Friday, November 20, 2015

Masculinity and the Victorian Dining Room

By Gretchen Sawatzki

The Dining Room of the Driehaus Museum is a great
representation of the masculine, Victorian room.
Image source   
"Separate spheres" is an ideology that prescribed distinct and separate realms for which men and women could move within their daily lives during the Victorian Period in the United States. Men were prescribed to a the "public sphere" and encouraged to participate in politics, commerce, and law while women were prescribed to the "private sphere" with the expectation to manage the home, raise and educate the children, and tend to their families. These different "spheres", not only dictated what a man or woman could do, but it also formulated gender roles that translated into the home's interior design.

It's hard to believe it now, with our open floorplan homes and free-flowing spaces, that during the Victorian Period rooms were designed with a specific purpose and assigned a male or female gender identity. Smoking rooms, for example, were strictly for the men, while the Morning Room was space for the lady of the house. The Victorian dining room also represents this concept. As the male in the home was considered the "bread-winner", and since food was often a cultural marker of one's own social status, dining rooms often reflected masculinity. The larger and more elegant the dining room furniture was, indicated the type of wealth a family had. Furniture large in scale and heavily carved, had a commanding presence and sense that the "man of the house" could afford to feed his family in luxury. Sideboards of the era featured dead animals like deer, quail, and other fowl further conveying the message of the male "bread-winner."

This Thanksgiving, while you're enjoying your turkey, sweet potatoes, and pie consider where you're dining. Does your feast and dining space seem masculine or feminine? Who cuts the turkey, the man of the house, the lady of the house, or whoever cooked it? Today, the dining room is a blend of genders, serving as the family crafting table, homework desk, a place to play games, and dine, but in the Victorian Period this would not have been possible as the "separate spheres" would have dictated differently.

 Driehaus Museum
 Inequality by (Interior) Design
 Victorian and Albert Museum

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