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Passage To India

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Brian Chien

Social class, Religion, Nationality all that Makes up a Women

Ms. Boness

English(II) P.4


Throughout the majority of time, women have been subordinate to men within many societies. During the Indian Colonial period, women in England began fighting for their right to be equal to the men. While in British India, women did the opposite; they tried to impose the Victorian culture and European style of inferiority on the Indian women. Just as in E. M. Forster's colonial novel A Passage to India, the women had to over come many struggles from being able to work to what rights they had in their own homes. In A Passage to India, Forester expresses his opinion about how women were treated within their societies depending on their social class, nationality, how they dress and what religion they belonged to.

In both England and India, the fashion of women began to change during the colonial period. Since India was a large exporter of both silk and cotton, clothes were being made from these materials. "A great array of traditional clothing continued to be worn. This was determined not just by regional traditions but by religious dress codes" (Steele 50). Religion was a main factor dictating how women dressed. In India, most women wore "...a sari of cotton or silk, many in brilliant colors." (Steele 21) The sari is a traditional form of dress that is worn on the waist with one end draped over a shoulder. Indian women were also required to wear the Purdah, which is a veil that all the women wore to prevent men from seeing them. This single piece of clothing could seclude women from the rest of the world. However, unlike the women in India, the Victorian women in England became more lenient in what they wore. English clothing originally consisted of tight corsets and long, heavy skirts, but this soon changed as many women rose to form the Rational Dress Movement and campaigned against the uncomfortable and often harmful clothing. The Rational Dress Movement showed how different the clothing style was and how little power men gave to the women during this time. Women having a choice in what they did and their role in life became increasingly common during the early twentieth century in England. In India however, men held all the power and the women were required to obey their every command, so any ideas women may have had, similar to the Rational Dress Movement would have been nearly impossible to put into motion. In India, there was almost no change in women's clothing style between classes but "...In Europe, a middle class woman could not adopt the high fashions of aristocracy without eyebrows being raised." (Steele 22). The reason for this was that England was a class based country and their idea of what people wore, focused on the person's class and not religion as India did.

In both England and India, the jobs that women could partake in varied depending on their class and religion. In England, many middle class Christian women began to see their calling as missionaries; partially because they could not participate in the church and becoming a missionary meant they had the chance to be closer to God. Lower-class women worked as servants for the upper class or in factories as cheap labor, the reason they did this was to help support their families or if their husbands could not work. Women were considered cheap labor, as this would have been acceptable in English society, because they were paid less than men. On the other hand, upper class women led a much easier life as the head of the household, ordering servants around. Some middle-class women began working as teachers. This was an acceptable and appropriate job because teaching could be compared to mothering. As a whole, women in England didn't work because a woman's role was to run a household, raise children, and rely on their husbands. British women in India did not have many opportunities during this period. In Colonial India, the idea of women staying at home and obeying their husbands was enforced. However, some Indian women worked as ayahs, nannies, for the British women. There was resistance to from British mothers because it was said that Indian ayahs spoiled children whereas British nannies were strict and prepared the children for the world and lives ahead of them. The difference between the British and Indians is that the English were developing the idea of women being independent and in some ways similar to men, whereas in India, women were still under the control of the men.

Women in England during the Victorian period had few choices and little control over their lives. A woman's life could be seen as little better than that of slaves, short of manual labor, and poor living conditions. Women were required to obey the men in society for the simple reason that it was male run and the women had no means of being independent. In Schools, the monitorial system, where older students taught the younger ones, diminished leaving jobs available for women as teachers. This was acceptable because the role of a teacher, working with children and helping raise them resembled that of a mother. Even though women began to work, a woman who remained single would attract social disapproval, pity and scorn. When a couple divorced, it was unspoken of in polite society and a broken engagement was the worse fate imaginable. In addition, the social consequence of not having children was so great that women were indirectly forced to do so. It was thought that men could not control themselves and would take advantage of women in any given situation so it was considered scandalous for an unmarried man and an unmarried woman to be alone, even if they were engaged. Men wanted women to be a perfect image of innocence, ignorance and inferiority. Because of this belief women were not even taught the basics of life; the value of money, how to run a household or even about childbirth. However some men, such as Dr. Johnson, one of England's greatest literary figures, believed that an educated women "in science, foreign languages, and quotable facts made them a more attractive maiden and a more convenient and durable wife and mother." (Swisher 174) Dr. Johnson's beliefs were not shared with the majority of the Victorian upper class. Many people believed that women were raised for marriage and not for work, " get



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