The New Woman and Her Questionable Morals

Feminism, as we know it, has been an essential part of Western societies history since first wave feminism began in the 1800’s. Now that we have entered third wave feminism, there is a lot of debate around the negative aspects of modern feminism. One of the main arguments is that western women do not need feminism. While I do agree that third-world feminist issues should be addressed first, as I have discussed before, feminism is definitely still needed in first-world countries as well.

Many modern feminists look up to the New Woman figure of the 1800’s and take a very keen interest in New Woman fiction that was published during the first wave of feminism. I myself am one of these people, so when I discovered that I would be learning all about the Irish New Woman in my Victorian literature module this semester, I was more excited than I would like to admit.

The term was coined by Sarah Grand and as Sarah Ledger explains, the New Woman was, “variously, a feminist activist, a social reformer, a popular novelist, a suffragette playwright, a woman poet; she was also a fictional construct, a discursive response to the activities of the late nineteenth-century women’s movement.

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Sarah Grand, 1896.

 

While sitting in a lecture about the Irish New Woman, I was admittedly much more attentive than I usually am. It was then that I heard my lecture mention something, almost in passing, that I became quite fixated on. Although what the New Woman writers did to help women’s rights and to change the perspective of women was incredibly admirable and necessary, they had some other questionable ethics that are often forgotten about.

The best example of this comes back to Sarah Grand who is often considered to be one of the most important Irish New Woman writers, despite being born in England. It is widely known that Sarah Grand believed that women and men should be equal but the fact that she was also a strong believer in eugenics is often left out. As Angelique Richardson explains in the book “Love and Eugenics in the Late Nineteenth Century“, “Sarah Grand was a committed exponent of biological determinism and eugenic feminism.”

She even suggests these views in her work. An example of this is seen in her novel, “Two Dear Little Feet”, as she says, “African Negroes, Bushmen of Australia, and, indeed, all low savage races, have broad, flat feet, thick ankles near the ground, low heels, and badly-formed calves to their legs; while in higher races the feet and legs are well-formed.” These racist and classist views were not only that of Sarah Grand, but they were very often shared by other New Woman writers as these views were commonly seen amongst the higher classes in the 1800’s.

I don’t really believe that these views held by Sarah Grand, or any other New Woman writer, are enough to completely disregard what she did for feminist literature. However, I do find it incredibly interesting that these details are often left out when discussing the views and opinions of the New Woman.

Maybe this is a very odd version of the saying, “you should never meet your heroes“. Instead, you should never research your heroes too much.

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Presentations – Problematic or Problem Solver?

In my twenty years, I cannot recall a single time where I have enjoyed public speaking. Not one. Now that public speaking has actually become some bit of a necessity to me in the last few years between university work and real world work, I still can never feel myself improving at it.

Thankfully, presentations have never been a huge aspect of my university course as I have to do, an average, one each semester. However, that doesn’t stop me being awfully afraid of them as I am terrified¬†even thinking about it for the days leading up to it.

I’ve given some pretty bad presentations in my three years of university. I’m fully aware that the rest of the class probably didn’t find my presentation as terrible as I did, but that never stopped me from feeling horrible afterwards.

One of the worst instances happened while on Erasmus in the University of Salford, I had to join a module late due to a timetable clash. On my first day in this new class, I found out that half of our grade was dependent on a group presentation. Although it’s not my ideal assignment I didn’t really think much of it until the lecturer told me that all of the groups had already been formed and it was too late for me to join any of them. Instead, I had to do an entire forty-minute group presentation on my own on a text we were studying that was deemed to¬†be too difficult for a group of four people to research. On top of that, it was in front of a huge group of drama students who seemed to be incredibly critical of everyone’s presentation and made sure that the students presenting were aware of every detail of every mistake that they made. As you can imagine, I really didn’t feel great after that one.

Don’t get me wrong, not every presentation I’ve done has been as bad as that one. I’ve been in some really great groups for presentations with people who were really interesting and incredibly motivated which made me feel much better about the whole situation. However, I’ve also been in some awful groups and I’ve conducted some terrible presentations myself.

Although I never really feel like I’m improving my public speaking skills, when I think back to some of my first presentations back in my first year of university I was not half as decent at them as I am now. Three years ago, I was incredibly shy and could barely look a stranger in the eye. While some people may still consider me to be quite shy, I’m nowhere near as introverted as I was back then. So I guess that’s something.

Sometimes I genuinely do think that presentations are problematic and cause a lot more anxiety and stress than they’re worth but when I think about it realistically, public speaking skills are something that I will always need. I might as well practice them now in front of a group of students who probably aren’t even listening and are scrolling through Facebook instead, rather than in front of a group of professionals who have years of experience.

Practice makes perfect, I guess.