Women writers in the 19th and 20th Centuries were far ahead of their time. These women paved the road for future generations. Throughout the late 19th Century, women were placed into four models of Victorian Womanhood: Woman as Victim, Dependent, Demon, and Angel.
Woman as Angel and Demon continues to linger into the 21st Century. Today, females obtain a new phantom called the Woman as Independent. Because of these phantoms, women become confused about what they want to do and what they should do. These problematic issues arise in today’s society, which women must examine. Throughout our culture, they battle with the Angel in the House while incorporating their independence, and hiding from the demon.
Women, who choose to listen to the angel while maintaining their independence, must carefully evaluate their options. When they try to combine these phantoms, their choices become overwhelming. Girls, today continue to grow up while observing their mothers and grandmothers. This is when the angel manifests. As a girl grows into a woman, she becomes aware of her independence; however, she continues identifying with her past generations. Because of life’s circumstances, women have now advanced into independent females. Mothers, from the Baby Boomer generation often became victims of divorce. They were forced to toss their angel and struggle for the independent role. Daughters, who were raised by theses mothers, were taught how to become self-reliant. As a result, females are now able to choose between becoming a wife, a mother, a workingwoman, or all of the above. They attempt to combine the angel with independence. Women today must carefully evaluate their wants and needs, in order to make their own decisions. In Mina Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto” she writes, “Leave off looking for men to find out what you are not. / Seek within yourselves to find out what you are.” (1365).
Loy said good-bye to the angel phantom and continued living her life on her own. She possessed a very modern attitude when it came to the female psyche. This quote is perfect in self-definition. She offers advice to women today that are torn between the angel and independent womanhoods. Marriage can be a good thing but Loy tells the reader to look at herself for her identity rather than depending on a man to help her find it. When a woman begins to make her own decisions, she must look hard and try to think like a man when he makes his decisions.
Once females reach their early twenties, the angel and independent phantom begin their conflicts. This problem arises when expectation of marriage is inflicted upon them by their mothers, friends, society and especially by their male counterparts. Most of them begin to question their future by figuring how to merge these two frictions into one. Many modern day women take on the housewife while maintaining their independence. Self-sufficient females, who desire a companion, have many struggles when choosing whom to date. Both women and men seem confused about what roles each of them play today. Some men are products of their older male generations. They expect women to be dependent and submissive to them. These males, force females to compromise independence for dependence. Controlling boyfriends or husbands are those who choose not to accept a woman’s free nature.
Instead, they attempt to beat down and force women into submission. This is why “Men and women are enemies,…” ( Loy 1365). In Rebecca West’s “Indissoluble Matrimony,” she shows a man’s inner conflict when married to an attractive and self-sufficient housewife. The angel reinforces the desire to take care of a man; however, strong independence keeps the female from loosing herself. “For she was one of those women who create an illusion alternately of extreme beauty and extreme ugliness.” (West 1537). In George’s mind he assumes, since Evadne is pretty and smart she must be having an affair. This is evident when West writes, “Oh, how he hated her! / Yet he must follow her, or else she would cover up her adulteries so that he could not take his legal revenge.” (1542). Like many men today, George’s misunderstandings of his wife’s independence led to his own insecurities. His loss of power over Evadne drove him to hate and kill his wife.
Rebecca illustrates this power when she writes, “he had thought he had had what every man most desires: one night of power over a woman for business of murder or love.” (1553). Today, these situations lead to domestic violence. Some men have not adapted to the new age of womanhood. On the other hand, some males take advantage of women’s independence and her angel by living off her income while contributing little to nothing to their marriage.
Females, in this situation, are forced to choose the angel and the independent phantom. These women are similar to Zora Neale Hurston’s protagonist Delia. Delia is independent because her self-reliance is what keeps her alive. Hurston illustrates Delia’s struggle when she writes, “she squatted in the kitchen floor beside the great pile of clothes, sorting them into small heaps according to color, and humming a song in a mournful key, but wondering through it all where Sykes, her husband, had gone with her horse and buckboard.” (1490). Throughout the story, Delia becomes more self-governing which allows her to stand up for herself against Sykes. “Delia’s habitual meekness seemed to slip from her shoulders like a blown scarf. / She was on her feet; her poor little body, her bare knuckly hands bravely defying the strapping hulk before her.” (Hurston 1491). Women are naturally accustomed to listening to their angel phantom; however, their new independence keeps them from being taken for granted. In this culture, females have acquired their independence while maintaining the housewife role; however, women also battle with today’s Woman as Demon.
The 19th Century “Woman as Demon” had a somewhat different meaning than now. The old demon referred to prostitutes and workingwomen. Today’s demon is often associated with a woman’s display of sexuality and extreme independence. The teenage girl becomes aware of this phantom while attending high school. At this age, she is forced to control her sexuality for the benefit of her reputation.
Mina Loy addresses this issue when she writes, “the fictitious value of woman as identified with her physical purity is too easy a standby. / It renders her lethargic in the acquisition of intrinsic merits of character by which she could obtain a concrete value. / Therefore, the first self-enforced law for the female sex, as protection from the manmade bogey of virtue (which is the principal instrument of her subjugation) is the unconditional surgical destruction of virginity throughout the female population at puberty.” (1365).
Young men begin testing girls’ sexuality by pushing the issue of sex. As a result, adolescent females begin to have internal and external conflicts with earning the titles “slut.” Girls who choose not to have sex are labeled as “prude.” Therefore, guys have the “Madonna” and the “whore.” Sex is socially accepted for teenage boys, however a young woman is forced to worry about her reputation. High school girls are looked down upon when trying to examine their sexuality; however, boys are admired when doing the same.
Men and society take advantage of a women’s sexuality by judging and ridiculing them. In “Indissoluble Matrimony,” West describes forbidden female sexuality through George: “You’ve always been keen on kissing and making love, haven’t you, my precious. At first you startled me, you did! / I didn’t know women were like that.” and continues saying, “I don’t believe good women are.” (1541). In present day society, females learn at an early age that their sexuality should only arise in certain moments of their lives. Those, whom explore their sexuality at this age, reap the consequences in their reputations.
Other women battle with the demon, when choosing to focus on their professions rather than concentrating on the family. Today many women come from divorced families; therefore, they grew up learning to only depend upon themselves. Mina Loy discusses these situations when she writes, “each child of a superior woman should be the result of a definite period of psychic development in her life and not necessarily of a possibly irksome and outworn continuance of an alliance that is spontaneously adapted for vital creation in the beginning but which become unbalanced as the parties of alliance follow the individual lines of their personal evolution.” (1366). Whether or not these women have families are often criticized by both sexes in society without considering the reasons behind woman’s evolution. Some mothers whom choose working over raising their children are judged as inadequate moms. Like many women from the Baby Boomer generation, choose to fight hard for their independence by sacrificing the duties of a wife and motherhood.
The women of today have not completely evolved from the women of the 19th Century, partly because society continues to embrace the stereotypical woman as angel and have not fully accepted the independent woman. However, due to prior generations, the road has been paved for females to pick and choose whom to become. They will continue to struggle while finding themselves while living in the world around them. Women’s evolution will continue being an ongoing journey.