Cult of domesticity was a widespread phenomenon in American society in the 1820-1860 years. Some specific cultural backgrounds have affected the position of women in the social hierarchy and their public role. Society, specifically men, has created the image of the perfect and ideal woman that the opposite sex should have strived to achieve and fit into the created standards. Although most privileged women seemed to follow the rules gladly, the other women could not meet the expectations and were not included in the framework. Therefore, this essay observes the cult of “true womanhood,” its role in society of that time, and how it has impacted the modern perception of women.
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The theme of the cult of “true womanhood” demonstrates the apparent suppression of women’s rights and freedom. Society has set priorities and distributed the duties among the genders according to the historical aspects of that time. Patriarchy was notably dominating and influencing women’s lives. The United States was still a freshly discovered country and an abundant source of wealth and treasures that people aimed to find and claim. Men were busy exploiting the continent’s riches and constantly working to build the new country from the very beginning. Eventually, when they came home after the long and challenging days building railroads and bridges, they could only expect calmness, delicious dinner, and care from their wives. Therefore, men decided that the most convenient and comfortable role for women is to be submissive, pure housewives who take care of the house, do not bother their husbands, and constantly please them.
Although women followed the rules of the cult of domesticity and were examples of high morality, dignity, and obedience, it has never applied to poor women, slaves, or immigrants. The reason for this might be that they did not have the privilege to stay home all day, raise children and keep the house clean. Poor women had to work for a living to provide the money and food for their families to survive. Immigrants also did not have resources for a secured living because they were in a foreign county and had to fight for their place and create a new life in the strange land. Slaves had the worst conditions due to racism, the absence the fundamental human rights, and the lack of power to separate from the masters and be independent. Thereby those groups of women were initially not considered “true women” and could not experience the perk of being virtuous. Those social norms applied only to the privileged white class that could afford a decent household and have enough income for women to stay at their homes.
Although the concept of “true womanhood” is doubtable and can be irrelevant nowadays, it would probably match the atmosphere of that time. Women had to be religious, for it would improve their morals and would not distract from the house duties, unlike other cultural and social activities (Welder, 2012 49). They had to save themselves for the marriage and stay pure without allowing themselves to create the wrong impression or encourage the men to get closer. Men were considered more sensual, while women suppressed their true feelings and emotions to stay obedient and not demonstrate power. However, times changed, and a breakdown of the “true womanhood” was inevitable. After the civil war, the priorities have shifted. People did not pay that much attention to the specific image of the “true woman,” for there were more crucial problems to deal with, and women showed themselves during that time from a different perspective.
Thereby, women still could not have the same rights and opportunities as men did. Welder describes man as always moving, working, achieving, and fighting for the things they desired (Welder, 2012 47). They had the privilege of misbehaving and making mistakes, but if the woman did the same, she would be shamed. (Welder, 2012 48). Men were perceived as the leaders, teachers, and patrons of women. However, it seems questionable because men were allowed to neglect social and moral rules while women had to be the example of intelligence and dignity.
The cult of domesticity still has laid the foundation for the modern world, and the past way of thinking still exists in society. The “true womanhood” took a different form and adapted to the modern world, but the main principles of the woman’s obedience and submissiveness are still widespread among the people and popularized through mass media. There are specific differences between men and women, who now have much more freedom and power compared to the situation that has been in the past, but the prejudices still live in the heads of people. Society is becoming more aware of the cultural background’s impact and changing the established model of thinking and behavior. Some women still strive for traditional values and obedience to their husbands, staying at home, keeping it comfortable, and raising children. In turn, some men prioritize the work and their ambitions and want to have a wife from a “true womanhood” perspective.
Overall, the cult of domesticity is a significant historical phenomenon that has influenced people’s perception of women’s roles and their significance to society. The image of a “true woman” seems oppressive and controlling because women had to present themselves a certain way that is approved by men, or otherwise, they would be shamed. The consequences of the cult of “true womanhood” still can be seen in modern society. However, with the more excellent recognitions from both men and women, this tendency might gradually reduce.
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Welder, Barbara. 2012.“The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-186”. Domestic Ideology and Domestic Work 4 (1): 48-71.