The American Victorian Woman: The Myth and the Reality

The American Victorian Woman: The Myth and the Reality

The American Victorian Woman: The Myth and the Reality

The American Victorian Woman: The Myth and the Reality

Synopsis

This new socio-historical study explores the dynamics of growing up female in the second half of the nineteenth century--a time when traditional patriarchal standards were beginning to be questioned by small groups of courageous reformers. Donnelly chronicles the lives of middle class and working women--white and black--from childhood to old age, the hardships they endured, their daily activities and their concerns, pleasures, and accomplishments.

Excerpt

Myths and stereotypes are pervasive. The fact that they so often cross cultures attests to their tenacity and universality as well as to the wishes and vulnerabilities they hide. Although they change in form and content, they persist and affect our attitudes, expectations, and behaviors. While we no longer perceive dysmennorhea as the inevitable burden of women because they are the "weaker" sex, or as a punishment for sexual wishes or activity, we have not yet given up our enthusiasm for embracing myth as reality. We continue to assume that most women have physical and emotional symptoms related specifically to their menses, and that menopausal women are more at risk for depression, despite the lack of evidence to support either belief.

In failing to appreciate the exquisite interaction between mind and body, we continue to stigmatize those with some kinds of symptoms at the same time as we overread, overgeneralize and overtreat other symptoms, especially those affecting women. We are impelled, in part, by our awe and ambivalence about women's reproductive power. Women's psychology and biology have traditionally been linked in ways that fail to realistically take account of their diversity and difference. While men do not experience the ticking of the biological clock, that does not imply that women are their biology or, as Freud put it, that anatomy is destiny. Women's choices today embrace a broader scope of life experience and expectation than was pos-

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