A Magazine of Her Own? Domesticity and Desire in the Woman's Magazine, 1800-1914

By Margaret Beetham | Go to book overview

9

REVOLTING DAUGHTERS, GIRTON GIRLS AND ADVANCED WOMEN

The true Advanced Woman is not at all that latch-key licensed, tobaccotainted, gala contaminated Frankenstein, which…strides up and down the pages of modern literature. The veritable Advanced Woman is she who, pressed by necessity or touched by the conviction that to be a drone in a hive of workers…is unworthy, has bravely precipitated herself out of a pink miasma of sloth and stagnation into the wholesome daylight of selfdependence and effort.

(Dr Arabella Kenealy, Idler, IX 1894, Advanced Woman Number': 209)

Let women become senior wranglers, lawyers, doctors, anything they please as long as they remain mothers.

('The New Womanhood', Richard le Galienne, Woman Literary Supplement, 1894:1)

The position of the woman writer has to be understood in the context of the demand for access to paid work which was a persistent theme of women and their magazines in the 1880s and 1890s (W. at H. V 1895-6:67, 546-8 and passim). The demand was usually born of necessity. However, it was also born of the belief that work was a confirmation or even a creation of the self, and their exclusion from it deprived women of the potential for self-realisation. In seeking work which would be both economically rewarding and meaningful, women of the 1880s and 1890s unsettled not only the gendering of public and private politics but a gendered economic theory and practice.

The construction of paid work in terms of 'self-dependence and effort' was explicitly masculine and middle class. Throughout the century the idea of Vocation' had distinguished bourgeois employment from the necessary labour of the 'working' class which encompassed women's work as well as men s. It was middleclass women for whom access to paid work was a radical demand. New Women sought to re-work or, in Foucauldian terms, to 'reverse' the discourse of vocation to make it gender-neutral in the same way as they sought to redefine 'citizenship'.

The radical implications of this unsettling of gender roles were recognised by at least one contemporary theorist, Thorstein Veblen in his The Theory of the Leisure

-131-

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