Quickhit: Beauty, Virtue & Vice, and a Map of a Woman’s Heart

Slave2tehtink pointed me to this online exhibition, Beauty, Virtue & Vice, looking at American 19th-century prints of women. The exhibition talks about notions of ideal beauty and ideal womanhood in white wealthy American society, and at some threats to these notions.

Check out the whole thing, after having a look at this image, “A Map of the Open Country of a Woman’s Heart” (The large version is here: http://www.americanantiquarian.org/Exhibitions/Beauty/heart.jpg ).


Description, from here:

This map of a woman’s heart tells us much about what the artist and his society believed about women. This illustration perfectly captures nineteenth-century ideas about womanhood. The caption reads, “The Open Country of Woman’s Heart, Exhibiting its internal communications, and the facilities and dangers to Travellers therein.” According to this map, Love is at the center of a woman’s heart, and Sentimentality and Sentiment (including Good Sense, Discrimination, Hope, Enthusiasm, and Platonic Affection) take up a sizeable portion of the entire territory. This region of Sentiment and Sentimentality is separated from the larger, treacherous areas of a woman’s heart: Selfishness and Coquetry pose dangers, especially to gentleman travelers, and these attributes suggest that all women are basically untrustworthy. The largest regions, Love of Admiration, Love of Dress, and Love of Display, all suggest that women are also essentially shallow and frivolous. Although the image claims to have been drawn by “A Lady,” it is just as likely that it proceeded from the imagination of a man.

Categories: gender & feminism, history

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1 reply

  1. Wow. Where does one start to analyse the stereotypes and condescension?
    I particularly hate the one about women and fashion, and how it still keeps coming up that “men don’t care about fashion” when the only people I ever hear bitching about “what does she think she’s wearing?” are men. (And not stereotypical bitchy gays, either – straight men ranking women on a scale of 10 and saying how this one would rank higher if she “dressed better”).
    Fashion, at least mainstream fashion, is about displaying socioeconomic status through portable wealth/conspicuous consumption. Of course many (not all) men care about whether the women they keep company with look “right” in terms of displaying their own status. That they purport to not care about the details of fashion is just handing over the actual labour of displaying wealth “appropriately” to the womenfolk. Just watch those same men get all dismayed if their partnerdecides to stop bothering about being “in fashion”.

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