So, I decided to read the book “Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage and Manners” by Therese Oneill, thinking this would be a welcome change of pace. And to its credit it is an incredibly well researched and hilarious look at women in the Victorian era. And you would not be disappointed to pick yourself up a copy of your very own, which I so happen to have a quick link at the bottom of this post to make that decision a little easier.
Anyways, I spent the first ¾’s of the book delightedly powering though it. Honestly, one of those cannot put down books, delving into all the questions you never thought to ask yourself about what a woman’s life really was like back then! And then a big nerve was struck. The nerve of the moment… consent. What I found most striking is that our grasp of consent has not differed much since the Victorian Age.
“If they persist, she should tell them in a brief and firm, though polite tone, that she desires to be left to herself. If a man follow[s] her in silence, she should pretend not to perceive him, and at the same time, hasten a little in her step”.
The above quotation is the standard education that women were receiving if they ventured out of the house and a male approached them. Be polite, brief, but firm. And if that doesn’t work, walk a little quicker! And the thing is, during that day and age, if the man didn’t take the hint, you were basically screwed, quite literally!
I mean, on the one hand, at least women were taught to say no or at least how to if the need arose. On the other hand, this obviously was not an effective strategy and relied heavily on the breeding of the male on the receiving end. And yet many women still employ the exact same tactic today. In fact, I myself was taught this very thing! I was not educated in the world of no means no. There was instead a significant amount of emphasis placed on how I was perceived by my friends and peers, rather than what I wanted. I recall quite clearly the few times I displayed any characteristics that were aggressive or unbecoming of a lady because I would be met with a swift slap across my face. And that hurts! So, I would resist toeing the line of an unbecoming nature. I remained calm, pleasant, and never publicly assertive.
And you know what else has not died with the Victorian Era? The idea that if women dressed provocatively that is was their own damn fault. Especially if they were mistaken for an easy target or tricked into the white slave trade also known as prostitution. That’s right, even though today we know we are all human beings under the law, there are still men and some women, who will state that if you look like a harlot you kinda deserve what you get. In the Victorian era you could not show legs, or even ankles because you were basically asking to get raped. And while the modern woman is free to wear what she dares, if push came to shove, you may well be accused of asking for it. Because again, woman are taught such things as modesty and how to attract a spouse, but no mention is made on how men are to respond or reciprocate in kind. Boys will be boys after all!
Let’s see here, we still practice polite often subtle “no’s” and we still get judged for how we dress. Perfect! And here I thought that we were evolving and had bridged a huge gap towards equality!
Aside from the few points that made me feel like I was still an uneducated prisoner of the Victorian era this was a remarkably funny and amazing book which I highly recommend. So, grab a copy and please share your thoughts with me on it in the comments section when you’re done!