Role of Victorian women was expected to be limited to childbearing and housewife. There were some changes that occurred in the lives of women during Victorian times. Also see how was an ideal Victorian Housewife?
Though Victorian period was influenced by the reform act 1832 and subsequent acts, yet this period also marked by extreme diversities with the industrial reforms, cultural progress, scientific advancement on one hand and poverty and wars on the other.
The Victorian era identified four classes as a part and parcel of their social structure; the Nobility and Gentry, Middle Class, Upper Working Class and Lower Working Class. People in the respective categories were expected to remain within their class and any slight change from one class to another was considered to be a serious offence.
In all these categories, the role of the women remained unchanged. They were supposed to live a highly restrictive life with their life centered around their husband and subsequently their children.
Role of Victorian women of the higher class
Women who belonged to the nobility class lived and enjoyed a life of luxuries. These women spent most of their time attending tea parties and balls and the remaining time they would spend in knitting and horseback riding. Women had several attendants to look after them.
They were expected to be highly educated. Their main job was to effectively instruct the servants on what is to be done and to groom younger girls of the same class (nobility) to become women.
Middle-class Victorian women’s role
After the noble class came the middle class. These people were not as rich as the nobles though many of the people of this class tried mingling with the noble class people.
The women belonging to this class were expected to take education, help in the family business and try to get married into the nobility. At the close of the Victorian era, few women of this class were self-employed by being a nurse, writer etc.
The Upper Working Class tried a variety of jobs and earned a decent livelihood by becoming a governess, a housekeeper or a schoolmistress. Lower Working Class, on the other hand, included professions like tradeswoman whereby the women sold their own goods and service to the people of their village or cleaned or worked as housekeepers to the upper middle class.
Lower class woman’s role in Victorian times
Ultimately, came the lower class women who came from extreme poverty and took up menial jobs like that of prostitution, laborers, or any activity which involves physical exertion. These women mostly remained single all their lives as they were more in number as compared to their male counterparts.
Women were considered to be a sign of purity and cleanliness except during their menstrual cycles. Their bodies were treated as temples as a result of which they could not be engaged in any vigorous activity or even pleasurable sex.
The only duty cast upon a Victorian woman was to keep her husband happy and raise her children for which they groomed right from their childhood days. The rights which the women enjoyed were similar to those which were enjoyed by young children whereby they were not allowed to vote, sue or even own property.
It was in the light of all the above restrictions so place on a Victorian woman which paved the way to a suffrage movement which took place at the close of the Victorian era.
Thus, the woman belonging to this period had no choice but to accept all that which was already decided for her by the society at large by way of customs. You can also read more about the feminism during the Victorian era. See Depiction of women in Victorian literature and also Gender Roles of Victorian Era for Men and Women.