Consent and Marriage

Consent and Marriage

A Woman’s Narrative

In our current political and social climate the discussion of consent has become more relevant than it has been in the past. By looking at how consent has impacted the lives of women, we can pinpoint the ways in which we learn how to keep history from repeating itself. I have always been curious about what kinds of literature women wrote from the 16th to 19th centuries, and especially how they write about their own lives. By using the corpus of the Women Writers Online texts I got to delve into the lives of women in their own, unbiased words. Texts written by women from 1526 to 1850 tell the typical woman’s narrative. A typical woman would be taught how to be a housewife and mother, get set up with a man she may or may not want to marry, have and raise children, and repeat the cycle by teaching her children the only lifestyle she knows of. The presence or lack of consent is the key factor in determining the future of a woman’s life.

Using word2vec

I used word2vec to answer my research question: How did consent, or lack thereof, form the female narrative from the mid 1500s to the mid 1800s? Word2vec allows the user to get a visual sense of how close words are to one another by computing the proximity of words. In order to see how close a list of words appear to the word in question, one could query a “closest_to” query. This allows the user to pick any word and see what words most often appear closest to the chosen word. The higher the number is means that it is closer and more frequently in proximity to the queried word.

Initial queries

The first query I made into my model was “closest_to(‘consent’, 20).” The most intriguing result of this query was the verb “to refuse” in all tenses. I found this especially interesting because the ninth word was “marry,” only after three different ways to say “refuse consent.” This clearly shows that consent to marriage was something that women discussed in their own texts and had an opinion about.

The next query I made into my model was, “closest_to(‘disagree’,5).” The results to this query were along the same lines as the first query of “consent,” but got to the point of being against marriage faster. The fourth word closest to “disagree” is mariage, the French word for marriage.

At this point in my research I felt confident in my data supporting my hypothesis, but to be sure I decided to query “closest_to(~’marriage’+’refuse’, 20).” The results were exactly what I expected. The third word that came up was “consent,” the fifth was “comply,” the sixth was “promise,” and the eighth was “disobey.”

After establishing that women writers in the past wrote in extent about having a lack of consent in their marriages, I wanted to see if there was a relationship between daughters and marriage. In order to answer this I queried “closest_to(~’daughter’+’marriage’, 10).” The results show that male figures discuss daughters and marriage more so than woman figures.

The four queries regarding consent and marriage I performed on the corpus show that above everything else, women from the 16th to 19th centuries were most concerned with consent regarding marriage. Women did not have a say in the largest portion of their narratives, their marriages. This is vital because a woman’s marriage sets her up for either happiness or remorse for the rest of her life. If she does not have a say in who she marries, the odds of her being in a happy and healthy relationship are more limited than if she had a say in the matter.

A Woman’s Education

Another major aspect of a woman’s narrative was the education she received. During the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries the education woman and men received as children were dramatically different. I queried “closest_to(~’education’-’girl’+’boy’, 20)” to look at what kind of education boys received. The results for this included “industry,” “learning,” “science,” “improvement,” “agriculturalist,” “instructor,” “genius,” and “tutors.” When I queried “closest_to(~’education’-’boy’+’girl’, 20)” the results were not nearly as academic sounding as the boy’s education. Results included “character,” “deficiencies,” “habits,” “politness,” “management,” and “paucity.” Not only does this show that women do not receive education of the same level as boys, but this also shows that women acknowledge it.

Further Research

Women are not in the dark about the unfair reality of their own narratives. The more women talk about their lives, like all the women whose texts are in the Women Writers Online database, the more insight people can get into the lives of women. The lack of consent in the lives of women forced them into marriages and lives they did not want to be a part of. The only option women had for expressing their beliefs and opinions was to write about their situation. By using word2vec we can quickly see what these women talked about and how much they talked about consent. I have posed a few questions for further research based on the results of this research. One question I have for further research is: What did women’s attempts to break the cycle of their narrative look like in the 18th and 19th centuries? I would like to look at the most controversial texts women have written, and all the texts in which women speak directly about their narrative. Now that I have established that a woman’s narrative is unfair, I want to look at how women directly address this. Another question I have for further research is: How polarized were men’s opinion of the female narrative during the 18th and 19th centuries? If women know they are being treated unfair there must have been some men who agreed with women. I want to look at what men, and how many men, agreed with women regarding their narratives.


In the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements we need to learn from the past as we move into the future. The results from my word2vec analysis have shown me the ways in which women have tried to change their narratives. However, in this day and age women can do much more than simply write about their lives. Today, we can take control and actively change our own narratives.