Gender equality is one of the problems that will probably never go away. Despite a continuous fight for the right to be equal in practically every domain of social, political and economic life, women still stumble over a range of obstacles, including the notorious “glass ceiling,” various cultural prejudices, etc. One must give credit to the breakthrough that was made in the 17th century and that defied the further course of emancipation of women all over the world. Though in the 18th century, the rights of women were still infringed due to the underrepresentation of women in the parliament, the lack of educational opportunities for women in Great Britain, etc., the change of the image of a woman in the British society compared to the one of the 17th century was immense, predetermining the further triumphs in the emancipation process, as well as the possible obstacles, including the objectification of the image of a woman due to the commercialization of society.
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True, one must admit that the changes to the portrait of a woman in the British society were not made in a day. People had to go a long way to understanding the principles of equality and recognizing the rights of women to participate in the social, political and economic life of the state. While being quite radical compared to the 17th century state of affairs, these changes were not quite impressive by modern standards: women were still underrepresented in the Parliament (UK Parliament para. 7), and the realms that they were allowed to control concerned mostly the domains of domestic services and the industries that men dismissed as low-paid and insignificant. According to the existing historical records, the only jobs that women of the Victorian era could apply for were textile factories and domestic services (National Archives para. 4).
To make the achievements of the emancipation movement of the 17th century even more questionable, women of the 18th century were still not allowed to vote. Though women could participate in political discussions on a household level, and sometimes their opinions were even heard, women still lacked one of the basic rights that could make them legitimate citizens of the state and, therefore, allow them to take active part in the political life of the country. While one must admit that the alterations made to the social roles of women in the 18th century were quite impressive compared to the deplorable state that women were in the 17th century, the process of emancipation was only starting to grow. In 1900s, however, the very idea of women retaining the right to vote and have a say in selecting the leaders of the state was ridiculous; most British media referred to giving women the right to vote as a “mad, wicked folly” (National Archives para. 3).
The comparatively slow pace of the changes that were introduced into the British society could be explained rather easily by the set of morals and values, which were predominant in Britain at the time. The Victorian era, being notorious for its high standards of morality and the lack of tolerance towards the ideas that conflicted with the established moral principles, shaped the process of emancipation, as well as the portrait of a British woman, to a considerable extent. A closer look at the Victorian values will reveal that home, family and family relationships were considered a top priority, women being granted with the role of keepers the hearth (Baker and Chalus para. 8). As a result, even a minor step in the direction that presupposed a lesser amount of devotion to the family and its needs was viewed as revolutionary and potentially dangerous to the traditions and the society. As a matter of fact, the idea of maintaining high moral standards and keeping the family values intact was the key justification of the attitude towards women in the Victorian epoch.
The commercial revolution has also had a doubtless effect on the image of women in the British society of the 18th century. Much like every other event occurring at the early stage of the feminism evolution, the effects of the commercial revolution took an impressive amount of time to become tangible and socially significant; however, in the 18th century, the fact that women were introduced to the realm of commerce became doubtless. It should be noted, though, that the Victorian era still dictated its rules, and, for the most part, women were displayed in their traditional role of mothers and wives. However, a range of companies seemed to be disregarding the opportunity to reinforce social values for the sake of making the image attractively provocative and, therefore, boost the sales of their product. As a result, the roles of women started shaping towards being more socially active and even daring. In their attempts to attract more customers, such companies as coffeehouses were pushing the envelope and welcoming the new image of a woman.
Despite the obvious problems that the commercialization of the image of a woman in the British media has triggered, with such effects as female objectification, the breakthrough that the British women made in the 18th-century society compared to the barbaric traditions of the 17th century was amazing. By introducing women to the realm of commerce, British entrepreneurs opened a plethora of opportunities for the female employees. Again, it would be wrong to claim the alterations in the area of employment the establishment of equal rights and opportunities for male and female employees. Quite on the contrary, the differentiation in the male and female work was obvious, and the Separate Spheres concept was a graphic example of that. Based on the biological differences between men and women, the principle of the Separation of Spheres claimed that men, due to their supposedly inherent qualities, were much more apt to working in public spheres, whereas women were to be left with such responsibilities as child rearing, housekeeping, etc. (National Archives para. 5).
As one may have expected, even with the creation of emancipation among British women, the Separation of Spheres did not dissolve as a concept; quite on the contrary, women were engaged mostly in the labor that was considered either underpaid or degrading by men. However, as the idea of female liberation became more popular among the British people, women were started to be offered positions in factories and other organizations of the kind. The feminist movement owes much of this success to the Industrial Revolution and the necessity for the British society to employ as many people into the newly created positions as possible. Indeed, it would be naïve to assume that the change in the social role of women was enhanced and supported by the recognition of women’s rights across the United Kingdom. While women did have many supporters, it was mainly the need for qualified staff that spurred the change in the social status and roles of women in Great Britain.
Baker, Hanna and Elaine Chalus. Gender in Eighteenth-Century England: Roles, Representation and Responsibilities (Excerpt). 1997. Web.
National Archives. Were Men and Women Equal in Victorian Britain? n. d. Web.
UK Parliament. Early Suffragist Campaigning. n. d. Web.