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Unformatted text preview: I C H A P T E : What Kind of Woman? i Nationalism, which co-opted the male search for friendship and community, went on in the first decades of the nineteenth century to assimilate new ideals of womanhood. It reinforced them by fash- ioning female symbols of the nation, such as Germania, Britannia, and Marianne. These images embodied both respectability and the collective sense of national purpose. Romantic art was called into service in order to give visual and literary dimensions to the new themes. Nationalism—and the society that identified with it— used the example of the chaste and modest woman to demonstrate its own virtuous aims. In the process, it fortified bourgeois ideals of respectability that penetrated all classes of society during the nine- teenth century. If woman was idealized, she was at the same time put firmly into her place. Those who did not live up to the ideal were perceived as a menace to society and the nation, threatening the established or- der they were intended to uphold. Hence the deep hatred for women as revolutionary figures, almost surpassing the disdain which estab- lished society reserved for male revolutionaries. Woman as a sym- bol of liberty and revolution, "Marianne into battle," contradicted the "feminine" values of respectability and rootedness, and was quickly domesticated or dethroned. In the ever more sharply defined distinction between men and women, for example, androgyny, once praised as a symbol of unity, became abhorrent. Lesbianism also was particularly difficult to What Kind of Woman! 91 face. As an expression of female sexuality, it was ignored through most of the nineteenth century. This was not merely a "love that dared not speak its name"—it did not even have a name. By the start of the twentieth century the hatred reserved for lesbians seemed, if possible, even deeper than that directed toward male homosexuals. Nevertheless, most lesbians shunned the defiant posture of the decadents. For the most part, as we shall see, they rested their de- fense on a plea that fundamentally accepted the standards and judg- ments of society. Even feminists allied themselves with respecta- bility. Yet within an ever more restrictive perception of the role of women, there were times when she could still symbolize liberty. The French Revolution popularized Marianne as a female sym- bol of liberty. While revolutionary imagery at times pictured her as solemn, seated and clothed in chaste garments, for the most part she appeared to be young, active, and scantily clad. She would typi- cally wear a low-cut gown and expose her legs below the knees. As Revolution settled down into Republic and then into Empire, the sedate and fully clothed figure prevailed over her tomboy rival....
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- Spring '11