The Religiopolitical Cult of True Womanhood

The Religiopolitical Cult of True Womanhood

The Cult of True Womanhood refers to the submissive and restrictive expectations of middle and upper class women during the 18th and 19th centuries.

| This article originally appeared on Mystic Politics / by Everett Tucker.

The “Cult of True Womanhood” [1], also referred to as the “Ideology of Republican Motherhood” [2], the “Cult of Domesticity” [3], and the “Ideology of True Womanhood” [4] refers to the submissive and restrictive expectations of middle and upper class women during the 18th and 19th centuries, which is to some minor extent still evident today.

These Ideologies, derivative of puritanical utopianism [5] and later mainstream Protestantism, were part of the ‘separate spheres’[6] belief system, that a man’s place was among the public sphere- in the workplace, in the political circles, etc… -whereas the woman’s place was in the home, or private sphere.

Largely a by-product of the religious paradigms and normative conventions of the time, along with the femme covert [7] common laws inherited from England, a married woman- as far as the American government and church were concerned- almost ceased to be an independent entity altogether. Her identity, upon the vows of marriage, was inextricably linked to her husbands identity, what laws applied to him applied to her, and what rights she had were limited to the rights afforded him. This left women, unless they were unmarried and acquired ‘femme sole’ status, with no contractual or legal capacity of their own.

Men and women were imagined to have no shared qualities- whatsoever. They were the gender equivalent of Gould’s “Nonoverlapping Magisteria” [8], ironic since in the eyes of the church and government they were officially the same entity- reminiscent of the hermetic / alchemical memes of the chemical wedding / sacred marriage [9]:

“When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter the Kingdom.” -Gospel of Thomas, 22

…Except that the Male, or husband, retained his independence under the auspices of the pervasive and paternal providence of G-d —whereas the woman’s was dissolved.

The four central points [10] to the rather nebulous amalgam of ideas on the ‘proper’ societal place of women in the ‘cult of true womanhood’ ideology are:

  • Piety – Women were thought to have a particular duty to be righteous and fearful of the God who created them from the rib, and in the shadow, of Adam Kadmon [11] the first man (and oppressor!). These uppity ladies had a special charge to work off the debt incurred by Eve, and the home afforded an ideal gilded cage to do so.
  • Purity – Above and beyond the spiritual consequence for having succumb to carnality, there were explicit and empirical realities a sullied woman faced- such as being expelled from her home and subsequently working as a factory girl [12] or a prostitute [13]. If a man made advances upon a woman, it was her fault (the rub her was that her overlord husband bore the legal responsibility of her indiscretion or infidelity!). This latter tid-bit (as well as property rights) explains the cottage industry/culture of maintaining a families or woman’s ‘limpieza de sangre’ [14], or purity of blood/soul.
  • Submissiveness – …We have covered this. The woman’s place was under the dominion of a man- her Pope, Priest, Minister, Father, Husband, Brother, or what have you. Restrictive garments [15] and high pomp accentuated the trophy or tableaux vivant status of women, who were expected to be little more than wall flowers.
  • Domesticity – A woman’s place was within the microcosm of the Patriarchal home. The mother was vital to the class and spiritual wherewithal of the children, each of whom were representations of the efficacy of the cult of true womanhood, and in turn ensured the system was perpetuated from generation to generation.

It is only in the 20th century that we have seen these Religiopolitical constructs and gender ideologies dissipated, although income inequality, the ‘war on women’, and societal roles for eastern women show this pervasive ideology of ‘true womanhood’ is still haunting us.

Sources Cited:

  1. DuBois, E. C., and L. Dumenil. Through Women’s Eyes, an American History with documents. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/st Martins, 2008. Print. (p 194, 202(i), 211, 252, 257, 262).
  2. Ibid., (p 156,188).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Varied, ‘Utopianism’ entry. Wikipedia, 2012. Web. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utopia#Utopianism).
  6. DuBois, E. C., and L. Dumenil. Through Women’s Eyes, an American History with documents. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/st Martins, 2008. Print. (p 187, 194).
  7. Ibid, (p 60, 71, 81, 131, 145, 275).
  8. Stephen Jay Gould. Nonoverlapping Magisteria. Natural History 106, 1997. Web. (http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html).
  9. Soul-Guidance.com. House of the Sun- Alchemy. Web. (http://www.soul-guidance.com/houseofthesun/alchemy_6.htm).
  10. Catherine Lavender. The Cult of Domesticity and True Womanhood. History/Women’s Studies 386, Fall 1998, CUNY. Web. (http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/386/truewoman.html).
  11. Varied, ‘Adam Kadmon’ entry. Wikipedia, 2012. Web (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Kadmon).
  12. DuBois, E. C., and L. Dumenil. Through Women’s Eyes, an American History with documents. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/st Martins, 2008. Print. (p 196-203).
  13. Ellen Kittell, Cult of Domesticity (video). Vimeo, 2011. Web. (http://vimeo.com/23500622).
  14. Socolow, Susan, and Stuart Schwartz. The Women of Colonial Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.
  15. Ellen Kittell, Cult of Domesticity (video). Vimeo, 2011. Web. (http://vimeo.com/23500622).

Everett Tucker is the creator and editor of Mystic Politics. He is condescending, overconfident, under-educated, and extremely interested in exploring religiopolitical overlap, the psychology of belief, and the conspiratorial tropes & memes- real or otherwise- of popular culture. Signup for email updates to be notified of future journalistic hack work.

| Sources: Article (Everett Tucker) /  (Godey’s Lady’s Book – September 1864 | Getty Images / Transcendental Graphics)

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