many cases our own ancestors condemn themselves of far worse attitudes and behaviours in their own writings and records. Reading primary sources from the period I think your interpretation is perhaps a little more generous than they deserved.

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Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #13 on: April 01, 2015, 04:10:54 AM »
Much like anything else, the cultural relationship between men and women depends on...the culture.  New Zealand was the first nation to grant the right to vote to women...I believe it was in 1868 or thereabouts...but did you know women did not get the right to vote in Belgium until 1970?  Of course, in places like Saudi Arabia, women still do not have the right to vote.

The lack of rights for women is normally culturally enforced, but cultures where women have vastly lower standards of personal freedoms tend to have the culture enforced by religion.  Secular nations, unsurprisingly, have greater freedoms for women.  There has been a correlation shown between births per adult woman in a nation, and women's rights--when a woman has fewer children, she has more time to devote to improving her own lot, as well as that of her family.  Those nations with dominant religions, or even regions with dominant religions, see much lower life expectancies and freedoms for women.  Even today, the nations where secularism is ascendant see much lower instances of rape than those nations that are deeply religious.  So it isn't very surprising that even in the recent past, Western nations were steeped in the subjugation of women as individuals and citizens.

Offline Strident

Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #14 on: April 02, 2015, 11:22:43 AM »
Again, I feel some of these comments are overly harsh on the world our ancestors lived in.

Let us bear in mind, there was really no meaningful form of contraception before the 20th century.

This meant that responsible promiscuity was not an option. So It would lead to either unwanted children (in a world without a welfare state) and dying of syphilis.

Hence, by necessity, the ethics of the pre 20th century world majored heavily on fidelity and monogmy.

Additionally, childbirth was an extremely dangerous prospect. And the lack of contraception meant it was a gauntlet most women would have to run 3,4,5 or more times...

The result was that death in her 20s or 30s while giving birth to her Nth child was a very commonplace way for women to shuffle off this mortal coil prior to the 20th century.

The flipside of this would be that it was quite typical for men to outlive women, and not uncommon for them to outlive two or three wives... The latter wives were  also likely to be considerably younger than themselves.


It's hardly surprising that a world in which women would spend much of their adult life (and "adult" probably started at around 14 to 16) being pregnant or nursing..before going to an early grave, cast women's role in the world rather differently to how we would today. Handing a leadership role to men in such a world made a lot more sense than we might suppose today.

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Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #15 on: April 04, 2015, 02:35:58 AM »
One thing that I think is being missed here, at least partly, is that the concept of personal freedom for anyone is a relatively new concept. Before the founding of the United States (and even after, to a good degree), it was common for people to have Duty - everyone had something that was expected of them, and failure to do these things could be punished, sometimes harshly. Women's Duties were typically for their family (before they were passed off to a husband) and their husband. Men's Duties were to their Lord/King/landowner/tribe, and caring for their family. The higher the social rank, the greater the Duties, but typically also the greater freedom. The idea that someone was free to do what they wanted was almost an alien concept - it just didn't exist, as such. A man who disobeyed his land's King could be killed out-of-hand. Drift back through recorded history, and you'll see the same pattern in different fashions - Victorian English are not so very different from the Roman Empire, who are not all that different from the Byzantine Empire, or the Chinese empires. In all of these, the lower classes were expected to serve the upper classes, who were in turn expected to obey and serve the elites.

We were all slaves, in a fashion. We just pretended that we weren't.

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Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #16 on: April 04, 2015, 09:23:24 AM »
Also, remember that while "Wives, submit to your husbands," is in the Bible, the next verse from that says, "Husbands, respect your wives." So it is a two way street, and I think that's the important thing to take away from that. No matter your dynamic you have to give and take. Though I've never been able to maintain a long-term relationship in my life, so grain of salt.

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #17 on: April 05, 2015, 04:58:13 PM »
Two comments, if you guys don't mind.

Firstly, I'm not sure I agree that the patriarchal system was a natural and necessary adaptation of human societies to pre-industrial reality. I may be wrong, but there have been matriarchal cultures - or, at least, cultures that didn't take patriarchy as far as it was like in Europe. So, I'm not sure that lower life expectancy of women etc. necessarily translates into patriarchy...

Secondly, while I realize that the Bible says "Husbands, respect your wives", I can't agree that it worked like that in the past. From what I know, in practice, the "wives, obey your husbands" part was seen as much more important. I mena, even in mid-19th century Britain it was legal for a husband to beat up his wife or to keep her locked up... Things like that don't happen in a culture that truly believes that a husband should respect his wife.

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Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #18 on: April 05, 2015, 05:41:10 PM »
Two comments, if you guys don't mind.

Firstly, I'm not sure I agree that the patriarchal system was a natural and necessary adaptation of human societies to pre-industrial reality. I may be wrong, but there have been matriarchal cultures - or, at least, cultures that didn't take patriarchy as far as it was like in Europe. So, I'm not sure that lower life expectancy of women etc. necessarily translates into patriarchy...

Well, patriarchy of some kind (more or less rigorous) was almost a fixture in any kind of developed societies we know in any detail from the dawn of recorded history into the 20th century. There are some old cultures that may have been part matriarchal (such as Minoan Crete) but it's very hard to prove anything about those cases.

There have been matrilineal cultures, where kinship (family ties) was counted through the female lines, but that doesn't translate to women holding political or economic power.

Quote
Secondly, while I realize that the Bible says "Husbands, respect your wives", I can't agree that it worked like that in the past. From what I know, in practice, the "wives, obey your husbands" part was seen as much more important. I mena, even in mid-19th century Britain it was legal for a husband to beat up his wife or to keep her locked up... Things like that don't happen in a culture that truly believes that a husband should respect his wife.

I would guess those kinds of action by the man were seen as legitimate if it was thought that the wife had been "slutty" (adulterous or not), was disgracing her family and her husband or wasn't thinking or behaving in the proper way for a woman. Whether she actually had been wronging her husband in those ways, and whether she deserved to be locked up, humiliated or slapped (and badmouthed to their friends without being expected to say anything in her defence) was hardly something she could charge the man over - women were essentially incapable of taking anything to court or asking a priest to intervene, unless their husband approved of their doing so.  :-(

The man could be derided or treated like a bully sometimes, if it was really plain that he was abusing his marital position, but he would not be charged, and divorce was not an option.
« Last Edit: April 05, 2015, 05:46:06 PM by gaggedLouise »

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #19 on: April 06, 2015, 02:39:05 PM »
Well, patriarchy of some kind (more or less rigorous) was almost a fixture in any kind of developed societies we know in any detail from the dawn of recorded history into the 20th century. There are some old cultures that may have been part matriarchal (such as Minoan Crete) but it's very hard to prove anything about those cases.

There have been matrilineal cultures, where kinship (family ties) was counted through the female lines, but that doesn't translate to women holding political or economic power.

Still, I remember having heard about a culture from Asia that was matriarchal... and, in fact, polygamist - in the sense that one woman was allowed to have multiple husbands. So, patriarchy hasn't been the only option...

Quote
I would guess those kinds of action by the man were seen as legitimate if it was thought that the wife had been "slutty" (adulterous or not), was disgracing her family and her husband or wasn't thinking or behaving in the proper way for a woman. Whether she actually had been wronging her husband in those ways, and whether she deserved to be locked up, humiliated or slapped (and badmouthed to their friends without being expected to say anything in her defence) was hardly something she could charge the man over - women were essentially incapable of taking anything to court or asking a priest to intervene, unless their husband approved of their doing so.  :-(

The man could be derided or treated like a bully sometimes, if it was really plain that he was abusing his marital position, but he would not be charged, and divorce was not an option.

I'd like to think that a clearly abusive husband would be considered to be in the wrong even in pre-suffrage Europe... Still, I really think that women were expected to literally obey their husbands back then. I can't agree with Strident that patriarchy was some totally enlightened system where a husband held the deciding vote, but always consulted his wife anyway and treated her like a partner...

BTW. Speaking of suffrage, I've seen old images around the web from the suffragette era with women proclaiming that they didn't want to be given voting rights... Do you it's actually possible? That women didn't want to vote? What would be their rationale for that?

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Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #21 on: April 06, 2015, 04:53:26 PM »
Yeah, strange as it might sound now, many people a hundred years ago plainly felt that it was unbecoming (misguided and ugly) for women to even strive for the right to vote, or still less to become let's say government ministers, judges or faculty professors. It wasn't just the idea that women were unable to think in a reliable way because they were more emotional, less capable of thinking anything through, but if women would get the vote it was also seen as disruptive to the family. People seem to have contemplated with horror the idea that men and their wives would be arguing about politics at home, at the dinner table or in the bedroom, or that women as a group could push any political issues of their own by means of the political machinery - those prospects were seen as a victory for the irrational and anarchist sides of womankind, and these would have to be stopped. So therefore, women getting the right to vote was unacceptable.

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Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #22 on: April 06, 2015, 04:54:19 PM »
There always have been, and always will be, men who acted/act like asshats -- just as there are women who did/do the same.

There are men now who control every facet of their wife's behavior they can, and there are women who not only accept it, but also women who seek out those who will treat them that way.   


BTW. Speaking of suffrage, I've seen old images around the web from the suffragette era with women proclaiming that they didn't want to be given voting rights... Do you it's actually possible? That women didn't want to vote? What would be their rationale for that?

Yes, it's possible.  My mother didn't want to vote, and she didn't -- despite having the right.  Her rationale -- her one vote made no difference, and one crook might as well have it as the other.

There are plenty of people NOW who don't vote - couldn't be bothered, and don't care.    Why shouldn't it be perfectly reasonable that there were people then who couldn't have cared less then?

One example off the top of my head -- Laura Ingalls Wilder, in at least one of her very popular series of books written about that time period, stated very clearly that she did 'not want the vote'.  Yet, by all accounts, she was a very independent, capable, educated and opinionated woman.

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #23 on: April 09, 2015, 09:09:59 AM »
Yeah, strange as it might sound now, many people a hundred years ago plainly felt that it was unbecoming (misguided and ugly) for women to even strive for the right to vote, or still less to become let's say government ministers, judges or faculty professors. It wasn't just the idea that women were unable to think in a reliable way because they were more emotional, less capable of thinking anything through, but if women would get the vote it was also seen as disruptive to the family. People seem to have contemplated with horror the idea that men and their wives would be arguing about politics at home, at the dinner table or in the bedroom, or that women as a group could push any political issues of their own by means of the political machinery - those prospects were seen as a victory for the irrational and anarchist sides of womankind, and these would have to be stopped. So therefore, women getting the right to vote was unacceptable.

Hm. Was it only the men's opinion, or did some women believe it? Meaning, they believed that they were incapable of rational thought and shouldn't be allowed to push any political issues?

There are plenty of people NOW who don't vote - couldn't be bothered, and don't care. Why shouldn't it be perfectly reasonable that there were people then who couldn't have cared less then?

True, but the modern people who don't vote don't really want *not* to have a vote. They have nothing against this right, they only choose not to exercise it...

Meanwhile, I'm getting the impression that some women were opposed even them getting *the right to vote*?

Offline Strident

Re: Wife's submission to her husband - did people really believe that?
« Reply #24 on: April 09, 2015, 02:02:53 PM »
With regards to women having the vote, yes, I think many women at the time saw it as a bad idea.

Let's remember, alien as it may seem now, a majority of the population of England in the late 19th century and early 20th took certain Christian doctrine very seriously.

Just as it is a mistake to think even Muslim woman today wearing a hijab is wearing it under duress, so it is a mistake to think that every woman saw living under a patriarchal family system as a negative a century ago.

Many women would have fervently believed that the husband was the head of the household. There were precious few unmarried adult women, and those that did exist were mostly pitied. Why? No welfare state. If you were a single woman who lived to old age and had no children and grandchildren to look after you, then you were likely to end your days in desperate poverty.

So, if most women were married, what was the point in them voting, unless they were going to vote differently to their husbands?

And why would they vote differently? Let's be honest, even in this day and age, it can be a little awkward when a husband and wife vote differently, and create a sense of betrayal of your partner. Particularly if you are in a two party system. If you vote different ways, you might as well both agree to save yourself the walk to the polling station and not vote, as you are cancelling out each others vote.

Therefore, if the assumption was that most women would be married, and that it would be encouraging family discord for them to differ in how they voted, then it made sense why you would not want women to vote. I think the man was seen as voting "on behalf of his house".

That seems odd now, but actually, we still do something similar now. Here, in the UK, we do not vote for the prime minister. We vote for our local member of parliament, and they, in turn, select the leader of their party by a vote. Indeed, our member of parliament then votes on all the matters put before parliament, essentially as our representative.

It could be seen as a sort of similar vote by proxy. A woman choses her husband, and he votes as her proxy.

It is a clich to say this, but in 19th and pre war 20th century Europe,  the traditional family unit truly was the building block of society.. And all the laws were built on that assumption.

The system probably worked quite well, until social changes meant that the stereotypical family unit no longer existed as a norm.

It's interesting to note that when the vote for women was first brought in, it was originally (in the UK)  for women over the age of 40. This is often a laughed at, as if it meant they believed that only women over 40 were "grown up"  enough to vote. I don't think that was the rationale. I think it was more based on the assumption that a woman over 40 may well be widowed, and therefore in the position of needing to vote on behalf of her family, in the absence of her husband who would previously have filled that role.

It's far too easy to laugh at our ancestors, but many things they said and did made a lot of Sense in the context of their time and place in history.