Images of Welsh Women
Deidre Beddoe begins her essay with a plain statement: ‘Welsh women are culturally invisible’ (227). She adds that Welsh identity is based on three male groups of mass proportions: ‘coalminers, rugby players and male voice choirs’ (227). In comparison the Welsh woman is ‘a bit of trimming on the male image of Wales’ (227).
Beddoe wonders why this is the case and she suggests that the three factors involved are ‘Patriarchy, Capitalism and History’ (228). She describes Wales as ‘a patriarchal society, in which the activities and views of men are held in far higher esteem than those of women’ (228). Through coal-mining and other industries, capitalism has dominated Welsh culture with the ambiguous figure of the coalminer representing both ‘wealth’ and ‘rebellion’ (228). Women’s unwaged roles in capitalist societies often go unnoticed and Beddoe believes that this is the case in Wales. There is also the problem of the selective bias of history which is ‘not only divided along class lines but along gender lines too’ (229).
Beddoe now considers representations of Welsh women as opposed to images of women in other parts of the UK and she suggests that there are a number of types:
• The Welsh Mam. ‘[H]ardworking, ‘pious’ and clean, a mother to her sons and responsible for the home, she appears in Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley (1939). Considering the Mam historically, Beddoe notes that before the rise of industry in the 19th century, women worked on the land alongside men, yet later they became ‘economically dependent upon her husband’s and son’s wages’ (230). She held sway in the domestic sphere only.
• The Welsh Lady in National Costume. A device of tourism, the Welsh costume was invented by Augusta Hall, Lady Llanover (1802-96) who led the ‘romantic revival’ in Wales. It was created at a time when ‘the old peasant costume was dying out’ (233). The invented costume was decorous and difficult to work in.
• The Pious Welsh Woman. There are many stories of Welsh women who committed spiritual acts of self-sacrifice for religious reasons. Beddoe refers to the painting, Salem, by Sidney Curnow Vosper.
• The Sexy Welsh Woman. Beddoe refers here to the Welsh custom of “bundling” or ‘premarital “courting in bed” ’ (234). She also notes: ‘Pre-marital sex between couples who intended to marry seems to have been normal practice in old Wales, especially before the rise of nonconformity’ (234). This was criticised by the 1840s commissioners sent ‘to investigate the state of education in Wales’ (243).
• The Funny Welsh Woman. Beddoe notes that ‘English people still regard Welsh people, along with Irish people, as inherently funny’ (236).
Beddoe, Deidre. ‘Images of Welsh Women’. in Wales: the Imagined Nation, Studies in Cultural and National Identity. Ed. Tony Curtis. Bridgend: Poetry Wales Press, 1986. 225-238.