The “New Woman”

In honour of Halloween, Jezebel posted a moderately interested article that touches on the Victorian era’s conflicted feelings around The New Woman. The piece itself reads like a university student essay, but the subject itself isn’t really the characters in the book, or even the shifting role of women in the Victorian era. The true subject of the piece, as has been the case every day since, is the shifting role of women in Western culture, and the difficulty and confusion it breeds in some men.

For some heterosexual cismale partners, it’s hard to figure out what’s asked of them nowadays. Do you open the door for a lady? Do you hold her things? Is that insulting? Does she want that? How can you possibly know?

I often wonder if people like this shouldn’t be more involved in BDSM. In The Scene, you’re taught to over communicate you needs; everything should be discussed, negotiated, explored ad infinitim, until everyone is on the same page about expectations and goals, whether of a particular scene, or for an ongoing dynamic. When someone says on their Fetlife profile that they’re looking for a 1950’s Household, you can be pretty sure that it’s a good time to ask about holding those doors for the lass. But, what if she’s a Dominatrix, you may ask. Does a Domme want someone to hold a door for her? Bring her flowers? Surely, if she’s so dominant and independent, she would look down on those things. And the answer, which sent poor Bram Stoker into paroxysms of confusion and anger around the New Woman, is: you gotta ask. That’s where the communication comes in.

I have a very hard time around this with my husband. It probably sounds like the standard wifely complaint, but he doesn’t bring me flowers. I don’t mean recently, I mean in YEARS. I’ve asked, but frankly, no one wants to continually nag their partner for what they want; after a while, you just let it go and focus on things that actually keep life chugging along. He refuses to do anything for Valentine’s Day, because he claims it’s one big marketing ploy. I could pull the Big Bad Domme card and tell him that he WILL go out and buy me flowers and chocolate, but the fact is, I don’t really know whether that’s what I want, and strangely enough, I don’t even know how to communicate it.

While the woman of today is leaps and bounds beyond Stoker’s New Woman (yay, the vote!), I look back and think that most girls and boys are raised in a sort of “half way” style; neither New, nor Old. Ladies, you should want to be an equal earner, and men, you should support this, is almost the length and depth of the social discussion we have on gender roles in the West. But that sort of non-communicative, you-should-just-know-what-to-do mentality is problematic… or at least, for me. When I married my husband, I didn’t know I was a dominant woman. Sure, I liked being in charge of some things, and I’m certainly no wilting flower when it came to verbal altercations, but I know gobs of submissives like that. Submissive does not equal doormat, by any stretch of the imagination. But my perspective on life, on who I am and what I want, began to change over the years. There were some subtle shifts and some massive cracks and realignments in my core, and gradually, like the end of an earth quake, I just looked around and realised that I was no longer the same woman who walked down the aisle to meet my partner. So, who am I now? What do I need? And just as importantly, how do I communicate those new needs to my partner, and does he know how to listen?

Sadly for us and our marriage, the answer to the last two questions is, “I don’t know,” and “no, he doesn’t.” Don’t get me wrong; my husband is a wonderful person and a fantastic father, and when we decided to open our marriage, it was a completely mutual agreement and he has never resented me having additional partners. He is a wonderful man, and I will love him forever… but we weren’t really raised to communicate. We entered into a marriage on certain grounds, and those are the grounds to which I think he clings, even by his fingertips. Maybe I never learned how to really communicate, until it was too late. Maybe he never learned how to listen. Maybe the world is too new, even for us. But, I kinda can’t help but think that the New Woman of whom Bram Stoker was so scared is still stuck with one leg in the Victorian era. No woman, or man, can ever really independent and their own truly realised authentic self, as long as society tells us, “shhhhh…. don’t raise uncomfortable conversations around roles. When in doubt, just get confused and angry.”

Because in 100 years, that’s as far as we’ve managed to get.

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