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Gender Roles in the Victorian Era

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Caitlyn Connor

on 6 March 2014

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Transcript of Gender Roles in the Victorian Era

Women married due to lack of options
they were not formerly educated
only instructed in domestic duties
needed someone to support them -> encouraged to marry/have children
Victorian Era Gender Roles
Victorian Era Gender Roles
Definition of the Victorian Era:

The Victorian Era was named after Queen Victoria; it was a time in British history corresponding with her reign as Queen from 1837 until her death 1901. The Queen’s character established high moral standards for the British society during that time.
sexual restraint
low tolerance of crime
strict social code of conduct
Marital Expectations
Victorians were encouraged to marry within the same class - could marry up, not down
An unmarried woman could inherit money and property after she reached the age of 21
Once married, all control would revert to her husband.
A woman could not have a will for her own personal possessions
In her husband’s power, he had full control of her property
The Gentleman
Victorian men were placed in the position of protector. The Victorian era was a chivalrous time, when men took their role as family protector very seriously.
Men were supposed to put women on a pedestal
A man must impress his lady, and society to keep her


Victorian men’s clothing that was both appropriate and simple - could never offend, nor render its wearer conspicuous.
The proper Victorian gentleman was not seen outdoors without a hat, usually the straw boater.
Unless they were a workman or laborer, every gentleman was expected to wear a coat, vest, and hat.
To walk around in shirtsleeves without vest or coat would be the modern-day equivalent of traipsing about in one’s underwear.
Much like modern ties, vests were used to make a fashion statement either bold or conservative and gentlemen would own several vests to accessorize the same dark suit.
Top Hats were de rigueur for parties and formal events throughout the century, but were also worn as daywear by the established gentleman.
Men wore trousers that had stripes and sometimes checks, which they often paired with different patterns, stripes or checks. These may appear garish to our modern sensibilities, but to the Victorian gentleman would have appeared quite fashionable.
The second half of the nineteenth century was dominated by the frock coat – a man’s coat with full skirt both front and back that reached just above the knee. It was common for both day and evening wear through the 1880’s, making it the most versatile coat of the Victorian wardrobe
Most men also carried walking sticks of various styles and often wore gloves when out for dress occasions. Some etiquette books indicate that it was considered unseemly to allow a man’s skin to touch a woman, making gloves a necessity.

"TORVALD. Come, come my little skylark must not drop her wings. What is this! Is my little squirrel out of temper [taking out his purse.] Nora, what do you think I have got here?
NORA. [turning around quickly]. Money!" (2-3)
Discussion Questions
Women: Lifestyle
To get ready for courtship and marriage a girl was groomed like a racehorse. In addition to being able to sing, play an instrument and speak a little French or Italian, the qualities a young Victorian gentlewoman needed, were to be innocent, virtuous, biddable, dutiful and be ignorant of intellectual opinion.
Women, on the other hand, were dominated by their sexuality, and were expected to fall silently into the social mold crafted by men, since they were regarded as irrational, sensitive, and dutiful.
The majority of women did not have the option not to marry: it was simply a necessity for survival.
most were predestined to become wives due to their economic reliance on men.

Proper Victorian gentlemen were always dressed and groomed well.
For a man to reveal his shirtsleeves to a woman other than his wife it was considered “impolite”.
To avoid any conflicts or insults, men would wear waistcoats, or dapper cutaways.
Men’s appearance was considered to be as important as women’s.
Along with clothing guidelines, men were also expected to meet certain hygiene expectations. “As for the gentlemen, they should be seen and not smelled,” it was suggested that men wear a small amount of perfume to give them an appealing scent.
Gentlemen with proper appearance were nothing without reputable behavior.
They were supposed show a lot of respect and kindness to the people around them.
The gentleman of the Victorian era was expected to act from the "impulses of his kind heart".
There was an enormous pressure put on gentlemen to treat every person in the room correctly and properly
The idea was to never step on anyone’s toes or be the slightest bit insulting.
For men, being able to support a family and be financially stable was a sign of success

Gentlemen: Dress Code
Women had to be not only virgins, but were expected to remain innocent and “free from any thought of love or sexuality” until after they had received a proposal.
This requirement of chastity and absolute purity was not expected of men,
The husband had almost complete control over his wife’s body
Children also belonged to him, as did any property and money that the wife brought into the house.
Prostitution, legal during the Victorian era
A wealthy wife was supposed to spend her time reading, sewing, receiving guests, going visiting, letter writing, seeing to the servants and dressing for the part as her husband's social representative.
For the very poor of Britain, fifth hand clothes were usual. Servants ate the pickings left over in a rich household. The average poor mill worker could only afford the very inferior stuff

Women: Lifestyle
In the 1830's, the corset was thought of as a medical necessity. It was believed that a woman was very fragile, and needed assistance from some form of stay to hold her up. Even girls as young as three or four, and probably directed by the best motives, were laced up into bodices.
Gradually these garments were lengthened and tightened. By the time they were teenagers, the girls were unable to sit or stand for any length of time without the aid of a heavy canvas corset reinforced with whalebone or steel. The corset deformed the internal organs making it impossible to draw deep breath, in or out of a corset. Because of this, Victorian women were always fainting and getting the vapors.

Women's Dress Code: Corsets
Working-class women (except when dressed for special occasions) did not go through the discomfort of wearing tightly laced corsets. They wore looser corsets and simpler clothes, with less weight. The higher up in class a lady was, the more confining her clothes were. This was because they did not need the freedom to do household chores. Paid servants took care of such cumbersome matters.
Clothes on the Victorian Era were very elaborated and restrictive on the bodies of those who wore them.
He women’s dress was very elaborated. Their dresses affected the way they walked, sat or moved her arms. Women wore a variety of colors for their stockings and dresses. Dresses and stockings undergarments were cut in a style to show off the figure in a modest way. The undergarments had whalebones or flexible steel to make it more comfortable. Here we can see what a woman of that time had to wear:
Boots and shoes were almost always worn with heels and pointed or squared toes

Women's Dress Code
Hats were primarily used as a protection from the sun, to avoid an injury... However, in the later years, hats became a symbol of style statement and authority.
Shawls, cloaks, mantles, scarves and little aprons were also accessories. Gloves and parasols were popular. Large brooches were worn at the throat and large and small earrings were also worn. The use of fans was also very common. Boas made of feathers or fur was also very big.
A pale skin was a mark of gentility. It meant that a upper-class lady did not work in the country so she was not dark-skinned. Parasols were very popular and used to protect the skin from the sun

Women's Dress Code
"NORA: Oh, Torvald, surely we can waste a little now-Just the teeniest bit? Now that you're going to earn a big salary, you'll have lots and lots of money" (148)
"MRS. L. No, a wife cannot borrow with out her husband's consent.
NORA [tossing her head]. Oh, if it is a wife who has any head for business - a wife who has the wit to be a little bit clever" (11)
"HEL. Ah ha! So my obstinate little woman is obligated to get someone to come to her rescue?
NORA. Yes, Torvald, I can't get a long a bit with out your help" (26).
"NORA: But to be so completely alone-that must be so terribly sad for you. I have three lovely children; you can't see them just now, they're out with their nanny...but now you must tell me all about it"(154).
"HEL. And I wouldn't want you to be any different from what you are-Just my sweet little songbird. But now I come to think of it, you look rather-rather-how shall I put it? -rather as if you've been up to mischief today" (151).
NORA: (Sitting up): Is it rash to save your husbands life?
Mrs. Linde: I think it's rash to do something without his knowing..." (160).
NORA: Yes, with odds and ends of needlework-crochet and embroidery and so on. (Casually) And in other ways too"(155).
Why does the word
change the tone of the sentence and what does it make the reader infer?
Is Nora conforming to gender roles? Why or why not do you think do?
How does Nora's attitude towards conformity differ from Mrs. Linde's? If Nora thinks this is so, why does she try SO HARD to hide her opinions such as this and actions that reflect this from her husband? In what ways can society's view of people restrict them?
"NORA. Good heavens, no! How could you think so? A man who has such strong opinions about these things! And besides, how painful and humiliating it would be for Torvald, with his manly independence, to know that he owed me anything! It would upset our mutual relations altogether; our beautiful happy home would no longer be what it is now" (12).
How does the general diction here help depict and reinforce Torvald's independence, and how Nora values it?
What do you believe "And in other ways implies"? How does this description of Nora earning money make her the stereotypical woman in this era? Or make her atypical?
What is Mrs. Linde possibly a symbol of? Does Nora contradict this symbol?
What is the irony in the quote? How does Ibsen use the irony to establish the high expectations of the Victorian era?
What is the significance of the nicknames? Why does Nora expect money?
Having the characteristics usually attributed to the Victorians, especially prudishness and observance of the conventionality (quality of character).
1.) In the quote on the previous slide, why does Nora practically beg Torvald for money when she could/has earned money on her own?

2.) Nora pretends to be ignorant and wasteful with money for Torvald's benefit, based on what we know of her, in your opinion, do you think she is? If she is or isn't how does that reflect or throw off the stereotype of women at that time?
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