Girls Seen and Heard

in Girlhood Studies

According to The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs the adage, “Children should be seen and not heard”, which dates back to at least the 1400s, was really directive to girls and young women: “A mayde [maiden or young girl] schuld be seen, but not herd.” The belief that girls and young women should be quiet and demure changed from being a piece of commonplace knowledge to being a written precept in the 17th century when manuals of prescriptive behavior began to be written for a gender-specific audience. For example, in a Puritan manual for young couples, published in 1612, different advice was presented to each: the husband was supposed to “[d]eal with many men, [b]e entertaining, and [b]e skilful in talk” but the wife was instructed to “[t]alk with a few, [b]e solitary and withdrawn, and [b]oast of silence.” (cited in Zipes et al. 2005: 1417).

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