Picture your large family working until the skin on their fingers blistered, and you, being the oldest, feel obliged to somehow help secure their finances. After your father recently discovered a family nearby with a background of nobility with your mother egging you on, you decide you should befriend this family for hope they’ll give you a job.
You snag a job, get harassed daily, until one man takes advantage of you one night as you try to get home. Your innocence has been soiled. Society thinks it’s your fault.
For women in 1891 England, this double standard was an everyday life scenario. Thomas Hardy decided that speaking out wasn’t strong enough; he wrote “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” to prove this point.
Alec D’Urberville rapes Tess, and her mother tells her to hold silence or no man will ever want her again. So she says nothing, eventually leaving to work at dairy farms across the region to get away from Alec, who now stalks her. She meets another man, Angel Clare, and the two later marry. That night, Angel tells Tess that he had a teenage tryst in London, and then Tess reveals that she was raped.
This double standard costs Tess her life in the long run. (If you want to find out how, read the book.) Cynics today would say Tess earned it. In her long Victorian peasant dress, and with her covered arms and legs, she must have been the absolute epitome of seduction. Today in America we never have the problem of decently clothed women being attacked.
That’s sarcasm, by the way.
Back in the Victorian age, rape for women meant they could never get married if people knew about it. Rape meant they were “used goods” and unsuitable for marriage or even motherhood, the most natural call of a woman’s life. For men, it was unthinkable to be raped. Rape still happens today, to both men and women, and no one ever asks for it. This assault is about control, and since Alec couldn’t control Tess, he took what he wanted most: her innocence.
How often is this overlooked today? Why are people just now more open to talking about it, more than 100 years after the publication of “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”? Granted, the conversation opens to more and more people as you read these words, but that hasn’t been soon enough for some. We have to be willing to acknowledge inequalities on both sides before any problem like this can be properly addressed. I only have one question left: How many more Tesses must suffer until we find a solution? I hope the answer is “zero.”