How far had women achieved equality with men by 1930?
In Victorian Britain, women were far from equal to men in society. Males and females were thought to have had very different roles; the males’ was to provide for his family whilst the females handled the domestic side of life. ‘The angel in the house concept’ placed women at home taking care of their children, cooking and cleaning. However, by 1839, legislation was being introduced in order to change the inequality between men and women and challenge this concept through child custody, marriage, divorce, education and work matters.
The first legislation that was introduced was the Custody of Infants Act in 1839. This act gave mothers the right to custody of their children after having divorced their husband. This was significant because it recognised women as equal to men after a divorce as either parent could be granted custody of their children. However, a mother requesting custody of her children would be required to prove that she was ‘of a good character’ which included loyalty and purity. This was a stage that was not necessary in order for men to gain custody of their children. Later, in 1857, The Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act was passed. This stated that a wife who was deserted by her husband could keep her own income which again helped improve equality between males’ and females’ status because women were more able to lead a stable life, both for herself and possibly her children, after divorce without her having to rely on a man’s income and support. However, this did not put them as equals to men because a man was more likely to receive higher wages than a woman, thus men had more of a chance of keeping a similar standard of income and support for their children that they had inside the marriage as they would after the divorce. The same act allowed divorces to take place through the courts as a pose to a private Act of Parliament and, as a result of this, divorces were less expensive and easier to obtain. Although the divorces were easier to achieve, it was still a difficult process for women to complete because it was necessary for women to prove that their husband had committed adultery as well as either bigamy, rape, sodomy, bestiality or cruelty. Consequently, because men were only required to prove their wives’ adultery, women were much less likely to divorce their husbands than men were to divorce their wives. Overall, with regards to divorce, women’s position after divorce and whilst in the process of a divorce had improved but was far from equal to that of men because it was so much easier for men to achieve a divorce, and their wages after marriage would be stable.
Under the same Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act, changes were made to a women’s position within marriage, especially on the subject of property. Under the act, married women could inherit property. This provided further improvements to women’s status but didn’t not necessarily qualify them as equals to men because the ways in which single women inherited property differed to that of men. Therefore further developments were needed to equalise men and women within marriage around property and other areas. Some of these developments came through the Women’s Married Property Acts of 1870 and 1882. They stated that women could keep all property they took into their marriage, not just after they had been divorced. Moreover, women were allowed to keep any money that they took with them into the marriage and could continue with their trade. This helped to challenge the theory of ‘the angel in the house’ because women were able to gain independence through earning and having their own money. Furthermore, they could venture outside of the home and domestic area thanks to the fact that they could continue their trade, which was not necessarily based around domestic life. However, in reality, most jobs that were available to women were in the domestic services...
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