Women in Twentieth-Century Europe (Gender and History)

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While historical and cultural differences between various European countries are important, it is this common model of domesticity which allows us to generalise on some themes.

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The eighteenth century aristocracy allowed its women to be educated. This was matter for unusual women, the princess, the noblewoman, and in a class-based society the privilege of a few does not suppose the rights of all women. Even though some women were educated, politics and business remained spaces reserved for men. That the eighteenth century accepted the development of the intelligence of noblewomen does not call into question the fact that the condition of the sexes was thought of as natural, since this education was available only for "exceptions.

Later democratic thinking would have a different logic. From that moment on the recognition of ability in some would imply its acceptability for all women. Rousseau, among others, would kill off the idea that women could be a success in the modern public sphere. The new upper classes of the nineteenth century had no doubts about whether or not to educate their daughters. Given that all women were now equal they determined that all women would remain equally excluded from the most valuable asset of free men: education.


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Enlightenment thought established new bases for living together: the equality of human beings who had a social contract among themselves. Given this beginning, how do we comprehend the political injustice derived from sex which democratic societies began to construct?

To understand this one must consult Rousseau, romantic philosophy Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and positivism. It has already been indicated that democratic societies were founded with an emphasis on liberty which acted to the detriment of equality. These were concepts that a few illustrious thinkers developed very closely among themselves, but they clashed with capitalist development in bourgeois societies.

Without the domestic, servile Sophia the free autonomous Emile could not exist. Romantic philosophy would be used as the justification for excluding women from the equal rights arena, the political sphere par excellence. It would try to make their socially constructed gender roles seem natural. As Amelia Valcarcel expresses so well:. A woman went beyond being simply a female of the human species, and thus the gender divisions in the whole human race were made to seem natural. By this means a spurious "equality" was maintained in the species.

In contrast to the individuality of male subjects, "woman" was a collective nature which existed among them. This is the main feature which makes romantic philosophy and democracy profoundly misogynistic: it demeans the whole collectivity by extending to women those features considered least valuable. In Rousseau and some of the Romantics one notices ideas about the "complementarity" of the sexes used to justify sexual difference. Let us not forget that these "complementarities" are hierarchically opposed.

There were many pseudoscientific theories which arose which tried to demonstrate the physical or intellectual inferiority of women. Quetelet, Wisberg, Andral and Schjarling put their faith in our decreased lung and skeletal capacity - they believed that female physical inferiority caused debility and chronic illness. And finally Spencer, who took great care in demonstrating that intellectual activity was incompatible with procreation.

Women in Twentieth-Century Italy

Physically inferior, women were guided by their uterus while men were guided by their brain. Female physiology, menstruation and pregnancy, put women in a constant state of mental and moral confusion. During the nineteenth and a good part of the twentieth century these ideas served as a justification for the maintenance of distinct, hierarchically ordered social roles for men and women. They were also used for the consequent distortion of educational models on account of assigned gender differences.

Obligatory primary education for girls became more widespread in this century. In France the Falloux Law required that all communities with more than inhabitants maintain a school for girl. In Spain the Moyano Law required the maintenance of a girls school for every inhabitants. The diffusion of these gendered ideas would be legitimated and used by scholastic institutions to create different curricula for boys and girls. For girls, curricular content was permeated by the classic virtues: chastity, modesty, composure, modest speech and frugality.

Along with this "decorative" education "home economics" and "tasks appropriate to the sex" were also emphasised.


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The term "tasks appropriate to the sex," originally associated with the sewing needle, distracts from and obscures what is without doubt the basic content of this type of learning: service, the selfless and free contribution of women to the happiness of others. These jobs were presented as inseparable from having been born a woman. To move from reading to writing is a big step, the same as between listening and speaking. She who listens, like she who reads, receives information, while whoever speaks or writes makes themselves into an information transmitter: arming themselves with language.

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No one attempted to give written language to women - they were only allowed to recognise words. Tradition dictated that silence was their best attribute. The well-known French revolutionary Sylvain Marechal tried to make a law in to prohibit women from learning how to read. Paul J.

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Table of Contents

Beatrice Craig. William Foster. Home Contact us Help Free delivery worldwide. Free delivery worldwide. Bestselling Series. Harry Potter. Popular Features. New Releases. Women in Twentieth-Century Europe. Women's lives changed more in the Twentieth century than in any previous century. It was a period of transformation, not only of the political realm, but also the household, family and workplace. Ranging widely over Europe, Ranging widely over Europe, this fascinating account is one of the first comprehensive surveys of its kind. One of the first textbook assessments of women's history over the whole of twentieth-century Europe Incorporates a wide range of European countries, including East as well as West, and small countries as well as major powers Covers political, social, military and cultural history and contains many stories of individual women alongside examination of broad trends.


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