On the outside, a good man should look like the strong, muscular Greek statues. On the inside, he should display a number of qualities which would help him to develop in the business and social world. Courage, perseverance, self-discipline and independence were seen as vital qualities for a boy to learn to become a man.
Independence in particular was seen as vital to being a man. By the 1850s it was no longer guaranteed that a son would follow his father into the family business, instead the son would have to find his own way into the business world. Once there, he would have to have the ability to survive on his own, without relying solely on his family connections and protections. Independence was therefore vital for the work place.
And it wasn’t just in the workplace that independence was needed. Socially, things were changing. Religion no longer played such a large part in society and by the late 1800s the suffrage movement was becoming increasingly visible. What this meant for men was that their automatic right to superiority was being challenged and to remain superior they had to develop superior qualities – like independence, courage, perseverance and self-discipline.
It was important for boys to develop these skills. Once they had been ‘breeched’ (moved out of the dresses that all children wore until a certain age and into breeches) they looked physically different to their sisters. Boys were then expected to move away from their mother’s influence and begin to distance themselves from the maternal attention they had received as infants and learn manly skills, first from their fathers and then from their schooling. For girls of course, it was very different, and something that I shall write about later on.
‘Being a man’ was therefore about developing and showing these skills and above all being independent.