1. In the decades since Edward Bellamy wrote his bestselling novel, Looking Backward, the role of women in society, the workplace and the home has undergone radical change. However, the conflict of man versus woman, has not changed all that much. It's one of those conflicts that have been around since the beginning of time, and is still around today. It is apparent throughout the novel, and in Bellamy's personal beliefs.
2. Looking Backward was published in 1888, at time when the feminist movement was gaining strength. Women were becoming more involved in social reforms, technological improvements, education, and many other platforms. Bellamy realized that women were potential converts to his reorganization of society. He was influenced by women such as Abby Morton Diaz, a teacher and the founder of Women's Educational and Industrial Union of Boston, and Marie Howland, an American feminist writer of the nineteenth-Century. Bellamy believed that their ideas were the ideas of all women and used those ideas in Looking Backward.
3. For all his claims to be a feminist, and to understand what women wanted as change, Bellamy could not get past his personal beliefs and Victorian ideas of women and marriage. In fact, Sylvia Strauss, in ?Gender, Class, and Race in Utopia?, suggests that Bellamy did not have much regard for women at all. She states ?Dr. Leete, Bellamy's surrogate in the novel, does not have a high regard for women's intellect, capacity to govern, or ability to pull their weight equally with men in the labor force.? (3) Strauss goes on to say ?Nor did Bellamy believe that women had the flexibility to abandon conventional religion and adopt the religion of solidarity ? the engine that powered his egalitarian society.? (4) The religion of solidarity is a form of male bonding that did not include women, Strauss explained. He felt that because of a woman's connections to conventional religion, they were the ?main pillars of the church? (Strauss, 4), and therefore could not support the idea of a religion of solidarity in his utopia. This clearly shows the conflict of men versus women in Bellamy's personal beliefs.
4. Another example of the conflict in Bellamy's personal belief of a woman's role versus a man's role is in the institute of marriage. In ?Bellamy's Missing Chapter? by Sylvia E. Bowman, she writes ?The primary cause of the burden of marriage and of man's termination of his development was, to Bellamy, the economic dependence of women. Because of their social and economic status, their ignorance, and their superstition, they were the natural enemies of religious and social progress, and therefore, of philosophers and social reformers.? (50-51) He believed that marriage caused sadness. In contrast, he did not carry this personal belief into the novel.
5. To carry the conflict of men versus women into the novel itself, let's look at the idea of the industrial army and education. Women and men have their own industrial army, each with it's own jobs and leaders. Women elected their leader, a female general-in-chief, that they report to. However, this leader ultimately reports to a man. The women who have been leaders of the industrial guilds are not eligible to become President, as the men are. In Bellamy's utopia, the working woman is more of an ally rather than a productive member of the army of men.
6. In Bellamy's utopia, women get equal pay for similar work and shorter working hours and more vacation time, thereby allowing them more time for shopping and other leisure activities. It also left them more time to achieve the goal of becoming a wife and a mother. Bellamy portrays women as not being complete unless she fulfills those goals, and provides both positive and negative reinforcements in his utopia to encourage her to marry and bear children. To make this possible for women, he provides financial independence from men in that women will receive credits from the state even when they have to take maternity leave. He adds in the prestige and status afforded to women as wives and mothers as another positive reinforcement. Women who have not married and had children are not eligible for leadership roles in the industrial army. This reinforces the men versus women conflict by continuing to define women as a lesser sex with minimal contributions to his utopia. Mary H. Ford, a feminist and socialist, claimed that Bellamy implies a woman's aspirations have to take a