Rebels in Bohemia: The Radicals of the Masses, 1911-1917

By Leslie Fishbein | Go to book overview

Chapter 7 The New Feminism

Stereotyping by Sex

The Victorian heritage of the new radicals was particularly evident with regard to their feminism. Although most of them campaigned actively for equality between the sexes, their view of sex roles was limited by stereotypes inherited from a previous age. The Victorians viewed the female body as a limited system that provided women with only enough energy for childbearing. Physicians advocated that young women limit their activities to a quiet regimen of domestic routine that would provide moderate exercise and permit the full development of the maternal organs.1 Obviously such a view of women saw the maternal function as their transcendent purpose and designated the home as women's proper sphere. This Victorian view was reinforced for the new radicals by the writings of Sigmund Freud. From a Freudian perspective, women were hommes manqués, embittered for having been wronged from infancy, brought into the world as women instead of as men.2 They were lesser beings of a different order from men. Sexual differentiation was reflected in personality type from infancy onward; females by nature tended toward passivity and sexual repression.3

Victorian stereotypes pervaded the writings of the new radicals on the subject of women. Charles Erskine Scott Wood viewed nature as a feminine principle, benevolent, soothing, a mother to a helpless child.4 Wood viewed himself as that child, who rested his head in Nature's lap and there found ease and the succor of freedom.5 This image also occurs during Floyd Dell's psychoanalysis. Dell composed four lines of verse about a dream in which he returned to a female figure and laid his head upon her knees to weep; the woman silently drew his hands into hers "for rest and keeping." In recalling the dream Dell realized that the woman in it had been his mother, a "very illuminating" thought for a man in analysis.6 Both in Wood's poetic fancy and in Dell's dream-work women appear as maternal creatures who can bring rest and comfort to their troubled men-children.

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