Ideal, reality and opposition : white women in Durban, 1900- 1920.
In 1900 Durban's white' society closely resembled its British counterpart. As in Britain an ideal of womanhood encompassed various generalisations concerning woman's true nature and purpose. Women were upheld as pure, chaste nurturers, and homemakers. In order that they might remain so fufil their destiny as wives and mothers, women were expected to remain in the private sphere, protected and supported by bread-winning husbands and fathers. Reality did not conform to the ideal Not all women were happy or satisfied by marriage and motherhood Large numbers of women were neither supported nor protected but forced to enter the public sphere, finding employment to secure a livelihood. They faced discrimination within an ideology which admitted them to the labour force under sufferance Women's work' was poorly paid, of low status and offered little opportunity for advancement. For these and other reasons some women became prostitutes . The prostitution issue was extremely controversial in the period under discussion. Ambiguities and contradictions inherent in the ideology of sexuality were revealed, as were various attempts to cope with these issues. Prostitutes were exploited sexually but this exploitation was at least lucrative. Continental womed probably earned more money in a year than a housewife, cleaner or factory 'drudge' ever saw in thei r lives . Many women therefore chose to go beyond the pale of society . Women resisted constraints placed upon them in a number of ways: they refused offers of marriage (supposedly their highest attainment); they left their husbands; they attempted to learn about and obtain forms of contraception, in direct opposition to the ideology of motherhood; they risked abortion despite the possibiIity of death, injury, prosecution or societal ostracism. Women attempted to improve their wages, working conditions and status. During the Great War' some of their ambi tions were real ised though most concessions gained were lost by 1920. Most of Durban women's organisations (all middle-class) accepted and were reflective of the ideals held by society. The Women's Enfranchisement League however, though working within the ideology of the time, challenged women's relegation to the private sphere.
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