The Gentle Sex
Wanted: Vice- and Opinion-free Women
For all its excesses, the Regency upper-class lived and died by rules. (You could call them the first “Rules” girls.) So, of course, one of the great contradictions was how men and women were expected to behave.
As the gentle sex, women were to be without vices and opinion. They were to be modest, dutiful and the prettier the better (reputation, breeding and fortune also came into play when calculating their worth). Spirited girls who spoke their minds, showed too much temper or wit or appeared too familiar with manly interests—gambling, boxing, profanity—were quickly labeled: hoydens. (This was not a good thing.)
Meanwhile, society happily embraced young women prone to hysterics, fainting fits and swooning. Bottom line: The wise young Regency woman learned just enough math to be able to safeguard the household budget. Ironically, it would be during the Regency, as arranged marriages gave way to unions of love, that women with good conversational skills finally came into favor. After all, who wants a dull companion for life?