Where generalizations can be made, however, "the woman question," as it was called in debates of the time, has been seen as a tendency to define the role of women in terms of private domesticity.
Most often, depictions of the lives of nineteenth-century women, whether European or American, rich or poor, are portrayed in negative terms, concentrating on their limited sphere of influence compared to that of men from similar backgrounds.
European and American women in the nineteenth century lived in an age characterized by gender inequality.
Scholarly analysis of nineteenth-century women has included examination of gender roles and resistance on either side of the Atlantic, most often focusing on differences and similarities between the lives of women in the United States, England, and France.
The same societal transformations that were largely responsible for women's status being defined in terms of domesticity and morality also worked to provoke gender consciousness and reform as the roles assigned women became increasingly at odds with social reality. In the following excerpt, Ehrenreich and English argue that many of the illnesses routinely affecting women during the nineteenth century were most likely manifestations of their gender subjugation, their feelings of powerlessness, and their unrealistic domestic roles.
Women on both sides of the Atlantic, including Angelina and Sarah Grimké, Sarah Josepha Hale, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Frances Power Cobbe, both expressed and influenced the age's expectations for women. In the following essay, Hoffert argues that American women who demanded a voice in national and domestic affairs in the first half of the nineteenth century created a philosophy that escaped the narrow confines of the ideology of Republican Motherhood, enabling women of future generations to enter public life. “The Sexual Politics of Sickness.” In For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts’ Advice to Women, pp.
Through their novels, letters, essays, articles, pamphlets, and speeches these and other nineteenth-century women portrayed the often conflicting expectations imposed on them by society. In the following excerpt, Grogan discusses how the idealized roles and proper lifestyles of French women were debated by the French clergy, philosophers, and doctors during the nineteenth century in an effort to maintain domestic and national stability. Introduction to When Hens Crow: The Woman’s Right Movement in Antebellum America, pp.
These women, along with others, expressed sentiments of countless women who were unable to speak, and brought attention and support to their concerns.