The woman question
The woman question is a phrase usually used in connection with a social change in the later half of the nineteenth century which questioned the fundamental roles of women in countries such as the
United Kingdom, the United States of America, and Russia. Issues of women's suffrage, reproductive rights, bodily autonomy, property rights, legal rights, and medical rights and of course marriage, dominated cultural discussions in newspapers and intellectual circles. While many women were supportive of these changing roles, they by no means agreed unanimously. Often issues of marriage and sexual freedom were most divisive.
“The Woman Question” incorporates a myriad of contemporary feminist questions and concerns regarding women’s role in society. Feminism came about when women collectively organized around “The Woman Question.” At various times in history “The Woman Question” has changed, and with it a new era of Feminism is usually named. During First Wave Feminism “The Woman Question” asked whether women’s place was only in the household, or if she was capable of more than domestic chores. British Bourgeoisie women began to complain of their lack of power in familial and political affairs.
Many of the historical changes that characterized the Victorian period motivated discussion and argument about the nature and role of woman — what the Victorians called "The Woman Question." The extension of the franchise by the Reform Bills of 1832 and 1867 stimulated discussion of women's political rights. The Industrial Revolution brought hundreds of thousands of lower-class women into factory jobs with grueling working conditions present [ing] a challenge to traditional ideas of woman's place. [www.wwnorton.com/nael/victorian/topic_2/welcome.htm]
Once American women got the vote in 1920 many believed that “The Woman Question” had been answered, leading to a sort of Feminist recession. During World War II, women who had expected to be only housewives found themselves in the workplace as well. Then in the 60s, Second Wave Feminism, addressed personal ideologies and attitudes toward women, rather than the legal issues that their First Wave sisters had won. With the advent of capitalism, women now compete with men, still earning 77 cents on the dollar for jobs of the same skill set [ [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_disparity#Gender_gap] .] In a postindustrial culture that almost requires cars, computers, cell phones, a college education, and TV, women now have no choice but to work to support their families, since one man’s income is not enough.Fact|date=July 2008 To make things worse the “higher cost of higher education” [ [http://www.bu.edu/today/2008/03/11/higher-cost-higher-ed The Higher Cost of Higher Ed | BU Today ] ] and the increasing cost of fuels (gasoline) and now even food, forces more women than ever into the workplace each year. “The Woman Question” is no longer simply should women work alongside men, but since women must work, isn’t the discrepancy in salaries and the second shift unfair? The second shift discourages many young, ambitious women from having children until late in life, or ever. Motherhood’s value, reputation, and experience are at risk in many modern lives. Not only is it more difficult to juggle a job and a child, but many employers legally discriminate against mothers who they know will not be able to work late, and may often be exhausted on the job.Fact|date=July 2008
The 21st century, Third Wave Feminism “Woman Question” points out that the concerns of many upper-middle class white women have been dealt with and put away, but many unsolved questions still remain for minorities within the majority of women, what Gayatri Spivak calls the subaltern. Poor, working class women do have many of the same problems as poor, working-class men, but are at a disadvantage due to their sex. In many cultures women are subjugated, objectified, and controlled through veiling, genital mutilation, neck rings, and other traditions, some physically and some socially, politically, and mentally restrictive. “According to UNESCO's latest statistics, there are an estimated 862 million illiterate adults in the world, about two-thirds of whom are women” [www.pbs.org/now/politics/womened.html] .
To sum it up in a word, “The Woman Question” is inequality, between men and women. Ingrained ideologies and assumptions that we cannot think our way out of, since they have become part of our very process of thought, may prevent “The Woman Question” from ever being practically solved, but many different voices have already, and will continue to, offer their many different answers. In the words of Adrienne Rich, influential feminist writer of the late 20th century, “We are not ‘the woman question’ asked by somebody else, we are the women who ask the questions.”
Important literature pertaining to the "woman question" includes:
Sarah Grand: " The Beth Book"
Olive Schreiner: " Story of an African Farm"
Thomas Hardy: " Jude the Obscure"
Otto Weininger: " Sex and Character"
Hall Caine: " The Christian"
Fyodor Dostoevsky: "The Idiot"
Sarah Stickney Ellis: ""
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman"
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