Gender Roles of a Perfect Society: the Oneida Community

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  • Topic: Oneida Community, Utopia, Woman
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  • Published : June 1, 2011
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Utopian communities are societies that strive for perfection in different aspects. Some wanted to reform a certain issue, such as slavery and others wanted to achieve perfection in all aspects. These societies usually had few laws because they tried to diminish all evils from them. Oneida was one of the communities that thought their society was best for human kind. They saw men and women as equals and everyone was married to each other. The utopian community of Oneida had a system that saw women and men as equals but oppressed both.

Oneida was founded in New York by John Humphrey Noyes in 1848. Oneida was mostly involved in the growing of fruits and vegetables, the production of silk thread, and the manufacturing of animal traps. Oneida’s people believed that they were free from sin because Jesus had already returned. Noyes believed that sex was very spiritual. Oneida believed in “complex marriage” – the practice of keeping sexual encounters in constant circulation throughout the week. Romantic relationships were forbidden. . Oneida began using selective breeding to produce the perfect offspring. Men and women would be matched based on their spiritual and moral qualities. Gender roles were less explicit at the Oneida community because women were seen as equals. Even though it sometimes bent to the American ideologies that were present during the nineteenth century, Oneida was generally more feminist than the rest of the dominant America.

Women were always seen as equals to men, unlike the traditional American ideas of the nineteenth century. The common ideologies about women were defied in the society. In the Circular, it states that, “[Noyes] evolved a theory that women were ‘the legitimate critics of men in social life.’ In the ‘slave-holding position of marriage’ men refused to look on women as equals, but in the dispensation of the Community, women were set free to express their own tastes and feelings and their criticism was the proper looking-glass for a man” (Circular 295). Instead of the usual instance where women sat quietly without speaking their opinion, Oneida allowed them to have a voice. In dominant societies, women were the property of men. Men could do anything to their wives without shame or punishment. When Ellis spoke about Oneida’s equality, he said that, “The women are the common property of men, and vice versa” (Document 8). At Oneida, everyone was married to everyone else. No one had a particular partner and they were treated as brothers and sisters. In the dominant society, women were only given domestic jobs at home. Welter discusses that, “The true woman’s place was unquestionably by her own fireside – as daughter, sister, but most of all as wife and mother” (157). At Oneida, women could perform any job. A writer from the Circular says, “I see here, women employed as bookkeepers, business correspondents, packers and shippers, and managers of large manufacturing establishments” (301). The women could perform what the dominant community perceived as “manly.” These jobs proved that women were not as “fragile” as the dominant society saw them.

Women and men were not forced to be involved in a monogamous relationship. John Humphrey Noyes compared monogamous relationships to prisons because of their lack of freedom. In the dominant society, “The marriage night was the single great event of a woman’s life, when she bestowed her greatest treasure upon her husband, and from that time on was completely dependent upon him, an empty vessel, without legal or emotional existence of her own” (Welton 152). Since the dominant society believed that women were so fragile and needy, marriages were the only reasonable option for women and men. The neediness of the woman called for the man to control the relationship. Welter says, “Submission was perhaps the most feminine virtue expected of women” (154). Women would blindly obey their husbands without argument. On the account of marriage, Mr. Free Church says,...
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