The worship of the virgin by men and women who looked upon the celibate life as the perfect life, and upon the relationship of earthly fatherhood and motherhood as contaminating, gave the world an ideal of woman as “superhuman, immaculate, bowing in frightened awe before the angel with the lily, standing mute and with downcast eyes before her Divine Son." With all its admitted beauty, this ideal represented not the institution of the family, but the institution of the church. Chivalry carried over from the church to the castle this concept of womanhood and set it to the shaping of The Lady, who was finally given a rank in the ideals of knighthood only a little below that to which Mary had been elevated by the ecclesiastical authorities. This concept of the lady was the result of the necessity for a new social standardization which must combine beauty, purity, meekness and angelic goodness. Only by such a combination could religion and family life be finally reconciled. By such a combination, earthly motherhood could be made to approximate the divine motherhood.
With the decline of the influence of chivalry, probably as the result of industrial changes, The Lady was replaced by a feminine ideal which may well be termed the “Model Woman.” Although less ethereal than her predecessor, The Lady, the Model Woman is quite as much an attempt to reconcile the dualistic attitude, with its Divine Mother cult on the one hand, and its belief in the essential evil of the procreative process and the uncleanness of woman on the other, to human needs. The characteristics of the Model Woman must approximate those of the Holy Virgin as closely as possible. Her chastity before marriage is imperative. Her calling must be the high art of motherhood. She must be the incarnation of the maternal spirit of womanhood, but her purity must remain unsullied by any trace of erotic passion.
A voluminous literature which stated the virtues and duties of the Model Woman blossomed out in the latter part of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century. The Puritan ideals also embodied this concept. It was by this attempt to make woman conform to a standardized ideal that man sought to solve the conflict between his natural human instincts and desires and the early Christian teaching concerning the sex life and womanhood.
1. Frazer, J.G. The Golden Bough. A Study in Magic and Religion. Part I. The Magic Art. 2 vols. Macmillan. London, 1911. Part V. Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild. 2 vols. London, 1912.