Der „Kult“ der Wahren Frau im Amerika des 19.Jh

Auf der Suche nach anderen Beiträgen zur männerverteufelnden Moderne bin ich auf eine feministische Perspektive gestoßen:
Barbara Welter „The Cult of True Womanhood“ (1966)

Welter sammelt Eindrücke und Zitate aus Frauenzeitungen zwischen 1800 und dem Bürgerkrieg, die sehr gut die Kehrseite der gestern besprochenen Männerverteufelung darstellen:
Es ist ohne Zweifel nicht leicht, die Verkörperung des Bösen zu sein.
Es ist ebenfalls ohne Zweifel nicht leicht, keine andere Options zu haben, als als Engel zu leben.

Das übliche tl;dr in Form von Zitaten:


The nineteenth-century American man was a busy builder of bridges and railroads, at work long hours in a materialistic society.

The religious values of his forbears were neglected in practice if not in intent, and he occasionally felt some guilt that he had turned this new land, this temple of the chosen people, into one vast countinghouse. But he could salve his conscience by reflecting that he had left behind a hostage, not only to fortune, but to all the values which he held so dear and treated so lightly. Woman, in the cult of True Womanhood presented by the women’s magazines, gift annuals, and religious literature of the nineteenth century, was the hostage in the home.
In a society where values changed frequently, where fortunes rose and fell with frightening rapidity, where social and economic mobility provided instability as well as hope, one thing at least remained the same – a true woman was a true woman, wherever she was found. If anyone, male or female, dared to tamper with the complex of virtues that made up True Womanhood, he was damned immediately as the enemy of God, of civilization, and of the Republic. It was the fearful obligation, a solemn responsibility, which the nineteenth-century American woman had.


Religion or piety was the core of woman’s virtue, the source of her strength. Young men looking for a mate were cautioned to search first for piety, for if that were there, all else would follow.


„the vestal flame of piety, lightened up by Heaven in the breast of woman“ would throw its beams into the naughty world of men.


And Mrs. John Sanford, who had no very high opinion of her sex, agreed thoroughly: „Religion is just what a woman needs. Without it she is ever restless and unhappy…“ (…) They spoke of religion as a kind of tranquilizer for the many undefined longings which swept even the most pious young girl, and about which it was better to pray than to think


Mrs. S. L. Dagg, writing from her chapter of the Society in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was equally reassuring: „As no sensible woman will suffer [i.S.v. ‚akzeptieren‘] her intellectual pursuits to clash with her domestic duties,“ she should concentrate on religious work „which promotes these very duties.“


One gentleman, writing on “Female Irreligion” reminded his readers that “Man may make himself a brute, and does so very often, but can woman brutify herself to his level – the lowest level of human nature – without exerting special wonder?” Fanny Wright, because she was godless, “was no woman, mother though she be.”


Purity was as essential as piety to a young woman, its absence as unnatural and unfeminine. Without it she was, in fact, no woman at all, but a member of some lower order. A „fallen woman“ was a „fallen angel,“ unworthy of the celestial company of her sex. To contemplate such loss of purity brought tears; to be guilty of such a crime, in the women’s magazines, at least, brought madness or death.


Thomas Branagan admitted in The Excellency of the Female Character Vindicated that his sex would sin and sin again, but woman, stronger and purer, must not give in and let man „take liberties incompatible with her delicacy.“ „If you do,“ Branagan addressed his gentle reader, „You will be left in silent sadness to bewail your credulity, imbecility,
duplicity, and premature prostitution.“


Men could be counted on to be grateful when women thus saved them from themselves. William Alcott, guiding young men in their relations with the opposite sex, told them that “Nothing is better calculated to preserve a young man from contamination of low pleasures and pursuits than frequent intercourse with the more refined and virtuous of the other sex.” And he added, one assumes in equal innocence, that youths should “observe and learn to admire, that purity and ignorance of evil which is the characteristic of well-educated young ladies, and which, when we are near them, raises us above those sordid and sensual considerations which hold such sway over men in their intercourse with each other.”


The Rev. Jonathan F. Stearns was also impressed by female chastity in the face of male passion, and warned woman never to compromise the source of her power: “Let her lay aside delicacy, and her influence over our sex is gone.”


Submission was perhaps the most feminine virtue expected of women, Men were supposed to be religious, although they rarely had time for it, and supposed to be pure, although it came awfully hard to them, but men were the movers, the doers, the actors.
Women were the passive, submissive responders. The order of dialogue was of course, fixed in Heaven. Man was „woman’s superior by God’s appointment, if not in intellectual dowry, at least by official decree.“


Caroline Gilman’s advice to the bride aimed at establishing this proper order from the beginning of a marriage: “Oh, young and lovely bride, watch well the first moments when your will conflicts with his to whom God and society have given the control.
Reverence his wishes even when you do not his opinions.”


Mrs. Gilman’s perfect wife in Recollections of a Southern Matron realizes that “the three golden threads with which domestic happiness is woven” are “to repress a harsh answer, to confess a fault, and to stop (right or wrong) in the midst of self-defense, in gentle submission.”

Woman could do this, hard though it was, because in her heart she knew she was right and so could afford to be forgiving, even a trifle condescending. “Men are not unreasonable,” averred Mrs. Gilman. “Their difficulties lie in not understanding the moral and physical nature of our sex. They often wound through ignorance, and are surprised at having offended.”
Wives were advised to do their best to reform men, but if they couldn’t, to give up gracefully. “If any habit of his annoyed me, I spoke of it once or twice, calmly, then bore it quietly.”


The true woman’s place was unquestionably her own fireside—as daughter, sister, but most of all as wife and mother, Therefore domesticity was among the virtues most prized by women’s magazines.


„There is composure at home; there is something sedative in the duties which home involves. It affords security not only from the world, but from delusions and errors of every kind.“


One of the most important functions of woman as comforter was her role as nurse. Her own health was probably, although regrettably, delicate. Many homes had “little sufferers,” those pale children who wasted away to saintly deaths. And there were enough other illnesses of youth and age, major and minor, to give the nineteenth century American woman nursing experience. The sickroom called for the exercise of her higher qualities of patience,
mercy, and gentleness as well as her housewifely arts.


Nursing the sick, particularly sick males, not only made a woman feel useful and accomplished, but increased her influence. In a piece of heavy-handed humor in Godey’s a man confessed that some women were only happy when their husbands ailing that they might have the joy of nursing him to recovery “thus gratifying their medical vanity and their love of power by making him more dependent upon them.”


The Lady Amaranth saw it [i.e. marriage] as a balance of power: “The man bears rule over his wife’s person and conduct.
She bears rule over his inclinations: he governs by law; she by persuasion…The empire of the woman is an empire of softness…her command are caresses, her menaces are tears.”


America depended on her mothers to raise up a whole generation of Christian statesmen who could say “all that I am I owe to my angel mother.” The mothers must do the inculcating of virtue since the fathers, alas, were too busy chasing the dollar. Or as The Ladies Companion put it more effusively, the father “weary with the heat and burden of life’s summer day, or trampling with unwilling foot the decaying leaves of life’s autumn, has forgotten the sympathies of life’s joyous springtime…The acquisition of wealth, the advancement of his children in worldly honor—these are his selfimposed tasks.”


The American woman had her choice—she could define her rights in the way of the women’s magazines and insure them by the practice of the requisite virtues, or she could go outside the home, seeking other rewards than love.


The very perfection of True Womanhood, moreover, carried within itself the seeds of its own destruction. For, if woman were so very little less than the angels, she should surely take a more active part in running the world, especially since men were making such a hash of things.

Ich will hier nicht sofort all den Denkfehlern oder -lücken im Artikel nachspüren. Wichtiger scheint mir fürs erste, das Verständnis zu betonen, das Welter erzeugt:
Das Leben der Frau wie hier geschildert, ist eines in einem goldenen Käfig. Golden vielleicht, aber auf jeden Fall Käfig.

Das finde ich nachvollziehbar.

Es ist nicht leicht, immer nur die Gute zu sein. Wer auch Böse sein darf, hat mehr Spaß.

Das erinnert mich an das Finale von Witches Abroad von Prattchet, in dem zwei Schwestern aufeinandertreffen, von denen die eine, Esme, ein Leben als (gute) Hexe voller schwerer moralischer Entscheidungen hinter sich hat, während die andere, Lilly, als (nur scheinbar) „gute“ Fee ein relativ entspanntes und selbstzufriedenes Leben hatte. Der Schlüsselsatz:

Esme stepped forward, her eyes two sapphires of bitterness. „Im goin to give you the hidin our Mam never gave you, Lily Weatherwax. Not with magic, not with headology, not with a stick like our Dad had – but with skin. And not because you was the bad one. (…) But because, and I wants you to understand this proply, after you went I had to be the good one. You had all the fun. An theres no way I can make you pay for that, Lily, but Im surely goin’ to give it a try…“

Es ist nicht leicht, immer nur die Gute zu sein. Das geht verlässlich nur, wenn man keine Entscheidungen zu fällen hat.

Das erinnert mich an die Rezension von thelastpsychiatrist zu The Hunger Games.

We can start with the obvious. The book is about 24 kids thrown into an arena to fight to the death, only the toughest, the most resourceful, the strongest will survive, and it better be you because your whole village depends on it. It is such a scary premise that there was some concern it was too violent for kids to watch. Well, big surprise: Katniss wins.

Hmmm, here is a surprise: Katniss never kills anyone. That’s weird, what does she do to win? Take as much time as you want on this, it’s an open book test. The answer is: Nothing.

This is not a criticism about the entertainment value of the story, but about its popularity and the pretense that it has a strong female character. I like the story of Cinderella, but I doubt that anyone would consider Cinderella a strong female character, yet Katniss and Cinderella are identical.

The traditional progressive complaint about fairy tales like Cinderella is that they supposedly teach girls to want to be princesses and want to live happily ever after. But is that so bad? The real problem with fairy tales is that the protagonist never actually does anything to become a princess. Forget about gerrymandering or slaying a dragon or poisoning her rivals: does she even get a pretty dress, go to the ball and seduce the prince? Those may be anti-feminist actions, but at least they are actions. No. She is given two dresses, carried to the ball, and the Prince comes and finds her. Twice. Her only direct and volitional action is to leave the ball at midnight, and even that isn’t so much a choice as because of a threat. (1) The clear problem with this isn’t that girls will want to hold out for a Prince, but that it might foster the illusion their value is so innately high that even without pretty clothes or a sense of agency a Prince will come find them. Sleeping Beauty and Snow White are worse: they don’t even have to bother to stay alive to get their Prince.

The Hunger Games has this same feminist problem. Other than the initial volunteering to replace her younger sister, Katniss never makes any decisions of her own, never acts with consequence– but her life is constructed to appear that she makes important decisions. She has free will, of course, like any five year old with terrible parents, but at every turn is prevented from acting on the world. She is protected by men– enemies and allies alike; directed by others, blessed with lucky accidents and when things get impossible there are packages from the sky. In philosophical terms, she is continuously robbed of agency. She is deus ex machinaed all the way to the end.

For example, though this is a story about kids killing kids, somehow Katniss never actually plans to execute any kids, she’s never guilty of murdering one. She does kill Rue’s murderer, but it was reflexive, a defensive act. Importantly, she does not choose NOT to kill, she does not choose a pacifist position, she explicitly states twice in the book how much she wants to kill. But she never does it. She tries to kill big bad Cato at the end, twice, and fails. Only after he is torn to shreds by mutants does she perform a mercy killing on him, at his request. In other words, she doesn’t choose to kill or not kill– it doesn’t come up.

The story goes out of its way to prevent her from having to make choices and especially from bearing their consequences.

Wobei eine der Konsequenzen sein könnte, dass sie nicht mehr Die Gute ist, mit der sich alle Leserinnen identifizieren wollen.

Katniss ist das Gegenteil von Esme Weatherwax. Diese hat sich ihr Gut-sein hart erkämpft.

Die ausstehende weibliche Emannzipation hat nichts mit Männern zu tun und auch nicht mit Patriarchat oder dem, was gemeinhin von Feministinnen als Rollenbilder wahrgenommen wird.
Sie kann nur in der Befreiung von der Vorstellung liegen, dass man nur dann die Gute ist, wenn man keine Verantwortung auf sich lädt, wenn man nicht handelt, wenn man keine bösen Dinge studiert, wenn man keinen bösen Beruf ergreift.


3 Gedanken zu “Der „Kult“ der Wahren Frau im Amerika des 19.Jh

  1. „Sie kann nur in der Befreiung von der Vorstellung liegen, dass man nur dann die Gute ist, wenn man keine Verantwortung auf sich lädt, wenn man nicht handelt, wenn man keine bösen Dinge studiert, wenn man keinen bösen Beruf ergreift.“

    Der Wille nicht zu handeln – Das wird auch unter dem Stichwort Female Hypoagency (weibliche Unterverantwortlichkeit) behandelt


    Ich möchte noch die Einrichtung einer Blogroll anregen. Natürlich zum einen aus reinem Eigennutz, aber es ist auch eine gute Art und Weise auf seinen Blog hinzuweisen und seinerseits verlinkt zu werden. Und Google liebt links.

    Gefällt mir

  2. „Der Wille nicht zu handeln – Das wird auch unter dem Stichwort Female Hypoagency (weibliche Unterverantwortlichkeit) behandelt“

    Ist Hypoagency nicht eher, dass Frauen daran gehindert werden zu handeln? Also nicht „Ich will nicht“ sondern „Ich kann nicht“?

    Ich will eher auf den Unterschied zwischen Fred und George Weasly auf der einen und z.B. Hermione auf der anderen Seite hinaus.
    Während Fred & George Regeln als kreative Herausforderung sehen, die man gern umgehen kann, wenn man nur geschickt genug ist, ist es für Hermione anfangs absolut undenkbar, zum Beispiel nachts mit dem Invisibility Cloak durch die Schule zu stromern.
    Es ist undenkbar, weil es nicht moralisch OK wäre.

    Das ist die Kehrseite davon, wenn man ein Engel sein *muss*.

    Weibliches Handeln im Spannungsfeld zwischen Wollen, Können und Dürfen. „Dürfen“ im Sinne vom „Du sollst nicht“ der 10 Gebote, also irgendwie von oben gegebene Moral, die zwar einengt, aber auch sicher festlegt, wann frau „gut“ ist.
    Hypoagency deckt das höchstens zum Teil ab.
    Da muss ich noch mal drauf rumkauen.

    Gefällt mir

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