Saturday, June 18, 2011

What Feminists Leave Out

Author, Lev Raphael, made a shocking discovery as detailed here (emphasis mine):
"Remember Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth? Remember how faded socialite Lily Bart drops down the social ladder, from unpaid secretary for her wealthy friends to untrained seamstress in a hat shop?
It's a steep, hopeless, miserable decline, and highly dramatic, but Wharton presented a false portrait of Lily's possibilities. There were dozens of options open to women like Lily in 1905 New York. I discovered them while researching my novel Rosedale in Love, which tells Wharton's story from a completely different angle.
Looking for Gilded Age books in varying genres, I found the eye-opening How Women May Earn a Living. It was published in 1900 by Helen Churchill Candee, a successful journalist, author, and interior decorator, who would later survive the Titanic and keep writing and traveling until she was 80.
Candee explained that the world of work in 1900 was expanding for women way beyond the menial labor Lily Bart ends up doing. She gave very specific advice in surveying the pluses and minuses of dozens of professions that included some you might expect like nursing, waitressing, and secretarial work. Others might surprise you: life insurance agent, realtor, and personal shopper. Yes, that was an actual profession over a hundred years ago! Candee called it "private shopping."
Candee didn't neglect careers that required more education like architecture, medicine and law. But no matter what the profession -- from florist to freelance journalist -- she closely examined the needed skills, the training involved, the expenses, the joys and burdens, and most importantly, the typical salaries. The New York Times Book Review praised her sensible and useful book, noting that it made no distinction whatsoever between men and women: "in the field of business there is no sex. Practical capacity is the keynote to success."
I wrote Rosedale in Love because I wanted to tell Wharton's story from the perspective of Jewish outsiders. One is the banker Simon Rosedale, a character in The House of Mirth whose inner life and background she completely ignores. The other main character is his cousin Florence, a woman I invented along with everything else about his family. Florence may seem privileged, but she's always aware of her outsider status as a "Jewess."
In my research, I learned a great deal about New York in 1905, but one of the most surprising discoveries was how many types of jobs were open to women who needed to support themselves or their families. Wharton ruthlessly narrowed Lily Bart's options in life to make her seem trapped. Reading Candee's book is a reminder that what novelists leave out of their work can be as significant as what they include, and that artistic vision can sometimes cloud the facts."
Likewise, the lesson to be learned here is what feminists leave out can be as significant, if not more so, than what they include. A lot of my posts, specifically AFU, is designed to point out the other side of the story. One can take it leave it. I just like to encourage the mindset that with any given issue, there may be more than meets the eye. Do your own research as with the internet these days history/herstory's secrets are at everyone's fingertips.

A copy of the 1900 book, "How Women May Earn a Living" can be read here. 


Anonymous said...

I guess it's hard to know unless you lived back then.

What was the average median wage of a working woman in 1905, compared to a man? That would tell you something.

Compare the wage of two "real estate agents"--male and female--and post that up.

There were certainly poor women in the 1800s, no matter what the author says.

Omnipitron said...

Interesting find LGR, I guess that's the danger in using absolutes to describe a situation.

As for the idea of equal pay, it's quite possible Anon could have a point in regards to that. However, one must also realize that in this day and age there are a few articles even on the Spearhead which explain the 'current' wage gap which makes the argument a non starter.

As a possible viewpoint, technology wasn't as advanced as it is today so women would have a disadvantage in transportation and of course the welfare state was much smaller. A single mother in this day and age can still have a rough go of it and that includes paid daycare to assist her.

If a female employee has to sometimes arrive late and leave early to take care of her children and take days off in terms of Dr's Appointments and sick days, imagine what a single 'private shopper' with a child would have to contend with in the early 1900's?

The bottom line, ugly as it is simply is this. An employer sees a man and knows he has a workhorse. Once that man has a family he usually will work even harder to produce for that family. When an employer sees a woman, he sees a dependant who will probably have kids and take time off. Mat leave, surprise sick days, you get the idea.

Laura Grace Robins said...

The point of all this is to show women could work if they chose to do so, whether for economic necessity or even as some sort of amusement. A popular feminist meme is that women could not work at all and were slaves to their homes. What they got paid is a separate,albeit related, issue open for debate. They certainly had the opportunity to work and as the NY Time article says:

"After all is said, the fact remains that the successful business woman must possess about the same qualities that are possessed by the successful business man; in the field of business there is no sex. Practical capacity is the keynote to success. The woman who would command a responsible position must possess that quality if she would be valuable to those whom she serves. She must also be neat, punctual, industrious, and painstaking."

I think this is basically saying that woman can be a success in any given field, she just has to give it the same dedication as would a man. Therefore, like you say Omnipitron, a woman who arrives late, takes time off, etc due to family needs does not have the same 24/7 focus as perhaps a man would. It is an ugly truth and a choice women have to make, a choice that has been around much longer than modern feminism would lead you to believe.

Anonymous said...

It would still be interesting to see what they got paid, compared to men, back then. Any stats?

Jennifer said...

That's one of my favorite books ever, "House of Mirth". The message seemed to me to be more about the emptiness of money than the limits of women.

Anonymous said...

"It would still be interesting to see what they got paid, compared to men, back then."

And how do you expect this comparison to be made?

"What was the average median wage"

average median wage?

"I guess it's hard to know unless you lived back then."

no no the feminists have told us with 100% accuracy that women were chattel back then.

Anonymous said...

Let me tell you this. Here in rural Mexico, a 'niece' I call The Girl Genius worked in a pharmacy, 6 long days a week, total pay at that time around 600 pesos a week. Her dad and brother worked very physically hard manual labor, building houses, for 250 or 300 pesos a day.

While they were lifting heavy things all day long under the hot sun, she was sitting in a quiet, shady pharmacy, waiting for customers to come in. She didn't complain because she knew her dad and brother were busting their intestines all day.

Here, as in the US many years ago, in the end most of a man's money goes to his wife for her use as mother and wife.

They did not think there was anything especially wrong with this. That takes a mentally disturbed modern woman.

Today, women in the Anglosphere still expect most of a man's money for themselves, and yet expect to make as much money as men do. I am reminded of the grunting and squealing of the hogs I slopped on my father's farm in the Fifties.

Anonymous age 69

Anonymous said...

I downloaded House of Mirth from the Gutenberg Project. It soon became obvious that I had previously read the book, as well as a number of Wharton's books.

Lily was a greedy, narcissistic princess, who actually had plenty of chances to marry and have a family. She rejected them for reasons of greed, and in the end failed to find a husband at all.

She was not highly intelligent, which is the real reason she couldn't find a good job.

She deserves no sympathy from anyone.

It is interesting how often older books, even those written by women, portray women as mindless idiots, wandering around in a daze. Read the books of Grace Livingstone Hill, she wrote a large number, and most show the heroine as having no clues at all about much of anything.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the books by GLH, but that is how she portrays her stars.

If women at that time viewed women as mindless, why would men not?

Anonymous age 69

Anonymous said...

Actually, a pharmacists should be paid way more than unskilled laborers.

If an unskilled laborer in the US is unhappy about working outdoors he can always go to school and learn a white-collar that is in high demand, like pharmacy.

Now, it is reasonable to compare two pharmacists in the same store. Male and female pharmacists, doing the same work, should expect to earn the same wage.

But it makes no sense to compared unskilled labor to skilled labor.

And who cares who ultimately spends the money? It is spent for the benefit of the family--on tortillas, or cloth, or tomatoes or (in the US) on the cable and the electric bill. Who cares who actually writes the check?

Anonymous said...

I meant to say average OR median wage. Thank you for pointing that out!

So, what was the average (or median) wage of men and women doing the same work in the 1900's? Anyone?

Anonymous said...

"So, what was the average (or median) wage of men and women doing the same work in the 1900's? Anyone?"

and as Warren Farrell puts it:

"Even during the 1950s, Farrell says, the gender pay gap for all never-married workers was less than 2 percent while never-married white women between 45 and 54 earned 106 percent of what their white male counterparts made."

" In fact, this pay equality had occurred even prior to the Equal Pay Act of 1963. And prior to the current feminist movement."

Yes, the "equal" wages stupidity has been present much longer than the 70s.
But people were perhaps less stupid back then to fall for such charades.
The law didn't get women equal wages for equal work, but was just a way for feminists to gain power.

Anonymous said...

Of course it's a popular antifeminist meme to say women shouldn't work at all. Of course LGR can't toe that line! Woops!

Anonymous said...

If women at that time viewed women as mindless, why would men not?

Men viewed women as mindless and women catered to it to boost their egos and keep them from pouting.
Perhaps Virginia Woolf describes it better in A Room of One's Own:

"Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size. Without that power probably the earth would still be swamp and jungle. The glories of all our wars would he unknown. We should still be scratch ing the outlines of deer on the remains of mutton bones and bartering flints for sheep skins or whatever simple ornament took our unsophisticated taste. Supermen and Fingers of Destiny would never have existed. The Czar and the Kaiser would never have worn crowns or lost them. Whatever may be their use in civilized societies, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action. That is why Napoleon and Mussolini both insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for if they were not inferior, they would cease to enlarge. That serves to explain in part the necessity that women so often are to men. And it serves to explain how restless they are under her criticism; how impossible it is for her to say to them this book is bad, this picture is feeble, or whatever it may be, without giving far more pain and rousing far more anger than a man would do who gave the same criticism. For if she begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking-glass shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished. How is he to go on giving judgement, civilizing natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and at dinner at least twice the size he really is?"

Anonymous said...

Lev Raphael said...

@LGR, thanks for posting my blog from The Huffington Post. I hope you enjoy "Rosedale in Love"!

@Jennifer, my point wasn't that "The House of Mirth" was about work, but about how Wharton brutally limited the scope of what Lily Bart could do.