On the definition of personal space

Godey’s Lady’s Book, July 1876:

DODGING UMBRELLAS AND PARASOLS.—This is an art in a large city. A lady carries either, regardless of the hats or eyes of gentlemen. She never lifts it, but lets it work its own way, and you see many hats knocked off and rolling in the rain. Just notice it on Chestnut Street on a rainy day.

Reading one: Women are inconsiderate. They are slaves to fashion, unaware (or uncaring) of the way their actions impact others.

Reading two: Umbrellas and parasols are a material means to negotiate social space, to enforce separation between individuals (particularly individuals of different genders) without the need for an actual confrontation. Passive aggression is a tool used to reproduce social norms and provide a buffer (spatial and social) between the umbrella-wielder and the more privileged sex.

Reading three: Weather changes public social interactions. The complaints about assaults on hats end with a rainy day. Were parasols simply less ubiquitous than umbrellas, or perhaps less expansive? Or did rain have an impact upon traffic patterns, causing pedestrians to cluster more closely together, either moving in a pack or attempting to pass individuals (perhaps especially concerned about the fate of their skirts) who moved at a more leisurely pace?

Reading four: The assault on hats was actually an assault on masculinity and normative behavior. A man did not go out in public without his hat during this period. To have it knocked off would have been a social affront, but also a physical annoyance. No one wants to wear a hat that has just fallen into a puddle, but a man would have no other option than to put it back on.

Reading five: Umbrellas and parasols did not merely preserve a woman’s personal space, they protected her investment (or her male relatives’). Skirts were big (1876 was the trailing end of the First Bustle period) and movement required practice. The female footprint was thus much larger than the male. The use of devices wielded at eye level served as a reminder of that fact, offering skirts some additional protection from muddy shoes.

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