Since, we’re on the subject and all that, here is a little poem (J.H. Gray, “The Girls that are Wanted,” 1880 circa) that I got on Facebook via Roba da Vittoriani (beautiful photo included, no clue how it relates):
The girls that are wanted are good girls
Good from the heart to the lips
Pure as the lily is white and pure
From its heart to its sweet leaf tips.
The girls that are wanted are girls with hearts
They are wanted for mothers and wives
Wanted to cradle in loving arms
The strongest and frailest lives.
The clever, the witty, the brilliant girl
There are few who can understand
But, oh! For the wise, loving home girls
There’s a constant, steady demand.
What strikes me the most about this poem is the last line: that the home-loving woman is in “steady demand.” One can recall my discussion in a previous post regarding the docility of Victorian era women. In the Victorian era, a woman’s career was at home as this was the way the economy was structured.
Now in this modern article it is stated that women are having a harder time getting back to work then men. Here, today, is an example of a situation in which there are probably many “witty” women who are not in demand, and who are finding themselves frustrated and anxious at home. They are potentially in circumstances where their male partners and friends are returning to work. Women of the US didn’t decide one day they wanted to return to being Victorian-style domestic goddesses, but cultural and economic pressures dictated that they may want to curb their “wit,” even if only for a limited duration.
Current unemployment statistics do not necessarily reveal how many women have decided to have a baby but not return to work. These numbers are harder to find (though I’m sure a clever statistician with the right statistics could deduce the extent of the phenomanon). The statistics in the above article may be a reflection of such a trend. I recall a slate article read not so long ago that was highly encouraging for new moms such as myself: here was a “mommy track” Harvard Law graduate – a witty and brilliant girl – who found herself with less of a career than she expected. Her brilliance and accomplishments were sidelined and her expensive degree became more of a status symbol than a source of income. Naturally, if she had a less illustrious education, her mommy track status would be on a significantly lower level, so it’s not entirely worthless. But expensive educations do cause debt. I am pretty sure she is in good and numerous company.
Should this current trend continue (and it may not), one can expect college degrees granted to women may decline, and enrollment in colleges could also suffer as a result. There would be less incentive for a middle class woman to gain a college degree, as men would be apprehensive about taking on their debt. The “wise, home-loving girl” would look far more attractive if it became the norm for women to not return to work.
I recall a Harvard historian who recently stated something to the effect that Regency England hardly expected Victorian prudery and structure to be right around the corner. All of those relatively liberated women in their high-waisted gowns expected that the Georgian public acceptance of lovers, illegitimate children, emancipated, intelligent women, and sheer ball gowns would not grind to a screeching halt when faced with an era headed by an 18-year-old inexperienced Queen.
In any case, our culture and resources will set the demand, and none of this changes my desire to make another bustle gown. I love visiting the past, but the present is always way more exciting because we don’t know where it will go.