“Free Love” In The Victorian Age

Reading this chapter generated a whirlwind of emotions for me, which I can honestly say I was not expecting. It was shocking to how pervasive these dehumanizing ideas of how women should be treated in marriage were. One excerpt that struck me came at the beginning of the chapter when Streitmatter writes: “The dozen sexual reform publications that existed during this period challenged the social mores that dominated American life by asserting that sexual intercourse should only occur when both partners are willing.” The idea that anything other than non-consensual intercourse was ever viewed as a norm in American marriages is sickening to me. Women were not seen as being the owners of their own bodies, they were merely to be used at the will of their husbands.

The strength of women like Angela Heywood and Victoria Woodhull in overcoming all that was against them is truly amazing. Like all dissidents, they were taking great risks in creating the publications that they did and speaking out against what they saw as a repressive system. While the feminist movement is still necessary in modern society (as evidenced by Patricia Arquette’s recent Oscar speech advocating for equal pay,) it should be acknowledged that these women were instrumental in getting the movement started and overcame considerable hardships. Utilizing independent media was a way for these women to gain a platform for their voices which had previously been unheard. As we’ve discussed, independent media has to deal with problems that mainstream media doesn’t – one of these problems is censorship. This problem was magnified in the case of women advocating for free love because they were subject to harsher criticism and censoring of ideas. The fact that these women still pushed to overcome these obstacles should be celebrated, and as a female myself I owe a lot to their legacy.


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