And another rabbit hole I go digging!!! It’s a hole where light has begun to shine in, but there are still dark, dark areas down here. I’m hoping by digging we can open the hole up and let more light in. Let’s see what ghosts we can set free, and what new fresh air we can allow in. Let’s see how old codes ruled the past and how that influenced our cultures. Remember the definition of code – “Systems of Laws”.
I recently read a book called “The child’s child” by Barbara Vine (also known as the famous mystery writer Ruth Rendell). She did an excellent job of painting a picture of how life was for unwed mothers and homosexuals 50 + years ago compared to today’s reality.
My curiosity has propelled me to explore this topic more since reading the book. I want to try and understand how we reached a place and time in history where fear and cruelty towards unwed mothers and same sex relationships reigned. I want to try and understand where these beliefs came from. I want to get a clearer picture on whether it’s man-made coding systems, or is there something larger that’s responsible for our cultural beliefs which creates our societies.
As Fran’s Journal is all about our diverse cultures, which basically is all about humans and societies, there may be topics that some find uncomfortable and bewildering and would rather keep buried. This might mean there’s a need for a little digging and shaking out, releasing fears and misunderstandings; so let’s see what floats out.
Now of course, variety is the spice of life, and there are different viewpoints and beliefs on all matters. This I believe is the very core of how humans/societies change and evolve.
What my digging is unravelling is that unwed mothers, same sex relationships and trans-genders have been a reality in our societies since as far back as we can see.
Unwed mums and the medieval era
If we go back as far as the agrarian era, (medieval times 5th – 15th century) we learn it was not so taboo for women to have babies out of wedlock. Life was more community oriented; labour intensive farm work was the industry. Women, men and children worked alongside each other to provide food. Women’s’ roles were important in a number of ways, the main purpose being the producer of the much needed labour force!! Hence unwed mothers and their children were accepted as part of a bigger family and worked alongside everyone else in supporting the survival of their community. (1, 2)
It was during the industrial revolution, (16th – 20th Century), the growth of capitalism, and the puritan ethics of the 16th Century that began to change attitudes towards unwed mums and bastard children. (2) With factories being built in cities, there was a need for a large labour force and requirements for skilled labour. This shift resulted in an increase in population moving to the cities, and a lack of accommodations. Employers set wages as low as they could get away with due to an increase in people seeking work. Working and living conditions were appalling for the poor. With not enough housing available rentals were expensive, people shared rooms as means to afford the rent. A reality being, men and women living in close quarters, the population kept growing! Having children became a burden with another mouth to feed. There was an increase in diseases as a result of living in such close and unsanitary quarters.
Many children were turned out of their homes and left to fend for themselves at an early age, many more ran away because of ill treatment, and many died. Countless destitute children lived by stealing, and to the respectable Victorians they must have seemed a very real threat to society. Something had to be done about them to preserve law and order. ‘God had put people in their place in life, and this must not be interfered with because the life after death was more important”. (3)
A hymn written in 1848 Cecil Frances Alexander:
“The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high and lowly,
And order’d their estate” (3)
“Poverty was regarded as the natural condition of the labouring poor” (4)
There was a real disconnect between the rich and the poor. “Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by different breeding, are fed by different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws. THE RICH AND THE POOR” (3)
Unmarried women who could not provide for their children looked for help from the parish. Parishes being funded by one of the first man-made codes put in place at the time to help the poor “Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601”.
Along with the economic burden, moral stigma grew towards “sexual intercourse outside marriage and viewed as being morally wrong. Therefore, any child conceived by an unmarried woman was viewed as the wages of sin, resentment grew as unwed mums and their children’s needs grew draining funds from “The Poor Law act” (2)
“Concerning bastards begotten and born out of lawful matrimony (an offence against God’s and Man’s laws) the said bastards being now left to be kept at the charge of the parish where they were born, to be the great burden of the same parish and in defrauding of the relief of the impotent and aged true poor of the same Parish, and to the evil example and the encouragement of the lewd life, it is ordered and enacted.”(2)
Over the years the dilemma for unwed mothers intensified, laws against them became harsher and they were convicted morally, spiritually, socially and materialistically. (2) To add insult to injury “The Elizabethan Poor Law act” was amended in 1834 with the intention to “restore virtue and stimulate thrifty, industrious workers. The Bastardy Clause absolved the putative father of any responsibility for his bastard child and socially and economically victimized the mother in an effort to restore female morality”. (4)
As desperation grew for unwed mothers a new industry evolved, baby farming. Despairing mothers paid to give their babies away knowing they would never see their baby alive again “The primary objective of professional baby farmers was to solicit as many sickly infants or infants less than two months as possible, because life was precarious for them and their deaths would appear more natural. They would adopt the infants for a set fee and get rid of them as quickly as possible in order to maximize their profits” (4).
Some mothers who could not afford this fee would kill their own babies, and if caught were sentenced to death. (2)
At the core of trying to deal with these poor living conditions there was a complete lack of understanding of what poverty was really about. “Yet, many Victorians struggled to understand and explain poverty. Was it because of personal misfortune, because of social circumstances beyond an individual’s control, or, the direct result of a person’s character, their laziness and indolence? Were the poor, therefore, ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’? Who was responsible for those who became so poor that they could not maintain themselves, and how should these paupers be cared for? (5). These attitudes still feel somewhat familiar today in some countries?
On the opposite side of society is the world of the rich. Their life revolved around finding the ideal relationships based on the expectations of their demanding society. Women had one goal, to marry and support her husband’s interests. It was not fashionable for women to be educated on worldly matters. She was looked on as inferior to men in all manners except one, her femininity. Her place was in the home, sitting on her throne with idol innocence and qualities portraying her virginal purity wearing delicate shades of blue and pink. (6)
I think we get the picture here; it certainly was not a safe time and place where we women wanted to fall pregnant if we were not married. From what I can see from my research it looks like it was both the power of government and religious institutions that created codes influencing the culture of this time.
Women today are no longer prepared to play the role of second class citizen whose main purpose is to produce children and take care of men. Women today are fighting to be acknowledged as equal players in society. They are using their voice to demand change in the workforce demanding equal opportunities and equal pay. More and more women are in government and in religious institutions. They are choosing to be single mothers raising their children. They are choosing to share the role of parenting together with their partner without marriage binding them. Women today are taking control of their own lives.
YEA, I say “Go ladies Go”. How were we ever brainwashed into believing we were not equal players in relationships and society? Power, control, suppression, and codes, come to mind… But we have learnt that in the Bushmans culture women do and have always been equal players in their culture! At one time we were all hunter gatherers. Does that imply at one time we were equal players in our cultures? It’s amazing how it gets so twisted and turned around.
To be continued.
UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL.