Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Very Old Fashioned Feminism

Reading Chesterton seems to be an inspiration to blog. Yesterday, reading a few more essays, I came across some of his statements on Victorianism and feminism which were extremely enlightening. Earlier this year I read a wonderful book, The Feminization of American Culture, by Ann Douglas, where she showed that 20th century feminism came straight out of Victorian sentimentalism. Chesterton clearly agrees with her, so now I know that she's right:

"This humourless hammering on one note is like the worst Victorian fads; Temperance or Feminism. It is especially like that very old-fashioned Feminism that hated to be feminine....It means that women dress like men; not that men dress like women. Now that is sheer stark, stale, dead Victorianism. That is the only original Woman's Rights Woman, who deliberately made herself hideous with bloomers and goggles." [emphasis mine].

Chesterton, himself, was the child of Victorians, and was born towards the very end of Queen Victoria's reign, so he saw what he was talking about. If you're saying to yourself, now that doesn't sound much like Victorianism to me--even by his adult years the definition of Victorianism had warped. Check this out:

"While the world has been talking about removing Victorian taboos, I have been resolved from the first to remove that one Victorian taboo; which really was a senseless and strangling taboo; the taboo on the topic of real religion, and its real and inevitable place in practical life. Most of the things the Moderns call Victorian taboos are about as Victorian as the Ten Commandments or the maxims of Confucius. But this really was Victorian, in the sense of having arisen recently in a vulgar, commercial and cowardly social system. It is not the notion that it is right or wrong to be a Moslem; it is the notion that it cannot really matter even to a Moslem that he is a Moslem. What is totally intolerable is the idea that everybody must pretend, for the sake of peace and decorum, that moral inspiration only comes from secular things...and cannot possibly come from spiritual things..." [emphasis his].

It looks as though as far as our age despises and scorns Victorianism, we are despising and scorning ourselves.