Thoughts on a Victorian cause for female low self-esteem in Western society: a failure of the Victorian mother???

Here’s a thought I had:

While thinking one day I got on the subject of female low self-esteem, which I see examples of just about wherever I go.  I’ve known, for years, that a lot of it began with British society and is a manifestation of it.  But what is it about British society that causes the female to have low self-esteem?  I’ve had many thoughts on this through the years but a thought just came to me out of nowhere one night.  Its a thought that is interesting enough, I think, to write down.

I first of all said that it is only natural for females to be taught specific ways by the older females that ‘direct’ much of female impulses in productive and healthy ways.  This creates, in a culture, what can be called a ‘female sub-culture’, directly related with females and for them alone.  This ‘sub-culture’ gives them purpose, place, and meaning and directs naturally appearing feminine tendencies in healthy directions.  It is geared and designed to satisfy and give use to the naturally appearing female tendencies.  As a result of this, it is a culture that stays within the femalehood . . . males generally know little about it.  The ways of this ‘sub-culture’ are taught to the younger generation of females by the older females . . . in particular, the mother.  As a result, the mother plays significantly in the ‘female sub-culture’, not only in its teaching but in its meaning and usefulness.  The importance of this fact, as far as I know, has never been acknowledged.

I then went on to say that something significant happened in the Victorian era following the Napoleanic wars.  It is the rise of what I call the “pseudo-nobility”.  What this means is that the common people began to adopt the ‘ways’ of the nobility and basically tried to imitate them.  In this way they became a ‘pretend nobility’, a ‘false nobility’ or a ‘pseudo-nobility’.  A good example of this is the importance of ‘tea time’ (of which only the nobility could afford) and British social manners.  In effect, the British common people (at least in the larger cities) began a ‘campaign of imitating the nobility’ that required them to do things such as:

  • They abandoned the ways of their parents, which were rooted in a wisdom and way of life that was often centuries old.
  • They took on ‘foreign’ beliefs and customs (meaning of the nobility) which did not reflect them, who they were, or the ways of their parents.

In doing these things, the common people basically uprooted themselves, and who they are, causing something like a justified alienation.  In other words, the pseudo-nobility is a significant element in the creation of alienation (and, subsequently, dehumanization) and paved the way for its development in Western society.  This did not seem all that apparent initially.  This is because this uprooting was somewhat easy for the generations immediately after the Napoleanic wars, in the mid 1800’s, who saw meaning in it.  Not only that, they saw this change as a sign of an ‘improving of their condition’.  Because of this, it was not looked at as bad and, often, as something good and positive.  The effect of their choice, though, would have great effects on the later generations.

In regard to the female, it ended up turning the mother, who forced this condition upon their daughters, into a very controlling person.  As a result, the Victorian mother often became very controlling and dominating toward their daughters, demanding precise behavior and obedience.  Many girls had to do whatever their mothers said and demanded.  A saying I’ve heard many times during the Victorian era is “my mother is very strict”, generally meaning she can’t talk to boys, etc., which shows this tendency.  Even I can still remember, when I was a kid in the 1970’s (which is at the tail end of the Victorian era), feeling sorry for girls because their mothers were so controlling toward them:  they couldn’t get their dresses dirty, they couldn’t play, they had to talk and act properly, they could only associate toward certain people, and so on.  In general, Victorian mothers were forcing their daughters to ‘play a lady’.  Beginning in the mid-1800’s, the Victorian mother began to create conditions toward their daughters such as:

  • Forcing them to behave and act like a ‘lady’.
  • Demand great sacrifice from their daughters (to the point of complete obedience).
  • Depriving them of behaving in natural ‘femalish’ ways.

In other words, the ‘pseudo-noble Victorian mother’ created a controlling and demanding environment for their daughters in order to turn them into ‘ladies’.  In this way, the Victorian mother were basically trying to force their daughters into a pre-established, pre-determined mold.

Because this ‘pseudo-nobility’ reflected a social mood and movement this controlling environment was put upon the females in society as a whole.  In other words, it was actually became a  ‘social movement’ of which the whole of society played a part.  One aspect of this ‘social movement’ is the all-so-famous harsh Victorian moral code, which the Victorian mother is a part of, and which became a very strong social presence.

Over time, this controlling demanding environment created many problems for girls such as:

  • It caused mental problems.  Victorian females often became neurotic, oversensitive, over reactive, and so on.  Many would get upset over the smallest thing and even have fainting spells.  This showed that the controlling demanding condition actually were stunting their development and growth.
  • It caused a tendency to want to ‘escape their condition’.   This caused things like “daydreaming she’s a princess” or that a “knight in shining armor will save her”, and so on.  Many Victorian females became somewhat ‘dreamy’ and always hoping to be ‘saved’ in some way or another.  In general, this tendency described an unhappiness in their condition.
  • It caused a hatred toward being female and in female things.  They began to see female things as bad and ridiculous in some way, often despising it.  This is because it became associated with the controlling demanding environment the pseudo-nobility created.  As a result, it made many females not want to be female. 
  • It caused a dislike toward the mother.   Because of their close association with their mothers it was not uncommon for females to be reluctant to admit this though.  As a result, this generally became an unconscious impulse.  In general, the dislike toward their mothers often came out in other ways such as a neurosis or eccentric traits.
  • It caused a dislike toward the male.  Somewhere between the late 1800’s and WWI, in particular, the image of the male began to take on the ‘persona’ of their controlling mothers.  In other words, the male began to be looked at as having the controlling demanding qualities of the mother.  Because of this, the males was accused of being ‘oppressive’, a ‘tyrant’, and so forth In actuality, the male generally had little influence in the upbringing of their daughters and, as a result, there was generally little basis in truth of these claims.  Despite this, the male became an easy target for their frustration.  A common theme is blaming the male for ‘not saving them’ from the frustration of life.
  • It caused the “female envy culture” . . . a whole culture, and way of life, based in the envy of the male.  This became more prevalent by the late 1800’s when many females began to try to emulate males.  It became even more prevalent after WWI and WWII.  Many females saw “being male” as a form of escaping the controlling demanding conditions created by their mothers and to escape the image of the female they grew to despise.
  • It made some girls want to be ‘immoral’ and rebellious.  I often see a bumper sticker that reflects this viewpoint:  “well behaved women seldom make history”.   There was even a particular Victorian female character that enjoyed being ‘immoral’, almost as if it is some sort of a cause.  In actuality, they are rebelling against the control of their mothers and the pseudo-nobility, over their lives.

One of the significant elements of all this is that it shows that the female identity was now based in being a ‘lady’ at all costs . . . and not in being a “natural female”, so to speak.  And we must remember that this image of a ‘lady’ was just an “image”, what the common people thought a ‘lady’ was.  As a result, the Victorian mothers forced upon their daughters something like a lie, a false fantasized image of a female that really does not existBecause of this, the female identity would become ‘uprooted’ and displaced from the ‘natural female condition’.  In addition, they became alienated from the ways of the mothers of their past.  In some respects, the forcing of the common female to imitate a ‘lady’ caused something like a ‘culture shock’ in the femalehood as the females were forced to adopt ways that did not reflect them or the social group they were a part of.  This caused a general crisis in the femalehood that continues down to today.

Many females can sense this lie, this ‘false female image’.  How often have I heard girls ridicule aspects of the Victorian ‘lady’ image?  I’ve seen many girls condemn other girls for being “prissy”, for example, or for being “proper” or talking in that hi-pitched polite voice or for being “goody-goody”.  Its not uncommon that, even in movies, they will have the Victorian ‘good and proper’ female pitted against the immoral rebellious female as part of the story line.  These all reflect the image of the female created by the Victorian ‘lady’ image.  But, more importantly, this tendency to ridicule traits of the Victorian ‘lady’ image shows a general uncomfortableness that many females have with this image.  One of the reasons for this uncomfortableness is that the Victorian ‘lady’ image is lacking.  In effect, it does not satisfy what the female needs as a human being.  This is because it does things such as:

  • It does not cater to natural female tendencies and impulses nor satisfies them.
  • It does not give the meaning they need.
  • They can’t relate to the Victorian ‘lady’ image.  This is particularly so with the later generations.

As a general rule, most females will try to ‘pretend’ or try to follow the Victorian ‘lady’ image as best as they can because they perceive that it is ‘socially acceptable’.  But, deep down, many will find that it is insufficient.  In effect, this situation causes a particular dilemma for the female.  It creates a perpetual dilemma, or tug-of-war, between two things:

  • Social conventions and need.   Just as their mothers did, they tend to want to follow social conventions blindly even though it may do them harm.
  • Personal needs.  This is the innate needs they have which are often not found by following social conventions.  The Victorian ‘lady’ image, in particular, tends to fail in this respect, as it is primarily based in the imitation of an image of nobility.

This dilemma describes the dilemma of many females in the U.S.  From what I see, there is no apparent resolution to this dilemma, what I call the ‘failed Victorian lady image dilemma’. 

Another aspect of this dilemma is that by adopting the image of a ‘lady’ the mothers of the past have uprooted the females from a naturally appearing ‘female sub-culture’ that naturally exists in a society.  In other words, the ‘pseudo-noble Victorian mother’ made it so that there is no longer a ‘female sub-culture’ based in centuries of  female experience and life.  The ‘pseudo-nobility’ destroyed all that.  As a result, the females have nowhere to go now.  This is part of the general dilemma females are in nowadays.

Its interesting that few females are looking to their mothers, or the older generation, for help and guidance in being female, which is normally what females do in a society.  This is because, in effect, the ‘pseudo-noble’ older generation caused a great ‘female failure’ in the femalehood, so to speak.  Because of this, the older generations are viewed as causing this problem, making the older female look a failure and not to be trusted.  Hence, they are never looked to for guidance.

Having no obvious place to turn many females has placed many females in a difficult position.  One effect of this ‘female failure’ is the causing of low self-esteem in many femalesWith no ‘female sub-culture’ the female has no sure way to develop and grow.   Some of the common effects of this include:

  • The tendency of seeing the female as a victim, damaged, or hurt in some way.
  • Not being able to follow the older generation of females many females will try to emulate the male or male qualities. 
  • The blindly following  of society.

Recently, the blindly following of society seems to be growing in intensity and is starting to appear to be the ‘natural course’ of the female.  This is not surprising as the cause of this problem, to begin with, is because of the Victorian mothers blindly following of society in their time.  In that way, they are following in the footsteps of their mothers. In many ways, the females now are going to make the same mistake their mothers before them made and will probably carry it on down to their daughters.

And so, the condition the Victorian mother seemed to of created, in the early-mid-1800’s, is something like a ‘false world’ and condition based in imitating the nobility.  Though seeming to be good at the time (which it probably was), it eventually caused the general alienation of the following generations of daughters down to today.   Many females, now, are having problems with low self-esteem as a result.  The uprooting caused by the mothers in the 1800’s has had great negative impact on many generations of females since causing a great dilemma.  In actuality, the femalehood has no definite image of how to be a ‘female’ anymore.   There is no sure image to follow, no sure example, no sure ‘sub-culture’ to be a part of.  There seems to be a number of reactions to this:

  • The over-feminine over-sensitive Victorian-like female.  These girls tend to emulate the ways of their Victorian mothers.  Many females are finding it difficult, I’ve found, to let go of the female Victorian image.  No doubt, this is because it is the only long-standing identity they have now, that extends into the past.  Many females continue to do this even though there is no basis for Victorian ways . . . but its all they have.
  • Females who just ‘drift along’, never quite knowing.  This seems to be the most common.  As part of their need for direction, this group is becoming increasingly ‘addicted’ to blindly following society as the easiest solution to this need.  Its begun to turn many females into something like a ‘robot’ or ‘automaton’ to society.  A good example of this is the almost slave-like addiction to social media.  Another thing that’s common with this group is that they have begun to develop a strong tendency to imitate other people.  That is to say, they are turning life into nothing but imitation of someone else (such as the latest social conventions or ideals or even the male).  This has created a strong tendency for them to have a lack of genuineness or ‘realness’ making them appear artificial-like.
  • Females that generally try to avoid being female in some way.  This group will often look down on female things, often condemning aspects of female things.  Another thing they do is try to emulate males, often to the point of trying to be like a male.  Another thing we’ve begun to see is that many are starting to claim that they are gay.  In other words, by being gay is a way for them to avoid the female dilemma that they are in.  When people aren’t naturally gay, but pretend to be, I call them the ‘pseudo-gay’.  And so, the ‘pseudo-nobility’ has, in effect, caused the ‘pseudo-gay’, people pretending to be something that they are not! 

One can see that there has developed a general ‘bouncing around’ by the females nowadays, never quite finding what a ‘female’ is . . . one doing this, one doing that, and another that.  Individually, they seem to think they have ‘found the answer’ but, in actuality, this is not the case.  When one looks at them as a whole, one can see thatthe basic “solution” to the ‘failed Victorian lady image dilemma’ is the creation of a form of self-delusion.   They have basically begun to think that they are something else than they are . . . . but in different ways.  In other words, the question of being female, nowadays, is which self-delusion do they take.  To put it another way, we could say that a big part of being a female, nowadays, is choosing which ‘school of thought’ of self-delusion they want to take.

The tendency to self-delusion is rather interesting as self-delusion is the path the Victorian mother took before them when they forsook everything to imitate the ‘lady’.  In that way, the females of today are, in actuality, emulating the ways of the Victorian mother, doing what they were taught to do.  Perhaps this tendency to continue self-delusion has become the new ‘female sub-culture’ that has appeared after the Victorian mother?   In many ways, self-delusion is the ‘great lesson’ of the Victorian mother, it is the ‘great fact’ taught to girls.  Its really not surprising, then, that the females of today, continue in this path.  In a way, its the primary legacy of the Victorian mother.

The problem is that self-delusion, and imitation, is horribly lacking and insufficient as an example in life and how to live and be.  In this way, the Victorian mother actually unknowingly guaranteed the female of the past would have problems and difficulty in finding a stable female image.  They did this a number of ways: 

  • By destroying the connection to their own predecessors, they alienated the female from the wise ways of the female past.
  • By the example of imitation they began a way of life based in self-delusion.

Though this seemed to work, to some extent, in the Victorian era, it has caused great conflict for the female after the Victorian era.  One thing this shows is that the ways of the Victorian mother were very society and times-based, reflective of that lifestyle (despite this, even during Victorian times females had problems with it).  Now that the Victorian era is over it is showing, more and more, how limited it is . . . its failures are starting to shine out and is causing many problems for females nowadays.


Copyright by Mike Michelsen


This entry was posted in Dehumanization and alienation, England, Britain, and all that, Historical stuff, Male and female, Modern life and society, Psychology and psychoanalysis, Society and sociology, The U.S. and American society, Victorianism, Bourgeoisie, noble imitation, and sycophancy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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