The 19th century saw the beginnings of a shift in outlook towards gender, as roles for women in public and professional life widened. However, at the same time, prostitution, illegitimacy and same-sex relationships were increasingly stigmatised.
Introduction to Gender & Sexuality in Victorian England
The Victorian period saw the beginnings of a shift in social philosophy regarding legal and customary gender relations. This shift was marked by a move away from the patriarchal pattern of male supremacy/female dependency - justified at the time by the notion of public and private 'separate spheres' - towards modern concepts of gender equality in legal, professional and personal affairs. Slow and contested, the movement is symbolised by the long campaign for female suffrage or 'Votes for Women', which was not achieved in Victoria's reign.
Gender Ideology & Separate Spheres in the 19th Century
'The principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes - the legal subordination of one sex to the other - is wrong in itself and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement... it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other.' (J. S. Mill, The Subjection of Women, 1867, preamble)
Health & Medicine in the 19th Century
Early Victorian ideas of human physiology involved a clear understanding of anatomy (at least among experts; but the populace often had hazy knowledge of the location and role of internal organs) allied to a concept of vital forces focused on the hematological and nervous systems that now seems closer to the ancient 'humours' than to present-day models.
Sex & Sexuality in the 19th Century
Male anxieties in relation to both physical and mental health in the Victorian era often seem to have concentrated on the supposedly baleful effects of masturbation, which was alleged to cause a wide range of physical and mental disorders, and on venereal diseases, especially syphilis.
The 19th century was a period of huge growth in Britain, which had a profound effect on art and design. The Industrial Revolution saw Britain become a major manufacturing power, as displayed in the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Victorian period saw the British Empire reach its peak, and designers increasingly looked to the East for inspiration.