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James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For all its transforming vision, Edward Bellamy's utopian novel Looking Backward doesn't seem all that transformative to me when it comes to the role of women. I can't blame the author, of course, as he was wiritng in a period very different from our own -- adult women had no voting rights in 1887, for example -- but he seems very grounded in Victorian ideals of what it means to be a woman.

The women in the futuristic society depicted in the novel are certainly freer than Bellamy's contemporaries in many ways; for example, they're not economically dependent on husbands and aren't pressured to be coy about their attractions. Thus, marriage no longer needs to be viewed as a cautious business venture. Still, they are definitely seen as the weaker sex in the novel and, for example, are always assigned less physically strenuous jobs than men.

As the doctor explains to the main character, women live in what amounts to a nation of their own within the nation of men. They have their own organizations and leaders, but this division doesn't mean equality. The women leader stil reports to a male authority, for example, although -- I have to point out, to balance my view -- she does have veto powers in all decisions affecting women in her country.

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Looking Backward

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