John holMeS he place of Darwinism in arguments over the "woman question" in the late nineteenth century was distinctly equivocal. on the one hand, many leading evolutionists including Darwin himself took what they perceived to be the lesser cultural and intellectual achievement of women in Victorian society and across history as a biological datum, thereby naturalizing female inferiority. on the other hand, from the late 1880s leading feminists argued that the education and emancipation of women was either an evolutionary inevitability or a necessary intervention to avoid the degeneration of the race. As evelleen Richards and others have observed, however, even feminists such as olive Schreiner, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Mathilde Blind tended to predicate their arguments on a notion of sexual difference, emphasizing women's maternal and co-operative virtues and arguing for the benefits to society of allowing these to exercise wider influence through politics and the professions. For some, the biological mechanism of social progress expected to kick in once these reforms had taken place was the neo-lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics. For others, like Alfred Russel Wallace, the mechanism was the eugenic process of sexual selection, as women gained the right to choose their own mates
Victorian Poetry – West Virginia University Press
Published: Feb 3, 2010
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