The Woman Question
During the Middle Age, women were mentioned in documents only if they were king’s wives or daughters.
In literature, women were angelic, petrarchan figures, as we can see in Edmund Spenser’s “Once I wrote her name upon the strand”. But Shakespeare changed in his sonnets the figure of women: he portrays them in his works as “blood and flesh” women, real women.
In the Augustan Age, women started to participate to debates in Coffee houses. They wrote letters to newspapers, in which male journalists used fictitious female name.
Among the 17th and 19th century, he have a huge transformation concerning the role of the woman in society.
The Napoleonic civil code sanctioned woman’s legal inferiority, and Mary Wollstonecraft reacted with the publication of her “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”(1798) usually considered the first feminist phamplet.
During the Industrial revolution, industries needed women as workers, and this, in theory, made them equal to men, but in reality they were subject to discrimination: they worked a lot of hours, but they had poorer jobs and lower wages. Even elementary school was considered superfluous for women, so they couldn’t get higher education.
In the early 19th century, higher classes women enjoyed even less freedom due to the rigid code of sexual and social behavior gradually imposed by Victorian standard.
At about mid-century things began to change. Some women tried hard to gain access to colleges and profession: the most famous was Florence Nightingale, who became a national legend for her work in hospitals. During Victorian age two important steps were taken: the first colleges for Women were founded, and, with the Women’s Property Act, women were allowed by law to own property after they got married (previously, all their property went to their husbands).
By the end of Victoria’s reign the situation had improved: women could study and take a degree, so they took important social roles like doctors and journalists. On the social side, the first petitions to get woman franchise date back to the 1840s, but women didn’t get the right to vote until 1918.
During World War I women had taken mens places in the factories and gave a decisive contribution to the war effort. The battle for the right to vote was fought especially by the Suffragettes movement: its most famous leaders were Mrs Emmeline Pankhrust and her two daughters, Sylvia and Christabel.
By 1918, for the first time all men aged twenty-one and women over thirty were allowed to vote.