Volume 2, Number 1 (2011)
The Victorian Gender Ideology and Women in the British Caribbean in the Post-Emancipation Era
In Victorian caricature, the metropolitan household was about the quintessential bearded, authoritarian, white male breadwinner in charge of his home and work sphere. His wife would be prone to displays of wan feminine incapacity as she grooms daughters to be good housewives. Typically, they belonged to the middle class and lived in homes of detailed and fussy architecture. Also, fainting-couches, crinoline garments and lace handkerchiefs seemed natural evolutions of the aesthetics of this era and were rooted in its ideology. In reality, Victorian gender ideology was based on patriarchal authority entrusted to white, wealthy males. Beckles (1999: 86) notes that Britain condoned a masculine colonialism. Females were perceived as the property of men who owned citizenship on behalf of their wives and children. But for Mohammed (2002: 55), gender was combined with race and ethnicity in the Victorian era to contrast the ruler and ruled. She argues that, at the heart of British domestic policy , the thinking was that the more property men possessed, the more ennobled were their spouses, and by corollary, the greater the progress of British civilization. This idea was echoed by the educator Sada Stanley, Superintendent of Lyndale Girls Home in Jamaica. She remarked that: No people can be truly great without true or great mothers (Shepherd 1995: 248). Thus, the ennobled and fruitful housewife was touted as a coveted metropolitan female. From this near-cloistered Victorian Mama, there developed a preoccupation with Helen-centered and prudish femininity which transitioned to colonial societies. This discussion, therefore, examines the nature of this gender ideology, and its influence on women in the immediate post emancipation century in the Caribbean.