Sex, smallpox and seraglios: a monument to
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Frith's article entitled Sex, smallpox and seraglios: a monument to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was written in order to show the way life was for a woman in the eighteenth century. Her article illustrates what the role of men and women were during the 18th century. Furthermore, it shows what happened to women when they broke through these societal restrictions. There were three underlying points in Frith's article, she mainly focused on; the restrictions that women had in society, the extreme importance of beauty in western society and the societal differences between western society and eastern society regarding women. Frith is also trying to show that our world has not changed that much in the years since Montagu was alive, and that in the West women are still placed below men in many job situations and beauty is still extremely highly regarded. In the East, the world has changed even less in some ways, where many of the customs from the 18th century are still very predominantly practiced.
The article starts off looking at the limitations and duties of a woman in the 18th century from the point of view of a man. Women were not permitted to do many professions such as law, economics or science related; these professions were reserved for men. Women were meant to be "the object of knowledge rather than its producer" (Frith 1994, 101) meaning that women were not to be educated but were to only of their responsibilities for pleasing a man, staying beautiful, and staying virtuous. Women were believed to be inferior intellectually and were therefore not to be educated and were basically forced to marry if they wished a decent life. However, Montagu feuded this point by arguing that "women's intellectual status was a result of, not a reason for, their lack of education." (Frith 1994, 102) in letters she wrote. Montagu was largely self-educated, but despite this, was only respected because of her looks and beauty. In this time women were scrutinized as being forms of male gratification whether it be sexual or otherwise, which was a major reason why the beauty of a woman was the most important thing.
Following the explanation of women and their beauty, Frith discusses how Montagu left for Turkey to follow her husband who was the Ambassador to the Ottoman court. This is where Montagu saw the process of inoculation for the disease smallpox. This was a major advancement in the medical field because smallpox were seen as one of the worst and most dreaded diseases that one could get, because if it did not kill you it left your face disfigured from the pox, which in a time where beauty was everything for woman was very devastating.
Here Frith goes on to explain how 18th C. England saw the East as a "European invention" (Frith 1994, 105) because of the European economic expansion eastward. The Europeans viewed the East as "barbarous and backwards, enslaved by superstitious...