Sexual distinctions in attitudes to animals in the late Georgian era
in Women against cruelty (revised edition)
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Women involved in animal protection were often victims of ancient misogynistic prejudices – notably a belief that women were themselves animalistic, or prone to irrational and excessive ‘sensibility’. Tenderness towards animals might be an attractive feminine trait, suited to acculturation of the young, but it was viewed as a foil rather than as a corrective to normative masculine behaviour. Important thinkers and writers of the late Georgian period such as Catharine Macaulay, Mary Wollstonecraft, Anna Letitia Barbauld and Joanna Baillie attempted to counter these prejudices, reflecting deeply on human–animal relationships, while Margaret Cullen embodied such reflections in the form of a novel, Mornton (1814). At a more didactic level, women were acknowledged as the prime authors of books for children about the need for kindness to animals, many of which became nursery classics reprinted throughout the Victorian period. However, one woman in particular, the anti-slavery campaigner Elizabeth Heyrick, resorted to bold practical action to prevent cruelty to animals. The obstruction and indifference she encountered typified the problems that women experienced when entering the public sphere.

Women against cruelty (revised edition)

Protection of animals in nineteenth-century Britain

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