AC's post is interesting. It includes her experiences growing up in communist Poland: "I was brought up in communist Poland and one positive aspect of the political system was that it considered everybody equal. Women were riding tractors, worked as bricklayers and moved up in business hierarchies with the same speed as men did." This comment struck a cord and sent my mind wandering.
When I first studied history at school, it was all about war, politics, kings and battles. There was very little about domestic life or, indeed, life in general. Now, fortunately, the historical canvas is painted in much broader terms.
Traditionally, women wore their hair long. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair” really only makes sense if you know that women wore their hair long. The modern miss would have to say “I’m sorry, I can’t, but here’s a rope.” Practical, but not quite as romantic!
To my mind, bobbed hair is a symbol of the changes that have taken place in women’s life over the twentieth century. Shorter hair became necessary during the First World War when women started working in factories. It was practical. When, to the shock of the traditionalists, it became a fashion statement during the 1920s, it was again in part because it was practical.
The long and complex clothing worn by women in the last part of the 19th century may have been fashionable and attractive, but it could be an absolute pain. Quite literally, in fact. The high necked dresses with their multiple buttons stretching up to the back of the neck caught hair that had to be painfully and carefully untangled.
I had enough problems with my daughters getting knots out as I brushed their hair. I hate to think how I would have gone with a wife or partner with hair caught in her high-necked dress.
Today, we think of women’s liberation in political or gender relation terms. That’s true, but it’s also very misleading.
In the nineteenth century, being an Australian wife and mother was hard and sometimes dangerous work.
It was hard because of the absence of any form of labour saving device. With the man of the house often absent for extended period, women had to undertake hard physical labour including sawing wood so that it could be chopped. Hard labour continued even when the man was home in washing, cooking and cleaning.
It was dangerous, too. It wasn’t just the dangers of childbirth at a time when so many women had very large numbers of children with limited medical knowledge or support. Open fires, fuel stoves, moving heavy pots or kerosene lamps all provided their own dangers and challenges. Severe burns were common.
Is it any wonder that women formed powerful support networks, that men were judged first and foremost by a single rule, is he a good provider? If he was, much could be forgiven. If not, there was much to forgive.