I have been trying to understand how such a double-standard as men fooling around with prostitutes and in brothels while women were expected to be cold, chaste, and submissive existed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I suppose I mean middle class (and possibly upper class?) men and women, aka, the established white, Protestant, professional, middle class. Was it the intention of the ‘better’ part of society to sleep with or to save these poor women? In this period of revivalism we have seen the impulse to clean up the streets by haranguing and rounding up these women but on the other hand we have many men of the same class and background desiring to ‘get off’ with these women. I know that it was not always, although I’m sure it sometimes was, the same men who were both cleaning up and putting out so that would indicate that there was a tension within the white, Protestant middle class make-up. That, at least, would seem the reasonable answer. Still, that doesn’t really explain the double-standard.
I suppose two points need to be made. Women were assumed to have no great sexual desire, theirs was sensual at best, while men were permitted some license to blow off a little steam and…cough…release some…hmm…energy. This first assumption could only really apply to proper women, that is, women who were of a middle class bearing and education. Education must have been viewed as a means to moral living and separating oneself from the flesh to pursue higher ends. I do wonder at what sort of education is here implied. I cannot imagine many men and future husbands were keen, earlier in this period at least, to allow women the full academic training they received. So, perhaps a basic grade school education, teaching or typing, or perhaps even informal, social education? However it was meant, education was something these women-of-the-night did not posses, although I’d bet in the school of hard knocks they were straight-A students. Besides, their own craft must have been plied well enough as these men kept coming back. Again to the point, these women must have had some sexual desire but felt unable to express that fully. It seems likely that some husbands and wives did engage in sex for pleasure but felt unable to talk about their experience in a public setting. Others simply resigned themselves to a life of sexual repression and potential frustration and bore their role. The wife was to be the homemaker, the child-rearer, and the instiller of morality within the home and the children. Given that role, it must have felt like a danger to civilization to have a proper woman leave the home to engage in salaried work or anything that might jeopardize her maintenance of the home. The fear really must have been that the rug would be pulled out from under civilization.
Men, as the saying goes, just needed to keep it in their pants. This might be misleading and my meaning taken to be that I would have advocated some form of marital chastity but quite the contrary. Because a married man and women were not at liberty to engage in sexual relations apart from the procreative purpose (I’d wager some if not many did engage in sex for pleasure early on but were not at liberty to discuss it in public or even with friends as they might become the social pariah) men, being the less likely to keep his pants on, were driven by their sexual desire toward prostitutes and women of questionable morals. This strange set-up might have been averted or at least mitigated had husbands and wives been able to take pleasure in each others bodies.
But that men were silently allowed to seek gratification outside the home while women were not still seems strange to me. Is it the nature of the patriarchal power-structure that so inclines men to ‘protect’ the women from the very vice he himself practices on the street? Would a monogamous matriarchal structure illicit a similar response from women toward men that the men needed protecting? (Mind you, I’ve never been married but it seems to me that, however you make it work, it is, among other things, a power-structure wherein someone- some ONE party- has the dominant say-so. One needs only to read the works within Chaucer’s marriage group to understand that this dynamic is both old and, indeed, cast as a power-structure.) I wonder too whether or not this exact husband-wife dichotomy phenomenon was unique to the American. I get the impression that it’s a WASP thing, so American and British Protestantism, but was this basic structure prevalent in Germany, Holland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden as well? And what about the other continentals; did European Catholics operate in marriage the same way? Is this exclusively a Protestant happening or just an Anglo-American Protestant phenomenon?
As a society, it seems that we still operate under this same idea where the man is given more license and if something bad happens to the woman then it was probably her fault. When a woman is harassed or raped people will often ask what she was wearing as though if she was wearing something revealing then she must have been asking for it. Likewise, society at large is much more offended if a woman curses than if a man does the same. It could be my Southern upbringing, but if a woman curses, especially in pubic, then she isn’t being ladylike. A man does the same and, while still bad, it isn’t as bad and is more understandable since he is a man. How is it that committing adultery with a prostitute conveniently falls outside the bounds of sexual immorality for men, at least practically for many men, while women are not allowed to even express sexual desire without being labeled a whore? Chastity and sexual monogamy become the hallmarks of a good, reputable woman and not for men. This must come down to their understanding of masculine and feminine gender roles and this then must intermingle with their interpretation of scripture and color the lens by with they read their Bibles. I’m sure it is the same for us, although we do tend to think ourselves as modern, new, morally superior, more intelligent, and generally better than those who came before. Let us avoid this propensity toward a chronological snobbery. As I hold some condemnation toward my grandparents generation for things we now consider immoral and wrong, so to do I wonder what my grandchildren will condemn me and my generation for doing or tolerating (and lets just throw out this idea of our being a ‘tolerant society’ right now, shall we. Would you really want to harbor wrong and be proud about it? Should we tolerate the racist and embrace him as a brother without condemning his racism? I know this issue gets hairy at times but I’m not sure I want to say the racist is alright with me. Goodwill, compassion, charity and all that, but “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18). It’s Lady Liberty, not Lady Tolerance. Let us find a little truth in Liberty, shall we?).
And now, for something completely different: Otters seem very reasonable.