Thursday, December 13, 2007
WOMEN AND WESTERN CIV FINAL EXAM, 2007
Describe some of the historical changes that brought women out of the home and into
the public sphere in Western Civilization after 1800.
A symbol of changing gender norms and stereotypes, the "new woman" first emerged in
the late nineteenth century. Less constrained by the previous generations’ Victorian norms and
domesticity, the new woman had greater freedom to pursue public roles, flaunt her sex appeal,”
and challenge conventional gender roles. The “new woman” ideal brought Ibsen’s character
Nora Helmer out of her doll's house in 1879 (Yalom, 264) and later on, women out of their own
houses and into the workplace. These new freedoms, however, met with hostility from both men
and women who objected to women's public presence and foresaw an imminent decline in
morality. Expressing autonomy and individuality, the new woman represented the tendency of
young women at the turn of the century to reject their mothers' ways in favor of new, modern
choices. In America, the late nineteenth century witnessed hundreds, maybe thousands, of these
women who sought freedom and autonomy even if it meant denying the claims of wifehood and
motherhood and moving out of the home and into the public sphere.
The most prominent change about the “new woman” was her increased presence in the
public sphere and away from the home. Whereas the lives of most nineteenth-century women -
especially middle-class women but also domestic servants and slaves - tended to revolve around
home life, modern women ventured into jobs, politics, and culture outside the domestic realm.
They did not do so, however, on equal terms with men; women remained economically and
politically subordinate to men in the early twentieth century.
New Women did not gain their
“freedom” without a fight. Conservative forces in society, including churches and such groups as
the Ku Klux Klan, vehemently opposed women's new roles and “directed their attacks against