A term coined by author Sarah Grand in her 1894 essay “The New Aspect of the Woman Question” that encapsulates a new emerging feminism towards the end of the nineteenth century. It is used to describe modern young women who actively challenge conventional femininity, as well as their roles within marriage and the domestic sphere. As a cultural icon, the “New Woman” championed an ideology that led to significant changes in redefining gender roles, advocating for women’s rights including reform to labour relations, divorce legislation, and a woman’s right to education.
The “New Woman” soon became a popular phrase used in newspapers and books, with an estimated one hundred novels written about this figure between 1883 and 1900. New Woman fiction is commonly characterized by a central female heroine, whose radical beliefs function as an opportunity to discuss the marginalization of contemporary women in both marriage and society. While on one hand the New Woman figure became an innovative force for twentieth-century feminism, she was also the source of ridicule and satire in popular fiction and newspapers.
For further reading, see “The ‘New Woman’ Fiction” on The Victorian Web and:
Levy, Amy. “Introduction.” The Romance of a Shop. Ed. Susan David Bernstein. Peterborough: Broadview, 2006. Print.