In Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Phase the First is called "The Maiden," referring to Tess's innocence at the start of the novel. Hardy introduces Tess during the May-Day celebration. In this chapter, Hardy presents women as connected to nature. The Vale of Blackmoor is fertile land, and the country women dress in white and wear flowers. Women celebrate the May-Day dance and club-walking as part of an ancient festival for the earth goddess.
Hardy also presents women as homemakers and family caretakers. When Tess goes home in chapter three, her mother Joan is singing and rocking the baby to sleep while also washing clothes. When her mother joins her father at the pub, Tess finishes up the laundry and takes care of her siblings.
Tess takes lots of responsibility: she takes on the responsibility of caring for her family when her parents are out drinking, and she also takes responsibility for events that are not necessarily her fault. Tess feels like a murderer because the family horse died when she fell asleep in the cart, but Tess was only driving the cart because her father was too drunk to do so. Her brother, Abraham, who was supposed to keep her awake, also fell asleep, but Tess feels the weight of full responsibility.
Tess is pure. She rejects Alec's advances and does not lead him on in any way. When he rapes her at the end of this phase, Hardy makes it clear that it was not Tess's fault—rather, it was fate or bad luck.
The full title of the first section of Hardy's novel is "Phase the First: The Maiden" which promptly brings to mind a young, innocent virgin. Virginity is associated with purity and the color white, so of course, Hardy has Tess in a parade of women all wearing white and marching to the May pole; it is Spring and youth and life is budding. As the first section of the book progresses we see Tess's mother traditionally attending to her duties, but also reading from the horoscopes of a book and seeking out a better fortune and life for her eldest daughter. Both mother and daughter are strong mentally and physically because husband/father is always drunk. As an inexperienced maiden, Tess feels guilted into selling herself off to a possible rich marriage because the family horse died under her care. Although strong in desire, Tess discovers her weakness in humanity and falls victim to the prey of a handsome man. Hence, Hardy presents women as superstitious, guilt-ridden weaklings who think they are strong until they are slapped in the face with reality. It is only after facing that reality that they truly become strong, as later seen in the following sections of the novel.