An Ideal Woman and Why We Hate Her

Oh, don't you look  so smug in your perfection!
Oh, don’t you look so smug in your perfection!

“. . . she carried out her duties as mistress of a small family with ‘piety, patience, frugality and industry’. Moreover,

‘… her ardent and unceasing flow of spirits, extreme activity and diligence, her punctuality, uprightness and remarkable frugality, combined with a firm reliance on God … carried her through the severest times of pressure, both with credit and respectability …’ (The General Baptist Repository and Missionary Observer, 1840).” bbc history of victorian women

Here’s why we don’t like you, dear: You make us look bad–and selfish. You save money, dress with no hint of muffin-top or dirty flip-flop feet and in general seem to  actually take your place in society seriously.


We moderns scoff at manners and “rigid” rules. You see the value in a well-run household. And damn those studies that actually prove children thrive  in predictable, nurturing settings! And the homemade family suppers you insist upon–turns out you were annoyingly right about them as well.


Keeping busy at the church? Statistically people who attend church regularly are more active in their community so just being spiritual doesn’t seem to cut it. As much as we brow beat you, dear, and try to convince you that being an office manager is as important as raising the next generation of adults and that being a salaried employee automatically makes you happy and that free love and the abandonment of your place as moral arbiter will make you EQUAL to men, you demur with that look of placid innocence we despise.


You don’t have to have rabid Facebook wars–pro-choice vs pro-life–that honestly would make you sick. You give us that scolding look that shows how shocked and dismayed at how hostile and ugly we’ve allowed ourselves to become. At least pretend to have some manners, you say. Our language shocks you and how we laugh when children repeat it!


You’re not sure you believe in evolution at all. Unless there’s a species that devolves. You wonder at how often we speak of happiness instead of goodness and we laugh at you mockingly. If there’s no such thing as truth then there’s no such thing as goodness. You’d know that if you were paying attention to something other than being perfect.


You look at us like we’re mad.


14 responses to “An Ideal Woman and Why We Hate Her”

    • Do you hate her “perfection,” her sense of mission or her lack of modern day cynicism? Do you think her perfect or completely ridiculous? How do you feel about Martha Stewart?

      I LOVE differing opinions about women’s roles!


    • Trying to write a character into my book who embodies at least some of the ideals is very difficult. For the story I want her to be likeable, yet I want her to be true to her time–when cool wasn’t the highest ideal.

      I agree with you. 🙂


      • Not that I’m one of the sisterhood but…
        I bet the lady in the picture was prone to the vapours, would cut a friend dead for a social faux pas and would climb on a chair if she saw a mouse.
        She was perfect as a jigsaw piece is and as unknowable. However, wouldn’t you just like to walk among them for a day? There is so much unknowable stuff. Why did people wear so many clothes in summer? Before dry cleaning did men have their suits washed –if so how often? What did a butcher’s shop smell like? What did coffee taste like? When it rained, would you end up with manure tidemark around the ankle of your dress and if so was that acceptable to smell vaguely of horse doo if you were visiting? Did people’s accents sound more English than American in, say, the 18th century?
        The BBC quote has the tone of an obituary. When folks were ‘promoted to glory’ or ‘fell asleep’ the Victorians seemed to be effusively unwilling to speak any ill at all of the dead. Now we can’t wait. I suppose their view of heaven, like some giant salon or garden party, meant that you could be snubbed in the next world if you were the culprit responsible for a bad write up in this. The silences in obits spoke volumes — like Henry Clay Frick’s obituary in the New York Times that omits to mention Andrew Carnegie once in more than 5,000 words.


      • I agree that there is a big difference between an ideal and the real–what interests me is the nature of the ideal and what people aimed for. Now an obit might even mention how fun and happy the person was or how they really enjoyed The Simpsons. And a six pack of beer would be thrown in the coffin as a joke. Everything now is off the cuff and snarky.

        Obviously people joked back then –and back stabbed etc, but I wonder what our ideals are today? Maybe tolerance for everything and all things except the very few things that annoy us.

        While there were women who suffered hysteria, most didn’t. Most worked and played and fell in love, cleaned house (complaining if that was their temperament, I suppose) and probably killed mice in their kitchens. I think fictionalized versions of women leisurely going about their day popularized a very romantic view of the past.

        In America at the time even with Darwin’s ideas floating around a majority of people still took Christianity and death seriously.

        I wonder if “coolness” was held in high regard. It’s such a boring pose I’ve grown to hate.

        I’d much prefer the smell of horse crap to sitting behind a plump girl in low-rise jeans any day.

        I just read an article about the Anglophile craze in the US throughout the latter part of the 19th century so I’d guess we stole some good British phrases at least.

        The story about the death of Frick’s young daughter is one of the saddest I’ve ever read.

        I don’t believe in sisterhoods–in general I think women are out for themselves. I wish this wasn’t the case and of course there are many exceptions.

        Well, off to the barn so I can smell like goat crap. 🙂


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