Tony has a post on the insidious sexualization of even Disney Valentine cards and we enjoyed a nice conversation about that and Walmart. As he noted, it seems bizarre that even Disney characters aimed at kids are now sexualized. Tony requested that I clarify my argument that our contemporary views of gender are a reflection of our past views of Patriarchy and feminism, and that the 19th century Victorian womanhood AND 1950s domesticity inform much of our current confusion.
Ah, a short course in women's history. First the 19th century. As most students of history note, the 19th is a century of transition for women. It is here we see the development of the "cult of domesticity" or "separate spheres," where women are restricted to private spheres and certain, mostly moral, public spheres. Women are in charge of producing the next generation of Republican (not the party) men to run the country, and are really allowed public expression in only approved forums: moral reform in general; abolition, temperence, anti-prostitution, etc. Men are supposed to participate in business and politics.
How does this relate to our current debate? Well, for one thing, the historical construct is horribly misleading. When people talk about the way "things used to be" with family and gender, they just assume that women raised and nurtured the children and took care of the household. Kind of, and with major qualifications.
First, we have to remember that notions of child development were very different, so parents spent much less time on that. Second, middle class women represented much of this "cult of domesticity" but did so by avoiding domestic labor. In other words, they had the luxury of not working, and the time for moral reform because they employed domestic servants who often tended to the children and did the grunt work of the household.
So, we see clearly that the "cult of domesticity" involved and relied on working class women to do the actual work.
Ok, more later. We still have to talk about notions of sexuality in this 19th century context.