The thought of “ feminineness ” in the 18th century was constructed in direct relation to adult females ‘s value to work forces and matrimony. Womans were viewed as cosmetic animals whose “ virtuousness resided in domesticity ” ( 1995 ) . Daughters were used as the “ currency of societal mobility ” ( 1996 ) and the “ right ” matrimony secured both hubby and married woman their topographic point in society. This impression of muliebrity was built in a patriarchal society where adult females were meant to be beautiful and quiet, were expected to be able to run an efficient family, and service and obey their hubbies and male parents. They were besides supposed to “ best deploy [ their ] innate endowments ” which was “ first and foremost, childbearing ” ( 1996 ) . Mary Astell, the 18th century proto-feminist onslaughts these ideals of “ feminineness ” in her essay, Some Reflections upon Marriage. Alexander Pope besides inquiries these ideals through the creative activity of Belinda, the female supporter in his satirical verse form, The Rape of the Lock. In her essay, Mary Astell straight challenges what it means to be female in the 18th century, while Pope uses sarcasm to expose the absurdity of these conventions.
Womans in the 18th century were subjected to superficial criterions of beauty ; they were expected to concentrate on their outward visual aspects in order to happen a suited hubby. Women wore “ pelts, aromas, and cloths of distant climates, they furnished grounds of imperium, proud cogent evidence of their male parents ‘ and hubbies ‘ economic attainments ” ( 1995 ) . Belinda, the anti-heroine of The Rape of the Lock absolutely fits this construct of “ feminineness ” . On her dressing tabular array the “ assorted off’rings of the universe appear ” ( 2475 ) , such as “ India ‘s radiance treasures ” , goods from Arabia, and tusk and tortoiseshell combs ( 2475 ) . She spends hours in her dressing room fixing for the wooing ritual and values beauty over all other virtuousnesss. Belinda herself fits the cast of the conventional female, but Pope is utilizing her surplus to indicate out the folly built-in in these criterions. Belinda ‘s dressing ritual is described as “ the sacred rites of pride ” ( 2475 ) and her beauty is compared to that of a “ goddess ” ( 2472 ) . She is deified through her beauty ; this is a unsafe impression in that she can ne’er be treated as a human being. And what happens when this physical beauty slices and she falls from the base?
Astell does non subscribe to the socially established ideals on feminine beauty. Her “ feminineness ” is constructed through the statement that a adult female should cultivate her head instead than her visual aspect if she wants to genuinely be content. She asserts that most adult females are the victims of hapless instruction and are taught that matrimony is their lone option ( 2286 ) . She warns them of the dangers of coveting the “ glister and gaudery of a nuptials ” and the flattering words of wooing ( 2286 ) . These adult females, like Belinda, believe that matrimony is the “ completion of all [ their ] hopes ” ( 2286 ) and will happen acrimonious letdown when they uncover the matrimony myth: wooing is non world. They are either “ simple or vain to take [ their ] lover at his word either as to the congratulationss he gave [ them ] , or the promises he made for himselfaˆ¦ ” ( 2286 ) . Astell describes wooing as “ little less than rank devotion ” ( 2287 ) and would instead be an equal to her comrade than elevated to an unrealistic ideal to which no 1 can populate up.
It was the belief in the post-Restoration period that adult females were to function and obey their hubbies, instead than exert an equal partnership. Astell once more fails to suit the socially constructed construct of muliebrity. She wholly disagrees with this impression, and is far from backing the ideal of the subservient married woman. She even goes every bit far as to reason that it may non be good for adult females to get married at all if they are to be retainers alternatively of spouses. She writes, “ [ a adult female ] has no ground to be fond of being a married woman, or to think it a piece of preferment when she is taken to be a adult male ‘s upperservant ; it is no advantage to her in this worldaˆ¦ ” ( 2292 ) Astell compares an unequal matrimony to slavery, naming it the “ marital yoke ” . She besides asks of a adult male who does non offer matrimonial equality, “ Can he believe there is any gratitude due to her whose uttermost services he exacts as rigorous responsibility? Because she was made to be a slave to his will, and has no higher terminal than to function and obey him? ” ( 2284 ) . Her recognition of matrimony as the captivity of adult females is a position that proves Astell was one of the first proto-feminists.
Although Belinda does non province her place on the equality of matrimony in the verse form, it is safe to presume that she would suit into this function of duteous, compliant married woman. She is courted by gallant work forces, who after wooing and devotion, will turn her into a subservient married woman. She values surface over substance to such a grade that she would instead be raped than lose a lock of her beautiful hair: “ Oh hadst 1000, cruel! been content to seize/ Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these! ” ( 2487 ) . This hideous behaviour is depicted in this manner because Belinda is a satirical character intended to be a review of “ vain and frivolous ” adult females. The instruction of adult females was “ intentionally constricted ” ( 1996 ) in the post-Restoration epoch. Women of agencies were merely encouraged to prosecute music, dancing, letter-writing, and embellishment ( 1996 ) . Along with these undertakings, they were expected to be able to supervise a well-organized family ; this included child care, direction of the repasts, shopping, and societal occasions ( 1996 ) . However, adult females in the 18th century were non even educated so far as to be good versed in domesticity. They were treated as “ dolls ” , such as the sort Belinda grows up to be. Belinda, though, can non be faulted as she is a representation of the adult females of her epoch who themselves are victims of hapless instruction. They are raised in a system that is constructed for their failure. Astell asserts that to be married a adult female requires “ all the aid the best instruction can give her, and [ she ] ought to hold some good aid of her ain soundness and virtueaˆ¦ ” ( 2292 ) . She recognized that adult females of the 18th century were non provided with the tools to execute even the most basic undertakings required of them by their hubbies and society. Consequently, the epoch produced an full century of Belindas.
Mary Astell ‘s essay Some Reflections upon Marriage and Jonathon Swift ‘s verse form The Rape of the Lock both provide illustrations of constructs of muliebrity. Through both Mary and Belinda, in discourse and in sarcasm, thoughts of what it means to be a female in the 18th century are uncovered.